Too many teachers spoil the broth…

I’m mixing metaphors, I know, but maybe that’s because I haven’t taken the reams of writing advice that tumbles off the internet by the second. Everywhere I look, be it Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or via email, somebody is telling me to drop the adverbs, clarify my plot, construct a compelling character, write dialogue like a pro (not sure whether that’s professional or prostitute – they don’t often clarify things themselves), build killer descriptive prose, or do that other thing that I obviously don’t do often enough.

Frankly, I’m fucking sick of it. I don’t want to hear or read your advice any more.

If Elmore Leonard, or Stephen King, or Margaret Atwood, tells me how to write I might sit up and take notice – they’ve sold lots of books, they’re respected by their peers, and most importantly they know how to tell a good tale – but if some individual who sells maybe thirty books a month (well done on selling thirty more than I do) tells me how to write my novel then excuse me if I ignore that advice. And excuse me further whilst I delete you from my Twitter feed.

The worst thing about the self-publishing revolution is that anybody with a couple of books under the belt and the ability to string a coherent sentence together believes that they have the right to offer writing advice to the rest of us. Creative writing classes proliferate like viruses, virtual shelves groan under the strain of unknown authors offering advice we don’t need (for a price, of course), and newspapers, magazines, agencies and publishing houses even get in on the act with highly expensive weekend courses that teach you how to write the next bestseller. Much of this stuff is only a step above those piece of shit spam adverts that say: Dermatologists hate her – £5 cream more effective than Botox; Discover this strange method to lose stomach fat; Middlesex man discovers the key to rapid penis growth.

It’s all bullshit, all a myth. The snake oil of the 21st century. Their “advice” is there only to make you feel bad about yourself, in much the same way as these spam adverts make you hate your appearance enough to part with good money for their useless fucking products. They want you to read their book (for a fee), to take their course (for a fee), and while you’re there, why not check out the other books and courses they’re selling.

Do what you want to do. Don’t let some “expert” tell you how to write or what to write. Teach yourself how to write, don’t listen to somebody you’ve never heard of. Learn from your mistakes. Raymond Chandler rewrote Erle Stanley Gardner stories to teach himself the mechanics of plotting and deconstructed Hemingway to get the knack of prose rhythms. And he’s one of the finest writers of prose of the twentieth century, in addition to being one of the finest crime writers ever.

So, frankly, if it’s good enough for him then it’s good enough for me.

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Less than a week to go till…

Bone Breakers is up for sale. It’s a wild and crazy mix of snappy dialogue, fast action, brutal violence, and the Stanton brothers doing what they do best – bickering, breaking bones, and relieving other criminals of their wrongfully earned money.

It’s only £1.99/$2.99 on Kindle. Bargain!

And during July I intend to make my other Stanton brothers book The Hunters 99p/$0.99 and the short collection that features the brothers, The Greatest Show in Town, will be 77p/$0.99.

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Review: Piggyback by Tom Pitts

When mid-level criminal enforcer Jimmy is contacted by dealer Paul about a lost load of marijuana with a piggybacked load of coke, despite his reservations about getting involved, he sees an opportunity to make a nice financial gain. Turns out that the girls Paul used as mules have ripped him off. The real problem is that the load belonged to a bad-assed gangster called Jose who will kill Paul and probably Jimmy if the load isn’t returned sharpish. So Jimmy and Paul go for a ride to get the drugs back, which leads to betrayal and a whole load of carnage.

This is the first thing I’ve read by Tom Pitts but it certainly won’t be the last. It’s a fast-paced, exciting ride into the darkness. Tightly written, lean as hell, moves like a bullet train, perfect for a plane or train journey or a lazy afternoon. The characters are an assorted collection of scumbags who are pretty much an unsympathetic bunch, so when they suffer their mostly unpleasant fates you don’t feel much for them, but sometimes when you are dealing with noir that’s pretty much what you are going to get. It doesn’t stop it from being a wild couple of hours worth of reading though. Highly recommended.

Pitts is a definite talent, and one I’ll be watching out for in future.

Bone Breakers arrives on July 1st

My latest effort, another Stanton brothers’ thriller, Bone Breakers, will be on sale as a Kindle ebook on July 1st and later as a paperback. Set before the events of The Hunters, it’s a blisteringly fast-paced 32,000 word novella, packed with action, suspense, and an assortment of colourful and vicious villains. It will be priced at £1.99 for the eBook and £4.99 for the paperback. See the book blurb for a glimpse of what you’ll be getting…

When the Stanton brothers decide to rob Teesside construction magnate, drug dealer, and all-round scumbag, Terry Albright, they think it’s going to be easy. Get in, get out, break a few bones, and make a tidy profit. But when the money isn’t where it’s supposed to be, they find themselves holed-up in a high-rise flat trying to break into the bedroom of a fat, Eminem wannabe, while surrounded by a family of psychotic scrap dealers and bone breakers who want the money for themselves. But as the night wears on, and the Stantons realise that time isn’t on their side, they decide to take matters into their own hands, leading to a hammer wielding, classic car smashing, bone-breaking finale.

Bone Breakers is a crime thriller with the emphasis on thrills. It screams along at a furious pace, mixing fast action, ultra-violence, black comedy, snappy dialogue, and the Stanton brothers at their bickering, foul-mouthed best. 

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Current writing projects (or total madness)

A couple of days ago, I decided to take stock of why I’m still struggling to get anything out for sale in 2013, despite writing my arse off for much of this year. When I realised just how many projects I’ve got on the go at the moment, I truly understood the depth of the problem I currently have. I’ve literally been writing myself to a standstill, ironically by jumping around from project to project like a kid with ADD on pharmaceutical-grade speed.

This has to stop. And it will from today.

The list as it stands (as projects are finished they get a line through, like this):

  1. Bone Breakers – novella (currently in final edit stage – want it to be ready for a July 1 Kindle launch)
  2. The Glasgow Grin – novel (three quarters done, needs more work)
  3. The Green Eyed Monster – short story (prequel of sorts to Bone Breakers – 2,000 words in)
  4. A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Billingham Forum – novella (first draft, badly needs a second draft)
  5. Parked Cars – short story (2,000 words in and nearly finished, just needs to be typed up and polished)
  6. Bangkok Bound – novella (2,000 words in)
  7. Laughter in the Dark – novelette/novella (3,500 words in)
  8. Cry Tomorrow – novella (6,000 words in)
  9. Last One’s The Charm – short story (250 words in)
  10. The Gods Won’t Save You (AKA Hell’s Waiting-Room) – novella (800 words)

In addition to these are several other projects without titles and without any idea of what they are and where they’re going.

As any sane person can see, there are far too many projects here to juggle at once. My creativity at coming up with ideas and starting them with a roar of concentration is a good thing. The fact that this concentration peters out when another idea pops into my head is not.

So, from today, and in numerical order, it’s one project at a time (or two, if I’m editing, but no more than that), and each project will be seen through until the draft is finished. At which point the next project on the list gets its turn.

Any new ideas get sketched down (and I do mean sketched) and added to my Evernote account, and dealt with as soon as I can reach them, not before.

This is the new way. Now let’s see if my productivity picks up.

My Favourite crime novels No. 25

Dirty Snow – Georges Simenon

Not done one of these in ages, probably because I’ve not had the time. But here’s a stone-cold classic to make up for it.

As many of my regular readers will know I love Georges Simenon. His novels are a lesson in how to tell a good tale as leanly and meanly as possible. He is most famous for the Maigret police detective books, which are much harder and darker than their reputation might lead you to believe, but his reputation as a writer has been made by his roman durs, which are noir in everything but name. They scour the gutter and focus on societies’ rejects or, on quite a few occasions, they focus on those who, for whatever reason, drop out and reject society. Redemption is rare, happy endings rarer still.

And Dirty Snow is probably the apotheosis of this art. In that it is probably the darkest and nastiest of these books. Which is really saying something. It focuses on France during the occupation, and offers up an existence of hunger, poverty, and constant fear for normal folks trying to live their lives during WWII

However, the protagonist of Dirty Snow, Frank Friedmeyer, isn’t one of the normal folks. He’s one of the nastiest pieces of shit you will find in any kind of fiction. At nineteen, he’s already a pimp, a thug, and, as the novel begins, he’s just committed his first murder – of a fat officer from the occupying forces. He doesn’t commit it because of hatred, he doesn’t commit it because of fear, he does it for no other reason than because he wants to, and because he feels that now is as good a time as any to do it. He takes the officer’s gun, again because he wants to. And later, when he arranges to steal some watches for a General – for a lot of cash and a much sought after green card (which allows him to go anywhere) – he uses the gun to shoot an old woman who has the misfortune to recognise him during the robbery.

His one chance at redemption is Sissy, who for some reason sees something that nobody else can and falls in love with Frank, but even this he messes up when he sees the opportunity to use her love to his advantage with his ‘friend Kromer. (I use quotation marks because both men dislike each other, they just hang around together due to criminal connections).

Then Frank is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by the occupying forces. The same elements that make him so wrong for the outside world (his lack of fear, of empathy, his coldness, and distrust of others), give him an edge inside. He doesn’t inform, he doesn’t compromise, and – by looking out of his window at a woman in a building across from the prison – he finds a spark of humanity.

Dirty Snow is one of those rare books that’s as dark and destructive as a black hole. It sucks away all light, all hope, and pushes the reader face first into the dark snow that builds up in the gutters.

It is also beautifully written in lean prose that strips away all the excess fat to find the meat and bone of the story beneath. Dirty Snow doesn’t waste words or paragraphs on things the story doesn’t need, it uses them to build a dark world that pulses with life.

Simenon tells the tale without sentimentality, and never resorts to cliché. In fact, it’s rare to find a book of his that does resort to clichés (for instance, Maigret isn’t a tortured soul with addictions and no home life, he’s a happily married man who does his job with distinction, even when he doesn’t like it). It presents the world to us and says this is how it is. If you don’t like it, look away, but this is how things are.

Even now, it stands up as a hostile, dark masterpiece.

Review: Red Esperanto by Paul D Brazill

This is the first part of Paul D Brazill’s Luke Case series of shorts. It is set on the bleak wintry streets of Warsaw. Our less than intrepid hero puts himself in extreme danger when he begins an affair with Jola, the wife of a local gangster.

If you’ve read Brazill before, you know what you’re going to get from the off: rich, evocative prose that paints a vivid picture, a seedy setting frequented by even seedier characters, and a good tale, well told. In fact, of the three Case tales this one has to be my favourite because of the nifty twist at the end that Brazill throws at the reader in such an offhand manner. He makes it look and read effortless, but it really isn’t.

If you have yet to read either Brazill or the Case tales – what the hell have you been doing? Stop reading this and go and buy them now. But in all seriousness, if you haven’t read him yet then start with Red Esperanto it is as good a place as any to get acquainted with Brazill’s world. Highly recommended.