Thursday, 27 September 2012

CHEWING THE FAT... with Luca Veste, as OFF THE RECORD 2 is released...

In this new series, I spoke with Luca Veste about... putting together anthologies to help kids learn to read, speaking out against sock-puppeteers, the origin of 'Scousers', and his rapid transformation from unknown reviewer to writer and publisher.

Off The Record 2 - At The Movies, is now out. Tell us about the charities and inspiration behind both it, and Off the Record.

Off The Record 2 is supporting two charities...

In the UK, National Literacy Trust.

In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.

Both deal with literacy in childhood, helping kids to read and write, which is a subject close to my heart. I know how much reading as a child helped me, and want to aide others who might not have a Dad who lets you read Stephen King at 12. It's even more important in this current climate, where libraries are deemed less important by those in power to society than bankers bonuses.

So, the main thrust of Off The Record is now to raise as much money as possible for those charities, in order to make as big a difference as we can possibly do.

The other reason for doing OTR is another subject close to my heart (I have many subjects close to my heart...I keep the notebook containing them in my inside pocket). It's bringing an audience to a wide range of writers. It's giving those 'unknown' (and I include myself in that) writers a chance to mix it up with the bigger names. It's difficult to find any other anthologies where writers on the first rung of the ladder, such as Keith B Walters or Tracey Edges, sharing space with Steve Mosby, Will Carver and Matt Hilton.

That hopefully gives us all a boost up, a helping hand in this difficult 'business'. And also means we get to read stories we may not have had chance to without it.

I love doing it for those reasons. This whole writing thing is much easier when we can all come together and do something like this.

Great stuff. Luca, if you don't mind me saying, you've only been around online for less than 18 months, but have certainly hit the ground running and made a huge impact. 'Talk' us through this and tell us how things have changed for you.

It's really strange. I was reminded recently by my wife of something. About two years ago, I sent messages through Facebook to Steve Mosby and Neil White...I'd really enjoyed their books and wanted to say something. They replied, and I rang my wife very excited to get a thank you from them.

Now, Neil was in OTR1 and Steve Mosby is making another appearance following OTR1 in this new anthology. I've gone from being a fanboy to editing these incredible writers. It's weird.

It's an example of how welcoming the fiction community is. Steve, for example, is my favourite writer working today. I have to consciously make an effort not to devolve into 'I really love your wordy stuff' mode sometimes with him. But, he makes it incredibly easy not to, by being one of the most down to earth, generous, and good hearted guys I've ever met.

Then, there's writers like Nick Quantrill, yourself and Helen FitzGerald, who I speak to all the time. Always happy to lend an ear and answer questions. That means so much to someone who doesn't really have a clue what he's doing.

Which leads me onto what's changed. The single biggest change was moving from being a reviewer to a writer. I had no intention of writing whatsoever. I wrote something once, with a friend in school, a piss-take of the nativity story (Three Wise Scousers, Mary's Dad going off his head at her for being pregnant...that sort of thing), but that was just jokes. Last year I just started thinking of stories I wanted to tell. And began writing.

The difference I suppose is in the way I do things. I have no problem with contacting people, getting them involved in things, emailing Stephen King asking for a short story for OTR2 (still waiting on a reply). The sort of 'fuck-it' attitude which gets things moving. And I do it because I love it. I love talking about stories, sharing books I've loved with others...all that kind of thing. It's a great time to be involved in this world, with the abundance of social media and the ability to converse with so many about all these things.

Plus, I go by the old motto 'don't be a dick'. If you're good to people, generous etc. you see that returned to you.

Yep, you're definitely a doer! Probing deeper now (don't worry, I'm married!)... I was sitting next to you at Harrogate when we heard gasps in unison and someone shout, "Tosser". We all know about the disturbing revelations that followed, but many authors, including me, admittedly, chose not to be so vocal (for various, understandable reasons). Why did you choose to speak out, and do you think the sock-puppets and dodgy reviews will reduce now?

I didn't so much 'choose' to speak out, it was just a natural reaction to a certain situation. Because it's wrong. And the only way to bring something into the light, and show that despite certain people's assertions, it's not something that many, many writers do, is by talking about it and showing your own position.

I've heard many ridiculous things since then, especially regarding the open letter, but it's really simple for me, and it goes back to the previous answers motto...don't be a dick. The three writers named in the open letter which appeared in the media and online, where all involved in varying levels of nefarious behaviour. Every story I read online following it, had comments underneath which invariably stated, 'they're all doing it' or 'what's the big deal, no one reads reviews', stuff like that. Well, if we all stay quiet, that's the message that is driven home. But all writers aren't doing that, and many people are influenced by reviews. Otherwise, why would they try and game the system in the first place?

If there was a unified stance against the behaviour shown, I think it'd go some way to ending the vast majority of dodgy reviews, yes. However, you have the naysayers who have their own agendas or others who are worried about upsetting certain writers and endangering their own careers, or simply don't think it's that big an issue, which means there will be a lull, before it builds up again.

The only way the places these reviews are found will crack down on it, is if it starts costing them actual profit. And that's not going to happen any time soon. So, it's at an impasse now, with some feeling disillusioned by the whole thing, others incredulous of the reactions by some.

I will end with this. If you need to use fake reviews, bought reviews, or sock-puppets in order to promote your books, you've forgotten why you wanted, no...needed, to write. You wanted to share stories with people, entertain, educate whatever. You're not doing that any more. You're just in it for the money. And at some point readers will recognise that, and that audience you once had will move on. And no amount of skulduggery will get them back.

Only good books, and good stories will.

This is by far the most words I've ever used in an interview...let me know if the answers are too long!

He-he. Things are hotting up, so now for the biggie... Scousers... do you know the origin of this term?

I think it comes from a Stew. And it's Scandinavian or something. I remember reading it somewhere. I should really Google this shouldn't I!

Scouse is one of my favourite meals. It's basically a stew with more potatoes in it. And when I was younger, the cheapest beef you could buy. Load of veg, then cooked for around three months. Really get the flavour out. Lovely stuff.

Yeah, that's pretty close. I had to research it regarding the Scouser in my own 'novels'. Comes from 'Lobscouse' - sailors used to eat it at seaports, including Liverpool. So, I see you chose 'Goodfellas' as your movie title for OTR2. Give us the gist and a general feel for what we can expect from the other stories.

I hope you're kind to the Scouser...

There's a real eclectic mix of stories in this one, as there was in OTR1. There's an abundance of crime stories, but also a fantasyish/sci-fi-ish story in the form of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' by Vincent Holland-Keen, a Zombie short by Will Carver (who wins the honour of best title choice with 'Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Hellbound, Flesh-Eating Sub-humanoid Zombified Living Dead. Part 2 – in Shocking 2-D'), David Jackson giving us a Stephen King-esque story with 'The Time Machine...there's really something for every readers taste in there.

There's also darkness and light in every story. Which I love, because that's where the emotion comes from...our darkest fears laid bare and tangled with. Every story has some kernel of that kind of emotion in there.

And it ends with the most emotional story I've ever encountered from Helen FitzGerald. Knowing it's based almost entirely on her own recent experience, just gives it something extra. An incredible piece of writing.

Sounds ace. BTW, my Scouser's a diamond geezer!  So, I know you've been rattling the old keyboard. Any plans or breakthroughs yet, novel-wise? Or an ebook of shorts perhaps? 

I've been working on my first novel for almost a year now. It's gone through a few rewrites in that time, but there's a novel there at the moment. It's a psychological thriller, with major elements of procedural within, set in Liverpool (of course). Trying to breakthrough is difficult though. I made the decision very early on that I wanted to 'make it' through the traditional channels, rather than self-publish. So, at the moment I'm attempting to secure an agent. Hard work, but will ultimately be worth it I hope.

I've got a number of short stories on my hard drive (and backed up!), but no plans to release them at the moment. I've used bits of ideas and lines from some of them in the book, so a bit of work would be needed to polish them up etc.

Also, they were written a long time ago. For this anthology, I think the growth I've made as a writer over the past year is clear with my own story. I dare not read the old stories again!

Luca, thank you for an enlightening and honest interview. And, I tip my hat to you for all the hard work you've put into editing and publishing both Off The Record anthologies.

Help kids read by purchasing...



(If you're skint, then just like it and agree with the tags - it all helps.)

The paperback is out on October 4th 2012.

Luca's website: Guilty Conscience.

Monday, 24 September 2012

CHEWING THE FAT... in London with Richard Godwin 'n' AJ Hayes...

The meet...
(If you wanna skip my drivel, then AJ's 'n' Richard's takes are below).

I'd known for a while that crack US writer and all round good guy, AJ Hayes (now, aka Bill) was visiting UK's finest dark fiction author, Richard Godwin in Richmond on September 10th. So, since Richard (now, aka Godders) and I had been threatening to meet for a while, I bit the proverbial bullet and headed 'darn sarth'. I mean, how could I miss an opportunity to meet and chew the fat with two brilliant minds of crime fiction?

"AJ, keep look out."
"I need duck tape"
So, two buses and three trains later, there I was... sitting on a bench outside the Richmond Gate Hotel, and like a proper northerner, munching on an extra large sausage roll. Because of my sleuth skills, I knew at some point Bill would be out for a fag (no, a cig' - naughty!) and just as I'd imagined him, he appeared.

I flicked the crumbs off me lap and shouted across the road: "Yo, ma-man! What's goin' down innit?" or words to that effect. We man-hugged, shook hands and the free-flowing fat-chewing began as if we'd known each other for years.  The Internet is good for some things, eh?  Then my phone rings and Dave Barber's name popped up, so I passed it to Bill for a bonus chat I know they were both chuffed with.

Pre-fat-chewing lubrication...
Inside the hotel (spookily reminiscent of Richard's 'Slaughterhouse' pic), I met up with Bill's lovely wife, Thury. Then in strolled Richard and Page Godwin and the fat-chewing got a whole lot chewier!

"Where's the body?"
Woodlands Killer!
True to my  northern values, I necked a pint of lager. ;-) Richard's a great host and took us on a walk to Richmond Park, the inspiration behind his cult classic, Apostle Rising, pointing out where the first 'Woodlands Murder' took place.  Rain had obviously cleared the blood, but I'm sure I saw a small piece of police scene tape flapping in the wind.

The recce... 
On the job...
Then to the 'best view in London', before a walk along the Thames and a delicious meal... and lashings of Chilean Chardonnay.  I can't even recall what I had to eat as the fat chewing became gristlier.

So, what did I learn?

Fat Chewing!
Thury and I hit it off and it was truly lovely to meet her.  Despite her jet-lag, she out-supped us all and partied the night away! ;-)

Page is classy lady who made me fell very welcome.  She also designs book covers, including Richard's MR GLAMOUR. (I'll do a post on this at a later date.)

Both AJ and Richard are extremely well-read, witty and fascinating to chat with. Bill won diving a holiday in the early 70's by coming first in a national poetry competition, so is clearly very well-versed (pun intended).  He is also now fluent in Mancunian.  Godders is the ultimate gent and his living room floor is really comfy.  He also now has cig' dimps in his plant pots.  

Another thing: Richard has tremendous self-discipline and has learned to manage his time effectively to sustain his impressive output.  Despite our late night session, he left me to sleep in, while he got up at 7.00 am to write.

Anyway, here are the guys' respective takes on events...

Richard says, "Arriving at Terminal Five, I heard the alarms go off while two actors tap danced their way down the marble corridors, enacting the Olympics. It felt like a bad trip, but was a coupled effect of the post Olympics greeting ceremony and Bill setting off the fire alarms as he inhaled eight fags in the toilets at Heathrow airport, and no that is not a homophobic euphemism. Bill, drenched, appeared none the worse for wear. Although I thought of Rod Stewart. 
Later that day we met Col. 
He told me he had brought sausage rolls, but I have never seen such Gargantuan monsters in my life, he knocked two waiters out with them in a Chaplinesque scene of menace and absurdity. The crumbs will leave you reeling. He shattered two windows with them, slung from his nimble wrists like shurikens. 
Thence to the views. Now the views from Bill's hotel are heart stopping, Turner bleeding pink and Halloween orange into Shepherd sunsets all over again. 
We passed a hearty meal of heart and liver, in which various matters were discussed. 
But that was all by and by. 
If you think we're going to tell you about the job you're mistaken." 

AJ says, "After the events described by Sir Richard, we relaxed a bit . . . um . . . well quite a bit . . . well . . . maybe more than quite a bit. (On the good side, no charges were pressed, somehow). Col stayed the course manfully and with a minimum of violence. (No, I don't know where he got that horse, let alone the cannon. And it also beats the hell out of me why Harry the Duke showed up pant-less, waving the flag of St. George wildly about.) So the evening went well and I learned quite a bit about Manchester blokes: 
1. They are great guys.
2. They have hollow legs when drinking hearty spirits and upset-proof stomachs whilst downing massive quantities of sausage. (I honestly think Col is solely responsible for the vast shortage of Bangers and Mash in Olde London Towne over our two day assault on all that's good and decent in the legendary realm of  King Arthur and his Knights.) 
3. In a pinch, Mancs resemble nothing more on earth than high energy, monster bulldozers when scraping a path to safety for their pals if a hasty escape is necessary. (Again, no survivors mean no witnesses)." 

It was an absolute pleasure, fellers, something we must do again soon. 

AJ Hayes penned the most commented on short story of 2012 over at Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers. DARK GENESIS is a cracker - read it here

Richard Godwin's critically acclaimed novels and popular 'Slaughterhouse' chin wags can be found here

Standby for a new series inspired by my meet with these crime thoroughbreds... 'Chewing the Fat with...'