Thursday, April 27, 2006

Two Decades of Venom

Happy 20th birthday to Serpent's Tail. Not sure when the exact day of it is, but last night was the party so it must be around now. Great party, BTW. Very Serpent's Tail.

An interesting point was made by either John Williams or Stella Duffy (who both gave little speeches to honour ST), I forget which. Pete Ayrton is one of the few remaining bone fide publishers. By "publisher" I mean a guy who selects his list according to his own taste. Of course he has his editors (most notably John), but everything goes through Pete (15th most "powerful player" in publishing?), which is why this independant publisher has been able to survive and thrive in today's corporate book world. The role of "publisher" used to be a much stronger one, with guys like Jonathan Cape, Victor Gollancz, and John Murray giving their names to their lists (which survive today, of course, albeit in disembodied form). So really Serpent's Tail could be known simply as "Peter Ayrton".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Bollocks

Every now and then I read a book and it reaffirms the possibilities. The things that you can do with the novel format, the kind of risks you can take. I only come across about one a year. And I need them. Without them, these little reminders of why I'm doing this at all, I might as well give up. There have been many of these books over the years. First of all they got me into reading, then they showed me that I could never be a writer, then they showed me that I could be a writer, then they showed me how I could carry on being a writer. Some are big, famous books. Some are unassuming and seemingly of little consequence. As long as they hit me somewhere, or make my eyes widen a bit, it doesn't matter.

Matt Haig's THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND did both.

It's hard to say why this novel works. It's easy to say why it shouldn't work. The narrator is a dog, for fuck's sake. A black Labrador. Like all good Labradors he is an adherent of the "Labrador Pact", a treaty which places duty and the (human) family above all else, while other breeds (led by those irresponsible Springer spaniels) have abandoned themselves to the anarchic pursuit of pleasure. This is a great idea. Dogs are bloody everywhere, for God's sake. Why hasn't anyone thought of transposing a political ideology onto them before? OK, maybe they have. But it's the other stuff that elevates this book. It's the creeping agony of watching a family disintegrate from within, and taking it all from the loyal Lab's anxious POV.

Ah, shit, there's so much to recommend about this book. Can I use the term dog noir? If so, this is dog noir. It's a lot else besides that, but if you look at the bare requirements of noir this has them all. And a talking squirrel. Despite all this, the book does not come across the slightest bit whacky. A little over over-cute at times, but you forgive that. You're a Labrador, and you have to forgive every human failing. No, THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND (first published in 2004 - I'm always late with these things) is not whacky. I probably come across as whacky in the way I'm talking about it, but it ain't.

Outrageously inventive, yes.

By the way, this book came to me via an unsual (and probably unprecedented) route. My mum gave it to my wife, raving about it. My wife raved about it and gave it to me. At this point, I usually get suspicious and steer clear, but for some reason I gave in. And now here I am, raving about it and giving it to you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Turkey Lurkey

Hey, I'm still here. I went to Turkey for a week. It was great, other than the last night when my son puked a bucketload down my shirt. Serious projectile stuff, carrot chunks ricocheting everywhere. He's alright now.

Other experiences were infinitely better, such as the reading of Ray Banks' lager-fuelled SATURDAY'S CHILD. Although I was kind of looking forward to getting out of England for a while, Banks carried me back to the more squalid corners of Manchester and Newcastle... and I loved it. He writes about the kinds of people and places that I like reading about (ie: losers and shit-holes), and does so without flinch or compromise. This is a full-on bollocks-out thriller without all the airbrushery that you normally get. And the entirety is embued with a noir as thick as two-day-old motorway espresso. Roll on more Ray Banks books. This country needs HIM.

Incidentally, I followed SATURDAY'S CHILD with Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES. Between those two books, believe me, that is A LOT of sauce getting sunk on the page. The Hemingway was also of interest to me because I know all the locations pretty well, except Pamplona. I was all set to head down there for the bull run in 1992, but something happened to thwart my crazy plans. I forget what, but it probably involved Hemingwayesque/Banksonian amounts of drink. For the best, I've no doubt.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I put every damn pipe in this neighbourhood

I've had a short story accepted for BULLET (a superb magazine which is British, print, and crime - sadly a rare trio of qualities these days). My story is called KING SHIT, and I had a fine old time writing it.

Congratulate, if you will, Bullet regular Mr Raymond Banks, who has achieved an eye-watering level of success in having his books SATURDAY'S CHILD and DONKEY PUNCH taken up by the big hitting US publisher Harcourt. While you're congratulating him, buy this.

And for anyone who wants to play the quote game (hey there Ana), check the title. Another piss easy one, I'm sure.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"I got a rash on my ass so bad I can't hardly sit down"

Just be clear, I haven't really got a rash on my ass. Or anywhere else, right now, to my knowledge. I just wanted to float that quote. Anyone name it? Sure you can.

In other news, I'm still here. It's cold. I've just written THREE short stories, which makes me a short story writer again. It's pissing down with rain out there. The History of Violence is an ACE film. I got a rash on my ass... Ah, no.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ghost in the Capri

For a while now, amongst people who I actually have face-to-face communication with (and who know I write these books), a debate has been raging. (OK, not really raging. Breathing?) It's about the cover of KING OF THE ROAD. Go ahead, have a look at it and see how many people you think are in the car:

One, right? The driver. But what about a back seat passenger? Is there a woman sitting behind him or not? Every time I look at it I have a different opinion on this. Either there's a woman there (quite an attractive one, I must say), or just a bunch of random reflections and glints that create that impression. Or...

Look, I've told them. 'Ghosts don't exist,' I say. 'This ain't Scooby Doo, mate, this is KING OF THE ROAD, hailed in The Times as "a great mystery", lauded in The Grauniad as "gloriously funny stuff", proclaimed in The... Hey, wake up!'

But then I look again at that cover, and I wonder...