June 28

The 3rd Woman – Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman Jacket imageJournalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder.

SHE CAN’T TRUST THE POLICE

Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests Abi was the third victim in a series of killings hushed up as part of a major conspiracy.

SHE CAN EXPOSE THE TRUTH

In a United States that now bows to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up her quest for justice, or face the consequences…

 

Day Three of The Third Woman blog tour and we are getting ever closer to publication on 2nd July.

 

Sometimes you can read a book and you know from quite early on that you are going to enjoy it. You get caught up in the story from the off: the lead character is engaging, the drama unfolding is gripping and in the background there is a (seemingly) unconnected plot which you KNOW will become very relevant. That was my experience with The Third Woman…hooked, drawn in and captivated.

There was a real sense of scale in reading The 3rd Woman, it reads like a Hollywood blockbuster movie. The lead character works for one of the biggest newspapers in America, the LA Times. There is an international tension building between the United States and the all-powerful People’s Republic of China (who now maintain a presence on US soil). Also, the apparent suicide of a school teacher is catching the attention of the mayor of California, why is he feeding false information to the press about the dead girl?

Well the dead girl in question is the ‘baby’ sister of investigative journalist Maddison Webb. Maddison is not satisfied with the official explanation of suicide and seeks answers to help her deal with her grief. It should probably come as no surprise to learn that suicide is quickly ruled out and our story becomes a personal mission to track down a murderer.

There are different threads to The 3rd Woman which all interweave in a delightfully twisty way. Maddison’s investigations cross with the local election campaign that the mayor is contesting. Maddy uses her position at The LA Times to expose her suspicions but this leads to conflicts at the paper and when she starts to rely on her contacts within the police we see how the Authorities try to shut down her renegade investigations. The ominous presence hanging over the whole story is that of the Chinese. In The 3rd Woman the Chinese are very clearly the enemy of the American people who resent their presence on their territory.

Photo by Philippa Gedge
Photo by Philippa Gedge

Jonathan Freedland has created a believable environment in which to base this story. Maddison uses Social Media outlet ‘Weibo’ to communicate with her followers. The Americans have a tense diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China who now seem to carry more authority/influence in California than the mayor. It adds a delightful political undercurrent to all the conflicts and actions of the press and politicians.

I am quite certain that The 3rd Woman is going to be big. It is a powerful story, well told and has a brilliant roller-coaster of thrills and twists. Definitely a book to look out for this summer – perfect airport pickup!

 

 

 

The 3rd Woman is published by Harper Collins on 2 July 2015. You can pre-order the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-3rd-Woman-Jonathan-Freedland/dp/0007413688/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1435242557&sr=8-1

 

Jonathan Freedland is on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Freedland

Follow the Tour join in on Twitter through #The3rdWoman

JFBLOGTOURBANNER

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June 20

Devil’s Knock – Douglas Skelton Q&A

Today I am delighted to be able to welcome the Douglas Skelton to the blog. Douglas  has just released the third novel in the Davie McCall series, Devil’s Knock, and I was keen to discuss what we could expect from Davie this time around.

 

Devils Knock cover-1 case filesWhat I would like to discuss is the new book, Devil’s Knock. However, before we get there, would you like to set the scene and tell me about Davie McCall?

It’s the third in the series – the others being Blood City and Crow Bait – all set in Glasgow in the twenty years leading up to the new millennium. Davie’s a hard man with a heart but only a very few of his closest friends – and the readers – know that. To everyone else he’s a thug, a piece of muscle, working for his old pal Rab McClymont but underneath that there’s a haunted man who really doesn’t want to do what he’s doing but is trapped by the fact that he’s really quite good at it!

 

And how do events in Blood City and Crow Bait lead us to Devil’s Knock?

It’s now 1995 and Davie’s been scarred both physically and mentally by the events from the first two books. The Glasgow underworld has changed, become more vicious, thanks to drugs. Davie himself is colder, harder to reach. Big Rab is even more powerful but still open to being challenged by other factions, in this case the Jarvis Clan.

And to Devil’s Knock its-self – without asking for spoilers, what can we look out for in the new book?

The street war that the police have feared would come finally erupts. Davie’s caught in the middle. He’s colder but he still adheres to his code – don’t hurt women, children or animals, don’t involve civilians. He refuses to kill, still won’t use firearms. That makes him a target. He’s also helping an old pal whose grandson has been implicated in the bloody murder which kicks the whole thing off.

Does it become easier to write for characters by the third book in a series?

Davie’s always hard to write. I like writing dialogue but he’s so taciturn, everything with him is internal. As for the others, I don’t think it should ever become easy. In a series like this they have to change. They’re ageing in real-time, bad things are happening to them, so they must change. There are certain constants, of course, but I think you should always be looking to make your characters grow in some way. Not always for the better, though!

Davie seems to hold dear his personal moral code, despite moving in some nasty circles – is this fun to plot for him? I am almost envisaging you saying “right today he is going to encounter someone who has been beating his wife” then set Davie off on a course of retribution.

I’m dealing with a morally suspect world but I wanted to have my anti-hero as someone who has his own strict moral code, as I mentioned earlier. He may be a criminal and a violent man but I wanted the reader to root for him. These are not documentary accounts of Glasgow criminal life, they are thrillers, and you need characters the audience care about, if not wholly admire.

When looking through your previous publications I notice several volumes of true crime books. What prompted the switch to fiction?

I always wanted to write fiction – and some police officers say I’ve been doing it for some time. I’m also drawn to the dark side of life even though I’m of a naturally sunny disposition. That sound you hear are the people who know me guffawing. I’d done 11 true crime and Scottish criminal history books and by the time I reached Glasgow’s Black Heart, a history of the city’s crime, I felt I’d done everything I wanted to do. There are a couple of historical true crime cases I’d like to write about sometime, though. The true crime tag has never left me – I’ve been doing some short features for STV Glasgow on some older cases.

 

indian_peter-2When writing the true crime how did you choose your subject matter?

The first one I did was a casebook of fairly well-known Scottish murders but the next one landed in my lap. It was an investigation of a huge miscarriage of justice which eventually took up over ten years of my life. The others were either suggested by publishers or something I really wanted to tell, like Indian Peter, which I thought was a fascinating tale of true life adventure mixed with crime. As for the individual cases, there had to be a story to tell, something perhaps unusual or of legal or forensic interest.

 

While researching material for the true crime books did you uncover any incidents which have made the leap into the fiction titles?

Naturally what I’ve learned in my researches and the years I spent investigating cases for Glasgow solicitors have informed what I’m writing now but I don’t purposely use actual incidents in the fiction, although in Devil’s Knock there is one scene in a supermarket car park. However, that was born out of a character flourish rather than based on any real-life incident and apart from sharing a similar location it bears no similarity to actual events. None of the characters are based on real-life figures.

As a fiction reader I can tell myself that some of the ‘darker’ books I read are ‘just a story’ and that none of what I am reading actually happened. However, if you are researching true crime collections is it hard to accept that the horrors you are uncovering about DID occur and that the individuals concerned really did meet with a grim fate?

It can be fairly gruelling. While writing the first one, Blood on the Thistle, I did end up having nightmares. However, I was researching and writing much of that in a very tight timeframe. However, you have to retain a certain amount of journalistic detachment. Having said that, I stopped writing about more modern crimes because I didn’t want to upset relatives of the victims or the accused. That was when I turned to historical crimes.

I turn now to my recurring question which I ask most of my guests on the blog: why do the readers of crime fiction love a serial killer story?

I don’t do serial killers in fiction, although there was a hint in Crow Bait, but as to why they’re popular, I think it’s the bogey-man syndrome. We love to be scared and serial killers in fiction generally have that feeling of other wordliness that terrifies us so much. In classic crime fiction – the tea and scones school – the murderer is usually someone the victim knows. It’s safe in a way. But serial killer fiction taps into the stranger danger that we’re taught about from a young age. It’s the shadow in the dark, the face at the window, the footstep in the night.

On your Website you are promoting an upcoming event in Edinburgh: Assault n Battery vs Assault n Sauce – it is hailed as a rematch but what is it? For the record I will be Team Battery as I hail from the West!

It’s a panel of East Coast writers facing West Coasters in a fun game hosted by Craig Robertson. We did it last year in Glasgow and naturally the best coast won. Now the team from the East have the chance to restore their tattered honour! Seriously, it’s just a laugh. Craig makes the scoring up as he goes along and it’s mostly an excuse for us to slag each other off. Good to hear you’ll be supporting Team Battery, though. I think we’ll need it as we’re on foreign soil.

I had my first taste of a book festival last year when I got to visit Bloody Scotland. I see your name on the schedule this year, what are you showcasing and what other writers are you hoping to see (assuming you will have the opportunity)?

I’m on this year with Caro Ramsay and Michael J. Malone and it promises to be a lot of fun. Michael’s Beyond the Rage has a protagonist that is on the wrong side of the law, while most of my characters are crooks. Caro will be there to bring some semblance of law, if not order. I’ll see as many other authors as I can. I’ll catch Neil Broadfoot and Craig Robertson in whatever they’re doing. I may even watch the England v Scotland football match, although I’m not a fan of the game. The event on the Friday called Who’s Crime Is It Anyway? looks like an absolute belter.web

 What do you enjoy reading? If you were to take a picture of your bookcases which genre or authors would feature most frequently?

I’m afraid I’ve got to be predictable and say crime fiction. I’ve read it since I was a teenager. I’ve also got some true crime in there and some non-fiction. I’m a big fan of American authors – Lehane, Crais, Pelecanos – and I’m heavily influenced by Ed McBain. But there’s Agatha Christie in there, too, as well as Edmund Crispin, my favourite of the ‘traditional’ school. And John Mortimer – you can’t beat Rumpole.

 

Devil’s Knock is published by Luath Press and is available in paperback and digital format. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Devils-Knock-Mccall-Douglas-Skelton/dp/1910021814/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434756916&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=devilsknock

Douglas is on Twitter : @DouglasSkelton1

And is online at http://www.douglasskelton.com

 

 

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June 7

Interview With Aly Sidgwick – Lullaby Girl

lullabygirl blog tour

Today I am delighted to welcome Aly Sidgwick to the blog.  Aly has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about her debut novel Lullaby Girl:

To open, I believe that I have to ask the most obvious question: what prompted the idea of a story about a girl with amnesia?

There were two main inspirations for the book. One was my long standing fascination with people on the edge of sanity- specifically people who’ve lost their sense of self- and the second was my own history of anxiety. The fragility of the human soul fascinates me, as does that ‘no man’s land’ people enter after they’re pushed beyond their limits. The rule book goes out of the window, then, and people can make wild decisions. Kent’s ‘Piano Man’ had gone through that process, and so had the Japanese girl whose desperate pilgrimage to Fargo ended in her death by hypothermia. Their stories moved me, because I’ve always been afraid of tipping over that ‘edge’ myself. When I started writing LG I was in recovery from a nervous breakdown, and was still heavily medicated. In a way the book was my attempt to make sense of what had happened to me. I wanted to create a fragile character, who’d reverted to a simple state in order to survive.

 

In Katherine’s sanctuary while she recovers there are two central carers. Rhona (who struck me as a Guardian Angel) while Joyce was the Nurse Ratched figure. Was Joyce a bully or was she worn down and frustrated by Katherine’s behaviour during her ‘recovery’.

I’m so glad you picked up on the Nurse Ratched similarity! With Joyce, it wasn’t so much about her being a bully… Rather, I wanted her to be vain, brusque and impatient, in a way that jarred with Kathy’s frame of mind. She’s the sort of carer who follows a script without any real empathy with the patient. However, I did want to leave it quite open… Joyce isn’t just being unkind for the sake of unkindness. She’s short tempered, so Katherine’s difficult behaviour pushes her buttons.

As a supplemental to this – does a story benefit from the presence of a bully to get readers on the side of the central character?

Every story’s got to have an antagonist, hasn’t it? I liked creating a character who’d cause tension, but it wasn’t a direct attempt to gain the reader’s sympathy for Kathy. The tension between them was my only goal.

 

Lullaby Girl covers a fair bit of mileage as the story unfolds. Are many of the locations in the story places you have visited (and are perhaps special to you)? Or does the remoteness of Scotland’s Highlands just provide a convenient hideaway for Katherine?

The places in the story are based on places I’ve lived, but taken to the extreme. For instance, I actually did live in a little wooden house on a hill in the country near Oslo, and I did have a boyfriend who lived in Trondheim. I spent a lot of time in Trondheim and Oslo, so my own observations of those places made it into the book. But the northern town in LG is fictional, as are the people and story. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the north-western Scottish highlands, so that landscape is very dear to me. I’m drawn to the wilderness and to isolated, northern communities, both here and in Scandinavia, so I wanted to describe the places I love. But those landscapes also produce a certain mentality- gentle yet fierce, deep thinking, resourceful and just a wee bit dark. Those landscapes and those people create a good backdrop for a story, and it felt right to place a fragile character in such a barren, wild landscape.

 

Within the story there are numerous therapies and treatments described for Katherine – are these recounted with a degree of artistic licence or have you had to research how an amnesiac would be taken through a ‘recovery’ program?

Artistic Licence! Some of the treatment is based on my own experience, some is based on a close friend’s, who has stayed in an institution. The rest is how I imagined it would be. I also made space for the fact that Gille Dubh is not set in a metropolis! In the highlands, certain services are altered to accommodate the isolated setting. For example, some remote schools have less than twenty pupils, of all ages, and their lesson structure is rescheduled to accommodate this. I wanted to create the feeling that Gille Dubh is separated from the rest of the world, and kind of makes up its own rules.

 

lullaby girl coverAs I read Lullaby Girl I was telling friends (and Tweeting) how much I was enjoying the story but also that it was traumatic! I engaged with the plight of the Lullaby Girl and was often upset with how she was dealt blow after blow – was it hard to create a heroine then wake up each day with the aim of destroying her world around her?

I didn’t really think of it that way! Yeah, Katherine has a hard time! Her history was originally slightly lighter, but with the rewrites it became worse and worse. I lost myself in the planning really, so I became slightly detached. I wanted to create an event that was bad enough to send her into meltdown. It became like a mathematical equation!

 

You have set some of the more shocking scenes in Norway and Katherine encountered several very nasty people there – do you think you may now need to write a second book that portrays Norway in a more positive light? I am worried that you may be taken off the Norwegian Tourist Board’s Christmas Card List!

Haha! I think you’ll find nasty people no matter where you go in the world. I adore Norway and the Norwegian people… Kathy does have her little love affair with the place initially. I ended up using its ‘foreign-ness’ as a weapon against her. Her promised land ended up isolating her instead of nurturing her. I think a lot of people feel like an outsider when they emigrate, especially when there’s a change of language. Kathy’s situation was made worse by her isolation.

 

Sorry…back to the more serious questions: can you share your road to publication with us? Your profile on Amazon suggests you started writing in secret, at what point did you feel you had to share your work?

I’d been writing for about a year before I told anyone what I was doing. In the beginning it felt really special, and I didn’t want to detract from the ‘magic’ by blathering too soon. Then I truly had the bug, and knew I couldn’t stop writing. Telling people made it more real. It was a relief to finally explain what I was doing with all my spare time!

 

I believe that you have worked for some time as a tattoo artist? Over the years are there any stand-out designs or ideas that people have requested?  

Yes, I’ve been doing it for quite a while. There are certain ‘trends’ in tattooing that come and go. When I started out, tribal was all the rage. Now it’s gone full circle, and is considered ‘retro.’ I’m a custom artist, which means most of the designs are my own, and people come to me for my particular style. I do a lot of patternwork, plants and animals.

 

I would also love to know what the oddest tattoo you have provided was?

My pal Danne asked me for a skeletal Abraham Lincoln in a flaming wheelchair with a tommygun. That was pretty much the oddest one I’ve done.

 

If you were to describe what books are on your bookshelves what would you single out? Which authors or what types of book feature most prominently?

There’s a big old chunk of Haruki Murakami and Neil Gaiman, some vintage sci fi, some Crimethinc, Jon Ronson, Alasdair Gray, China Mieville, Mary Doria Russell, David Mitchell… The rest is a real mix. My absolute favourite writer is Shirley Jackson, and two books I’ve loved recently are ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver and ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig. I also have some Norwegian books and comics.

 

Are you able to share if you are working on a new title?

Yes, I’m currently working on a new project. It’s too early to talk about really, but the story is set in the highlands, and part of it is set in the 1960s.

 

Aly, many thanks for your time. I absolutely adored Lullaby Girl and I hope many more people get to discover Katherine’s story.

Thank you! It’s been fun!

 

Lullaby Girl is published by Black & White Publishing and is available now in both paperback and digital format.

Aly Sidgwick is on Twitter: @Menacegrrl

 

 

 

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June 7

Lullaby Girl – Aly Sidgwick

lullaby girl coverWho is the Lullaby Girl?

Found washed up on the banks of a remote loch, a mysterious girl is taken into the care of a psychiatric home in the Highlands of Scotland. Mute and covered in bruises, she has no memory of who she is or how she got there. The only clue to her identity is the Danish lullaby she sings…

Inside the care home, she should be safe. But, harassed by the media and treated as a nuisance by under-pressure staff, she finds the home is far from a haven. And as her memories slowly surface, the Lullaby Girl does her best to submerge them again. Some things are too terrible to remember… but unless she confronts her fear, how can she find out who she really is?

Taut, tense and mesmerizing, Lullaby Girl is a shining debut from an exciting and very talented new author.

 

Thanks to Black and White Publishing for my review copy and for the chance to join the Lullaby Girl Blog Tour. I had the pleasure of interviewing Aly Sigwick about her debut novel, you can read our conversation here: Q&A.

 

Lullaby Girl was a traumatic read. Aly Sigwick puts her heroine, Kathy, through the wringer and despite the fact the book should be about Kathy’s recovery from a life changing episode it is far from a smooth ride.

Kathy is found on a beach, she was on the brink of death yet is discovered just in time and ultimately finds herself in secluded convalescence home Gille Dubh in the remote Scottish Highlands. Kathy has amnesia, she cannot recall her name, her family or how she came to be washed up on a beach, however, in her dreams is the memory of a dark figure who Kathy knows she is terrified of and she is adamant that this figure must not find her.

When she is first brought to Gille Dubh Kathy will not speak but she does sing a mysterious song which is soon identified as a Scandinavian lullaby. The media are very interested in this mysterious girl and desperate for information they latch onto any morsels of gossip they can glean and, when word of Kathy’s singing leaks, the Press dub her the Lullaby Girl.

As Kathy begins the long road towards recovery we share her journey. She struggles to accept that the staff at Gille Dubh are working in her best interest. Kathy places her absolute trust in Rhona, one of the carers, and mistrusts almost everyone else. Unfortunately for Kathy, Rhona is facing issues in her personal life and she cannot devote the full time care to Kathy which both women would benefit from. This leaves Kathy also having to rely upon Rhona’s colleague Joyce. To say that Kathy and Joyce do not get on is something of an understatement and as a reader I was physically wincing at some of the scenes where the two clashed.

I am reluctant to discuss the story in too much detail as I am going to urge you to read Kathy’s story for yourself.

I loved Lullaby Girl as it evoked so many different responses and emotions as I read it. I feared for Kathy, anguished for her situation and then got frustrated with her when she fought those looking to help her – and that could all happen in just a single chapter. An intense and memorable book which I have to score 5/5. You have to read this – it is stunning.

Lullaby Girl is published by Black and White Publishing.  It is available now in digital format and in paperback.

Aly Sidgwick is on Twitter as: @Menacegrrl

 

 

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June 3

We Shall Inherit The Wind – Gunner Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind BF AW.indd1998.  Varg Veum sits by the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life-threatening injuries provide a deeply painful reminder of the mistakes he’s made. Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Varg Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, riddled with conflicts, environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism, unsolved mysteries and dubious business ethics. Then, in one of the most heart-stopping scenes in crime fiction, the first body appears…

A chilling, timeless story of love, revenge and desire, We Shall Inherit the Wind deftly weaves contemporary issues with a stunning plot that will leave you gripped to the final page. This is Staalesen at his most thrilling, thought-provoking best.

 

I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the latest leg of the blog tour for the astonishing We Shall Inherit The Wind by Gunnar Staalesen. My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy.

Varg Veum is a long established and much loved character yet this was my first introduction to him. I would very much like the opportunity to read more of Staalesen’s books (and Veum will return in two more books from Orenda in 2016 and 2017). As a ‘jumping on point’ I can assure other new readers that the author provides more than enough background to allow you to pick up and enjoy We Shall Inherit The Earth without the need to have read previous tales.

Not just my introduction to Varg Veum but my first introduction to Nordic crime fiction: I was more than pleasantly surprised. We Shall Inherit The Wind is a gripping read, a story which is driven by the strength of the characters and the lies they will tell to protect their secrets.

Veum is a private investigator. He has been engaged to trace a missing man, Mons Mæland, who has vanished just as an important discussion on a proposed wind-farm was due to take place. Mæland owns land upon which the wind-farm may be built and his contribution to the development is vital. This is the late 1990’s and harnessing the environmental energies is a developing and controversial area. While there is potential for significant money to be made there are objections to the proposed development and rival factions are soon introduced to the story.

Veum is searching for Mæland on behalf of Mæland’s second wife. Over 20 years previously Mæland’s first wife, Lea, disappeared and was declared dead after she failed to return from her morning trip to the shore. Lea’s children do not appear to have accepted Mæland’s choice of a second wife and they seem reluctant to assist Veum’s investigations, seemingly believing their father will soon return. Veum finds his enquiries stonewalled at every turn and I began to feel some frustration on his behalf, however events were soon to take a sudden and dramatic twist.

Mæland has been murdered, his body left posed in a way that suggests that extreme religious fervour may be involved. Veum’s missing person investigation is now a murder enquiry and the stakes are significantly raised.

The discovery of Mæland’s body brings to question the lengths that individuals and corporations may go to when chasing financial gain. We are given to consider the justification of environmental terrorism and personal sacrifice to save a landscape and a way of life.

Gunnar photoVeum is a dogged investigator in pursuit of the truth and from the outset of the novel we know that his actions have consequences that will fall far too close to home. As he slowly unpicks the conflicting stories and unravels historic relationships, the reader is aware that his actions will result in the hospitalisation of Veum’s fiancée Karin. As much of We Shall Inherit The Wind is focused on Veum and Karin’s relationship it is a particularly bitter twist knowing that an innocent party will be caught up in the events we are reading about. By the time you reach the endgame you find yourself willing Veum to walk away…but if he had then we would have been robbed of a memorable finale!

We Shall Inherit The Wind is a story that needs to be read. Huge plaudits are due to Don Bartlett who translated the original novel from Norwegian and captured the beauty of Staalsen’s prose. Reading Inherit was a joy and (as my Norwegian is not too hot) I thank Don Bartlett for making it possible for me to enjoy this book.

If you have never read Nordic crime, or any translated fiction, then there are few better places to start.

 

 

 

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April 26

Hidden – Emma Kavanagh

HE’S WATCHING

A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.

SHE’S WAITING

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks…

Hidden

My review copy was provided through Netgalley.

Hidden opens immediately after an horrific shooting incident within a hospital. We are watching the action through the eyes of a local newspaper reporter (Charlie) as she surveys the injured, the dead and the dying. She is beside her friend, firearms officer, Aden who has been badly wounded and Charlie is willing him to live as his life ebbs away.

It is a powerful start and it creates a gripping scene which makes you want to keep reading.

The narrative then jumps back one week and Emma Kavanagh starts to outline the events which led us to the shooting in the hospital. We see Charlie and Adan, a friendship which is threatening to develop into a relationship. We meet twins Mara and Imogen – they are intrinsic to the story and their lives will overlap with Charlie, Adan and that of the shooter’s too.

The mysterious shooter – we also get to see some of the narrative through their eyes too. The hospital was not a random location at which to unleash carnage, the shooter has been prowling round the hospital. Hospital staff are concerned that they have spotted a hooded figure carrying a gun and the police have been notified.

I enjoyed the powerful opening to Hidden and the mystery identify of the shooter was a nice touch. The central figures of Charlie and Adan are engaging characters, I enjoyed Charlie’s story in particular – there are potential problems at her work, she finds herself reporting on the death of an old friend and is facing pressure from a victim’s family to print their side of a story (which may not necessarily be a true reflection of events).

The week of narrative leading up to the shooting covers the lives and relationships of the key players. I felt Emma Kavanagh delivered a strong human drama and her characterisation was great. Perhaps too great for me as I found that I really didn’t warm to a couple of the cast and as a consequence I found their story an unwelcome distraction from the characters I did like. This is purely a personal observation and I have read many reviews to know that I am in a minority in this area, however, it was a factor.

I also guessed the identity of the shooter halfway through the book. Only to find I was totally wrong at the end of the book – I like when this happens.

Hidden will appeal to thriller fans. Great characterisation and a nice mystery of the shooter’s identity running throughout. My score of 3.5/5 reflects a strong story but with a couple of characters who didn’t captivate me. The real acid test for any novel is whether I would read more books by the same author and in the case of Emma Kavanagh I certainly would.

 

Hidden is published by Century and is available in Hardback and digital formats

You can read an extract from Chapter One here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/index.php/extract-hidden-emma-kavanagh/

Emma Kavanagh is on Twitter: @EmmaLK

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April 15

Hidden – Emma Kavanagh Blog Tour

I am delighted to have the chance to host the latest leg of the blog tour for Emma Kavanagh’s “Hidden”.  Emma has a favourite question that she asks of other authors and is sharing this with us today:

Hidden

HE’S WATCHING

A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.

SHE’S WAITING

 To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?

As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks…

 

Emma Kavanagh: My Favourite Writing Question

One of my absolute favourite things to do as an author is attend literary festivals and conferences. Writing is a pretty isolating career, and so events like this offer a fantastic opportunity to get to know others in the same business. We get to celebrate together, commiserate together, drink together…what? who? I didn’t say that.

Anyway.

I have a question I ask all authors I meet – in appropriate forums, I mean. I don’t tend to jump out at them from behind bushes in order to fling it at them.

Are you a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

So, I’m going to answer my own favourite question. Just for you. Aren’t you lucky?

I am a plotter. I am so much of a plotter that sometimes I begin to worry that I have some kind of problem. I begin my writing with the kernel of an idea, a rough notion of characters, a general arc of where I think the story is going to go, what the ending will be. Then I do my research, delving as deeply as I can into the world into which I am entering.

Then, I plot!

This is not something I take lightly. I have a spreadsheet and everything. (Actually, I have several, but lets not dwell on that too much, eh?)

I then draft out the novel, chapter by chapter. This is all well and good for the firstEmma Kavanagh 2014 © Matthew Jones dozen or so chapters, these are often pretty easy to foresee. After that, though, things get murkier, and I often can’t really tell what each chapter will look like until I get closer. My timeline shifts constantly and often doesn’t take its true shape until I am nearing the end of the first draft. Even then, sometimes the editing process means that chapters will move, be added or sometimes lost.

My plotting doesn’t always work. Sometimes I have to change course. But, having attempted to be a pantser, I have discovered I simply am not cool enough.

Spreadsheets it is then.

 

Hidden will be published on 23rd April 2015 by Century.

You can read an extract from Chapter One here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/index.php/extract-hidden-emma-kavanagh/

 

 

 

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April 1

Serial Killers a discussion with Alexandra Sokoloff

In my recent conversations with David McCaffrey and Karen Long I posed a question asking why they felt readers loved a story about a Serial Killer.  I had planned to ask the same question of Alexandra Sokoloff but she suggested that she would have LOTS to say on that topic.

LACMA.best.DSC_6246-2This was too good an opportunity to pass up! I asked Alex if she would be interested in answering a few questions just on the subject of Serial Killers and I am delighted to share our resulting conversation.

I shall start with my established opening gambit: why do we love a serial killer story?

I think the serial killer has become an iconic monster, like a vampire or werewolf or zombie (maybe replacing the pretty much defunct mummy!). This icon is of course a very idealized version of what a serial killer actually is. And I think it was Thomas Harris who mythologized the serial killer to classic monster status, although Stevenson’s Jekyll/Hyde, Stoker’s Dracula (supposedly based on the real-life Vlad the Impaler), and various depictions of Jack the Ripper were strong precursors. We are fascinated by the idea of pure evil in a human being.

However, the other component of why we love a serial killer story is because most authors (and screenwriters and filmmakers) who write about serial killers are dishonestly romanticizing them and leaving out the unmitigated, repellent malevolence of these men. About which more in a minute.

And there is also an unfortunate percentage of the population that gets off on reading about rape, torture, and murder.

Was Jack the Ripper the first recorded serial killer or has he just become the most famous?

There were certainly recorded serial killers before Jack the Ripper. The Harpe brothers in the US in the 1700’s, Gilles Garnier in France in the 1500’s, Thug Behram in India in the late 1700’s, just to name a few. Military campaigns have always provided an outlet for serial killers, as have the institutions of slavery and the Inquisition.

Huntress_Moon_TM_CVR-FTWhen I hear the term Serial Killer I automatically assume that it is an American phenomenon – I put this entirely down to Hollywood. However, am I right and does America really have the lion’s share of the known Serial Killers?

Well, of course America is going to have a greater proportion of serial killers simply because the US has a larger population than most countries. The way I understand it, the seeming rise in the number of serial killers in the late twentieth century was due to the increasing number of people who owned automobiles and the increasingly transient nature of the American population. People started moving long distances to find work, for example, and started changing jobs frequently, and so it was easier to kill and move on, making it easier to avoid detection. A serial killer is by definition a successful one, at least for a while.

Is it likely that there are serial killers operating undetected right now? If so would you care to hazard a guess at the numbers that may be involved?

According to the FBI, absolutely. The Bureau estimates, some say conservatively, that between 35 and 50 serial killers are operating in the US in any given year. I figure they know what they’re talking about.

Taking the last question a step further, do you believe a ‘successful’ killer could cover their tracks multiple times for a long period of time?

Yes, there have been killers who have managed that. The Green River Killer, for example, who for years was able to hide an increasing number of bodies in the vast forested areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Keeping this question on a fictional level, do you have favourite serial killers from books or film where you liked the angle that the writer(s) adopted?

There’s really only one author for me in that department – Thomas Harris with Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Harris did a completely brilliant thing, there. In the 1970’s Special Agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (now called the Behavioral Analysis Unit) began a series of interviews with incarcerated serial killers to see what made these men tick and hopefully develop strategies for catching them. The agents, along with Professor Ann W. Burgess, compiled their findings into a textbook and started to train agents as profilers. This new department got a lot of press and media attention and a large number of authors jumped all over that research. But judging by the books that resulted, very, very few of those authors seem to have actually read those interviews.

Thomas Harris, though, took the same research that was available to everyone, and used a combination of absolutely precise fact and police procedure and a haunting mythological symbolism to create those first two books, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (and then Hannibal sort of went off the rails, if you ask me…). The result was two of the best horror/police procedural blend novels ever written. The killers Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) and Francis Dolarhyde were both more and less than human. And Lecter, of course, is a mythic archetype of the evil genius.

And then everyone jumped on the bandwagon and there are now hundreds of Lecters-lite, if you will.

I love those two books of Harris’s for their mythic resonance. But I have a real BloodMoon_TM_CVRproblem with the way most authors portray serial killers because it’s so incredibly dishonest. They romanticize and poeticize serial killers – portraying them as evil geniuses that play elaborate cat and mouse games with detectives and law enforcement agencies. Yeah, right. These men are not geniuses. They don’t leave poems at crime scenes or arrange their victim’s bodies in tableaux corresponding to scenes of great art or literature. They are vicious rapists who brutalize their victims because the agony of those victims gets the killer off, and a large number of them continue to have sex with the corpses of their victims because they are that addicted to absolute control and possession.

That’s evil. But the serial killer subgenre as a whole has perpetrated a very unrealistic view of what these monsters really are. Most authors who write about serial killers don’t show the sexual correlation. They skirt around the issue of rape. The worst ones sexualize the violence – fetishizing women’s bodies, sexualizing the torture of women, conveniently ignoring the fact that many of these killers rape and torture and kill men and children as well, and basically avoid portraying the pure horror of what these men actually do.

I’ve always found it extremely troubling and that’s been a big motivator for me in writing the Huntress Moon series. I’ve set out to shatter a lot of myths, there, and to counter all this glorification of violence.

Without seeking to glorify their actions are there lesser known serial killers that you are surprised are not better known given the extent of their crimes – for example a European who is not known in America?

Yes, as I’m doing more research into UK crime and criminals, I’m learning about killers that I hadn’t heard of, or hadn’t heard much of. The US is very ethnocentric!

I enjoy the Hitman books by Lawrence Block and I suppose that by broad definition a Hitman is a serial killer, however the two are generally considered very differently (certainly in fiction). Is this perhaps simply down to money (Hitman) over personal agenda (serial killer) or is there a more subtle distinction?

I think there are very unsubtle distinctions. Serial killers are most often rapists who have graduated to murder as they crave more and more control over helpless victims. Hitmen are not serial killers, but mass killers, which is a very different psychology than sexual homicide. For hit men the motivation is usually financial, for contract killers; or organizational, as when members of the Mafia or a gang kill on order from a higher up in the organization. (Other mass killers also have financial motivation, like the Black Widow killer, who marries or mates and then kills for the spouse’s or lover’s insurance money or property). But there are similarities, of course – a lot of hitmen and contract killers are sadists, as are a large percentage of serial killers.

Do you think some killers are born with a disposition to kill (a Natural Born Killer, if you will)? Or is it likely they are a result of environmental circumstances and external forces?

ColdMoon-â„¢-CVRI think scientific studies have made it pretty clear that it’s a combination of both. According to Scientific American, there’s a certain enzyme, monoamine oxidase A, that is linked to increased aggression if it’s below normal level, and certain genes that predispose people to low levels of this enzyme. There are also genes that determine how serotonin is processed in the body, and a certain variant of that gene seems to be a predictor of hostile behavior. There are other studies that point out that people with these genes who are raised in stable environments are less inclined to act out violently.

Childhood abuse can contribute to violent behavior: many serial killers had abusive childhoods. But many children who were abused don’t grow up to be abusers. It’s also clear to me from the FBI reports on the role of fantasy in the development of rapists and killers that exposure to violent media can be a factor.

Overall, the more interesting question to me is, why are there so more men than women who either are born with the disposition to rape and kill, or who develop the urge to rape and kill?

The proportions of violent men to violent women are so overwhelming that it makes me wonder why we’re not studying that question.

 

My profound thanks to Alexandra Sokoloff who I hope will return to the blog in the near future to discuss her forthcoming book Cold Moon.

During April 2015 both Huntress Moon and Blood Moon are just £1 on e-book through Amazon.co.uk (links below).


AlexandraSokoloff.com

UK  Huntress Moon  http://amzn.to/1wEwxZo
UK Blood Moon  http://amzn.to/1CPG4Uw
UK Cold Moon  http://amzn.to/1xBtA2U  
US Huntress Moon  http://amzn.to/1z3pSh5
US Blood Moon  http://amzn.to/1EqoKax
US Cold Moon  http://amzn.to/1ymNA6b

Alexandra Sokoloff is the bestselling, Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of eleven supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers. The New York Times has called her “a daughter of Mary Shelley” and her books “Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.”
As a screenwriter she has sold original suspense and horror scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studiosShe is also the workshop leader of the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops, based on her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks and blog.
Her Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, following a haunted FBI agent on the hunt for a female serial killer, is out now from Thomas & Mercer.
Twitter: @alexsokoloff

 

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March 11

James Hannah Q&A (The A-Z of You and Me)

Today I am delighted to welcome James Hannah to the blog as we discuss his powerful novel The A-Z of You and Me.

 

We so-often hear that writers are advised to ‘Write about what you know.’ Have you drawn upon personal experiences for The A-Z of You and Me?

Indirectly. The point of working with a pre-existing structure – or rather, two of them, the alphabet and the body – was to render personal experiences largely redundant. I simply had a set of questions to answer:

Why would anyone be playing this A to Z game?

A to Z of you and meAnswer: My character wants to occupy his mind with stories.

Why?

Answer: Because he’s anxious.

Why?

Answer: Because he’s dying.

Why?

It was from these and subsequent questions that the story began to tell itself, without having to rely on any personal input from me.

However, I did find that the personal experiences began to accompany and attend to the main plot as I went along. The Amber and Sheila subplots in particular started to encroach on the main plot and see it on its way, and came from experiences I was going through as I was writing the book. But these experiences were by necessity reduced to their essential emotional drivers, which hopefully then makes them universal and relatable: they really could be happening to anyone – as indeed they probably will, to everyone, in some form.

How long did it take to bring The A-Z of You and Me from your original idea to now (the week of publication)?

My first notes were on 20 March 2008, so that’s very nearly seven years. But I’ve done a lot of other things too.

Can you share with us how it feels to see your first novel unleashed into the world?

I suppose I was hoping for positive responses and anxious about negative ones – but I’ve been surprised and moved by the depth of feeling and emotional openness with which some people have responded. Which is stupid of me really, because that’s what I set out to achieve. I feel a great deal of responsibility for working with subjects that have the potential to reactivate some difficult memories for readers.

I am trying to avoid plot spoilers, however, it is fair to say that this is not always a happy carefree story. How hard was it to find a balance against Ivo’s bleak situation and yet retain the “Comedy of Errors” element which lightens the story?

A great many people (a majority of people I know) tend to leaven extreme situations with humour. Humour is rarely far away from even the bleakest situation, because often humour is the very expression by one person to another of how very sad a given situation is. And it’s togetherness that almost inevitably creates opportunities for cheerfulness, even in the most utterly hopeless of circumstances.

Every town’s hospice has its name circulated in doomy whispers: “You don’t want to end up in St Andrew’s or St Leonard’s or St Catherine’s . . .” But when you get there, they can be places of great relief, togetherness and no little humour.

So it was, if not simple, then at least a straightforward task to give this book as much lightness and ease as I could. I used the working title of the book (‘The Body Comedy’) as an aide memoire to keep it funny wherever possible. Of course the end result is not quite comedy (as far as I can tell), but it creates poignancy and relief.

Much of the story is told through flashbacks as Ivo recalls significant events in this life. He does not sugar coat his past and the picture we get is of a man who believes that he has made mistakes. Did you try to make Ivo a flawed character or do you see him as a relatively typical guy who perhaps did not always made the best of the opportunities that arose?

Quite a few people have found Ivo to be immature for a 40 year old, which I find interesting. I see Ivos everywhere, in any friendship group. People in their late teens and twenties do stupid things and don’t look after themselves. There are entire industries founded on this constant. And it’s so common to see older men and women than Ivo sporting the styles they identified with in their teens and twenties.

As far as Ivo is concerned, when you use first-person narrative you see all of your character’s thoughts, good and bad, and so for me a fully-rounded, truthful character is always going to be flawed.

As for Ivo not making the best of the opportunities that arise, that is true, but I would also point out that he has no effective support and no role models.

I keep returning to the adage that you can choose your friends but not your family: I don’t think this is true at all. It can require deep personal resources to actively choose friends – it is far easier to remain inert with the default group of people. Ivo’s greatest challenge is to successfully make that leap of aspiration to Mia’s way of life.

I felt the three characters that brought out the best side of Ivo were Mia, Sheila and Amber – each countering the seemingly negative influence of Ivo’s group of friends. What did you want to be the single most important thing that each of these three women bring to Ivo?

I agree that these three bring out the best in Ivo, but I must admit, I didn’t set out for them to bring any qualities to him; it was when I brought them all together in improvisation that he seemed to drink up their presence, like they were nourishing him with something he desperately needed.

All three women demonstrate active characteristics – whereas Ivo is sunk by a passivity brought about by uncertainty, anxiety and plain circumstance. Ivo has a saving grace in his kindness and gentle perceptiveness; he wants to come out of himself, but he just doesn’t know how. I think Mia in particular sees that and seeks to nurture it. I have a sense that Mia thinks she can save Ivo from himself and his friends.

Was the body A-Z element always to be included or did that arrive during the writing process? Specifically I am keen to know if you started with a list of body parts and built the story around these or if you adapted a draft to include them?

This novel started out as a high-concept attempt to write a Gray’s Anatomy – an anatomical dictionary – in which the body described turned out to have a coherent narrative. So the alphabetical body parts were there from the beginning.

I wanted to let the body parts dictate where the story was going to go, and thereby create a narrative that was hard-wired into every reader’s experience. Everybody, for example, has sat too heavily on their coccyx and wanted to die; everybody has split their earlobe by wrenching off a tight-necked jumper . . . haven’t they? So The A to Z of You and Me started out as my attempt to write everybody’s story. Eventually though, Ivo’s story began to take over, and I let it do so.

I didn’t actually have a list of body parts to begin with, but in certain areas of the alphabet, there are only so many places you can go, so I started there. It’s very easy to break the unspoken bond of trust with the reader; if I had a chapter called ‘xiphoid process’ people wouldn’t see the artifice in what I’m doing, and lose interest.

Which authors do you find inspiring?

It changes. Roddy Doyle. Kurt Vonnegut. Derek Jarman. Bill Watterson. JK Rowling. Samuel Beckett. Stewart Lee. Maya Angelou. Eimear McBride. Dennis Potter. Roald Dahl. Douglas Adams. But some years authors I’ve really admired don’t move me at all. Susan Barker’s ‘The Incarnations’ is the best book I’ve read in recent times.

James Hannah (c) Claire CousinWhen writing do you have to set yourself daily word count targets or do you block out time specifically to work on a project?

I’ve really only finished this one novel, and it employed such a spectacularly uneconomical method, and took me such a very long time, I couldn’t present my writing method as anything other than ill-advised. I wrote in the only time I had, which was the last twenty minutes before going to bed, and now that’s the only time I can write in. It’s a problem.

Can you tell us what comes next from James Hannah?

I’m a husband and father, so I’m going to spend a reasonable time just being a husband and father.

 

My most sincere thanks to James.

The A-Z of You and Me is published by Doubleday and is available from 12th March in Hardback and in digital format.

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March 10

Guest Post: David F Ross

David RossToday I am pleased to welcome David F Ross.

As part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the paperback launch of his exceptional novel The Last Days of Disco, David has kindly shared some recollections of his early musical influences.

 

The Thin White Duke Street

The Last Days of Disco is very nostalgic and much of that comes from the music of that time in the early 80s. There’s nothing else quite like a piece of music to pin-point a significant memory. From first days at school, to loss of virginity (one of these days I’ll finally remember where I left it…) to the birth of my children; all of the vivid moments in my life – good and bad – have had an associated soundtrack. Like the majority of you reading this, I suspect, music has an importance to me that’s often found bordering on the irrational.

From the eight years before 1972 that I knew her, my only remaining recollections of my mum involve music. Although not through the beat groups of the early and mid-sixties, surprisingly. My dad was a country and western fan, particularly of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Their subliminal influence has left me with a natural tendency towards songs with a darkly descriptive background story. Glen Campbell was also a favourite of both my parents, as were the crooners. Sinatra, Crosby, Como and Martin were all regularly played on the big mahogany Marconi radiogram that competed for their attention in the opposite corner of the living room from its main rival, the black and white television set. Their records were the backdrop to my early years in the small fourth floor, brownstone top corner tenement flat where we lived, near Hampden Park on Glasgow’s Southside.

My dad especially, acquired lots of diverse records from various sources. The LP and singles covers for many of them are as vivid to me now as they were then. Old Blue Eyes, smiling, hair receding, calm and confident from the sleeve of ‘My Way’. ‘Little Old Wine Drinker Me’ with its Reprise logo in black on a black and white portrait of Dean below the heading ‘File Under Easy Listening’. Johnny’s gravity defying, brylcreem supported quiff with an attitude all of its own, live from ‘Folsom Prison’. The big red lipstick kiss on the cover of Connie Francis’ most famous record. Don and Phil Everly’s pearly white teeth and matching checked Arthur Montford jackets concealing the then little known fact that they despised each other. The Zombies brilliant and beautiful ‘Odessey & Oracle’, which remains one of my all-time favourite LPs. These records were the foundation for my interest in music and for this legacy at least, I am thankful to my dad. I loved these songs and still do but I inherited them. They’re not mine and the recollections that they prompt now often seem to belong to someone else.

My grampa had taken the death of his youngest child particularly badly. Despite their frequent, but generally good-natured arguments, they were very close. He’d lost weight and had suffered a minor stroke in the immediate aftermath of the funeral and it had forced him to retire. He also had a genuine fondness for my dad. Both worked in the transport industry; my dad for British Rail and his father-in-law latterly for Glasgow Corporation as a bus conductor on a regular route along Duke Street. An agreement had been reached where my grieving dad and I were to stay with his in-laws, partly to give the old man something to focus on but more practically because there really was no other viable option. My other grandparents were older, infirm and lived in a relatively small second floor flat in Tollcross.

Pollok was, and undoubtedly still is, an impoverished working-class enclave south west of the Clyde. My gran frequently lamented that it was home, very briefly, to Moors Murderer Ian Brady, but she had it mixed up with the more upmarket Pollokshaws. The house in Pollok was a three-bed-roomed one. It sat opposite the bus stop at the bottom of the hill on Braidcraft Road. My grampa was a keen gardener and the reasonably sized rectangular garden at the back of the house was a testament to his hobby. I loved the house. There were loads of places to hide and, with the garden I had a ready made football pitch and a net in the form of a five-foot-square wire plant climber. The flat we’d previously lived in had a shared drying green but no grass. There was always loose rubbish congregating around the concrete ‘middens’, and as a result, a large and uninhibited rodent population flourished.

My grampa was very proud of his garden. He spent hours in his small greenhouse at the bottom of the garden where he grew tomatoes. The greenhouse sat just behind the impromptu football net and on a few occasions, a fierce thirty yard shot from Derek Parlane went past the imaginary Evan Williams, bursting the net, and unfortunately the greenhouse glass. Each time my excuse was the same. A big boy did it and ran away. He’d thrown a stone from Levernside Road and it broke the glass. My grampa indulged this fantasy every time despite the fact that to the glass from Levernside Road would require an aim and trajectory ranking alongside the Magic Bullet Theory.

‘Starman’ was the first record I bought with money that could be considered my own. There’s my plea for coolness. My grampa had paid me for cutting his beloved grass with an old manual blade lawnmower. I made a terrible, patchy job of it but he kept his side of the deal anyway. But perhaps more accurately, the first record I was given was by a band named the Strawbs. The a-side was titled ‘Part of the Union’ but I quickly grew to hate it as it jumped at the start of the chorus. Years later I heard the song again and I fully expected it to go:

DSC_5361 David Ross 2010‘You don’t get me; I’m part of the U…part of the U…part of the U…part of the U…’ for days until someone eventually lifted the needle. At the age of eight, I blamed the record for its inability to get to the end of its grooves. I’d no idea that a blunt stylus was the real culprit. The bastards could sing it fine on the radio. Why did they only get the stutters in my grampa’s house? I’ve tried to excise this blundering, stammering shambles from my personal history, but it’s still there, at the back, hand up, protesting like a belligerent old shop steward.

‘David Bowie can get tae fuck, boy. Ah wis yer f…f…f…f…f…first.’

The image of David Bowie on Top of The Pops in the summer of ’72 was revelatory. My grampa wasn’t impressed but I was astonished. Years later, people would debate whether Boy George was male or female, but watching him then, Bowie didn’t even seem to be from the same species as me. I knew instantly where my ‘wages’ were going. The Bowie record had a green and white plain sleeve with, to my initial but short-lived dejection, no picture. The famous orange RCA label glowed through the circular cut out. Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, I came to think of it as a thing of beauty. I got it on a trip into Glasgow from Woolworth’s on Argyle Street but a different store from the one that had been there until the chain became extinct in the worldwide fall-out from the American sub prime credit crisis. It cost 24 new pence. Jim Murdoch and Ally Baxter were with me when I got it. Both were a couple of years older than me. Jim’s dad had taken us all into the city. I remember the two of them laughing because I’d bought a record ‘by a fuckin’ poofy cunt’. When I got back home, the two others went out to the back garden and were dummy fighting with each other. But I sat in the living room, silently staring at the big wooden box as Bowie’s voice came out of the speakers. To my utter delight, it did so without any speech impediment.

I idolised my grampa. He told brilliant stories. Ones where even years later as a young adult, I firmly believed he was right despite the obvious scientific or logical arguments against some of his more ridiculous ones. Once, when I was about nine years old, I asked him how colour TV worked, he told me that it wasn’t actually new technology. His explanation was that since the end of the Second World War, life was in fact monochrome. His explanation for this was that the Government was so taken aback by the euphoric reaction to the war ending that it became concerned that the years of struggling and post war rationing that would follow would be too much to bear. The Government then gave everyone injections that removed the colour from their skin and hair. After a period of time, people became so accustomed to the lack of colour that building materials became monochromatic, colourless foods like semolina predominated and television shows like the Black and White Minstrels emerged to reflect society’s disinterest with anything from the spectrum. TV, he argued with the conviction of a Nobel Prize winning scientist, simply reflected a more disheartened Age. Then flower-power came along and the people demanded their colour back so that the flora and fauna could be fully appreciated again. I used to sit open-mouthed when he told stories like this. My head would nod at bits where my own experience could back up the theory.

‘Semolina, you say…? Jesus, he’s right…! There’s a ton of that at our school.’

Another yarn was that air flight didn’t actually happen. You got on a plane, and while on it, teams of trained experts changed the surroundings outside. The plane didn’t actually go anywhere. The more dramatic the change in scenery, the longer you had to sit on the plane. I assumed that he meant that if you wanted to go to Africa, you had to sit on the tarmac for around 15 hours until the ‘crew’ had rounded up enough black people, safari animals and weird looking trees. Since I hadn’t been on a plane at this point, I’d no reason to question the wisdom of this old sage. Forty years later and I’m writing this now on a long haul flight back home from Singapore and a part of me still needs convincing that I’m not actually on a simulator.

I lived with my grandparents for three years before another move and a new phase of life began in Ayrshire. On the night before we left their house for good, the old man told me he had something for me. I sat expectantly, waiting for him downstairs while he disappeared upstairs for what seemed like an hour. When he returned, it was with a face whitened by talcum powder and with a shaky red lipstick flash drawn down his face. In his hand was the Aladdin Sane LP.

‘Mibbe ah wis wrang aboot this yin, aw along. He’s actually awright, son’.

I remember laughing so much, I pee’d myself. I can’t look at the LP’s sleeve now (or actually Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ in the Dark Knight Rises, such was the botched make-up job…) without seeing old James Fleming’s smiling face.

David Bowie and my grampa; The Thin White Duke Street. Heroes.

 

Disco coverThe Last Days of Disco by David F Ross is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and digital format now.  My review (score 5/5) can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=437

 

 

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