Tuesday 29 April 2014


First off, thanks to Steve Cavanagh for the kind invitation to contribute to this bloggy chain-letter-type thing. Steve is Northern Ireland’s latest crime fiction success story, and if you want to find out more about him, go read his Writing Process blog post, right here. Then read more of his blog posts. They’re always good. You’ll notice that he’s one of those writers who does things the right way. That’s how come he’s got a swanky deal with one of my favourite publishers, Orion. Lucky (hardworking) fecker.

You back from Steve’s gaff yet? Sound. Here’s my post:

a) What am I working on?

Thanks for asking! Today I finished up a short story for an anthology I was invited to contribute to. It’s a noir piece with a bunch of supernatural stuff loosely based on the Morrigan myth. It would have fit well with the Requiems for the Departed brief, but I chose not to contribute to the Irish myth/crime fiction anthology because I co-edited the book and that seemed like a liberety.

Other than the short story, I’ve got a creative writing PhD keeping me busy, for which I must produce a new and ‘highly original’ crime fiction novel along with a critical piece on some old school greats. And I’m working on a Northern Irish police procedural during all those awesome university holidays.

b) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

People tell me I have a unique voice, so I guess I’ve set myself apart stylistically. I’m quite proud of myself when somebody says that, actually, so it must be important to me. I set pretty much all of my stuff in Northern Ireland, though I tend to avoid the Troubles. That’s not to say I won’t examine the Troubles in the future. In fact, I plan to do just that. But for now, that’s something else that readers point out as somewhat original. Also, my work has a noir quality to it. The great Stuart Neville once described by work as Norn Noir (a play on the term Norn Iron which is how some of the natives pronounce Northern Ireland). A shame that many agents and publishers aren’t interested in the Northern Irish noir sub-genre at the moment, though.

c) Why do I write what I do?

Writing is a long and solitary process. If I wasn’t spending time with the type of characters I create, I’d get bored very quickly. In fact, I’d jack writing in if it didn’t entertain me. So I guess it’s just a case of writing the kind of stuff I’d like to read.

d) How does your writing process work?

Most of the time it doesn’t work. I get distracted really easily, unfortunately. However, in those moments when the writing machine is firing at full tilt, I’ve found I do my best work in the morning, so long as I’ve prepared a little the night before. And the preparation doesn't have to be all that time consuming either. If I have a decent outline written, I can read the beats for the chapter or chapters I hope to write the next day. Sometimes I'll add additional notes to clarify the beats or to incorporate a new idea. Then I can get cracking on the actual writing the next morning. This is a relatively new process for me, but it helped me write my latest novella, BREAKING POINT, in less than a month. That's an output record I want to beat in the summer, after I've met my PhD deadlines in May.

There’s a writer called Sean Platt who penned a great blog post that describes a process similar to mine right here. This guy’s output is pretty stunning; he’s much more productive than I am. So read that, and you’ll find out how I’d like my process to work.

Right, so, the three writers that I’d like to continue this chain-letter-type bloggy thing are:

I met both Michael and Caroline on the MA in creative writing at QUB a couple of years ago. Their writing rocks and they’re starting to get the recognition they deserve. I met Mark McCann at No Alibis and again at Kitty Daly’s pub in Belfast. Turns out he’s a good friend of a good friend of mine, and he’s a rather funky author of supernatural noir. What’s not to like?

Keep ‘er lit, folks!

Wednesday 23 April 2014

No Alibis/QUB Event -- Hélène Gestern

Click image for full-size version.

I'm currently reading Eux sur la Photo (translated as The People in the Photo for those of us who are linguistically challenged), and so far it's great. Looking forward to the chat, though I hope Hélène Gestern's English is better than my French; or at the very least that my PhD supervisor, Dr Dominique Jeannerod, is willing to act as interpreter. I say this for effect, of course. Dominique will be there. Everything will be grand!

You can get a copy of this excellent epistolary at No Alibis right now. Why not grab one before the event?

Tuesday 22 April 2014

An Interview - Mark McCann

Mark McCann is a Self Published Author of hard boiled supernatural thrillers and Co-Owner and Senior Editor of Cult Nerd Website Badhaven.com. Star of YouTubes 'The BAD MAN Show' he also contributes feature articles to Bad Haven among other online outlets and news hubs - a habit he formed from his tenure as film critic for local newspapers around his hometown of Belfast.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute? 

I just finished up a few horror shorts for an upcoming Horror/Sci-Fi Anthology called
‘Inside I’m Darkness’ and I’m working on a fairly personal novel based on a lot of my own familial experiences called Return of the Scapegoat Kid.

It’s the tale of two estranged brothers and their awkward, painful, manic and mostly blackly comic journey towards reconciliation. I’m billing it as an Irvine Welsh style commentary meets a family drama - equal parts debauched humour and genuine insight into the dysfunctional family unit.

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

My day is mostly composed of frantically trying to fit everything in. I come home, powernap, drink copious amounts of coffee, put some music on and settle into my chair with my laptop and get started. I usually write down ideas as I have them and always have a mental concept of what I’m going to be writing next.

I then process those ideas into my loose plot outline until something coherent emerges at the end. A lot of writers have a much tighter structure, but I’ve always liked mine loose. I like to surprise myself with twists that might occur to me as I go, and I find those surprises translate well for a reader.

I’d love to pretend I’m more organised and locked down, but truthfully I’m not. When I get going however, I enter ‘the zone’ and type like a champ.

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

I work part-time for an online comic book retailer by day and up until the last few months I was editor on cult website Badhaven.com in the evenings until it became consumptive to the point where I needed to take a step back and focus on my writing again.

I train as a power lifter a few nights a week and I read a lot, whether it be books, articles, graphic novels, comics – the heap. I enjoy nights out to the cinema and the odd bit of travel, but my favourite thing is lazy days with my girlfriend in those fleeting moments when we can just chill out and read together. They are too few.

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

Work hard, improve your style, take creative criticism well - but don’t listen to small minded or negative people and/or anyone with advice that’s off key.

Trust your gut, take heart in that nobody ever made it by not trying and always finish what you start. But most importantly - never, ever regardless of what anyone tells you or how utterly impractical, financially difficult or unrealistic it may seem – never ever give up! It’s your dream. So it’s up to you to live it.

Writing can be hard, but it’s like Bruce Lee says; don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a hard one. Truer words!

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

This year I’ve mostly been back at the classics - re-treading Hammett and Crumley. But as I write crime with a supernatural edge I’ve always enjoyed Mike Carey’s
Felix Castor series. He makes me feel so fiercely inadequate about my own writing that the competitor in me is continually driven to improve.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Markus Zusak’s
The Book Thief and now I’m re-reading Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon along with Peter V Brett’s fantastic fantasy shorts The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Finish my current novel, pitch the anthology and begin the dogged submissions process. And maybe get an artist for a little graphic novel I’m plotting called
That Dame’s Unstoppable! But that’s another story.

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

I’d network more. Submit more definitely. I have a tendency of wanting to do things NOW! And with the cold mistress of harsh experience as my teacher I’ve learned to be much more patient.

I always end up doing things the hard way and I have a tendency to jump before I look. I decided to self-publish all of my books and didn’t even try for an agent or publisher past the first one, so I think I’d go back and just be more dogged with submitting the first novel while working on the others and improving my style.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

I don’t think I’ve really had any awful experiences writing. I know that’s pretty boring, but outside of my experience as a writer I’ve had plenty of unpleasantness to act as a counterweight. I’ve been beaten up, knocked out, threatened with knives/ baseball bats, almost killed by a mugger with a crowbar, followed home by paramilitaries, threatened by paramilitaries, almost had my head run over by a car (in a motorbike accident) and had a chunk bitten out of my back by a highly aggressive Alsatian. Writing by comparison has always been a positive delight.

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

I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive of my writing so far, including my dear old mum, my girlfriend, all my pals and the fantastic Crime Scene N.I. And also to give my books a quick pimp: Deadfast, The Generous Dead and The Mog Princess are all available at a great price via Amazon - Hardboiled supernatural horror set in my old home town of Belfast.

Thank you, Mark 'Bad Man' McCann!

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Deadfast by Mark McCann

This is a book I've been meaning to read for a very long time. I saw the first few chapters back in 2010. Mark introduced himself at the Requiems for the Departed launch and asked if he could send some of his writing my way. He seemed like a decent bloke and I had a beer buzz on, so I said, "Go for it, mate," or something similar. I read the first chapters in early draft form, offered some advice and left him to it. In the intervening years, Mark McCann has become a force to be reckoned with. He's now best known as the Bad Man, founder of the geek-tastic mega-site Bad Haven, but is also moonlighting as a Norn Iron horror hack, following in the big footsteps that Wayne Simmons has laid out over the last few years. You'll learn more about the Bad Man if and when he agrees to do a Q&A. In the meantime, this post is meant to be about his first novel.

Deadfast appeals most directly to the part of me that penned Fireproof. But I think McCann pushed the premise further than I managed. Read that as, if you liked Fireproof, you'll love Deadfast. It's a supernatural-crime fiction combo set in Belfast as narrated by an 'odd job' man with a penchant for vampire slaying by the name of Terry Fennell. If Joss Whedon were to set a Buffy spin-off in the wee big city of Belfast, he'd be hard-pressed to top Deadfast. In Terry Fennell, McCann invokes the spirit of Dashiell Hammett's Spade, possesses Bateman's Dan Starkey and sets him loose on the undead underbelly of Ulster.

Upon mentioning the Bateman, I feel it necessary to point something out. My keen investigative eye spotted that Deadfast's cover unabashedly imitates those of the latest Bateman books, but that seems fair enough. I don't know for sure, but if McCann isn't a Bateman fan, I'll be very surprised, so I'm counting the similarity as an homage to one of his influences. Of course, the Bateman-esque, smart-alecy black humour that permeates the novel could simply be McCann's default setting.

For the more nitpicky among you (and I lump myself into that category), you should know that this is a self-published title and McCann hasn't quite smoothed out all the rough edges of his writing style, but what I read was a huge improvement on my first introduction to his work. He's working hard at his craft and will only get better. And let me be clear, bar some minor typos and a bunch of missing commas, Deadfast is pretty close to professional level. Close enough for me to recommend it, whatever that may be worth to you.

If you're looking for Northern Irish crime fiction with a supernatural flavour, look no further than Deadfast. And if you like it, guess what... a sequel's already available! Looks like it features The Saint more heavily. I could write another paragraph about why that's exciting, but you could figure it out yourself by reading either novel, I'm sure. Also, as you can plainly see on McCann's Amazon page, a shorter work is available that looks like it spends more time with Mister Malawkus, Fennell's raucous tomcat pal. I'm more of a dog person myself, but I'm likely to give this one a go in the near future anyway.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Hurt by Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway now writes two different police procedural series. His Inspector Devlin series, set in Lifford, Donegal, launched his career. It seems as if his second series, featuring DS Lucy Black (a PSNI officer operating in Derry), has boosted him to higher echelons. And for good reason.

HURT is the second in the DS Lucy Black series and now that I've read it, I'm counting the days until I can get my hands on part 3.

As much as I love the Ben Devlin books, and am eager to read more from the Gadra Inspector, I think Lucy Black is my favourite of the two. Devlin's uniqueness of character comes from the fact that he's an ordinary man, which in itself is a neat trick, but I identify more fully with the flawed Lucy Black. And her flaws became more apparent in HURT. She has her secrets (the fact that her mother is the current Assistant Chief Constable in the PSNI being one) and she has hang-ups (like how she often feels as if she's not being taken seriously), and she seems more unpredictable than Devlin.

HURT's premise is a dark one. An examination of the type of men that prey on teenage girls with self-esteem problems. And then there's the continuation of the major plot point laid out at the end of LITTLE GIRL LOST, which is far from resolved by the end of HURT, but is looking good for some development in part 3. Dammit, when is part 3 out?

Get yourself on the McGilloway wagon right now, people. Though I've a feeling that I might be preaching to the converted. Two great developments in the Derry scribe's career certainly suggest that he's far from operating in obscurity. In recent weeks McGilloway has landed the Tony Doyle Award for screenwriting and LITTLE GIRL LOST has stormed the New York Times Bestseller list. And CSNI congratulates him.

Keep 'er lit, Brian.