CAR CRASH ON SPEED
RIGHT – it’s time to get the juices flowing. I’ve got a NEW and TRANSFORMED version of my (highly acclaimed, I’m happy to say) thriller Kicking Off going up on Kindle very soon, to replace the version already available for £1.88. It’s the first in a series featuring hard-bitten investigative journalist Andrew Forbes and his much more civilised Scots ‘assistant’ Rosanna Nixon. The second book, The Bonus Boys, will go up soon after the new Kicking Off.
In the meantime, I’ve constructed a hi-speed digest to give you a taster. Read it here, today – and slaver for more (press responses are appended.) And after that, you’ll find a couple of opening chapters for The Bonus Boys. Slightly less bloody that Kicking Off, it’s still quite rare meat. Forbes and Rosanna (known as The Mouse by some misguided people) get very near to death. Rosanna, in fact, actually feels the blade…
I’ll be talking, and inviting questions, about all my books at the Albert Club in West Didsbury on Sunday June 2 as part of their first Book Festival. It’s a brilliant place, with tennis, bowls, snooker, table tennis, music and dancing – and excellent guest beers. Come and goggle at the local writers and enjoy yourself. Here’s the programme…after that, the extracts.
Plus URL for Skinback Books (my imprint) and some of the books.
Wednesday 29th May – 8.00pm
Steve Millward - 1964 - The Year The Swinging Sixties Began
Steve Millward co-wrote the critically-acclaimed From Blues To Rock while teaching music courses at Manchester University. Since then he has contributed to Women In Music Now, Juke Blues and, as jazz correspondent, the Manchester Evening News. His broadcasting experience includes a two-year spell as BBC Radio 5's 'pop pundit'. His latest book, Changing Times: Music And Politics In 1964, was published in February 2013.
Sunday 2nd June – 1.00 – 7.30
Individual timings to be announced
Jan Needle - Thrills and Spills
Jan Needle, who's been a member of the Albert Club for twenty five years, has had more than forty books published (for adults and for children) as well as writing for stage, radio and TV. At the moment his main focus is on thrillers, but he's very good at answering questions about his very varied output - from Brookside and Count Duckula, to books on Bertolt Brecht and Dracula.
Brenda Mallon – The Dream Bible
Brenda Mallon is a psychotherapist/counsellor, a creative writing tutor, workshop leader and an author. She has her own psychotherapy practice in Didsbury, Manchester and writes alongside this work. She was on the Board of Directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) and is the vice chair of Manchester Area bereavement Forum, (The Grief Centre). Her book the Dream Bible is a comprehensive guide packed with insights into the universal symbols and themes that appear in our dreams.
Tim Keogh – Tim Keogh – Stay Away from that Maine Road
Tim Keogh is a French teacher who wrote "Nothing but Blue Skies" to mark his 50th birthday. He wanted to write about his childhood and adolescence growing up in North Manchester in the late 60s and early 70s. A time spent largely following Manchester City around the country. His talk will explore the theme of childhood memories.
Paul King- From plot to plate a recipe for success.
If Paul King is not down the allotment sowing and growing then he’s building stuff from recycled or reclaimed odds and ends. And when not at the plot growing stuff he’s at home writing and tweeting about it! You could say he has 'Lost the Plot' literally! From an overgrown suburban plot to the productive veg beds he has today –Taking on a Plot, the first book in the three-book series, Lost the Plot, is an inspirational guide about a family’s pursuit of fresh, guilt-free, organic fruit and veg.
Peter Labrow - The Joy and Pain of Research
Few writers sit down, start tapping away and never have to verify a single fact. Some writers run from research, some embrace it, others get bogged down in it. Research can inspire a plot but it can also highlight where a plot is broken. There's no single rule for how research should be undertaken, or for when your story has to bow to it - or when to simply ignore it. Peter looks the role research plays with his writing. Peter is a horror writer whose first novel, The Well, was voted the best Halloween Read of 2012 by readers on the Goodreads website - ahead of such classics as Dracula and The Shining. Peter is one of a growing number of independent writers.
C P Lee - Shake, Rattle and Write
CP Lee is a writer, broadcaster, lecturer and performer whose first book was 'Shake, Rattle and Rain - A History of Popular Music Making in Manchester'. He followed this with two books on Bob Dylan, one about Dylan's 1966 concert at Manchester's Free Trade Hall 'Like The Night (Revisited)' and the other about Dylan's film career. An autobiography 'When We Were Thin' was followed by 'The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow', a biography of the Mancunian film director, writer, musician and actor Cliff Twemlow. CP is an adviser, writer and presenter of documentaries for BBC Radio and TV and he also conducts walks and talks on a variety of subjects.
Tuesday 4th June
Time to be announced
Poetry at the Albert
Alicia Stubbersfield is one of the judges for the 2012 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and also co-judges the writing section of The Koestler Trust Arts in Prison prizes for the northern region. She lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University. Her four collections are: The Magician’s Assistant, Unsuitable Shoes, Joking Apart, and The Yellow Table. The Yellow Table casts an alert eye on the lost and the lonely - the crazy boy pianist, the bright boy who became a drug dealer - in poems jewelled with images that surprise. A statue is someone waking from an anaesthetic; grief is a goldfish 'quivering'. She conjures the times with period detail - that yellow Formica table, a red windcheater, the smell of shoe polish; the dispersals of divorce and breakage, then repair.
Ian Pople has had three collections published; The Glass Enclosure, An Occasional Lean-To and Saving Spaces. His latest publication is the pamphlet Songs from Dickens and other poems. Ian Pople's poems are shaped and tested by a crystalline sense of silence that makes his words sing out from the page like bird song. Each poem listens to itself unfold, feeling its way through its song in developments that are at once natural and astonishing.
Edmund Prestwich has published two collections, Through the Window (Rockingham Press, 1997) and Their Mountain Mother (Hearing Eye Press, 2009). Their Mountain Mother is beautiful writing, and it is a grand story with arresting illustrations from Emily Johns. At no point did I doubt the imaginative reality, the absolute commitment of Prestwich to reliving this tale. Most of it is a single long story, set in Southern Africa in the early nineteenth century - the story of a struggle between two different African tribes.
Contacts for Jan, who blogs at http://authorselectric.blogspot.com
He also publishes with McBooks, in America, and Walker Books in Britain and America
A Game of Soldiers Youtube
A Game of Soldiers (novel)
Killing Time at Catterick
Young Adult and children:
Silver and Blood – Return to Treasure Island
My Mate Shofiq
Albeson and the Germans
The Times: ‘Reveals a Britain regressing to the dark days of Dickens.'
Before it became an ebook, film-maker Roger Graef (The Police, Closing Ranks, The Secret Policeman’s Ball) said of this thriller: ‘A compulsive read that feeds your paranoia.’ Convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle (A Sense of Freedom, Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries) said: ‘I found myself being drawn back into that twilight world again, despite myself. I was grossly entertained and thrilled.’ New Statesman: ‘Exposes expediency and self-interest masquerading as government.’ Guardian: Compelling for its vivid, racy narrative…chilling authenticity.
This version hurtles through the novel’s action and its themes. It’s pretty bleak, although some of the most sexual and unpleasant parts have been toned down in this digest to protect the innocent, and features Rosanna Nixon – the Mouse – and Andrew Forbes. It is a prelude to a new, revised, edition, which will be out on Kindle very soon. Then comes the follow-up thriller, The Bonus Boys.
Kicking Off seems quite a simple story, to begin with. A freelance investigator, Forbes is working with a Customs agent on the people behind an international drugs scam. Unfortunately the government does not want them to. The CIA’s involved, and another hush-hush operation, so a special op is set up to prevent them finding out too much.
Forbes lives on a very seedy London street. He is under surveillance by two very seedy agents. He is unaware that he has become a target…
IT ALL STARTS HERE:
Fat Man and Paddy Collins
'What I can't see,' said Paddy Collins, 'is what he gets out of life. I mean, for Christ's sake, a Porsche, in a street like this, I ask you. And it's never moved, in two months to my certain knowledge. What's he got it for?'
The fat man and Paddy Collins had a grievance. The target had a Porsche, they had a Corsair. It was meant to be inconspicuous, but it was old, a ghastly vomit-green, and quite possibly the only Corsair left running in the south of England, perhaps the world. As inconspicuous as a sore green thumb, and they were stuck in it.
The fat man did not reply. The men had been in the street for three hours now. Three hours and seventeen minutes, to be precise. He eased his buttocks on the driver's seat. He sucked his teeth.
'I'm bored,' he said. 'News time.'
Paddy Collins turned the radio on, and they listened in silence for a while. For the third day running the main news was the jail siege, somewhere north of the Border, somewhere where the savages ran around in skirts, and that was just the men. According to the reporter, there was snow on the ground up there. Snow on the ground, and snow on the roof where sixty-seven prisoners were standing, dressed in overalls and blankets. Collins shivered.
'Mad,' he said. 'Fucking insane. They ought to bring back hanging, didn't they, as a human kindness? Or transportation, to a warmer clime. No fucking snow down here.'
But on the roof up there, a young man’s life was just about to end. And when he fell – nobody seemed to notice.
When Rosanna finally went into the back room at Eliot's, an ironic cheer arose. She was known to many of the Glasgow crew as young and inexperienced, with a degree in five eighths of fuck all. She was quiet and a trifle superior, and she had Bleeding Heart written all over her. In her granny coat and boots, her woollen hat pulled down so far it almost touched her dripping nose, she did not even look worth trying to get to bed.
Later, though, when they'd got a few big ones inside them, they were more interested. Which involved mocking her unmercifully, but in a jocular way, about her absurd belief that the Buckie Jail siege mattered, or that anybody really cared.
'Forget it, hen, God's sake!' yelled a man called Angus. 'They bastards up there are just thickarses. The government'll see them freeze or starve to death before they lift a finger. Damn right too.'
'How is it right?' yelled Rosanna. She had to yell because the bar was full, and everyone was drinking whisky in full-throated cry. 'They've been brutalised! Conditions in Buckie are appalling!'
Those near enough to hear her yelped with laughter. There were prison officers in Eliot's now, their shifts at the barricades over. Policemen, too. Many of the journalists were chatting to them, happily, hoping to pick their brains for usable quotes and bankable opinions.
'Tell that crap to the lads!' roared Angus. 'Those bastards on the roof are cavemen! You're wet behind the ears!'
Sandy Hamilton, slightly younger and less drunk, decided it was time to be nice. With four large Grouse inside him, and a pint or two of lager, he felt irresistible. His eyes were wet with lust.
'I'm on your side, darling,’ he shouted. 'The way ah see it—'
He stumbled as he tried to move in on her, and much to Rosanna's astonishment, Angus then became proprietorial, taking her roughly by the upper arm.
'Hey hey there, Sandy,’ he warned. 'I saw her first. Back off.'
Rosanna jerked her arm free, spilling half her whisky. Both men immediately tried to buy another for her, but the Mouse had had enough. As she pushed her way towards the door, she heard her esteemed and valued colleagues talk about her.
‘Aye, Rosanna, Rosanna Nixon. She’s a graduate, know what I mean?’
‘I surely do. Knows fuck all and full of bullshite. She dresses something different, eh?’
‘So she does. She’s called the Mouse. Nice little pair of tits, though.’
‘Aye. And what about the Mouse’s hole? Eh? Eh? Eh?’
To her distress, Rosanna discovered she could see the roof of Buckie Jail from her hotel bedroom. She stood at the window for several hours, on and off, watching the huddled black shapes, picked out sometimes as moonlight slid behind the chimney stacks. The fringes of their kingdom were illuminated constantly, and harshly, by batteries of mobile arc lights.
One of the men she watched, although she did not know it then, was called Jimmy McGregor.
It was Jimmy who got pushed, or fell, or was maybe targetted when the SAS went in. Targetted with a new device, a sort of super-Taser, targetted and – sadly? – killed. The man behind it was a politician, young and upward thrusting. He was aiming for the top. He’d installed himself in a small hotel.
The Buckie Fox
Donald Sinclair was in no way a left-winger, but in this dispute he was seen by some in the government as practically a bleeding heart. His own view was that the trouble could not only spread in Scotland, but might ignite an English powder keg. Sending in the troops was easy, but to split heads, he argued, teach lessons, maybe kill a man or two – would be to court a holocaust.
He also argued that something, somehow, had to change. Successive governments had watched complacently as the inmate-count had climbed inexorably, mouthing such idiocies as ‘prison works’ and applauding major jail terms handed out for jokes on Twitter. It had taken riots, mass unemployment, a generation of the young without a hope in hell, before the Prime Minister (an Eton millionaire, of course) had cried enough. Christ, he might even lose the next election!
Sinclair, when first asked by the Home Secretary to have a try at tackling the problem, had demurred.
'Quite honestly,' he said, 'I'm not sure I'm ready for it, Sir Gerald. It needs a genius.' He paused, then grinned engagingly. 'I'm working on it, though!'
It was a bold joke, and they both laughed. In the event, by the time the Buckie siege blew up nine weeks later, he judged the time was ripe. He had, he told his master, found the answer. The use of force proposed was minimal, with an emphasis on solution rather than on smashing up.
‘Good,’ said Sir Gerald. 'No blacked up faces, then. No SAS. Wonderful.’
'I promise you,' said Donald. ‘Any fool could send the Army in and end the siege in twenty minutes, corpses notwithstanding. My way we’ll see them come down off that roof in good order, no hoods, no ropes, no blood. But what about the Scottish Parliament? The last thing in the world we want to see is men in kilts and bagpipes fucking up.’
They laughed together.
'I’m the Secretary of State,' Sir Gerald said. 'If you succeed, my boy, the sky’s the limit for you. But if you fail…’
He laughed again.
‘Well, put it this way, if you fail, it won’t only be the knives at Holyrood that are going for your jugular. You know how long a PM’s loyalty lasts. So make it good, Donald. Just make it bloody good.’
High level siege
There was no noise, no movement. Even when three more soldiers slipped out onto the roof the prisoners did not retaliate. Major Edwards was wrong-footed. His orders were to immobilise three men in quick succession, then more if necessary. The psychiatrists had been adamant. Morale would be rock bottom. When the first men were hit, the others would be horrified. And immobile.
But they seemed horrified already, already they were motionless. For several seconds he stared at James McGregor, for several seconds there was utter silence.
And then McGregor jumped. But not at Major Edwards, as predicted. With a strangled roar he sprinted to the parapet, tearing at the makeshift balaclava covering his mouth.
He screamed, a violent, tearing bellow, first at the other prisoners, then, leaping onto the low surrounding wall, into the blinding lights below, to the hoped-for TV cameras hidden in the glare, to the outside world.
'Look out down there! Attack! Attack!’ he screamed. ‘It’s the SAS! They’ve—'
But suddenly he crumpled. His knees sagged, and he staggered, one hand reaching for a chimney for support. The jumble of noises on the roof, the beginning of a hubbub from the other prisoners, stopped. A sob of wind buffeted them. McGregor swayed, and almost fell.
'Lights!' hissed Major Edwards, to the operator beside him. 'For God's sake kill the lights!'
As the operator snapped the instruction into his hand-held set, McGregor did fall. He twisted back around to face the roof again, he opened his mouth and slurred the one word, 'Bastards.'
Then he pitched backwards off the parapet without another sound. The silent men heard his body hit the ground, quite clearly.
The world's press did not see it. The TV men and women were all in bed, or bars, in various hotels. Except Rosanna Nixon, who was standing at her window in her dressing gown, and she could not believe her eyes. She watched the man jump high onto the parapet, and wave his arms, and stagger. She saw him reach out sideways, then turn his back to her in silhouette, and topple backwards, not at all dramatically.
Before it truly registered, before she could make sense of it, the scene went black. But the image of the falling man seemed to pulsate, flashing black and white on her retina. Rosanna blinked, and shook her head, and stared. Then she ran for her shoes and coat.
There is a cover up, of course. The government’s first move is to shift the worst troublemakers out of Buckie, to disperse them across the border, to tip them into English jails. But some of them, who know the truth, go to Bowscar. And there lives Jimmy’s elder brother, a truly violent, horrific man. So much so, that he is known as The Animal. Not fondly.
Rosanna suffers from the cover up as well. A news blackout clamps down over Scotland, and her paper is not prepared to break it. In fury and frustration, she follows a lead to London. The only name she knows is Andrew Forbes. She has been warned – he will try to fuck her. But one must suffer for one’s art…
Before she meets him, though, Andrew has troubles of his own. He is visited by a beautiful black American he used to sleep with. But she also goes with violent, ruthless criminals.
London. Forbes and Alice
Inside the scruffy basement kitchen, she looked completely out of place. Her handmade grey kid boots alone were worth more than all the furniture, and the bright colours of her skirt were startling against the backdrop of brown linoleum and sagging yellow paper on the walls. Opposite her, across a table festooned with dirty crockery and a coffee-stained Observer three weeks out of date, Andrew Forbes was more at home. He wore an off-white shirt over crumpled trousers and he had not shaved. He also had a hangover.
‘So that’s it, then?’ he said. ‘You’re going in two minutes, and I still don’t have the foggiest why you came.’
Alice Grogan gazed levelly at him for a few moments before replying.
‘Don’t play stupid, Andrew, it doesn’t suit you. I came because you’re straight. You’re clean. I came back because nobody followed me when I was here last time.’
‘I’m flattered, Alice, but I’m very disappointed, naturally. I thought maybe you’d come back because you couldn’t stay away. You wanted my body. You wanted to share my miserable and lonely life.’
Alice almost smiled.
‘Andrew,’ she said, ‘Yesterday I gave you times and places. I came back with the name. That’s important. You better pass it on.’
‘Charles Lister,’ said Forbes, deliberately. ‘You must hate him, Alice. I wonder what he did to you.’
The chair creaked as Alice Grogan leaned forward. She blew smoke out in a level stream. She looked at him unblinkingly.
‘Pass,’ she said.
‘All right,’ he said. ‘We’ll try the English way. What- ever you think of Charles Lister, what about me? All jokes apart.’
‘All jokes apart,’ she said, ‘you’ve got good contacts. I
needed that. I need it.’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘So it’s as good as done. And what about the… Look, what I’m trying to say is…’
‘Will I screw you?’
Slowly, Alice Grogan reached across and stubbed her cigarette out on a dirty plate. She reached her bag up from the floor, checked the contents, snapped it shut. She stood.
‘All jokes apart,’ she said, ‘you really are quite cute. So that would be a pity, wouldn’t it?’
‘If I screwed you, Andy, you’d be screwed for good. Dead. Charlie Lister’s like that. I’m mortuary meat.’
There was a coldness in her that chilled him. She was comfortless, but she needed comforting. She was unap- proachable, but he wanted to approach.
‘Give me a number,’ he said. ‘No, I know you won’t do that, too dangerous. Let’s meet somewhere, let’s leave it
for a while, see what happens over Lister. This stuff you’ve given me. I mean…’
She turned towards him.
‘I sometimes go to the Shaw Theatre,’ she said. ‘Look- ing at the exhibitions in the entrance hall, you know? Say Friday?’
She moved another two steps upward.
‘Well, maybe Friday, who can tell? Or maybe the Friday after.’
He let her go then. He let her make her own way to the street and slam the door. He lit the gas underneath the saucepan he used as a kettle, and he had a little fantasy about the long legs and the pink inside her mouth.
He had to contact Peter Jackson. Of HM
Revenue and Customs. Today.
Westminster. Donald Sinclair
From late morning onwards, the coverage on radio, TV and then the evening papers became more and more laudatory. In news-rooms all over the kingdom – England and Wales as well as Scotland – a slow news day was gloriously transformed by speculative swoops, background pieces, and in-depth interviews.
At 3.15 Sinclair's political adviser Judith Parker fielded the first query as to his part in the saga, and by 5 pm there were reporters and cameramen waiting hopefully all round the Palace of Westminster to catch a glimpse of him, while others staked out his home in Surrey and the London flat he hardly ever used.
Sinclair, who had spent an hour on the phone to Christian Fortyne, was confident that it was safe to put his head above the parapet, but thought a better tactic was to wait. Tonight they could speculate, tomorrow he could assess how much it would be politic to reveal. In any case, if anything did go wrong, it left another clear day of denial time.
While Judith, a brisk, intelligent woman with ambitions of her own, guarded the phone, Sinclair sat in a deep armchair and dozed. He was awoken early in the evening by a gentle shaking of his arm.
'Sir Gerald Turner,' Judith mouthed, handing him the phone. 'I thought you'd want to speak.'
Sir Gerald was brief, but generous. A brilliant piece of work, he said, which confirmed everything he'd believed about his protégé. Wonderful.
'Thank you,' said Sinclair. 'Thanks indeed. But—'
The Home Secretary interrupted.
'The PM's delighted,' he said. 'Couldn't be more pleased. Between you and me, laddie, it's in the bag. Unofficially, the job is yours. What do you say to that?'
Donald Sinclair – was on his way.
Canal boat. Sarah Williams
It was cold now, alone on Cynthia’s Beam. Sarah Williams was not cold, but she knew that when the stove died down the air would quickly chill. She was up, curled in an Ikea comfy chair, but it was getting very late, and her lover Michael Masters would not come. She knew for certain he would not come tonight, and that was better, somehow, than the normal mistress state – a slave to hope. Tonight there was a party at his house, a huge defiant celebration, before he went to court to be sentenced in the morning. His wife would be the hostess. The lovely Barbara.
Earlier in the evening, Sarah had had a sudden wild desire to go cross country to his house, to walk in through the grand French doors, to gatecrash. That was the wonderful thing about the canal system – the boat was moored in empty, lonely countryside, unfindable, untraceable. But her bike was chained on to the roof, and if fact she could be at Michael’s mansion in less than half an hour.
The urge had been quite strong, but she had been much stronger. Sarah was a good mistress, she knew the rules. She also knew, with certainty, that one day he would come to her, for good, for ever. Hard though it could be sometimes, she could wait.
She found herself smiling now, and she threw on some more coal. Tomorrow he would go to prison, and his reaction was to throw a party. She loved that in him, that defiance, that amazing joy at life. Only six months away, he said, and in an open jail, a sort of holiday camp with all mod cons. She was to keep the boat ready, to chug down through the system to the nearest mooring point to him, because he’d bribe his way out some weekends. Dirty weekends, love weekends, weekends she would almost die for, happily.
To be at the party, in that enormous house, in all that rolling parkland that was his? No. She would rather be here, on this narrowboat, alone and waiting. For the day she’d be on Cynthia’s Beam with him.
It would be the pair of them, for evermore. It was coming soon.
It all went wrong. Not just for Masters, not just for Forbes, not even just Rosanna. Michael Masters was a money man. His contacts spread right up to the top, he knew that his would get six months, the judge himself had told him so in private. So when he found himself sent down for four years in one of the country’s oldest, most appalling jails, he was devastated.
Not as devastated, however, as was Alice Grogan. She missed her date with Forbes, and that was fair enough. But she received another visitor…
Alone in London
Alice was thinking how secure she was when Charles Lister came to call. She had moved apartments yet again, she had teed up Andrew Forbes to keep her hidden, she was safe. The only people who knew where to find her now were—
The window broke with a burst of glass and a splinter- ing crash as the frame was pushed inwards. Alice almost screamed, then gave up. No one would hear her, no one would come. Alice had been around.
She knew it was Charles Lister, although he wore a mask. A balaclava helmet, only more so, with two small eyeholes and a mouth. He looked like a rapist from a nasty magazine. It was Charlie.
‘Hi, Chuck,’ she said. ‘I guess you just dropped by to
She was sitting up in bed, naked, and she got out of it to stand and face him. She was very fine to look at, slim and muscular and full-breasted, with a landing strip Brazilian. She was panting, which added to her beauty.
Maybe it was a rapist, she thought wildly. Please God. Anything, so long it wasn’t Lister.
But the man was not there for sex. He was there to kill. He pushed her violently back against the wall, and slid a long, thin-bladed knife up under her ribcage and deep into her heart. Alice felt it as a red-hot wire, followed by an electric shock. As he stepped backwards she fell onto her knees, then onto her face. She was moaning, gently.
‘Oh Chuck,’ she said. ‘You didn’t have to do that.’ She twitched, one time or two, then was still.
It had all been over in two minutes.
Bowscar. Induction suite
Even with his brain in neutral, Michael Masters could not entirely ignore the processes he went through on arrival at the jail in Staffordshire. It was at once so similar to scenes he'd watched on film and television, and so completely different. The rooms were the same – drab, cream and green, impersonal – but they had a third dimension. As in the cells he'd stayed in overnight, it was mainly to do with smell, and heat. The air was almost palpable, redolent of boiled food and drains, so thick that he could taste it. Masters was not a particularly fastidious man, there was nothing fey or precious in his tastes, but he found himself reluctant to even breathe it deeply. It felt polluted, dangerous.
Then there were the processes. In the armoured prison van, the men who had travelled with him from London had seemed quite normal, unremarkable. Opposite had been a thin, handsome man with two-toned sculptured hair, who was possibly a homosexual. He had a cut lip and a swollen eye, but appeared quite self-contained. Next to Masters was a youth, a black boy of barely twenty. He said nothing throughout the long journey, merely wringing his hands together and staring at the floor. Two men, white and in their forties, had worn suits, another wore a tracksuit bottom and an anorak, and an older man, Irish, had slept noisily for most of the time. When he had awoken, he had demanded to be allowed to piss, then dozed off again. He smelled of drink.
But when they had disgorged, and been lined up to enter the reception suite, these ordinary, common or garden detainees had apparently been transformed, turned into Martians, aliens, creatures from the Black Lagoon. It was a transformation invisible to the naked eye, and certainly unbeknown to them. But the prison officers could see it, and they had become fierce and animated. They had shouted, and cajoled, and pushed.
The apparent homosexual got it worst. Two officers ranged round him, at a distance of four feet, their eyes bulging like a music hall comedian's. They pointed at him, pantomiming shock, while the man stared back at them, disconcerted, beginning to be afraid. Masters watched fascinated. His mind was back in gear, but he could hardly believe the spectacle. It was like a comedy routine, like something from a play about conscription. The RSM's gavotte.
Another suite. Another day
Chuck Lister was the man who had killed Alice, but her death had given other men a bead on him. After the stabbing, he’d shipped out of England briefly to sort out his gigantic deal on the high seas, and Jackson’s Customs crew, aided by Andrew Forbes, had been at Felixstowe to ‘welcome’ his return. But other law enforcers had been present also, with their own hidden agenda. Lister was snatched from underneath their noses. The Customs had been screwed. Before long he was in Bowscar, too. Bemused and in bad company. Very bad company.
When the prison officers had gone, one of the Special Branch men drew a packet of Marlboro from his pocket and offered it. Lister took a cigarette, and the lighter. He inhaled deeply. He gestured round the small, bare room.
‘Is this clean?’
‘It’s a prison, Charlie. Not the fucking Lubyanka. No bugs.’
The American’s eyes were pale blue through the smoke.
‘Then why the fuck,’ he said clearly, ‘am I in it? What the fuck went wrong? And when the fuck do I get out?’
The bigger of the detectives had close-cropped, greying
hair. He took his lighter off the table and fiddled with it.
'Something went wrong,' he said. 'Some politician pulled a stunt, changed the whole scenario overnight. It was a fuck-up. Grade A. Sorry.'
Lister let smoke trickle from his mouth and rise beside his nostrils. Whatever they'd expected, he stayed calm.
'We had a deal. I've got to be out of England by a date. A lot of organisation's gone into this. A lot of love. I've got one whole gigantic stack of bucks riding on this date, and that's only an instalment. When do I get out?'
The spokesman tapped moodily at the formica with the plastic lighter.
'We know who fingered you,' he said. 'His name is Forbes. Andrew Forbes. Some sort of journalist, a writer. He'd…he'd been knocking off that woman. Alice Grogan. They'd been having an affair.'
Behind their still faces, both were suffering. Lister crushed the cigarette out between his thumb and index finger.
'I don't exactly know what you're trying to say to me,' he said. 'But let me tell you something straight. I'm working for an outfit, right? It's an outfit that stretches right across the world. If I don’t get out as per schedule to meet a certain boat, that outfit is going to be gunning for somebody. Not any somebody, right, but you somebody.’
The bigger of the two detectives said quietly: ‘We work
for an outfit too, you know. We’re not a one-man band.’
Lister gave a single shout of laughter. He stood up and gestured at the door.
‘Why don’t you fuck off before I lose my cool? Why don’t you call the Mickey Mouse squad in? I’m fed up of your company.’
‘Andrew Forbes,’ started the smaller one.
‘Is dead,’ said Charlie Lister. He went and hammered on the armoured door. Booted feet approached. ‘I’ll expect a visit soon. Very soon.’
As the door opened, he added: ‘Or Forbes won’t be the only fucking one.’
There were more men needing to get out than Masters and Lister. There were drug barons and terrorists, even a smattering of good honest criminals who had had enough of government hospitality. And they had networks. Some of them needed arms brought in from the outside. Some of them had men who manufactured arms. And smuggled them.
Peter Smith was one – a man from Gorton, Manchester. He made specialist weapons in tiny pieces, and paid sad tarts to bangle them inside. Where? Mouths, vaginas, anuses. The body has so many useful holes. To Peter, the women were dirt. Anonymous. Worthless. And he treated them as such.
Bowscar. After the drop
‘You done it, though? He got the gear?’
She dragged deeply on the cigarette.
‘Don’t shit yourself. It’s thirty quid. I need it, don’t I?’
Smith had his foot hard on the floor. The van’s speed climbed towards twenty-eight. When it got there, he changed up to top.
‘Make it forty if you like,’ he said. ‘You’ve done good.’ The woman was surprised.
‘What? Forty? Just because of that? For doing good?’ Peter Smith showed his teeth. They were yellow.
‘Don’t be stupid, love. My name ain’t Father Christmas. I gets to fuck you, too.’
‘Oh,’ she said.
She wound the window down and threw the fag butt into the road.
‘Forty-five,’ she said.
Visiting. Barbara stands by her man
‘What did you expect?’ Masters asked her. ‘A fucking butler to take your coat? For God’s sake dress the part next time.’
The words went in like knives. Barbara had genuinely been looking forward to seeing him, and had genuinely been overwhelmed by the physical reality.
The visiting hall held thirty prisoners at
a time, counted in like sheep to slaughter. Bored children, after waiting for an hour, became uncontrollable. The toddlers wet themselves, dramatically, on their fathers’ knees. The women were knocked into by flying kids, vomited over by their babies.
With this all round her, Barbara discovered the other great agony of being a visiting wife. For all but a very
few couples, words were too difficult to say. All over the crowded room, men and women were facing each other across bare tables, saying nothing. Small children wound themselves around their fathers’ necks and wondered why they looked so wild and sad. Others, inevitably, mentioned unmentionable names.
Barbara Masters sat staring at her husband, wishing she were dead. And Michael Masters sat staring at her almost sightlessly, wishing she were someone else.
Being rich, and soft, and civilized, Michael Masters was a target in the jail. For the richest sex monsters, and the vilest prison officers, like Chris Abbey, say. Another reason he needed to get out was love. His mistress Sarah was moving up the country in their boat, Cynthia’s Beam. He wanted a telephone, he wanted to be outside of Bowscar. He wanted to be inside of her…
He learned there was a plan afoot, and his cellmate Alan Hughes had a part in it. So Masters was at the epicentre. He was where the thinking happened.
The Brain Cell
‘Alan,’ Masters said, ‘I don’t know you well enough to be certain if you’re joking. But just hypothetically, if I wanted to get Chris Abbey killed, or let’s say smashed about a bit, could I do it? Without taking the blame, naturally.’
Hughes hunched himself forward.
‘Look Mike,’ he said. ‘You can do anything in here when you know the ropes. You can shoot heroin, smoke dope, sniff cocaine. You can buy a gobble from a con any time you like and a prison officer if you pick your man and moment. You can fuck, you can drink, you can watch porn movies till your eyes pop out, you could get Chris Abbey’s best friends to beat him up within a fortnight. Or even Brian Rogers – because you’re stinking rich. But what’s the use?’
He reached out for his makings, his fingers shaking slightly. He sighed.
‘Your power’s outside this nightmare, friend,’ he said. ‘Your power’s in the real world, and that is where you want to be. Don’t do the other shit.’
'So who's Brian Rogers?' Masters asked. 'Should I have heard of him?'
'He's one of the big boys. He runs the place. The unofficial governor.' He chuckled. 'You want a phone, Rogers can get you one, no trouble. Or you could have Chris Abbey, on a plate. Mm. What do you want most – revenge or telephone?'
'I want the telephone,' he said. 'The rest depends. It’s Abbey's smile that interests me. I’d quite like somebody to take it off his face. And tread on it.'
'I think I ought to warn you,' said Alan Hughes. 'About currency. The basic units in this place are sex, drugs, tobacco, money, information, promises. You're a millionaire. If we showed you the ropes you'd have no trouble getting currency. But smiles interest Brian Rogers a lot as well. And bodies. He's not precisely short of cash.'
Indeed, as they were talking, Brian Rogers had just taken delivery of a present. His door had been opened, and it had been pushed inside. The door had been locked, the spyhole closed.
It was Cherry Orchard.
Orchard was the gay man Masters had seen in the Induction Suite – and he would be the first one of the prisoners to die. Brian Rogers liked to fuck people, and control them. His brutalising of Cherry Orchard was a catalyst. A crime of unintended consequences. But it pulled him into the inner circle, too.
Peter Smith the armourer, in the outside world, was also getting deeper into trouble. After one bangling run to the prison, friends came to call. They claimed he’d let them down.
Night visitors. Gorton
The two men were both small and stocky. One, with blond hair, was in his twenties. The other, older man was bald.
They walked before him, into the living room, and warmed themselves in front of the gas fire. The blond man went to the back window, which overlooked a garden,
then over the backs of other houses. He pulled the curtains closed.
‘Want a drink?’ asked Peter Smith. ‘I’ve got one some-where myself. It’s Scotch. Want some?’
The blond man was looking round the room. The televi- sion was still on, quite loud. He went and stood beside it.
The other man said: ‘So what went wrong?’
Peter Smith, by the bottle cupboard, turned, startled.
‘Nothing!’ he said. ‘It all went perfect. She done the job.’
‘Aye,’ said the man. ‘We watched.’
‘So what’s up then? Here – you’re not trying to get out of that last grand are you? Fucking hell.’
The man reached into his jacket contemptuously. He withdrew a brown envelope and tossed it onto the sofa.
‘She opened up her fucking mouth, din’t she?’ he said.
‘She was in a pub in Levenshulme, wa’n’t she? Clacking on. She got pissed and fucking maudlin, didn’t she? Said you made her smuggle stuff, and then you fucked her. Said you were a bastard, said her old man’d kill you when he comes out of the Scar, you’re a bastard.’
‘But I didn’t fuck her! What, that fat tart? I didn’t fuck her!’
‘Not the fat one, cunt. The thin one. Tony Geraghty’s tart. She’s put it all over, an’t she? Every bastard knows about it.’
Peter Smith found himself a tumbler and poured whisky into it. He had gone white.
‘Oh Jesus Christ,’ he said. ‘Not about the gun? She didn’t know it was a gun. I never told her nothing.’
The young man spoke from beside the television. His voice was very light.
‘Fair play,’ he said. ‘We don’t know if she said it were a
gun. Fair play.’
Smith had an overwhelming surge of relief. He took a mouthful of neat whisky, gratefully, and coughed.
‘It’s not my fault,’ he wheezed. ‘I made the fucking gun, that’s all. I arranged to get it in. I did everything. It’s not my fault if some moronic tart... I’m not responsible for that.’
They waited patiently until he got his breath back. He was still very pale. The older man said quietly: ‘You’re re-sponsible for everything, Peter. That’s the deal. This woman could have caused a lot of trouble. People are upset.’
‘Yeah,’ said Peter Smith. His eyes moved to the fat envelope. ‘I can accept that. I’m sorry, honestly. What are you going to do to her? Do I have to buy her off?’
‘No need for that,’ said the bald man. ‘She’s dead. We’ve got her body in the car. We want you to look after her.’
‘Is this a joke?’
The young man said: ‘No joke, Peter. You’ve got your little cellar, haven’t you? You’ve told us lots of times. Your security is excellent. Brilliant. Nobody ever calls. Not even the milkman or a paperboy.’
The older said: ‘That’s why we chose you, Peter. For the job. That and the fact that you’re the best. The only problem is, that you’re going to have to join her, mate. Sorry.’
He stared like a mesmerised rabbit as the older man withdrew a pistol from his belt. It had a silencer that he recognised. He had made it.
‘I won’t tell anyone,’ he said. His voice was just a croak.
‘You might need me again, you know. I’m the best.’ The bald man smiled, regretfully.
‘You are,’ he said. ‘A genius. You just shouldn’t have blown the cover, should you? And for a bit of skinny little cunt.’
Peter Smith’s head was rising. His neck was stretching. His eyes were opening wide. He was about to start to scream. The younger man, bending swiftly, turned the TV volume up, loud, to cover the two shots. Then down again and off. It sounded as if someone had accidentally turned the knob the wrong way. Drunk, no doubt. Peter Smith, once drunk this night, now dead, had jacknifed to the floor. The blond man checked his pulse.
‘He’s only twenty-nine,’ he said. ‘Tragic, in’t it? And what an armourer. A magician.’
‘Good time to go, though,’ said the older man. He opened the cellar door, so that they could push him down the stairs. ‘I mean, he would have had an awful bloody hangover!’
The Flying Fuck Club. Sinclair, Judith
Fucking on a short-haul jet plane, like the problems of running a high-risk love affair, had never given Judith Parker much pause for thought. At twenty-six, she was very pleased at the way her career in government was shaping up, and saw Donald Sinclair as a useful stepping stone. She had taken the not abnormal route to rightish orthodoxy by a basic grounding in left-wing student activism, which had given her both a taste for power and an awareness of the debilitating effects of believing in things too much.
She had graduated brilliantly – to the amazement of friends who thought she’d been much too busy with the important things to do any work – then shocked them even more by walking into a House of Commons job, at the heart of the system she despised. Judith argued she was acting as a sleeper, but did not keep up that pretence for long. She decided early on the Palace of Westminster was a gigantic rest-home for several hundred men with massive egos and tiny intellects, or perhaps a kind of whorehouse where drunken oafs debauched ambitious interns while their wives and children suffered back at home.
Judith still believed in politics, however – and loved the sex thing. It seemed wholly fitting to her that she should be able to locate and target some suitable male, and hitch her star to him. It was a bonus that Sinclair's lust for power gave her a lust for him.
As they sucked and licked and fingered in the first class lavatory on the Boeing, they indulged as usual in the dirty talk – politics – that was their ultimate stimulation. They had gone to America to research US jails – and found them bizarre, unreal, absurdist – and appallingly exciting.
'It's the money I can't get over,' said Sinclair. 'The cash they're pouring in. Imagine a system where the prisoners can sue you! We'd be bankrupt in two months! Oh Christ, yes, put your teeth on there. Harder. Oh yes, oh wonderful!'
'And the cells,' said Judith, when she had slipped on to another spot. 'Sorry to talk with my mouth full, but you've got to admit it, some of them aren’t half as bad as hotels we’ve been in.'
Donald removed a nipple from his mouth to laugh.
'It's a good example of the lunacy, isn't it?' he said. 'They've poured cash in, they've built hundreds of new jails, and the crime rate's rocketing. What's more, they admit it! Rum.'
'We can’t, though. I mean, one word and Bowscar could go off like a bomb. A bit like me. Now. Donald, it must be very hard!'
'Bad jokes as well, eh?’ he teased. Sometimes, he thought, sex with Judith was like his job. A means to an end, pleasurable, necessary, but unimportant. Sex without love. Politics. The idea pleased him.
'That’s why Gerald selected me, for the hardness,' he said. 'He’s got liberality round his neck like an albatross. It suits him to be seen that way, but it makes it difficult to sort the prisons out for good and all. I’m going to stick an A-bomb up their arse.'
No words for many seconds, then, and Judith dabbed her pubis delicately before she slipped her pants on fully. She flicked his folded penis clear, and zipped it briskly up.
'And then you’ll stab him in the back,' she laughed. 'Only joking, darling. Obviously.'
'Yes,' he said. 'Shall we have champagne? The Mile High Marathon always makes me thirsty. And we’ve got two more prisons when we land…'
The Brain Cell. New men on the team
‘Without no guns,’ said Brian Rogers, ‘we’ve got much less control, that’s all I’m worried about. I mean, knives, razors, knuckles – they’re all right, but there’s too many of them for comfort, isn’t there? I mean, we’ll get tooled up from now on, we’ll start to organise some blades, but you never know who else is going tooled. There’s some dirty bastards in this place, and I don’t just mean the screws. What a tragedy, eh? All the other cunts escape, and we end up fucking slaughtered. Charlie, you know guns. You’d rather have one, wouldn’t you?’
Charles Lister reached downwards and tucked two fingers underneath his trouser leg. When he straightened, a thin and wicked piece of steel glittered in his hand. One end was buried in a cork.
‘My mama told me never walk naked in the big bad world,’ he said. ‘Sure I’d like a gun. But I can kill you with this if I need to. Or my fingers. I only tell you this, friends, in case there comes a time... But we’re all buddies, OK? Alan, Michael, Matthew?’
‘I ain’t got nothing,’ said Matthew Jerrold. ‘My mummy told me the opposite to yours, Charlie. She say ask a police- man. And look where that got me!’
He smiled, but he knew that something big and terrible was about to happen.
They were riding on a tiger. And there was no way out.
They needed guns, and guns were hard to smuggle in. Not very hard, and Masters knew the softest way. Cynthia’s Beam was not far from his home now, his mistress had keys and secret access, and men could meet her in the woods outside – God bless the mobile phone! Like Sinclair’s Barbara, Sarah felt she had no option.
Stand by your man – Mark Two
Sarah waited, frightened by the harshness of her breathing. After half a minute the man got back into the car and roared off into the night. Sarah went quickly to hers and got inside and locked the doors.
So now she knew. She’d given in to all the crap he’d asked of her. You fucking shit, she thought, I fucking, fucking hate you. Her hands were shaking so badly that she started off in third, then could not get a better gear. She stalled the engine, and restarted it. She crunched it into bottom, and began to cry. She had never been so devastatingly alone.
After a mile or two she had to stop the car and give way properly to her tears. She switched the lights and engine off and held onto the wheel and sobbed and shuddered until
she was exhausted. Then, calm, she blew her nose, and dried her puffed up eyes, and her cheeks, and her hands,
and the steering wheel. She went round the inside of the car with a wad of Kleenex, to clear the condensation from the windows. She put her seat belt back on, and she prepared to drive.
So now she knew. Like all the other stupid, tragic
women, she would do anything for him. As she drove along, she began to cry again. But gently.
Revenge plans. Hughes and The Animal
‘What are you in for, Alan?’ McGregor asked Hughes at one point. ‘They say you killed two women. Two wives. Is that
They were leaning on the rail around their balcony. Below them, through the netting, they could see other men, leaning, talking, walking.
‘It’s what I was convicted of,’ said Hughes. ‘There was only one body, though. The second wife. She fell downstairs and broke her neck. The first one was never found. She disappeared.’
‘So did you kill them? They’re all fucking bitches, women. I’d’ve topped my wife if I’d ever married her. She fucked off.’
‘The judge was a fan of Oscar Wilde, I think. To lose one wife could be classed as misfortune or whatever the old bore said. To lose two sounded like carelessness. He took a very dim view of it.’
‘So you could kill him, couldn’t you?’ said the Animal. ‘We could go together. We could hunt the bastards down and slaughter them. First Mr Justice Whatsisface, for my satisfaction, then your man, for being such a smartarse. Think about it.’
He was back to his obsession.
After Cherry Orchard died, there had been a mini riot in the jail, defused by the governor, a clever and humane man called Pendlebury. At the Home Office the implications were discussed, but – in the way of governments – few people chose to take his warnings very seriously. Rumours, they said, just rumours and bravado… And Pendlebury was a raving liberal.
He was, perhaps. But much more was going on below the surface than even he had dreamed about. Factions were building. Brutal alliances were being formed. And concrete plans for when it all went up.
Most seriously, things were moving on outside, as well. Big things.
The American associates of Charles Lister arrived in England on three separate days and by four separate points of entry, having fed false information to the corrupt Dutch Customs officer to make sure their tracks were covered. They were two white men, Pete Delano and Al Pruchak, one black man, Sidney Gibbin, and a white woman, Syvil Hollis.
Delano, who had done the hard work on the ground in Holland and Belgium, had brought five guns across, and innumerable documents. They had airline tickets, false ID, passports in various names and nations. The next task was to get some cars, go to Staffordshire, suss the prison out.
Three days after Sarah Williams had thrust Masters’ bag of pistols through the car window in the country wood, another interview had taken place in Bowscar Prison between Charles Lister and two bulky, quiet men who were accredited as Special Branch. Despite their pleas for caution, Chuck had thrust the four pistols contemptuously down the front of his trousers, the cold barrel of the long Ruger hard against his pubic bone. The belly of his shirt camouflaged the butts, and he carried a jumper, which hid the ammunition.
The hardware had arrived.
Home Office. Sinclair and Sir Gerald
‘And if you’re wrong about Pendlebury’s ideas?’ asked Sinclair. ‘What then?’
‘The man’s a fool, a panic-artist,’ replied Sir Gerald. ‘And thanks to you, we’ve had a dummy run at Buckie, anyway. We’d give fair warning, then go in hard. We’d give them bloody noses and we’d show them where the power lies. Good.’
‘Good,’ Sinclair repeated. ‘Except, sir, I don’t think bloody noses would be in it. I think it would be terrible. I think there could be deaths. At the very least it would prob-ably mean losing the building. They’d raze it to the ground.’
‘So be it,’ said Turner said. He was mocking, there was laughter clearly in his eyes. ‘As you know, I think you are over-reacting, but if we have to lose a building, if it proves absolutely necessary, is that so bad a thing? We sacrifice a prison, but the effect is salutary. A few million spent, a few lives lost – catharsis!’
‘It will be more than just a sacrifice,’ said Sinclair. ‘It will be a bloodbath, an appalling horror. If it spills outside the confines of the prison, if—’
‘It won’t,’ Sir Gerald interrupted. He stood. The inter- view was over. ‘It won’t be allowed to happen. I’ve had a statement drafted, which you can look at if you like. You may tinker with the phraseology, naturally, but the senti- ments will remain intact.’
He snapped his fingers, and an aide produced a sheet of
paper. The die was cast.
London. Forbes and Rosanna
Rosanna Nixon, once she had committed herself to Andrew Forbes, did it with whole heart. She had not made love properly for several years, and she had told herself she did not miss it. After three days with Forbes, she revised that slightly: she didn’t know what she’d been missing.
On the morning after they first slept together, Forbes had brought her a mug of – milkless – coffee in bed, and made a tent of the duvet for them to drink it under. It was, he said, so that they could talk without the boys listening in, and that may well have been true. It also gave them the opportunity, in the light-spill as they moved, to study each
‘You look to me,’ he said, lifting the covers slightly and angling his head, ‘to be a skinny sort of piece. Under eight stone did you say? Your mammy would reckon you weren’t getting enough haggis and neaps. If your mammy could see you now.’
‘You’re quite fat,’ she said. ‘I’m not surprised, all the beer you drink. But you’re rather revolting, if this is honesty time. You ought to keep your mouth shut, in case I change my mind. Come to my senses.’
Resting on one elbow, his coffee mug on the mattress in his hand, Andrew reached across and took her nipple between his finger and his thumb. He stroked the thumbnail
‘You’ve got quite hairy nipples,’ he said. ‘Is that a sign of something? Your tits aren’t very big.’
‘They’re not hairy! There’s two hairs out of that one, and three out of that. It’s not my nipples, anyway. It’s the areolae.’
‘Christ,’ said Andrew. ‘Sorry I spoke. I like them, anyway. Lie down.’
‘I’m finishing my coffee. Lie down yourself and have a
fantasy. Andrew. Stop it.’
Shifting her mug from one hand to the other, Rosanna rolled onto her face, propping on her elbows, slopping coffee.
‘I’ve spilt my coffee.’
‘No, I meant why stop it? I’m not doing anything.’ Andrew sat up, and threw the rest of his mug down his
throat. His action had uncovered Rosanna, face downwards, naked. He put his mug down and put his right hand on her bottom.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Rosanna. ‘It’s my upbringing, maybe. The religion. I’m not much good at this sort of thing, I never was. Sorry.’
Andrew turned to her, and put her mug down on the floor. He turned her over onto her back, half-covering her with the duvet. Rosanna put her palms under the back of her head, eyes closed. Outside there was birdsong, and early
traffic. He studied her. Her armpits were unshaven.
‘You’re very tiny,’ he said. ‘But you don’t look like a girl, at all. You could eat your dinner off your stomach. How are you on coming? Orgasms? Being religious and all that.’
The flat white stomach convulsed twice, smoothly, as she laughed. She kept her eyes closed, and Andrew noticed that she coloured slightly.
‘Being religious,’ she replied. ‘I’ve never had one. I’ve only had one lover, as you know. An Irish Catholic. I’m lucky I’m not still a virgin.’
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she drew her heels to- wards her, and moved her knees apart. Her thighs were very slim. Equally imperceptibly, Andrew moved his finger into the wider cleft.
‘You’ve got the longest hair I’ve ever seen,’ he said.
‘It’s very lovely. It’s straight, and it’s glossy. Most unusual. Most cunt hair’s curly. And short.’ He gave a little laugh. ‘Hence the name.’
He tugged it, very softly, and Rosanna had a thrill of shocking, lovely, pain. Her thighs were wide apart now, and Andrew’s lips were touching the topmost hair. She could feel his breath on her thigh, and she heard him breathing deeply. Her labia, opened with his fingers, glistened. Slowly, Rosanna lay down on her back once more. One hand she laid across his head, and ear.
‘Your clitoris is very sweet,’ he said. ‘It’s very small and pink. What’s wrong with your thigh? Why are you moving it?’
She did not know what Andrew was doing with her now, or with what. She knew nothing, except that her thighs were strained outwards, and her stomach and back were arched, pushing, pushing. There was a feeling of heat, of electricity, a sudden, spreading shock. Sudden but slow. Then a won- derful, extraordinary, release of energy, that she could not stop. She twisted, joyfully, like an animal, throwing one leg over the other and rolling right across the bed and Andrew, almost pulling off his ears. She ended up on her back again, lying on the bare board floor, legs stretched across the mat- tress, open. Her eyes were open, too, and she was laughing.
‘Christ,’ she said, ‘I’ve done it. You’ve done it! Andrew! Oh Jesus.’
Andrew covered her body, and her mouth, and every- thing, with his, and came into her. They were lovers.
The Brain Cell. Divvy-up
Lister slipped out the Ruger. It was tight against his belt.
‘It’s still warm from rubbing on my pecker.’ He kissed the muzzle, theatrically. ‘I’ve gotten used to it. Fine by me, an automatic.’
Brian Rogers pushed the .25 across the table towards Masters, using the business end of the .38 Smith and Wesson. His eyes were full of some obscure pleasure.
‘Tart’s gun,’ he said. ‘It wouldn’t stop a Pekinese. So how do you feel about that, Mikey? You can tuck it in your bodice in case someone makes a pass at you.’
Lister said: ‘It’s not a bad little gun, Mike. Close range. Don’t let him put you on.’
‘I won’t.’ He turned to Rogers. ‘Close-range,’ he said, ‘it would turn a scrotum into mist. Think about it, Brian.’
He said nothing more, because his mind was full of disaster and mortality. Terrible things were going to happen, and he’d be at the heart of them. He pictured Cynthia’s Beam, lying easy, moored at the towpath near a lovely pub perhaps.
He wanted now to get to Sarah, and hide, and hold her and be held. To make a new life, to forget the people who had ruined him. For the moment, that would be enough. And more. Fuck the guilty ones, the great betrayers, let it be.
Let it be. He would go out with the others, but not for mayhem and destruction. He would get out and see his Sarah, and love would triumph after all. He would be with her always, he would marry her, they would have children.
It would be wonderful. It would.
The balloon goes up
In the doorway of the cell a screw appeared, white-faced and agonised, one arm pushed and twisted up his back. And Brian Rogers shouted: ‘Charlie! They’re on their way! Do it, Charlie!’
God knows what was in Rogers’ mind, but Charlie did
it. An appalling, bubbling scream broke from the officer’s face, an
Comedy and crime...
Have you ever featured in an advent calendar? I have! A couple of days ago I got an email from novelist Barry Hutchison which contained a link to his website Christmas special. This was how he introduced it:
WAGSTAFFE THE WIND-UP BOY by Jan Needle was one of those books that really had an impact on me when I first read it. I discovered the book when I was nine years old. This was the same year I decided I wanted to be an author, and I honestly think the two things are directly connected.
To nine-year-old me, this story of a robotic boy who can pee through his finger was just the bee's knees. I borrowed it from the library during a visit with my class, and every week one or two of us would be chosen to stand up and talk about the book they had taken home that week.
Being a shy, retiring sort (I was, honest!) I always avoided teacherly eye contact at that point, terrified of being chosen to go up and talk in front of the class. The week I borrowed this book, I volunteered to speak. I was so bursting with excitement about the story that I wanted to share it with everyone in the class. And now I'm sharing it with you, too.
Darker than Dahl, but side-splittingly funny, there's a lot in this little book to appeal to all ages. Buy it, read it, and then stand up and tell the world how much fun the story is. You can also find out a lot more info on it at the author's website.
Don't forget - on Christmas Eve I'll be sending out a free 13th Horseman Christmas story to all my newsletter subscribers. Want to get your hands on it? Sign up below.
Barry's website describes him as the 'King of Apocalyptic Comedy. Allegedly.' It's a good site, with a newsletter (I've signed up to) and I'll be trying out his books asap. 'Darkly funny horror' appears to be his bag. Suits me. The link to the site, and advent calendar, is http://www.barryhutchison.com/2012/12/book-advent-calendar-day-6/ There are more words about Waggie, and a picture of Roy Bentley's terrific cover.
TALKING OF DARKLY FUNNY HORROR STORIES, I'm happy to say the legal department of Amazon has binned one of the more unpleasant pseudo reviews of Killing Time at Catterick (see post below this one). It's libellous, dishonest, not far off illiterate, and orchestrated by ARRSE, the unofficial Army website. Pity really. I'd have expected more from the average soldier.
One last thing, for crime lovers. Check this out:
First-of-its kind multimedia tablet magazine for mystery, thriller & true crime genres in all mediums. *launches 12.15.12 Read more here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2020491455/noir-magazine …
Los Angeles · noirmagazine.com
C'est la guerre
I hoped the life of an author would be an interesting one when I sort of gave up on my schooling and spent all my days dreaming and scribbling. Now the intrepid squaddies who make up the literary critic wing of ARRSE, the unofficial website of the British Army, are making it all seem worthwhile by trying to bankrupt me.
It started earlier this month when the denizens of ARRSE (Arsenicks? Arseholes?) decided to turn their critical attention to my book Killing Time at Catterick. Now it’s not an easy book, I will admit, and certainly not a pleasant one. I wrote it after being approached by some ex-soldiers to put down their story, warts and all. Not ideal soldiers, by any means, and all of them left not too long after finishing their training. They had all loved some of it, hated some of it, and been absolutely convinced they had been conned into joining in the first place.
I’m friends with all three of them still, and they haven’t changed their opinion. They are particularly amused, in a cynical way, at the latest government idea to axe many thousand squaddies and replace them with part-timers. Sort of underpaid and over there. It will save money, certainly. Can you think of any other benefits? Answers on a postcard to a Mr Hammond at the Ministry of Defence, please.
After a time, the book went up on Amazon, as a Kindle. I only charge £1.87 for it, and any profits that might accrue go to the squaddies. It was also serialized, for free, by openDemocracy, under the title The Skinback Fusiliers, by Unknown Soldier. OpenDemocracy was bad enough – a trendy leftie organization, the soldiers seemed to insist, and it wasn’t helped by several mentions in the Guardian as well. Bloody hell – a communist rag if ever there was one!
Then, a few weeks ago, the ‘book club’ in ARRSE decided to try and have a concentrated go at it. A review appeared out of nowhere by someone who called himself Abner Brown. Not a fan, I think. He wrote:
I managed to read the first few paragraphs and skimmed through a few more. It was an effort. Off the top of my head I can't think of anything I have read that is so badly written and poorly researched. In fairness, I remember a lot of drunken thuggery, overt racism, drug abuse and random criminality in the army. Some of the line regiments that recruited from the urban badlands in the late 80s and early 90s had real problems. I knew soldiers who did go 'paki bashing' and 'grad bashing' and 'queer bashing'. They were living in their own little Clockwork Orange world, and either grew out of it or were kicked out of the army. A lot of the really serious violence was soldier on soldier and didn't involve civilians. Anybody who served in a line regiment at that time probably has a few horror stories about the exploits of drunken thugs.
I really doubt if there is open racism in the army today - it just doesn't ring true. I also suspect that with better retention and 100% recruiting, the army can be a lot more choosy about who it employs. That said, there was a fool of a Scots Guardsman in the papers recently who sounded like a character in the Skinback Fusiliers.
My main problem with this book (apart from the fact that it is appallingly written and woefully tedious) is that the characters don't remind me of any squaddy I ever met. A good book on the subject will take you right back to the barracks - fucking hell that's _____ or, that's just like the bar at ______.....The Skinback Fusiliers didn't succeed in capturing any of the barracks or NAAFI atmosphere, and the soldiers behaviour, dialogue and attitudes are entirely unconvincing. The author comes across as a naive Meeja Studies undergraduate with a SWP membership card in his pocket. The 'novel' (or what I read of it) is crass and boring. His research probably consisted of buying drinks for a few lads who PVRd from Catterick and searching the archives of Guardian Online.
Fair enough, I suppose, although he did seem a bit confused – complaining about the things I wrote about then saying they did happen, of course, but maybe not so bad. And also admitting that he’d hardly read the book. But the site moderator (I assume), saw no such flaws. Abner’s review, in fact, was a beacon and a rallying call. He commented:
Outstanding review Abner I agree entirely. Would you do me a favour and pop along to Amazon and post your views?….I would urge others to go on Amazon and review this rather nasty anti-soldier book…. Please leave polite reviews and lets not treat Jan Needle with the same vitriol he reserves for us. He deserves to have his trash called trash, but as with Open Democracy we can be sure liberal Guardianistas will regard his drivel as gospel. I would urge all ARRSERS to go on Amazon and say exactly how representative of army life they believe Needle's fiction to be.
Well, red rag to a bull. Never mind the quality, feel the width. Despite at least one half-decent earlier review on the ARRSE site itself, the lads rushed to Amazon and posted their (polite, non-vitriolic) pieces. Comments ranged from ‘so badly written’ the writer didn’t finish chapter three, to the suggestion (actually a libel) that the fact the book was nominated for the Orwell Prize was a downright lie because it didn’t make it to the short list. Although there are several other five star reviews already, its rating dropped to three. Job done.
Does it matter? I guess in the scheme of things, not at all. The soldiers think I’m anti them because I say things that I’m told by serving soldiers are true, and we all know how hard it is to be criticized. I’m not anti soldier at all, I’m anti the way we treat them and force/expect them to treat others. Sadly, it’s not just Abner’s one fool of a Scots Guardsman, is it? Five Marines are facing trial on murder charges at the moment, and the stories about squaddies and brutalised civilian detainees, from Baha Mousa onwards, are straining ever more powerfully at the restraints imposed by the Government. Soldiers are banned from certain towns in Cyprus, and the horrible scandal of unexplained deaths among recruits at Deep Cut almost certainly has not run its course.
The level of rape and sexual assault is little short of horrifying. too. According to the Guardian, one rape or sexual assault is reported by a member of the armed forces every week, and in two and a half years there have been 53 reported rapes and 86 reported sex assaults in the three forces. Only 16 of 56 men court martialed were convicted. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2012/oct/29/rape-military-shocking-truth
And what of drunks in streets? What of the homeless? The proportion of ex-servicemen among them is scandalous. Private Eye reported recently that 67 per cent of servicemen drink to ‘hazardous’ levels, and 13 per cent have ‘serious alcohol misuse problems.’ But don’t take their word for it, read Mark Frankland’s amazing book Afterwards – also based on the words of real soldiers, but much more directly than my volume – which I reviewed in IEBR. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#label/cally+white/13a68ce4ea9e04bf If ARRSE ever gets hold of this one, God knows what they’ll write. It’s extraordinary.
One good footnote. The ARRSERS got it down to two stars with their campaign, but it’s crept its way up to three again. It started at five. If the ARRSERS read this, I guess it’ll plunge again…c’est a guerre!
HANG A HOODIE
My monthly blog for Authors Electric (http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk/)linked the problems of writing big violent thrillers with the problems of living in a big violent age. My starting point was Chris Grayling and Theresa May jumping on the traditional Tory law'n'order bandwagon at the annual conference. Their wonderfully quaint idea of solving Britain's crime problems is to allow householders to visit disproportionate violence on anyone who breaks (or even wanders) into their house, coupled with the idea that anyone transgressed against can choose the punishment to be visited on the perp. Neat, eh? Bloodbath follows...
It did spark a lively debate on the blogspot, though, which ranged through the problems of Amazon star ratings among other things. My book Killing Time at Catterick is coming under pretty sustained attack from people who don't think anyone should criticise 'our boys' with a series of fairly sub-literate comments, which have brought the overall ratings down with a bang.
Among the 'reverse comments' was this from John A.A.Logan, author of The Survival of Thomas Ford a dark, bleak and compulsive 'noir' thriller set in Scotland. He wrote:
I've seen the barrage on Amazon for Killing Time at Catterick.
I think it's just the same controversy you've faced down before. The group who disagree strongly with the book have found it first.
That powerful reaction is a sign that the book is strong medicine.
I know you just found out about the barrage this week too, and it will have been a shock.
But give this a month, or a year, time for others to find the book?
It could end up being a very interesting Amazon page indeed, as this almost "taboo" subject (especially in a time of active military deployment) is debated perhaps.
And you, after all, are still Jan-No-Stranger-To-Controversy-Needle!
You must expect these adventures...
The point about active military deployment is particularly poignant in a week when another five British servicemen have been accused of murder. But as I responded to Mr Logan:
Well, I knew I was cruising for a bruising with that one [Killing Time at Catterick]. Even my main source made me promise I'd never reveal his name in case any of his former comrades wanted to engage in literary discussions about it! And the reaction on the 'squaddies website' AARSE when it was originally serialised on OpenDemocracy (and in the comments section after every episode) was amazing. Paintstripper with added nitric acid.
The Kindle star system is a bit painful sometimes, though, because the sound of axes being ground is probably invisible to people looking for a book to read. (Do I mean inaudible? Discuss.)
Another of my books has also suffered recently from negative reviews on Kindle, with a three star and a two star review offsetting the five star it got at first. Then, yesterday, this appeared, to lift my self confidence back off the floor:
By Neil Sydenham
Amazon Verified Purchase
When trying to evaluate a book, I'm not sure that's it's a very good approach to criticise it for not being what it doesn't set out to be. Nor does it help much to draw distinctions of value between prequels, sequels and re-presentations set in another century and in another society. Andrew Motion's sequel to Treasure Island does not compete with Silver and Blood: it is a different sort of book for a different purpose. In the same way William Horwood's sequel to Wind in the Willows is utterly different from and doesn't compete with Jan Needle's Wild Wood, his brilliantly retold and wickedly funny version of The Wind in the Willows from the Weasels' point of view, which also involves a searing comment on Edwardian society and thus, inevitably, our own. Stevenson was writing an adventure story for boys. That it has so many depths and insights, such ambiguous characters, such profound questions of conduct and morality is because he was a great writer and simply could not write at one level only. Such books have to be revisited. Needle has recreated Silver in all his doubtful glory and heightened both his evil and his saving magnanimity and that to me is a wonderful thing. He's seen and dramatised the grasping greed and hypocrisy of Livesey and Trelawney in a way which Victorian social restraints prevented Stevenson from doing, though he understands them perfectly well, and that's a perceptive comment in an age when at last such revelations about the ruling classes are possible. He's turned Jim from being a surprised, wide-eyed pawn in the game into a cynical, observant modern teenager. He's taken violence away from the romanticism of chasing up the ratlines with cutlasses drawn and turned it into the sordid business of AK7s and death both indiscriminate and bloody. In short, Needle has written a book for our times, a new and realistic look at a great classic, a comment on a whole genre and also a book with all the narrative drive of the great RLS himself.
That reviewer gave it five stars, and also mentioned my not dissimilarly inspired version of the Wind in the Willows, Wild Wood, which I hope to get up on Amazon before too much longer. But I’ll quote the two-star review as well:
By Mr. C. R. Simmonds
Amazon Verified Purchase
A bit of a pastiche on the original "Treasure Island" - this book lacked "bite" and had a rather feeble ending as if the author had grown tired of the theme. Go back and read the original if you want action, suspense and excitement! This book spoils the original dream......
It’s easy to see where this is coming from, and I sympathise with it, as well. Some people just can’t bear to see their favourite classics messed about with. But in my defence I was only using Treasure Island as an inspiration (I think it’s possibly the best novel ever written). Stevenson knew damn well that he was writing about a moral cesspit, but the book has come down as a children’s classic.
A classic it truly is, and by all means reread the original - I often do. But think of John Silver with a 9mm automatic in his hand, and a Jimmy Savile cigar in his mouth. I doubt if that was the original dream. If so, let’s spoil it…
Trumpet blowing for beginners
No one ever got anywhere by not blowing their own trumpet, my old dad used to say (and it certainly didn't get him anywhere. He was more a clarinet man). But on returning from a week in sunny southern France I found this on the Authors Electric blog, on the subject of Arthur Ransome, Robert Stevenson, and the business of mining writers of the past to bring something interesting to the present. It's by my old mucker Dennis Hamley, and I haven't asked him if I can use it. The other writer he cites is Julia Jones, who owns Arthur Ransome's last boat, Peter Duck. There a link to the left to her outfit, Golden Duck Publishing. And her books are magic, believe me!
Here's part of what Dennis wrote on Authors Electric
I was in Blackwell's in Oxford the other day and saw a book there which I knew I had to buy. Arthur Ransome's Long-lost Study of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Kirsty Nichol Findlay, an academic from New Zealand who is obviously crackers about both of them, and published by the Boydell Press. How the study was lost and how it was found are both extraordinary stories on their own account. It wasn't Ransome who did the losing. He was disillusioned with its progress, his publisher was suddenly very lukewarm and also he was just preparing to go to Russia, partly as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, more pressingly to get away from Ivy, his wife, because they were driving each other mad. So he cut his losses and left it to Ivy to post. That was a mistake. Though going to Russia wasn't. Because here he found himself both as writer and sailor and here he met Evgenia, Trotsky's secretary, married her and they had long and lovely lives together.
Even though he never finished the book, the draft we have is still a delight. Ransome felt a great affinity for the older writer. And we can see the fruits of this in the great Swallows and Amazons series. The children's imaginative world is fired by Stevenson - and especially Treasure Island. It's a sort of royal line. The great storytelling tradition. Scott (thought I've never really been able to get on with him and besides, the narrative line started long, long before), Stevenson, Ransome.
I often think about tradition in literature. As writers, we're all in one, whether we like it or not. We're all influenced by other writers. We can't help it, however original and unique we set out to be. And when I look at Authors Electric, I see the successors in the Stevenson-Ransome sequence. I certainly rate Ransome, the summit of my early reading experience, as an influence. I can't sail, more's the pity (I can barely even swim), but for narrative flow and mastery of the plain style he has been my most important mentor. But there are two of our number who are strongly in the line of descent.
First, Jan. A sailor, like Ransome, and, like me, a devourer of his books in childhood. And a writer who, in Silver and Blood, has the measure of Stevenson's achievement in Treasure Island. It's not a sequel, nor just an update. More a homage, to both its writer and its main character, Long John Silver, who is not just a hard-hearted, treacherous pirate but a person of deep contradictions, huge subtlety, complex, appealing even in the act of evil, a constant riddling puzzle, almost a rougher version of Hamlet without the self-questioning. Jan nearly had a fit when I said I thought Moonfleet was the better book. I'm beginning to think I may have been wrong.
And then there's Julia. Her Strong Winds trilogy - The Salt-Stained Book, A Ravelled Flag and Ghosting Home are unashamed in showing their debt to Arthur Ransome. Ransome's characters are constant role models for Julia's. The imaginative worlds of Ransome and Stevenson are always there, under the surface - but these books are set in harsher times The crises are not make-believe or advanced forms of play. They are real, hard, stark and dangerous: they can kill. I've recently read them and now I'm reading them again to review (for Armadillo this time, not IEBR).
So here are two writers who understand and acknowledge their debts. I think we all should. It's good sometimes to pause and ask, not what we will write next, not how we will sell what we've just written, but WHO we are as writers. How do we fit in to the scheme of things? Where are our literary antecedents, our influences? Where are the springs and sources of our imagination? It's a good exercise just to stand and stare for a few moments!
Arthur Ransome: what a man. Jan, have you ever thought how his life parallels that of our dear old friend Jim Riordan. Like AR, Jim spent crucial years in Russia which shaped both their lives, like AR he married (in the end) a Russian woman. Like AR he wrote a lot of unforgettable books for children. How about doing a comparative literary study together?
Does the internet make you mad? Discuss. I seem to spend so much time these days trying to find my way around the electronic world, I end up doing practically nothing. I'm about three quarters of the way through a huge and meaty thriller, and I have put pen to paper (so to speak) for so long I'll have to read it all again to make sure where I'm up to. Likewise Facebook and Twitter and various blogs I read. I'm off to France in a few days time, and the book was meant to be finished.
On the up side, I've heard some fantastic music. And made some of my own. Which I, at least, enjoyed!
Till later, then.
Spreading it around a bit
Two friends of mine have written novels which I think are well worth sharing with you. The first is called No Place for Dinosaurs, a police procedural thriller written by an ex Detective Inspector from the North called John Morrison. It is unlike any other book in the ‘genre’ I’ve ever read. It reeks of authenticity, and shows the police up in a new light entirely. Today I’m giving you the first chapter, and exhorting you buy it from Amazon. For the cynics out there, I don’t have any financial interest in either of these books.
The second one, which also goes up on Amazon today, is short, punchy, and uncategorisable, written by a woman who calls herself Margaret McCann. In this age of Fifty Shades of Grey it won’t perhaps be as shocking as it would have been not long ago, which is a pity in a way. It’s about a young art student called only ‘J’ (the title of the book) who gets involved with a man called Chef, and ends up as a strangely willing sex slave. It’s truly weird, deeply felt, and very strangely pitched. Neither me nor ‘Margaret’ – who is in fact a well known and widely respected painter and photographer – is absolutely certain what it ‘means,’ but I’m happy to have published it on my Skinback Books imprint. Like many other fine volumes, it has done the rounds of ‘mainstream’ publishers and agents. Many of them praised it to the skies. None of them was brave enough to take it on.
As well as putting up ‘tasters’ for these books, I’ve written about them on my Authors Electric monthly blog. I might put up more extracts here soon. But they’re both cheap, and they’re both deeply kick-ass. Here are some links:
Extracts from the two books
My blogs at Author's Electric
The Facebook page for Skinback Books
My Facebook page
Lots of lovely things being said about Silver and Blood now - and lots of plaudits for the cover, done by Matti Gardner, working on a photograph by Alex Marrs - firstname.lastname@example.org. Next. they'll be working up a cover for my follow up to Kicking Off, which is to be called They Came By Night - another big horror thriller featuring Rosanna (The Mouse) Nixon and Andrew Forbes.
The confusion over another of my 'nasties' continues apace. It was originally on Amazon under the title The Skinback Fusiliers, which I had to change for various reasons, and is now there as Killing Time at Catterick. Unfortunately Amazon doesn't find such concepts easy, so the wonderful reviews it had gathered didn't get transferred, and the first one under the new title was by an extremely disgruntled ex soldier (he said) who thought it wasn't nice about 'our boys.' I agree with him, but then, it wasn't meant to be. And they certainly weren't the targets. The way the government treats our armed forces is a horrendous scandal. Die for your country - and we'll kick you onto the scrap heap. It was nominated for the Orwell Prize, however, and it's got at least one better review now. A long job, though...
Incidentally, a couple of months back I asked here and on Facebook for comments on my proposed title for the thriller that became Kicking Off. I originally planned to call it Panopticon, but the feedback wasn't all that good, so I went with Kicking Off. Then three weeks ago in the Guardian there was a review of a new novel. I'm not sure of its genre, but it was called - you've guessed it - Panopticon! Hope it does well for them...
Now, here's the review of Silver and Blood. It's in the online reviewing mag (or whatever you call online phenomena) the IEBR, run by Cally Phillips, the novelist and playwright.
Silver and Blood by Jan Needle
Posted by Julia Jones on June 26, 2012
“He’d risked Jim’s life, and saved it, and replaced his dead father in the secret spaces of his heart.”
Jan Needle’s Silver and Blood: Return to Treasure Island is more than a return, it is a re-imagining – a re-imagining that gives the main characters an emotional credibility which is significantly different both from Stevenson’s original and from Andrew Motion’s recent novel Silver: Return to Treasure Island.
Needle’s earlier writing for children – Albeson and the Germans, My Mate Shofiq, The Bully (all now available on Kindle) – is strongest in its depiction of naïve, confused, adolescent boys, often with harassed, inadequate, single mothers. Silver and Blood is a new book, action-packed and twenty-first century, but is instantly distinguished by this same understanding and empathy for the young hero. Jim Parker has lost his father; he and his mother are failing in business. He’s worried and he’s bored. This makes him easy prey for the first sinister visitor to the Crown and Cushion pub. “Jim guessed the captain was a murderer from the moment that he saw him in the weird and scar-faced flesh. He guessed he was a murderer, but he never thought he’d try to kill his mother and smash up their lives as well. Otherwise he might have done it differently.”
Unsurprisingly Jim is soon way out of his depth and Needle pulls off a masterstroke by introducing his version of Long John Silver into the confused and violent scenes that follow the captain’s death. This is much earlier than the character appears in Treasure Island itself. He has no name at this point, merely “a low voice, warm and friendly.” He wears a suit and tie and has “a broad tanned face, not like a criminal at all” – which merely goes to show how little poor Jim knows about wickedness at this stage.
Jim’s not stupid, however, and is sufficiently alert to sense that the Doctor and Clive Tregarron (the Squire Trelawny figure) may not be as straightforward as they seem. Casting doubt on the integrity of the professional-class characters is another of Needle’s welcome re-thinkings of the original. There is little that is straightforward in this fast-paced adventure: dead men return to life and the blind regain their sight. Double-crossers are themselves double-crossed. There is plenty of action (drugs, guns, treasure and speedboats), one especially good new character (the ship’s engineer) and some evocative descriptions of the island. Mum would have loved it, thinks Jim in his initial innocence, and later it reminds him of an iconic scene from Swallows and Amazons. “Real life was different though. Behind him he heard grunts and panting and the odd swearword.”
Jim has so much to deal with – fear, lies, pain and diarrhoea. It’s not surprising that his early encounter with Long John Golding’s reassuring, masculine strength has filled an emotional void that not all Golding’s subsequent betrayals can finally erase. This imaginative subtlety makes Silver and Blood an adventure story to be enjoyed by older children and adults alike.
“He was John Golding. Yes.”
Here's the link, which will lead you to other reviews. It's a good and useful site, and I've done a couple of reviews on it myself. All reviewers are professional writers.
For anyone who doesn't know it, Authors Electric is a good site, too. A daily blog by about thirty professionals (including me).
Five Go Mad in the Falklands
Back in l982, our dear leader Margaret Thatcher was in deadly trouble. She was considered to be a harsh and grating shopkeeper with a vicious streak, who was heading for oblivion at the next election. Then some nasty little fascist nutter called General Galtieri in Argentina decided - also for reasons of electoral unpopularity - to invade the Falkland Islands, to which his country had a claim. Like everybody's claim to the islands it was legally dubious, and could only ever hope to be settled through legal processes. Neither Galtieri nor Thatcher were interested in such nonsense, obviously - they were politicians. There was kudos, and votes, to be won.
Much to the astonishment of the British - who had, however, just removed their naval presence from the area - the Argentinians were serious. They sent a small but determined force across the water, and quickly captured the place. Much to the astonishment of the world, and her own advisers, Maggie sent a task force 8,000 miles to get them back. Militarily, it was as near insane as makes no odds. To put it at its bleakest, if one of Argentina's submarines had sunk the ocean liner Canberra that was carrying our troops (we had no troop ships, naturally - SO expensive!) the fallout would have been beyond belief. In the event, in the weeks of fighting, many soldiers and sailors were killed and maimed. More than nine hundred from both countries. Borges said: 'It was like two bald men fighting over a comb.' And now the islands are still British, although Maggie never held the promised referendum, and now Argentina is making belligerent noises once more, because the legal issues are still unresolved. Progress, eh?
I wrote a play about it at the time. A three part serial for Thames TV, which they decided would be best placed in their schools programming. It was called A Game of Soldiers, and the Government were horrified. It told the story of three Falklands kids who find a badly injured young Argentine conscript hiding in a sheep shelter and decide to kill him. Not because they are evil nasty little beasts, but because of the reason the task force went all those miles - it was a patriotic duty.
The government, in the person of Defence Minister John Stanley, were determined that it should not be shown. Pressure was put on ITV to pull it from the schedules, and all sorts of knocking stories went the rounds. At one stage it was described as being 'Five Go Mad on the Falkland Islands' in the hope that ridicule would do the trick. It did not. The government were told, politely, to go to hell. Brian Cowgill, for Thames, agreed in the end to have a voiced announcement before it was shown, pointing out it was a work of fiction. Possibly one of the neatest mickie-takes against a government in broadcasting history. 'Please note - this play is fiction.' Oooh - vicious...
One wonders if broadcasters would have been able to resist similar pressure these days. Unhappily, I quite seriously doubt it. There won't be another Falklands war anyway - both countries have run their navies down to the point where it could be neither fought, nor defended. Eight thousand miles is a hell of a long way to row.
Anyway, the serial was shown, to critical acclaim, and was even nominated for a Bafta. It didn't win it - that honour went to the least cutting edge contender of the year, Tony Hart's drawing programme. Standing up to governments can only go so far! But Collins asked me to write it as a novel, which was extremely successful, and then as a play to be performed for schools. With typical publishers' timing, they took it out of print, after twenty plus years, not long before the thirtieth anniversary of the war. On a news programme six months ago I saw tatty copies of the novel still being used in London classrooms, which is when we decided to redo it as a 99p ebook for Skinback Books
And if you want to see a bit of the original TV serial, someone's put an episode on YouTube
My other most recent offering through Skinback is Silver and Blood, my modern take on Stevenson's miraculous Treasure Island, which clashed most egregiously with Sir Andrew Motion's sequel, called just Silver. I haven't read his yet, but I'm getting great feedback on mine.
It's a reimagining of the story for the 21st century, without parrots, wooden legs, and upper-class good guys pitched against the lowlife scum. Stevenson was shining a light on the accepted moralities of his time, and inviting people to work out what was really going on. Is Doctor Livesey, a Scot, really that much of a hero, for example? He boasts that he served with Butcher Cumberland,for instance - and Cumberland was known then as the brutal scourge of Scots. And Squire Trelawney, a pillar of his community, chose to search for stolen treasure that he had no right to, with a ship and crew that an honest man would have run a mile from.
Many of the people in my version are also pretty 'challenging' from a moral point of view. And like Stevenson, I like a bit of blood and guts. Throw away the flintlocks - try an AK47!
The covers for both books were done from photographs by a friend of mine called Alex Marrs email@example.com, and designed by my son Matti Gardner firstname.lastname@example.org
Silver and Blood available here.
All Skinback Books are here.
UP AND RUNNING
Exploding jails are not the only excitement on the horizon. After much pain and headscratching,I've finally got Skinback Books up on the road. The first six titles are available on Kindle, with some of them also on Smashwords for people with different devices. But none of them will set you back a pound...
Four of the books are mine - two new, two reprints - and two are by my friend Barry Purchese, double Bafta award winning TV playwright who's now pitched himself into prose. Very shortly 'J' by Margaret McCann will hit the virtual streets as well. That one, I promise you,is a real eye-popper.
The Unique Selling Point is their price. My first one is more than 115.000 words long. And it's up on Kindle for 99p. As are all the others, and as will new books in the future be.
The idea is not to make a fortune, but to try and make a dent. Publishing in this country is deeply in the doodah, and things are getting worse. The big boys are as greedy as they are short-sighted, and the way they treat even long-established authors is terrible. This is not a personal bleat - quite frankly I'm at the stage now where I just want books out there, I don't look to them for fame and fortune. Suck 'em and see - and if you don't like the taste, you've spent less than a half a bus fare.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of what Kicking Off is all about.
When the cauldron of hatred that is Britain’s prisons last boiled over, it cost the country untold millions to put the lid back on. Then, there were fifty thousand banged up inside – now it’s almost double that. And trouble, as the Arab spring has shown, can spread like wildfire once it's started. And race beyond control.
Critic Cally Phillips, on indieebookreview, said: "Jan Needle’s new novel offers a unique perspective on the social ills of our country and an uncomfortable insight into the powderkeg that is our prison system. From the first memorable image to the last page, the style is relentlessly tough and the complex plot will keep you gripped and guessing – and thanking your lucky stars that this is fiction. Or at least hoping that it never becomes fact."
The spark that explodes the jails this time is the naked ambition of a politician gifted with the task of solving the crisis that's flared up in our bleak Victorian fortress prisons. A playboy millionaire has been betrayed by the highest in the land, while an American gangster is set to be sprung by a squad of hitmen who will stop at nothing. Mix in a Glasgow hardman thirsting for revenge, and a governor who is more humane than the Prison Service can stand or stomach – and the cauldron of violence and hatred can only overflow - to spread across the land like cancer.
My second book, Killing Time at Catterick, was published last year as The Skinback Fusiliers, and has been put up for the Orwell Prize. It's a warts and all look at the way the British Army treats some of the young men it sucks in with dreams of glory (or perhaps a wage packet.)
My second two are My Mate Shofiq, which was runner up for the Guardian Award and Albeson and the Germans, which is exciting, realistic and reckoned by kids to be very funny.
Barry's books are designed for adults, but appeal to younger readers too. Grass Roots is the story - from the life - of an idealistic father who sets up a football team for the kids who don't get chosen. All goes well until they begin to get successful. Then the punch-ups start...
Summertime Blues is set in the era of teds and paper nylon skirts, and dreams of stardom and the sexual revolution. It's truly bittersweet.
Here's a taster for KICKING OFF. It's the prologue. The full story is violent, sexy, and moves like a rocket. There will be a sequel.
A TRAGEDY FORETOLD
TO: XXXXXX. SECURITY CODING R+EI. (All restrictions)
Look, we’re in the shit. You know it, I know it, everyone with half a brain knows it, even OGL knows it. I’ve seen prisons in Ukraine more civilised than some of ours, I’ve met Guantanamo Bay warders with a greater grasp of human rights. More to the point, it’s going to blow, and I’d say very soon.
Brief rundown: Career criminals, the mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics. Gangsters, Yardies, Serbs, Albanians, Roma, Asians, and good old fashioned crims. Thugs, murderers, rapists, paedophiles, gunmen, terrorists. POA men completely disaffected, private sector worse. Worse paid, worse treated, worse pissed off. The madrasa problem, too, Stone Agers spreading like the plague. Rumour has it that some of ‘our’ God-botherers are jealous of the mullahs now, and one’s even converting. He says he’s lonely on a Friday afternoon.
It’s not just our friends on the other side of the House who’ve ignored the problem, no point in claiming that. We’ve also seen the cities burning, we also know what could cook up this summer. The police, the Mets particularly, have gone insane, and OGL looks more and more like a badger in the crosshairs. The numbers just go up and up, the pressure valve is lifting by the day. Who said prison works? What sort of raving lunatic? What happens when we hit the hundred thousand? How long does the lid stay on?
All right, the purpose of this note. For Christ’s sake keep it underneath your hat, but at the risk of sounding cynical, I think this is your chance. Sycophantic maybe, but I think it’s you we need, XXXXXX, you personally – that combination of brain and ruthlessness might be our only hope. OGL thinks so, too, he just needs a bit of prodding in the right direction. Think hard, be brilliant, don’t overplay your hand. Because, my friend, somebody’s got to get a grip. Let it be us, okay? I’m laying down the poison for you now.
PS Try and keep it in your pocket. Your dick, I mean. Believe you me, it doesn’t help.
OGL? R+EI? Internal memos? Dick? Are you mad? Redaction may not ever be enough.
Very possibly. But greater love hath no man – or woman either – than to give a lethal weapon to a friend. Be prepared. It’s going to happen soon.
Buried in it
Up to my eyes in work,as always. I'm trying to evolve a whole new series of shortish books ranging over a whole lot of areas that interest me. Mainly adventurous, but probably a little dark. Most of all, having done a version of Bram Stoker's Dracula a couple of years ago that continues to attract letters and emails from all over the place (it's published by Walker Books), I want to work up the play that developed out of it into a different sort of Dracula altogether. The drama is published by Collins Educational, and is getting more and more productions. It sets the whole story in the present day, in a mental hospital, and raises the possibility that there is far more madness to the story than Stoker even dreamed of. Most recently been performed in Scotland by Firefly Arts of Livingston, Midlothian (I failed to get to see it, unfortunately) and now selected for the National Festival of Youth Theatre in Glenrothes in July. It's a book that's always fascinated me, and continues to grip. Fangs in the neck have got nothing on it!
can't be long until the white stuff goes and the sun comes out, can it? i want to sail a boat.
now the sun is shining
yes yes it is, which makes keeping up with the unimportant things of life even more difficult. a man needs to be in a boat, not flogging himself to death with deathless prose. i keep getting letters from people as far apart as texas and germany (whichever is the bigger, i wonder?) urging me to write another william bentley book, and to be sure i'd dearly love to. but my sea books tend to be a bit unpleasant in genre fiction terms, so they don't exactly make me rich. william is young and handsome, to be sure, but his beloved is a whore, and his eyes are too wide open to british brutality to sit comfortably with hornblower and all the other overprivileged gits(!)who used to sail the seven seas. most pirates were ex-naval men, incidentally. have you ever wondered why? nelson's beloved was a whore, incidentally, and when he died he left her care to the english nation. she died penniless in a calais gutter. says it all, doesn't it?
my naval heroism lately has gone no further than failing to get across the channel with the dunkirk veterans. a sad story, but a good night out, and i wrote the outline of a novel on the train back up north from ramsgate. and my mate who did go threw up over the side of his little ship because he'd been drinking pimms for breakfast. wow.
Onwards ever onwards
Having survived a long bout of pneumonia, we're back in business. been hellish cold up here - perhaps i should have listened to my mother, who kept saying there was always a place for me back at home on the south coast. too late now, mum, but thanks anyway.
i've just written a profile for author hotline. i used to visit schools a lot until i had a big car crash and was out of it for a few years, but i'm doing more again now. i went to a few schools and colleges last year and had a really good time. so did the kids, i think...
the hotline goes national in march, and you can access me/it on authorhotline.com.
i'm also available to be seen and contemplated (i hope) on contactanauthor.co.uk.
my visits to schools tend to be fun, apart from anything else. and i LOVE school dinners!
noo year noos
Some of the things that have been said about Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, by local author Jan Needle. Yes – you may have heard him play tin whistle at the Cross Keys or the Con Club. If you’ve got children – this will keep them quiet!
Original, clever and touching. Western Morning News
Left me gasping for breath like a naughty schoolboy. Weekend Review.
The book I’ve always been waiting for. I love it. Carl Grose, KneehighTheatre.
This book is so funny it will kill you. If it doesn’t, I will. Siri L.Killer
Grim, ghastly, gruesome – a children’s dream! Daily Mirror
Don’t let your grannie read it. Northern Echo
A kids’ book to die for. My children could not read it fast enough. Morning Argus.
Reluctant readers? They’ll eat this one for dinner. The Standard.
Wagstaffe the winning weirdo. South London Press
This is the most disgusting book I have ever read. Please buy it – we need the money. Jan’s mum.
The book that put the ex in dyslexia for Toby, aged nine. Parade
Grown-ups might hate it. I promise you, children will not. Today.
Makes Roald Dahl look polite. London Pride.
Made my whole class shriek with laughter. Chris Shaw, Pallion School, Sunderland.
Originally published by Andre Deutsch and Lions, now repackaged as a classy paperback by Back to Front, and available from bookshops, Amazon, and direct from www.back-to-front.com – who will give a discount and free post and packing anywhere in Britain.
working for a living
ages since i had time to write on this, and now i've spent half an hour updating and pressed the wrong bleeding button. no time to do it all again, as i'm meant to be working for a living. in fact the last couple of months have been a hard round of sailing, sinking my canal boat, fighting the insurance company, who seemed to think that accidents are nothing to do with them. exhausted by all that, i was forced to go to germany, austria and slovakia, to test the beer and food.
revelation. the germans and austrians have got it made when i comes to eating a drinking. i put on several pounds (minus several kilos, because they're bigger i believe)and can now hardly reach my keyboard.
all well. an die arbeit. tchuess!
Such a humiliation for a hard-working nurse. Now read on...
And now the poor girl is being read about on the Plinth in Trafalgar Square! Julie McCarthy, mother, arts co-ordinator, canal boat operator, is doing her bit for Waggie and Sadie M'Gee - at an admittedly ungodly hour of the morning. The plinth is the sort of idea that would have driven Waggie mad. A golden opportunity for bringing his magic catapult into play, at the very least.
Still, it'll bring a bit of northern culture to the deep sarf, won't it? In his second adventure - Wagstaffe and the Life of Crime - our hero actually goes to London, and being Wagstaffe, goes by tandem, with his friend Hugh N'Dell providing the back-up pedal power. They use the M1, of course - and outrun the police cars that pursue them.
Although, to be fair, Waggie is a little knackered when they reach the Smoke.
Put the finishing touches to the latest novel a couple of days ago. It's to be called Silver and Blood, and it's a fast-moving thriller for the sort of readers who love Anthony Horowitz. My son Wilf, for one. He once wrote to the great man, and told him he thought his books were fantastic.
"My dad also writes children's books," he added - "but his are crap!"
Painful business being a norfer, I can tell you...
My cut down version of Moby Dick is now out in a smaller, paperback format, in Britain and America. Keep getting lovely letters from the USA about it, and so far, nothing from nearer home.
It's a lovely thing, though. Illustrated by the great Patrick Benson, published by Walker Books,at less than a tenner.Isbn 978-1-4063-1744-2
Buy some for Lulu!
More on Waggie
Sadie M'Gee, the unfortunate nurse who cooked and ate Wagstaffe's heart after his accident, is apparently being hounded by the press.
Reporters have been ringing her at work to ask for comments on her "cannibalism." Pretty embarrassing for someone who works in the A&E department where Wagstaffe was put together after being squashed flat by a lorry.
Sadie, 29, who is a real nurse in Oldham Royal Hospital, blames her father. (That's me, incidentally.) She wonders if she'll ever live down the shame and become a matron?
A picture is circulating now of her in her uniform, with her father. Weirdly, she is still smiling.
She even plans to go to Waterstones in the Spindles Precinct in Oldham on Saturday July 4 - either to buy a copy or (more likely) to cause a scene.
And it serves him right.
If you miss the signing session, you can get the snazzy new paperback in other ways.
Order directly by going to back-to-front.com and buying online, or by going to Amazon or into your local bookshop and providing the ISBN, which is 1-904529-41-0. Books bought on the Back to Front website have a discount and are free of P&P.
News of a flattened boy
Wagstaffe, the unfortunate boy who was squashed flat by a lorry just because he threw an egg at the windscreen, rides again!
Now with clockwork guts, he has been appearing in a theatre in the south of England and horrifying parents with his filthy habits and bad behaviour.
Many children have tried to commit their parents to old people's homes, according to the national press (Sunday Sport).
More permanently, the original book of his adventures, Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, has been reprinted, and is now available.
If you order it from the publishers, Back to Front, you get free postage, and a discount! Makes sense to Wagstaffe, but then he's a "manky little rat."
Here are the details:
Order directly by going to back-to-front.com and buying online, or by going to Amazon or into your local bookshop and providing the ISBN, which is 1-904529-41-0. Books bought on the Back to Front website have a discount and are free of P&P.
Here's the new janneedle.com. designed and built by matti gardner. Hopefully it looks good and is easy to use.
Not all sections are up-to-date yet, but they will be soon.