Monthly Archives: October 2015

Crime blog #10

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

The_Killer_Inside_Me.large_In lots of books I read, the writer seems to go haywire every time he reaches a high point. He’ll start leaving out punctuation and running his words together and babble about stars flashing and sinking into a deep dreamless sea. And you can’t figure out whether the hero’s laying his girl or a cornerstone. I guess that kind of crap is supposed to be pretty deep stuff – a lot of the book reviewers eat it up, I notice. But the way I see it is, the writer is just too goddam lazy to do his job. And I’m not lazy, whatever else I am. I’ll tell you everything. (TKIM p161)

And tell you he does. Thompson’s relentless first person perspective forces us into a deadly proximity with his ‘hero’, Lou Ford, a small-town deputy sheriff with justice – and its dispensation – very much on his mind.

If Lou sees himself as lawgiver, the man he has cast as recipient is Chester Conway, local bigshot and all-purpose asshole, a man who, Ford informs us, is an each-man-for-himself kind of guy and no matter the cost:

Conway had been the big man in town before the oil boom. He’d always been able to deal with others on his own terms. He’d gone without opposition for so many years that, by this time, he hardly knew it when he saw it. I believe I could have cussed him out in church and he wouldn’t have turned a hair. He’d just have figured his ears were playing tricks on him.

It had never been hard for me to believe he’d arranged [my brother’s] murder. The fact that he did it would automatically make it all right. (TKIM pp 33-4)

The time has come for a reckoning, and Lou has a plan. It goes wrong almost from the start, and Lou finds himself having to take ever more brutal steps to cover his tracks. By the time we reach the end, Central City’s population statistics will need to be adjusted, and Lou? Well, he’s not one for easy apologies, either:

Just because I’d been around when a few people got killed. Just because I happened to be around… (TKIM p175)

This novel’s reputation is already assured, and not without reason. It’s tautly written, smart, tense, economical as they come and with moments of genuine horror. Thompson’s language showcases the very best of the pulp/noir tradition. You won’t find any extraneous detail here, no dwelling on weather or landscape or family history. But there’s real poetry in these pages, an instinctive feel for the rhythms of speech and thought that would put many more verbose writers in the shade. Thompson’s talent – and Ford’s, I guess – is to tell it how it is, and with no words wasted.

Nor is Lou Ford any kind of ordinary psycho. He’s an intelligent, canny, thinking man, a man who reads and observes and understands human motivations and behaviour on an intellectual as well as a gut level. It ain’t his fault he’s got the sickness now, is it? If I have any criticism at all of The Killer Inside Me, it’s that Ford’s true nature is revealed too early. His murderous assault on Joyce Lakeland is so appalling, so totally beyond the pale, that it’s impossible – at least for this reader – to ever feel the empathy for him that Thompson is clearly tempting us towards. I can see Thompson’s reasoning – he doesn’t want to trick us, he wants us to know that Lou is a killer and still go along for the ride, and it’s very nicely done – but I think for me the book might have worked even better if he’d held off just a little longer.

FantasyCon, Scar City and Nottingham Contemporary

I’ll be in Nottingham for FantasyCon this weekend. The con is taking place at the East Midlands Conference Centre in University Park, and looks like being a very good gig all round. I’ll be taking part in two panels, both on the Saturday:

Room: Conference Theatre
3.00pm British Horror Present & Future
Horror fiction and fiction have a rich history in the UK. But where is it currently at and what does the future hold? Our panel of writers and horror-lovers explores the state of play and tell us whose work is exciting (and terrifying) them at the moment.

  • the market: are there enough horror writers, readers, publishers?
  • what trends are we seeing in terms of different types of horror?
  • how much is diversity changing the nature of British horror?
  • horror as an increasing element of fantasy, crime, SF fiction

Moderator: James Everington
Panellists: Nina Allan, Cate Gardner, Stephen Jones, Alison Littlewood, Adam Nevill, Simon Kurt Unsworth

Room: Suite 1
6.00pm The Short Story: Short-Lived or Part of the Long Game?
Our panel of published short story writers and anthologists considers some of the key challenges of the form, what makes for a memorable short, and the differences between writing short stories compared with novels.

  • markets for short stories: publications, anthologies, collections, competitions etc. What are they looking for?
  • what impact has ePublishing had on the longevity of the short?
  • the business of submitting: persistence, patience and dealing with rejection
  • the role of short stories in a writer’s development & career

Moderator: Allen Ashley
Panellists: Nina Allan, Gary Couzens, Andrew Hook, Laura Mauro, Marie O’Regan

aickman1-682x1024I’m looking forward to both of those! I’ll also be signing copies of Aickman’s Heirs at the official UK launch for the anthology, which is taking place on the Saturday also at 9pm. Undertow Press will also be launching V. H. Leslie’s debut collection Skein and Bone, so make sure you come along and grab a copy – Victoria is a talented writer, and it’s fantastic to hear that it won’t be long before we get to read her first novel, Bodies of Water, which is out from the equally wonderful Salt Publishing early next year. skein-and-bone-cover

In another piece of exciting book news, FantasyCon also sees the first appearance of a new collection by Joel Lane, Scar City, which is published this month by Eibonvale Press. Scar City is the book Joel was putting together shortly before he died, and assembles twenty-two previously uncollected stories first published in magazines and anthologies in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, broadly spanning the length of Joel’s career. Scar City was one of the last things Joel and I spoke about by email, so seeing the collection finally coming to print feels very special. The book also contains my essay on Joel’s three novels, which I wrote specially and with great pleasure.

If you can’t get along to FantasyCon, you can order Scar City direct from the Eibonvale website here. There will also be a London launch, closer to Christmas – details at the Eibonvale blog once the date is confirmed.

cover_scarcity_full

 

And as if all this wasn’t enough for one weekend, I will be staying on in Nottingham to do an event on the Monday evening at Nottingham Contemporary, in which Dave Hutchinson, Farah Mendleson and I will be assembling for Thinking Worlds, discussing ‘the alien’ and, I suspect, current trends in science fiction generally as part of Nottingham’s Popular Culture lecture series. This should be great fun, and what’s more, tickets are free! You can book your place here.

This is why we love Strange Horizons

core of the sun.sinisalo“People like to think there is a very sharp line between animal and human being, and I disagree. I think there are lots of little steps between the two, and between each other, and we really shouldn’t think that we are somehow separate from nature. We should recognise that we are animals, that we are hierarchical pack animals and that dominates our behaviour every day, in the ways that we are competitive and so on, but we don’t want to think about it. Our originality and uniqueness is an illusion. I want to have a prominent role for nature and the environment and other creatures, so that we understand that we can’t survive on this planet by ourselves.”

This quote is taken from Niall Harrison’s wonderful interview with the Finnish science fiction writer Johanna Sinisalo, just one of the items of special bonus content that SH has been putting up as part of its annual fund drive rewards scheme.

Sinisalo is, to my mind, one of the most original, committed and intelligent SFF writers currently working – I reviewed her 2014 novel The Blood of Angels for SH here – the kind of writer I feel privileged and blessed to have access to (thank you, translators!) Sinisalo demonstrates all by herself how important it is for those of us in UK/US/ANZ SFF to become aware of and immersed in writers from non-Anglophone backgrounds, how they enrich the genre and give it substance and question its assumptions. It is writers like Sinisalo who provide the rocket fuel that propels us all forward.

Right from the beginning, it has always been a large part of Strange Horizons’s remit, to promote new approaches and diverse talent, to keep science fiction on the radical edge of literature, as is its rightful place. Strange Horizons is a vital and irreplaceable part of the speculative literary landscape, and I would encourage anyone reading this to make a donation to the fund drive. SH is run by volunteers, and its contributors are paid entirely through donations – by you, in other words. Please help keep up the good work.

I’m beyond excited that Johanna Sinisalo has a new novel out soon, also that she’ll be a Guest of Honour at the 2017 Worldcon. If, like me, you can’t wait that long to read more of her, you can find a transcription of her 2015 GoH speech at this year’s Archipelacon here.

Researching The Rift

The Novella Award was lucky for me in more ways than just the obvious. Travelling north to accept the award gave me an ideal opportunity to visit Hatchmere Lake, in the Delamere Forest, a location that occupies a central role in my new novel The Rift. (For those seeking reasons why Cheshire? I have two words: Dead Letters. If you look at the crossed-out address on that envelope, then study a map of the immediate vicinity you’ll soon begin to see how one thing led to another. Cheers, Conrad.)

Delamere Forest is the largest deciduous woodland in the country.  It is also the site of several large meres, or lakes, and mosses – unique and ancient wetland habitats which are home to scarce species of plants and insects such as the White-Faced Darter dragonfly. (I didn’t hold out too much hope of seeing any dragonflies while I was there – it was too late in the season – but I like to think their nymphs were lurking beneath the surface of the water just yards from where I stood. And I say ‘lurking’ because for other species of freshwater invertebrates that’s how it is. For anything smaller than a stickleback, those things are vicious.)

Delamere is managed by the Forestry Commission, with many well tended, signposted footpaths and cycle routes for people to enjoy as well as an even greater number of narrower, more overgrown and less frequented pathways just begging to be included in a some weird novel or other. I spent most of a day just walking in the forest, checking actual locations against what I’d written and soaking up the atmosphere generally. I was pleased and relieved by how familiar it all felt, in spite of this being my first visit. But I’ve had this experience before. Although I really don’t like to write about a place without having visited it, my schedule does sometimes dictate that I need to begin writing before I get the chance to be on-site. The imagination works in mysterious ways though, and I’ve tended to find that the very act of immersing myself psychologically in a location results in a peculiar sensation of deja vu when I do actually set foot there.

This was definitively the case with Hatchmere. But the being there was very freeing, nonetheless.

I’m now well into the second draft of The Rift, and having these locations distinct in my mind brings the entire manuscript more clearly into focus.

Hatchmere Lake, Cheshire Sept 2015

Hatchmere Lake, Cheshire Sept 2015

Delamere Forest. Cheshire Sept 29th 2015

Delamere Forest. Cheshire Sept 29th 2015

(Seeing that white van when and where I did gave me a very peculiar feeling indeed – but you’ll have to wait until The Rift is published to find out why…)

 

Look at The Harlequin!

IMG_0056I’m thrilled to announce that my novella The Harlequin has won The Novella Award, the prize competition organised by Manchester Metropolitan and Liverpool John Moores Universities with the specific remit of celebrating and promoting the novella form and which last night celebrated its second birthday. A wonderful evening it was, especially since it offered me an excuse to revisit lovely Liverpool. As a form, the novella is particularly dear to my heart – as evidenced by the fact that I do keep stumbling into writing them – and I would urge any writer who feels the same way to start thinking seriously about entering next year’s competition. This year’s award was judged by Alison Moore and Nicholas Royle, both writers I admire enormously, which makes their kind words on The Harlequin all the more gobsmacking, frankly.

I’m doubly excited to be able to tell you that The Harlequin is now available in paperback (eBook to follow shortly), published by the wonderful Sandstone Press and with stunning cover design by Jason Anscombe. Huge thanks to Bob and Moira at Sandstone for their helpfulness and attention to detail in bringing this project to fruition so swiftly and with such professionalism – I could not be more delighted with the way the book has turned out. Thanks also to Lucy Ellam, Abigail Inglis and Robert Graham of The Novella Award for organising the competition and for making the event such a pleasant success. Here’s hoping that next year’s award in Manchester goes every bit as smoothly and helps to keep building the profile of the novella as a literary form.

You can read a short Q&A I did about The Novella Award and The Harlequin here.