Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Guest blog: Alan Jones, author of ‘Blue Wicked’

I’ve just published my second book, ‘Blue Wicked’, for Kindle and on Smashwords, a year after publishing my first book, ‘The Cabinetmaker’. Both are gritty Glasgow crime stories, although the second one has more violence, and is not for the faint-hearted, as one reviewer commented. 
When I published The Cabinetmaker on Kindle in 2013, it got generally good reviews, although there was a significant amount of feedback suggesting that it maybe wandered a little for some readers and that there was a bit too much cabinetmaking and football content, which distracted a little from the central story. Then I got my first 3-star review, from one of the book blogging sites, Big Al’s books and pals. Keith Nixon, author of ‘The Fix’, said the book was ‘promising’ when he reviewed it but also gave it a bit of a pasting on the editorial front. Difficult to take, in a way, but I came to the conclusion that he was right, and that when I was writing my next book, I  would use the feedback from the first one to improve my writing, and also employ a freelance editor to make it error free.
I contacted Keith, and he couldn’t have been more helpful, suggesting a couple of editors that I could use, and when I emailed Julie Lewthwaite, she offered to edit a sample of the book to show me what she could do for me. I was pleased with the result and sent her the whole manuscript, which was very promptly returned to me covered in a mass of electronic red ink! And she told me I used too many adverbs!
I accepted all of her typo, punctuation and grammar corrections and 90% of her style and content suggestions. Even when I didn’t agree with her changes, her comments made me think of alternatives. I also removed a pile of unnecessary adverbs, and re-wrote one complete section on her advice. After she’d checked it again and we’d had another couple of rounds of polishing it, I felt that the process had been well worthwhile and anyway, the costs had been covered by the income from the moderate sales of ‘The Cabinetmaker’. The result, I hope, is a more focussed and pithy book with less distractions.
As the acid test, I sent ‘Blue Wicked’ to Keith Nixon, and this time he found no fault with the book, and gave it a 5-star rating. 
At some point, I’m going to go back and have a final go at re-editing The Cabinetmaker, and I’ll get Julie to do her stuff as well. I also have another book in the pipeline, and rough plots for a few more books after that. I love writing, and the beauty of it is that you can do it anywhere. About a third of ‘Blue Wicked’ was written on the iPad, on holiday, and also during the odd insomniac hour or two I sometimes have in the middle of the night. 
The other useful skill I forced myself to learn was to touch-type. I still ain’t fast, but I can watch the screen as I type, which really aids the writing process. I would advise anyone starting to write to do this as quickly as possible, and I wish I’d done it sooner.
'Blue Wicked' is a Gritty thriller set in the south side of Glasgow. Eddie Henderson finds himself as the unlikely investigator holding information that there's a serial killer targeting the substance dependent underclass that inhabits the notorious Glasgow housing estates. The police ignore his warnings but one young detective constable believes him and she helps him search for the truth, despite putting her own career at risk. Their desperate search for the killer eventually sparks off a massive manhunt, with Eddie and Catherine, the young detective, at the forefront of the investigation. The book contains a fair bit of strong language and Glasgow dialect, and has some very violent passages. 
I've been writing since 2003. I was born in Glasgow in 1960 and spent the first twenty-three years of my life there, but now live and work on the Ayrshire coast, in the animal health sector. I'm married with four grown up children and in my spare time I read, sail, make furniture, play football and watch films when I'm not writing.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Latest column for the Highland Times

My latest column for the Highland Times newspaper has just gone live.

This week it's about the dramatic downturn in author earnings - slumping to a low of £11,000 this year according to the latest figures by the ALCS.

There's also a bit of commentary in there from publishing legend Allan Guthrie, himself an award winning writer, a literary agent and a successful publisher in partnership with Kyle MacRae at Blasted Heath.

You can read the column now at the Highland Times.

Les Goes Back to Work

If there's one writer we look out for her on Pulp Pusher it's Les Edgerton. If you didn't realise the author of The Bitch and The Rapist has a new one out and it sounds like a classic piece of Edgerton genius....Here's the run-down:

A mix of Cajun gumbo, a couple tablespoons of kinky sex and a dash of unusual New Orleans settings and you wind up with Les Edgerton’s latest romp fest! 

Pete Halliday is busted out of baseball for gambling and travels to New Orleans to make his fortune hustling. Five years later, he’s deep in debt to bookie and in cahoots with Tommy LeClerc, a Cajun with a tiny bit of Indian blood who considers himself a red man. 

Tommy inveigles a reluctant Pete into one scheme after another, the latest a kidnapping scheme where they’ll snatch the Cajun Mafia King and hold his amputated hand for some serious jack. 

Along the way, Pete is double-crossed by Tommy and falls in love with part-time hooker and full-time waitress Cat Duplaisir. With both the Italian and Cajun mobs after them, a chase through Jazz Fest, a Tourette’s outbreak in a black bar and other zany adventures, all seems lost. 

Fans of Tim Dorsey’s character Serge Storms, and readers who enjoy Christopher Moore and Carl Hiaasen will enjoy this story. 

“A hard-driving, relentless story with grab-you-by-the-throat characters.”—Grant Blackwood, New York Times bestselling author 

“The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnaping is not for the faint of heart, and that’s just one of its selling points. If you like crime fiction that cracks wise while offering a peek into the darker recesses, this is the book for you.” —Bill Fitzhugh, author of Pest Control and The Exterminators 

“...a dark crime comedy that will have you laughing from page one. It crackles with manic energy and mad thrills. If you’re looking for a different kind of edgy crime novel, this is the one to grab.” —Bill Crider, author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries 

“Les Edgerton’s latest book is the real deal, and has everything to keep you turning the pages. It’s a caper, full of fun and high-jinx, but it’s also bitter-sweet, engendering a full range of emotions. You’ll smile, you’ll wince, you’ll laugh out loud, and sometimes you’ll even cringe, but you’ll come away from the read feeling thoroughly satisfied and entertained. A terrific read.” —Matt Hilton, author of the best-selling Joe Hunter thrillers.

:: Buy the book on Amazon

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Not the Booker prize - the final vote

If you've been following the Not the Booker prize over at The Guardian's website then it can't have escaped you that the hotly-anticipated moment where the winner is announced will soon be upon us.

There's been a few weeks of voting and review - harsh but fair, in the main - under the excellent stewardship of the paper's Sam Jordison and now it's time for the judging panel to make a decision ... but not before the great British public get another chance to chip in their tuppence worth!

Until Monday, October 13, you can vote can vote for your fav' book on the shortlist by going to the comments section and leaving the words, 'Vote: The Last Tiger' (for, ahem, example) and a sentence or two (about 40-words or so) on the reasons behind your choice.

So, simple enough, and you can get voting here.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Ever-so Irregular Friday (I know it's not Friday) Round-up

I wrote a note to my young self for The Courier.
It's been a bit of a gig-arama recently with visits to the Inverness Book Festival, Bloody Scotland and the Spirit of Moray Festival in Elgin.

All good fun.

And next week, I'm off to prison, Shotts Prison, to talk to some of the inmates, who are always great sources of material and a good laugh.

The next stop is Tasmania, a former prison colony - a theme could be emerging here - to do some promotional events for THE LAST TIGER.

There's some more media stuff lined-up in Melbourne on the same trip and then it's the beach. For some time.

Some good news on the prize front, with ARTEFACTS OF THE DEAD picking up a CWA Dagger in the Library nomination. Huge congrats to my publishers Black & White for that. You can view the long list - some very stiff competition - here.

ARTEFACTS has also been picking up some very nice reviews, courtesy of some very nice people, like Maxim Jakubowski over at Love Reading.

"Tony Black was brought up in Scotland and his voice resounds powerful and authentic ... The plot and the writing are slick and assured and unfold like dark clockwork. Black is the veteran of two previous series, respectively featuring D.I. Rob Brennan, and private eye Gus Dury. Valentine is a welcome addition to his palette of troubled but fascinating sleuths." -Maxim Jakubowski

And the ever-observant Crime Squad crew turned their critical powers on ARTEFACTS too, delivering up a 5-star verdict.

"Tony Black’s novels are modern masterpieces which bear comparison with the works of notable noir authors such as Hammett and Chandler. ‘Artefacts for the Dead’ is a fantastically dark novel which follows DI Bob Valentine as he struggles to make his way back from injury in the line of duty. Each chapter, page and sentence is crafted with the care of a true artisan as Black tells his story." -Crime Squad

In a hat-trick of cracking reviews for ARTEFACTS OF THE DEAD The Scots Magazine gave the thumbs up like this:

'Another grim but great whodunnit, set in Ayr, and one for DI Bob Valentine to get to the bottom of. Tony Black's talent for the Scottish noir puts him up there with the best, as any who have read his previous books will testify to. This one in particular is hard to put down.' -The Scots Mag

And finally, the excellent blog The Rap Sheet has a little piece about 'The Story Behind the Story' of ARTEFACTS which I wrote recently; always great to be in such esteemed company as TRS folks.

:: In other news, THE LAST TIGER is nearing the final stages of The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize, all the reviews are in now but you can still add your comments. There'll be a final vote in the next week or so and if you have the chance - even if you voted in the first round - please do take the time to do so once more.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Guest Blog: The Wanderer by Timothy Jarvis

Timothy Jarvis
by Timothy Jarvis

My book, The Wanderer, was in part conceived as a spiritual successor to Charles Robert Maturin’s 1820 novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, a work which gripped me when I first read it in my mid-twenties. Melmoth is very odd text, which brings, to the violence of the Gothic, a high-Romantic sensibility, but also, and more incongruously, the comical, sceptical, and metatextual mood of Renaissance and Enlightenment satire: Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Sterne, and Diderot. I wished to emulate some of Melmoth’s strangeness: its awkward, but potent, blend of tones.

The seeds of The Wanderer were planted much earlier, though, when a childhood love of the Sherlock Holmes stories led me to Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger tales. The 1912 novel, The Lost World, struck a particular chord, and I became obsessed with fantastical colonial romances. But, sometime in my early teens, I realized – to paraphrase McArdle, a newspaper editor in The Lost World – the big blank spaces on the map had all been filled in, that there was no room for romance left anywhere, and also that such imperial adventures belied darker truths. I turned away from them then.

Later in life, I discovered and was captivated by Edgar Allan Poe’s weird novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Its strange story of exploration took me back to the tales I’d loved as a child, and got me wondering where a writer could set an adventure as bizarre as Pym’s in a world in which even the wildest and most desolate places have been explored and tamed, new means of transport and telecommunication technologies have elided distances, and globalized culture has eroded difference. That was when I came up with the central premise of The Wanderer. My solution was a dislocation, not in space, but in time. I made my protagonist immortal and set much of the story in the far-flung future, when civilization has collapsed and history is nearing its close. MP Shiel’s The Purple Cloud was a particular influence on me in thinking about the desolated world I wished to depict. And from Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, ‘The Immortal’, I took a sense of disaffection and amorality in the undying.

Interwoven with the post-civilization strand, is one with a present day setting; the deathless narrator recounting the events of the evening on which he first learnt of his immortality. The portmanteau horror story was a big influence on this. A hint as to the structure came from Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters, while the mundane strangeness of the some of the short fiction of Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman suggested the tone.

I also wished to present the novel as a found manuscript, to generate a sense it could be something real in the world, that its horror might seep, might bleed out. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, CaitlĂ­n R Kiernan’s The Red Tree, and Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves were touchstones for this.

My attempt, when writing The Wanderer, was to fuse these various influences into a new whole, on the model of Melmoth, a whole that I hope would be both weird and pulpish, a chimera botched from incongruous parts, a Frankenstein’s monster…

There was one more key influence on the novel – eerily, a retrospective one. While editing the book, after completing my first draft, I came across a reference, in Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones, to a novel by one Walter Owen, titled, More Things in Heaven… Sinclair’s narrator describes this book as being a sequence of linked narratives about cursed manuscripts, manuscripts that cause readers to spontaneously combust, and warns that it is supposed to be itself cursed, supposed to confer, ‘malfate, paranoid delusions, death…’

Intrigued by a seeming resemblance to The Wanderer and undeterred by Sinclair’s narrator’s claims of malign influence, I ordered up More Things in Heaven… at the British Library. On opening it, I felt an eerie shock. The first line of Owen’s work runs: ‘On the 14th July 1935 Mr Cornelius Letherbotham, an English gentleman resident in Buenos Aires, died under extraordinary and distressing circumstances.’ The first line of The Wanderer was (and is): ‘On the 18th December 2010, Simon Peterkin, a British Library archivist and writer of weird tales with a small, if cultic, following, disappeared from his Highgate flat.’ I read on, gripped by a horrid fascination, and discovered more and more correspondences. Then I began dabbling, working more, this time intentional, allusions to More Things in Heaven… into my novel.

Then, in the block I was living in at the time, there was a bad fire. No one was hurt, but the building was gutted. I stopped tinkering after that.

:: The Wanderer is published by Perfect Edge Books. Find it on Amazon UK

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

From Dreams to Drivers and the Stark Reality

By Peter Carroll
I came to writing novels relatively late in life. As a kid I was a book-worm, excelled at English in school, and loved creative writing. But, as I got older, science, rock n roll, alcohol, work and other such delights distracted me. I lost my fascination with literature and never seriously considered being a writer. Then, about four years ago, a friend let me read a novel they’d written. It was really good and we chatted about what had inspired her. She believed lots of ideas for books are lost to people because they don’t write them down when they are struck by that Eureka moment.  I thought she might be right and found my interest in writing re-ignited; an ember of my childhood obsession began to glow.
One Saturday morning in 2010 I awoke at 6am, sun streaming through the curtains, surprised by how alert I was. I didn’t want to get up that early on a weekend and I tried to doze off. It didn’t work. However, as I lay there a scenario began to play out in my head; the interaction between two characters returning from the pub and a pivotal phrase. I remembered what my friend said about ideas and I got up, went downstairs, grabbed a pencil and a notepad, and began to write. At eight-thirty my wife and daughter came down to find me still writing. I’d knocked out about three thousand words. No structure, no plan, no idea where the story was going but I was buzzing. I was up and running as a writer and the ember burst into flames.
Fast forward to 2014 and I’ve had five novels published by a small independent called Raven Crest Books. I mainly write what’s often described as Tartan Noir. I prefer realism; if that means profanity and violence, then so be it. I enjoy taking the places and people I’ve known and exaggerating or embellishing them and, so far, I’ve had a pretty good reaction from readers. 
None of my output has troubled the upper reaches of the Amazon bestseller chart, and I haven’t been able to give up my real job, but it has been a brilliant experience. I write as and when I can fit it in. Sometimes, when work is slow (I’m a self-employed ecologist), I can hammer down great chunks of a book but in (Stark) contrast, when I’m busy with work and chauffeuring my ice-skating daughter about, I might struggle to get much done at all. In any case, my working method is probably more than a little against best practice. I write in bursts, allowing ideas to ping pong back and forward, letting the story evolve organically, adjusting and re-editing as I go when a new idea scuppers an old one. I rarely have a plan or a set structure. My novel Pandora’s Pitbull arose from a single line in my debut novel In Many Ways for instance. I think this is in part a symptom of not being a full-timer and in part a reflection of my personality.
Despite this apparent chaos, as I’ve gone along, I think I’ve become a much better writer. I’ve learned so much by reading others – Tony Black included – and by absorbing as much advice and feedback as I can. My latest novel is called Drivers and I’m really proud of it. It’s a tale of unrequited love and murderous revenge, set in gangland Glasgow. My publisher and I have decided to use it as a shop window to the rest of my work and offer it for free for the foreseeable future, allowing a risk-free introduction to my writing. I hope some of you might give it a go and maybe even spend some of your hard-earned on my other stuff. I’m always grateful when folks do. 
I would like to thank Tony for being so generous to an up and coming rookie and giving me this platform to tell you all a bit about myself. The support and encouragement of fellow authors like him has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this adventure so far. 
And what of the future? Well, I’m currently working on Stark Reality - the third instalment of a police procedural series featuring an Alloa-based cop called Adam Stark. With the flame burning brightly in me again, I intend to keep writing; searching for that elusive key that unlocks the door to big sales. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to give up that day job. 

:: You can find Peter at the following web hang-outs:  Website    Twitter    Facebook 

Friday, 29 August 2014

The ever-so irregular Friday (is it even Friday?) round up

I might have missed a Friday, or two, of round-ups but I think the 'irregular' bit covers me for that. So, without further blather, here's the, er, blather ...

The Last Tiger, shortlisted  for Not the Booker.
That newspaper of note, The Guardian still has The Last Tiger shortlisted for its Not the Booker prize at the moment and the latest step in the judging process is a very level-headed review from Sam Jordison. There's four more shortlisted books to be reviewed - all the very best of luck to the authors and their publishers - and readers can enter the debate via the comments box for the reviews during that time.

The Last Tiger continues to rack up the reviews - breaking the 20 five-star reviews mark on Amazon recently - and landing some very nice plaudits from the folks at

"Poetically written, The Last Tiger is likely to make you very sad and melancholic but sometimes those books are the best kind there is. Black speaks about important things and through the tale of the final throes of this wild but wonderful species, he actually talks about humanity itself and the need to accept the very things we don't really understand." 

In the coming weeks I'll be talking about The Last Tiger - and other things - to students at Edinburgh Uni and I'll be doing a Hunting the Last Tiger event in Elgin.
Meanwhile Artefacts of the Dead, my new Ayr-set crime novel has been featured in the Cumnock Chronicle, where the origins of DI Bob Valentine get an airing for the first time. The book also picks up some very nice reviews at Undiscovered Scotland and Crime Review.

The Undiscovered Scotland reviewer pointed out I wasn't making too many friends at the Ayrshire Tourist board, and is probably right. But I liked this bit best: 

"Artefacts of the Dead is Tony Black's latest venture into Tartan Noir and deeply noir it is too… The result is a thoroughly enjoyable read that keeps you guessing right to the end."

Crime Review called Artefacts a "superbly told tale" and added that it: "treads the fine line between dramatic license and realism with a sure-footedness close to perfection with often unrelenting violence finessed by surprising emotion and compassion."

Hard Truths is out now in paperback.
In other news my compilation of crime writer interviews - Hard Truths - has now made its way into paperback.

This series was something of a labour of love, spanning about five years' worth of interviews with the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Andrew Vachss. The interviews cover a host of topics from the writing process to more personal anecdotes and featured in a number of newspapers, magazines and on my own, now defunct website, Pulp Pusher.

You can catch an edited version of my interview with the legendary Godfather of Tartan Noir, William McIlvanney on YouTube now. 


Friday, 22 August 2014

Tasmanian tiger extinction doco

There's a lot of footage on YouTube about the Tasmanian tiger and its 'extinction' but most of it is pretty dire stuff. This is a detailed and well put-together account of the animal's demise and although it runs on a bit is worth the watch if you're keen to broaden your understanding of what went on down in Tassie.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Lost Australians: Fortean Times article from 90s

Very interesting article from the Fortean Times, published some time in the 90s, which was sent to me by J.T. Lindroos (who is also an excellent cover designer, just saying!). There's a curious discussion on the Queensland tiger, that sounds more big cat than thylacine, and an interesting guess at the current numbers of around 1,000; note the writer using the pseudonym Tigerman guesses at around 200, or less, extant thylacines now in Tasmania.

Page One

 Page Two

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Tasmanian tiger in New Guinea

The thylacine once roamed throughout Australia, and on New Guinea, the large island to the north of the continent. It's thought the tiger became extinct on mainland Australia about 2,000 years ago and possibly earlier on New Guinea. A number of theories account for this, including loss of habitat to incoming dingoes, who were far less choosy eaters, and hunting by indigenous peoples. What's far harder to explain away is continued sightings of thylacines on New Guinea. This short video gives a fascinating account of such sightings in West Papua Province (previously known as Irian Jaya). Locals say the thylacine, which they call dobsenga, lives in the region's high country.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The ever-so irregular Friday round-up

It's Friday, so time to round up some of the last week (-ish or so) of stuff that's been happening. Or not, as the case may be.

Shockeroonie, as Frank McAvennie might say, THE LAST TIGER has made it onto the shortlist for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize. Voting closed last Sunday and the results show it was about as tight as a tight run thing, so thanks a million to all of you who voted, and double thanks to my excellent publishers Cargo for nominating.

The next round sees The Guardian reviewing all of the shortlisted titles before another vote and eventual decision by a judging panel. All the best of luck to those on the shortlist, I can't wait to delve into some of those books so props (see how street I am?) to The Guardian for bringing them to my attention.

THE LAST TIGER - currently 99p - has also been steadily picking up some nice reviews over at Amazon and some equally nice coverage in the press, with The Herald (almost) making my trip Down Under their splash today. There's also a great interview at The Inverness Courier, where I talk to journo of note Calum MacLeod. And, if you grab a copy of this month's Writing Magazine you'll find another interview with me in there.

Meanwhile back at the crime fiction ranch, ARTEFACTS OF THE DEAD, the novel Ayr-writer Michael Malone still believes is called Architects of the Dead (too much Grand Designs, Mick!) got a great reception at Weegie Words in Glasgow this week, where I read the section about a banker getting impaled on a wooden spike.

Artefacts - not Architects! - has also picked up some fine reviews lately, with the Daily Mail praising its "taut, heart-wrenchingly honest protagonist and impressive literary style".

They went on - and I for one wasn't about to stop them: 

"It is among the best of the new Tartan Noir, a story told with real poignancy amid the ugliness and fear."

This week Artefacts also kicked off a serialisation in the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal newspaper which will run till the end of the year and saw its book trailer - and my beard - aired to the world:


And finally, my novella THE RINGER has sneaked into print on Amazon and has had quite a few takers in its first week or so. It's a lovely edition, it must be said, with an excellent cover design by the ever-talented Jim Divine. You can grab a copy in the UK for £4.99 and in the USA for the dollar equivalent. Meanwhile in the Czech Republic DI Rob Brennan has made his way into print with Murder Mile. At least, I think that's what it says on the cover ...
Oh, one last thing, if you fancy the chance to win £200 worth of books then you can now nominate your favourite crime writer for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. Simply visit the sponsor's website and list your three favs. It's an award for a body of work, so the writer needs to have published at least three books ... I've published way more than that, ahem, just saying.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Not the Booker Prize: The Last Tiger

After clawing its way up the charts, The Last Tiger (see what I did there?) has now found itself onto the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize longlist.

This is a great result for all at Cargo Publishing, especially my publisher, Mark Buckland, who has done an outstanding job getting the book noticed.

Voting is causing a wee bit of confusion for some folk, but it's a simple enough affair, really.

Here's how to vote:

1) Go to the Guardian page for the Not the Booker Prize.

2) Scroll down to the comments section, and state your vote, with a few words about why you've made that choice. You can list a second choice too, in the same fashion.

3) If you're not already registered with the Guardian to leave comments, then, at the same point on the page - just before the comments section - go to this bit:

Open for comments. or create your Guardian account to join the discussion. 

You'll have to give your email address and a username, but that's it. I've been registered for years and never had any spam so no need to worry.


To all of you who have voted already, my huge thanks, it really means a great deal to see so many of you speaking up for The Last Tiger. Much appreciated, folks!

:: As part of Amazon's Summer Sale The Last Tiger is still only £0.99 right now.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Eerie final footage of The Last Tiger

:: For a limited time only, THE LAST TIGER, is available as part of Amazon's Summer Sale at the low price of £0.99.

"The Last Tiger presents the reader with a unique storyline that takes historical fiction to a new dimension."
                                 -Col Bailey, author of Shadow of the Thylacine

Friday, 25 July 2014

The irregular Friday round-up

The Ringer in paperback, out now, price: £4.99
Yes, it's Friday, and that means ... well, asking myself if I can be bothered to post the week's main book-related shenanigans.

Rejoice, people, because I can!

THE RINGER - featuring my most crazy anti-hero to date - has hit the proper book shelves. Yes, that's right. You can now buy a copy of THE RINGER in pristine paperback - and a very nice piece of paper it is too - for the meagre sum of £4.99 or the equivalent currency of your choice.

In the coming days/weeks HARD TRUTHS will be the next cab of the paper ranks; I'll keep you posted, and there's more to come.

Some other recent releases have been clocking up very nice reviews of late. THE LAST TIGER, especially, has been roaring up the charts. (Oh, dear). Gaining on the Brown stuff, and becoming my all-time best-seller thanks to an Amazon 99p Summer Sale promo.

My fav review so far for this title has to be from Liz Loves Books:

"What an absolutely amazing and fascinating tale this was – beautifully written, absolutely captivating and with an emotional resonance that will stick with me forever." -Liz Loves Books

ARTEFACTS OF THE DEAD, my new Ayr-set crime novel has also been picking up some very nice reviews, with the Daily Record calling it:

"Dark. Relentless. Harrowing. Set in the shadows of evil, it's a gripping tome that's as chilling as the waves that lap Ayr's shore in the dead of night." -Daily Record

Then Shortlist took up the baton:

"A world full of emotion, mystery and suspense. Twisty crime fiction at its best." -Shortlist 

Last but not least, the Commonwealth Games kicked off in Scotland, so it seemed like the ideal time for me to kick off in The Ayrshire Post. 

I also had a dig at the state of one particular carpark in Ayr and praised our wonderful library and staff at Carnegie in Ayr. 

Libraries in the UK are still under tremendous pressure from the short-sighted Tory cuts that are being foisted on them in the name of austerity measures; here's hoping that Carnegie and many others can weather this storm.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

GUEST BLOG: Twelve rules, twelve weeks, and Twelve Mad Men.

By Ryan Bracha

Twelve Mad Men is the story of a night guard’s first shift at St David’s asylum for the criminally insane. Throughout the shift he meets the staff and residents there, and before long it soon becomes apparent that there’s something very wrong in the water. It is made up of several stories written by some of the finest indie talent on offer, and woven into the narrative by me, Ryan Bracha.

Lanarkshire-born wordsmith Mark Wilson probably hates me when I’m a bit tipsy. He probably hates me full stop. On Saturday nights, when the wife has gone to bed just around Match of the Day, or The Football League Show comes on, I get on the long bit of the corner sofa, with a beer in one hand, and my phone in the other. From this position, I scroll through Facebook contacts, find the bald bastard, and I hurl abuse (wrapped in the safe word of banter!) at his little bald head. In between this ‘banter’, we discuss books. We talk about other writers; who we admire, who’s doing something cool with their stuff, and who’s an absolute clown. It’s about these times that I come up with my best ideas. They start as throwaway comments about what it’d be cool to do, or what character I’d like to introduce into a book, or what I want to do to try to stand out from the crowd. Some of them are forgotten as quickly as they dribbled out of my brain, but others are left to fester upstairs. Whilst up there, they grow a fine layer of fuzzy mould, and begin to take on a life of their own. Twelve Mad Men was one of those ideas.

I wanted to write a set of rules that I would write a novel by, and I would beg a bunch of authors to get involved in the making of it. The set of rules eventually became what I have termed ‘The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014,’ which required twelve very loose guidelines to write a book by, for example it had to feature twelve different writers, all invited to participate by the lead writer. Or each story had to be so many words long. Or that the project would cost nothing but time, the writers between them must use the skills between them to make the project work, and for free. That kind of thing. I wanted it to be a literary equivalent of the Dogme 95 cinematic movement, led by Lars Von Trier.

So I began to ask around the writers whose work I’d discovered in my first eighteen months in the literary game. Gerard Brennan, whose work I adore. Keith Nixon and Mark Wilson, my original and best pals on the indie scene, they taught me at least 63% of what I know now. Paul Brazill, whose descriptive prose makes me sick with envy. The writer of my favourite book of 2013, Craig Furchtenicht. Lord of despair and darkness Allen Miles. Darren Sant because of his gritty urban collections. And Martin Stanley, the hard-boiled master. They all said yes, without hesitation. It blew my mind. From here I asked for suggestions, and Christ, I snagged the legendary Les Edgerton, the twisted fuck that is Richard Godwin, and the king of short, sharp fiction, Gareth Spark.

Once I’d got them, I told them what I wanted. The brief was pretty much simply this: I’m going to narrate the story from the point of view of a night guard on his first shift at St David’s asylum for the criminally insane.  Along this shift he’s going to meet fictional version of you. I want you to write me a story about your spiral into madness, and what acts led you to be incarcerated at St David’s. No more than six thousand words. I would improvise and react to the stories submitted, and this would shape how the book went. The stories came in and they blew me away. They were funny, dark, violent, sweary, intelligent, disgusting, witty and above all, brilliant. Everybody who’s read it so far has said something like ‘That Richard Godwin, he’s a damaged fuck, eh?’ and that’s what I wanted. I was sick of seeing the charts filled to the brim with rip-offs of the last big thing. I wanted to put a book out that had got some real balls, one that would make a reader admire the ambition that lay within, and I think I invited possibly the most perfect eleven to make it so. I wanted these guys to let loose. Take themselves out of their comfort zones, and simply go nuts, pun intended. They made me up my own game in response to the sheer brilliance of what they were sending me. They made me push harder to make the narrative of the book stand up alongside the stories included therein. They did me proud, each and every one of them.

For me, the highlight of the whole process was all of it. I’ve got to know some really cool fellas, and I’ve put out a work that I think they can all be proud of. The next project is already up in the mental attic gathering the mould it needs to come alive, and I’d be happy to have any one of them back for round two.

Ryan Bracha is the Yorkshire born best-selling author of several works of fiction, including Strangers are Just Friends you Haven’t Killed yet, Tomorrow’s Chip Paper, and Paul Carter is a Dead Man. His latest work, a novel of stories entitled Twelve Mad Men, is a ground breaking literary collaboration with some of the most talented Brit Grit and American talent currently working today. He lives in Barnsley with his wife, two cats, and their as-yet unborn, and unnamed, daughter.

:: Buy Twelve Mad Men on Amazon now.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tiger trapper caught on film

Anyone who looks into the history of the Tasmanian tiger will tell you that the real experts were the old trappers. Turk Porteous - who features in this video - knew more about the nature of thylacines in the bush than any university professor, simply because he observed them at first hand. In his acclaimed book, Tiger Tales, Col Bailey talks about his experiences of dealing with the old bushmen and trappers of Tasmania, how they observed the tigers in their natural habitat, and comes to precisely the same conclusion. That there are no 'real experts' these days, because they have all died out, those bushmen with the experience to say they knew and understood the tigers.

:: For a limited time only, THE LAST TIGER, is available as part of Amazon's Summer Sale at the low price of £0.99.

"The Last Tiger presents the reader with a unique storyline that takes historical fiction to a new dimension."
                                 -Col Bailey, author of Shadow of the Thylacine

Friday, 18 July 2014

Launch week reviews for Artefacts of the Dead

It's only been out a week or so but my new crime novel is racking up some very pretty reviews.

It's an interesting one, Artefacts, a kind of existential thriller about a cop who has come back from the brink of death and starts to re-evaluate whether life is worth living. I once heard the answer to that question was 'it depends on the liver' but Bob Valentine will have to work that out for himself.

If you'd like to find out a little more about Artefacts, and its setting in the heart of Burns Country - the lovely town of Ayr - then I wrote a piece earlier in the week for Shots Mag about just that topic.

Meanwhile, over at Liz Loves Books, Artefacts was declared "another massive page turner of the highest order". Liz went on to declare Artefacts "absolutely superb" and how can I argue with that? I think I'll just drop in a chunk of her review and shut up now:

"This author never fails to remind me why I love Crime Fiction so much – the characters pretty much pop off the page, the fine line between dramatic license and realism is walked to perfection and whilst often violent and unrelenting there is also a finesse to it that means it is enough yet not too much."

Heather McD also reviewed over at her blog, calling it a "solid mystery" with "characters that stand out from the page". She went on too, and I wasn't gonna stop her:

"Solid story, great characters, and a great writing style!"

The Crime Thriller Fella declared me an old hand at putting characters under intense strain - hey, less of the old, mate! He did seem to enjoy his time with DI Bob Valentine, though, and he's bang on the money when he says that Artefacts is "part procedural, part existential reflection by a man who has been given a second chance at life – and isn’t sure if it’s worth having".

Again, he elaborated:

"We could all learn a thing or two from Tony Black on how to crank up the pressure to eleven on our beloved characters."

I did a little Q&A with the Crime Thriller Fella this week too, where I talk about the creative cistern needing filling, among other scatological insights.

Finally, Killing Time Crime took a shuftie at Artefacts of the Dead and found plenty to praise about the characterisation of DI Bob Valentine, before stating:

"It’s also a good crime novel, and the plot more than holds its own. Black is also very good on social commentary, and the book is peppered with neat observations."

And on that note, it seems appropriate to tell you that Artefacts of the Dead is available from Black & White publishing, in all good bookstores, and on Amazon

:: My other Black & White title, His Father's Son, is currently part of the Amazon Summer Sale, available for £0.99 for a limited time only.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

FACE OFF: Keith Nixon and Douglas Jackson sort out publishing

Keith Nixon

Take two writers. Put them in one room (kinda, a cyber room in this instance) and let them share experiences - the results are always interesting. No two authors approach the work, the industry or the route to success in the same way. In the case of Keith Nixon, an indie writer who took the route to traditional publishing, everything seems to have worked out fine. The same can also be said of Doug Jackson, a gifted and successful author in more than one genre, who started his career with a dream deal from Transworld. Pulp Pusher decided to introduce the two of them, to hear how their experiences differed, and to get the run-down on new books from both men ... in traditional and digital formats.

Keith: You’ve a series of Roman historical fiction novels with a character called Gaius Valerius Verrens. Who is he?

Douglas Jackson

Doug: The Gaius Valerius Verrens series opens with Hero of Rome, when a 22-year-old Valerius is fighting his father's demands to return to Rome to resume his career in the law. Valerius wants to stay in Britannia with the XXth legion and join the campaign against the Druids on Mona, but filial duty means he can't refuse. Events, however, delay his departure and he's drawn into the fight to stop the rebel queen Boudicca, commanding a forlorn hope of two hundred odds and sods sent to reinforce Camulodunum (modern Colchester). The centrepiece of the book is the defence of Camulodunum against Boudicca's hordes, by the local militia, a Dad's Army of retired legionaries, and the last stand in the Temple of Claudius, which I think of as Rome's Alamo. The wonderful thing for me is how Valerius develops as a character over the following books; scarred by his past, a good man forced to fight and to kill to protect what he loves.

Keith: And Sword of Rome, the recently published fourth outing for Verrens?

Doug: It covers the opening months of the Year of the Four Emperors, the bloody civil war that cost tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of lives and brought the Empire to the brink of ruin. As it opens, Valerius is on a mission for Servius Sulpicius Galba, accompanied by Marcus Salvius Otho, who will in a few short months be Galba's murderer. With his links to Aulus Vitellius and Vespasian, our hero finds himself uniquely placed to affect events and the protagonists take advantage. After a perilous journey across Europe hunted by the most implacable enemy he has ever faced, Valerius finds himself at the heart of the first Battle of Bedriacum, the bloody confrontation in the Po Valley that will decide the fate of the Empire.

The paperback of Sword of Rome is out in July, and the follow-up, Enemy of Rome, is published on August 28. Once more Bedriacum is the focus of the war, and Valerius joins the army of Vespasian in the campaign to oust his old friend Vitellius from the throne. When Vespasian's commander needs someone to negotiate the surrender of Rome there's only one man for the job. Once more he must put his head into the lion's mouth, but there are dark powers at work and when he discovers that Vitellius is no longer the master of his destiny, only one man stands between the city and its destruction.

Doug: I know you also write books on the Roman period. What's the subject and how did you get your inspiration?

Keith: Even though my first published work was crime (The Fix) I actually started with historical fiction. I felt I needed an event to write around to get me started. I went to Maiden Castle, the largest iron age fort in Europe, and read about how the Romans had sacked it. Quite an achievement given the size. So I started to dig into Roman history and realized that the invasion of AD43 started a few miles away from where I lived. I became intrigued by Caradoc, a British general who resisted the Romans for nearly a decade and now a largely forgotten military leader in history. After two years of many rewrites The Eagle’s Shadow was the result.

You've had a successful career over the last few years, Doug, how did you come to be published?

Doug: By quite an interesting route, actually. I'd completed The Emperor's Elephant and knew it was pretty good, but not quite good enough. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to go about starting a rewrite. A few weeks later I stumbled on an English Arts Council website called where you uploaded the first 10,000 words of your book and other people critiqued it, using a points system. To get critiques, you also had to critique other people's books. At first it was a chore, but very quickly I realised that by looking for flaws in other people's writing, it also gave me an insight into my own, and gradually I began to look at the book in a different way. I uploaded a second, improved version and won a book of the month award, which entitled me to a critique by a publishing professional. My beginning ended up with Sarah O'Keefe at Orion books, who specialised in historical novels. I knew she'd like it, and she did. She asked to see the rest of the book and I thought I had it made. I got a phone call a couple of week's later along the lines of 'We were going to offer you a deal , but ...' The but was that they wanted to focus on the first third of the book, which was based around intrigue in the palace of the Emperor Caligula. I could have said no, because there was no guarantee of a deal at the end of it, but I realised that if I could achieve this I'd have taken another step forward as a writer. I worked on it for three months and found an agent on the strength of her interest. He liked the result so much that he insisted on putting it out to seven mainstream publishers. Two or three were interested and one came back offering a pre-empt deal, which is an offer design dot scare off the opposition. I was on my way.

Keith: I see you've recently ventured into the crime genre with War Games, why the shift from historicals?

Doug: It was really a question of having a perfectly good book and wanting to see it published. When I finished my first novel (it became Caligula, but I didn't then have publisher) I had no idea what to do next, but I'd enjoyed it so much it seemed a pity not to write another. I could write a historical novel, but why not try something different? What came next was a crime novel written in the first person because the main character started talking to me in my sleep in a kind of Fifties Noir Sam Spade voiceover kind of way. The hero is a Falklands War veteran who returns home semi-traumatised, but with a gift that he thought he'd lost long ago. Glen Savage is a psychic, the last resort the cops call on after all the other last resorts have struck out. In War Games he's investigating the possible abduction of a young Asian girl when he finds himself crossing swords - almost literally - with a serial killer who thinks he's still fighting a war that ended seven hundred years ago. The action takes place in the Borders, my old stamping ground, and when I was writing it I wanted to make the place a character, in the way James Lee Burke does with New Orleans.

Keith: And War Games is self-published, how's that experience been for you?

Doug: I knew my agent was unlikely to convince my publisher to take War Games, and a second Glen Savage novel I had, because I was already writing parallel series for them (Valerius and the Jamie Saintclair series - as James Douglas - which blends contemporary action with historical mysteries). It's possible I could have found another publisher, but that would have been a scheduling nightmare. Eventually, after discussing it with my agent, he agreed to support it as a self-publishing project. If I'm being honest, I'm a little disappointed with the impact it's made so far. I priced it low and expected to get quite a few takers, especially among Douglas Jackson fans, but after a not bad first week it faded away. I guess I still have a lot to learn. I was very fortunate in getting some great advice on the technical side of Kindle from Simon Turney, who also writes Roman-era fiction, and is a real self-publishing phenomenon, but I haven't managed to turn the book into a paperback yet. I have a feeling that would add to the credibility. I also think that it helps a lot to have several books out with the same character, to get a bit of cross-pollination.

We're quite similar in that we write in different genres, Keith. Do you find it difficult to jump from one mindset to the other; from the past to the present and vice versa?

Keith: I guess so far I haven’t had to jump around between genres. The sequel to Eagle’s Shadow I started and put on hold about five years ago. I’ve another crime novel in process now, once that’s done I’ll jump back to historical. I suspect getting into the mindset of writing about two thousand year old events, versus modern-day crime, will be interesting! I do feel I’ve got to finish one, create a separation and then start in the other genre…

Can you expand on your experiences in self- and traditional publishing, Doug? There's an ongoing debate about which is best.

Doug: I don't think there's a best or a worst, they both have their good points and their downsides. The one thing that unites them is that you have to be very fortunate as well as very good to make any kind of breakthrough. A welcome upside of traditional publishing is that you get an advance, so you have some money to bankroll your efforts, which is particularly important when you write full time as I do. On the other hand what sounds like a big advance isn't quite as good as it sounds. For instance, an advance for a three book deal will be delivered in ten smaller increments over four years, so even the much trumpeted six figure advance will give you an average income of £25k, minus tax and your agent's cut, which isn't really much to shout about. And that advance has to be repaid by book sales. My last royalty statement averaged about 40p a book, paid three months in arrears every six months, so unless your sales are pretty enormous you'll take a long time to earn out a decent advance. Self-publishing at least has the potential to provide a monthly income if your book sells, and the Amazon royalty rate of 70 per cent for books priced £1.99 and over is a fair rate of return. It means your books can be keenly priced, which should generate more sales, and you still get a fair return. Of course, the downside of that is that everyone then thinks they should get all their books for next to nothing.

Keith: Yes, that’s a good point. There’s definitely a view with many readers that e-books must be low priced or even free.

Doug: It goes without saying that you have to sell books to make money in both self and traditional publishing. As a budding author you dream of seeing your name up in lights, posters at the station and your books in enormous piles in Waterstones and WH Smith. The reality is that even with a large mainstream publisher that will only happen if you become a best-seller. Of course, the most likely way to become a best-seller is to have your name up in lights, posters in the station ... you get the picture. If a traditional publisher decides to put their full resources behind you, you have a chance, but you only get one bite at the cherry and mostly they keep the big money for the big names. In my limited experience self-publishing can be equally frustrating. You've written a good book, you've put it out there on Kindle, you've asked your mates on Twitter and Facebook to tell the world, and then what? It either sells or it doesn't, and if it doesn't I'm not sure there's any guarantee you can change that.

I think the best thing about traditional publishing is that you're part of a team, and for an author who spends most of his life writing alone that can be a real encouragement and comfort. You have an editor who's put his career on the line because he believes in you and whose job it is to get the best out of you. You work with a copy editor, who is normally more expert in your genre than you are - mine have saved me from embarrassment any number of times. You have an enormously professional production team who make your books look stellar, even if they're sometimes not. You have legal oversight, which is important when you're about to defame a world leader as I was not that long ago. And you have professional proofreaders to spot those irritating little mistakes that hid themselves the last twenty times you read the manuscript. After that process you can just about guarantee your book is the best it can possibly be. In self-publishing you have to provide all these services yourself and it's much scarier to put out a book that only you and a few close friends have read.

Keith: Will you be self-publishing again?

Doug: Yes, almost certainly. I have a second Glen Savage novel on the stocks and the (few) people who've read the first one have really enjoyed it. The reality is that most authors will have to write two books a year to make a living. In future I see an author having a career with a traditional publisher, but perhaps dove-tailing it with self-publishing a second series of novels at his own pace and his own price. That will take goodwill on both sides, but I think the industry will eventually work it out.

Doug: What about you Keith? Self-publish or traditional?

Keith: I started as self-publish, then was picked up by Caffeine Nights and lost touch with the DIY process until putting out Eagle’s Shadow six weeks ago. It’s been a learning process all over again and I’ve loved it. Going forward I’ll carry on with both routes. I like the ability to move at pace in self-publish. Like you, Doug, I think there’s room for both. I know some authors who are indie or self-publish forever. I guess time will tell…

:: All the books above by Keith Nixon and Douglas Jackson are available on Amazon. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Top 5 - A completely idiosyncratic list of football books

Well, that's the World Cup over for another four years and I can already feel the withdrawal symptoms setting in.

It was a fabulous tournament all round, with highlights aplenty.

The shock humbling of the once mighty Spain (a team whose style of play I was never a fan of) seemed to herald a return to a more attacking game all round. Though it was a disappointment Messi and Ronaldo didn't feature more heavily on the score-sheets.

Of those that did, Van Persie's athletic header was a favourite for me. As was the Rodriguez stunner, but my goal of the tourney goes to an Aussie, Tim Cahill, for a volley that was just an incredible piece of skill.

Low points have to be the Brits disappointing showing, of course would like to have seen Scotland there, but in their absence I was backing the England team. The lowest of the low points has to be Suarez's biting incident, shocking beyond belief, but the Uruguay reaction - blaming his actions on an English media conspiracy - was idiotic.

Germany, in the end, were deserved winners - though their keeper should have been red carded for the full-on assault that had eerie echos of Spain 82 when Schumacker recklessly lunged from his six-yard box. Still, great to see the legendary Klose managing to play nearly the whole final and a fitting swansong to see such an outstanding goalscorer go out on a high.

It's the German's 7-1 thrashing of the most disinterested and lacklustre Brazil team I've ever witnessed that will stay with me the most from this World Cup, however. I can't remember watching another match through slitted fingers so much. It was beyond embarrassing. I felt truly uneasy witnessing a side I'd worshipped from boyhood demolished in such fashion. Sad for Brazil, sad for the people who picked up the tab for such an enormously expensive spectacle to be left with those memories.

If, like me you're feeling a little starved of international footy action already then a little distraction might do the trick. Here's another completely idiosyncratic list of football books that I can recommend to while away the hours:

1- Pele: The Autobiography - by Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Does the legendary 'best player of all time' need any introduction? His autobiography has been around for a few years now and it's probably an indication of its quality that the book is still in print. It's a dramatic rags to riches story, littered with all the top names from the top teams, and a fascinating account of his early years in the game right through to the dubious move to Cosmos. There's nice accounts of things like his first bicycle kick and the retelling of the early hopes and dreams of a spirited lover of the beautiful game are priceless.  

2- Blessed - by George Best
The number of books written by, and about, George Best could fill a football stadium but this one is the pick of the crop. Part memoir, part confessional and part autobiographical testimony the book sparkles with Best's wit and wisdom. As quick off the lip as he was on the ball, Best, has an eye for an anecdote and a lovely humorous, self-deprecating way of delivering a tale. All the highlights of the life and loves of El Beatle are there, too, like the time he was asked how many Miss Worlds he'd dated? "Two or three, it would have been more but I stood some of them up!" For me, the greatest player the game has ever produced, blessed beyond belief, indeed.  

3- The Damned United - by David Peace
Forget the Carry On version you've seen on the telly or at the cinema, The Damned United is a damned fine book written by an equally fine writer. If you know British football, then you know it was impossible to ignore Brian Clough. Love him or loath him - and many did, objecting to his blunt-speaking - he was impossible to ignore. His achievements at Nottingham Forrest look like the stuff of fantasy league these days but this book doesn't reach that point in his past. It's his ill-fated time at Leeds, taking over from the dearly-loved Don Revie for a mere 44 days that Peace documents in the kind of warts and all way that only a near Shakespearean character of Clough's stature is fit to fill. 

4- The Lone Rangers - by Tom Maxwell
Edinburgh-writer Maxwell is well-known as the author of the recent football book, The Fabulous Baker Boys, but this earlier book is fast becoming a classic of the genre. As a committed Berwick Rangers fan, Maxwell, knows all about the highs and lows of the lower leagues. Interestingly, Berwick are the only English team to play in the Scottish league, however, and display a fiercely competitive streak, backed by a committed following. The book retells the team's story of the last hundred years, with cameo appearances for a host of household names whose early careers touched on the Lone Rangers. The Jock Wallace episodes are as entertaining a read as I've come across in a footy book, but you can expect similar from the likes of Gordon McQueen, Ally McCoist and Gary Linekar.

5- Scotland '74: A World Cup Story - by Richard Gordon
As a Scotland fan any retelling of our nation's exploits will be beset with mixed emotions. For all the highs, the lows can be heart-crushing. For those of us reveling in the glory days of old when World Cup qualification seemed like a foregone conclusion this book will be meat and drink. All the greats are there: Law, Bremner, a young Kenny Dalglish, Lorimer, and the plug-toothed Jaws, aka Joe Jordan. Forget about Archie Gemmill's exquisite goal in Argentina '78 or David Narey's thunderbolt in Spain '82 (it wisnae a toe-poke) the tournament where it looked like the Scots could do no wrong was West Germany '74. Of course, we did do wrong in the end, it's Scotland we're talking about here, but what a story we had to tell. Thrilling, immersive and packed with the stuff of revelry; and with a very nice foreword by Gordon Strachan as well.