Thursday 31 December 2009

Thumbs up from the Triumvirate

The BSC website has posted a top ten Mystery/Crime Fiction of 2009 list from the three wise-guy reviewers, Keith Rawson, The Nerd of Noir and Brian Lindenmuth -- the triple-pillar of new noir.

These boys know what they're talking about and I was very pleased to see a good Northern Irish representation. Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast (AKA The Twelve) and Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand made the cut.

Also mentioned were three adopted sons of CSNI (ie, not Northern Irish writers, but with enough of an Irish connection to have been interviewed here in the past). Dave Zeltserman's Pariah, Jason Starr's Fake ID and Allan Guthrie's Slammer got their much deserved big-ups.

Jump over to BSC to see who placed where for whom (grammar?). I'll be referring to it for some reading recommendations in 2010. You should too.

Sunday 27 December 2009

An Interview - Brendan Garner

Brendan Garner is the author of Possession, Obsession and a Diesel Compression Engine, a chapbook of Belfast-set horror tales with a smattering of black humour. He’ll get around to the website thing some day, but in the meantime, you can catch the odd Garner tweet here. Yeah, yeah, there isn't much there. He'll get around to that some day too.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

Very little. I blame writer’s block. Or getting blocked. I have plans to work on a sequel to my unpublished novel, FIREPROOF, but have a lot of thinking to do before I commit myself to it. Mostly around whether or not FIREPROOF will actually be published in this lifetime.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

I turn off the TV and stare at a computer screen. Sometimes words come out. Most times they don’t.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Drink. Read. Watch horror movies. The order varies.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the comic-horror fiction scene?

I still haven’t figured out that trick myself. Considering contacting somebody about a soul trade off...

Q5. Which horror writers have impressed you this year?

I reckon The Twelve by Stuart Neville has horror elements and that rocked my socks off.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

The Gates by John Connolly. Loving it.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Break into the comic-horror fiction scene.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I’d have been more successful.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

The day I figured out that I can’t write when I’m drunk was a pretty bad one. I’d heard Stephen King doesn’t even remember writing Cujo because he was profoundly blitzed the entire time. Thought I could emulate that. I really couldn’t.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

No. Stop being lazy and come up with a decent tenth question, will you?

Thank you, Brendan Garner!

Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holiday. It's unlikely that I'll update the blog much in the next week or two, but it'll be full steam ahead again in January.

Just so you know, Ian Sansom will be on Radio 4 tomorrow at 4PM. I'll more than likely tune in while I'm slicing and dicing meat and veg in the kitchen. You should too.

Also, the fourth in Sansom's Mobile Library series, titled The Bad Book Affair, will hit the shelves in January. Track down a copy ASAP.

That's all for now, folks, but no doubt you can look forward to a more schmaltzy post closer to the new year. Right now, I fancy a bite to eat and a stiff drink.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Crimbo word from No Alibis...

Seasons Greetings from No Alibis Bookstore.

We would like to thank Everybody for their Kind Support and Custom in 2009.

This has been a somewhat “Turbulent” year.

With your support and loyalty we have managed to navigate through the difficult times and managed to Celebrate 2009 in the best way possible with Music, Readings, Poetry and much more!

Thank You!

2010 promises to be even Better.

Dave, Claudia & Shirley.


TUE 29TH DEC 9-5
WED 30TH DEC 9-5
SAT 2ND JAN 2010

ph. 02890-319601
fax. 02890319607

Monday 21 December 2009

God Loves a Trier?

Got a wee chuckle courtesy of BBC Radio Ulster on the way home from work today. You can (and should) read about the fittingly named lorry driver who 'thought his £5 million cocaine haul was bibles' on the BBC NI website.

I gotta say, if you're going to tell a lie, make it a good big one, right? Oh, but it's only a charge, so maybe I should add 'allegedly' to that wee jibe...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

An Interview - Ronald Malfi

Ronald Malfi was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1977. Along with his family, he eventually relocated to Maryland where he spent most of his childhood growing up along the Chesapeake Bay. He professed an interest in the arts at an early age and is also known to be a competent artist and musician. In 1999, he graduated with a degree in English from Towson University. For a number of years, he fronted the Maryland-based alternative rock band Nellie Blide.

Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi's horror novels and thrillers have transcended genres to gain wider acceptance among readers of quality literature.

He currently lives along the Chesapeake Bay.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m currently between projects right now, though I have spent the past several weeks editing a few short stories as well as proofing the galleys to my forthcoming novel SNOW, which will be out through Leisure Books in March. I’ve also recently completed the screenplay for the film LIFETAKER, which begins production in Canada this spring. Much of the past few months has been occupied with book signings and speaking engagements for my crime novel, SHAMROCK ALLEY. The reviews have been positive and people really seem interested in hearing about the true story behind the fiction for this book. It’s really quite unique.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

I typically try to output about 15 pages a night, and I’ll edit those pages as I go. If I can keep this up, I can finish a book in about three months’ time, with another month or so for leisurely editing. This past year has been my busiest, as I had deadlines for three novels coming out in 2010, so I really had to pace myself and not get too far behind. As for ideas, I suppose I have an abundance of them, though many will inevitably crumble apart before I ever start to think of them as stories. I usually don’t outline, so I’ll sit and stew on an idea for a while until I know where it’s going. When the first sentence comes to my head, that’s when I start writing.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing I enjoy the things most everyone else does—spending time with family and friends, reading a good book or watching a good movie, playing music.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the literary scene?

My advice is to write. This sounds simple enough, but I am constantly confronted by people who want to be writers, or consider themselves writers, but don’t write. Can I consider myself a rocket scientist even though I don’t tinker with rockets? It’s hard to find time, sure, but that is just an excuse. You have to write. I’ve got a trunk full of miserable, poorly-written manuscripts that I’d written over the years, and they will never see the light of day because they are so bad, but they’re there. They exist. They were good practice, a nice whetstone to sharpen the tools of my craft.

Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?

Writer’s I’ve read for the first time this year that have blown me away were Robert Dunbar, author of THE PINES and THE SHORE; Nate Kenyon (THE BONE FACTORY); Michael Beres (CHERNOBYL MURDERS); Donna Lynch (ISABEL BURNING). There are so many, with some of my favorites being Greg F. Gifune, Jeremy Shipp, and David Jack Bell.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Darren Speegle’s outstanding collection A RHAPSODY FOR THE ETERNAL, and some short fiction by Donna Lynch. Fantastic work.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Future plans? Just keep the train rolling, I suppose. Future releases include my novels SNOW (Leisure Books, March 2010) and THE ASCENT (Medallion Press, September 2010), and a small book tour to support both titles. I’ve agreed to write three books for Leisure, a publisher I’ve always been excited about. Medallion has been fantastic, too, with my hardcover releases. THE ASCENT is one of my personal favorites, actually, and I think fans will really enjoy it.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I probably wouldn’t change anything, though if I had to pick something, I might’ve tried to find my literary focus earlier in my career. This is a very staunch and commercially-driven industry. A writer needs to know his or her audience and target that audience. I’ll admit to wallowing in authorbation—basically writing for myself—for a bit before I found my audience and narrowed my focus.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Book signings with pitiable turnouts; a wall papered with rejection letters; your publisher misspelling your name on the mockup cover for the marketing department. But those aren’t really “writing” experiences—more like publishing experiences. Worst writing experience is writing 300 pages of a story you love before realizing that you don’t love it anymore, and you have to abort it and bury it in your yard under the juniper tree. You just hope next spring a better story blossoms.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

I love receiving emails from people who read my work. I truly do. I don’t make it all around the country for book signings and to meet people who are interested in what I do, so I find it fantastic when people feel compelled to write to me. Even if they didn’t like the book!

Thank you, Ronald Malfi!

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Digging for Gold

A new crime craze has swept Northern Ireland. Graceless gangs of thieves have been using stolen diggers to smash and grab entire cash machines from unsuspecting buildings bringing a whole new meaning to the term 'hole in the wall'. But they've been sloppy in their disposal of the evidence.

'The remains of two ATMs have been found by police in County Fermanagh.'

Lads! You had a feckin' digger at your disposal. It doesn't get any easier to bury the incriminating remains.

Not sure how the PSNI will put an end to this spate, but next time you need to get some cash out make sure nobody can see your PIN number as you tap it in, check that the machine hasn't been tampered with and look over your shoulder for bloody big juggernauts wielding shovels.

This has been a CSNI public service announcement.

Monday 14 December 2009

Play for Pay?

Last week I read about a professional writer expressing his anger at pay rates offered by a small press internet venture. Mike Stone posted about it on his live journal and invited comments. He received a pretty mixed bag.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read and had a good think about the subject and I doubt it’ll be the last. To most it’s pretty cut and dry, but I’m still not completely sure of my own stance on the subject.

The first piece of writing I ever sold was to a Canadian magazine in 2004. The Adventures of Jack and Jill was a short nursery rhyme about cider-drinking, gun-toting psychos and it earned me two US dollars and a contributor copy of Champagne Shivers. I still have the cash and I intend to spend it in New York some day. Can’t see it buying me anything more than a chocolate bar, though.

Luckily, in the last six years I’ve improved my writing and been cannier in the majority of my dealings. I’ve received funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen for my writing and a couple of pieces sold kicked back more than five pence a word, which seems to be a professional rate minimum by most definitions. Does that make me a pro writer yet? Nope, because it’s nowhere near enough to feed even one of my kids, never mind my whole family.

So I work a full time job to pay the bills. And I appreciate the fact that I’m lucky enough to have a decent and safe job, even though my ultimate goal is to write for a living. At the minute, writing is something that makes my life more interesting. It’s fun for me (well, most of the time, it can be frustrating too but you can have a slump on the golf course too, can’t you?), and sometimes all I want to do is finish a piece of writing and see that it gets a decent home.

Nothing But Time, a short story I set in Maghaberry Prison, appeared on Pulp Pusher last month. It’s not a paying venue but it does have a decent following as far as I can gather. And with folk like Keith Rawson and Alan Griffiths published there, I’m keeping good company. Plus it’s run by a terrific full time writer by the name of Tony Black. So what did I get for Nothing But Time?


To be honest, I don’t think so. A couple of people left nice comments on my blog and on Facebook when I posted a link to it, but they’re people who’ve read my stuff in the past and (I hope) will read more in the future. To the best of my knowledge, the story didn’t reach any new readers. But I liked writing that piece. Enjoyed editing it. Really got a kick out of the fact that Tony Black liked it enough to include it on his website. That’s a pretty decent return in my book.

I don’t plan to make a habit out of giving away short stories, though. If I’ve let one go for free lately, I probably liked the publication or the editor behind it. What I won’t do in the future is give away reviews, articles or short stories to publications that could afford to pay me. I’ll not fill a slot in a magazine or a newspaper without a decent kickback.

That’s where I stand with the payment issue I guess. Like an accountant might do a tax return for a mate and expect nothing in return except a pint, I’ll continue to give away the odd short story for free to people I like. If that bugs you, dry your eyes. I will, however, work harder to negotiate payment for articles and the like that make it into any publication that can afford to pay. As for novels... well, that’s my agent’s job. I’m not going to worry about that here.

My ultimate point in the writing of this? Hell, yeah, writers should be paid. But not all writers are good enough to be paid right away. So the places that don’t pay and offer only ‘exposure’ or a very small payment have their place. They build a writer’s confidence and give them something to show their family and friends. But unless they aim a little bit higher with every other thing they write, they’re probably going nowhere. In which case, all the writers who want to be paid could probably chill out a little. It kind of thins out the competition in a tight market, doesn’t it?

I have one question (in three parts) about an area that I think is a little grey. Please do weigh in if you have an opinion. What about blogging? That’s writing for free, isn’t it? Why is that okay?

Related Links

Mike Stone's Live Journal

Champagne Shivers

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Screen

Nothing But Time

Monday 7 December 2009

An Interview - Daragh Carville

Daragh Carville is a playwright and screenwriter. His plays, which include Language Roulette, Observatory and Family Plot, have been widely produced in Britain and Ireland, and as far afield as France, Germany, Holland, and the U.S. He has also written for television and radio. His television drama about drugs awareness issues for young people, The Family, was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1998. His radio play Regenerations, first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2000, was nominated for the Richard Imison Award. His adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2003.

Daragh’s first feature film, Middletown, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2006. The film, which stars Matthew MacFadyen, Daniel Mays, Eva Birthistle and Gerard McSorley, was directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey of Green Park Films. It was nominated in nine categories at the 2007 Irish Film and Television Awards, including Best Film and Best Screenplay, with Eva Birthistle picking up the award for Best Actress. Daragh’s second film, Cherrybomb, starring Rupert Grint and James Nesbitt, was selected as part of the Generations section of the Berlin Film Festival, and opened there in February 2009. It goes on general release in 2010.

Daragh Carville has won the Stewart Parker and the Meyer Whitworth awards. His most recent play, This Other City, produced by Tinderbox Theatre Company, opened in Belfast in April 2009.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I'm working on a new screenplay, provisionally called Tiger, for BBC Films. If all goes well it'll be directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey, who I've worked with a lot in the past, notably on Middletown (2006) and Cherrybomb (2009).

Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

God I wish I had more of those! I work from home which means I have to do a certain amount of juggling life and work. Typically I'll leave the kids to school in the morning, go for a run, shower and get to my desk so that after getting emails etc out of the way I can switch off the internet and start writing properly by ten. I'll generally work through till after three, when I pick the kids up from school. In reality though the work bleeds into all sorts of other areas too, depending on where I'm at with a project.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I'm always writing! Which is not to say I'm always at my desk actually putting down words. Because I work in film and theatre, which are collaborative media above all else, I spend a lot of time on planes and trains, traveling to meetings and what have you. And then when a project is actually in production, whether it's a film or a play, it's important to be there, to be as hands-on as possible. I love that side of the process too - casting, rehearsals, the day to day business of production itself. So that's pretty all-consuming. And of course you need to keep reading and watching other people's work too. So what little down-time I do have is devoted to the family.

I'm lucky though in that I am able - at the moment at least - to work on my writing full time. I previously worked at Queen's University in Belfast, where I taught Creative Writing, specialising in scriptwriting. I worked there for ten years and loved it, but it's been great to get back to full time writing. Long may it last!

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the screenwriting scene?

I wish the BBC Writersroom website had been around when I was starting out. Actually, come to think of it, the internet wasn't around when I was starting out. But the Writersroom is a great resource. The BBC Writers Academy is probably the best way in to writing for TV for new writers and the Writersroom provides details of that along with many other useful bits and bobs.

Other than that, it's all about just doing the work, putting the hours in and getting your work out there. It's about learning the craft - which you do by trial and error, by writing and learning from your mistakes. Also by watching films and TV and reading as many scripts as you can. It's amazing that some people who say they want to write screenplays don't actually know how scripts work, what they look like, what they do and don't do. There's are a lot of websites out there which offer scripts free for download so there's really no excuse. The Writersroom has a good selection of TV scripts and even offers free screenwriting software, so as I say that's a good place to start.

And finally - going back to what I mentioned earlier about collaboration - probably the most important thing of all is to work with good people. You need to seek out producers, directors, actors and learn from them. Screenwriting is not a solitary trade, it's not like writing poetry or novels where you can - in theory - be sequestered away in your garret or whatever. It's a collaborative process. It has to be. So you have to learn how to collaborate. Which is a skill in itself actually.

Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?

It's been a year since Harold Pinter died but he continues to act as an inspiration. The death of Frank Deasy was a tragedy: he was a brilliant writer and a fine, decent man. He leaves behind an impressive legacy, both in terms of his work and his role in highlighting the issue of organ donation.

In terms of writing I've admired this year, in British TV I loved Jimmy McGovern's The Street. It was the exact opposite of everything I'd been hearing about what was required for contemporary TV drama - it wasn't high concept, it wasn't 'genre-redefining'. It just focused on the 'old-fashioned' virtues of character and story and in so doing created a real state of the nation series. Having said that, I do also revere writers like Russell T Davies and Joss Whedon who are able to put a new spin on existing genres. I loved RTD's 'Torchwood' series three, having hated the first two seasons. This must be the first series in TV history that does the opposite of jumping the shark.

In terms of TV comedy, 'Peep Show' and 'The Thick of It' were the highlights for me.

As far as American TV goes, I'm still in mourning for 'The Wire', having worked our way though all five seasons in short order. Haven't found anything to fill that space, though I loved David Simon and Ed Burn's Iraq war drama 'Generation Kill'. Staying in that kind of gritty, hard-boiled territory to some degree, I really liked Stuart Neville's debut novel 'The Twelve'. And I'm not just saying that because he's a fellow Armagh man!

Q6. What are you reading/watching right now?

Reading a brilliant book by Graham Robb called 'The Discovery of France', a kind of psychogeographical exploration of French history and culture. Watching 'The Thick of It' and looking forward to David Tennant's swansong in 'Doctor Who' at Christmas. Also looking forward to Owen McCafferty's new play, 'The Absence of Women'. He's the daddy, Owen is.

Q7. Plans for the future?

I'm focusing on the new screenplay at the moment but beyond that I'd like to do some more writing for TV. And I'm itching to get back to the theatre too. I'd love to write something for the new Lyric building.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

As ever, it's the things you don't do that you regret. As a young writer I turned down a few opportunities that, looking back, I could probably have learned a lot from. But having said that, I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was a kid, so I really can't complain.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Oh Christ. Well, I've already talked about the importance of collaboration, and I guess the worst writing experiences are when the collaboration doesn't work, when you just don't see eye to eye, or - worse - when trust breaks down between collaborators. That's when things get messy. I've worked with some brilliant, brilliant people but there have been one or two occasions when things haven't worked out. And no, I'm not naming names! But yeah, that can be pretty soul-destroying. But whatever doesn't kill you blah blah blah.

Other than that, well, you do get the odd day when it just doesn't work and you think everything you write is shit and that you're a fraud and you're gonna get found out. If you're lucky, though, those days are more or less balanced out by the good days, when you get lost in the writing and it really flows.

The one other thing that can be a bit of a pain in the hole is when your work gets reviewed. I try not to read reviews but they always get back to you and, as I think Norman Mailer said, 'the good ones don't help and the bad ones still hurt.'

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

No, I think that about covers things!

Thank you, Daragh Carville!

Friday 4 December 2009

Belfast Pickpockets

I've been toying with the idea of blogging about true crime in Northern Ireland for a while now. Figured I'd kick it off with a video just released by the PSNI. Call it public service or something. But aside from it being a warning to all you Crimbo shoppers, I found the method kind of fascinating. Ham-fisted, graceless and about as subtle as a brick in the face, but still fascinating.

Judge for yourselves. You'll find the video on the BBC NI website.

Thursday 3 December 2009

No Alibis Calendar Launch

From the No Alibis website...

Once again we are delighted to announce that Neil Shawcross will be launching the No Alibis Calendar for 2010 on Friday 4th December at 5:30PM.

The Shawcross/No Alibis Calendar launch has become an annual celebration of all things “Noir” and this year is no exception. New images based on the works of Simenon, Chandler , Christie and many others will be on display along with the limited edition Calendar, priced £15. The artist will be here on the night to sign individual Calendars.

To book a spot for this event, email David, or call the shop on 9031 9607.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

A Wee Reveiw - Day of the Jack Russell by Colin Bateman

Check out my latest International Thriller Writers article for the low-down on Bateman's second No Alibis book.