Do you choose writing or living?

A funny thing happened to me today. A couple of conversations that went some way to highlight the distance that writing has put between me and other people with, let’s say, more regular pursuits.

I have booked a little time off work. Just next Monday and Tuesday — enough to give me a nice long weekend.

(As an aside, long weekends are my preferred form of holiday. An extended two-week absence from work — a fortnight of freedom from drudgery — is too much for me. I can’t stand going back. The blues I suffer on that final Sunday evening are too much for my poor heart to bear…)

Now, it just so happens that these two coming days coincide with a widely-forecast period of glorious sunshine, in an England that has seen a lot of clouds and rain and gloom this past summer.

“What are you going to do?” a work colleague asked me (knowing damn well what my answer would be…)

“Sit in my room,” I said with some glee, “close the blinds against the glare, and listen to white noise through my headphones.”

“Oh, man, it’s wasted on you!”

As part of my job, there’s one evening a week when I have to telephone the cargo sheds at Heathrow and make sure that the shipments my company is sending out made their flights.

As it turns out, my day this week is Friday, and one of the flights I’m checking up on doesn’t leave until around half-past ten.

I make the same joke every time. “What! My bed time’s half-nine! I have to be up at five-thirty the next morning to write!”

“Oh for God’s sake,” my same colleague said, laughing, “why don’t you just live your life for a change? Why don’t you stay up, watch a film!”

Food for thought. (Living life equals the watching of films…)

And I did think about it. I thought for about two or three seconds. And for some reason I thought about the Olympians that I had just watched on breakfast television this morning. The medal-winners. The smiling ones. The people who had just accomplished their dreams.

And I thought about what I had heard them saying, each and every one of them saying precisely the same thing.

“I can’t believe it. All those years of hard work were worth it. All those early mornings. Everything I sacrificed and gave up and didn’t do … It’s all worth it. Every second of struggle and pain. I’m so happy …”

Their joy was obvious.

And I thought about how it was a joy that not many will ever get to experience, not least of which most other athletes. The smiling athletes are exciting, headline-grabbing. But the sad truth of competitive sports is the vast amount of disappointment and thwarted ambition.

Think of all the people back home who didn’t make qualification. Think of those knocked out in the heats. At best, only three people are remembered for a race. But behind them lies a trail of broken hearts.

For the winners, though, yes, the struggle and sacrifice was worth it.

I thought about all of this, and then I thought about something else. A part of me loves to see that longview of it all being worth it in the end. But I can do better than that. I don’t have to think of some far off day when it all seems worthwhile.

Because it’s worth it right now, when the alarm rings at five-thirty, and I’m able to get out of bed without hesitation, make coffee, and fire up the laptop, eager and excited.

Two days have just passed in which I have jumped out of bed, ready to write. And I’ve written. Not much, it is true. But enough to start the rusted gears back up. Enough to give me that feeling back. That feeling that doesn’t even recognise the word ‘sacrifice’.

I haven’t written brand new words on a brand new project for a hell of a long time. But over that period I have got up at five-thirty every single morning. I have gone to bed at nine-thirty, and been asleep by ten o’ clock almost every night.

I have been waiting, staying in my routine so that I would be ready when it finally came. I could have given up on the idea, broken my routine and … well, ‘lived’.

But I wouldn’t have enjoyed it the way I enjoy this.

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Fear, doubt, and writer’s block


Okay, well, I haven’t exactly been documenting my process like I promised myself I would. But I have actually got something to show for my endeavours.

I finished a book.

That is to say, I finished a book that I already finished once. But there was something about it I didn’t quite like, and some of my first readers pointed out aspects about the ending that didn’t work for them. Most of their suggestions ended up matching my own feelings about the book.

And it was this that started my blocked feeling.

But I feel somewhat better about being blocked now. I read this fine article by the excellent Stuart Neville. And not only did it justify some of the feelings I was experiencing, but it also, I think, managed to pinpoint the cause for what I was going through.

You see, I’m trying something different with this book, and with my writing career in general. It was this shift in style and approach, I’m sure, that caught me a little off-guard, after growing complacent. And I think it would be beneficial here to talk about this change.

I have published five novels so far. I have labelled these books ‘noir fiction’. I could write a long essay justifying these books’ place within this genre, but suffice it for the here and now to say that I believe they belong there.

But there’s a problem: other readers have expectations of this genre, and I was not meeting them. I was producing what I knew were highly personal novels, which were exploring themes I found within myself. There are two more of these novels sitting in first draft form on my hard drive. There’s a chance that neither of these will ever see publication.

They were getting too dark and introspective even for my liking. Too navel-gazing. They were becoming simply exercises in catharsis. Repetitive exercises in catharsis, at that. I was starting to lose interest in them myself.

But to bring things back on track, I at least found them fairly easy to write. Because I wasn’t concerned with things like plot and twists and action, or structure. But they weren’t attracting readers. (I can hardly blame them.) So, I decided, I’ll turn my hand to more, let’s say, commercial focused work. An action thriller, possibly a series. And then detective fiction.

Then I started writing, and I found it much more fun than the composition of my other books. I was glad for the decision I’d taken, even when I ran into the expected problems of plotting and structure. I was convinced that these were skills that I could teach myself and master.

And after some time, and some more struggles, I got there, having enjoyed the fight.

But then there were those doubts which I ignored, and then the opinions of those first readers. And the kicker of those opinions was the fact that I hadn’t hit the genre expectations that I thought I had. And so I became unsure of myself. My usual confidence took a hard knock. And I allowed myself to get bogged down in fear. That’s the only word for it. I was out of my depth, I told myself. I was doing it wrong. I needed more practice and time.

All of which was keeping me from sitting my arse down in a chair and working it out. I didn’t even trust that I could believe my own judgement.

So this rewrite of the ending amounted to only about 10-15,000 words. The final 1600 word chapter has taken nearly two weeks to sit down and pump out. And most of that came flowing out in the final two days of the work.

But those final two days were both magic. I felt the old buzz back. I convinced myself again that I could write.

I may not be 100% there yet, but I’m starting to see some more light at the end of a dark tunnel…


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My self-publishing manifesto


What you have above is what I consider to be the holy trinity of punk rock. Three acronyms that contain all the advice you need to get things done.

They also embody my approach to self-publishing.

At the moment, fighting my way out of this stuck patch, they are the nine letters that I keep repeating in my head; and, if I had any sense, I’d get those bad boys tattooed on my forehead.

They break down as follows:

D/I/Y — Do it yourself. Because nobody is going to do anything for you. This is, of course, the central tenet of punk rock. For me, these principles were what drew me to self-publishing in the first place–the belief system that stopped me from thinking of this as a vanity endeavour.

In my head, I was Minor Threat, forming my own record label, booking my own shows, sticking my own record sleeves together.

It is more than self-reliance. It is artistic freedom. Refusing to dilute your vision to pander to other tastes. Continuing on regardless, wearing an indestructible grin/sneer, while others waste time protesting your very existence.

P/M/A — Positive mental attitude. Inspired by this song by Bad Brains…

…Which in turn was inspired by the writings of Napoleon Hill, the self-help book pioneer behind Think and Grow Rich and Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, both of which I’ve read, and both of which left me with mixed feelings.

The cynic in me wants to argue their every point, debate their tone and throw up hurdles. I want to laugh at their calls to brash optimism, their almost holy reliance on faith, their seeming denial of fate and bad luck.

In short, I want to prick their pomposity with a great big spike.

There are subtleties involved in the attitude that are not perhaps addressed in Napoleon Hill’s books. Less a rule of life than an ideal mindset that might still fail you.

If you want to simplify my final thought on Hill’s books, however–and, with self-help books, simpifying complex ideas into easily digestible bites is de rigeur–then it is that thinking positively about a creative endeavour is the only way to get things done.

Fear and cynicism will prevent me from ever writing anything. So positivity is the only way to go.

A/T/V — Action. Time. Vision. Another acronym from a song, namely this song…

Something of a punk manifesto boiled down to three practical steps for getting off your arse and doing something.

You need to take action. You need to devote time. And you need to have a vision.

It is the most basic and indestructible plan for forward movement in your life. And whether you are forming a band, paying off debt, planning a family, or writing a book, then these are the first three steps you should be taking.

And, well, that’s it.

Doing it yourself, maintaining a positive mental attitude, and devoting action, time and vision to a plan.

You might still fail. But keeping these three acronyms in your heart and in your mind will be the surest way to pick yourself back up again.

Every time.


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On blogging

Okay, so it’s been a hell of a long time since I posted anything on my blog. And the only reason I’m doing so now is to take it off in a completely different direction.

There are articles that I’ve written on here that I’m still incredibly proud of. When I first decided to start a blog, it was of course just to stake out some space on the web. I was beginning my self-publishing journey, filled with excitement, and ‘they’ told me that it was the right thing to do.

Aside from ‘their’ advice, the thought of my own private place on the web appealed to me. I could write what I wanted. My subject was a given–the movies and books that I loved in the genre I wrote in.

It was, of course, a no-brainer.

But I’ve been a little uncomfortable with this idea for a long time. And I guess there are a couple of main reasons:

1. I googled ‘how to blog,’ and I encountered more advice: Find other like minds, go on their blogs, make comments, become part of the community, earn their audience’s trust, and then watch your blog grow.

And while none of this is in any way bad, immoral or unethical advice, it always had about it the stink of inauthenticity, like the round of handshakes and the false laughter of a small businessperson’s networking morning.

Relationships can be formed, and reputations can be earned and then cemented, but if everyone looks down deep into their souls, their motives are selfish and borderline predatory.

Or else it turns into a boring coffee morning…

2. I couldn’t maintain the expert’s tone with a straight face any more.

I certainly like to think I know my onions on the subject of noir. But in a world where Alain Silver and Eddie Muller walk and breathe, I can’t help but think I’m surplus to requirements, and a less than worthy contender to their crowns.

I love the romance of the internet’s democratisation of knowledge etc. I suppose I wouldn’t be self-publishing if I didn’t believe that it was a good thing. And it’s not as if I was trying to turn the world of noir on its head or anything.

But one more palooka going on the internet and talking about a film that he’s just watched? Please…

3. The big miscellaneous grouping of prosaic reasons: my time is limited (I work full-time and am supposed to be a fiction writer, remember); I’m lazy (writing articles requires a great deal of thinking about the books and movies that I consume, then there is the actual writing, and of course I have to edit them into some sort of shape); and lastly, I started to view it all as work. A chore. And that was never the point.

But the big, shiny, last-straw reason for wanting to take the blog in another direction is that *drum roll, please* … I’m stalled in my fiction writing.

I never really get blocked, and my self-publishing career thus far has been blessed with thick skin, low expectations, and a boundless confidence in what I do.

But at the moment I’m stuck fast. I need to take action. And the only way I know how to get myself out of this predicament is to write my way out.

So this’ll become a writer’s journal. A private space on the internet to talk about the things I want to talk about. And I don’t care if anybody likes it. Such an attitude is the only way I know to get things back to being authentic.

And with a bit of luck I’ll get my writing back on track…



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New Release & Special Offer



Yep, for one week only, you can get my entire back catalogue without worrying your bank manager. Offer ends Fri. 18th March, 2016.

Go here:



As for the new release itself, here’s the blurb for Dying Will Be Easy

A house of death and madness … A place of pain and sadness and no joy.

When a shocking death shatters Heather’s humdrum life, it’s time to pick the pieces back up and rebuild all over again. This time, though, she’s going to make some changes. No longer will she let other people’s expectations influence her decisions. No longer will she repress all of her desires. From now on she is really going to live.

New housemate Gemma and Gemma’s boyfriend Roland help Heather to concoct a bizarre scheme that might put them all on Easy Street. But old habits die hard, and Heather once again finds control of her future being wrestled from her grasp, this time by the devious, brutal hands of domineering Roland.

Now, instead of embracing life, Heather finds herself obsessed with thoughts of death, and only she can decide whether she will be victim or survivor.

Dying Will Be Easy is a short, sharp hit to the gut, a tale of sex and violence in the classic paperback mould. Part pulpy melodrama and part psychological thriller, Heather and Roland’s warped and sadomasochistic battle of the sexes is unflinchingly bleak and doom-laden.



SMASHWORDS (for all non-Kindle formats)

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John Henry sat back in the hard, uncomfortable chair to try and find a position that didn’t send his ass to sleep. The plastic farted in the silent room and the red-faced man turned his face to him. John Henry tried a smile but the red-faced man looked away.

“Well, Jesus,” John Henry said, standing up, “is nobody coming to this damn thing, or what?”

He strode across the classroom and stuck his head out into the hall. From all the other adult education classes came the sounds of talking and learning. He came back over.

“You wanna do this, or what?” John Henry said.

“Do what?” the red-faced man said.

John Henry picked up his book from the floor. “Talk about this thing.”

“What’s the point?” the red-faced man said. “No teacher to sign us off. Nobody’ll believe we’ve been here, anyway.”

“We’ll get one of these other bastards to sign us off. Get ’em at the end of one of their lessons. Tell ’em we’ve been here all this time, no sign of Miss Tightass.”

“And so, what?” the red-faced man said. “Meantime talk about this damn book?”

“That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it. Court-appointed rehabilitation.”

The red-faced man shook his head. “What’s the point?” he said again.

“But I liked the damn thing,” John Henry said. “Didn’t you read it?”

“Course I did.”


“And …” The red-faced man shrugged.

“You didn’t like it?” John Henry said. “Whaddaya mean you didn’t like it? You nuts? All the crap they’ve been forcing down our throats all these weeks, book like this comes along and you don’t like it. Mister Critic, all of a sudden, huh?” John Henry laughed. “Book like this is real, you know what I’m saying. All that other crime stuff, it’s not real. This is real. It’s just about the real-est book I ever sat down and read.”

“Ah, well, sure,” the red-faced man said, nodding his head. “It’s real. Sure, yeah, I get that.”

“This George V. Higgins,” John Henry said, reading from the front cover of the book, “he knows his stuff, musta been around real criminals a few times. Don’t you think?”

The red-faced man was still nodding. “Sure, sure.”

“He knows how we talk, what we talk about–”

“Oh, well, hey,” the red-faced man said, “while we’re talking about dialogue, let’s really say something about it.”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t like the dialogue,” John Henry said. “Man, I could believe almost anything but you bad-mouthing the dialogue. Only that other guy — what’s his name? — Elmore Leonard. Only Elmore Leonard can get his guys to talk like this Higgins boy can. If anything, man, I think Higgins got him beat.”

The red-faced man was staring at him. “You gonna let me finish, or what? I didn’t say the dialogue was bad, did I? You hear me say that?”

“What are you saying, then?” John Henry said.

“I’m saying, don’t you think there was a little too much of it? The whole damn book’s nothing but dialogue, just about.”

“Well, and so what? Makes it easy to read, doesn’t it? You spend long on this one? I’m willing to bet you flew through this thing, double quick.”

“Well, what of it?” the red-faced man said. “They hand out awards now for making books quick to read? He didn’t put in no descriptions or nothing.”

“Sure, he did,” John Henry said.

“Hardly any.”

“Not all that much,” John Henry said, “but enough. You wanna know about warts and the colour of their goddamn eyes, or something?”

“I just got confused, is all,” the red-faced man said. “At the beginning. Who was who. What was what.”

“Ah, well, hell, you got confused, huh? You got confused. So this Higgins fella’s to blame for you being confused.” John Henry leaned forward a little. “I get the impression that it don’t take all that much.”

“Hey, fuck you.”

“You got a problem with a bit of subtlety, huh? Want everything handed to you on a plate? You gotta work for some things in this book, think about it maybe a little. Use that big old brain of yours, for a change.”

The red-faced man gave him the bird.

John Henry sat back in his chair and laughed loudly. When he’d finished, he said, “Well, and what else?”

The red-faced man gave it some thought. Sounds from all the other lessons came down the hall. From a room upstairs came the sound of tuneless singing.

“Well, still with the dialogue,” the red-faced man said.

“Oh, Jesus–”

“Most of the time those guys’re just talking about nothing, you know what I mean. Telling each other about this guy they once knew. Some job they were on once, or this time they were in prison. Talking about their wives.”

“Sure,” John Henry said. “They shoot the shit. Just like life.”

“But this ain’t life, is it?” the red-faced man said. “It’s a goddamn book. Get to the story.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” John Henry said. “Here’s where you’re wrong. The story’s in there, man, you just gotta pay it some mind. You gotta tease it out of there, from between what they’re saying.”

The red-faced man clucked his tongue.

“You want hand-holding, do you?” John Henry said.

“Nah,” the red-faced man said, “I just got confused a few times, is all.”

“Back to this–”

The red-faced man sat forward and pointed a finger at John Henry. “You wanna know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of those movies. Those movies that guy makes. Tarantino.”

“Hey,” John Henry said. “You’re right there. I bet that Tarantino guy could make a tough as hell movie out of this book.”

“They already made a movie out of it,” the red-faced man said. “Robert Mitchum. I seen it. So you tell me, smart guy, who’s Tarantino gonna find could play this guy Coyle as good as old Bobby Mitchum?”

John Henry shrugged.

“But anyway,” the red-faced man said, “you’re gonna make me go losing my train of thought here. I’m willing to bet that little Tarantino pipsqueak’s read a couple of this Higgins guy’s books in his time. Read ’em cover to cover and thought, hey, I could do that. With the dialogue, you know. Talk like a tough guy.”

“That Tarantino writes great dialogue.”

“Sure, sure,” the red-faced man said. “On the surface, sure. Shoot the breeze stuff. Slice o’ life. Good old guys talking about movies and such. But you know what the problem is with that guy? All his characters? Every one of the suckers talks with the same goddamn voice. And if you ever see this Tarantino guy — like in an interview, or something, you know? — then it all clicks, and you say, hell, that’s the voice. All his characters talk in the same goddamn voice, and they all talk as if they was this Tarantino guy.” The red-faced man laughed. “Every single goddamn one of ’em.”

John Henry thought about it. “Well–” he said. He pursed his lips. “I guess they all do.”

“So this is what I’m talking about,” the red-faced man said. “It gets confusing to hear all the same guys talking in the same goddamn voice. You don’t know what they look like, they hardly ever do anything. Just stand around yakking in the same goddamn voice.”

John Henry thought about it. There was a long silence. “I just think you’re wrong, is all,” John Henry said eventually. “It’s a good book.”

“Hey, you hear me saying it wasn’t a good book?”

John Henry looked startled. “What the hell we been talking about here?”

“I just said the way this Higgins guy wrote it confused me a coupla times. But I got the hang of it eventually. I enjoyed it.”

John Henry laughed and shook his head in disbelief. “He liked it,” he said to himself, still shaking his head. “Coulda fooled me.”

“Nah,” the red-faced man said. “It’s like you said earlier. It’s real, man. All the guys. Way they fuck each other over any chance they get. Believe me, I known a few guys just like ’em in my time. Act big and tough on the outside, talk like tough guys, then you get ’em in a tight spot, they get weak legs all of a sudden. Rather rat you out than do anything else, near enough. Practically go running to the cops first chance they get.”

“It’s why I was in this last time,” John Henry said. “Guy on this last job, he got hisself picked up for something else, just kids stuff, a goddamn stolen bike. Can you believe it? Stole a bike ’cause he didn’t have no other way to get across town. Car was out with his girlfriend, hadda go see her mother. Saw a bike up against a wall, no lock or nothing. First thing he does when they took him in is start singing. Singing ’bout things they weren’t even asking him. What were they gonna do? Send him down for life? Over a bicycle? But he sang. All they had to do was tickle him a little, opened his mouth.”

“Yeah,” the red-faced man said, “all o’ that. I liked that. You can’t trust nobody in this game, that’s the truth.”

“Ain’t it just.”

John Henry and the red-faced man shook their heads to themselves while they thought about it. They fondled the wrinkled secondhand books as they thought.

“So after all that,” John Henry said, “we’re in agreement?”

“I guess so.”

“Shit!” John Henry said, standing up. “We coulda got all that over with a long time ago, ‘stead o’ talking all this crap about you getting confused. Fucking Tarantino.”

He started walking over towards the window, undoing the button of his breast pocket with a couple of gnarled fingers.

“What are you doing?” the red-faced man said.

“Having a cigarette while I wait the time out. Lesson’s over. We’re in agreement. Good book. Ain’t nothing else to talk about, is there?” John Henry looked over at the red-faced man as he put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it.

The red-faced man shrugged and said, “Sure, we wait it out.”

“Just sit there in silence and try to use that big brain o’ yours for something useful.”

The red-faced man gave him the bird again, and John Henry chuckled. He opened the window a crack and blew the smoke out of there.

“It’s no smoking in here,” the red-faced man said.

“Oh, is that so? You gonna tell on me to teacher?” John Henry said.

“Maybe.” He winked. “Can’t trust anybody in this game, ain’t that right?”

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I’ve talked before on this blog about Marijane Meaker, about how I unfairly assumed that her novels written under the pseudonym of Vin Packer were going to be action-filled, hardboiled pulp books; but also how I was delighted to find her a sympathetic, skilled writer of precise and psychologically-probing slow-burners.

Her writing pulls no punches; it is relentless and fearless without ever straying into salaciousness and gimmickry. The novels of hers that I have read so far are noir through to their core; complex and penetrating analyses of average people whose lives are in the process of spiralling out of control.

Crucially though, they are not the usual chump-meets-dame kinda story, either. They are fascinating, not-oft-told tales of small, depleted characters whose simple lives have become impossible, whose damnation never seems in any doubt.

Like Adam Blessing’s …

When we meet Adam, he is a slightly twitchy, but nevertheless meek and well-meaning, clerk in a Manhattan store that caters to specialist autograph collectors. He has a cantankerous drunkard for a boss, who would rather get drunk and complain than make her business a success, and a dull, plain girlfriend that he has almost zero interest in.

But he also has a past. He is an orphan, deeply ashamed of something over which he had absolutely no control — a kid doomed from the start, joyless and awkward.

As a youngster, a rich family, the Bollings, allowed Adam into their home in a kind of do-gooder scheme designed to satisfy their rich-person consciences. And thus began a new life for Adam Blessing, one in which he found solace by imagining himself in an alternative reality; one in which he was loved and cared for by a kindly father figure, sharing in the Bollings’ carefree wealth and sense of inherited self-worth.

In reality, though, the elderly Bolling found him tiresome, and the son, Billy, bullied him relentlessly for being fat and slow-witted, trailing after his father like a lost little puppy dog.

But now, years later, Adam encounters Billy Bolling in a bar — and in this meeting the first loose strand is unplucked from Adam’s tightly-wound life. What follows is Meaker showing us through her clear, unsparing eyes and prose what happens as Adam’s sad and desperate life begins to unravel.

And believe me, there won’t be a dry eye left in the house …

Not least of which Adam’s.

Yes, crying’s a theme in ‘The Damnation of Adam Blessing.’ Poor Adam spends about half the novel welling up or weeping openly, or hiding his face away so that others cannot see his tears. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character who cries so much — not least a male one.

And this gender distinction here, I feel, is of great significance.

If you read a lot of book reviews online, one of the things you notice repeatedly is people complaining that a novel’s central character is weak. Or whiny, or incompetent, not resourceful, lacking in moxie …

In other words, they are not capable and resilient action heroes. They wail and moan and beat their breast when times get hard. They fall prey to introspection and self-doubt.

They don’t kick ass.

Well, look, there’s no other way to say this: Adam Blessing is one of the biggest weaklings in all of literature, crying his little heart out whether faced by kindness or cruelty. It happens so frequently that Meaker is obviously saying something with this. The other characters — be they strangers walking past him on the street, or close acquaintances of Adam’s — all look away from the pitiable sight; walk away from him, even, unable to fight back their feelings of disgust.

But we, as the reader, are not allowed to look away. Again and again, Meaker forces us to watch a grown man crying openly — a sight that our cultured upbringings and impeccable good taste tells us is something quite beyond the pale, something so goddamned shameful that Meaker’s got a nerve forcing the sight upon us.

Some book reviewers are not going to enjoy this novel at all …

But such is Meaker’s artistry that I, for one, felt the opposite effect. Y’see, Adam’s still a baby, untouched by notions of masculinity, just a poor baby wanting someone to love him. Someone to help him. Someone to be there for him. Someone who won’t abandon him like his parents did.

He fights desperately through the novel to keep a hold of the false life that exists inside his head, none of which actually exists. Meaker is merciless, allowing everything to go wrong, forcing Adam to react in the worst possible ways to hurdle after hurdle thrown in his way.

It’s enough to make you rail against the unfairness of it all — to become that person who will finally stick up for him, who will hold him to a warm bosom, who will soothe him by means of a kind and beating human heart, who will stroke his hair and make everything all better.

Because the world is such an unfair, cruel place, and there are certain people who should be allowed to walk through it shielded from the worst of its indifference. People who deserve to live in their fantasy worlds. Who deserve our compassion and understanding. Whose lashing out at the world slowly starts to make some sense.

Explaining unconscionable behaviour is not the same thing as excusing it. And Adam wrongs other people as much as he himself is wronged. Meaker is robust enough for her book not to invite accusations of bleeding-heart sentiment.

Whether you choose to feel sympathy for Adam Blessing’s damnation or not, you will be forced along in the narrative by Meaker, who is a skilled and precise writer who knows how to turn a character study into a thrill ride. So skilled is Meaker that her most action-packed set pieces — the kinds of thing that would be the meat of a good pulpy story — are merely alluded to in retrospective newspaper articles, or conversations that characters have after the event.

This, dear reader, is the mark of a writer who is confident, bold and playful. By rights, Meaker should be one of the heavy-hitters in the world of noir fiction. I recommend her Vin Packer novels to you without any reservations whatsoever.


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Well, hell, what can I say? It’s been a bit quiet on the blog recently. My only excuse is that I’ve been putting the finishing touches to the release of my new novel, ‘Pencil Neck’, the ebook of which is available now at Amazon.

Paperback to follow in a while, I promise. Been letting myself get snowed under with real life dramas, unfortunately…

Meanwhile, dig in and enjoy!

He ran and ran down a road to damnation!

With each mile marker, handsome, muscle-bound drifter Gray Boakes escapes further from the pathetic Pencil Neck he once was. Thrown off the train in a deadbeat town, it doesn’t take long for him to be surrounded by willing women.

But new squeeze Barbara wants to tame him and trap him in a world of loveless sex and cheap booze, just as his devoted parents wanted to trap him in the 9-to-5 world of money and power.

Now his time on the road is quickly reaching its inevitable dead end, and an increasingly desperate Gray commits one final act of rebellion — a perversion from which there might be no salvation.

Pencil Neck is a work of noir fiction in the classic paperback mould, with lean, terse prose and a black and cynical heart. Part pulp fiction thriller and part dark psychological character study, anti-hero Gray Boakes’ doom-laden descent into hell is unflinching, twisted and gloriously, unapologetically amoral.



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To pick up what I believe to be the best short story I have written — FOR FREE — just follow the below links to your retailer of choice:







If you do download it, be sure to stop by and tell me what you think. I’ve got thick skin and my chin can take a pretty solid punch…

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I don’t know how many times I will say this on this site, but: noir should never be about hard guys. The term ‘noir’ is often used as an adjective synonymous with ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ and ‘tough’. I think it more helpful to consider the term a noun, a small word that carries with it implicit meaning, conveying in its four letters the challenges of modernity, and the inherent failures and weaknesses that result from tussling with it — creating an inescapable mood of desperation and bitterness.

A movie or a book should not be noir in its stylistic approach, but convey a world that is noir, through to its core, revealing a ruthless, ungilded truth at the heart of man.

Because the truth is that tough guys are a rare commodity in this world, and yet, disproportionately, they fill our most popular movies and books.

But is there a very simple psychological explanation for this? Advertisers employ very deliberate tactics to get us to buy their crap. They convey a world that we are desperate to be a part of. They show us sexy, vivacious people enjoying full and happy lives. Buying their products is likened in the mark’s mind to being a spontaneous, outgoing and fun act.

But the mark knows in his heart that, in reality, he is none of these things. He gets up in the morning and goes to his job. He comes home and he eats quick TV dinners, then goes on the internet and reads gossip columns and watches pornography.

Buying things ultimately serves no purpose, and we know it — no matter how momentarily good it makes us feel. Similarly, our cowardly consumption of heroes doesn’t help us, either — not least of which in the wee smalls, when we are forced finally, inescapably, to stare into our souls — and recoil in horror at the truths we find within.

In Drive a Crooked Road (1954) Mickey Rooney plays one of film noir’s greatest weaklings, and does so with one of film noir’s great performances.

Eddie Shannon is a mechanic and amateur racing car driver, who opens the movie finishing second in a race. And that isn’t even an apt symbolic position for him to finish in — he is the lonely, quiet guy who remains in his seat while his lunching mechanic buddies whoop and howl at the girls who pass by their garage; the loser who picks sorry-looking flowers from the front yard of his boarding house to brighten up his evenings spent lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and dreaming he was somebody else.

There are two guys spectating his second place triumph; two guys who are looking for a driver. In fact, they’ve been staking Shannon out for a while. Their opinion? “No family, few friends, lives alone and hates it. He’s the right type.”

Yes, in the world of noir, he’s the right type. Yet in Shannon’s head, he’s very much the wrong type, unable to participate in the world the way others do. But for these two guys? He’s the right type. Just begging to be chewed up and spat out.

Besides, there’s some money to steal. And money’s more important than feelings.

Pretty soon, Shannon finds himself being wooed by a shapely gal who turns up at his garage, making goo-goo eyes at him and teasing him to follow her to the beach, where she lies back all tanned and curvy and wanton, and pudgy little Shannon’s stripped torso makes her goo-goo eyes briefly recoil in pity and disgust.

Conversation with Shannon is a gloomy affair, his voice low and his eyes unable to stay in one place for very long. His inability to participate in the world has left him wounded, suspicious and backward.

“You don’t think much of yourself, do you?” his new gal pal asks.

He doesn’t. And the one group of people who should have some sympathy for the putz — the audience — well, we don’t think all that much of him either. We’ve already seen him steal a handkerchief from her car, and then pull it out of his pocket to sniff in his darkened room, as the camera mercifully fades to black before we can see what sordid use he finds for it next.

But, Jeez, the guy’s lonely, all right? That’s what lonely guys do, don’t you know?

If this had been a more standard Mickey Rooney picture, do you think he’d be lying in bed in his boarding house, thinking up the Devil’s work for his idle hands? No, he’d be downstairs with the other boarders, having a little sing-song around the piano. At the very least he’d be helping his kindly old landlady with the washing up.

But this ain’t no usual Hollywood picture. His landlady here is just a disembodied voice.

The guy’s so pathetic that his new gal pal starts to have second thoughts. She very kindly, understandingly realizes that breezing into a guy’s life and reaching into his chest and plucking out the withered, beating thing that resides within is unkind. She begins to understand that he’s very much the wrong type.

“He’s like a lonesome little animal,” she says, “… filled with a devotion … a kind of terrible worship.”

(‘Terrible worship’ might be my new favourite phrase.)

And we know things are going to end badly; no spoiler alert needed here. (Nor in noir, in general, of course.) But when the ending comes along, it’s not necessarily rage and revenge that’s in Shannon’s heart; but love, with cooed words into his love’s ear.

“Please don’t cry. …”

Christ, the camera itself is too sickened and disgusted to watch. It pans back, drifting slowly away, the pathetic sight too much to catch in any detail, too heart-breaking for any normal person to think about. Fade to black.

And the audience walks away, thinking, Jesus, this world’s a sad and lonely place…

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