The Greatest Show in Town is here

GreatestShowInTownCover.inddI’m proud to announce the release (just in time for Christmas) of my short story collection The Greatest Show In Town and other shorts on Kindle (Kobo version to follow soon).

This collection serves up 11 nasty bits of Brit Grit for you to sample. They’re not gonna go down easy, but you don’t want that, right? You didn’t come here for sparkly vampires, boy wizards, and easy reading – you can get that elsewhere. No, you’re here for stories that grab your nuts and don’t let go. Tales that beat you down and do nasty things to you while you’re out cold. That’s what I’m giving you here – and you’ll take it and like it!

A security guard gets more than he bargained for when he pays a visit to The Carpenter’s Arms; two women cause all manner of mayhem when they suffer from a bout of Bus Rage; a mother’s death brings about a permanent rift between brother and sister in The Short Goodbye; and the Stanton brothers cut a kneecapping, bone-breaking, ball-busting, sweary swathe through the underworld in The Greatest Show in Town, The Beautiful Game, One Sixteenth and The Fight.

The Greatest Show In Town will eventually be £1.99 ($2.99) but throughout December you can grab it for the bargain price of 99p ($0.99). You lucky things!

And you you can grab some grit here in the UK and here is the US.

The Greatest Show In Town will be available in a week

GreatestShowInTownCover.inddI’m proud to announce that on Monday 17th December (just in time for Christmas) my short story collection The Greatest Show In Town and other shorts will be released on Kindle (with a Kobo edition following afterwards).

It consists of 11 stories, mostly crime and dark fiction, some of which have been on this blog in a different form, but with several others that are completely new to this collection. Four of the stories (including a couple of longer shorts) involve the exploits of the Stanton brothers, which should hopefully keep fans of The Hunters happy until its sequel The Glasgow Grin arrives. It will eventually be £1.99 ($2.99) but until the new year comes around it’ll be available at the bargain price of 99p ($1.99). You lucky things!

Tell your friends, your neighbours, your loved ones and total strangers about this momentous news. Because I really need the beer money!

Normal service will be resumed shortly

I’ve been shit. Sorry!

A combination of intermittent work and a short story collection that won’t stop giving me grief has caused this hiatus from blogging (and from writing in general, barring the odd good day when I have been able to motivate myself). However, I have a couple of reviews to upload this week: Killing Cupid by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss; and Beautiful, Naked & Dead by Josh Stallings. Also, slowly but surely I am writing again. Not much admittedly, but not much is better than nothing.

Hell, I might just finish this damn short collection and a Stanton Brothers novellette this year. And there will always be more reviews.

So normal service will be resumed shortly.

Review: Dirty Old Town by Nigel Bird

One of the things about the e-book era is that it has re-energised the British crime and dark fiction scene. Novelists and short fiction writers who might have been overlooked by the big publishers – for being too dark, too grim, too violent, too different – have been given the option to self-publish or work with small, independent publishers to produce books that have, in many cases, had some of the big boys on the run. These writers are knowledgeable about their trade, know their history, know how to hook readers from the first sentence, and more importantly know how to use social media and modern technology in a way that many of the more established pros seem incapable of doing. There are a lot of these folks out there: Paul D Brazill, Ian Ayris, McDroll, Luca Veste, along with more established folks like Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Nick Quantrill. Also, included with this rather gilded lot is Nigel Bird.

Until recently, Bird had wrote mostly short fiction, although a novella length work, Smoke, was published not so long ago. And until very recently (despite being interested in his work) I hadn’t downloaded any of his collections, due to a very large to-be-read pile and work commitments. But I put this behind me recently by reading Dirty Old Town – a short but strong collection of short fiction.

For such a short collection, there’s a lot of good stuff in here. One Hundred and Ten Per Cent, which goes through the life of a runner as he moves from prison to the race track. It’s compelling, hard and has some lovely little moments of description:

“Everyone has a talent,” Tweed said.

As it happened, he was pretty damned good at taking the faces of cunts like the man on the other side of the table and turning them into modern art.

Nice and pithy. Appeals to a fan of clever, sweary quips like myself. But elsewhere, as in Dirty Old Town, the title story, a subtler but equally clever use of language comes into play:

I didn’t see the stars, but felt them speed through my nervous system, tingling down to my fingers and toes.

Again, nice and pithy. And the rest of the story is just as good. Harsh, unforgiving, and with a nice sense of loss.

A lot of these stories deal with loss: Dirty Old Town, Drinking Wine (Spo-dee-oh-dee), Sea Minor, Taking A Line For A Walk; all these deal with a sense of loss (love, life, future, family, you name it).

Bird has a lot of empathy and sympathy for his characters, even the bad ones, and it shines through on the page. In this sense, his work shares similarities with Donald Ray Pollock whose work I reviewed here.

There are a number of memorable stories in this collection. Bird has genuine talent and is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future. And I think I’ll be reading more of his work sooner rather than later.

The Greatest Show In Town – cover redux

Here’s the new, and final, cover for The Greatest Show In Town.

When I posted the first version of the cover the feedback was really quite positive, but a few people pointed out a couple of things that stuck in my craw. Not because they were wrong, but because they were very much right.

I felt that I could do better – much better. Hopefully these minor tweaks have brought out a major improvement.

The basic photograph is still the same as the original, but I’ve applied a few extra colour filters to it, which have given it a stronger more vibrant appearance. I also removed one of the layers, which sadly didn’t add much other than a background texture.

The major change has been to the font, which has been replaced with a stronger, bolder face. I’ve also separated the name and title blocks, which – as a previous comment pointed out – made the top of the cover look cluttered.

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the landmark – this is a very nice shot of Teesside’s transporter bridge.

I think it’s a considerable improvement upon something I already thought was quite nice. Hopefully you all agree. Let me know your thoughts.

The cover for The Greatest Show in Town

The cover for my new short collection - The Greatest Show in TownHere for anybody who cares to have a look is the cover for my upcoming short story collection The Greatest Show in Town and other shorts. It features a very nice photograph of the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough as its main image, along with a bit of photo layering and a touch of transparency effects to get something that I feel is quite evocative of the contents within.

It has a different look to The Gamblers and The Hunters, but that was intentional. I wanted to differentiate it, draw attention to the fact that it’s a short collection. The Stanton brothers books will all have a very similar visual theme  – following the look developed in The Hunters. And even though the brothers appear in quite a few of these shorts it isn’t strictly a collection about them. I wanted the cover to reflect that.

Anyway, enough waffle from me…

Let me know what y’all think. If it’s appealing, do tell. Similarly, if you think it’s a big bag o’ crap then kindly tell me why it offends you!

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.