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You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Cheers.

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I want to say a big thank you to all the authors who took the time to answer a bunch of questions for the blog. My intention was to promote my new book, City of Forts, by not really talking much about it – apart from a cheeky reminder at the very end – and promoting others instead. Every author involved is a fine specimen of the writing species and you really should try all of them.

The stories came out of nowhere. I had no intention of writing the intros like this. I started with a little bit of a fun introduction for Gabriel Valjan, but it really took off for Kate Laity and then I couldn’t stop. I’m kind of sad I’ve finished with the whole thing because it was a great mental exercise and I got to read a bunch of these authors again, delving into their short stories and buying a few books.

So, thanks to all of you, and I hope everybody else enjoyed the great interview answers.

A final special mention to Tom Leins, Renato Bratkovič, and Kate Laity for hosting me on their sites


You can buy City of Forts HERE.

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You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Sonia Kilvington

I’m at the pelican crossing, Madness’ Shut Up loud through the car speakers, the rain in competition with the beat. I drum the steering wheel and if I had whiskers I’d twiddle them and slurp some cream. The woman walks slow, her tartan shopping trolley rickety and bound to get stuck in the road’s shallowest cracks. I reach back to touch the bag on the back seat and grin.

The windscreen wipers thud dull and work to ruin Suggs’ cheeky excuse and I realise the old woman is too slow, even for an octogenarian.

Too late, and I should have known. The woman slides out a shotgun from the trolley and points it at me. I slam the accelerator and she swings and arcs her body to avoid my car’s bullhorns. She fires and a tyre bursts. I slip, slide and do an unintentional one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn. The airbag punches my face and sends my nose to the left.

I shake the fuzz away and check the rear view for Sonia Kilvington. She holds the shotgun over a shoulder and swaggers all Joan Jett my way. I grab the bag and slide out the passenger side. I stumble and slip as privet leaves are scythed by shotgun pellets behind me. I hear the reload and the click as she fires again.

She’s either got A-Team aim or she’s playing with me. I don’t wait to find out and run down the nearest alleyway. When I look behind, Kilvington is at full sprint, her arms pistons in a six-cylinder, and though I’m not tired her fixed determination deflates me.

Nah, she’s not having the bag back. Not until she gives me what I want. I hide in a doorway’s shadows. Needles and dried leaves crumple under my feet. I stick my leg out and Sonia slides across the slick flagstones, arms out. The shotgun clatters away from her and rodents squeal to safety.

I step out into the lighter murk and hover over her. Her breath comes out in great billows and wraps us in fog.

“Give me my bag,” she says.

I hold it close to my chest. “I don’t think so. There’s only one way you get this bad boy back.”

“Does it involve this?” She points a gun which fits snug in her palm at me.

“Ah, that might do it.”

She gesticulates for me to throw the bag, so I oblige, right at her head. She pulls off a shot but loses sight of me as her forearm protects her head. I kick the gun from her hand and grab the bag.

I run, stop, run, stop. Pause to hear the slap of footsteps, and charge back towards the main streets. I pinball out the alley’s end straight into Kilvington’s palm-punch. My legs fly above me and my brain crunches on impact. Kilvington puts a bullet in my right thigh and she checks the bag as I writhe. The downpour fails to quench the burn which sears my frame. The golden glow lights up her face and she convinces me she’s climbed into the bag it shines so warm.

She zips it shut before it claims her. “Why’d you steal it?”

My clenched teeth bar an eloquent answer, but I manage to spit out “Answers.”

She sleeves away the drench from her face as the rain slows to a steady stream. She eyes my wound. “You know how hard I worked for this? You have any idea at all?”

My lower lip trembles and I’m not sure if it’s from the bullet wound or her righteousness. I shake my head.

“Because I did work hard. And you come here and steal what is mine without a thought for the consequences.”

She’s got me. I hope the rain disguises my tears.

“Looks like we need to share a pot of tea.” She wraps my leg to stem the bleeding. Once finished, she steps over me and invites me to hop along with her.

I think an hospital is the better choice, but the warm lights of the cafe I see across the road, and Sonia’s answers make me trail a leg that way instead.


Sonia Kilvington writes dark fiction you can see across respected crime fiction magazines such as The Flash Fiction Offensive. Her work is witty, sometimes gruesome, and has a whole lot of heart. As well as writing fiction she also writes features for magazines in Cyprus.

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Sonia Kilvington (SK): Your life must be so interesting…

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

SK: I enjoy an emotionally troubled character, someone with serious issues and internal conflict; ideally, they will be a little paranoid too. Unreliable narrators are my favourite sort; you have to put a bit more work in if you can’t trust what they are telling you.

The Main Line Murders (DI Flynn Mysteries Book 1)

Do you need a likeable protagonist?

SK: I don’t remember reading a book with a likeable protagonist. It’s not my sort of thing.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

SK: I’m interested in cults, and I thought Waco was fantastic! Instead of giving us an entirely predictable Good VS. Evil account of the 51 day siege and standoff, between the FBI, ATF, U.S. military and Branch Davidians, we were given a strange, complicated picture of events and motivations. David Koresh was everything you could hope for in a charismatic cult leader. If there were awards for narcissism… and yet some of his interpretation of religious texts seemed inspired. It was a beautifully done drama with a very tragic ending. I cried my way through the last episode; that’s why I am mentioning it.

What makes you throw a book out the window?

SK: Boredom, whining characters, a lack of involvement or super slow plotlines.

Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

SK: It depends on whether I’m being paid to review it or not.

Buried In The Hills (DI Flynn Mysteries Book 2)

What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?

SK: Dreams, nightmares; things that get dredged up from my unconscious. I am also partial to song lyrics.  My writing is often about trying to a capture a feeling or a conflicted emotion. Maybe I am trying to explain myself in some obscure way? I have used experiences from my real life in disguise too. I tend to be more honest in my poetry.

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

SK: It has been awhile since I wrote a full length novel; I have been concentrating on writing short stories the last couple of years. The most useful thing I have learnt is to have faith in a story when other people find it too weird or don’t understand what I’m trying to do with it. Maybe it just needs a little re-working…

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

SK: I am putting together a short story collection. I write in several different genres, but all of my characters are unified in being psychologically challenged in some way.

SK: Where can readers connect with you?

https://soniakilvingtonwriter.com

https://www.facebook.com/soniafiction/

To get a taste for Sonia’s work, check out the following short stories:

Paranoidat Pulp Metal Magazine

Skin Deep at Spelk Fiction

Jakeat The Flash Fiction Offensive

You can buy Sonia Kilvington’s work at Amazon US and UK.


You can buy City of Forts on all Digital Formats HERE, and in paperback.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Bradley Ernst

Bradley Ernst scratched the tip of his nose with a pencil and shrugged his shoulders. I leaned across the table towards him and stared hard enough to crumble a mafia linchpin. It made the librarian hush me, though I’d said nothing more. But it didn’t budge Bradley.

“I can’t give you any answers right now. My head is not right. You need to go in there to find my answers.” He swept a hand over rows and rows of bookshelves, forest-deep and as dark. “Here, take this.”

He thrust the pencil into my hand. I watched him over my shoulder on my way past the first shelves. The air rippled and resisted and I caught my breath. I rubbed my thumb over the pencil’s blunt end as the light faded and the occasional book shone from the darkest corners.

A trail of flowers littered the floor and a man with wavy hair and a goatee beard stepped out from behind a shelf of dusty English classics. One arm swung back to hold on to the shelf and he bent forwards as if exhausted. “I am very hungry and tired … I have been walking these seven days.”

I could only react from the shock of his appearance. His eyes implored me for more. I flickered from him to somebody in the shadows, rows behind Charles Dickens, who threw a book at the man. Dickens disappeared and I swirled at this madness.

A fluorescent light buzzed in the distance and I made my way to it, lightheaded. A man pounded at a typewriter. He had a kind face and I wanted to open my mouth, but his concentration told me to leave him alone. I peered over his shoulder and read a paragraph from The Water-Method Man. A wave of hot air floated finished pages into the air and as they hovered before me flames turned them into ashes. It spread to the typewriter and the unfinished page, but John Irving continued to pound the keys like the fire came out of his fingertips.

I flapped and ran to cool the prickle on my skin, and froze at the shadow which stalked me. I chased it and stumbled over a million unread novels it swept from the shelves as it charged away from me. I slid down a bookcase, emptied of books, and caught my breath. What had I entered? I scratched my cheek to suppress the nerves and scrambled away at the figure which banged a frying pan with a spoon. He stood over me, a wild grin dominated his bald head.

“You a damn liberal? You a flowery ass? No, don’t talk to me. You take too long. I need full stops every three words. Vote Bush. Vote Obama. Vote Trump. Don’t vote. They’re all corrupt. Not as corrupt as the LAPD. They’re all mad. They’re all going to get you. If you want to get out of here, you need a bruised cop. From the LAPD. Corrupt, yeah, but he has right on his side.”

James Ellroy grinned and leaned forward across the lectern. “Damn liberal pussies. Vote Obama. Vote Republican. Vote …”

I scrambled away, confused, past a bookshelf named The Great American Novel, beyond the sci-fi section, and into the cobwebbed section all writers feared. I willed myself from the loneliest columns and rows, the shadow to my left, right and behind. Sometimes ahead, in wait.

Zora Neale Hurston shushed her lips and offered me a bright smile. She invited me to walk with her shoulder-to-shoulder and we walked by the greats. A light from far above kept us company, its source unidentifiable. I rubbed the pencil’s lead again and cried out. The thing had sharpened. When I looked up, she had gone. The shadow crept across the aisle, climbed a bookcase, darted beneath another, and finally loomed high above me. It blocked my way to a man in a chair. I stepped to the side and the shadow blocked me. I tried the other side with the same result.

“Is that you, Bradley?”

The man in the chair nodded. “Get a move on, Beech, I’ve been sat here ages.”

“This shadow’s in the way. Why am in your mind? It’s the weirdest thing ever. Did you ply me with some special sauce, or something?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Green tea, or muck like it?”

“No. Would never do that. You just slipped inside my head. You’ve just got to get past this thing.”

“You have writer’s block? Is this thing a symbol of …?”

The shadow whooshed through me. I stumbled to my knees, convinced my lungs had frozen. It pinned me to the floor and applied so much pressure I thought I’d become one with the hard wood. John Kennedy Toole encouraged me through a gap between Cormac McCarthy books.

The shadow swooped to the ceiling and watched, ready to pounce. It swirled, thinned to an arrow and darted straight for my heart. I closed my eyes and thrust the pencil out. The floor rumbled, rows and rows of bookcases shimmered, and a screech stretched out my ear drums until they almost burst.

I opened a gap in my eye and listened until I felt safe to open both. Bradley rested his elbows on the table we’d sat at before I entered his crazy mind.

“What happened? Have I cleared your writer’s block?”

“I never had writer’s block. I just wanted you to have a flavor of what’s in there, but I’m glad you cleared out some crackpottery. Come on … let me get you that beer and we can chew some fat.”

I slit my eyes at the bright sunshine outside. I craned my neck to the dark aisles back inside and shivered at the shadow which dug its claws into the shelves as it watched us cross the road.


Bradley Ernst writes books that delve deep into human nature’s murkiest depths, with wit and excitement. One reviewer noted that it’s not enough to class his Inhumanum novel as a thriller. It crosses many genres and so it’s more accurate to class the book as a genre in itself. Made Men is a continuation of Inhumanum and is as highly-rated. You should check him out.

***

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Bradley Ernst (BE): Instead of skinning Skinner for his opinion, I’ll offer my own by way of a name: Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan took his overwhelming knowledge of verified science—and used it to introduce theory. It’s that edge—where fact topples over into theory, where fact erodes into plausible story, where the magic of fiction is born. So many dust-covers boast: “Based on a true story.” The heft of connective tissue that connects that bone, the fact, to the fatty meat of fiction is where lay the art.

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

BE: Flaws. Vulnerability. Gumption.

Do you need a likeable protagonist?

BE: Excellent question! Do you need to like yourself? I’d venture we all struggle with tolerating ourselves a bit. An unlikeable protagonist is agreeable since we can relate to human failures. Some of my favorite protagonists have been utterly unlikeable. Here are three:

The Water-Method Man. Irving’s Fred Trumper: a selfish, weak-willed liar embodies the worst of what easy roads our inner selves wish to travel, even if we do the right thing. To Fred, doing the right thing is so boringly pedestrian; he ventures far out of his way to do the wrong things. Mind candy.

A Confederacy of Dunces Toole’s sole novel (published post-mortem by his own doting mother) extols the mannerisms of Ignatius P Reilly, a fat and flatulent man-baby who not only does whatever the Hell he chooses to do; he angrily rants and writes and charges around complaining about the world in which he does not fit. Ignatius is a tremendous protagonist in every way—and someone we’d love to watch in person with binoculars, but go nowhere near his person. A win for Toole, thought he never saw it realized.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Like no one else, Zora Neale Hurston painted people the way they are. Not the gilded pretty people, but the gritty, dirty, selfish people who we are. “Tea Cake” is my favorite. A selfish, horrible man. A person can be horrible and also honest: those traits are not exclusive of each other.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

BE: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men barely succeeds in containing my favorite antagonist. Anton Chigurh. Anton, a philosophical sociopath, is unstoppable. The payoff for me, which McCarthy made me earn by reading fast, jaw clenched, is that in the end, Anton wins. That is life! Sometimes the bad guy wins. Thank you, Cormac McCarthy, for Anton. We all run circles in our tiny orbits—we seek our comforts in the familiar and the pat. We believe in what we need to in order to feel safe. We are, none of us, safe. So live anyway you daft hiders—you silly planners—you eaters of soy—LIVE! Might as well. Your Anton is out there.

What makes you throw a book out the window?

BE: I’ve wildlife outside of my windows that don’t deserve to choke on certain novels, however I do keep a shelf of sadness upon which I’ve laid to rest books to remind me what not to write, and I am fickle. I can handle narrative excess if it makes me think, and there is an appropriate payoff. Give me great narrative, and I will finish a book in a day. Write something too ugly and some might see it as poetic, however use narrative excess and stir in more than a pinch of ugly and it doesn’t matter if you live in New York, only write in pencil, never grant interviews: I don’t agree with your Pulitzer. Shelf of Sadness for you, Donna Tart.

Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

BE: I like my teeth too much, but I will pace as I read. I’m a big pacer.

What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?

BE: Subtle things. An anticipated sadness. The tangible click of time lost or squandered on frivolity. Love. The temporary nature of beautiful things.

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

BE: Lessons regarding the vicarious escape we all crave. I strove to make feelings jump from a page. I love prose, flat black and white, where I can leap into a reader’s brain-pan and wreak havoc. I wanted readers to cry, laugh, cry, laugh, and they did. By Vardo, Mostly was fun to write, and I cried and laughed as I wrote it.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

BE: The story of a whole character; imperfect, yet whole. To illustrate who a person—unaffected by the myriad social pressures social—is. He is literally a peerless boy.

Where can readers connect with you?

A: Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14537396.Bradley_Ernst

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerBradleyErnst/

And website: http://bradleyernst.com

You can buy Bradley’s books at Amazon US and UK.


City of of Forts is now available to buy from all Digital Formats and in paperback.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Nigel Bird

“Your answers are on the USB stick, Beechy.” He slipped it into my hand and bent down to stroke the dog he had on a leash. “This is Gnasher. My wife calls him Gordie. You good to look after him?”

I patted the dog, a mutt with a face that must have been sat on by Big Daddy at least a dozen times. “I said I would, didn’t I? I’m just glad you brought my answers.”

He shook my hand. “I can’t be late, I’ll see you in a few hours. Take good care of him, my wife is a sweetheart, but she will kill me if any harm comes to him. And I mean literally, not figuratively. Enjoy the park.”

“Take your time.”

The dog muzzled at my hand. “I don’t have food, chubby-chops. Sorry.”

He tried the other hand and damn, he swallowed the USB stick. “Nigel. Nige. Nigel.”

Nigel ran back, alarmed, as he should. “What happened?”

“Your stupid dog ate the USB stick.”

“You let him eat the stick?”

“No, of course not, it just lunged at it before I had a chance to react. You’d think it would spit it back out, it being plastic and everything.”

“Gnasher, pal, come on, are you stupid?”

The mutt tilted its head sideways at our complaints. I’m sure he’d like another stick for dessert.

“You’re going to have to tell me your answers. I’ll write them down.”

Nigel paused, his fingers in the dog’s mouth. “Are you kidding me? The dog is my wife’s new love. Any harm and it’s me in the kennel. And I need to get to my appointment. Can’t miss it. Help me get the thing out of the dog.”

“That time has passed. It’s the dog’s other end we need to look at, now.”

Nigel rubbed the spots of rain from his glasses and puffed his cheeks. A man stopped in front of us. His open coat flapped in the wind and he swigged from his can of Special Brew. String hung out his pocket in search of a dog to wrap around.

“What you doing with that dog?”

“It swallowed something it shouldn’t have.” Nigel poked around the dog’s mouth as if the thing had become stuck in its teeth. Gnasher growled and swung its neck, but I held him round the waist to keep him steady.

“Make him eat grass.”

We pulled a face at the man. “Why?”

“Make him sick. It’ll all come out in the wash.” He ripped a handful of grass and encouraged Gnasher to eat from his palm.

Nigel slapped his hand away. “He’s not eating grass, pal. Bugger off.”

The man hunched and slouched away, a gob-full of cusses thrown at the cold breeze.

Nigel lost it and stood. “I’ve got to go.” But he remained planted to the spot. “Damn it, Gnasher, spit the bloody thing up, will you? I don’t have time for this nonsense.”

I slapped the dog’s ribs as if that would shoot the thing out its mouth.

“No no no no no. No fellas, no.”

The young woman toed the brake on the pram and bent to Gnasher. “You have to treat a dog with love and care, not harsh words.” Her baby cried tears enough to flood the pram. “What are these fellas doing to you, you lovely dog?”

Lovely? I’d seen cuddlier iguanas. This flea-bitten thing had a face even its mum would turn from. The baby’s scream ripped the clouds apart to allow a peek of the sallow sun. Somehow, the golden glow made the dog uglier.

I huffed and gained her ire. “The dog has a USB stick in its belly. Unless you can get the thing out, you can sod off and leave us to it.” She charged off without her baby. Came back to get him, but accused us of making her forget the little Damian. The silence eased the tension.

“You could have given me the answers verbally by now.”

I shut my mouth at the glower Nigel offered in response. A mechanic offered to use a spanner on the dog, a nurse recommended a vet (thanks), and an old woman on a mobility scooter said we should stick a finger up its bum. “You know, like you do if it locks its jaws round your calf.”

I knelt in front of the dog and eyeballed him. “Gnasher, you’re one ugly mutt. I don’t know why you’re loved, because if I saw you without Nigel i’d think you were nothing more than a stain on the pavement. But you are loved. Not by me, no. But others with a more forgiving nature. For them, barf up that bloody USB stick. Yeah?”

The dog offered its paw and growled and whined for more food.

“Oi. Oi, you.”

A big man pointed at us from across the field and fast-walked.

“Who’s he?”

Nigel looked a little shifty. “Shit, it’s the man my wife stole Gnasher from.”

“She stole this dog? She risked the law for this?”

“Look at him. He’s an animal.”

Oh, he meant the man.

The man sped to a jog. His finger-jabbed and his accusations spilled out like the baby, earlier. “You doing with my dog? I’ve been searching for him for days.”

Gnasher whimpered and nuzzled the back of Nigel’s leg.

“Come back here you little arsehole.”

Nigel held the big man back with the flat of his palm. “Leave the dog alone.”

The man whipped a lead from his pocket and raised it high. Gnasher yelped at the sight and puked all over Nigel’s leg. The man turned his face sideways and his nose quivered at the sight and smell. He let his hand fall to his side and backed away.

“You know what, you keep the bloody thing. Ugly little rat, anyway.”

We watched him go. Held our noses. Nigel shook his leg as if that would clean him up.

“Oh, look,’ I said. “There’s the USB stick.”

Nigel fished in his pocket and thrust a wet-wipe in my hand. “There you go, fella. Get at it.”

I held it between finger and thumb and watched Nigel head to his appointment smelling of dog sick. Never mind, I’d got what I wanted.


Nigel Bird has written so many books it’s difficult to know where to start, but you can’t go wrong with his Southsiders series, which Ian Rankin called “Grim, but really good.” Nigel has stories across a host of highly-regarded short-story collections, including The Mammoth Book of British Crime alongside other greats Ian Rankin and Val McDermid.

***

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Nigel Bird (NB): What can you say? I’d be inclined to leave them alone and let them get on with whatever they’re into.

I struggle to imagine a world where things that have been made up aren’t a part of it. I presume your friend doesn’t bother with films or plays for the same reason and, taking it to extremes, doesn’t have much time for non-fiction or conversation either.

I heard a nice interview on World Book Day last week with Tony Parsons. He was talking about the merits of reading to children and remembered the story that finally got him hooked on books. His thought was that those who don’t like reading just haven’t heard the right story yet. Maybe your friend is in that category. I hope they find theirs soon.

Southsiders - That's All Right: Jesse Garon #1

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

NB: I’m not sure the protagonist needs anything other than conflict, whether it’s external or internal. That’s what’ll keep things interesting no matter what other qualities or faults they may possess.

Do you need a likeable protagonist?

NB: Absolutely not, though I do like a main character to have some redeeming qualities no matter how awful they are. Too likeable or too mean can be stretches too far.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

NB: Because he’s the first that came to mind, I’m going to pick the Deaf Man from the 87th Precinct novels. He’s ruthless and clever and his schemes are almost perfect. The way he goads the detectives with his trails of clues and direct messages is always entertaining and the paces he puts the police through make fascinating reading.

Southsiders - Jailhouse Rock: Jesse Garon #2

What makes you throw a book out the window?

NB: Unwelcome visitors knocking at the door.

Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

NB: No. If I don’t’ like something, I’m unlikely to finish it. I’ll give it a chance and see if things improve, but there are so many stories out there waiting to be read that I no longer have the patience to leave them in the queue

What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?

NB: Usually it’s a moment where two ideas clash and create some kind of internal explosion. It’s a Eureka moment, the kind of thing that can’t be planned for and occurs, unfortunately, far too rarely. The two ideas may be collected from anywhere, but what they most likely have in common is that they led me to ask ‘What if?’ as soon as I came across them.

The Shallows

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

NB: I was reminded that the flaws and bad habits I had when I started writing still lurk in the shadows. I learned, again, that I should make an effort to take notes as I go along to avoid having to constantly search up minor details about characters when I need them. I tried to focus upon pacing without really finding any solutions and while attempting to juggle a number of plotlines I realised I should have given each angle a little more thought before I attempted to twist the strands into a tight rope.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

NB: Whoever said suicide was painless was seriously off the mark.  Police intervene to prevent a teenager from killing himself and end up wishing they’d just let him do his thing.

Where can readers connect with you?

The best place is through my books. That’s where the real connection can be forged, for better or worse. Otherwise I do most of the usual stuff on social media.

You can buy Nigel’s books from Amazon US and UK.

Thanks, Nigel.


City of Forts is now available on all digital formats and in paperback.

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You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Martin Stanley

I spot Martin Stanley in the Museum Tavern, a pint in his hand, an elbow on the bar, a story out of his mouth into the barman’s ear. The barman nods my way and Stanley scrunches his eyes at the sight of me. I don’t know who he thinks I am – I’m dressed in regular civilian uniform, a little worn around the edges, but nothing to elicit such a reaction. He jumps over the bar and out the back of the pub.

My back is a little dodgy, but I can hurdle with the best of them and I’m out the rear in a shot, the cusses of punters in my ears whose alcohol I’d spilt. I’ve made an appointment, and Stanley will honour it, hell or something about water.

I spot him head for the spinning door of a high-end bank, but the odd thing is I’m sure he spins right back out as I enter the building with him. I twirl back onto the street and hook his arm. Stanley faces me, surprise and anger on his face. It’s not him. I apologise and swivel to see where my appointment has gone, and step on the man’s foot by accident. He hops at the pain and crashes into the path of a bicyclist who jumped the red light.

I mouth my apologies and head for the man I see down a side road. He clangs metal steps which hang off the building’s outside. He can’t have changed clothes this quick, but he has Stanley’s gait. I make it across the road, skiing between cars, buses and bicycles. I jump two steps at a time and hold my side. Rub the stitch away. Stanley stands at the roof’s edge and stares at the city. The wind flaps his Savile Row suit and buffets the bowler hat he wears. What’s with the disguise? I had an appointment.

I charge over and tap him hard on the shoulder, full of righteous indignation. The man turns, his face tracked with years of hard living. Stanley has at least another forty to go before his face resembles this cracked Saharan landscape.

I grab the man’s elbow in apology. He mumbles a “thank you” about me taking the time to acknowledge him, and that I’d saved him. But I let go hastily when I see Stanley head to the Cartoon Museum and the man slips. I don’t have time to look or help, but when I make it round the building a crowd of people have swarmed round some object which had fallen from the roof. They block my way.

I shimmy in and out of bodies, the Stanley Matthews of the street, but without a ball. Everybody streams against me, like a conspiracy. Stanley has distance and owls his neck my way. Smiles. What’s his problem? He pulls his jacket free. In the blur of movement I’m sure he wraps a scarf round his neck. Bodies in the way. I lose sight and regain. There. He’s donned a blonde wig, shoulder length, and tight pants. On the move? In the middle of the street? I get closer, which sends him into a nervous scurry and he shoots off down a dank alleyway Fagin would have sent his thieving kids down. Stanley won’t get far in those platform shoes. I catch this Sweet tribute singer by the shoulder and he swings and hits me with a purse I never knew he carried.

“What do you want?”

“I … I …”

It’s not Stanley. This person is a woman. Comely and everything. She sees her chance in my confusion and puts those platforms to use, right in my hoo-haws. I crumble, hands in nut-comfort mode, and tumble into a drainpipe. A rumble jets up the drainpipe and dislodges something up high. I crawl away, blind to the crash and scream behind me.

Why is Stanley running from me? I see him everywhere. He’s the road-sweeper, he’s the glum McDonald’s server, the jogger, the underwear model in the department store window. I lean against a wall and pull thoughts into my head. What can I do but grab a pint and admit defeat.

I enter the Flying Horse and there, sat at a two-seater table, is Martin Stanley. He’s in a t-shirt and jeans and taps a barmat on the table. He has two pints, one for him … “That one’s for you.”

“What the hell was that all about?” I ask.

“I thought you were a man called Jimmy. Dodgy bloke with a scar from ear to neck. Lost at cards to him the other night. Sorry, you look a little dodgy, too. Made me jittery.”

I sit opposite him and rub at my neck to wipe away any mark which could look like a scar.

Stanley raises his Duchesse de Bourgogne and winks, holds his words until a train of ambulances pass by for some unfortunate souls. “Now, what questions do you have for me?”


Martin Stanley is the author of the grim, exciting, and very funny Stanton Brothers books. He loves big-flavoured beers, has impeccable taste in loving Once Upon a Time in the West, and is mad for Berlin. You might catch him reading Elmore Leonard, Ted Lewis, and James Ellroy.

***

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Martin Stanley (MS): If his reading habits are anything to go by, it seems words are wasted on your friend. I’m not a fan of wasting words. He can go fuck himself.

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

MS: They need to have something compelling about them. They need to be interesting, have flaws, personality, be driven in some way (whether it be by the plot or by personal demons).

Bone Breakers (A Stanton brothers thriller Book 4)

Do you need a likeable protagonist?

MS: I don’t need my protagonists to be likeable. However, I draw the line at irritating or boring, and I also hate whiny or self-pitying characters.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

MS: I’m a massive fan of Roger Smith. He writes some of the best villains around. They are utterly despicable and yet recognizably human. Steve Bungu from Nowhere is a particularly well-rounded antagonist.

The Curious Case of the Missing Moolah (A Stanton Brothers thriller Book 1)

What makes you throw a book out the window?

MS: If it’s a piece of shit then it’s going out the window. If it’s boring or irritating, particularly if it’s a first-person piece, then it’s fifty-fifty whether that book’s going to fly or not. Bad endings make me want to send a book hurtling into the night sky.

Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

MS: Sometimes. I try to be optimistic that things will improve.  Most of time I regret that optimism.

What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?

MS: Lots of things get me writing. I love listening for odd speech-patterns or weird arcane turns of phrase, and will often give characters those turns of phrase. I’ve been having great difficulty in finishing a novel recently, to the point where my progress slowed to a few hundred words a week (if I was lucky). Don Winslow’s The Force rekindled my love of writing. It made me want to finish my current project.  I often feel more creative after travelling.

The Glasgow Grin (A Stanton Brothers thriller Book 6)

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

MS: My current novel has taught me to plan everything. I decided to part plot and part pants the writing of The Amsterdamned. If I’d plotted the thing in its entirety, there’s a very good chance I’d be in the editing stage by now. Yes, I think I’ve learned to hate my latest novel.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

MS: My next book will be a collection of Stanton brothers’ short stories called Get Santa and other shorts. Available some time next month.

10. Where can readers connect with you? @MStanleyAuthor on Twitter and also at www.martinstanleyauthor.com

You can buy Martin Stanley’s books from Amazon US and UK.

Thanks, Martin.


City of Forts is available now in all digital formats and in paperback. Buy it HERE for the special release price.

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