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Extract: IF WE WERE VILLAINS by M.L. Rio

If we were Villains small IF WE WERE VILLAINS

M.L. Rio (mlrio.com)

Titan Books (titanbooks.com)

£7.99

I sit with my wrists cuffed to the table and I think, But that I am forbid / To tell the secrets of my prison-house, / I could a tale unfold whose lightest word / Would harrow up thy soul. The guard stands by the door, watching me, like he’s waiting for something to happen.

Enter Joseph Colborne. He is a graying man now, almost fifty. It’s a surprise, every few weeks, to see how much he’s aged—and he’s aged a little more, every few weeks, for ten years. He sits across from me, folds his hands, and says, “Oliver.”

“Joe.”

“Heard the parole hearing went your way. Congratulations.”

“I’d thank you if I thought you meant it.”

“You know I don’t think you belong in here.”

“That doesn’t mean you think I’m innocent.”

“No.” He sighs, checks his watch—the same one he’s worn since we met—as if I’m boring him.

“So why are you here?” I ask. “Same fortnightly reason?”

His eyebrows make a flat black line. “You would say fucking ‘fortnight.’ ”

“You can take the boy out of the theatre, or something like that.”

He shakes his head, simultaneously amused and annoyed.

“Well?” I say.

“Well what?”

The gallows does well. But how does it well? It does well to those that do ill,” I reply, determined to deserve his annoyance. “Why are you here? You should know by now I’m not going to tell you anything.”

“Actually,” he says, “this time I think I might be able to change your mind.”

I sit up straighter in my chair. “How?”

“I’m leaving the force. Sold out, took a job in private security. Got my kids’ education to think about.”

For a moment I simply stare at him. Colborne, I always imagined, would have to be put down like a savage old dog before he’d leave the chief ’s office.

“How’s that supposed to persuade me?” I ask.

“Anything you say will be strictly off the record.”

“Then why bother?”

He sighs again and all the lines on his face deepen. “Oliver, I don’t care about doling out punishment, not anymore. Someone served the time, and we rarely get that much satisfaction in our line of work. But I don’t want to hang up my hat and waste the next ten years wondering what really happened ten years ago.”

I say nothing at first. I like the idea but don’t trust it. I glance around at the grim cinder blocks, the tiny black video cameras that peer down from every corner, the guard with his jutting underbite. I close my eyes, inhale deeply, and imagine the freshness of Illinois springtime, what it will be like to step outside after gasping on stale prison air for a third of my life.

When I exhale I open my eyes and Colborne is watching me closely.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m getting out of here, one way or the other. I don’t want to risk coming back. Seems safer to let sleeping dogs lie.”

His fingers drum restlessly on the table. “Tell me something,” he says. “Do you ever lie in your cell, staring up at the ceiling, wondering how you wound up in here, and you can’t sleep because you can’t stop thinking about that day?”

“Every night,” I say, without sarcasm. “But here’s the difference, Joe. For you it was just one day, then business as usual. For us it was one day, and every single day that came after.” I lean forward on my elbows, so my face is only a few inches from his, so he hears every word when I lower my voice. “It must eat you alive, not knowing. Not knowing who, not knowing how, not knowing why. But you didn’t know him.”

He wears a strange, queasy expression now, as if I’ve become unspeakably ugly and awful to look at. “You’ve kept your secrets all this time,” he says. “It would drive anyone else crazy. Why do it?”

“I wanted to.”

“Do you still?”

My heart feels heavy in my chest. Secrets carry weight, like lead.

I lean back. The guard watches impassively, as if we’re two strangers talking in another language, our conversation distant and insignificant. I think of the others. Once upon a time, us. We did wicked things, but they were necessary, too—or so it seemed. Looking back, years later, I’m not so sure they were, and now I wonder: Could I explain it all to Colborne, the little twists and turns and final exodos? I study his blank open face, the gray eyes winged now by crow’s-feet, but clear and bright as they have always been.

“All right,” I say. “I’ll tell you a story. But you have to under­stand a few things.”

Colborne is motionless. “I’m listening.”

“First, I’ll start talking after I get out of here, not before. Second, this can’t come back to me or anyone else—no double jeopardy. And last, it’s not an apology.”

I wait for some response from him, a nod or a word, but he only blinks at me, silent and stoic as a sphinx.

“Well, Joe?” I say. “Can you live with that?”

He gives me a cold sliver of a smile. “Yes, I think I can.”

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INFLUENCES: Japanese Influences by MARK EDWARDS

EDWARDS 7 TS 28 MARK EDWARDS

Author of: THE LUCKY ONES (2017)
                      THE DEVIL’S WORK (2016)
                      FOLLOW YOU HOME (2015)

On the web: www.markedwardsauthor.com

On Twitter: @mredwards

I lived in Japan for a year, back in the early noughties, teaching ‘English conversation’. This involved sitting in a cubicle with three or four people – salarymen and schoolgirls, construction workers and surgeons – and chatting. It was harder than it sounds.

But my interest in Japanese culture started years before I ever visited the country. In 1995 or ‘96 my then-girlfriend, a library assistant, brought home a battered hardback of a novel called A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Back then, hardly anyone in the UK had heard of him, but I was entranced by this book. It was weird and surreal and creepy, the language crisp and elegant. I scoured book shops for his other novels but was only able to find one, Dance Dance Dance.

In the meantime, I read and loved the slim, strange Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, while waiting for more of Murakami’s books to be translated. As his fame in the English-speaking world grew, he became my favourite author. I vividly remember the sensation of reading his epic The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (in two sittings), stunned by his ability to convey complex ideas and emotions in such simple, everyday language. I found a similar stripped-back style suited the stories I was writing, especially The Magpies, the first draft of which was completed around this time.

By the time I moved to Japan in 2002, I had discovered Japanese horror. The subject of books and films came up often in my conversation classes, but I was surprised to find that the majority of my Japanese students hated horror movies – possibly because so many of them really believe in ghosts and spirits – which frustrated my attempts to talk about my favourite films. Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water and Battle Royale. I loved the icy urban setting of these films, terrifying things happening in familiar settings, horror invading real life.

But the Japanese horror film that most influenced me was Audition, which was adapted from a novel by Ryu Murakami (no relation to Haruki). A middle-aged man is looking for love but doesn’t like modern girls with their independent ways. He sets up a fake movie and auditions young women who don’t realise the role is really that of his girlfriend.

For the first half of the movie it seems like a drama, a comment on relationships in contemporary Japan. And then something happens – a moment that is subtle and quiet but utterly chilling. From that point on we hurtle towards the most horrifying climax you will ever see and a scene that remains with me to this day.

Audition taught me that when you’re writing dark tales – and all my psychological thrillers borrow from the horror genre – you don’t need to start with a bang. The slow creep of dread, the gut-churning realisation that there is something sinister happening just out of sight, can be far more effective.

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Extract: TIME TO WIN by Harry Brett

Time To Win TIME TO WIN

Harry Brett (www.henrysutton.co.uk/harry-brett)

Corsair (www.littlebrown.co.uk)

£16.99

There was a time when the sound of rain was comforting, calming. Now it pissed her off. It was autumn already, she remembered. September 1. It was not her favourite month. She let the patter swirl around her head for another few minutes, realising she was listening out for something else. Breathing, snoring. But it wasn’t there. She lifted her head, opening her eyes. Propped herself on her elbows. Rich wasn’t there.

Tatty flung back her side of the duvet and climbed out onto the soft carpet, peering through the gloom for her dressing gown. She got to the blinds before spotting it in its own silky puddle, having slipped off the back of the chaise longue. Rich was forever castigating her for leaving her clothes lying around, clothes he’d spent a lot of money on.

She opened the blinds, taking in the wet grey slapping against the huge French doors. In only her nightie, short, also silk, she had an urge to open the doors, step out onto the balcony and feel the wet and cold on her skin. She needed to wake up, shake the Zimovane from her system. Looking out across the stretch of wide, dull grass that made up the top of Gorleston’s tired esplanade to a short stretch of gunmetal grey sea, which all too rapidly merged with sky, she thought better of it. She reached down for her dressing gown, stood, noticing a couple of figures, directly across Marine Parade.

They were not facing her way, not moving either, but hunched together on the pavement by the entrance to the last car park on the front, like the world they hated owed them everything. They were wearing scum gear, as Rich would call it. Hoodies, tracksuit bottoms, cheap trainers. None of which, she suspected, had ever been near a washing machine, or paid for. Smoke began swirling around their covered heads. A car, a long, light brown Lexus, rolled from the car park, seemingly nudging them out of the way, and they set off, in an absurd loping gait, towards Yarmouth, from where no doubt they had come.

Relieved, Tatty stepped back from the French doors and slipped her gown on, realising how dim the bedroom still was. Lights, she needed lights, warmth, on this most dull of early autumn mornings. She made her way straight to the en-suite, pressing the control panel as she entered. With a ceiling of halogen beating down on her she keyed the shower buttons, and caught herself in the mirror as the water gained heat. Her tan was fading fast. The air in this part of the world stripped you like sulphuric acid. Sun rarely happened.

Rich had said she shouldn’t bother coming back with him from Ibiza. She could spend another month by the pool. No, she couldn’t. There was the Smokehouse project nearing completion, her elder children to see, the house to get ready for Zach’s return, before he was off again. ‘You’ll not be seeing much of me, sweetheart,’ Rich had said. ‘We’re that close to getting the Americans on board. And I expect I’ll have to be in Athens at some point soon.’ He always wanted her out of the way. She never saw much of him. He hadn’t even come home last night. It wasn’t the first time.

Slowly the shower restored some feeling, some clarity. Stepping out, wrapping the towel around her paling body, she felt a tired, dull anger growing. He could have rung. He could have left a message. ‘I didn’t want to disturb you, sweetheart. Not in the middle of the night. I don’t know where the time went. But we made great progress. It’ll be signed within days.’ Those would be his shady words, when he did show up, she could imagine all too well. He rarely surprised her.

To check once more she walked back through to the bedroom, to her bedside table, the mobile on it. No texts or voicemails from Rich. Or email, not that that was his style. He never emailed her. He emailed his kids, but not her. She wasn’t sure he even knew her email address. Wrapped in a towel, she picked up the phone, shook it, as if that might somehow refresh the apps. Nothing changed. She wasn’t going to ring him.

Throwing it on the mound of duvet in the middle of the bed, she then picked up her watch, which until recently was his watch – a heavy white gold Rolex. He now had an Apple Watch, the 18-carat rose gold one, which he barely knew how to use. It was just past nine. Late for her, but she was still on holiday time. She put the chunky Rolex on and, edging towards the French window, she thought about what she was going to wear today. What could you wear to protect yourself against that? Not some shitty tracksuit, for sure. Oilskins. The word came to her, as if from another country. Another century anyway. Did people still wear oilskins? Did they still exist?

The scum were not in sight, anywhere up Marine Parade, but someone was at the door. The front door. She could hear the bell, ding-donging away downstairs. That sound was from another century, because the bell had been there when they’d bought the place, nearly thirty years ago now. It was the only thing they hadn’t changed. Rich thought it quaint.

Who the hell could be ringing it at this time? Her mind was now clear enough to process information, to think more rationally. It was too early for the post or a parcel delivery. It was not the kids, having forgotten their keys, which used to be such a common occurrence, because Sam and Ben were in London, where they’d been all summer, and Zach was in the Atlantic. Could Rich somehow have forgotten or lost his? It had never happened before. Besides, he wouldn’t use the bell, he’d thump on the door, and shout when no one came quick enough.

She was out of the bedroom and hurrying along the landing when she realised she was still wrapped in nothing more than a towel. But it was a far more modest piece of cloth than her dressing gown. She continued down the wide, softly carpeted stairs and along the hard oak floor of the hallway, lit only by the poor natural light seeping through the smoked security glass panel at the top of the door. She thought she could make out a head, in a hood. Just before she reached the door she felt something shift deep inside her. A small tremor.

She had a sudden, terrible urge to confront life, full on, sod any precautions that Rich was always so insistent upon. She flung open the door, not thinking whether the security chain was in place, anger and aggression coursing through. She knew it was not going to be good news. It never was when people visited them out of the blue. ‘Hello?’ she said, though faintly, short of breath.

‘Mrs Goodwin?’ A woman stepped forward.

She was shorter than Tatty, rounder and far paler, and stuffed into a too-tight dark waterproof. That’s what people wore now, waterproofs, made from high-tech synthetic fabrics. Zach had loads. ‘Yes?’ Tatty said.

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Julie Spiros, family liaison officer for Norfolk Constabulary, West Yarmouth branch, and this is Detective Inspector Peter Leonard.’ She was holding out her ID. Scum of a different sort.

The man next to her nodded, his lips shut tight in a grimace. His waterproof was hanging off him by the hood. He was tall and skeletal. He was not holding out his ID. He didn’t need to.

‘May we come in?’ Spiros said, stepping closer. ‘Perhaps we can go somewhere where you can sit down. Is anyone else in the house?’

Tatty must have nodded a yes, and then shook a no, her confidence already shot, because she found herself walking backwards with the two police officers. A chunk of cold wet cloud came inside with them. Their wet shoes squeaked on the oak flooring, and Tatty was pleased Rich wasn’t there because he would have been livid with them for not wiping their feet properly.

‘Would you like to put some clothes on?’ Spiros said. ‘I can come with you.’

Tatty looked down at the white towel. She was still damp from her shower. The air in the hall was now damp too, and cold. She would like to get dressed. But it was never quick. She was not going to let someone she didn’t know come with her either. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m OK.’

At the end of the large hall, to the left of the staircase, tucking the towel tighter around her, she didn’t know which way to go, into the sitting room, or the kitchen. Would they want tea, coffee? Was she meant to make them a drink? Rich had always treated the police with as much courtesy as he could muster. She thought she needed a coffee at least. It was the right time in the morning, so she led them that way.

In the huge kitchen, which once upon a time had been a double garage, she made straight for the marble-topped island, reached out for its thick, firm edge, turned to face her unexpected visitors, realising she was not going to make any coffee until they told her why they were there. They knew it too.

‘Would you like to sit down?’ said Spiros, glancing around the cold airy place, at the acres of glass looking out onto thick drizzle.

There were bar stools around the island, and over in a corner the glass-topped dining table, around which stood some steel chairs. It was not a comfortable kitchen. It was rarely warm, despite the under-floor heating. ‘Why are you here?’ Tatty said, a voice, her voice coming back.

‘I’m sorry, but we have some bad news,’ said Spiros. ‘Please, sit down.’ The man, Leonard, had still to say a word.

‘No,’ Tatty said. Not sure whether she was saying no to the idea of bad news, or no to the order to sit down. Her mind flashed to her children. Ben would be at work, in the City. Sam would be at work, down the road in Holborn. Zach would be being tossed around in the Bay of Biscay. It could get very rough, so she’d been told. Even at this time of the year. Had the boat capsized? Sunk? How would anyone know, so soon? An emergency signal set off? A tiny beacon in monstrous waves, Zach clinging to a life raft. He was a strong, tough kid.

‘There’s been a fatal incident,’ said Leonard.

So he did speak, when it mattered. And Tatty felt like she was in a bad TV show. She shook her head, found she was still clinging, not to a life raft but the marble top of the kitchen island. His voice was as thin and grave as his stature.

‘A car, your husband’s car, went into the river by Fish Wharf, the back of his offices,’ Leonard continued.

‘I’m afraid your husband’s body was found in the car this morning, by police divers,’ said Spiros.

‘Oh,’ said Tatty. ‘Oh.’

‘An operation is underway to retrieve the vehicle,’ said Leonard.

‘What about him – Rich?’ said Tatty. ‘Where’s he?’

‘The body has been recovered from the water,’ said Spiros, her face colouring. ‘There was nothing anyone could do. I’m so sorry.’

‘How? How did it happen?’ Tatty said. She found she’d let go of the marble top. She also found she could breathe. Zach’s boat had not sunk. He had not drowned. Rich had drowned.

‘We don’t know yet,’ said Leonard. ‘Obviously we’ll be doing everything we can to get to the bottom of what happened. Have you found any notes?’

‘Notes?’ said Tatty, feeling her mouth move in ways she knew were not appropriate.

‘Explaining perhaps why he might wish to take his life?’

‘You think he committed suicide?’ She almost laughed.

‘We’ll need to look at everything,’ Leonard continued. ‘There’ll be a post-mortem.’

‘It’s definitely him, is it?’ Tatty said, quite calmly.

‘We believe so,’ said Spiros. ‘If you’d like to see the body, we can arrange that.’

‘Yes,’ said Tatty. That was the thing to do, wasn’t it? She looked down once more at her towel, at her shins, her feet poking out and now looking rather brown against the white marble. She tried harder not to smile. ‘When?’

‘We’ll make the arrangements, and let you know.’ Spiros again. ‘Is there anyone you’d like to call, who you’d like to be here with you, this morning? Can we call anyone for you?’

There was, but Tatty was not going to say who. She felt her heart rushing forward.

‘I’m afraid,’ said Leonard, ‘that given who your husband was, we’re not sure how long his death will remain out of the media.’

‘We urge you,’ chipped in Spiros, ‘to contact family members, friends, those people who need to know, as soon possible.’

There weren’t many. Ben, Sam, Megan perhaps, Nina too – she’d be upset. ‘But Zach’s in the middle of the Atlantic,’ she said. ‘His phone won’t be working.’

‘Can I make you a cup of tea?’ said Spiros.

Tatty hadn’t noticed her accent before.

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INFLUENCES: Why I Write Crime Fiction by CANDICE FOX

9781784758066 Name: CANDICE FOX

Author of: CRIMSON LAKE (2016)

On the web: candicefoxauthor.com

On Twitter: candicefoxbooks

There was a lot of crime in my childhood, so my interest in crime began there, even if I wasn’t writing it as a young’un. My mother fostered 150+ kids who generally came from abusive, neglectful and criminal backgrounds. My father worked at a prison and my mother was a true crime nut who told real-life crime stories to us as kids. I used to peruse true crime mags and books in her bedroom from an inappropriately young age, which has probably desensitised me.

When I started writing I was trying to emulate the stories I liked, so I wrote gangster stories because I was a huge Martin Scorsese fan. But I didn’t have a good idea of structure, and found vampire stories (which are essentially just romances at times) easier when I was 16 or so and fell into Anne Rice and the like. A lot of those gothic influences linger, certainly most obviously in the Bennett/Archer series. I swung back toward Australian crime when I started reading Peter Temple in my early twenties.

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GUEST POST: Osbert and Me by GAVIN SCOTT

Age of Olympus final front cvr Name: GAVIN SCOTT

Author of: THE AGE OF TREACHERY (2016)
                      THE AGE OF OLYMPUS (2017)

On the web: gavinscott.co

On Twitter: @gavinscott942

Osbert and Me

Gavin Scott

The first character to speak in The Age of Olympus is Osbert Lancaster, who was, in real life the press attaché to the British Embassy in Athens in 1946 when the events of the novel take place. I am a great fan of Osbert Lancaster, and have been since before I knew who he was. This was because of a book published in 1948 that I came across in the home of my best friend, Conrad Pharazyn, in Havelock North, New Zealand, in 1962.

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It told the story of William de Littlehampton, who was guilt-tripped by his mother into going on Crusade (that’s him leaving in the picture on the left) and came back a hero (there he is on the front cover) and I found it was very, very funny. This is the somewhat bloodthirsty and quite politically incorrect drawing I loved best.

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Osbert was born in 1908, (looking rather less fierce, one hopes, than he does in this picture) during that golden Edwardian era before World War One, and went the famous Charterhouse school, whose headmaster kindly described him as “irretrievably gauche” and “a sad disappointment.” But at Oxford his friends included such future luminaries as Beverly Nichols, Cecil Day-Lewis, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton, Randolph Churchill and John Betjeman. Whether despite or because of this galaxy of soon to be famous friends, he graduated with a fourth class degree, but found his true métier (and his wife, Karen) when studying drawing and design at the Slade School of Art. He then began a prolific career as an illustrator of other people’s books, a writer and illustrator of his own, a stage designer and a cartoonist for the Daily Express for which he drew over 10,000 cartoons, which gave the British people great cheer during the war.

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Osbert appears in The Age of Olympus when the Foreign Office sent him to Athens as a press attaché in 1946, where he claimed to have saved the life of Winston Churchill from a communist sniper in the garden of the British Embassy. In the picture below, which I think was taken in that very garden, Osbert is the natty-looking character on the far right, looking quizzically at the gigantic figure of Archbishop Damaskinos, the regent of Greece, who also features in the story, together with his silver-topped cane.

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In fact it’s through Osbert that Duncan Forrester and Sophie meet the Archbishop and most of the other characters who are to play a role in the drama, and for my depiction of life in Athens at the time, I drew heavily on his wonderful description of Greece in 1946, Classical Landscape With Figures.

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His friendship with John Betjemen and their mutual delight in traditional English architecture and contempt for most contemporary buildings resulted in a series of magnificently witty books in which Osbert not only drew beautifully clear pictures of every imaginable architectural style, but gave them magnificent names which have tended to stick – such as Wimbledon Transitional and Stockbroker’s Tudor.

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To say nothing of Carpenter’s Gothic.

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You can find them in a series of books on architecture, culminating in the highly illuminating Cartoon History of same.

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Then there is his work for the stage, and for the Festival of Britain, and two delightful volumes of autobiography, All Done From Memory (1963) and With an Eye to the Future (1967). He was knighted in 1975, one of the few cartoonists ever to receive the honour, and died in 1986 at 77 in Chelsea. His obituary in the Times said he was "The most polite and unsplenetic of cartoonists, he was never a crusader, remaining always a witty, civilized critic with a profound understanding of the vagaries of human nature."

But I will always remember him for the wonderfully bloodthirsty drawings in The Saracen’s Head, and the pleasure they gave me as I sat in the shade of the Pharazyn’s porch below the Havelock Hills when I was twelve years old.

And of course, as well as Osbert himself, there’s a crusader in my book, too.

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GUEST POST: World Building in the RELICS Universe by Tim Lebbon

TimLebbon Name: TIM LEBBON

Author of: COLDBROOK (2012)
                      THE HUNT (2015)
                      RELICS (2017)

On the web: www.timlebbon.net

On Twitter: @timlebbon

I love world building. A few years ago I wrote a series of fantasy novels for Bantam in the USA, and also a couple for Orbit in the UK. Four of these––the Noreela novels––all took place in the same alternate world, and so the world I created grew and expanded with each novel, histories filling out, landscapes becoming more real, religions and politics more complex. When I then wrote two standalone fantasy novels (Echo City and The Heretic Land) I was faced once again with creating whole new worlds with magical systems, politics, backgrounds … and it got a bit exhausting.

Deals came and went, my interests shifted, and most of my recent work has been set in our world. But that doesn’t mean that the world building is any less important. Easier? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Relics is set in contemporary London. Instantly the reader knows the setting, might very well have been there, and so the solid foundation of my world is set. Unlike my alternate world fantasy novels I didn’t have to build the world from the ground up (and down).

But in reality every fantastical novel or story––Earthbound or not––is set in an alternate world.

Check out The Walking Dead. It’s set in a world where zombies don’t exist … in folklore or fiction. No one in that show uses the word ‘zombie’, so it’s based in a world a few stops around the multiverse wheel from our own.

Relics-Blog-Tour-BannerSo the London of Relics isn’t quite the London we all know, and building that world was a lot of fun. The human part of the Relics London is pretty much as we know it. It’s the world of the Kin––those mythological creatures that used to exist many years ago during The Time––that I have to introduce, carefully constructing a system that allows them to exist within and beneath the human world of London that most readers will recognise.

They needed somewhere to exist. Let’s face it, if you see a satyr on the 14:22 from Paddington, you’d probably remember. Or would you? London’s a wild, wacky place, and as in any big city like this, eyes rarely meet, conversation with strangers is rarely entered into. By their very nature the Kin are covert, so their homes are either underground or hidden away in plain sight. They have a system of communications and warnings in case they’re spotted.

More than the here and now, the Kin needed a history and a wider mythology. For me this is the most effective part of world building––not the obvious, overt facets of a new world, but the hidden things only hinted at. The wider world, one that we don’t perhaps touch or use that much, but whose existence gives our story a much more rounded, realistic feel.

One of my favourite recent movies for world building is John Wick (and its brilliant sequel). It’s ultra-real, a contemporary story with a clever, whole new world interwoven into and through our own. What makes it so effective is the hints at a wider, deeper history, some of which we see a little of, most of which is implied or mentioned in a line or two. The sense of wide and deep history in those movies is exquisite, and that’s the effect I was aiming for with Relics.

This is our world. But it’s one in which a fallen angel can live in the tower block next door.

GUEST POST–PARALLEL LINES: On Heroes by ADAM SHAW

Parallel Lines_high res Name: STEVEN SAVILE

Author of: PARALLEL LINES (2017)

On the web: www.stevensavile.com

On Twitter: @StevenSavile

Steven Savile’s latest novel, PARALLEL LINES, is published in the UK on 14th March by Titan Books. To celebrate the launch, Reader Dad is very pleased to welcome the book’s protagonist, Adam Shaw, to talk about heroes.

I find heroes strange beasts. I’ve always had trouble with the square-jawed Dan Dare, Roy Race type. They’re inherently dull. The heroine might shout Flash, I love you but we only have twenty-four hours to save the earth, but no matter the stakes, Flash is always going to win. The same way that the Lone Ranger is always going to ride into town just in time to save widow at the homestead. I always preferred my heroes broken, probably because I’m broken, too. I think most of us are in one way or another. Me, I grew up thinking ‘everybody leaves me’ and that coloured most of my interactions with women probably until deep into my thirties. Letting someone through those self-erected walls ain’t easy when you’ve been building them for the best part of your life.

I guess for that reason Trainspotting’s Mark Renton was always more fascinating when he asked me to Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and all of those other things right up to the notion of choosing to rot away at the end of it all resonated so strongly. Broken people can’t be counted on to do the right thing when the shit hits the fan. And even if they try, there’s so much personal baggage to overcome there’s no guarantee it’ll work out for the best, or even how they intended.

That said, there’s as much room for Don Quixote and his windmill tilting in the world of heroes as there is for the more mysterious Joseph K marching relentlessly towards his own death.

31865-Parallel-lines-blog-tour#3On a personal level, fresh out of university in the 90s I found myself living the rootless life of Generation X’s Andy Palmer, shuffling from meaningless McJob to meaningless McJob and like him trying to make sense of the world I was stumbling into while everything around me was changing fast. And boy, those jobs… burglar alarm salesman, double glazing salesman, fish packer, mortgage rate advisor, classified ad salesman, the one thing they all had in common, I lasted less than a full day at any of them. I had a glorious habit of saying screw this for a game of soldiers and walking away because I wanted to do something else. Be someone else. I wanted to be the hero of my own life, not a bit part player in someone else’s.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never really been that interested in the hero rides into town stories, come to save the day, screw the dame and move on to the next town. I want flaws. I want a hero who’s afraid of heights walking a tightrope between tower blocks. I want Adam Shaw, a guy with a disease that plays havoc with his muscular control, holding a gun in a high stress situation that just exacerbates his condition. I love the tragic inevitability of it. That gun, once it’s been pulled, is always going to go off. Him being a square-jawed hero, that’s not interesting. Him being broken man, battered by life, realising that hope is a bastard but unable to stop hoping, that’s interesting. Plus it’s much more fun torturing damaged heroes…

Adam Shaw is a family man at heart. Yesterday his world consisted of two things, his disabled son Jake and statistical probabilities. Today his body is his worst enemy. His diagnosis? ALS. Now tomorrow holds no surprises. That’s why he walked into the bank with a gun and a plan. To safeguard Jake’s future.

INFLUENCES: Finding My Own Voice by MATT WESOLOWSKI

image001 Name: MATT WESOLOWSKI

Author of: SIX STORIES (2017)

On Twitter: ConcreteKraken

It’s taken me years to find my own voice.

I’ve spent the majority of my writing life mimicking; from a bargain-bin Enid Blyton when I was a kid, a teenage cut-price James Herbert to a snide Stephen King or else 50% off all Lovecraft, eldritch savings that will loose the trappings of your puny earthly ideals of sanity!

It’s only been in the last 5 or 6 years that I’ve felt my own writing voice has really emerged. I imagine this must be fairly common; as writers, we’d love to think we’re true mavericks but in reality we have no choice but to climb the shoulders of the literary giants that have strode the land before us. I am not ashamed of this mimicry and even now, I’ll turn a phrase that sounds Lovecraftian, or King-ish and that’s ok.

I do feel like I am still learning my craft, that my voice is still evolving, changing, synchronising a little with every good book I read. It is as the great man himself says

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King.

Without reading, and reading widely, I feel like I just cannot write with any degree of integrity; it feels like a day without a cup of tea (tantamount to criminality in my opinion.). When a book hits me where it hurts, its language sinking and dissolving inside your brain like linguistic effervescence, it raises the bar, galvanises me to strive to that level of quality.

When I started writing my first tentative short stories as a just-teenager, James Herbert and Clive Barker’s mastery descriptions of the grotesque were revelatory. Back then I read little else but horror, forever trying to slide the fear in between the words like these masters, their stories underpinned by longing, love, things I was not mature enough to fathom…most girls didn’t like long-haired oddballs who wore black nail varnish and wrote stories back then…

Then in my late teens I discovered the work of Jon King – ‘The Football Factory’, the subject perhaps not befitting of a teenage goth, yet the sheer command of language astounded me and showed me a new way of writing, stream-of-consciousness brutality that enveloped me utterly. I longed for more like this and found the work of Kevin Sampson – ‘Awaydays’ was both savage and beautiful and Niall Griffiths whose ‘Grits’ and ‘Kelly and Victor’ still haunt me today.

Through my 20s, I read all of Stephen King’s back catalogue, everything by Lovecraft (I was a latecomer to Cthulhu) and now as I read more (and much more expansively), every book that does something to me emotionally, helps weave another thread into the voice that has emerged from inside. Lauren Beukes and Yrsa Sigurðadottir were more of those revelatory writers that pushed at genre conventions; straddling the places between crime and the supernatural and gave me a galvanic push to try the same.

Karen Sullivan, the phenomenon behind Orenda Books guided me to more of the Nordic noir, namely Kati Hiekkapelto and Antti Tuomainen whose work had a profound influence on my own. Like their Scandinavian neighbours, the Finns have a way with words that I cannot put my finger on; something to do with telling it simply, yet with profound poetry hanging from every phrase.

I feel like my own voice, my influences are in a constant state of flux; I just recently read ‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline and ‘Girls on Fire’ by Robin Wasserman…writing is often a difficult pursuit, there are times when you feel a little hollow and word-weary yet reading the above titles were like bellows to the flames.

I guess influences don’t stop, as much as learning doesn’t stop. I can’t wait to see what inspires me next!

SIX STORIES BLOG TOUR POSTER

GUEST POST: Writing Short Stories by Orlando Ortega-Medina

image003 Name: ORLANDA ORTEGA-MEDINA

Author of: JERUSALEM ABLAZE (2017)

On the web: orlandoortegamedina.co.uk

On Twitter: OOrtegaMedina

To celebrate the launch of his excellent debut short story collection, Jerusalem Ablaze, I’m very pleased to welcome Orlando Ortega-Medina to Reader Dad to talk about writing short stories.

I don’t have one specific method of writing the first draft of a short story. For example, I was inspired to write “Torture By Roses” after reading Yukio Mishima’s short story “Swaddling Clothes” in his collection Death in Midsummer. In that particular case, my aim was to write my own imagined backstory for Mishima’s story, and I composed it in my head before I wrote down a single word. In the case of “Jerusalem Ablaze”, I woke up from a nightmare, grabbed the steno pad that sits on my nightstand, and started writing, half-asleep. Two hours later I had my first draft of the story.

Jacket ImageMy Quebec stories “The Shovelist” and “Tiger at Beaufort Point” were inspired by real-life events, so there was some pre-planning at the starting point to ensure the events were properly fictionalised. This involved drafting character sketches and plot outlines, which I used, in effect, to re-invent reality. And my Israel stories are excerpts from an early novel I was composing, so they didn’t start life as short stories at all.

“After The Storm” is the story I pre-planned the most, in that I fully sketched it out in outline from start to finish before attacking the prose. Interestingly, it’s also the story I revised the most, almost interminably. Each time I re-read it I found something to improve, all the way until the day I was meant to turn it over to the publisher. But it was worth it, and I’m very pleased with the way turned out.

Regardless of how my short stories start their lives, my process for completing them is the same for all of them: I set them aside for a few days, then come back and revise them until they are as perfect as they’re going to be. To achieve this I have to be brutal in my revision process and not be afraid to cut out anything that doesn’t work. That being said, one has to know when to stop revising!

As for having a word-count, I aim to write no less than 1000 words a day, 5 days a week, with a goal of producing 10,000 publishable words per month. One can’t very well call oneself a writer unless one actually writes. So: Write – Everyday – No excuses.

Jerusalem Ablaze – Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is out now from Cloud Lodge Books, priced £12.99.

 

Blog Tour Jerusalem Ablaze

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