It’s a British train, which made it easy to jump from the bridge to the chugger’s roof. I slipped and scrambled to safety. Aidan Thorn landed with a knee bent, his hammer hands clanging the metal. He slit his eyes at the scumbag three carriages ahead, and bull-snorted at the man’s cheek.
I lobbed a lozenge into Thorn’s gob and lit him a cigar. He nodded once and the chase was on.
The man ahead had agility. He hopped from carriage roof to carriage roof, a man-bag swaying to and fro on his back, his blue shirt a red rag to Thorn.
We jumped from roof to roof, ducked for the bridges, and fought the wind until we had all reached the front of the train. We stood in a triangle as if we waited for a ring-ding. The man ballooned his cheeks and blew all his hot air away in the breeze. The man held the man-bag tight to his chest and scratched the Portsmouth badge on his shirt to rile Thorn into losing his footing so he’d fall to a mangled death.
I leaned into the wind and held out my shaky hand. “It’s done. Slide over the bag.”
He side-eyed Thorn, whose hammer-hands had charged for action, the cigar tilted to the side. “What’s with him? Cat got his tongue?”
“He’s got a bad bout of laryngitis. Can’t say a word.”
He pulled a duck-face. “What happened to his hands?”
“Slammed them so hard on a plastic chair that he’s knackered them up.”
The man spat over the side. “Now he knows what it’s like to be a Portsmouth fan. Damn you Southampton fans.”
I shrugged my shoulders at the South Coast rivalry. “He can’t speak, he can’t write. I need the answers he gave me before all this happened.” Thorn grimaced as we flew past the sign for the upcoming Portsmouth station. “And I need them now.”
“Bollocks, you’re not having them.”
I lunged at him. He smashed me in the face with the man-bag and I tumbled to the side. I hung on, my legs in a scramble for some purchase. A kid through the window had a hand over his mouth. His old man pointed his phone at me. Arse.
Our man from Portsmouth stamped in search of my fingers, but I managed to dodge long enough for Thorn to step in. Thorn bent his knees and faked a left swing. Our target dodged right into his real punch and hit the deck.
The man’s mouth turned into a tooth mixer and he spat out his ruined teeth, outraged. He roundhoused Thorn to his arse and jumped for the kill. Thorn clamped the cigar tight and stuck his arms out Superman-style. The thief hit the rock hard pots in such a way it took all his wind. He staggered. Must only have seen stars because he certainly didn’t clock the bridge.
Thorn dragged me back to the roof once we’d passed by the bridge. The Portsmouth shirt hung limp as a defeated battle flag off the corner of the carriage and the bag laid just short of a tip over the side.
I snatched the questions from the bag and grinned at Thorn. He stared at the Portsmouth shirt and feared a similar future for his beloved Southampton. He cleared his throat the best he could. I heard “Mark Hughes …” croak out his ruined pipes in the longest groan.
Aidan Thorn is a top chap and a cracking writer. He writes crime fiction full of grit, bone crunches, and a ton of heart. His When the Music’s Over (soon to be republished by Fahrenheit 13) is a lovely crime novella which meditates on regret. He’s showcased a bunch of short stories across online magazines, and in a ton of anthologies (including the one he edited, Paladins). He has a new one out, Rival Sons, from Shotgun Honey’s press, at the end of 2018.
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?
Aidan Thorn (AT): I don’t really have any words for him. I’d tell him I don’t talk to boring people.
Seriously, I get this all the time, “I’d read your books, but you know I don’t read…” Fine, go bore someone else.
Your friend sounds like a lazy fucker, because I bet he watches TV and movies, but not those silly subtitled ones, right – I mean, if he wanted to read he’d get a book right. And, he doesn’t want to read.
Was that a bit aggressive? Sorry, I don’t buy “I don’t read,” not in the age of social media – fuck, it’s all anyone seems to do is read, but only if it’s gossipy shite that can be liked, or some affirmation bullshit statement that can be shared.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
AT: Plenty of things, but no set list. I like books with strong characters. I can read a strong character even if the story itself isn’t great, because I invest in the person. I can’t, however, read a story that’s OK if the characters are weak, because why do I care? For example, I read every single Michael Connelly book because I love his character, Harry Bosch, as well as Mickey Haller. Sometimes the stories aren’t great but I’m invested and I want to know what’s going on in Harry’s life. Over many years Connelly has created a person I care about. And, at the same time I can invest in a character who’s barely described and mysterious, just as long as that character is written well.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
AT: Not initially, maybe, but they probably have to have something to like to keep me reading/writing/watching them. Prime example for me is Negan from The Walking Dead, the TV series – I’ve not read the comics. Initially he’s an antagonist to Rick and his group, but increasingly he’s one of the main protagonists of the show. I fucking hate Negan, and in the first few episodes of TWD that he appeared in I wanted him to die every time his face appeared on the screen. I still want him to die, but I do find at times that I laugh at him now and I enjoy his scenes rather than have a physical adrenaline-fueled reaction where I want to jump through the screen and hurt him… But I’m looking forward to the day he gets his and I guess that’s what keeps me watching.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
AT: Being overly descriptive. I don’t have time to read about our main character’s eating habits in extensive detail. I get it, a scene needs to be set, but not every scene needs to have a paragraph about how Character X smoked his cigarettes / ordered a sandwich and the filling he ordered / washed his hands after a piss. Brevity is key, I like story, not padding. If the words don’t move the story along then in my opinion they shouldn’t be there – but then I would say that, I write short stories and novellas.
I also fucking hate product placement, especially when it’s blatant. I’ve noticed a few of the bigger name writers sneaking this in more and more – ‘Jim scrolled through his iPhone for a tune, hit play and it flooded his ears through his Beats headphones.’ Fuck off!
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
AT: I used to more than I do now, but now, no. I’ve got better things to do than to read books I don’t enjoy – it’s a waste of time, there’s a lot of good books out there – I could be reading one of those instead. But as I said earlier, I will read a story I don’t think is great if I’m already invested in the character.
What gets you writing? A great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
AT: That’s a good question for me right now because I’ve barely written anything in 15 months and I’m trying to rediscover what makes me write. I was prolific for a few years, turning out stories every week and writing every day. I could be inspired by anything, because there’s a story in everything really. I wrote crime stories inspired by gardening or seeing a run down building, or a whole novella. Rival Sons (coming soon), came from the name of a band I was listening to a lot at the time. I have tentatively started a new book called Docklands, I guess that’s inspired by driving or walking past and through Southampton docks every day.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
AT: That I need to be doing it consistently to do it well. I honestly believe that Rival Sons is the best thing I’ve written so far, and that’s because I was writing every day. I’m really struggling with Docklands because there are huge gaps in the time that I leave between writing. I need to settle into the characters and the stories otherwise it doesn’t really happen for me.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
AT: Rival Sons (Dec 2018, Shotgun Honey) – Kyle doesn’t like his father or brother. Kyle has a run in with said brother that has consequences for the whole family.
Also, When the Music’s Over – re-launching soon through Fahrenheit 13/Fahrenheit Press.
(sorry that’s 38 words, but two books).
Where can readers connect with you?
AT: Twitter: @AidanDFThorn
I’ve also got a website (that I never update), Instagram and Facebook, but mostly Twitter.