End of year report & My Top Five Reads of 2017

Hello readers.

2017 has been both a year of change and a year of little change. After five years of struggling as a freelancer, I became a full-time graphic designer once again. It has been professionally fulfilling working with a team of highly creative people with lovely personalities. My design work feels like it has come along by leaps and bounds.

However, there’s little to report on the writing front for 2017. One long short story for Ryan Bracha’s The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn anthology and one Stanton brothers’ novelette Get Santa just for email subscribers. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum didn’t sell quite as well as I had hoped (certainly nowhere near the sales of The Glasgow Grin) but it beat the bare minimum target I had set for it.  Reviews for it have been good though.

Going into the new year, The Amsterdamned remains unfinished with about 85,000 words written of a 120,000-word target. I expect I’ll finish, edit, and finally publish it in the latter half of 2018. There’s a Stanton novella set just after A Funny Thing Happened… that’s 21,000 words in, and which I’ll revisit when The Amsterdamned is with the editor. Hopefully, they’ll both hit the shelves in 2018. Plus, I aim to release some more subscribers’ short stories during the year, with the ultimate goal of collating them in an anthology tentatively called Just Doing It For The Money as a Kindle ebook towards the end of next year. So if you enjoy my work, there should be at least a couple of more significant releases for you to read next year.

I’ve also decided that if sales of The Amsterdamned and the next Stanton brothers’ novella don’t improve on sales of A Funny Thing Happened… then I will put the brothers to bed for a while and concentrate on writing something specifically aimed at getting released by an Indie publisher. I think it’s about time I wrote something for a wider market; as much as I love writing ’em, the brothers just don’t seem to generate the kind of reader interest that I’d hoped. They seem to be for cult tastes only.

As for reading, my top five reads this year are:

1) You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames: This novella is seriously good. Probably the best thing I’ve read this year. Short, punchy, powerful, with one of the best protagonists I’ve come across in quite some time. The violence when it arrives has weight and meaning, and the reasons for it are justified. Brilliant.

2) Troubles Braids by Ray Banks: Although not quite as good as Wolf Tickets, this barnstorming sequel finds Irish smart-mouth Farrell, and Geordie roughneck Cobb at the top of their games as the pair find themselves stealing from upper-class dealers and crooked cops. A frenetically paced blackly comic thriller by one of the best Brit Grit authors around. Ray Banks’ dialogue remains peerless, and his dual first-person narration is full of sarcastic wit and verbal inventiveness.

3) Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson: Johnson’s cracking novel is a highly enjoyable read with enough smarts and invention to make the story soar. Its inventiveness gives it a Phillip K Dick feel, but with a quality of prose that the often sloppy PKD rarely managed. I loved it.

4) The Jones Men by Vern E. Smith: Utterly brilliant. This cold as ice heist thriller set on the very mean streets of seventies’ Detroit might be one of the finest novels of its type that I’ve read. It has dialogue the equal of 70s’ Elmore Leonard and George Higgins, a drum-tight plot packed with double and triple crosses, an awesome cast of weasely, self-serving scumbags, and writing so sharp and clean it cuts like a blade. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5) Kill Me Quick by Paul D. Brazill: You can always rely on Paul Brazill for a nifty turn of phrase, a superb one-liner, or a nice piece of description. He also delivers cool plots and memorable characters and Kill Me Quick is no exception. When an ageing two-hit wonder musician gets his hand busted in London, he returns home to a seedy town on the northeast coast (basically Hartlepool in everything but name) and gets caught up in all manner of nefarious hijinks. It’s short tale with plenty of meat on its bones and more entertainment per page than many writers in an entire book. If you haven’t read Brazill yet then what the hell are you waiting for. A cracking comic thriller from a master of the form.

A few other notable reads this year were Phoebe Jeebies and the Man Who Annoyed Everybody by the always excellent Ryan Bracha, Dig Two Graves by the fantastic Keith Nixon, Bluff City Brawler (Fightcard series) by Heath Lowrance writing as Jack Tunney, and The Search For Ethan by Robert Cowan.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I hope you all have a fantastic New Year and a wonderful 2018. And I’ll let you all know when I’ve got something new for you to read.

Bye for now.

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Short, Sharp Interview: Ryan Bracha

The exceptional Ryan Bracha talks about his new novel. And I get namechecked, which is nice and unexpected.

Paul D. Brazill

ryan-bracha-jeebies

PDB: Can you pitch Phoebe Jeebies and The Man Who Annoyed Everybody in 25 words or less?

Borderline sociopath struggles to differentiate between comedy and nastiness as he tries to impress a girl with how he came to irritate people for money.

 PDB: Which music, books, films, songs or television shows do you wish you had written?

The list gets smaller and smaller all the time for this. Music gets worse, films get worse, telly gets worse, the older and less with it I get. Books don’t, books get better. That said, anything by Tom Waits I wish I’d written, really digging Goin Out West and Hell Broke Luce just now. Films, I dunno, I wish I’d written maybe This Year’s Love. I like a great concept done well. TV shows has to be Black Mirror. Charlie Brooker has a remarkably similar outlook on life to me as…

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Have A Brit Grit Christmas!

I’m one of many Brit-Grit writers providing their Christmas faves via Paul Brazill

Paul D. Brazill

martinaI asked a bunch of Brit Grit writers about their favourite Christmas book, film and song, and this is what they said:

Martina Cole:

Well my favourite Christmas book has to be John Updike and Edward Gorey’s ‘The Twelve Terrors of Christmas.’ Film has to be Lon Chaney as The Wolfman. I love old horrors especially at Christmas! And song has to be ‘Fairytale of New York’ as I adore The Pogues and Kirsty! (I remember when they were called Pogue Mahone! Kiss my arse in Gaelic!)

Lesley Welsh:

I’m going to be really tedious and say ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.‘ Still gets to me every time. Music-wise, Jona Lewie and ‘Stop The Cavalry’. Christmas book? That’s a difficult one, I never much liked Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ and don’t really recall others specifically about that time of year as I would probably…

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Potted Reviews 1 – A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James and The Switched by Ryan Bracha

It’s been a while since I’ve written any reviews so I might be a touch ring rusty. But I’ve got a backlog to get through, so here goes.

First up is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, which won last year’s Booker Prize. History takes an assassination attempt on Bob Marley as it’s starting point and weaves a massive tale of corruption, politics, power, murder, and Jamaica. It encompasses a huge array of characters, some of whom change identities at certain points in the story. When this book is at its best it is superb but, at its worst, it’s a slog. However, the good massively outweighs the bad. Some have compared this to Ellroy (which is why I picked it up in the first place), but it’s nothing of the sort. Character is secondary to plot in Ellroy’s work, whereas James’ novel is all character – the plot is loose, and certain parts of it don’t gel well at all. James’ characters all have clear and defined voices, whereas Post LA Quartet Ellroy has one voice: the Demon Dog. What the two writers do share is an ambitious historical narrative vision that fuses real life events with detailed fiction, along with a tendency to take their characters on a seamy, seedy journey. In this case, James weaves a fictional history of modern day Jamaica out of the attempted murder of Bob Marley. It’s ambitious, superbly written, and often addictive. But, in places, it’s also a baggy, slow slog of a read that is in drastic need of an edit. For all its faults this is still a superb piece of work.

Regular readers will know how highly I rate Ryan Bracha. I loved Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet, and Paul Carter is a Dead Man, and Ben Turner is a Dead Man. He has style, inventiveness, and wit to burn. Well, The Switched takes the wit and invention contained in those tales and ramps it up. In this novel, five unrelated people get switched into different bodies in a weird one-off event. Gradually, violent circumstances and strong personalities bring them together for a brutal final act. The Switched is great fun (as long as you’ve got a strong stomach). It’s as different from the Dead Man trilogy as it is from the universe of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet, but the novel shares the sharp, cutting satirical edge and the tendency towards experimental prose and structure. The reasons for the switch are never made clear (it’s possible that Bracha will reveal the reason in later books), so the focus is on the personalities. Bracha’s characters are pretty much all unlikeable with the exception of Charlie/Jake, but good writing ensures that they go through exciting transformations (and I’m not just referring to the switch itself but dealing with gender and gender fluidity), and the story is compelling enough to keep you reading to the end.

Ryan Bracha is fast building up an interesting, diverse, and impressive body of work. He seems to push himself from book to book – unwilling to settle for one genre or style of writing – and his back catalog is all the better for it. The Switched is another strong addition to this collection and comes highly recommended.

Book number 8 notched up – time to move to the next one

Well, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum is finally done, dusted, and delivered to Amazon. And I’m glad to see the back of it.

Why?

Well, it was hard to write, for starters. It began life as a short story (encompassing the initial robbery at Billingham Forum). But as soon as the short was complete, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d created (the short story leaves the fate of several of them up in the air). So I decided to fill in the gaps…

The novella came next. It fleshed out Bobby, Harry, ToJo, and Thrombosis, but, again, left me wanting to know more about Billy Chin, Jonno, Joey, and Ramon. So I went back again, and gave the story a third go.

The novel took much longer to assemble than the novella and short story because I wanted the tale to be more character driven than in previous works. I used a lot more foreshadowing. Many of the characters make decisions that come back to haunt them later. Sometimes you can’t plot these things. Occasionally they just need to bubble to the surface. For a plodder like me, that take times.

I learned a lot by writing this novel. I found out that expanding a short work into something much longer is not for the faint-hearted. Often the plot changes course because what works in a short story (or even a novella) doesn’t always succeed in the more generous word count of a novel. Characters evolve because they can grow into the pages. The lack of limits makes them less black and white.

Endings changed, first chapters came and went, characters emerged from the chrysalis of a cameo to become fully-fledged main players. Most of the main players got at least two or three killer lines and moments, or in Billy Chin’s case got to steal virtually every chapter in which he appears. The Stantons were much nastier in the short story, partly because this was the first Stanton short I ever finished (that’s right, the first – which goes to show how bloody long the novel took to write). It was only when I wrote The Hunters that they developed slightly softer edges and became more sympathetic. A Funny Thing Happened… came together in such a way that it was overtaken by every other project. This is why what seem like prequels actually aren’t. I write about six projects at the same time. It just so happens that The Hunters was the first project after The Gamblers that I was happy to publish. A Funny Thing Happened… was last one to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

The next Stanton story due for publication (early in 2017, most likely) has been almost as protracted. Sexy Lexy is set roughly a month after the events of A Funny Thing Happened… It was originally slated for release in The Greatest Show In Town, but I felt it needed lots of work and dropped it at the last moment. And, much like A Funny Thing Happened…, it expanded to become something bigger and broader – in this case, a novella.

After Sexy Lexy, I’m planning to put the brothers away for a while and concentrate on The Amsterdamned, which should come together quickly, because I’ve plotted it meticulously. Then I intend to fix my sights on We Won’t Leave This World Alive, which continues storylines from The Glasgow Grin (the Stanton brothers, Bob Owden, Gupta Patel, Jimmy Raffin, all get leading roles).

Anyway, enough talk about future publications…

Now it’s time to start pushing A Funny Thing Happened… to my readership.

I hope you enjoy it.

It was hard to write, but I think because of these difficulties it’s a pretty good read.

My seven months of Facebook exile has ended – what have I learned?

After seven months (give or take) away from Facebook I’ve decided to return to active social networking. My reasons for leaving in the first place were manifold. Progress on my novel A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum was in a state of paralysis and didn’t seem to be moving forward as quickly as I wanted. I needed more time to focus on expanding my graphic designer skillset to include web design (web page design and creation and learning HTML and CSS coding (with Javascript and other languages to follow). I needed these skills to produce a graphic designer website and portfolio, along with an entirely separate author website. I also wanted to leave because, at that point in time, my overuse of social media was getting in the way of these goals. Facebook became my means of venting my frustration and anger at the world, anger that increased when I realised my excessive use of social media was slowing down my progress. And so it went in a vicious cycle of anger and frustration until I decided that leaving was the only way I was going to achieve anything.

It took some time getting used to the adjustment. I realised just how many hours I spent on Facebook, doing nothing of much value, either on my laptop or my mobile phone. I actually missed it, although I wasn’t quite sure why. Then I began to fill this spare time productively. I spent hours studying HTML and CSS on Udemy or reading books on the subject. Gradually these languages began to make sense, and I was able to build a first draft author website. At the same time, my novel started to come together.

After a while, I realised that I didn’t need Facebook at all. And I certainly didn’t miss it. My procrastination levels dropped markedly. I bought server space and downloaded some software I needed to put my designer website together, which happened with little fuss. Then I learned about the responsive website design framework Bootstrap and put together a responsive version of my author website. The novel went off for editing (a process that’s now almost finished), and I’m gearing myself up for its release.

Which brings me here.

I’m in a much better place than I was in January. Just a few small achievements, such as learning to code relatively simple languages like HTML and CSS, and building a couple of websites, have brightened my mood considerably. Plus work on the latest Stanton novel is no longer getting me down. I feel like the time’s right to re-enter the world of social media. With a few caveats, of course!

My newfound sense of purpose and self-belief will disappear quickly if I succumb to old habits. So from now on, Facebook is restricted to my laptop. Besides, the Facebook app drains something like 20 percent battery life from most mobile phones. And I’m going to monitor my usage carefully.

So what have I learned from my time away from Facebook? Firstly, I can get things done when I put my mind to them. Second, social media time is dead time that can be utilised better by learning or writing or doing something useful. Third, I’ve got a long way to go before I can consider myself a fully functioning web designer (Javascript, PHP, MySQL, etc.). Fourth, I’m getting slower as a writer and I need to do something to combat this. I’m breaking my next big novel The Amsterdamned into small plot units, and story beats, in an attempt to speed up writing time (otherwise I’m likely to be publishing the fucking thing in 2019 rather than 2017). Fifth, if any of you want to learn a computer language or pick up software skills quickly, then I highly recommend Udemy. It’s brilliant.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that taking time out to pursue goals is the most productive and rewarding thing you can do. Sure, it can be frustrating, and progress can often be slow, but the pleasure from achieving life goals (however small) is immense. I can no longer imagine going back to the way things were.

Hell, I don’t wanna go back to way things were.

Onwards and upwards, my friends. Onwards and upwards.

I’ve got a brand new author website

After learning HTML and CSS (an ongoing and never ending process, I might add), and after a couple of false starts, I have designed and coded my new author website. Based on the Bootstrap framework, the site is fully responsive. You should have a good experience regardless of the device you view it on (although for some reason it doesn’t play nicely with Adblock – so be sure to turn off your blocker for my site (don’t worry I don’t have any sneaky ads)).

Come pay me a visit and maybe get on my subscriber list.