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Posts tagged ‘Excerpt’

A glorious review of Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel “The Dark Manual”

June 15, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Isaac Asimov had Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s laws are sourly tested in Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, The Dark Manual. The author, Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018, just gets better with each book, and with this, his third, he is becoming one of the finest storytellers out there. His prose keeps one glued to the page, with delightful concentration.

Colin O’Sullivan does not write a bad line. His characters become a part of the reader as they turn the pages, and they dwell in the mind between reads. I found myself setting the book down, two or three times, but not able to leave it until I picked it up again, and read some more. Colin O’Sullivan’s writing style reminds me so of jazz, with its one-word, then two-word, then three-word sentences. Bop, bop, bop-bop, until you realize you have read a paragraph, then onto a new riff. Lyrical, powerful, humorous, poetic, emotional. He is a lyrical master of the written word. There are sections of the book that are heartbreaking, in their emotional and physical sense of loss, and moments of humor, surprise, suspense, pure sudden horror, and stark naked joy.

Susie Sakamoto, came from Ireland, to live in Japan with her husband, Masa, who designed and built “homebots,” domestic robots. Their primary role: clean the home, cook, make drinks, tend to the owner, and stand still in the corner when turned off for the night.

With their little boy, Zen, Masa and Susie have a happy life, until the day when Susie bids goodbye to her son and husband at the airport, where they are setting off on a trip to South Korea. A trip that becomes a tragedy when an errant missile launched from North Korea causes the plane they are on to break apart, its pieces and bodies of those on board falling into the sea. Her dear husband and darling son, suddenly gone. Their bodies never recovered.

Susie now spends her days in a deep depression, going over the what-ifs, coming to hate the homebot that lives with her, and staying drunk most of the time. Appearing at work, where she is a reporter, occasionally, but contemplating suicide, and spending nights in a bar getting wasted and mourning the tremendous loss she has suffered. A drunken Irishwoman in Japan, with little reason to get up in the morning, except to order the home robot to bring her another drink, while outside, in the trees, the owls are gathering, as if something was amiss.

At the bar she hangs out at each night, Susie becomes somewhat friendly with the ultra free spirit and flamboyant Mixxy Makanea, a Japanese woman who speaks English, and pretty much does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she wants. When Mixxy struts into a bar, all heads turn. Green streaked hair, fishnet stockings, glossy lips, and just a touch of white powder under her nostrils, she is ready to steal the evening. Mixxy is one of the great characters from the author. With her flash flamboyance and pizzazz, she colors the novel with her profane antics, and so-what attitude. Mixxy also feels the presence of the owls. Knows they are in the trees. Watching.

Susie continues to struggle with whether to live or die and blacken it all out once and for all. Her anguish palpable. Her loss profound. Her hatred for the annoying domestic robot growing each day. Then she begins to hear about the Dark Manual, a legendary means to shut off all the machines, that might or might not exist. Susie starts thinking that if she could find it, she could shut the damn thing off. Shut them all off. If she gets Mixxy to help her, could they find it? Did her husband write it? Is it close by, within her reach?

Meanwhile the homebot waits. All the homebots wait. Lights flashing on and off. Eerie sounds emitting from where there mouth would be. Do they come into the bedroom at night to watch the sleeper? Are they capable of harm? If Susie and Mixxy find the Dark Manual, will the machines know, and try to stop them from shutting them down? Can they think? Can they communicate with other homebots? Are they evil?

Worst of all, can they kill?

Meanwhile, outside, more owls gather in the trees, and now also the crows. They too gather and caw in the trees and rooftops. More and more of them. Watching. Waiting.

–Marvin Minkler of Modern First Editions

read an excerpt here

Is your home robot cute?

May 17, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Another short excerpt from Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, THE DARK MANUAL, for your enjoyment:

“Where’s your ‘bot?”

“It’s shut down for the evening. I’m sick to death of listening to the fucking thing.”

“Oh, bring him in. I want to see him.”

Susie hates the personal pronoun. Calling it a him. Zen was a he. Masa was a he. Her father and grandfather, now they were hes and hims. Cars were forever referred to as she by men, and ships and boats too. Maybe the he could actually be refreshing, and feminists the world over could rejoice together in the knowledge that not all machines in servitude would be referred to as female. There’s a thought. There’s probably even an article in that.

“Command system on!”

There is silence for a moment; Mixxy in particular is holding her breath in anticipation. They don’t have to wait long.

“Coming, Miss Susie!”

Sonny glides into the living room.

“He does call you Miss Susie! That’s so fucking cute.”

Looking down upon its silver frame and stiff comportment, Mixxy gasps with delight. Susie frowns in habitual scorn.

“Hi, I’m Mixxy. Nice to meet you.”

Sonny extends its hand like a well-mannered child; Susie wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly sprouted impeccably combed hair with a cow’s lick to boot.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Mixxy.”

It is able to differentiate between male and female voices, so Mixxy gets her accordant Miss. Susie hopes that it will get overused to the point where Mixxy will look for the nearest available hatchet.

“Wow, you are so handsome, little guy. Much more handsome than mine.”

“Don’t they all look exactly the same?” asks Susie.

Susie had seen the factory, and the scores of them lined up there. She’d seen the catalogues. Her husband had designed the bloody things, for God’s sake, so she should know a wee bit about them. They were all identical. There was nothing handsome about hers.

“When you get to know them they start to show their own personality. Even their faces start to change. Don’t you think? Can you not see it?”

“No. I can’t.”

“This one…already. He seems so full of life. And joy. And a right little charmer too.”

Susie is still thinking about hatchets, pickaxes, or what was that weapon the young boys used to talk about when they were young and playing at war games? What was it called? A bazooka! That was it. Bazooka! Susie wants a bloody bazooka! It may be not the greatest thing ever invented, but surely, it is the greatest-sounding word.

The homebot’s face looks up to directly engage with the house guest.

“Would you like anything to drink, Miss Mixxy.”

“And so well-programmed! Or does he just see into my soul? Your husband did such a good job with this one. Yes, Mr. Sonny. I will have something to drink.”

“Make two cups of coffee, Sonny. We’ve got work to do.”

The Dark Manual is available for readers in the UK and Ireland, as well as on all Amazon sites except USA and Canada
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

 

 

Excerpt from “The Dark Manual” by Colin O’Sullivan

May 2, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

From Chapter 3:

Susie suddenly lashes out, sending the cereal bowl flying from the counter out into kitchen space. It smashes to pieces against a side cupboard and lays silent on the floor in thick white shards.

“Turn it off,” she shouts.

“Yes, Miss Susie.”

The grey woman on the grey beach vanishes and there is nothing but the silence of a woman and her mechanical charge in a lonely kitchen, once more.

The homebot moves tentatively towards the broken bowl. It looks up at Susie and waits a second before softly inquiring:

“Shall I clean the floor, Miss Susie?”

Susie stares at him. Even if she wanted to hide her disgust she’s not sure she could manage it.

“You don’t even know, do you?”

“Know what, madam?”

Susie laughs. Madam! That’s a good one – Masa programmed that word in too, no doubt. Was that meant to impress? Who was it meant to impress? It all seemed like such a sick prank now.

“Don’t madam me. Your Miss Susies are annoying enough. If Masa thought that was some kind of joke…to have you all polite and…you don’t even know what happened, do you? Last night, again you said: Mr. Masa recommends you take some herbal tea. Remember that? In your shitty, horrible voice. The present tense. You haven’t figured it out, have you? That the present tense is no longer viable. What you should have said was: Mr. Masa used to recommend you take herbal tea. Used to. When he was alive. When he breathed and laughed and sang bad karaoke in bad bars. Before he was blown to smithereens. But how could you know that? How could you know?”

Susie’s eyes are malevolent now and she feels them flaming red in her sockets. They sting and burn: late nights, scalding tears, the sourness of spirit and no clear target of recrimination.

“You haven’t a clue. Or, if you do…no, you can’t process it at all, can you? I mean, a mere mortal such as I, a stinking bloody human can hardly process it, so how could a thing, without blood…a thing…even…”

The words are choking her and she can no longer spew them out. She has exhausted herself. The confusion of her thoughts. Could it know? But how could it know if Masa was not there to program…or, has it been programmed in such a way that all news feeds become part of its knowing? When a dog’s master doesn’t come home from the hospital, does it know that it is dead? Does a dog know about death? Or simply that its master is absent? Does a homebot know that its master is no more? And if it does, does it care? The breakfast milk feels like it is curdling inside her, her guts clenching, her blood pressure is high and rising.

Sonny bends to the mess on the floor. With an outstretched hand and with dexterous digits it goes to pick up a shard of ceramic but is halted by Susie’s command.

“Leave it. What difference does it make?”

The homebot freezes in its half-bent position. How fast it is to respond to her every utterance. How quick its every perception. She flings her spoon, hitting it on the head and making a pinging sound, but the homebot shows no reaction, not an ounce of emotion.

“Doesn’t even hurt, does it? How the fuck could it?” Susie says, breathlessly.

Sonny rises to its full height.

“Miss Susie, I…”

“I’m going to be late. Bring the car round.”

coming out on May 15

e-book available for pre-order

Union Club launch for The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal

June 7, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Donald Finnaeus Mayo new novel is available HERE

Donald Finnaeus Mayo

Last night saw the official launch of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal by Donald Finnaeus Mayo at the Union Club in London’s Greek Street. Family, friends, figures from the world of publishing as well as guests from many walks of life gathered at the event to chat with each other and receive signed copies from the author.

With the horrifying events of the past few weeks events on everyone’s minds, the issues raised in the novel have seldom been more pertinent. How do we effectively counter terrorist atrocities that threatens us all, and to what lengths is the state justified in going in order to protect its citizens?

20170605_191636_1496740879073_resized Donald Finnaeus Mayo signing copies of his latest novel “The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal” at the Union Club in London’s Soho

We’d like to thank everyone who came to the event, and to the Union Club for hosting such a fabulous evening.

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Video extract from “The Starved Lover Sings”

May 25, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

This novel is O’Sullivan’s second, after Killarney Blues, published by Betimes Books in 2013. It takes place in a world transformed by disaster: earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, nationalist and corporate mergers, roaming wolves. The Starved Lover Sings is a fever dream of a world at the end of its rope.

Our protagonist, and in many chapters our narrator, is Tombo, a PE teacher and soccer referee.

In this excerpt, our antagonist is one of the two teenage girls, called Ferocity and Velocity, or Tink and Tank, or Weal and Woe, or Tooth and Nail, or Bado and Sado — whatever suits them at the moment — who develop an obsession with Tombo and decide he’s “the one”…

 

Love and Death: What else is worth writing about?

February 22, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

image5Dearest Followers and Readers,

If you haven’t discovered Patricia Ketola yet, you are missing out on a truly original new voice.

If you are weary of pre-formatted fiction, you simply MUST read Dirty Pictures!

Patricia KETOLA’s flamboyant characters play a delightfully witty game where death and desire are intertwined. Rebellious, stylish and eccentric, like its author, Dirty Pictures weaves emotional depth and moments of pure farce to winning effect.

So, open your mind, read a sample below, and tell us what you think.

We are preparing an interview with Patricia. Questions to the author welcome through our Contact page!

Free climbing: excerpt from DIRTY PICTURES

February 8, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Patricia Ketola‘s novel Dirty Pictures is about artistic daredevilry. It is a cultural romp, peopled by musicians, painters and performance artists, and it conceptualizes a world in which the older artistic traditions manage to embrace the younger, more conceptual definitions of art. From stolen Rembrandts, to gypsy jazz, to free-climbing, Dirty Pictures celebrates all forms of self-expression and the will of the artist to, quite literally, take a leap into the unknown.

Below is an extract celebrating the exhilaration and the beauty of free-climbing.

climbing

***

“Willem was in a meeting when we got to the studio, and we decided to wait until he got out. We went in his office and Venessa sat down at his computer: ‘I found a video of the boys on YouTube, but I don’t know if we should show it to Willem.  He’s not too steady on his feet since the head injury, the shock might give him a stroke,’ she brought up a video:  ‘Take a look, Martel, what do you think?’
The video showed Dries and the Viper sneaking into a building site and climbing the skeleton of an unfinished skyscraper.  The building was tall, and when they got to the top they had a superb view that stretched all the way to Siberia. The boys worked in bare feet and without ropes or tools.  The climb had been jaw-droppingly difficult, but when they reached the summit they did not rest on their laurels, instead they began to crawl out on the exposed beams.  Acting in unison they lowered themselves off the beams and into the air.  At first they hung from the beams by both hands like trapeze artists, but then they took one hand off the beam and hung by one arm as their bodies dangled out into empty space. It was a frightening performance, and one that I did not think Willem would be able to tolerate.
‘Let’s just show him the picture,’ I said.
‘Pretty scary, isn’t it?’ Venessa smiled.  She seemed intensely proud of her cousin and his friend.
‘Yes, but it’s also frighteningly beautiful,’ I said.
‘This is real performance art!’ Venessa was enthusiastic. ‘I wish I could write my dissertation on this mode of expression, but those old frumps at school wouldn’t stand for it.’31ccf00800000578-3474598-this_shot_was_captured_looking_out_over_dubai_with_impressive_bu-a-133_1457016292257
Just then Willem walked in followed by his secretary, Irene.  He was giving dictation and she was trailing behind taking notes on an old-fashioned steno pad. Willem stopped dictating and noticed us: ‘Oh, hello you two, what brings you to my lair?’
‘We’ve got a big surprise for you. Wait till you see it!’ Venessa gushed.
‘I hope it’s not another Rembrandt.’ Willem smiled at Venessa and then turned to Irene: ‘Get that typed up and I’ll sign it this afternoon.’
After Irene left Venessa jumped up from the computer and ran to Willem with the print in her hand: ‘Look at this Uncle Willem.  Dries and the Viper have surfaced.  They’re living it up at a nightclub in Moscow.’
Willem took the print and studied it. ‘I wonder who made those T-shirts?’ he mused.  ‘They show a great sense of design and the portrait of Stalin is authentic 1930s propaganda art. It’s a nice piece of work, but I’m surprised the boys are running around with a picture of that tyrant on their chests. ’
‘They’re just kids, Willem. It probably wasn’t a political choice,’ I said.
‘I don’t care a damn about their fucking T-shirts,’ Venessa wailed, ‘look at them, Uncle Willem, they’re with girls, and they’re smiling.  Dries never used to smile.  He always kept a tight lip, and now it looks like he’s happy.’
‘I can see that, Venessa, and I am deeply touched.’

I looked at Venessa: ‘Maybe we should leave, darling.  I’m sure Willem is terribly busy.’
‘Yes, of course,’ she said.  We started for the door.
‘No, stick around. I want to talk to you about Dries,’ Willem said. He sat down at the computer.  The screen was black and he hit a key: ‘I’ll be with you in a minute; I just have to get some dates for Irene.’
Venessa’s face got very pale and she ran towards Willem’s desk, but it was too late. In her haste to show Willem the picture of Dries and the Viper she had forgotten to sign out of YouTube, and now Willem was sitting in front of a video that was labeled Dutch Daredevils Go Wild in Moscow.’

Photo: Max Polatov / Barcroft

‘You weren’t supposed to see that,’ I said.
‘Then why is it on my screen?’  He clicked on the video.
‘It’s up there because you didn’t turn off your computer when you went to the meeting.’  I was trying to deflect the blame from Venessa, but I knew what I said was pretty lame.
‘I’m sorry, Uncle Willem, I just wanted to show the video to Martel,’ Venessa chimed in.  She looked scared and sounded contrite.
Willem paid no attention to our excuses because he was caught up in the action on the screen. When the boys finally climbed back down to safety and were greeted by a gaggle of cops he relaxed:  ‘Is Hendrik around?  I want him to see this.’
‘I’ll call his office,’ I said.  I got Hendrik on the first ring and told him to meet us in the studio.  He said he’d be right down.

urban-climbing

Photo: Maxime Sirugue a.k.a siirvgve †

After I hung up my focus was back on Willem.  ‘What did you think of the climb?’ I asked.
‘I think they’re thrill-seeking morons, but aside from that it was an exciting piece of work.  I didn’t think those two little bastards had it in them.’ He paused for a moment and then said: ‘The cops took them away. Do you think they’re in jail?’
‘I doubt it,’ Venessa said, ‘the photo was posted after the climb. They seem to be celebrating their success.’
‘I hope you’re right because I don’t feel like engaging with a bunch of Moscow cops.  The bribes would be outrageous.’
The door opened and Hendrik walked in.  When he saw his family members gathered around the computer he gave us a wary look: ‘I hope you haven’t called me here to have a conference about my illness.’
Willem smiled, ‘No, Hendrik, it’s much more serious.  Take a look at this video and tell me what you think.’
The video played through again. It was the third time I’d seen it, but it remained eminently fascinating and I couldn’t help but hold my breath when the boys started dangling in space.
‘It’s fucking brilliant,’ Hendrik exclaimed.  ‘I don’t understand how those two puny little shits developed the skills to perform this kind of stunt.’‘They probably trained day and night,’ Venessa said. ‘Also, it helps to be in an environment where your hopes and dreams are encouraged by a peer group of like-minded people.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Willem asked. He was taking her comment as a slight on his parenting.
Venessa backtracked, ‘I just meant he was with people who could give him the skills and support to meet his goals.’31cce7e400000578-3474598-the_boys_seem_unafraid_at_being_suspended_on_a_thin_plank_above_-a-128_1457016278425
‘That’s enough,’ Hendrik commanded, ‘let’s not get off track here.  Willem, what are you going to do about this?  Frankly, I don’t like the idea of Dries and the Viper continuing in this suicidal activity.  They are going to fall to their deaths if they continue.’
‘You don’t know that, Daddy.’ Venessa was really hot on free climbing.  If she liked it so much, maybe she should take a trip to Moscow and get trained in the art.
‘You’re right, shatje, I don’t know, but you have to admit it does seem possible.  Think about it, we don’t want to lose Dries or the Viper.  We have to stop them.’
‘I’m going to Moscow and bring them back,’ Willem said.  He looked at Hendrik: ‘Will you come with me brother?’
‘Of course, Willem, you know I’ve got your back.  Although I do wonder if that’s the right approach.  These kids are flushed with triumph after their great ascent, and I doubt if they’d welcome two middle-aged relatives busting in and trying to bust their balloon.’
‘You may be right,’ Willem said.
‘Maybe Bobby could help,’ I said. ‘I know he has a lot of influence on Dries.  The kid adores him.’
Venessa had been sitting quietly at the corner of Willem’s desk.  She seemed to have taken her father’s words to heart.  I understood her enthusiasm for the art; you had to be a fool not to see the brilliance.  These kids were the ultimate in nihilism, and you could write a whole paper on their existential activities.  Venessa was a scholar and she was taking free climbing from a philosophical point of view, but now that Hendrik had forced her to see that two young lives might be dashed to pieces after a long, hard, fall, she was giving it a different take:
‘I’ll call Bobby,’ she said.”

 

Christmas at Le Select

December 22, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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Le Select, American bar, Paris, 2016

“Dream as if you’ll live forever;
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

CHRISTMAS
1924

“Christmas is a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed and the rejected.”
—Jimmy Cannon

PARIS
Hector & Victoria

le-chat-du-select

The legendary cat of Le Select, 2011

It was warm and crowded in the café. The liquor was flowing and everyone was laughing and wishing one another a Happy Christmas. Back slaps, cheek kisses and toasts all around.
Victoria sat in a corner of Le Select next to a sprawling, slightly overweight cat, watching Hector at the bar chatting with his fellow writer, Hemingway. The two authors had already spent most of Christmas Eve together. Victoria envisioned a good deal of the day and perhaps even the holiday evening would be spent with the Hemingways, as well.
Oh, Vicky liked the Hemingways just fine. They were fellow Americans, and Midwesterners, at that. Hadley and Hem recalled the people Victoria had grown up with back home. But they also had a young son, “Bumby” or Jack. The Hemingway child was a kind of knife twist for Victoria just now.
Quite soon, she would be going back there, back to the States, and going with Hector who had at last decided to return home after several years roaming Europe, an unintended odyssey that began with his ill-fated service in the last war.
Hector had met Victoria under bizarre circumstances earlier in the year, right around Valentine’s Day, she guessed. Hector had actually saved her life, rescuing her from a killer. She had heard another woman close to him—his lover before Victoria, a woman named Brinke Devlin—had fallen prey to the murderer.
Although Hector had eventually taken Vicky into his life, then into his bed—although he was paying her way back to the States—he’d always made it clear he wasn’t looking for a permanent entanglement with her. Hector had warned Victoria from the start that the New Year would find him returning to America, and then moving on from New York alone, headed for parts unknown.
photo0073Yet it should be different now, she thought. Hadn’t they been mostly happy together these past few months? Seemingly, Hector respected Victoria’s remaining secrets, and she respected his—including the sense that some other woman evidently waited for him back there in America. She never confronted Hector about that. She never put the question to him directly.
But sometimes the pale-skinned, raven-haired Victoria caught Hem or Hadley looking at her with this curious mix of affection and concern, almost as if she reminded them too vividly of someone else, someone Victoria could only believe must have been close to Hector. Maybe it was the dead woman? Perhaps it was this Brinke?
It should be different, she thought again, watching the handsome young author.
champagneIt was Christmas, and they were lovers, and Hector had at last secured publication of his first novel. They should be returning to their homeland as a triumphant married couple, Victoria thought. Returning to celebrate Hector’s new novel and their departure from this old European city that had stripped so much from them.
But it wouldn’t be like that.
Tonight Hector would be in her arms of course.
This Christmas night he would be hers, but not in the ways that truly counted or mattered most to Victoria. And of course it wouldn’t endure.
This night in the City of Lights, engulfed in laughter and music, Victoria already viewed Hector Lassiter as the one who got away.

Extract from Forever’s Just Pretend by Craig McDonald

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Le Select, Christmas 2016

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“Head Games”, the graphic novel: official preview

December 21, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

hg-graphic-final-coverAt long last, readers can discover an eight-page sample from Craig McDonald’s forthcoming graphic novel “Head Games”, adapted from his Edgar- and Anthony-shortlisted novel (written by Craig himself and illustrated by Kevin Singles). A few more month to wait until the October release, but have a look at the dedicated page on the Macmillan US website.

And if you haven’t read the novel, click to preview below.

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An Excerpt from Charlie P, Book 3 in Central Park West Trilogy by Richard Kalich

August 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow


Central Park West Trilogy includes three novels, The Nihilesthete, Penthouse F and Charlie P, originally published separately and collected for the first time in a single volume.  Post-modern fables, dark, shocking, perversely funny, wickedly astute, and compulsively readable, they share Kalich’s ferocious energy and unique vision. Together, they break down standard notions of plot, character and form a body of work that is distinctive and brilliant. Central Park West Trilogy encapsulates Kalich’s uncompromising examination of the state of modern life, as well as his experimentations with form and language.

Charlie P (first published 2005) dispenses with a conventional narrative altogether, as we follow the comic misadventures of a singularly unique, comic and outlandish Everyman. At age three, when his father dies, he decides to overcome mortality by becoming immortal: by not living his life, he will live forever. Akin to other great American icons such as Sinclair Lewis’s Babbit and Forrest Gump, Charlie P, while asocial and alienated, is, at the same time, at the heart of the American dream.

“I would rather that the familiar be embraced and the novel resonate beyond itself and intone the spheres of Plato and Beckett. Charlie P resonates.”  Review of Contemporary Fiction


“Immortality

Once and for all, at age three, when Charlie P’s father died after having given him the most special birthday present of his young life, Lionel Electric Trains, Charlie P decided to live forever rather than suffer the indignity of mortality. Under no circumstances would he allow death to interfere with his daily regimen from this time on.

Though still a babe in his mother’s arms, certainly not to be misconstrued a late bloomer, Charlie P had already given the matter much thought; in fact, thought of nothing else. His father’s premature death presaged even more ominous events to come. Living forever, immortality, was indeed the only sure defense against this constant gnawing fear of the worst.

Given the nature of child consciousness, the global, diffuse, undifferentiated way it cognizes the world, its lack of specificity and discernment, it didn’t take Charlie P long to transfer the dread of his father’s loss on to his most prized possession, the electric trains, and especially the little train-master responsible for routing the train’s safe passage.

Charlie P focused all his life’s blood and energy on that little man. More than anything, he wanted the trainmaster to continue doing his job uninterrupted forever. Easier said than done: Immortality. There are less difficult things to accomplish in this world. Charlie P’s main challenge was to keep the trainmaster out of harm’s way. More specifically, to keep the little man sitting safely and securely at his table in the stationmaster’s house, ever on the ready to be called to duty. What would happen if the little man took ill? Succumbed to his father’s fate? What would happen if the battery that energized the light bulb on top of the house’s door whenever the trains approached, signaling the trainmaster to stand and leave his shelter and go about performing his duties, failed to light? Charlie P lived with the chronic fear that just this eventuality would happen. That one day the battery would die.

But how to prevent such a catastrophe? That was the question: Should he obtain an additional set of electric trains? Seek out an as yet unbeknownst elixir of life? Place the little man on a health food diet with vitamin supplements? Discover the secrets of the aging process? Or should he himself control the trains’ speeds, alter their paths, negotiate new routes, take other means of transportation—no, boats, planes, automobiles were subject to the same laws of chance and risk, gravity and motion, as trains; those unfortunates taking them could sink, crash and burn. And even though mourned for a short while after their demise, ultimately, like his father, they would soon be forgotten as the years passed by. No. Charlie P’s answer was not to play the game. By not using up the battery, the trainmaster could go on sitting safely in his house—be at Charlie P’s beck and call forever. By denying himself pleasure now, by abrogating what he most looked forward to while playing with his trains, by not having the little man do his duty, perform his chores, even though it was his favorite moment in all the world, the precursor, causal link and catalyst to his trains riding through peaks and valleys, across bridges and over hills, high on steppes and low beneath mountains, during which, needless to say, everything around them was fraught with danger, subject to the aleatory whims of chance, when the battery sooner or later would run out, when, like his father, the trainmaster sooner or later would succumb to his fate—No. Pleasure and joy, fun and games, intoxication and bliss, were a small price to pay for immortality.

And so Charlie P played the game by not playing it. Bestowed eternal everlasting life on the trainmaster.

Once and for all, at age three, Charlie P decided that by not playing the game, by not living his life, unlike his father, like the trainmaster, he could, he would, live forever.”


The Central Park West Trilogy is part of Amazon.co.uk‘s August promotions and will be available to buy for £0.99 until the start of September. 

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An Excerpt from Penthouse F, Book 2 in the Central Park West Trilogy by Richard Kalich

August 25, 2016

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Central Park West Trilogy is under promotion at Amazon.co.uk and the e-book will be available for the fantastic price of £0.99 until the end of August. Don’t miss your chance to discover Richard Kalich’s outstanding work practically for free.


056a6d014a626317878a4fa3e4632568“- You noticed Mr. Kalich and the young woman as soon as they entered the women’s area on the second floor.

The sales rep nods his head.

– Why was that?

– A young woman and a mature gentleman always catch my eye. I guess it’s my salesman’s instinct. The old ones always spend more.

– And that’s what happened on this occasion?

– As soon as the young woman asked to try on our white Juliet dress displayed on the cover page of our fall brochure, I knew he was a goner.

– The brochure with the Romeo and Juliet thematic logo?

– That’s the one.

– What do you mean when you say: Mr. Kalich was a goner?

– Actually it was the way both of them looked.

– Both of them?

– Well, when Mr. Kalich first saw the young woman in the white dress, he just stood there as if mesmerized.

– And the young woman?

– She was absolutely beautiful. Radiant. But to be more accurate, she didn’t so much come out of the dressing room as peeked out. Her face flushed as if embarrassed.

– Why was she embarrassed?

– I’ve seen that look before. The young woman’s at that awkward age, half woman, half girl. I would bet anything she was asking herself those questions young girls always ask: Do I belong here? Is this really me? You know–am I a woman or still a girl?

– And Mr. Kalich. Can you elaborate further on how he reacted when seeing the young woman first peek out of the dressing room?

– He immediately purchased the dress. I had the impression no expense would have been too great for him.

– Did you notice anything else about Mr. Kalich and the young girl?

– Well, she gave him a thank you kiss. Just a peck on the cheek, really.

– Was Mr. Kalich disappointed?

– I wouldn’t say that. At least at the time I didn’t think so. But a little later I changed my mind.

– What made you change your mind?

– A customer standing nearby, an elegant lady, made a comment to Mr. Kalich saying: “You have a beautiful daughter.”

– And how did Mr. Kalich react to the elegant lady’s comment: “You have a beautiful daughter?”

– It was an awkward moment to say the least. But somehow he managed a polite smile and thank you. But anyone could see it was a forced smile.

– Did you notice anything else about Mr. Kalich after the elegant lady’s comment?

– Despite my rushing him away from the scene of the crime, so to speak, after paying for the dress he left the store in a huff.

– And the girl?

– She followed after him, poor thing, like a naughty child with her fingers caught in the cookie jar.

– You’re not exaggerating?

– No, not at all. It doesn’t take much more than that to break the spell. That’s why we salesmen have to be constantly on guard against eventualities like that.

Picture09-page-001.jpg– And this time you were not?

– I guess not. The woman caught me offguard. I must have been staring at the young girl as much as Mr. Kalich. As the brochure suggests. Romeo and Juliet. It’s all illusion. Magic, you know. For those few seconds when the girl made her entrance out of the dressing room wearing the white dress, who can say what was in the old man’s mind.

– I take it not like a doting father.

– More like a Romeo who had found his Juliet. 

As if to validate, if only to himself, the sales rep nods his head.”


Central Park West Trilogy includes three novels, The Nihilesthete, Penthouse F and Charlie P, originally published separately and collected for the first time in a single volume.  Post-modern fables, dark, shocking, perversely funny, wickedly astute, and compulsively readable, they share Kalich’s ferocious energy and unique vision. Together, they break down standard notions of plot, character and form a body of work that is distinctive and brilliant. Central Park West Trilogy encapsulates Kalich’s uncompromising examination of the state of modern life, as well as his experimentations with form and language.

Penthouse F (first published 2010) is a cautionary tale that takes the form of an inquiry into the suicide—or murder?—of a young boy and girl in the Manhattan penthouse of a writer named Richard Kalich. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, kindness and cruelty, love and obsession, guilt and responsibility, writer and character, Penthouse F is a critical examination of our increasingly voyeuristic society.

Penthouse F is akin to the best work of Paul Auster in terms of its readability without sacrificing its intelligence of experiment. […] Kalich delivers afresh, relevant, and enticingly readable work of metafiction.”  American Book Review

 

An Excerpt from The Nihilesthete, Book 1 in the Central Park West Trilogy by Richard Kalich

August 23, 2016

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The Central Park West Trilogy is part of Amazon’s August promotions and will be available on Amazon.co.uk for £0.99 until the end of the month.


My little shopping spree was not without difficulties. I couldn’t purchase my present ready-made at a store. I had to improvise. I had to purchase a costly art book first and cut out the print reproduction I wanted and then have it enlarged to poster size. After that was accomplished, I had it framed, a plain silver boarder, (quite expensive), and finally I had it gift wrapped. So much trouble for my little one. If only he knew: he is no trouble at all.

You should have seen his reaction. And it was genuine. I’m sure of that. Or should I say I made sure? Not only does this psychologist have his inkblots, but he has his placebo as well. Such things are mandatory in my work. Before giving Brodski his gift, I opened the other. Though it wasn’t actually for him, at the time he couldn’t know that. Mrs. Regina Douglas, our medical social worker, advised me what to get. She said a person suffering from his condition, a cri du chat, would most likely be attracted to the same things as an infant. Something glittering and shiny, preferably an object that moves. I purchased a shiny new egg beater for Mrs. Rivera. And waved it in front of her eyes. The old lady was absolutely gaga at my kindness. But Brodski wasn’t. He showed no response.

His eyes were dead. Then I unwrapped his present. A framed poster-size print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Within seconds his face lit up. His eyes opened wide. So wide he looked ridiculous. It was as if at this moment he was seeing the whole world. The room absolutely resounded with mewing sounds. He passed his test with flying colors.

Even Mrs. Rivera was impressed. “I have never see him respond like that,” she said.

To this woman I am fast becoming a benefactor. To Brodski, a philanthropist of the arts. And really, I have no interest in the arts. In anything, “make-belimunch32eve.” Of all the riddles in the world, man’s need for beauty baffles me most. But then, why has it preserved so long? Longer and more durable than governments, dynasties, moralities, civilizations, even religions.

Could I be wrong?

No. Never!”


Central Park West Trilogy includes three novels, The Nihilesthete, Penthouse F and Charlie P, originally published separately and collected for the first time in a single volume.  Post-modern fables, dark, shocking, perversely funny, wickedly astute, and compulsively readable, they share Kalich’s ferocious energy and unique vision. Together, they break down standard notions of plot, character and form a body of work that is distinctive and brilliant. Central Park West Trilogy encapsulates Kalich’s uncompromising examination of the state of modern life, as well as his experimentations with form and language.

The Nihilesthete (first published in 1987 and nominated for a Pen/Faulkner Award, The Hemingway Award, a National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize) introduces us to Kalich’s dark world, where a spiritually desolate caseworker plays increasingly sadistic games with a limbless, speechless idiot with a painter’s eye.

“One of the most powerfully written books of the decade.” San Francisco Chronicle

Craig McDonald’s reading in Dublin as if you were there

August 4, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

McDonald_Dublin_Invitation

Thanks to all who attended last night’s reading in Dublin!

For those who weren’t there, here is a recording of the event: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdPmjArRKW

If you want to read the excerpt that Craig read last night, the first chapter of Head Games, click here:

viewBook.at/HeadGames_McDonald

And here is Craig McDonald‘s speech and a few pictures of the venue and the event.

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“One character, ten novels.

Please allow me to introduce you to Hector Lassiter, author, screenwriter and adventurer.

# 2. HECTOR

He’s my primary protagonist and a guy who’s high-jacked an obscene amount of my personal head space.

At base, Hector’s a man always in pursuit of strong sensations and experiences he can lay down on the printed page.

IMAG2318For the purposes of tonight’s reading, I ask you to imagine it’s 1957. We’re sitting in a drinking establishment, not in Dublin, but rather in some dusty, sweltering cantina hard up against the Rio Grande as we call it in The States. 

The Mexican’s call the same body of water that divides our countries the Rio Bravo. You see, on my dark side of the Atlantic, even the rivers have aliases.

Tonight you’ll be riding shotgun in THE classic American car: a Fifty-Seven, Chevrolet convertible Bel Air. We’re on the road with Hector and his sidekick for this particular escapade that I’ll be reading from, a young and aspiring poet named Bud Fiske.

In his peculiar corner of pop culture, Hector’s also known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

He’s the protagonist of a finite arc of the ten novels I referenced a moment ago. The last, Three Chords & The Truth, will appear this November courtesy of Dublin-based Betimes Books, who hosts our gathering this evening along this la frontera of the mind.

The novel to come this fall is a kind of sequel to Head Games, which is the first and mostly widely published Hector Lassiter novel, and one that will also appear as a graphic novel next fall. Head Games is the book I’ll be reading from tonight.

CMD books

With border tensions, Donald Trump and his hugebeautiful wallsuch a great wall—as well as all-too real, cross-border terrorism fears looming large back home, Head Games is arguably more timely than ever.

So here’s the thing: If any label best describes the Hector Lassiter series, it’s probably “Historical Thrillers.” My novels, or maybe Hector’s, always combine myth and history.

The Lassiter novels spin around secret histories and unexplored or underexplored aspects of real events. They’re set in real places. The also frequently incorporate real people.

As a career journalist—yes, I still toil in that uncertain trade, despite my swanky secret life as a published novelist—I’m often frustrated by the impossibility to definitively nail down people or events. 

Read five biographies of the same man, say, of Ernest Hemingway, or Orson Welles, and you’ll close each book feeling like you’ve read about five different people.

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So I’ve reluctantly concluded defining fact as it relates to history is like stroking smoke or tapping a bullet in flight.

History, it’s been said, is a lie agreed to.

But maybe in fiction we can find if not fact, something bordering on truth. With that possibility in mind, I explore what I can make of accepted history through the eyes of this man.

The “hero” of my series, your guide through my books, is Hector Mason Lassiter, a shades-of-grey man who’s a charmer, a rogue, a bit of a rake—a handsome rover, if you will—and, himself, a crime novelist.

Some others in the novels say he bears a strong resemblance to the actor William Holden. Hector smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He favors sports jackets, open collar shirts and Chevrolets. He lives his life on a large canvas. He’s wily, but often impulsive. He’s honorable, but mercurial.

He often doesn’t understand his own drives. That is to say, he’s a man. He’s a man’s man and a lady’s man. He’s a romantic, but mostly unlucky in love. Yet his life’s largely shaped by the women who pass through it.

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Hec was born in Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1900. He came in with the 20th Century, and it was my aim his arc of novels span that century—essentially, through each successive novel, giving us a kind of under-history or secret-history of the 20th Century.

Tall and wise beyond his years, as a boy Hector lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He accompanied Black Jack Pershingand participated in the general’s abortive hunt down into Mexico to chase the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who attacked and murdered many American civilians in the town of Columbus, New Mexico.

Villa’s was the first and only successful terrorist assault on the United States homeland prior to the events of September 11, 2001.

Much of that part of Hector’s life figures into Head Games: You’ll catch some glimpses in the reading to follow.

Head Games originally was published in 2007.

Its follow-up in original publication sequence, Toros & Torsos, opens in 1935 and features Ernest Hemingway as a kind of sidekick. Subsequent books about Hector similarly hopscotched back-and-forth through the decades upon original publication.

The current Betimes Books releases of the Hector Lassiter series present the novels in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of when each story opens.

IMG_3573Call me audacious, or call me crazy: The Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before Head Games was officially published. Let me run a highlighter over that point: this series was largely written before the first novel was even contracted for publication.

It’s very unusual in that sense: a series of discrete novels tightly linked and that taken together stand as a single, larger story.

My approach as a writer has always been to try and describe the movie I’m seeing in my head.

Tonight’s film is a kind of mash-up of Sam Peckinpaugh, Quentin Tarantino, and if you believe several book reviewers, the Cohen Brothers.

So. Welcome to the world of Hector Lassiter.

IMG_2832It’s 1957, and we’re in a bottom-rung cantina in Ciudad Juarez—these days regarded as the murder capital of the world. We’re in this cantina with Hector and Bud. 

From somewhere, there’s a tune playing on piano or accordion. Some piece of Mexican music… Maybe it’s Volver, Volver, or maybe Cancion de Mixteca

A fight’s looming, and to coin a phrase, this is no personal brawl—anyone can join in.”

Craig McDonald, Dublin, Ireland, August 3rd, 2016

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P.S. WE STILL HAVE A FEW COPIES OF CRAIG McDONALD’S BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!

DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO PURCHASE ONE! CONTACT US

 

Literary suicides: excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND by Craig McDonald

March 31, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

8 PRINTx2700“Hector sat in a booth alone in the back of the Italian restaurant. The freezing rain was lashing the windows and the trees lining the streets of Georgetown looked like glass sculptures. He took another sip of red wine and pulled the letter from his pocket. He read it five times:

Poor dearest Pickle:

There is no surprise in this.

I’m awfully sorry for the mess.

The body’s been dying for some time (from the moment really, that second plane went down at Butiaba), and the rest has raced in pursuit these past months. It has all finally gone to pieces and I am beat to the wide beyond promise of recuperation or recovery.

Now it’s over and you can get on with your life.

I’ve spent my mornings since the last war working at four books I can’t finish. And all of these last, unfruitful years spent rummaging through the remise of my memory for likely material has only stirred up old ghosts and guilts. Untenable regrets that all of the bottles of giant killer I am now denied and all of the last bits of love that you might still muster towards me cannot palliate.

A writer who can no longer write can no longer live.”

The letter continues in PRINT THE LEGEND, available here.

BetimesLOGO3 blue“A novelist who has a main character first use[d] The Hemingway Review as a doorstop and later set another issue on fire and fling it out a window probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for a favorable review of his book in that particular publication. But Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend (its title taken from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 Western directed by John Ford) deserves the attention of Hemingway aficionados… McDonald tosses off throw-away allusions and inside jokes with apparent effortlessness… McDonald is a writer’s writer, so the book is also, improbably but effectively, a meditation on the art of writing fiction.”    —THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW

“Through Hector’s musings and actions, we are treated to an intimate view of Hemingway’s writings as well as his life. And as Lassiter tries to protect the woman he loves while pursuing a personal enemy, he evolves into a credible romantic figure. This book will appeal to readers who read outside the crime genre.”    VERONIKA PELKA, HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (Editor’s Choice Selection)

 

An excerpt from DEATH IN THE FACE by Craig McDonald

November 24, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

  1. Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Death in the FaceSean Connery, dressed in his immaculate gray Anthony Sinclair-tailored James Bond suit with pale blue shirt and black knit tie, nodded for another bira—a beer—and said to Hector in his juicy, Glaswegian Scots accent, “I’ve read your stuff, Mr. Lassiter. Much of what I’ve read I’ve quite loved. Let’s say I can pry little money out these fat producers’ pockets. If so, would you maybe option something to me? I have a novel or two of yours in mind. God knows I don’t want to end up type-cast as this silly character for life. Your characters are much closer to the ground than Mr. Fleming’s.”

Hector tapped bottles of Bomonti with the cinematic version of Ian’s James Bond and said, “By all means. Whenever and whatever you want, Sean. You should know up front, I have a ruthless maxim regarding any and all film options: my book, your movie. If your option money spends, I smile, shake hands, and get the hell out of your way. If the damned thing somehow miraculously comes out okay in the end, I’ll deliriously say so to the press and raise a glass in tribute. If it’s a dog, I maintain a respectful silence.”

Sean smiled and said, “Very good! I do so appreciate a fellow professional. We’re a dying breed.”

Hector had been a week in Istanbul—this now shabby, threadbare ghost of Constantinople, as he thought of it.

It seemed all dust, blast furnace winds, hucksters and dodgy religion to Hector.

He’d hobnobbed with the Bond film producers, done a little uncompensated and un-credited script doctoring just for the hell of it and for free drinks.

He’d also nearly lost Vannina Bello in the very early going after a man with a knife came at them as they were exiting a seafood place along the Bosporus during a sight-seeing blitz.

It hadn’t seemed at the time like anything remarkable—nothing tied to old unfinished business of one sort of another, nor to old enemies.

The attack hadn’t even struck Hector as being credibly tied to the Flea Bomb in any way.

No, it had been—or so Hector had decided in the moment—a simple case of random street crime. It was just dumb bad luck that it was they who had nearly become victims. Happenstance, Hector told himself, that was all.

But Vannina’s candid words in the wake of that attack cut close to bone: “I see now the journalists are maybe right about you and the collision between your life and the page, so to speak,” she said bitterly, her chin trembling in fear. “If this is how things always are for you, then I can see now why you’re still a bachelor…and a widower. This was all terrifying, yet you seem to take it almost in stride, even now. That leads me to believe it’s not an uncommon thing for you. Now I fear that maybe you even savor this sort of thing.”

It was an entirely sensible point of view, he had to confess that was so.

But, in the end, he soothed her into staying on with him, sharing his room and bed while waiting for an opportune moment to effect an introduction between Vannina and the Bond producers. He needed to do that much for her in recompense, he told himself.

But if things were somewhat rocky for Hector, they were far more tumultuous for the cast and crew of From Russia with Love.

A Father’s Day nod from “Silk for the Feed Dogs”

June 18, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

JM cover idea 1

EARLY TRENDS IN FARMING

 From Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon

I heard the engine of the old red Massey Ferguson fart into life and I emerged running, scrambling to get my wellies on. We were on a rescue mission, Da and me. A cow was refusing to feed her calf. I’d seen it born that morning before I went to school, my bottom numb from being perched so long on top of the barred gate. But it was the animal’s back end that bothered me, or what protruded from it: two spindly legs cut off at the knees, hooves pointed in the launch position. Uncomfortable as the cow had looked, she didn’t seem inclined to finish what she’d started. I couldn’t blame her – it looked exhausting. But she finally summoned the strength, gave two or three great heaves, and the contents of her belly slapped onto the ground. The calf lay sprawled and shivering. The noises he made, after a few moments of silent outrage, were more like those of a curious cat. As his eyes rolled slowly over this new, harsher environment, all the aloof heifers kept their distance, swishing their tails. I held my breath, willing them to be kind, but they seemed to want nothing to do with him. I couldn’t leave him like that, crashlanded and splattered. It was only when I saw one or two cows join the reluctant mother in licking him clean that I jumped down and headed to school.

But throughout the day, he had stayed in my thoughts. As soon as I got home, I hurried to find Da. He said the calf had grown weak. The mother had disowned it. I had ten minutes to wolf down my tea, and we were off, soon turning onto our lane. It was pulpy from the rain and sported a shiny green mohawk that brushed the undercarriage. The hedges were higher than our heads, rampant with hawthorn, gooseberries, and whin. Sometimes Da let me drive on the lane and, as I let go of the clutch and we started to move, I felt the engine’s gentle exhalation, its big and biddable strength. But today we talked little and he remained in his seat, his lips set in a tight line. The Massey didn’t have a cab so the distant drone of silage spreaders, the flapping wind, the muted barking of a dog were our company.

From the dual carriageway people would see the Massey disappearing between the hedges and comment: “That’ll be Dan Connelly and at his shoulder there’ll be wee Kathleen, the great farmer. She’ll run that place one day.” That’s what they’d been saying since I was old enough to understand. I always concealed my pride, never letting slip even a smile.

The Massey represented freedom, the open land. Every time Da raised his boot to the footplate, threw his leg over and lowered himself into the calloused seat with the threadbare cushion, I could see the silhouette of our Sunday afternoon hero, John Wayne. My position was beside him up on the mudguard of the back wheel. Unless for funerals, Da only ever wore a shirt opened at the neck, rolled up to the elbows, and chestnut coloured trousers with the shape of his knees wedged in the cloth. At six, I wore smaller versions of the same. I had his farmer’s tan. My forearms, throat, and face were thick-skinned and freckled, my hair like tangled mélange yarn, often with a briar snarled in it.

We stopped in front of the cobbled-together cluster of byres with corrugated roofs, their numbers added to since granda’s time. Da led me around the back to a clearing where the cows congregated before milking.

“Mind the nettles,” he called.

I aimed to tread in his footsteps, but they were too far apart and my wellies sank, slivers of ground rippling at my heels like big wet tongues. I kept my toes clenched so the boots stayed on. While I’d been at school, Da had built a pen for the calf, using four iron gates tied together at the corners with twine, and scattered it with straw. That was where we found him, skinny limbs tucked underneath him, sleepy eyes trained on our approach.

“You stay outside, Kathleen. Right where you are is grand,” said Da as he climbed in. “Now, lift that plastic bottle with the teat and hold onto it. You’re going to feed him when I get him still.”

With Da’s help, the calf wobbled to his feet.

“Show him the bottle, Kathleen.”

I stuck the bottle through the bars and, with his nobbly knees quivering and hind legs crooked like elbows, he pushed off towards me. “Booley-legged’ was how Da described him, the same expression he used for neighbours he saw leaving The Farmer’s Rest some afternoons. The animal sent his tongue to examine the offering, then stretched his neck and grasped the rubber nozzle in his mouth. For all the size of him, there was remarkable force behind the cute sucking sounds. Ears pinned back, eyes wide and unblinking, he headbutted my hand to alert me when I wasn’t tilting the bottle enough. With my other hand I stroked the flat white forehead, imagined gliding a comb through those slinky albino eyelashes.

When he had finished, his tongue shot out again, but less suspiciously this time. Baby pink, as long as my forearm, the underside was a loofah exfoliating my damp knuckles. He went on to explore my shoulder and chew inquisitively on my collar. I squeezed my eyes shut as he discharged a gust of warm air in my face. The loofah worked its way over my nose and curled lazily across my forehead, finally inspecting what rested on my head: my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort. When I opened my eyes, I noticed all the other cattle had gathered at the open gate and were looking on. The calf’s mother had separated herself from the herd and was sauntering towards us.

“There you are, you see, Kathleen?” said Da. “Your creative side might not always be appreciated by your classmates, but here they’re lapping it up. You just need to hang with the right crowd!”

***

Beloved though Da’s tractor was, it was another industrial machine that forced its way in to dominate my childhood: mum’s Singer sewing machine. Black and spiky, it towered over our kitchen like the arthritic nun that watched over school assembly. While the Massey pulled the plough that churned up the land, scattering new potatoes, Da proudly erect at its helm, mum sat hunched over the Singer, pressing the footpedal, easing the fabric to the needle, a crushed velvet waterfall tumbling over the side. She made curtains, or rather, window treatments, great bustled affairs with fancy names like ‘swags and tails’, ‘tie-backs’, and ‘pelmets’, garnished with rosettes, and little braided ropes, and tassels. People came from far and wide; she did a roaring trade making twitching net curtains for the parish to peer around.

I remember the day it arrived. I was doing geography homework in front of the fire when two neighbour men carried it in and wordlessly set it on the tiles. And that’s where it stayed. There was only room for one of us in the kitchen, and it soon became clear which one. I went to open the fridge door, and a bolt of fabric fell against me. At the doorstep, I kicked off my mucky wellies and trailed threads through the house instead. I swept the floor, but had to leave the sweepings so mum could pick the pins out. By the time she got round to it, it was all over the floor again. Da built an annex onto the kitchen, and we called it The Sewing Room. Mum stacked it to the ceiling with spools, thread, and cloth, crammed in a second-hand overlocking machine which drove her and the Singer back into the kitchen and me back out in the yard.

Cow dung was normal; thread balls were not. The loose gurgle of the tractor engine was music in comparison to the whirr of the Singer, which was neurotic, and monotonous, and drowned out the theme tune to “The Dukes of Hazzard”. I hated to invite what few friends I had home because I knew our kitchen didn’t look like theirs. They’d say mean things about mum and Da, and I couldn’t have that; we’d be known as gypsies like Fiona Harkin’s family who lived in a caravan. So on the afternoon my new friend, Siobhan Devlin, was due over, I asked if tea could be served in the hay shed; in fact it occurred to me that all my future entertaining could take place there.

An almighty row kicked off. Mum wouldn’t hear of it. What were we, tinkers? She started to cry. Da came in and at the sight of her tears ordered me to my room until I learnt some respect. I didn’t budge. He raised his voice, pointing to the door I was to disappear through. Just as he was about to go for me, he impaled the tender, paler underside of his arm on the Singer’s spindle. We spent the rest of the day in the hospital getting Da checked for tetanus and his arm stitched up.

Still, mum thought I would go into business with her when I finished school.

“Sit down in front of it,” she tried. “Don’t be scared. I’ll teach you the basics. There’ll always be money to be made in curtains. People never get tired of their privacy.”

But that beast had turned on Da. I thought of the old fable in which the King gives orders for every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be burnt because his daughter, cursed by an old maid, would prick her finger on one and die. Then to mum I responded, “I’ll be staying well clear of it. In fact, if I never go near a sewing machine again, or thread, or needles, or fabric, I’ll live happily ever after.”

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Summer read: A woman, a dolphin and a marble figurine

June 6, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

1-bottlenose-dolphin-tursiops-truncatus-jumping-out-of-water-sunset-rene-frederick

Excerpt from David Hogan inspiring novel The Last Island

“You’ll be the first person to see this,” she whispered.

She grabbed the red towel from the steps and threw it in the water, then pushed me in after it. She began to call Yukon from the steps, whistling and slapping. Shortly after, there was the signature ripping sound at the edge of the cove, and Yukon arrived. We jumped in together. Kerryn put the red towel in Yukon’s mouth and held on to one end. I grabbed the other end so we were on opposite sides of the dolphin as she pulled away.

I felt the immense propulsion generated by Yukon’s fluke with each thrust. It seemed as if Yukon was in a hurry; we gained speed rapidly. My hands strained to maintain a grip on the red towel while the water tugged fiercely at my shoulders and legs. In an instant, the cove was gone, and we were in the open sea. I glanced at Kerryn. She had her head cocked up and forward, her eyes squinted in determination.

I closed my eyes and ducked my head under the surface. The whoosh of the water was gone, transformed into a sort of muted hum. Fighting the pull of the water, I snapped my head back above the surface. I tried to gauge our speed, but there was nothing to measure it against. We were a rocket in space, tearing from one void to another, only the salt shooting up my nose and down my throat made me aware of the distance being covered.

We must have turned at some time because I could now see the island over my right shoulder. Again, Kerryn and I were helpless and naked and exposed and entirely in Yukon’s element. Yukon could take us anywhere; she could pull us under or strand us or crash us into a rock. But my momentary fear was of no consequence; like a child leaping into the open arms of his father, the apprehension and delight sprang from the same source, one was impossible without the other. Yukon was pulling us into the night, and we could only abandon ourselves to her will.

Whether we made another turn or not, I wasn’t sure, but soon we were heading back into the island. It was a part of the island I had not seen before. There were sheer falling cliffs of white rock, descending into the sea. The sea had cut thousands of large and small holes into the rocks, forming mysterious hollows and dugouts.

We slowed and penetrated an opening in one of the cliffs, beneath a jagged arc of sea-bitten rocks, no more than seven feet across. We entered what appeared to be a giant inverted cone. There was a small beach of white sand about twenty feet wide ahead of us. And above white rocks shot toward the sky, closing into smaller concentric circles as they advanced. There was the tiny opening where we had entered and an opening at the top – that was all.

Kerryn let go of the towel and swam to the shore. I followed her. Yukon was last and slid herself onto the sand, dropping the towel from her mouth and keeping half her body in the water. The moon like a bottle cap hung just above the top opening. The light beamed in, gentle and sweet, funneled down by the rock. On the sides of this funneling rock, tiny prisms of crystal angled the vertical white moonlight into a horizontal tangle of red, blue and yellow colors, a thin rainbow streaking across the moon. The moon itself seemed so close and so small, that I felt I could climb through the tangle of colors across the sky and nudge it.

Kerryn sat with her feet in the water, and Yukon flopped over and rested her nose in Kerryn’s lap. Kerryn threw her head back and smiled.

“The sanctuary,” Kerryn said, her voice echoing up into the funnel.

I stared at her, and the way the light from above caught the white rim of Kerryn’s deep eyes reminded me of the eclipse. Her brown forehead glistened with sea and sweat, and she sat with her mouth, pink and moist, partly open. On the sand behind me was a half-full bottle of water and a small statue, no bigger than a foot, a burnt gray and white female figurine with a long nose and a rounded cut-off head. To my eye, the ancient statue was without flaws or cracks, as if it existed in a vacuum.

“Cycladic age, I think,” she said. “Could be five thousand years old.”

“How’d she get here?”

I’d heard there were thousands of sculptures dotting the Aegean floor but few, I was sure, as old or in as good a shape as this one, which could be the prize piece in any museum.

“I don’t know. It was here when I first came,” she said. “Yukon found this place. One night, after we’d been riding further and further out, she brought me here. This was just before the others were leaving, and that’s when I knew I had to stay. I mean, I guess, we had a special connection before that. We’d been riding alone at night. But when she brought me here, I knew, just knew that I had to stay.”

I looked at Yukon’s kind face, the sleek rounded head, the large eyes, the fixed smile, resting in the lap of Kerryn. Yukon shot a sly glance in my direction as if to affirm what Kerryn was saying. I laughed, moved next to Kerryn and petted the side of Yukon’s body. Yukon clicked with glee and I was reminded of the forts I used to build as a kid, cardboard and pillows constructed to keep the real world out and the imaginary one in. The fact that we were naked, like children, and with an animal, like children, was as if I had somehow re-claimed a last slice of innocence.

And here it was. In the present. And it was real.

Yukon lying contentedly right next to Kerryn was real, and the sea was real, and the canopy of rainbow lights was real and Kerryn, her golden skin glowing in the flue of moonlight, was real.

 

 

 

Summer in Capri with Kat, Edward… and Jackie Mallon

June 5, 2015

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Friends on the beach 1

    Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs

   A barman accepted the fifty, distracted during the aperitivo rush, so we had a little money until new funds arrived. We figured it would stretch farther away from the city, and the next morning we headed for Capri. I expected to see descendants of Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, hopping off sailboats, flitting along bougainvillea-lined walks in striped tops and wide-brimmed hats. Instead, I saw grotesque subjects of an embalmment process that had stepped out of the formaldehyde early, painted their faces, and donned teenagers’ clothing.

Dietro, liceo. Davanti, museo,” commented Edward.

The women of Capri, suntanned, slim, with their golden hair rippling in the sun, exuded youth from afar. Up close, they were relics clutching with sheer desperation onto the last vestiges of the bella vita. From the back: high school. From the front: museum.

So we boarded a northbound ferryboat and alighted at Procida. Sleepy, wild, and full of adventure, we found we had much in common with the island. We ate catch of the day with spaghetti, local bread, and oil, washed down with cheap wine in squat little cups. We asked about room rates there but were told there were no vacancies and received a worried look. Undaunted, we strolled on, and then sunbathed where we fell on a patch of faded grass. In my mind’s eye, I was the fiery village girl played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta in Il Postino, despite my sunburned shoulders and outfit of Edward’s short shorts, beaded boob tube, and green turban set off with brooch.

It was only towards evening, when the last Bed & Breakfast door was closed on us, its sign that read Ospitalità della Natura swinging in our faces, that we confronted our plight.

“It looks like l’ospitalità della natura is exactly what we’ll be at the mercy of tonight,” I said.

“Who knew this poky little island would be such a popular destination,” said Edward. “Are you sure we’ve been to all the hotels?”

“Procida’s the size of my flat. We saw it all by our second lap.” I shrugged off my rucksack and dropped onto the sand dunes, burrowing my legs into the warm sand to reach the cooler layers underneath. “Ah, that feels nice.”

“Good. Tuck yourself in. I’ll be back.”

He raced off, leaving me trickling handfuls of sand onto my knees. I lay back and stared at the sky. It was the same blue as the robes of the Virgin Mary statue that welcomed (and turned away) guests at the corner leading to the last guesthouse. I would have had no trouble staying right where I was, just breathing in and out, tasting the robust air until I fell asleep. There was silence, except for muted communications between fishermen along the beach and some seagulls. It brought back memories of tramping about alongside Da, out in all weathers, bits of the earth lodged deep under my fingernails and the fresh air clinging to my hair and clothes.

Edward came panting through the dunes. “I know where we can sleep!”

I sat up, straightened my turban, and repositioned my shades.

“Come on!” He flew off again kicking up sand and I had no choice but to follow. I found him by an old upturned boat, one side propped up on four stones. “What do you think?”

“What?”

“It’s almost a little hut.”

I surveyed the flakey blue paint, the damp, exposed wooden slats, the tendrils of seaweed hanging over the ‘doorway’ like wind chimes on a front porch.

“I’m game if you are,” I said. “But remember how you roared the place down when Ginevra trapped that mouse? Who knows what beasties the night will unleash? I say, it calls for some hard liquor. You make yourself at home. I’ll go see.”

“What do you mean, beasties? Where are you going?”

“Be right back!”

There was a little tavern in the central piazza, and I arrived at the same moment as the fishermen. When I explained our circumstances, the barman seemed quite decided and pulled from under the counter an unmarked bottle. “Superalcolico,” he cautioned. The fishermen greeted my query about the likelihood of snakes or scorpions on the beach with laughter.

“Well, if there weren’t any before you drink that, there will be after.”

As the sun was setting, Edward and I crawled inside our little bivouac.

“May the roof above us never fall in, and those gathered below it never fall out,” I said.

We lay on our bellies, looking out at the swaying navy and silver waves, passing the bottle back and forth.

“Well, we wanted to see the other end of Italy. Milan can be kind of one-note. Monothematic: la moda,” slurred Edward, extending his arms wide. “Whereas this is the unseen Italy. The corners that fashion forgot.”

From “The Angel of the Streetlamps” by Sean Moncrieff

May 26, 2015

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 ANGELx2700                  30 – Michael Bourke

I opt to meet her in the office, not the house. The church had to be re-opened anyway: outrageously selfish of me to have kept it closed. I also hope to project a more officious nature, surrounded by the trappings of ecclesiastical power. Not to impress the journalist – she is bound to be contemptuous of such things – but to bolster myself. In truth, I want to cancel the meeting but lack the strength even for that.

I hear her well before she appears: her high heels clacking down the centre of the church, proclaiming their vulgar selves against the tranquillity around; yobs in an art gallery.

I move to the door of the office and beckon. She’s not what I imagine a journalist looks like: far worse, in fact. I expected some power-dressed vamp with scarlet fingernails, but this creature is quite scruffy, her unbrushed hair featuring a vivid slice of red; as if she has accidentally tipped a can of paint over herself. Her suit is wrinkled and seems in need of a wash: rather like its owner, who is making heavy weather of the walk through the church. She smiles as she approaches me, then sighs, then makes what I assume to be a comical face, indicating that this wouldn’t take so long if she exercised more.

That is self-evident.

While I wait, I glance around the church, which is empty save the two of us. Been that way for years, it seems. Even on Sundays it is barely half full and at Christmas only reaches the three-quarter mark. But we have kept the place well, Jack Kelly and I, agreeing to avoid all the modernist dabblings many churches go in for nowadays. We have kept it traditional. Rich golds at the altar, with faux-renaissance paintings lined up on either side, marking the Stations. Each pillar is partially shrouded by magnificent velvet drapes which lead to the ornate wooden roof. The roof, however, is badly in need of repair: a task we fear we will never complete. We simply don’t have enough parishioners, who would be too poor anyway to fund such a project. Jack has beggared himself before the Bishop, but the money offered was far from sufficient to bring the roof back to glory; just enough, in fact, for the ugly scaffolding which now holds it in place. The roof consists of interlocking joists, between which are once-vivid depictions of the stars and god-men. Sadly, it will probably be replaced with something plain and modern; something altogether more secular.

The panting hackette finally reaches me. She jabs out a sweaty hand and declares: “Oh, I need to do more exercise.”

Already, I loathe this woman; but I loathe myself even more. I have the attitude of a willing penitent, ready to submit myself to righteous punishment. I lead her into the office, slump into a chair and wait while she divests herself of her jacket and searches through her massive leather bag for the tools of her sordid trade.

“Well,” she says as she sits opposite me. I ignore this prelude, this marked attempted at charm. I commence speaking. I tell her everything, or almost everything: my experience of this girl’s death, followed by my contact with the Gardai and everything they told me about this unfortunate girl, this Manda.

I don’t mention Jack, naturally. Wisely, the reporter doesn’t interrupt, but scribbles furiously: the sound of a mouse trapped in a small space.

I finish, and expect her to go. It is evident that there is nothing more to say, that I have fully exhausted my usefulness to her. I don’t look up. I can’t.

But she remains where she is, rustling and groaning and shifting on her seat; as if something has trapped her there and she is struggling to escape.

Then it comes: the softened tone, the elongated vowels which no doubt she imagines sound the same as compassion; a limping totter of words which take their time to stop off at every condescending cliché they can find. She suggests that I was a comfort to Manda during her final seconds. It is a vomit of well-meaning insults which reach their zenith with the harshest of all: that she, this bedraggled pimp of words, knew Manda. And of course, believing it would please me, she has to mention Manda’s great Faith.

Faith. Hundreds of years of mistranslation has the Galilean exhorting all he meets to ‘believe’ in him. But the word he uses in the original Greek texts is pistis: which doesn’t mean faith. It means loyalty.

Now the anger comes. But it is not energising; more as if black walls suddenly partition my vision, screening out all but my failure: not just in relation to the girl, but everything I have set out to do since the seminary. It has all been wrong. Worse: it has been cowardly and hypocritical. I have peddled myths just like the rest of them, hoping that others might sense the music hidden behind my stock phrases. There are no others like me; or at least, none who will admit it. I am alone with a howling truth which for the last two decades I have denied.

This is the truth behind what has happened to me.

I wish to say these things, to declare them, but the words shoot through my mind far too quickly to marshal. Like grabbed raindrops, they splatter against me. I have nothing, but must make her go. So I descend to her level.

“Fuck off.”

She makes a noise; as if she is genuinely surprised by such vulgarity; as if it’s certainly not the kind of language she’s used to hearing in the salubrious offices of the Daily Tit or whatever her rag is called. She stands, picks up her leather sack and flounces out, leaving me to listen to the blood raging around my brain and watching the shake in my hands. I know what I must do; all I can do. I must burn it to the ground.

“The Angel of the Streetlamps” by Sean Moncrieff is available HERE

Video trailer and excerpt from PERMANENT FATAL ERROR by Hadley Colt

March 19, 2015

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The following excerpt refers to Everett Hyde’s letter:

“Ashley’s former professor drew a deep breath and said, “Tough stuff, isn’t it? I received it, via his publisher, about three months after the publication of his third novel, Rain Dogs. About a year before the death, as I recall it. I was asking his publisher to pass along to Hyde some questions for a biographical section I originally envisioned opening my book on Hyde and his first three novels. This is what I received instead.”

Chase had placed the professor on speaker-phone after Ashley had called Adam Greenwood, engaging him in a bit of small talk and reminiscing about classes with him before explaining about Chase and his new project and then passing the phone to Chase.

Rubbing his jaw, Chase said, “Rain Dogs. That’s an interesting title. What’s it mean?”

Ashley narrowed her eyes, then raised her hands in a, “Why are you asking that?” gesture.

Professor Adam Greenwood hesitated, then said, “You haven’t read any of Hyde’s novels, Mr. Alger?”

“The first, I think, but it’s been a long, long time ago,” Chase said. He squirmed in his chair, trying to avoid Ashley’s eyes. “Rest assured, I’m knuckling down to re-reading them soon. I was freshly struck by that title when you said it just now.”

“Tom Waits, the singer-songwriter, used it for an album title not long after Hyde’s last book appeared,” the professor said. “Maybe it was done in homage to Hyde. Anyway, it’s from an obscure turn of phrase. In New York City, or any large urban area, the dogs may wander the streets at will, but sometimes the rain comes, hard and unexpected, and the dogs lose their trail for the path back home, the scent washed away. So they wander around lost and stray, or rain dogs.”

“Evocative,” Chase said.”

***

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