The Kindle Effect

Until this year, well at least since I’ve been in London, I considered myself a 25-30 books a year man. Generally, I’ve polished off a couple of books a month on average, with some extra novels consumed on holiday.

But since I’ve had a Kindle, or Kindle enabled device, like my smartphone, I’ve consumed fiction at a much faster rate. I read faster, I appear to absorb what I’ve read faster and my appetite for reading has been greatly increased (this also includes consumption of paperbacks). By my current calculations I’ll probably end up consuming three times my usual amount. This is one hell of a hike!

Has anybody else also had this effect? Has it also affected what you’ve read too? I’ll be interested to know your opinions.

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To The Grave – a short story

Here’s a little story that’s going in my upcoming collection The Greatest Show in Town and Other shorts. It’s not very big – think a shot of espresso, rather than a big mug of noir – but I’d like to think it gets the job done.

“You get the shit?”

Joe waved two baggies. “Yeah. I got it.”

Stephen sighed. “Thank fuck.” He looked like a Science class skeleton that had been dressed in charity shop cast-offs. Even small-sized clothes looked roomy on his stick man frame. He had bags under his eyes that were large enough to carry groceries.

“What are friends for, right?” Joe said. He looked healthier than his friend, but his once tight frame was getting soft and doughy. When he wasn’t high he worried about this, though he wasn’t quite sure why.

“Right,” Stephen said, his movements twitchy. “Was getting worried for a second.”

“Christ. You thought I’d cut out on you? Jesus, Ste’!”

“Nah. It’s not that I don’t trust you or nowt,” Stephen said, with a shrug and a guilty smile, “but that’s the last of my money.”

“Last of our money,” Joe said, throwing one of the baggies.

Stephen caught it. “Right. Last of our money.”

“Then we better make sure it lasts.”

Stephen smiled. “You’re a real mate, Joe.”

He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “De nada.”

“Best friends, mate,” Stephen said, lifting a can of Tennant’s Super in celebration.

Joe blushed momentarily, then bumped an imaginary tin against the Super and made a clanking noise in acknowledgment. “To the grave.”

Both men took swigs – one real and one imaginary.

Stephen looked around the squat. It was shitsville – even the rats thought twice about staying here – the floorboards were soaked through and warped with rain water and piss and the wallpaper was peeling away in pendulous fungus-flecked sheets. Given a choice, Stephen and Joe would have chosen anywhere but this, but they were all out of options. It was this place or the streets.

“Was Oggie radged?”

“No more than usual.”

“He say owt?”

“Only that he still wants his money from you.”

“He was okay with you, though?”

“I’m here, aren’t I? Told him it was my cash, so he gave up the shit, but he said you better have his money, and sharpish.”

“Or?”

Joe shrugged. “That part he left open. Let your imagination fill the gap, or summat.”

“What we gonna do about money?”

Joe shook his head. “Dunno.”

Stephen paused, bit his bottom lip nervously. “Sorry, mate.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“About all of it.”

Joe’s jaw muscles twitched. “It’s history.”

“I mean it,” Stephen said, his eyes glistening.

“I know.”

“I had the need.” Tears clung for dear life to Stephen’s eyelashes. A blink sent them tumbling down his cheeks.

Joe smiled briefly and sighed. “You coulda asked.”

“Would she’ve given me the dosh?”

“No. But she woulda given it to me. I’da lent you it.”

Stephen gave his baggie a long glance and tapped it with his finger, dispersing the contents. “I didn’t think Emma’d kick you out ’cause of it.”

“We were on the edge.”

“She could still take you back.”

Joe shook his head. He sat down on the floor and gave his baggie a quick shake. “It’s been a month, mate.”

“She loves you.”

“Maybe.”

“She told me.”

“Things change,” Joe said and sighed long and loud. “Month’s a long time.”

“It’s not too late.”

“Maybe.”

“It’s not too late.”

Joe hung his head momentarily. “Yeah. It is.”

“Shit, mate…”

“It’s done,” Joe said with a sharp edge that suggested this topic of conversation was over.

“All I do is bring you down.”

Joe looked at Stephen for a long time, then glanced at the baggie. “Forget it.”

“Even when we was kids you stuck up for us.”

“Somebody had to.”

“Didn’t hafta be you.”

“You know me. I was always a bit of a touch for a sob story, stray animals, crying women, friends in need. It always take something drastic to cut the ties, know what I mean?”

“Well, means a lot. You’re a quality fuckin’ bloke, mate.”

Joe gave him a hard stare. “Can you just fuckin’ leave it.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“And stop saying sorry; it’s getting right on my tits.”

“Sor…” Stephen checked himself, then looked away. His eyes drifted back towards the baggie.

“Can I have first taste?”

Joe paused, then shrugged. “Do whatcha like.”

Stephen put some of the powder in a spoon, then added some powdered Vitamin C. He took a syringe, punctured a plastic bottle of water, drew in the amount he needed, pulled out the syringe and squirted this over the drugs. He mixed everything together with the syringe, cleaned the tip and started heating the underside of the spoon with a lighter. Once he was happy, Stephen dropped a raggedy piece of cigarette filter into the liquid and used this to filter the solution into the syringe. He tied a tourniquet around his arm and looked for a healthy vein – there weren’t many.  When he found one that didn’t look too manky, he pushed in the needle and depressed the plunger.

Stephen’s initial reaction was to breathe deeply, almost orgasmically, but this was followed by another rapid inhalation. His eyes widened. His fingers drew into tight fists and he slouched back into his mouldy armchair, sinking slowly into paralysis. Tears rolled down his cheeks and his breathing became more and more shallow.

Joe stood up and looked at his friend. As Stephen’s eyes began to take on the glassiness of death, Joe glanced at the baggie in his hand. “Sorry, mate. It was fifty-fifty. I never could cut my ties – always did involve summat drastic, like. Well, this is as drastic as it gets. If it makes it any easier it could’ve been either one of us, you know. I didn’t know which one was dosed. I couldn’t leave with you around, mate; just didn’t have the willpower. Like I sez, sorry.”

When Joe finished talking, he realised he was chatting with a corpse, or as near as it gets. Stephen stared glassy-eyed into the distance, his skin almost translucent, fine blue veins sitting just beneath the surface. He was slack-jawed and a line of drool ran from his bottom lip down to the neck of his T-shirt.

Joe crouched on his haunches. He rubbed his chin, deep in thought, staring at the baggie on the arm of the chair. He stayed like this for a while, then stood up slowly and walked to the chair. After rummaging around in his pocket for a while he took out an old till receipt and laid it flat in the palm of his hand. He picked up the baggie, poured some of the contents into the center of the receipt and put the baggie back down on the chair. Then Joe folded the receipt carefully, making sure not to spill the contents. The receipt went back in his pocket.

He smiled at his friend. “Just in case she doesn’t take me back.”

Joe patted his friend on the head, but Stephen didn’t feel it. He took one final look around the room, then made for the door. After opening it, he stood in the doorway for a few seconds, took a few deep breaths, sighed, and closed the door behind him.

Happy Kindle birthday, The Gamblers

This slipped past me almost unnoticed (partly because The Gamblers was first released on paperback in November 2011), but I thought I’d say a few words to mark the occasion.

This last year has been an interesting ride on Kindle. Sales were marginally better than I hoped upon release, though it’s never troubled the best-seller charts (not counting the occasional chart place in the hard-boiled hit parade). And in that time I’ve managed to release another book, making me almost prolific, haha! I’ve learned a lot about this indie-publishing business too during the last year and I thought I’d share these thoughts with you (feel free to click away when you get bored):

1) There’s a vibrant hard-boiled crime and noir community out there. I didn’t realise just how vibrant it was until I joined Twitter and noticed that not only are there lots of people doing what I’m doing, but they’re doing it a lot better too. What this means is I know I have a lot more to learn. It also means that it’s not a lonely place, and there are a lot of great writers to chat with online. That feeling alone is marvellous.

2) I’ll never make my living as a full-time writer. This isn’t some whiny point declaring woe is me, it’s more a simple statement of the facts as I see them. Getting noticed is incredibly difficult and involves more effort than I can manage if I’m to keep earning a living as a graphic designer and pay my rent. I can only do it to a minor degree, far less than I would like, which means minor returns. But I’m cool with that. Sales might take off to a degree over time, given a more substantial back catalogue, but I’m pretty certain the best I can hope for is something that can supplement my full-time job income rather than replace it. Regardless of this, I’ll keep writing. I love doing it, because it’s not about the money, it’s more than that… I don’t want to sound all poncy and pretentious, but it fulfils me in a way that I can’t quite explain – whether that’s spiritual or what have you, I don’t know, but there’s a sense of contentment I feel when I’ve finished a project that I don’t get from any other aspect of my professional life.

3) The Gamblers wasn’t a one-off. I was worried that I might return to my pre-Gamblers routine of starting projects that remained unfinished, but this hasn’t been the case. The Hunters, the first of a series of hard-boiled and blackly comic crime thrillers featuring two dysfunctional criminal brothers, made an appearance and will be quickly followed by three other books later this year and into 2013. Also, I have another noir that is on schedule for late 2013! The floodgates are well and truly open.

4) I’m going to stop trying to sell my wares all the time on Twitter. I’ve been scaling this back, but unless I have a specific deal going (two-for-one deals, a price drop etc.) I’m going to cease with the Twitterbombs. To be honest, Twitter is an abysmal selling tool and I find that I get more sales through providing interesting content on this blog, or links to interesting content on Twitter, than I do by saying, ‘Oi! Buy my books’. If I slip with this promise at any point, feel free to pull me up about it 😉

5) I won’t be doing any more KDP Select giveaways. Initially, KDP Select kickstarted sales of The Gamblers again after they went dormant for a while, and it’s given The Hunters an initial boost, but repeated freebies have done nothing more for me in terms of sales and are probably detrimental in the long run. And what’s the point of giving away my work to hoarders who don’t read it? It’s a waste of my time and theirs – they’ll only end up deleting it unread anyway. Better a tiny audience of devoted readers than a larger audience of those who couldn’t care less. So, I have a few ideas of my own to boost sales in the summer months, involving a slightly more structured giveaway of my own devising (I’ll reveal more another time).

6) It’s been fun, thus far. I’ve enjoyed having all three of you visit my blog from time to time and read my work, and I hope to keep you entertained for many years to come. And if the standard slips do let me know. I’ll come back stronger and better for it.

Adios!

Potted reviews – Fatale, Knockemstiff and The Wheelman

Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette – Hitwoman Aimee Joubert heads to Bléville and causes trouble by using an impoverished Baron to help her turn the town’s inhabitants against one another so that she can undertake a dastardly plan. As with all good Manchette novels, a lot of carnage ensues.

Fatale feels in a sense like a more subversive play on Hammett’s Red Harvest, which was fairly subversive itself. The Blé in Bléville apparently means wheat or the dough that’s made from it. Dough is obviously an Americanism for money – Moneyville, in other words. It feels kind of like Poisonville (which is the nickname of Personville, the town in Red Harvest). The heroine also plays the various sides against each other in a similar way to the Continental Op and both novels have a similarly jaundiced worldview and large amounts of bloodshed. It’s a weaker novel than both Three To Kill and The Prone Gunman, but considering they’re out-and-out works of genius and this is merely excellent there’s no shame in that. It is incredibly readable and comes highly recommended

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray PollockKnockemstiff is a short story collection set in and around the town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. The stories range from incredibly sad to funny and most of them are as black as a mineshaft at midnight. Pollock’s prose is as lean as a racing greyhound and just as nippy. Some of the characters from one story reappear in another (or get name checked). There isn’t a duffer amongst them and at their best (Knockemstiff and Honolulu, in particular) they damn near took my breath away. Go out and buy it straight away – you won’t be sorry.

The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski – Lennon is a mute Irish getaway driver who finds that getting out of Philadelphia is a lot more difficult than he had anticipated. He finds himself pursued by the Russian Mafia, the Italian Mob, an ex-policeman and various other criminals, all falling over each other to get their hands on $650,000 of loot.

This is the first Swierczynski novel that I’ve read but it won’t be the last. It’s a cartoon romp that’s almost too tricky for its own good at times, but it is also a damn fine piece of entertainment that races by at an astonishing pace. It has some excellent moments of black comedy along with some nicely written set-pieces. If you like heist capers you’ll really enjoy this.

Well worth a listen – audio interview between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming

The sound quality isn’t exactly cutting edge, and it’s in four chunks rather than one big one, but, bloody hell, this is Ian Fleming interviewing Raymond Chandler. For that alone it’s worth about half an hour of your precious time. Plus, the bits when they talk about the Albert Anastasia hit and the novel that would be finished by Robert B Parker and released posthumously entitled ‘Poodle Springs’ are fascinating.

Whilst Ian Fleming’s voice is exactly as I imagined it, with real cut-glass, RP tones, Chandler’s is anything but. I can’t say imagined he would sound like Philip Marlowe but, considering the legendary amounts of alcohol the author put away, I thought he would sound throatier and more gravelly than the rather genteel voice that emerges from this recording.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Enjoy!

Potted Reviews – The Hunted by Elmore Leonard and Blitz by Ken Bruen

The Hunted by Elmore Leonard – Al Rosen is on the run in Israel from some bad gangster colleagues back home in Detroit. So when he plays good Samaritan and rescues people from a hotel fire he draws a lot of attention upon himself – including several hitmen from the mob. And when his duplicitous lawyer turns up with a kiss-off payment from his former business colleagues, Rosen knows he’s going to need to do a lot just to avoid being killed so he can get his hands on the money. So when chance throws a bored and soon-to-be-retired marine his way, he eyes his opportunity to get his money back and deal with those who are after him.

This is the first Elmore Leonard that I’ve read in a couple of years, and it’s always easy to forget just how much of a pleasure he is to read. Cannily constructed plots, sharply drawn characters and dialogue most of us would probably sell our souls to be able to write half as well. The pacing is beautiful and there are surprises galore on the way to a very satisfying finale. Personally, I think the 70s Leonard’s are his finest works and this (written in ’77) is one of his best. Superb stuff from a master!

Blitz by Ken Bruen – A very deluded, but media-savvy serial killer calling himself Blitz is hunting the police and executing them. He has eyes for Sergeant Brant, Roberts and the rest of their pretty corrupt team.

This is my first Bruen, and I liked it a lot. The story is so compelling the pages practically turn themselves. The clipped, spare prose, which makes Elmore Leonard (hardly renowned for flowery sentences) look like Henry James in comparison, is a joy to read. And the characters might be a pretty shitty lot, but they look out for their own (even a scumbag like Brant). The South London setting is also very well realised and Bruen has a great feel for London geography. Highly recommended.

Kill Your Children

I know my novels tend to have a fair degree of carnage but, despite the fairly misleading title, this is not that kind of a post.

What I want to talk about is abandoning your writing, effectively killing a project or restarting it when something goes very wrong. Hopefully that now explains the title – if you, like me, think of your projects as children that you nuture until they can be released into the world, where they’ll hopefully fend for themselves without coming to you for a handout!

The second Stanton Brothers novel/novella The Glasgow Grin is now moving at a fair old clip, writing itself, so to speak, after a very tortured beginning. I’ve knocked out 7,000 words (about 6 chapters) in about the same amount of time it took me to write 1,000 of the original first chapter.

The original first chapter began in one room, with three men talking, basically explaining everything that had gone down in The Hunters. Some of the dialogue was serviceable, but it was otherwise inert. I tried to convince myself that it was necessary, that it would re-establish a connection for previous readers with the Stanton brothers and introduce them to those who haven’t met them before. Actually, what it did was bore me rigid.

Once you realise that you’re writing at the kind of speed usually reserved for blind illiterates then you should know that your book has real problems. When you realise that you actually dread opening the Word doc in order to stare at the lines you’ve had to drag out of your subconscious, kicking-and-screaming like Guantanamo Bay torture victims, then you should know that you need to kill the chapter, possibly the project.

In my usual slow-witted fashion I failed to initially realise any of the above. But once I knew the book wasn’t going anywhere in its current format I killed the project, ruminated for a week, and then started again.

The first book now begins with the Stantons following one of the characters from the previous novel to his love pad, where he is entertaining a woman who is not his wife. It’s all action. The action leads to revelation, which leads to more action, which leads to more… yeah, you get the idea. The Stantons are men of action, not  philosophers; even the older, intelligent brother uses his brain on-the-fly. Moments of reflection, pauses for the reader to draw breath, should be just that – moments, and nothing more. Now the project is moving again, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you, just in case you’re tempted to keep a project going even though you know it’s moving down a cul-de-sac. I hope I remember them when the third and fourth Stanton installments come around (hint, I already have started them).

Never begin a crime novel with three men in a room talking unless it’s actually about three men in a room talking. And if it’s not – kill it!

If you’re 1,000 words into a chapter and you still have no idea where the hell you’re going, and the threat of yet another 1,000 words of this torture is hanging over you – kill it!

If you’re far enough into a project to know it’s not working – kill it! Or, at the very least, put it in a coma and come back after writing something else for a while.

Don’t get too emotionally attached at the beginning of your project, because sometimes emotion clouds your better judgement. If in doubt – kill it!

Hopefully, you might get something from this. The Glasgow Grin is about five weeks behind schedule because I didn’t listen to my inner voice – you know, the one that tells you you’ve fucked up even when you’re busy congratulating yourself on a job well done.

In future, I think I’ll pay him a bit more attention!

Let me know if you’ve had similar problems, and what you did to dig yourself out. I’d love to hear from you.