Thursday, 30 December 2010

Xmas Past.


I’ve created a monster, people. Oh, and I watched some movies.

That’s my response when folk ask the question, “What did you get up to over the holidays?”
The monster?

The Queen of Chaos was over for dinner and I showed her how many people have been reading about her in my two festive blog posts.

Oooo, she says, do you get any money for this? (with the subtext of: and if you do, what’s my cut?)
She was, it is fair to say, crestfallen when I explained how blogging works.

That’s rubbish, she says.

Then as the meal progressed, she ended every sentence with: hey, you could put that on your blog. Your readers will piss themselves laughing.

We met in town two days later. She had just taken back a bracelet I bought her (too big – who ever heard of a bracelet being too big? Or is that just a guy comment?) and somehow the shop assistant read £14.99 on the receipt as £1.

QC told her where to go. My brother is no skinflint, she told her. No way would he buy a present for me that was only £1.

Then as chance would have it, our paths crossed. She grabbed my sleeve and pulled me in the direction of the shop, like a terrier pulling its owner to save the distressed child, all the while talking about 100 miles per hour about the rip-off merchants who tried to give her £1 for “that beautiful bracelet”.

A new shop assistant tried (unsuccessfully) not to laugh as QC went into a fresh tirade about how “loaded” I was (I wish) and how generous I was and how I always spend a fortune on her and how there was no way I would only spend £1 on her and how I am not a skinflint and how I had also bought a lovely dress for her and it was nearly £40.

It was like she considered her minutes long monologue as proof of the price of the bracelet. (And was further evidence, if I ever needed it that my sister is obsessed with knowing the price of things.)

That’s all very nice, Sis, I said, but all you need to do is show the nice lady the receipt.

Oh, Right. She wrestled in her cavernous bag (one question – do women REALLY need to carry all that stuff?) for about thirty minutes. You ever tried to dig a hole in the sand as a kid? You dig down, pile up the sand on the sides of the hole and it just slips down and fills back up again? This was what was going on with QC and the Giant Bag. Eventually, after inflation rose a few notches, I grew another couple of gray hairs and the wee fella grew a giant pimple on his chin – the receipt was produced with a triumphant, Ta Da.

The first shop assistant appeared, she admitted her error and QC was given the run of the shop to pick a replacement. All’s well that ends well – especially since the shop now had its sale on and everything was half price.

You could put this on your blog, said QC as she left the shop with her new goodies.

As a wee aside – some of the movies I watched over the last few days...

Avatar – yes, again. And again the wee fella ranted about how the movie might look good, but they’d basically nicked the storyline. And it was gross to see all those giant blue butts. And now they’re kissing, he says. How gay is that? (It seems I tuned out for two minutes and the meaning of the word has changed again.)

Casablanca – I put a gag on the wee fella and watched this in peace.

As I did with It’s A Wonderful Life – and yes, I had a lump in my throat.

New Town Killers – Dougray Scott goes psycho. Cool and edge of your seat type of stuff. No comments from the wee fella as I removed the gag and sent him to bed. With bread and water.

Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) – this is a French comedy gem that you’ll sit watching with a smile stuck to your face. A man is transferred to the north of France – Nord Pas de Calais. Everybody in every other part of France would hate to go there. But our man falls in love with the place and the people and when he goes back to the south he feels he has to pretend that he is miserable or his family and friends will simply feel he has gone mad. A character in the movie summed it up when he said that everyone cries twice when they visit the region. Once when they arrive (because they hate the thought of it) and once again when they leave (because they have fallen in love with it.)
Loved it. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Buy, beg or borrow a copy now, today.

The Expendables – the wee fella said this was the worst movie he’d ever seen. Wasted by having all these amazing action stars and giving them like a minute on screen and that guy (Stallone) is ugly and can’t act and talks funny. His rant was fairly impressive and suggests that he might be taking over here quite soon.

And I quote – “Interesting movie having all of these action stars from the eighties and nineties, but the problem is that the story is average, half of the actors do nothing – what is the point of having Willis and Schwarzenegger and giving them 5 second roles? And then have Stone Cold Steve Austin and have him barely speak. So what do I think of it? I give it a fricken 2 out of 10. Don’t rent or buy, it is a useless piece of crap.”

I fear, I may have created another monster.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Xmas Eve Dinner with the Queen of Chaos

Remember the Queen of Chaos (QC)? My gorgeous twin sister? She's coming for dinner today. Along with her boyfriend and our Dad.

And this gives me the excuse to re-post a blog that I offered my 3 readers in September 2009.

It is fair (and truthful) to say that the last time QC attempted to make me a meal was Christmas 2005. Christmas Eve to be exact. QC and my Dad had been at mine for Sunday lunch around half a dozen times since I moved into my new place six months previously.

I foolishly decided to annoy her. So I pointed out that in the 12 years QC had been in her flat, we hadn't even been invited over once. She has a lovely wee flat, nicely decorated, wardrobe BURSTING with clothes but a kitchen as well-equipped as an abandoned warehouse - she's way too busy being fabulous to worry about things like kitchen utensils. Besides, she says, what more do you need than a plate, a knife and fork?

In any case, she reacted to my badgering, picked up the oven glove gauntlet and invited Pops and I over to hers for dinner on Xmas Eve. And whatsmore, she announced proudly, she would provide everything – food and drink.

This was great. I was going to be spending most of my Xmas with my girlfriend and given that my pet hate at this time of year is the way people stock up pre-Xmas as if for a world food shortage - this meant I could avoid the queues in the supermarket altogether.


The week before Xmas I receive a panicked phone call from QC. She doesn't have a table. We would all have to eat off our knees in front of the telly. Dad hates eating off his lap, she says and isn't it nicer to eat at a table while not staring at a TV screen? I had to agree. And didn't I have a nice big
dining table, she helpfully pointed out? We could have the meal at yours, she said, but I will
still provide all of the goodies.

This was of course, the point of no return. The moment in time you realised while watching a movie or reading a novel where disaster could still be averted...
OK, I answered. I can see the sense of that. My place. Your food.
-What's on the menu, I ask?
-prawn cocktail, trifle and some Cava, was the reply.
-what, no main course? I ask.
-the prawn cocktail will be so big you won’t need anything else. Besides, she continued before I could question her any further, don't you think we all eat too much at Xmas time? I kinda like the idea of a lighter meal at the start – a kind of warm up for the main event.

This was of course, the point of no return 2.  The point in the movie where the handsome actor  opens the door and bravely chases the knife-wielding thug down the poorly lit street...

QC phoned the next day to arrange for me to pick her up at the train station on Xmas Eve and to let me know that Dad would be bringing the trifle.
- Wasn't that nice of him to offer, she asked? And he didn't need too much prompting either, she added.

I pick her up around 6pm on Xmas eve from the train station. She looked great as usual – long blonde hair, four feet eleven, size six – wearing a new top, if I'm not mistaken. (I’m a female shopaholic partner’s worst nightmare – I notice these things) It's only when she's in the car and belted in that I realise that she wasn't too heavily laden with goodies. In fact the one carrier bag she was carrying was decidedly on the light side. I'd seen dog walkers having just scooped the poop with busier carrier bags.

Ignoring the voice of worry in my mind I drive us both to my place. How long does it take, she asks as I park in front of my house, to defrost a bag of prawns?
-They aren't fuc - I will myself into a state of calm - what does it say on the bag? I ask with as polite a voice as I can muster. It is Xmas after all.
-Cannae read it in the dark. Let's go inside, she answers. She walks in front, I follow with growing alarm. And a growing sense of pissed-offness (Again, I`m a poet, I can make up words) as I realise that most shops will now be closed for the holidays and we are all at the mercy of whatever QC is holding in that wee bag.

Inside, I point her in the direction of the kitchen. It's all yours, I tell her, while walking to the bathroom to wash my hands Pontius Pilate stylee.

- Awww, not going to help me, QC asks.
- Nut, this is your gig, gawdhelpus – I'm now moving resolutely into asshole brother mode.

I had an open plan kitchen, living room area – so I switch on the TV and have a seat. Arms and legs crossed. This is her party. Leave her to it.

QC reads the back of the prawn packet. Shit, she says, eight hours. Eight hours, she repeats in case I haven’t heard her the first time - what are we going to do? 

- Naw, I say. You! What are you going to do? This is your fecking party.

She starts humming which is her defence mechanism. She fills the kettle and then sticks her head in my fridge – which is pretty much empty – hoping that any activity will diffuse the irritation I’m no longer bothering to hide.
-Where's your Thousand Island dressing, she asks?
- Why would I have fecking Thousand Island Dressing? I’m shouting now...It dawns on me. You don't have any dressing? Is that not what turns a prawn salad into a prawn cocktail?
- Phone Dad, maybe he'll have some, she suggests.
- He’s strictly a brown sauce man, why the feck would he have fecking thousand island dressing…I have another moment of clarification. QC's bag of goodies didn't clink on the way in – it barely even rustled.
- Where's the Cava? I ask.

QC brings her head out from behind the fridge door. It must have been nice and cool in there, she’s looking less pink.
The kettle pings. QC turns towards it.
- Where's the Cava, sis?
- I did have it, says QC as she fixes the collar of her top, in my trolley. In the supermarket. Then I saw this lovely wee shirt. Phone Dad. Do you think he'll have some Cava?
 - Awfurfuksake sis, the auld yin wouldnae know Cava from a hole in a rock face. Whisky, lemonade, tea milk and water, that's your lot.

My head is now in my hands, which is why I don’t see what happens next.

In the kitchen QC has split the prawns into three piles and has poured boiling water over them.
-See, she says with triumph in her voice, they've defrosted.
-Where did you learn that wee trick, I ask.
-My pal.
-Then what does she do with them?
-Cooks them – throws them in a stir fry or something. Why are you asking? She chews on the inside of her cheek and hums at the same time, wondering where the hell I'm going with this and if she should stick her head back in the fridge.
-We'll be eating them raw.
-In a salad.
-Yes – what's your problem? They've defrosted. They're now edible.
- Edible and quite possibly poisonous, ya numpty, I answer and storm into the kitchen. Well given that it was about 7 steps, my storm was probably more like a mince.

Right, I take a deep breath. I need to retrieve this situation. AndIneedtocalmdownandIneedtostopshouting. It is Christmas after all.
-Where's the salad, I ask.
QC hands me a small bag.
-Awfurfu…that’s it? I am now roaring while holding a wee tub of pre-prepared salad from Morrisons.
-What's wrong with that, asks Una? I eat this all the time – and it sometimes lasts me for a couple of days.
- What are you, a size zero? There's three of us.
I open the wee bag and empty it on to a plate. I count four lettuce leaves, four cherry tomatoes and some shredded beetroot. Barely enough for one – nothing but a garnish for three.

Just then Pops walks in the door. We both stop what we’re doing and stare at him.
- I hope you're no hungry, Una giggles.
Then she and I collapse over the kitchen worktop laughing like a pair of drunks. Dad stands in the doorway, wearing an expression that suggests he's wondering what he brought into the world, while holding a large bowl of Morrison's raspberry trifle.

QC serves him a cup of tea while I rummage – more in hope than expectation - for something in my bare cupboards that we can eat.

I find two baking potatoes, a tin of tuna and a block of cheese (this was in my pre-grated days).

Xmas Eve Dinner menu 2005 was as follows.

Starter – Tres Petite Salade – one iceberg lettuce leaf, one cherry tomato, a sprinkling of shredded lettuce and a drizzle of olive oil.

Main – baked potato. Dad got the tuna. Sis and I shared the cheese.

Dessert – Raspberry Trifle.

Mmmm. Yum. The festive season has never been the same since. Now nothing says Christmas to me more than tuna and cheese.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The 250th post!

Who would have thunk it? 250 blog posts! I think that deserves another exclamation mark or two!!!!

Thank you to all of you who pop by for a read and a (virtual) blether and a special thank you for those who are sufficiently energised to leave a comment. Makes me feel like like I'm talking to myself.

And what better way to mark my 250th post than by using it to wish you all a very, very, very Merry Xmas and by showing you a clip of one of my favourite TV shows. "Outnumbered" is a gem of a comedy show from the BBC and the kids in it are just genius.

I watch it regularly with the wee fella and it causes me no end of grief when he models himself on the young characters.

Anyone who has had kids will fully appreciate the humour here.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Crime/ Thriller picks of 2010 (part deux)

And to carry on from my blog of the other day, here’s some more books that lit up my year.

This first book is not one that was new, but one that was new to me in 2010.

This is my blog, so I get to make the rules. It’s Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke.

Declan writes regularly over at Crime Always Pays and is one of the smartest writers out there. You want a book with heart and brains then look no further.

The main character, Harry Rigby, is a private eye and a reporter. As a reporter, he loiters around the edges of a crime scene: a woman has been stabbed to death in her home, and the killing has been poorly disguised as a suicide. The woman’s husband was a corrupt politician, and police will say little about the death, even about how the body was discovered. A client then hires Rigby  the P.I. to prove that his wife is having an affair. Rigby the detective finds the wife. Rigby the reporter finds another reporter who was working on a profile of the murder victim at the time she was killed. Drugs are involved as are shady property deals.

And then there’s Harry's girlfriend – who he hasn’t slept with for 14 months and their son, Ben that Harry loves to distraction. And THEN there’s Gonzo, his psycho brother. Give all of that a good stir, add writing that’s so sharp you could shave by it and the scene is set for a fantastic read.

I am quite frankly in awe of Declan Burke’s ability with a sentence. His writing is at turns lyrical and succinct; his dialogue snaps in your ear and his characters are so real they stay in your head long after you’ve turned the last page.

Search out ANYTHING he’s written, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, I'll refund your money if you don't. (Good luck with that. Poorer than the poorest of church mice, me.)

Walter Mosley one of those writers I look for when latest releases is being mentioned. He’s a living legend and he released Known to Evil in 2010.

The book blurb ran as follows...
Leonid McGill, P.I. is struggling to stick to his reformed ways while the people around him pull him in every direction. He has split up with the only woman he has ever loved, Aura, because his conscience won't let him leave his wife. Meanwhile, one of his sons seems to have found true love - but the girl has dangerous men in her past who are now threatening the whole McGill family. And his other son, the charming rogue Twilliam, is doing nothing but facilitating the crisis.

Most worryingly of all, Alfonse Rinaldo, the mysterious power behind the throne at City Hall, the fixer who seems to control every little thing that happens in New York City, has a problem that even he can't fix - and he's come to Leonid for help. It seems a young woman has disappeared, leaving murder in her wake, and it means everything to Rinaldo to track her down.

My review ran thusly...Leonid McGill is an anti-hero, a fallen man who is working to redeem himself, but is constantly held back by the murk of his past. This is a device that has been worked well in the past by other writers and this does nothing to detract from Walter Mosley’s achievement with Known to Evil.

Following on from the much loved Easy Rawlins (and if you haven’t read any of those books, boy are you in for a treat) Walter Mosley has created another serial character of complexity that, I’m certain, continued to breathe out of sight whenever I closed the book. Which I did often as I was keen to savour every sentence. For many writers I greedily consume their words as I anxiously race to the end, but with Mosley I find that I consciously slow down so that every insight, each description, every word is rubbed against the microscope of my thoughts.

I love it when I come across a new (to me) writer with a backlist of books to go at and one such introduction (to me) during 2010 was S J Rozan and “Trail of Blood”

Synopsis: Estranged for months from fellow P.I. Bill Smith, Chinese-American private investigator Lydia Chin is brought in by colleague and former mentor Joel Pilarsky to help with a case that crosses continents, cultures, and decades.

In Shanghai, excavation has unearthed a cache of European jewellery dating back to World War II, when Shanghai was an open city providing safe haven for thousands of Jewish refugees. The jewellery, identified as having belonged to one such refugee - Rosalie Gilder - was immediately stolen by a Chinese official who fled to New York City. Hired by a lawyer specializing in the recovery of Holocaust assets, Chin and Pilarsky are to find any and all leads to the missing jewels.

My review began as follows...
Published as The Shanghai Moon in the US, Trail of Blood is one of those books. You know, the kind that demands your attention and refuses to allow you to do anything else – other than drink coffee and visit the bathroom – until it is finished.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about this novel, great characters, neat prose and a writer who plots expansively and ambitiously. SJ Rozan offers up a rich tapestry of historical mystery stitched in to contemporary suspense. Using letters and journal entries from the 1930s and 1940s, Rozan illustrates a little known facet of the war: the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, setting the stage beautifully for a modern quest for missing valuables stolen during the Holocaust. The plot dips, weaves and turns to the very last page offering a tantalising clue here and a fascinating insight there.

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer is the second book from South Africa to make my faves for the year.

Synopsis: Some say Detective Benny Griessel is a legend. Others say he is nothing but a drunk.
Either way, he has stepped on too many toes over the years ever to reach the top of the promotion ladder. However, as Thirteen Hours opens he is working at staying sober in order to win back his estranged wife and kids, while mentoring the new generation of crime fighters - mixed race, Xhosa and Zulu.

Two crimes demand his attention; a prominent figure in the fledgling South African music industry is murdered and a young American backpacker disappears in Cape Town. The politicians panic. North America is a huge tourist market for the country and this is a situation they do not want to grow into an international news event.
 Benny has just thirteen hours to save the girl, save his career, and uncover a conspiracy, which threatens the financial stability of the whole country.

Review: “Thirteen Hours” opens with a young American girl running away from a group of men with guns. We soon find out that she witnessed the death of her best friend at the hands of these men and she knows if she doesn’t get to safety she will be next.  From this rip-roaring start the action never lets up.

Meyer is genius at maintaining the pace at a breakneck speed while inserting just enough information about his characters and their world to make the action relevant and the characters believable.
The flavour running through the very human stories at the heart of this fine novel is unmistakably African. Meyer demonstrates his affection for his country while highlighting some of the issues that affect it as it works towards re-building post-apartheid.

Thirteen Hours is a fascinating read that offers pulsing action, a beautiful setting and a very real set of characters. It’s one of those books you finish with regret and then immediately begin searching for more of the author’s work.

Another author who never fails to deliver is Robert Crais and with “The First Rule” he stuck to his unfailingly high standards.

Synopsis: The team thought that Frank Meyer had got out of the 'life' safely. For the love of a good woman, he had put an end to his days as a mercenary and settled down to a normal life with a “proper” job and 2.4 children. It had been a decision he laboured over, but encouraged by his boss and friend Joe Pike; he committed to it and walked away from the only life he had ever known.

Ten years later, a group of vicious killers charge into his Los Angeles home and brutally gun him and his family down. The local cops are convinced that Frank never entirely left his former life and their cursory investigation convinces them that Frank was involved with some unsavoury characters, and that the deal backfired big time.
Pike knows better. He starts his own investigation and it doesn't matter that, as he delves deeper into the events of that traumatic evening, he discovers that this group of criminals are bigger and more well-organised than he ever could have imagined - part of sprawling gang of east European mafia. None of that concerns him. One of his team has been killed and everybody involved will pay the ultimate price.

Here’s an excerpt from my review of this one: Fans of Robert Crais will be well aware of his work with Elvis Cole and his side-kick, the enigmatic Joe Pike. Most of the previous works are fronted by Elvis, but in The First Rule, Joe gets the nod.

Joe Pike is my favourite “bad”, good guy out there. Crais has created a wonderful character that embodies everything you want from an action hero. An expert fighter, with or without weapons, dependable to the last, and with an unwavering belief in his own set of ideals. He will act as judge, jury and executioner and once set on that path he will do so without question.

This is heroic fiction with high voltage action scenes as carefully choreographed as anything on the Broadway stage. Once again Robert Crais delivers. What can I say? I’m a fan.

So booklovers, I've bored you with my choices - what got your literary juices flowing this year?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

pay the writer - Harlan Ellison

Hat tip to  Nicola Morgan  - who writes what must be one of the most informative and enjoyable blogs for writers - for reminding me about this video clip.

You're a writer. Next time somebody asks you to come along and talk to their group, think about what the man is saying.

Friday, 17 December 2010

My Crime/Thriller Picks of 2010 (part one)

Everybody and their granny is getting in on the act, so I thought, why not, Michael me lad? Anywho, for what it’s worth, here are some of my favourites of the last year.

In no particular order...

Don Winslow – Savages

It’s fair to say that Everybody and Their Granny have included this book in their top ten and no wonder, it’s the dawg’s bollocks.

The story: Part-time environmentalist and philanthropist Ben and his ex-mercenary buddy Chon run a Laguna Beach-based marijuana operation, reaping huge profits from their loyal clientele. In the past when their turf was challenged, Chon happily eliminated the threat. But now they may have come up against something that they can't handle - the Mexican Baja Cartel wants in, sending them the message that a 'no' is unacceptable. 

When they refuse to back down, the cartel escalates its threat, kidnapping Ophelia, the boys' playmate and confidante. Ophelia's abduction sets off a dizzying array of ingenious negotiations and gripping plot twists.

The verdict: As I said over at – “The book is laced with dark humour, the action is tight, controlled and utterly believable and the dialogue is so hip it feels that Winslow is setting the trend. We need to get the word out there; Winslow deserves to be one of the genre’s favourite sons. Buy a copy and demand all your friends do so as well.

Footnote – my new favourite author, Mr Winslow, is going Trevanian (and if you don’t know who Trevanian was, do yourself a favour and look him up) on us next year. Look out for SATORI. Fantastic stuff.

R.J. Ellory – Saints of New York.

Regulars of this blog will know I hold Roger’s work in high esteem. This is what I said over at
Dark and intense, Saints of New York opens, quite literally with a blood bath and from there you are in the master’s hands and he’s not letting go until that last satisfying page is turned. Saints of New York is a novel of corruption and salvation, of the unshakable persistence needed to uncover the truth and of one man's pursuit for meaning hidden among the phantoms of his psyche.”

Eeesh, I’m coming over all hyperbolic at the end there. Had to go and lie down in a dark room after writing that review.

Roger Smith – Wake up Dead

The synopsis: It’s a hot, dry night in Cape Town when gun-runner Joe Palmer and his ex-model, American wife Roxy are car-jacked, leaving Joe lying in a pool of blood. As the thieves, meths addict Disco and his sidekick Godwyn, make their getaway, Roxy makes a split-second decision that changes her life forever.

This decision brings her on a collision course with Billy Afrika, a mercenary to whom Joe owes money, Disco's prison-loving gangster “husband” Piper, a would-be African insurgent leader, and a dirty cop determined to use Roxy to escape his dangerous Cape Flats beat. 

The review: It simply doesn’t get more “noir” than this. This is easily the most violent book I’ve read this year, with a degree of carnage that could almost push this book into the horror genre. However, it is a violence that is germane to the characters and springs from the author’s understanding of the people he is writing about, rather than violence just for the sake of it. 

With his neat prose and breakneck pace, Roger Smith has conjured an excellent read. I’m guessing that this is not a book that the South African tourist board will be touting; it is undoubtedly a book that will place this country’s thriller writers in the forefront of a world readership.

John Connolly – The Whisperers

Our John (I’ve met him once, so I feel a degree of familiarity is not stretching things. Hi, John – remember Glasgow. A bar full of booksellers? No. Oh well *hangs head*  never mind.) Where was I? Yes. Our John is one of those writers whose careers I’ve followed from day one.

Synopsis: The border between Maine, USA and Canada is leaky. Almost anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people...

Now a group of disgruntled former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the shadows that reside in men's hearts.

My Review: John Connolly is quite simply one of the best thriller writers around. He’s the kind of writer who not only opens the door to his imagination, he pulls up a chair and plumps up the cushions first. The Whisperers is quite simply an excellent addition to the man’s oeuvre.  As always the prose manages to be both muscular and lyrical, the plot deals with the macabre and the emotional and the characters are as finely drawn as any you’ll come across in literature. My only complaint was that at times in the beginning of the book there was a wee bit too much exposition - you know the bits you skim over - but this could have been sorted with some judicious editing. In any case JC can get away with this sort of thing, where lesser writers might not, because everything else is just SO on the mark. This is me counting the days till the next one.

Cross Country Murder Song by Philip Wilding

Synopsis: On a journey from the Jersey Shore to the Pacific Ocean, the driver makes his way across an America distorted beyond all recognition, as if in a fevered dream. He is accompanied by ghosts of his traumatic past and pursued the police, who have discovered the alarming secret in his basement.

Speeding past and stopping off along the way, the driver meddles, mixes and murders, heading towards the edge of the New World and to his own sick realisation of the American Dream.

An excerpt from my review read thusly: Philip Wilding has created a uniquely disturbing and visceral novel that will haunt you for days after you have finished the last page.

This is not a book you can carelessly skim; every word demands your attention as Wilding creates a patchwork quilt of experience moving from the past to the future to the present with a searing detail that burns into your conscience.
The main character is someone we come to know only as “the driver” and as he moves from one dreadful act to the next you feel yourself hoping he evades capture to find out what else he will get up to.

Even the secondary characters, each deep in a well of their own unhappiness are prone to act in ways that surprise and shock. This work is almost certainly destined to become a cult classic and if you are ever stuck as to how to offer the definition of “noir” I suggest you point to this book.

The writing is hypnotic and carries the lyricism and precision of a poet.  “Cross Country Modern Song” is a 21st-century road trip that will grip you in the heart of its darkness forcing you to think about our world and it’s excess.

Old Dogs by Donna Moore
Our Donna (again with the familiarity, sheesh) is a pal and this is not the reason why I’m giving her a mention. The reason is because she’s damn good!!! End of!!! (So deserving of 3 exclamation marks)

Synopsis: OLD DOGS is a crime caper set in Glasgow. It features an elderly Italian Countess and her sister who are actually ex-hookers turned con artists, who decide to steal a pair of golden, jewel-encrusted Shih Tzu dogs from a museum. Unfortunately, there is something of a queue of undesirables after the same loot – including the elderly ladies’ dodgy chauffeur who is desperate to get in on the action, a pair of Glasgow neds who dream of buying their own pub, an out of work insomniac bent on revenge, and an innocent young Scottish islander who wants the dogs returned to the Buddhist monastery they came from.

My review: With care and precision Donna introduces her main players and their foibles and then very cleverly drops them in and out of the action to maximum effect.  How she orchestrates her comic set-pieces is nothing short of genius and designed to eke out every last piece of humour.

If Alexander Pope was here to turn his attention to crime writing rather than philosophy he might have said, to laugh is human; to make other people laugh is divine. Donna Moore shine your halo

I kind of ran out of energy there, people - besides you can only deal with so much awesomeness at the one time. So come back another day and I'll give you the rest of my faves.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Other Side of the Coin is Indifference.

Just as I embark – well, in 18 months time – on the next stage of my writing career, I am continually reminded that publication (unless you are a c’leb) is no passport to fame. Not that I want “fame” per se. To keep a roof over my head and the wee man stocked up on x-box games would do for me, thankyouverymuch.

One story I heard recently demonstrated the issue of a general public indifference quite wonderfully. It concerns the poet Norman Maccaig, who at the time of this story was deemed to be one of the foremost poets in Europe. Our Norman was accosted by a neighbour as he walked home. The reported conversation, which I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing might have gone thus.

Neighbour says while brandishing his copy of The Times – it says in here that you are a poet.

NM – yes, so it does.

Neighbour – so you’re a poet.

NM – aye. (He might even have nodded)

Neighbour – one of the best in the world.

NM shrugs

Neighbour -  Could I have a look at one of your books?

NM – aye.
And later on that day NM obliges by handing in a copy of one of his collections.

A few weeks later Norman is returning home when he is once again accosted by his neighbour.
Neighbour – here’s thon book back you gave me.

NM – what did you think?

Neighbour opens the book. Locates a poem and says, see that one? That one there. That was the worst.

Another demonstration of the general lack of interest in writers was demonstrated to me on Saturday night. I was on my Xmas night out with some colleagues and during a lull in the conversation I thought I would indulge in a spot of namedropping to a couple of ladies sitting by my side.
Me – I had lunch with Ian Rankin yesterday.

Lady 1 smiles and says – oh right.

Lady 2 smiles, looks blank and says – who?

Me – Ian Rankin.

Lady 2 still looks blank.

Lady 1 looks at lady 2 – you don’t know Ian Rankin?

Lady 2 shakes her head – no

Lady 1 – you must know Ian Rankin

Lady 2 – no, I don’t.

Lady 1 is working up some enthusiasm – surely you know Ian Rankin.

Lady 2 – I’m sorry, I have no idea who he is.

Lady 1 – Ian Rankin? He’s the bank manager down at....she looks at me...does he work down in the Borders somewhere?

Me with a big grin – aye, he works out of Rebus branch.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Bloody Scotland

So there was I chatting to Ian Rankin over lunch with the volcanic rock and outline of Edinburgh Castle as my backdrop waiting for someone to pinch me. A pencil in the ribs. Something.

The occasion was the annual dinner for the Scottish chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. The numbers were down because of the appalling weather, but those in attendance –among others - also included Alex Gray, Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Aline Templeton and Caroline Dunsford.

What was Mr Rankin saying to me? Lips. Sealed. What happens in Edinburgh, stays in Edinburgh and all that. Well, actually we talked football (soccer) and drinking mens’ clubs. The latter have been a bit of a tradition in Edinburgh over the centuries and are basically an excuse – like we need one – for men to get together, chat about the issues of the day and get as drunk as lords. Did you know they used to provide wine glasses with no base – so you couldn’t put your glass down until it was empty.

Apparently, back in the day – even in Robert Burns’ day actually, they used to employ servants to sit under the tables. Their job was to wait until their lord and master passed out, fell of their chair and landed on the floor and then to unloosen their cravat to make sure they could breathe and didn’t drown in their own vomit. 

They provided a precursor to the recovery position, if you will.

The chat among the Crime Writers was mainly about plans for the first ever festival of Scottish Crime Writing. The event will be called Bloody Scotland and will happen in September 2012. This celebration is in the early stages of planning and I’ll keep you posted. The weekend promises to be something special, so if you are a fan of Scottish crime fiction and you are looking for an excuse to visit our green and handsome shores you now have one.

Saturday was work xmas party time. This was held in a local conference centre where around 3,000 people from a variety of employers/ employment turned up to take part in the revelry.

It takes a pretty slick operation to feed that many people a three course meal and then offer them musical entertainment. Don’t you think the quality of the food always suffers in these type of evenings? You want gourmet? Go to a restaurant. You want food that will soak up the party juice, then you won’t be disappointed. You just have to accept that the meat will be as dry as an old slipper and the vegetables will have the texture of a swamp.

It always amuses me at these events to see how much effort the women go to with their party frocks, hair styling and ...all that other stuff and then compare that to the (majority of) men who settle for a shower, quite possibly a shave and just about to manage to run an iron over their favourite jeans.

For the record, I was wearing a new suit, shirt and tie. An ensemble which only lasted for the time it took to walk through the door, check my coat in at the cloakroom and take a seat with my friends and colleagues.  Swear to god, I thought I’d walked into a sauna. The heat was incredible. The organisers might say that they need to put the heat up so that the women are comfortable in their backless, shoulder-less, short dresses. The cynic might suggest that the increased heat would drive people to the bars and the watered-down booze. The realist would argue that, as a crowd, we didn’t need that added inducement.

To be fair there was a fair amount of cloth missing from the female population. And those I did miss, my friend (let’s call her M.D.) was perched at my side to point out the high and low lights with such pronouncements as “Would you look at the nick o’ her!” or ‘Nice set of jugs on the girl at 3 o’clock. And at nine o’clock.” Or the fatal judgement;  “Mutton. Dressed. As. Lamb.”

What’s wrong with a nice bit of mutton, I say. And maybe I’m going out on a limb with this opinion – I like to live dangerously, it’s how I roll – but listening to these comments made me realise that women don’t dress to impress men. We just like to kid ourselves that you do. No the truth is that women dress to impress each other. Or at the very least to silent any possible bitchy comments.

Tell me I’m wrong.

But then, the devil on my shoulder asks, what about the yards of cleavage on display? Surely that’s not for other women?

It is?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Giant Feckin' Xmas Tree

It has become something of a May Contain Nuts  - what's the word? - therapy? thing? annual thing? that on the day I put my Xmas tree, that I repeat the blog post where I describe the provenance of said tree.

Eeesh, I can come up with the word provenance but the word about the regular thing about the tree escapes me. Anywho, without further ado, here you go....
. I place the tree in the middle of the floor and clear the eagle’s nest from its branches I remember the day it came into my possession. Just three short years ago...
......cue swirly music (violins and shit like that)....
....the phone rang. It was my sister. The Queen of Chaos (QC). For any newbies reading this, she’s a lovely lady. She’s four feet eleven inches, a size six, thinks tact is something you stick your posters on the wall with and enjoys a lifelong blonde moment.
 I had earlier been at the swimming pool with my son where he invented a new sport, Dad Surfing. (In case you don’t value your lungs and you’d like to try it, all you need is a swimming pool with a current and a child who is happy to stand on your back while you – and this is where it gets tricky - float) It was great fun...and this explains my uncharacteristic willingness to step in and help. I was in a good mood.
Long story even longer, QC had been offered a free second-hand Xmas tree. It was seven feet tall, cost £190 new just 2 years ago and it apparently, and with no pun intended, a cracker. Only thing is QC doesn’t have a car and is a master of the passive aggressive. I don’t have car, she says - like I don’t know this – and how am I going to get the tree home to my flat? In Troon? 
Like I’ve also forgotten where she stays.
I load the car with self and son and drive to meet her. She has a piece of paper in her hand with directions to the home of the tree. The directions to the current home of said tree were lousy. We got lost in a council estate with one road in and one road out. Several phone calls later, with shouted instructions from my backseat sister, me snapping at her and the wee fella giving me a row for being bossy with my twin, we made it.
A nice lady is standing by the door of her flat on the third floor wearing a look of relief. The look of someone who has just been told; yes it's piles but yes we can cure you. She directed us to a cupboard in the communal hall. And opened a door. The only thing I saw was a huge white box. You know those containers you see on the back of ships? Roughly the size of one of those.  
-that’s your tree, says nice lady and runs back in doors before we can say anything else.
I couldn’t lift the box off the ground, never mind lifting it out to the car, but with the wee fella pushing and me dragging and QC carrying a free box of 20,000 lights the tree owner no longer needed, we made it.
By which time my shirt was sticking to my back, my jacket was torn in three places and I was wishing I only had brothers.
I looked at the box. I looked at the boot. Not going to happen. I open up the boot (or as the wee fella calls it; the trunk) in the vain hope that Doctor Who has been working nearby. Na. Not a chance. The tree box wouldn’t fit in the boot. There was a large green skip by the side of the road and it had some space. But the thought of dumping tree lady’s gift was too much and we resolved to try harder.
 While all the pushing was going on QC was standing to the side wearing an expression of mild panic. It’s too big, she says. I don’t have big enough corners in my house, she says. You have it and I’ll take yours. It’ll be lovely for you and the wee man to have a nice big tree, she says trying to sell me the idea.
- Can we get it in the feckin’ car first, says I.
- Dad! says the wee fella.
Eventually I worked out that if I moved the front seats forward that there might be room in the back. With a lot more sweat, more pushing and some muttered curses, we made it. And bonus, we even managed to close the car doors!
 Of course we now had no room for three passengers – three passengers, two front seats. So the wee fella (who’s nearly as tall as his aunt) sits on QC’s lap and I drive to my house, which is nearer– but I have to go the long way as the short way goes past the police station. We all hold our breath and look straight ahead for the ten minutes it takes to get to my house – this is known to make you invisible to the police. Try it and see if it doesn't.
 We get home safely – no blue flashing lights. I couldn’t possibly drive to QC’s like this. I can’t leave the wee man at home on his own while I take the tree to hers. Besides, I can’t face the thought of lifting this humongous box up the three flights of stairs to QC’s flat. I face the realisation that I’m going to have to accept this bloody tree.
 The next trick is to get the box out of my car. We all adopt the same activities as before – the wee fella pushes, I pull and QC stands chewing on the strap of her handbag wearing an expression of alarm. Eventually – presumably in the same time it takes a crane to lift a container from the ship on to the wharf, something gives – the car door handle- and the box is out the car and with more pushing, pulling and sweat, is in my front room.
 While my son and I catch our breath QC tears the industrial tape from the box – you know the silver duct tape kind that serial killers use in all the movies – just to see how big this tree is.
 Think Norway’s annual gift to the British nation.
            -it’ll be lovely with lights on it, says QC prompted by the fact that the room is so dark because the tree is blocking out the light from the window and who is by now desperate for me to take it off her hands. She paused, where are the lights? Did you leave the lights behind, she asks me?
-I was kinda busy with a big feckin’ box, sis, says I.
- Dad! says the wee man.
QC’s last memory of the lights was while standing watching me wrestle the tree container into the car. She must have put them down somewhere, she surmises. So we all jump back in the car and go back to the tree lady’s building …and there in a dark corner of the car park was our box of lights. Hurrah. Nobody had stolen them. No doubt any prospective thief had been put off by the thought of the increase to their electricity bill once they were switched on.
A wee man was walking his wee dog past the scene as we screeched to a halt. QC jumped out of the car before I could pull on the handbrake.
-forgot my lights, she explained to the man as if it made perfect sense, while she swooped for the box. I caught a glimpse of him over my shoulder as I circled out of the car park – his chin was resting on the back of his dachshund.

By this time we had all worked up an appetite so we decided to go to Pizza Hut. My stomach was saying, do not go home, do not pass “Go”, go straight to food. The unhealthier the better. The stomach was to be obeyed. QC generously offered to go halfers for any food.
 Relieved the worst of it was over, we had a wee laugh about our adventures on the way to the restaurant – but it was to be an illusory moment of calm for when we parked and climbed out of the car QC realised she didn’t have her handbag. I reasoned that it must be in my house and besides I was not driving another inch without throwing something down my throat. And it didn’t matter it if wasn’t a meal acceptable to polite society.
By the time we got a seat in Pizza Hut and ordered our food, QC had worked herself into a frenzy of worry. Her house keys. Her mobile phone. Her purse.
Oh my fucking god, she screeched. Maybe the handbag wasn’t in my house. It was on the backseat of the car while I was pushing the tree-box in. Maybe it got pushed out the other end. Maybe she left it in the same car park as the box of lights. Maybe it was in the tree lady’s house. Maybe the tree lady had emptied her purse, had been shopping on-line with her credit cards and was now happily phoning a porn phone line in Chile using her mobile phone.
 While QC borrowed my mobile and phoned all of her friends to try and find out the tree lady’s number, the wee fella gave me another row.
– you’re different with your sister, he says, much more bossy.
 Nobody had tree lady’s number. Cue more worry and more doomsday scenarios – her house keys were in her handbag, I would have to kick in her front door. No, I couldn’t do that as she has mental neighbours and while she was sleeping they would ransack her flat. She thought about it some more. Yes, she said, kick in my door. More thought. NO, she couldn’t do that ‘cos she’d have to stay awake all night and she was a monster if she didn’t get her sleep. Could she even get a locksmith on a Saturday night? Shame she fell out with another neighbour – the witch-  ‘cos she used to keep a spare key for her.
The food arrived and was eaten in Guinness Book of Records time. The wee man didn’t even have time to get that tomato smear on his wee cheeks.
 There was a collective holding of breath all the way from Pizza Hut to my house. The wee fella worried that QC was going to have a rubbish Xmas. I worried that I was going to have a mad woman on my couch for the rest of the weekend and QC just worried.
 We pulled up in front of my house and all of us took a deep breath and paused in prayer before we get out of the car.
I unlocked the front door to my house and QC almost knocked me into next door’s garden in her rush to get past. The wee man and I looked at each other and waited at the door, afraid to look.
We heard a squeal. She’d found it. Care to guess where?
Under the tree.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

World Book Night 2011

The Largest Book Give Away Ever Attempted is the promise detailed hERE.

If you’re too frickin’ lazy to click – or you simply prefer not to leave the cosy confines of MCN let me explain. The idea is that on the evening of 5th March 2011 20,000 people will give away 48 copies of their favourite book from a list chosen by the organisers.

The site heralds it thusly...

“20,000 passionate book lovers will give away 1,000,000 books on the inaugural World Book Night
"The countdown begins. World Book Night will take place on Saturday 5 March 2011 and will be broadcast in partnership with BBC Two. This dynamic and unprecedented industry-wide initiative to celebrate adult books and reading will see one million free books given away on World Book Night by 20,000 passionate readers to other members of the public across the UK and Ireland. World Book Night will take place two days after World Book Day, the established nationwide reading campaign.”
You can even contact the site and volunteer to be one of the 20,000.
Fantastic! Loving it!
Anything that is done on such a scale is bound to attract the interest of the meedya. If only for the one night books will be sexy.
Books chosen are by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Phillip Pullman, Yann Martel, Alan Bennett and Carol Ann Duffy. They’ve even included more popular writers like Marian Keyes and Lee Child.
However – and I hate that there is a however when it comes to something like this – all of the million books to be given away are by well-established, successful writers. All of whom will benefit from the attention of such a programme and I’m guessing it’s fair to say, none of whom really need it.
And what if your favourite writer/ book is not on the list? What if you LOVE books but you didn't really get any of the books listed?
Furthermore, there are a gazillion writers out there who are every bit as talented and readable who, because of the vagaries of public consumption and attention, and the sheer luck involved in making one writer  more successful than another – and breathe – this is one long sentence – simply haven’t got the sales and fans that they deserve.
While I was digesting this thought some of my bloggy pals were already way ahead of me. Our Donna at Badsville (the doyen of Scottish crime fiction and no, I don’t know what it means either) has already blogged about setting up an Alternative World Book Night.
Her suggestion is that YOU pick a book that you love and feel deserves some attention and you talk about it/ write about it and give a copy away on the 5th of March 2011.
Whaddya think? I know this is a UK programme, but I'm sure my interweb friends all over the world could join in if they wanted. Let's give this some momentum. Are you in? If so, tell Donna hERE