Recommended Read: Watching The Bodies by Graham Smith

watching the bodiesJake Boulder is a Scottish hardman transported to the USA who works as a bouncer and also as an assistant to his PI friend Alfonse. As they investigate the death of one of Jake’s old flames, they discover that there is a serial-killer on the loose.

Watching The Bodies  is the first in what promises to be a cracking new series from Graham Smith.

Hard-hitting, tightly paced and with lots of great twists and turns.

Guest Blog:Looking Forward with Excitement by Graham Smith

At the time of writing my annual crime writing masterclasses are just over a month away. For me it’s a time of great excitement. Not only do I get to see the friends I’ve made over the previous years’ courses, I also get to learn from some top notch authors.

This year Crime and Publishment takes place from the 26th to the 28th of February at its usual home of The Mill Forge near Gretna Green. I’m the manager here so talking murder and crime all weekend makes a wonderful change from discussing weddings.

From its inception in 2012, Crime and Publishment has grown far beyond my wildest dreams and I can now boast that previous attendees have signed five separate publishing contracts, two of these attendees have also signed with top name literary agents and even one of our speakers (RC Bridgestock) met and signed up with an agent due to being at Crime and Publishment. Never once did I dare imagine my wee pet project would become so successful in such a short space of time.

When I first set down to create Crime and Publishment, I was determined that it MUST be three things,

· Affordable as there are so many courses which sound great but are prohibitively expensive

· Educational because it has to be deemed worthwhile by the people who part with their hard-earned to come along

· Opportunistic for those who attend. Many writers never get to meet an agent or publisher and when they do, they don’t know what to do. I was (and still am) determined that anyone who attends Crime and Publishment will leave better equipped to grab any opportunity which comes their way, as well putting a gilt-edged opportunity in front of them.

Last year we saw the publication of my own debut novel and a short story collection which introduced the police team featuring in Snatched from Homeand Mike Craven’s debut Born in a Burial Gown and a short story collection which introduced his police team. (I’m not sure where he got the idea for the short story collection from)

2016 alone will see the publication of four more books plus hopefully a novella and there’s still plenty of time for other submissions to be accepted.

For the record they are

· Night is Watching by Lucy Cameron

· Raise the Blade by Tess Makovesky

· I Know your Secret by Graham Smith

· The Major Crimes Team Vol 2: Matching the Evidence (Still under final edits before submission, but both I and the publisher are confident)

· Amit Dhand’s as yet untitled debut.

As the organiser of Crime and Publishment, I cannot express how proud of the hard work and talent of the gang as a whole. Not only are they all busy individuals they each make time to support and help each other out with discussing plot threads, beta reading and most of all, by being a friend who gets how frustrating wonderful the life of a writer can be.

I’m now at the point where I’m putting together the final touches to the two sessions I’ll be taking, while also liaising with the speakers as to their requirements and taking bookings from writers who are looking to improve their skill set.

This year the programme is packed with great speakers sharing their knowledge and I’ll be pitching in to cover some different aspects of the skills writers need to succeed in what is an ever more crowded arena.

For those interested the full programme can be found on our websitewww.crimeandpublishment.co.uk but here it is in brief

· Writing your Fights Right – Taken by Matt Hilton a thriller author and 4th Dan at Kempo Ju-Jitsu

· Structuring your Story – Former Hollywood screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloffexplains the three act / eight scene structure

· Back to Basics – Renowned mentor Michael J. Malone shows how to avoid common pitfalls many aspiring authors fall into

· Networking for Authors – I show a few simple tips and techniques in a short session on networking and how to network efficiently

· Preparing your Pitch – Sara Hunt from Saraband Publishing leads a session on making the perfect pitch.

· Pitch Session – Sarah Hunt listens to attendees pitches in a series of private 1-2-1 sessions. Those who make a successful pitch may be our next success story

· 1-2-1 Surgeries – All of our speakers will make themselves available for private consultation to help with plot holes, characterisation or anything else you need help with

· Nurturing your Characters – Michael Malone and I will explain what makes some of the most iconic crime characters so loveable and how to infuse this into your writing (optional extra @ £25)

For me and a lot of the attendees who come, the weekend is about far more than just sitting listening to the speakers and making notes. It’s about reconnecting friendships and forging new ones. It’s about sharing experiences, tips, techniques and talking about ideas, books and a hundred other things with a bunch of people who share your enthusiasm.

Newcomers to the group are made welcome and I personally try to make sure everyone is included in discussions. Attendees are split into two groups with even numbers of old and new faces in each.

For the first time ever, I’ve even started planning next year’s event before this year’s has taken place. While I’m still lining my ducks up, I can’t say too much, but I can say that I’m confident that those I’m speaking with will help the continual rise and improvement of Crime and Publishment.

I don’t have a lot much more to say other than thanks to the mercurial Paul D. Brazill for inviting me along and, if you’re serious about improving your writing and would like to attend Crime and Publishment, you can contact me at Crime(@)themill.co.uk (obviously you’ll need to cut the brackets off the “@” for the email address to work, I just don’t want spammed with Viagra substitutes)

This post appeared at Out Of The Gutter Online.

Short, Sharp Interview: Matt Hilton

blood tracksPDB: What’s going on now?

I’m kind of busy at the moment; some of the time constraints are good, but some bad. I’m writing the second in a new series featuring a female investigator called Tess Grey, and her sidekick, Nicolas “Po” Villere, who is an ex-con, and have to have it ready before the end of next March. My wife is suffering with her back, and has done for months, and is due surgery in a few days time, so a lot of my spare time is being eaten into with hospital trips etc. Other than that, I’ve two new books on the shelves this month, with Blood Tracks out in the UK from Severn House Publishers, and the latest Joe Hunter thriller, The Lawless Kind, finally coming out in the USA from Down and Out Books on 16th November, so I’m busy promoting both.

PDB: How did you research your latest book?

Blood Tracks is set partly in Maine and partly in Louisiana. I haven’t been to either state, so have relied a lot on what I’ve read. Luckily I’m a fan of John Connolly, James Lee Burke and J.A. (Jack) Kerley so have had plenty literary inspiration.

PDB: Which of your publications had been the most successful?

On paper it’s probably my first Joe Hunter novel, Dead Men’s Dust, which was a Sunday Times best seller, a Daily Telegraph thriller of the year 2009, shortlisted for the ITW new thriller award 2009, and a Kindle Top 10 best seller in 2013. But I’d like to think my most successful novel is yet to come so keep working at it.

PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme of 2015?

I haven’t been to the cinema this year, but have caught up on a number of movies on DVD etc, and am unsure if I’m being current or not when saying I thoroughly enjoyed “The Conjuring” and “Annabel” as a spooky double bill. I do love a creepy horror movie.

I really enjoyed “No One Gets Out Alive” by Adam Neville. Neville writes the kind of seriously creepy horror that I aspire to.

Music, I recently discovered JD McPherson and loved his song Scratching Circles (though I’m sure it was recorded a few years ago now).

TV, I love The Blacklist, Banshee, and The Walking Dead equally.

PDB: Is location important to your writing?

As long as I’m sitting in front of my computer I’m good, but it’s usually in my living room at home, with the Jeremy Kyle on TV blaring behind me for background ambience, and my two dogs around my feet.

PDB: What’s next?

Blood Tracks 2 (for want of a better title) is the book I’m currently writing, but I’ve got a few projects in mind begging to get started. I’ve also recently finished writing Joe Hunter 11 – No Safe Place – so foresee some work to do on that before it finally hits the shelves. There’s also a stand-alone suspense novel I’m jumping back and forward into during down time, and have ideas for a new horror novel, so plenty to keep me busy.

Bio: Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including his most recent novel ‘The Devil’s Anvil’ – Joe Hunter 10 – published in June 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton. His first book, ‘Dead Men’s Dust’, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 Award, and was a Sunday Times bestseller, also being named as a ‘thriller of the year 2009’ by The Daily Telegraph. Dead Men’s Dust was also a top ten Kindle bestseller in 2013. The Joe Hunter series is widely published by Hodder and Stoughton in UK territories, and by William Morrow and Company and Down and Out Books in the USA, and have been translated into German, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian. He has a new series beginning with Blood Tracks, featuring investigator Tess Grey, to be published by Severn House Publishers in November 2015. As well as the Joe Hunter and Tess Grey series’, Matt has been published in a number of anthologies and collections, and has published novels in the supernatural/horror genre, namely ‘Preternatural’, ‘Dominion’, ‘Darkest Hour’ and ‘The Shadows Call’. He is currently working on the next Tess Grey novel, as well as a stand-alone suspense thriller.

www.matthiltonbooks.com

@MHiltonauthor

http://www.facebook/MattHiltonAuthor

Recommended Read: Snatched From Home by Graham Smith

snatched from homeIn Graham Smith‘s debut crime novel, Snatched From Home, Nicholas Foulkes’ gambling debts lead to the kidnapping of his children. Meanwhile, unorthodox DI Harry Evans is due to retire and is showing the ropes to his priggish replacement. The two strands then cleverly intertwine.

Smith smartly leads us into the book through the point of view of the victims before introducing Harry Evans, who is a great creation.  Smith balances tension and humour perfectly in this fast-paced and frequently hilarious novel.

Gripping and gritty but never grim, Graham Smith’s Snatched From Home is an immensely enjoyable crime thriller that is highly recommended.

True Brit Grit now only 99p/ 99c!

Print Versions Of Drunk On The Moon & True Brit Grit OUT NOW !!!TRUE BRIT GRIT.

Edited by Paul D. Brazill and Luca Veste. Introduction by Maxim Jakubowski.

The Line Up:

1. Two Fingers of Noir by Alan Griffiths
2. Eat Shit by Tony Black
3. Baby Face And Irn Bru by Allan Guthrie
4. Pretty Hot T’Ing by Adrian Magson
5. Black Betty by Sheila Quigley
6. Payback: With Interest by Matt Hilton
7. Looking for Jamie by Iain Rowan
8. Stones in Me Pocket by Nigel Bird
9. The Catch and The Fall by Luke Block
10. A Long Time Coming by Paul Grzegorzek
11. Loose Ends by Gary Dobbs
12. Graduation Day by Malcolm Holt
13. Cry Baby by Victoria Watson
14. The Savage World of Men by Richard Godwin
15. Hard Boiled Poem (a mystery) by Alan Savage
16. A Dirty Job by Sue Harding
17. Stay Free by Nick Quantrill
18. The Best Days of My Life by Steven Porter
19. Hanging Stanley by Jason Michel
20. The Wrong Place to Die by Nick Triplow
21. Coffin Boy by Nick Mott
22. Meat Is Murder by Colin Graham
23. Adult Education by Graham Smith
24. A Public Service by Col Bury
25. Hero by Pete Sortwell
26. Snapshots by Paul D Brazill
27. Smoked by Luca Veste
28. Geraldine by Andy Rivers
29. A Minimum of Reason by Nick Boldock
30. Dope on a Rope by Darren Sant
31. A Speck of Dust by David Barber
32. Hard Times by Ian Ayris
33. Never Ending by McDroll
34. Imagining by Ben Cheetham
35. Escalator by Jim Hilton
36. Faces by Frank Duffy
37. A Day In The Death Of Stafford Plank by Stuart Ayris
38. The Plebitarian by Danny Hogan
39. King Edward by Gerard Brennan
40. This Is Glasgow by Steven Miscandlon
41. Brit Grit by Charlie Wade
42. Five Bags Of Billy by Charlie Williams
43. It Could Be You by Julie Morrigan
44. No Shortcuts by Howard Linskey
45. The Great Pretender by Ray Banks

45 British writers, 45 short stories. All coming together to produce an anthology, benefiting two charities…

Children 1st – http://www.children1st.org.uk/ and Francesca Bimpson Foundation – http://www.francescabimpsonfoundation.org

“The BRIT GRIT mob is coming to kick down your door with hobnailed boots. Kitchen-sink noir; petty-thief-louts; lives of quiet desperation; sharp, blood-stained slices of life; booze-sodden brawls from the bottom of the barrel and comedy that’s as black as it’s bitter—this is TRUE BRIT GRIT!”

Now only 99p/ 99c!

Recommended Read: Inside Straight by Ray Banks

inside straightSelf- confessed geek Graham Ellis is a top-class casino pit boss who is ‘demoted’ to a low-rent casino is Salford after an altercation with his boss. While there he encounters Barry Pollard, a local gangster, and things soon spiral way out of his control.

Ray Banks’ Inside Straight is a masterful slice of Brit Grit noir, full of richly drawn, realistic characters, cruel humour, pathos, violence and bad, bad decisions.

Marvelous stuff.

Recommended Read: The Dying Place by Luca Veste

The Dying PlaceWhen the body of a young man is found on the steps of a church, DI Murphy and DS Rossi – returning from Dead Gone,  Luca Veste‘s very enjoyable debut crime novel – are called in to investigate.

Veste’s second novel is very impressive indeed. Mature and tightly written, The Dying Place is a truly humanist piece of crime fiction. Veste smoothly  moves from the POVs of the victims, perpetrators and cops, creating a gripping, chilling and very moving piece of work.

Highly recommended.

Top Telly: Brit Grit On The Box

The Public EyeIt was announced a while ago that Acorn Media, who are the main distributor of British TV programming to North American consumers, had acquired a 64% stake in Agatha Christie Limited. This means that those delicate folk across the pond will have hours of Miss Marple and Poirot to nibble on while they wait for BBC’s latest incarnation of Sherlock or the Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour.

In comparison to these, it looks like America is the true home of cutting edge, hard-boiled crime television, with series like Breaking Bad, Southland, The Shield, True Detective, Sons Of Anarchy and The Wire, while the United Kingdom, just knocks out frigid cozies with stuck-up, Latin quoting police detectives.

However, for over forty years British television has also looked at the country’s grubby underbelly and produced plenty of gritty crime writing.

While we may think of sixties and seventies British TV cops as sophisticated post James Bonds, Frank Marker-who  was played so brilliantly by Alfred Burke in the sixties television series Public Eyewas no Simon Templar, Jason King or John Steed, I can tell you.

Public Eye ran for 10 years – from 1965 to 1975- with almost 100 episodes and although I haven’t seen it since then I remember it quite well and very fondly. Public Eye, was true Brit Grit as Marker moved from a dingy office in London to another flea pit in Birminghamand eventually to Brighton, and I can still picture him walking along a wind and rain swept sea-front, looking like something from a Morrissey song.

Marker looked like a soggy mongrel, with a face so lived in that squatters wouldn’t stay there.  He was a walking hard luck story too, getting knocked about by the police as well as criminals and even being framed and sent to prison.

Not a lot of peace and love there, then.

The seventies was a time when music and film were doing some pretty ground breaking and experimental stuff and, in the UK at least, so was TV. The BBC’s Play For Today, for example, is looked back upon with dewy eyed reverence these days. And so it should be. There were plays by Dennis Potter (Blue Remembered Hills), Mike Leigh (Abigail’s Party), Alan Bleasdale, John Osborne.  Some of them were terrifying to the young mind- I still cringe when I remember the harrowing and brilliant Edna The Inebriated Woman. Others were hilarious –Rumpole Of The Baily, which spawned the television series.

And some were rock hard.

I was 13 in 1975, when Philip Martin’s controversial Gangsters aired, and it was great. Gangsters was true Brit Grit television. Set in Birmingham, it was a multicultural crime story about illegal immigrants and corrupt politicians. And I loved it. There was a violence, swearing, nudity! What more could you want?

The next day at school everyone was talking about it. The subsequent media furore only added to the buzz.

Gangsters was such a success it was made into a series with theme music from the prog rock band Greenslade. It told the story of Kline, played by super-craggy Maurice Colborn, ex SAS, fresh out of prison and trying to go straight. And failing. By season two, the series really took a turn for the mental, though. The title sequence now had blues singer Chris Farlow belting out the theme song and looked like something from a low budget Kung Fu film.

Indeed, it went down such a weird path that it even had writer Philip Martin regularly appearing as himself and dictating scenes to a typist. And later he appeared as The White Devil, a hit man dressed as W C Fields (a role originally intended for the comedian  Les Dawson!) who eventually killed Kline.

Gangsters, which had started off as a hard hitting social realist crime drama , ended fantastically with the characters walking off the set, shots of the writers literally tossing away the script and a ‘That’s All Folks’ caption appearing on screen.

‘Daft!’ said my sister in law, who watched it with me. And she was right, I suppose, but then ‘daft’ isn’t always a bad thing, is it?

In one play and the two seasons of Gangsters there were drug addicts, hit men, sleazy night clubs, triads, murders, racist comedians, the CIA, strippers and all manner of urban rough and tumble. And W C Fields.

And on to the nineties.

Cracker was a Granada TV series that was created by the writer Jimmy McGovern which ran from 1993- 1995. A mere two years, yet it made a great impact  in that short time.(Okay, there was also a  fine Hong Kong set special in 1996 -and another in 2006,which I didn’t see.)

The star of the show was Scottish comedy actor Robbie Coltrane, who was previously best known for a cracking- see what I did then? – performance in the BBC’s version of John Byrne’s Tuttie Fruttie and for throwing a chair through a pub window.

Coltrane played Fitz,a brilliant, hard-drinking, heavy – smoking, bad- tempered criminal psychologist who worked as an assistant to the Manchester Police Force. “I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.” Top man.

CRACKER! AT PULP METAL MAGAZINE!Coltrane was mesmerizing. The stories were gritty and twisty and moving -even when they pushed the boundaries of melodrama. The rest of the actors involved were spot on too; in particular Christopher Ecclestone as the young detective learning more about life’s underbelly than he wanted. And Robert Carlyle was super impressive as the bitter, disillusioned Albie in the amazingly intense story ‘To Be A Somebody.’

Later, there was a watered-down U.S. version with Robert Pastorelli as Fitz. Pastorelli is a good enough actor but it really was a decaffeinated version of the original.

One of British television’s great creations, George Bulman first appeared on the small screen in 1976, in Granada Television’s hard edged crime series, The XYY Man, based on the books by Kenneth Royce. The XYY Man in question was a cat burglar called Spider Scott who was trying to go straight but regularly ended up getting caught in the MI5’s grubby web.

Doggedly on Scott’s trail was the real star of the show, Detective Sergeant George Bulman, brilliantly played by Don Henderson. Bulman was gruff and eccentric: He always wore gloves. usually had a menthol inhaler stuffed up his nose, carried his things in a plastic supermarket carrier bag and endlessly quoted Shakespeare.

It was a good series, too, but Bulman owned the show and when it ended, after two series, it was logical that Bulman and his sidekick Willis (no, not THAT Willis ) were given their own spin off show, Strangers.

Strangers –with a brilliant jazzy theme tune – started off as a pretty good, straight ahead, cop show spiced up by Bulman’s oddball character. But as the series progressed it became quirkier and quirkier, finding its form in season three when the brilliant Mark ‘Taggart’ McManus became Bulman’s boss.

The last episode had Bulman going undercover in a jazz band and featured music by Tangerine Dream and Pigbag. And the title quoted Jean Cocteau ,‘With these gloves you can pass through mirrors’- and saw Bulman trying to ditch his OCD by taking off his gloves and buggering off with McManus’ wife.

And when Strangers ended, after five series, there was still no stopping Bulman, who returned to star in his own show, Bulman. He was now an unofficial private detective working out of an antique clock repair shop with a spiky Scottish sidekick, occasionally working for a dodgy government agency or Mark MacManus. Bulman’s eccentricity was even more to the forefront in this series and the stories were comfortably off the wall.

I’ve heard from doctors that they can’t watch hospital series like ER and Casualty because of the medical inauthenticity of some scenes. Policeman surely say the same thing about the CSI franchise (okay EVERYONE says the same thing about CSI Miami). Dinner-ladies probably thought the same thing about Victoria Wood’s classic comedy series dinnerladies, for all I know.

But these glitches don’t bother me of, course. I find it easy to immerse myself in a story. Most of the time. Except, there was one scene in this cracking British television series,  that jarred.

But first of all, the SP on Whitechapel.

Whitechapel was a British crime series about a rough and ready bunch of veteran East End coppers, headed by D S Ray Miles (the ever brilliant Phil Davis) and played some familiar and tasty character actors.

Well, all goes pear shaped (see how I’m getting into the lingo?) when they get a new boss, D I Joseph Chandler (played by Rupert Penry- Jones). Chandler is a fast-tracker who they think has walked into the job through having the right connections. And is he also very, very posh – a full-on blue blooded toff, even. Invariably, he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team and clashes with Miles more than somewhat.

And things get worse when Chandler calls in a batty Ripperologist, Edward Buchan ( a top turn from the League Of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton) to help in his first high-profile case – a Jack The Ripper copycat.

This Whitechapel first two-parter was great fun- full of Gothic atmosphere, blood and gore, quirkiness, black humour and genuine chills.

The series was a great success and it was deservedly recommissioned. But how do you follow the Ripper story if you want to use the same copycat killer idea again?

That’s right- you bring back The Kray Twins.

1 1 1 1 a a a a aWhitechapel-tvseriesWhitechapel’s second most famous killers come back as ghosts seeking REVENGE and go on the rampage. Or do they?

Not a bad set up, but this story didn’t seem to have the same bite as the Ripper story. And Buchan is not only a Ripperologist but an expert on the Krays? Mmmm …

They also used some weird CGI to make one actor look like both twins. And they got the location of a famous East End boozer wrong! Everyone knows that The Grave Maurice was in Whitechapel Road but they said it was Commercial Road. And the pub that they used as a stand in for the presumably defunct Grave Maurice, looked nothing like it. Still it was enjoyable enough tale, had its tense moments and some nice East End locations and atmosphere.

But where do you go in season three if you want to follow the same formula?

Well, you don’t have any other Whitechapel killers as famous as Jack The Ripper and The Kray Twins, so they did a sensible thing and focused on murders that echoed obscure and less well-known East End killings. And some chillers there were too, including a locked-room-mystery and fun reference to Lon Chaney. Also, this and later seasons were split into three separate two-part stories which worked really well.

So, a cracking fun series with nice chemistry between the cast, funny, quirky moments, suspense and gore, and some smashing, ripping yarns.

And since then? Well we’ve had Luther, Top Boy, Happy Valley and the splendid Scott & Bailey. Also, Howard Linskey’s cracking Geordie gangster novel The Drop is being adapted for television by none other than J J Connolly of Layer Cake fame. And let’s hope we can find a new generation of crime writers to put some more Brit Grit back on the box.

(Bits of this have previously appeared in the Noircon 2014 program, at Sabotage Times and Pulp Metal Magazine)

Short, Sharp Interview: Graham Smith

snatched from homePDB: What’s going on now?

GNS: Caffeine Nights have just released my debut novel Snatched from Home plus a short story collection which allows readers to meet the police team in Snatched from Home. I’m also now able to announce that Snatched is to be made into a stage play and featured as part of the Manchester Arts Fringe.

PDB: How did you research this book?

GNS: I did my research in reverse. Once the first draft was complete, I toured the locations featured and researched other details then fed the information in. Mr Google is my research assistant.

PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?

GNS: It has to be Snatched from Home as I’ve got a real book for sale in my local bookshop. Having said that, its sequel I Know Your Secret will probably eclipse it if accepted for publication.

PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?

GNS: Die Hard / HMS Ulysses / Welcome to the Jungle / Game of Thrones

PDB: Is location important to your writing?

GNS: It’s important to me, but it’s just one of many factors. A great location can’t rescue a poor character or lazy plotting although it can destroy a novel if patently wrong. Every element of writing is crucial and all require careful consideration to make them as good as they can be, lest the story as a whole suffers.

PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?

GNS: Sorry what was the question? I was just checking my Amazon rankings. Joking aside, I check once every day or two.

PDB: What’s next?

GNS: I’m working on my own edits of a new series I’m hoping to have published. It is about nightclub doorman who ends up chasing a seriously twisted serial killer and is set in Utah.

True Brit Grit Guest Blog: It’s a Case of Having Good Genes! By Graham SmithBio: Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last fourteen years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.

An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer and interviewer for the well-respected website Crimesquad.com for over five years.

Snapshots by Paul D. Brazill

True Brit Grit Guest Blog: It’s a Case of Having Good Genes! By Graham SmithIcy laughter melding into screams. Black gaffer tape and a broken Polaroid camera. A smell, like bacon frying. Rusty, brown bloodstains and a worn length of rope. A faded newspaper and a creaking chair. And the sound of something moving in the shadows.

Nick jolted awake, coated in cold, dank sweat. Daylight sliced through the gaps between the broken blinds. A tight band gripped his forehead and his pounding heartbeat seemed to echo through the sparse, anonymous hotel room.

A beat.

He stumbled out of the bed and into the bathroom. His wiry arms gripped the washbasin for support. He sighed deeply as he splashed cold water on his face and stared at the burn scars.

It was time to go home.

***

As he drove from the hotel to Chestnut Road, Nick gripped the steering wheel with clammy hands. His arm pits were wet. His shirt soggy. A sickly smell permeated his pores.

He pulled up outside his semi-detached home and dug into his glove compartment. He pulled out a box of Tic-Tacs and poured them into his mouth.

Crunching the mints, he walked into the kitchen, still shaking. His wife Fran was her usual chirpy self, singing along to the lukewarm music that leaked out of the CD player. She tied back her long blonde hair and checked her make up in the mirror.

“How do I look?” she said.

“You look great. Fresh as a daisy. Mind you, you always do,” he said, hanging up his raincoat.

“Oh, unfortunately, you really look like shit honey bunny,” she said, as she stepped past him into the hall, pinching her nose. “And you don’t smell much better, either.”

Nick forced a grin.

“I hope it was a good night,” yelled Fran. She pulled on a black jacket, picked up her briefcase.

“It was!” he croaked, leaning against the kitchen table.

It was a lie, of course.

He’d told Fran he’d been out with a couple of the lads from work but, in fact, he’d been alone in a hotel room, drinking whisky and mulling over the monkey on his back. Something he couldn’t bring himself to tell her about.

“Bye,” she shouted, and slammed the door.

Nick walked into the living room and slumped into the sofa as spring rain dotted the windows.

He’d have to phone Riley.

***

The rattling ferry cut through the brandy brimmed morning.

Riley leaned against the railings. He downed the last of his Fanta, crushed the can and threw it into the river. He pushed a hairy hand under his AC/DC t-shirt and scratched his beer gut.

“Not affecting your work, though, eh? Business is still good, by the looks of things.”

He nodded toward Nick’s Rolex.

“Fine. It runs itself these days.”

Riley frowned.

“Well, that’s a hell of a dream, I can tell you,” said Riley. “Mine are usually about going back to school dressed in just my underpants.” He snorted.

Nick stared down at the spectres of steam that rose from his coffee.

“So what do you think?” he said.

“What I think,” said Riley. “Is that you’re not playing with a full deck of cards, mate. You been smoking weed again?”

“I know, it sounds mental but it’s been every single night.” He traced the scar on his temple with his fingertips. “Every night since I was shot.”

***

Nick had been starving. The smell of the cheese and onion pie in his hands was making his stomach rumble. He held it close to keep warm. February seemed to be getting colder and colder these days.

He’d had the usual banter with the woman from Palmer’s Bakers, who had tried to convince him to buy a corned beef and potato pie, even though he and Fran were both vegetarians. And now he was rushing down the High Street, on his way to pick up a couple of bottles of Guinness to have with his dinner.

He took out his mobile phone and looked at the time. Half past six. If he got a move on, he’d be back in time for Emmerdale. He picked up his pace as he headed toward Boozebusters. As he opened the door, he heard a scream.

“Fuuuck! Out of the fucking way!”

A man wearing a black balaclava and combat jacket hurtled out of the shop and tumbled into him. They both fell backwards onto the pavement, tangled up together.

Nick saw the revolver, heard a sound. And then the lights went out.

***

“It’s a weird one, innit. I mean, nobody uses a Polaroid camera these days, do they?” said Riley.

Acid burned in Nick’s stomach.

They were walking along what used to be known as Dock Road, when Nick and Riley had worked for Wrightsons, just around the corner. But now it was called Marina Drive. So many things had changed since the gentrification. Memories came flooding back. Not all of them welcome.

“What did the quack say?” said Riley.

They stopped outside The Happy House Fun Pub’s multi-coloured doorway. It was a far cry from the Boilermakers Club that they used to visit every Friday after pay day.

“Oh, he said that having a piece of metal embedded in your brain can cause hallucinations.”

“Well, then…”

“Yeah, but, you know …”

Riley shrugged.

They entered the pub.

“So … what do you think it is then?”

They leaned against the bar. The place was deserted, its gaudy design looking depressing in the cold light of day.

“I think it’s a memory.”

“What sort of a memory?” Riley tried to catch the pasty-faced barmaid’s eye as she painstakingly chalked the day’s menu on a blackboard. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth.

“You know…”

“What?”

“What do you think?”

“Say it!”

“Dalston Road.”

Riley slammed his big fist down on the bar. It echoed around the room. The barmaid jumped and walked over.

“We’re not serving food yet,” she said, flustered.

“I don’t want to eat,” growled Riley. “It’s a pub. Give me a pint of Carling and a half of Guinness.”

Riley turned and glared at Nick.

“I thought we said we’d never mention … that?”

They collected their drinks. Nick handed over a ten pound note and didn’t wait for the change.

They found a table near the window and sat in silence, gazing out at the yuppie flats that stood where the Wrightsons factory used to be.

***

“And they call that a redundancy?” Nick said. He placed a pint of lager in front of Riley and sipped his half of Guinness before putting it on the wobbly Formica table. He sighed as he sat down.

“It’s a bag of shite, is what it is,” said Riley. He picked a cigarette from the side of the ashtray and burnt a hole in the wad of papers in front of him. “I’ve been working at Wrightsons for nigh on ten years.”

Nick looked around the Boilermakers Club. It was full of men drowning their sorrows. There was a portable television at the end of the bar showing some flash new series from America, about vice cops wearing designer clothes and driving flash cars.

“When did you start at Wrightsons, Nick?” said Riley.

“Straight after school. I was sweet sixteen. Same as you.”

Riley gulped his pint.

“It’s bad enough getting laid off but Julie’s up the duff again,” said Riley. “I reckon we’re going to have to do it.”

He finished his lager and went to the bar. Came back with another pint and sat down.

“So, what do you reckon?” he said.

“Sounds a bit iffy,” said Nick, shuffling in his seat. “They’re bound to know it’s us.” He started tearing up a beer mat.

“Nah, me and Julie are moving out of the house next week. Back with her old man. I’ll make a copy of the key before we go. We’ll leave it a month or so. Then we can sneak in during the night.”

“And we can get into every house?”

“Every house on the one side of Dalston Street. I told you. There’s no walls between the attics. We’ll have to be careful walking on those beams, mind you, but we can go from house to house. Sneak down from the attic. Grab a few things and climb back up. Then on to the next house. Most of ‘em living there are old folk. They won’t hear a thing.”

“I feel a bit shit robbing old aged pensioners, though.”

“Dalston Street! They’re all snobs, man. Retired teachers and civil servants and the like. Bet they all voted for that Thatcher who got us in this mess. And that bloke at the end, Old Man Hammonds, he’s a recluse. You know what that means, don’t you?”

“What’s that, then?”

“I bet he’s a pervert. Interferes with the young uns and that.”

“You reckon?”

“Aye. And I heard he’s got a load of cash stashed away there.”

“Yeah?”

Nick finished his Guinness.

“You in, then?”

“Aye,” said Nick. “Alright.”

***

Nick had only drunk a couple of bottles of Guinness, but the room was really spinning. He was trying to concentrate on the X Factor but it was doing no good.

“You shouldn’t drink alcohol when you’re taking medication,” said Fran.

“I know,” said Nick. “But a little un won’t hurt.”

Fran started saying something else but Nick couldn’t hear her. There was a pounding in his head and he could smell something strange. He unsteadily got up from the sofa and staggered towards the bathroom. And collapsed into darkness.

***

“Think you can do what you want, eh? You young uns think you’re kings of the castle, you do,” said Old Man Hammonds. He slammed the hot frying pan against the side of Nick’s face again. Nick screamed and staggered back into a rocking chair.

“Think you can come into my place and take my valuables.”

Nick curled up in the corner of the room.

The place was a mess. All sorts of junk strewn around. Black gaffer tape and a broken Polaroid camera. A worn length of rope. Faded newspapers. An old transistor radio playing some even older comedy show.

Nick had crept down the stairs and almost died when he’d seen Old Man Hammonds in the kitchen making a bacon sandwich. The old man had moved quickly too, slamming the frying pan in Nick’s face, fat flying everywhere. Burning him.

“Think you can just waltz in here …”

Nick felt a chill as he saw Riley moving in the shadows with a hammer. And then the world turned crimson.

***

The handful of black umbrellas looked like bats’ wings, as they fluttered in the wind. Riley had his arm around Fran as they walked out of the cemetery towards her BMW.

“So sudden …so sudden,” she said as she shook hands with the priest.

Father Cook just shrugged his shoulders and patted her on the back of the hand.

“Life is a sweet mystery,” he said.

Riley got behind the steering wheel, getting a taste for driving such a big car. He hadn’t driven for a long time. Hadn’t had a car since his tool hire firm had gone into liquidation. Since Julie had left him. He’d regretted not going into the tiling business with Nick, but, well, someone was going to have to take over the company now. It’d be too much for Fran.

The car cruised slowly into the centre of town. Traffic, as always, was at its worst at this time of day.

“Oh, stop. Stop,” said Fran suddenly. “Pull over here.”

Riley did has he was told and parked beside an old red post box.

“What is it?” he said.

“Just something I promised to do for Nick,” she said, rummaging in her handbag. “Something I have to post in the event of his death.”

She pulled out a large envelope and jumped out of the car. Before Riley could stop her, Fran had popped the letter into the red post box.

“I can’t imagine why Nick would want to write to the local police and newspapers,’ she said, as she got back into the car. “But a promise is a promise.”

The End.

(c) Paul D Brazill