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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

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”…

 

Adopt a Minotaur this Christmas

November 22, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

“If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur.”     Pablo Picasso

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“Minotaur” by Man Ray

Craig McDonald’s novel Toros & Torsos is based on a theory that the famous Los Angeles “Black Dahlia” murders were inspired by the Surrealist masterpieces of the 1930s. McDonald took this idea even further and created a murder masterpiece that suggested a conspiracy of serial Surrealist killers. A particular inspiration was Man Ray’s “Minotaur” in which the pose of the subject was eerily similar to the body of the Black Dahlia.

The surrealists were always captivated by the myth of the Minotaur. The beast trapped in the maze became the symbol of the surrealist subject lost in the labyrinth of his own subconscious desires. The artists embraced the beast for its representation of the self-reflexive nature of monstrosity that comes from the Minotaur being created from both human and animal.

"Dora and the Minotaur" by Pablo Picasso

“Dora and the Minotaur” by Pablo Picasso

Although never a subscriber to the movement, Picasso was nevertheless interested in the Minotaur, and the animal is increasingly present in his work in the 1930s.

For Picasso, the Minotaur acts as the keeper of taboo sexual secrets and also the subconscious fulfilment of them.

Scroll down to read an excerpt from Toros & Torsos in which the myth of the Minotaur is described.

A limited edition hard cover copy, signed and fingerprinted by the author, would make the perfect Christmas gift for any crime & mystery lover.
Available to order HERE for €40.

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Hector lit a cigarette and said, “Bishop, I’ve been looking over Le Minotaure some more. What exactly is it with the bulls…the Minotaur thing? What’s the significance to you surrealists?”

Bishop pulled out one of his own cigarettes and then fastened it to the end of a long, black cigarette holder. Hector lit the little man’s cigarette with his Zippo and then lit another for Rachel. Hem, a nonsmoker, scooted his chair around a little closer to Harriet, who also wasn’t smoking.

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The Minotaur continues to fascinate artists: A sculpture by Jivko. Exhibition Place Saint-Sulpice, Paris, Oct. 2016

“Partly, I think it’s just a preoccupation of our times, driven in no small part by this man, here.” Bishop gestured at Hem. “First with The Sun Also Rises, and now with Death in the Afternoon. Hem has made us all fascinated with the myth and ritual of the bullfight. And many of us in the surrealist movement are Spainophiles and aficionados in our own rights. But it is also the myth of the Minotaur that fascinates us and made us choose the Minotaur to serve as our kind of surrealist emblem.”

Hector said, “I’m just an old boy from Southern Texas. My Greek mythology is, well, it ain’t great. I mean, I know it involves something about a maze, or something, and some fella going into to kill the half-human, half-bull who lived at the center, but…” He shrugged. “But that’s as far as I go.”

Bishop said, “Harriet here is quite an avid folklorist. You tell Hector, dear.”

She smiled and blushed, her gaze darting around the table. It was apparent the little woman was intimidated by her story-teller company, but she pressed ahead:

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“Theseus and the Minotaur”, ca. 550 BC

“The story goes that Poseidon, the sea god, gifted the king of Crete — Minos — with a white bull. Minos was supposed to sacrifice the white bull, and when he didn’t, Poseidon retaliated by making the king’s wife, Pasiphaë, fall in love with and actually couple with the bull. Their offspring was a hideous creature, the Minotaur, a giant human hybrid with a bull’s head. Minos then hired Daedalus to construct the labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. Once a decade, Minos sent seven men into the labyrinth to their deaths — and to be food for the beast inside. Finally, a hero, Theseus, volunteered to be one of the seven sent to their deaths. Theseus was in love with Minos’ daughter, Ariadne. He planned to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne provided Theseus with a long spool of thread, so that after he had killed the monster, Theseus could follow the thread back out of the labyrinth.”

Hector blew a smoke ring and said, “Things went to plan, and then this Greek boy and the king’s daughter, Ariadne, they lived happily ever after?”

“Oh no,” Harriet Blair said, shaking her head. “Theseus abandoned Ariadne soon after. He was off on his next adventure.”

“In that, it sounds like one of my books,” Hector said. “But I see now — the myth, I mean. It’s a psychological minefield.”

From Toros & Torsos, Craig McDonald, © 2008

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.

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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)

 

Translation rights news: PRINT THE LEGEND to be published in Mongolia

November 18, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

Craig McDonald‘s novel PRINT THE LEGEND (#8 in the internationally acclaimed Hector Lassiter series) is going to be translated into Mongolian and published by Bolor Sudar Publishers in 2016.

Hector Lassiter novels have been translated so far into French, Italian, Spanish (Mexico), Japanese, Korean and Russian.

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Listen to an excerpt read by Craig McDonald and read his essay about the novel.

 

Excerpt from THE PAINTER’S WOMEN by Fionnuala Brennan

September 30, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

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The Duchess of Alba

Journal extract                                                      

San Lúcar, March 1797

There he is, the arrogant fellow standing in front of me holding his palette like a shield, wielding his brush like a dagger. Totally ignoring my displeasure. Who on earth does he think he is?

‘Excellencia, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duchess of Alba,’ he is saying sarcastically, as if nothing has happened, ‘why so churlish this morning? Please assume your pose. Let us proceed with the portrait. You can stop stamping your dainty silver shoe and take your hands off your wasp waist if you please. It looks so aggressive. Surely you do not want to have the whole world see this side of you?’

Oh, how he infuriates me! I want to wipe that mocking smile off his face.

‘I am incensed Señor Goya because you are a treacherous snake. And an obtuse one. How can you think for one moment that I can pose for you who have spent the night disporting himself with one of my servants?’

Insolently he raises his penetrating black eyes and looks at me as at a child in a tantrum. Such a cool, detached, ironic, fearless look.

‘My dear Duchess, I am surprised. You are jealous! And you call me treacherous. You, who have more dalliances than all the ladies of the Court together. You, who have taken so many lovers; actors, toreros, young students even. You, who have invited me here to this secluded place, although you are so newly widowed.’

I could strike his podgy face. I want to wrench away his palette and brushes. I have a mind to throw a jug of water over that portrait. But I do nothing. I sit there with my mouth open and my eyes blazing. Why do I not order him to leave San Lúcar at once? Can it be that I am afraid to cross this impudent commoner who has vastly overstepped the bounds of his social position? Nobody speaks to the Duchess of Alba as he has just done. Especially not such an old and ugly man, who is as deaf as a bedpost.

‘Excellencia,’ he says dryly, ‘your face is twisted and sour. I shall paint you as a termagant if you so wish. Now, please readjust your mantilla. You should also tighten the sash. Good. Now place one hand on your waist and point the other to the ground.’

I obey but refuse to smile. He continues painting, a smug look on his face. I stand there like a sullen rebuked child and I ask myself once again how is it that I have allowed this man to become so familiar. To order me about like a servant. While I am standing in the pose he had commanded, I remember the first time I went to his studio in Madrid. I had heard of his liking for the bizarre, for the erotic. And I also knew that his work is admired by that old trout Maria Louisa, who fancies herself as an artist. So I had several motives for wishing to meet Don Francisco Goya. The portly creature, Maria Louisa, calls me a bag of bones. It was wonderful to hear how furious she was when I ordered a dozen copies of her latest French dresses and gave them to my servants to wear. Revenge is so sweet.

When I entered his studio he was standing at an easel with his brush.

He did not turn around. I remembered then that I had also heard that he had become deaf so I had to walk right up and stand in front of him and repeat myself. I told him to make up my face with the cosmetics I had brought with me. I did not fully understand why I wanted him to do that, to touch my face. It was not only because I had heard also that he was arrogant and I wanted to put him down, to show him my power. Commanding a great painter, so sought after, to be a lady’s maid. If he was surprised by such a request, he did not show it. I have learned since then that it not at all easy to read Don Francisco de Goya. He motioned me to repeat what I had said more slowly, then smiled in an annoyingly knowing way, as if he could also read the real reason. Without a word, he took the bag of cosmetics from me. He darkened my eyebrows like two black bridges, drew lines of kohl around my eyes, rubbed rouge into my cheeks, and dusted powder over my whole face until I sneezed. It was like he was playing with a doll. And all the time he held my face in his hands and a small smile turned up his full lips. He was humouring me, I realised, as a parent humours a silly child, or a lover cajoles a petulant woman. I, who had come to command him, had been reduced to childishness. It was then that I determined that I would have my revenge on him too, that I would enslave the insolent fellow. I would exercise the full strength of my charm and beauty on him. I realised that if I was to have power over this man, it could not be wielded simply because I am an aristocrat. However, I reassured myself that the task should not be too difficult. At that time I was still a beautiful woman of thirty-three, while he was low-born, at least fifty, rough-looking, and deaf. Not that it matters to me if a man is high or low born, as long as he is handsome and fascinates me.

After that first visit to his studio, I invited Señor Goya to Buenavista and commissioned him to paint a portrait of José and another of myself. For that portrait, I chose a deceptively simple white dress adorned with my favourite red – a deep wide sash to show off my waist, a red bow on my breast, and another pinned on my hair. I even tied a red ribbon on the leg of my little dog at my feet. I know about colour too. The meaning of red.

But my plan of entrapment did not work as smoothly, or as quickly, as I had thought. Most men on whom I cast my eye succumbed very quickly and I do not believe it was only because of who I am. I know that when I pass by in the streets of Madrid people run to their windows to catch a glimpse of me. I am not blind. But this Goya fellow seems blind to my charms. He continues to treat me like a spoilt child. I am not a silly woman without a brain in my head. The most influential and enlightened men in Spain, including the poet Don Manuel Quintana, and the poet and philosopher Don Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos are among my friends. The more indifferent he seems, the more determined I am to have him. In truth I am fascinated by this uncouth artist. I ask myself why this is so and have to admit that it is simply because he appears so impenetrable, contradictory and, most exasperating of all, unattainable. He has become my challenge.

 From The Painter’s Women by Fionnuala Brennan

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.”

SILK NEWx2700

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

June 6, 2015

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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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    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

The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 7

March 2, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

The clerk shrugged and slid across a ten-dollar bill at the old man who scooped it up.

Fragments of brick rained down on me. But my friends were safe. I crouched down behind some boxes filled with something I prayed was thick and hard. I aimed the first shooter’s discarded Thompson and fired back at the other machine gun’s muzzle flash. I held my thrumming machine gun with one hand.

It was murder on my right wrist. With the other bandaged hand, I fished out the keys to my Chevy and lobbed them over my shoulder at Bud — all that twisting and exertion was almost too much for my Orson Welles’-splintered ribs. I hollered over the din of the roaring machine gun, “You two go get to my car, and pick me up at the end of the alley. While you do that, I’ll keep this bastard busy.” Then I remembered fabled Fierro, and said, “Bud, you see any old Mexicans, you shoot ’em. Don’t hesitate. God’ll sort’em out on the other end. No shit — shoot first.”

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The Hector Lassiter Competition: Day 6

March 1, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

Hector sipped more of his wine. He said, “Progress?”

“Yes,” Gertrude said. “What have my mystifiers learned since last night?”

As if suddenly reminded about the body that had been sprawled there, Alice, carrying more glasses of wine for Ford and Joan Pyle, awkwardly stepped wide around that part of the floor.

Looking rather annoyed by tiny Alice’s stutter-step, Ger­trude said, “What have you gathered or learned since Estelle’s theory about poisoning has been borne out?”

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The Hector Lassiter Competition: Day 4

February 27, 2015

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Lassiter 7 covers-page-001

Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

“Old man, I do so appreciate you playing bodyguard to me,” Orson said. “I truly do. But I am racing the clock on multiple fronts as I’ve said, time and again. I have Danton’s Death to mount for the stage, as I’ve also told you, and this Sunday’s radio show, which as you heard for yourself, has all the earmarks of a train wreck barring some serious attention and artistic elbow grease.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Hector said. “And I won’t be under­foot, if that’s what you’re implying. I frankly don’t trust your memory about the medallion, so I want permission to ransack backstage, to comb through your wardrobe trunks and lockers.”

“Ransack away, but do it as neatly as you can,” Orson said. “John is very fussy. I’ll even let you start with my private dress­ing room. It’s packed with the surviving detritus of the career running all the way back to that first show in Dublin. But it’s a fruitless pursuit, I can already assure you of that.”

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 3

February 26, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

He held up his Zippo and opened it with a one-handed flick.

She leaned in, holding his hand to steady it. Her hand was still cold from the walk over from the brownstone. Or maybe it’s always cold, he thought.

“Like I said, it was obvious enough,” Hector said. “Meg never even confirmed it for me if that comforts you. Megan didn’t have to do that. Jimmy tumbled to it, too. We’re going to talk more about that topic, you and I, and I promise you that. Because I mean to know more about all of it and Meg isn’t sharing anything with me. And isn’t that ironic, given your wrong suspicions about Meg running her mouth? But you and I will have that conversation later, when it’s just us, alone.” Hector looked again at Shannon.

The diner door opened, letting in a chilly breeze. It was Meg. She’s taken some trouble with herself: her hair and makeup looked fresh. She must have hung her clingy dress in the bathroom while she showered because all the wrinkles had fallen out of it as if it had been steamed.

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 2

February 25, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

“The kind of woman a man would burn his life down for,” Hector said, “I know.” Hector specialized in writing such women.

“That’s it, exactly,” von Sternberg said. He appropriated Hector’s second coffee as the waiter sat it on the table. He said to the waiter, “I’ll need cream and sugar for this, too.”

“And a second black coffee,” Hector said, eyeing his stolen java.

“It would be easier, marginally easier, I think, if we weren’t filming in German and in English,” von Sternberg said.

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The Hector Lassiter competition: Day 1

February 24, 2015

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Tell us which novel is this and win two Hector Lassiter e-books of your choice if you are one of the first three people to give the correct answer:

The clerk shrugged and slid across a ten-dollar bill at the old man who scooped it up.

The old man frowned. “Oh, must have miscounted.” He put down another dollar bill and said, “Here’s one more dollar for ten. So we don’t get confused, you’ve got ten there on the counter. Here’s another two fives. How about you just give me my original twenty back and we’ll call it even?”

The clerk smiled. “Sure.” He passed the old man a twenty-dollar bill.

The old man accepted the twenty. Behind his back, the old man held a ten-dollar bill between his fingers, waving it at the woman behind him. He felt the bill tugged from his fingers. Heard a whispered, “God bless you, sir.”

The old man smiled at the clerk, struck a match on the counter and lit a cigar. He blew a smoke ring at the man and said, “Pleasure doin’ business with you, old pal.”

The old man waited just long enough to confirm the woman’s ticket purchase for her child was consummated. When the transaction was closed, the old man smiled and stepped out onto the dock and into the ragged line to board the ship. He figured he’d be safely in dock on the other side before the clerk realized the shortage in his bill tray.

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Willow Weep for Me

February 13, 2015

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img1jazz“By the time the singer appeared, the house was full. Arlene Gray stepped elegantly on the stage and approached the microphone, one hand moving in time with the music, the other resting against the curve of her hip. There was warm applause. Light-skinned and full-figured, she wore a black, strapless sheath with sequins that sparkled in the house lights.

She looked like a diva, but her voice was delicate, almost shy. She opened with “Willow Weep for Me”. Six years ago, when he was courting Fay, it had been the torch song for a generation. Irene Taylor had the hit, a big, show-stopping number with orchestral flourishes and quavering grace notes.

But Arlene Gray’s version was low-key and off-center. She sang as if speaking to her audience, and the phrases moved gently and rhythmically, like the sound of lapping waves.

Whisper to the wind and say that love has sinned

Left my heart a-breaking, and making a moan

Murmur to the night to hide its starry light

So none will see me sighing and crying all alone.

The sad music washed over him. Unused to whiskey, he grew maudlin. He thought of Fay. A lost cause. Solving the case wasn’t going to make any difference. It would land him the job with her old man and make him a shitload of dough, but none of that mattered. She might stay with him for what he could give her, but she hated something inside of him.

Something that wasn’t going to change.

He drank his whiskey. Let Mickey get the dirt on her. Let him find out the worst.

At the end of the set he moved unsteadily to the bar. He ordered a double. The bartender was brisk but deferent. He wiped the counter with a cloth and set the drink on a beermat.

“She’s something, huh?” Emmett said.

“Yes sir. M’s. Gray, she know how to sing.”

— Excerpt from REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens

Available here: http://viewbook.at/reachtheshiningriver

A single kiss

February 12, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

1-bottlenose-dolphin-tursiops-truncatus-jumping-out-of-water-sunset-rene-frederick“A shooting star zipped across the sky. I watched it streak behind the mountain on the other side of the island as I thought about the woman against the opposite side of the concrete wall, so very different from me – or anyone. She was a genuine being, pure in spirit and without pretense, willfully removed from possessions, greed, artificiality, and guided, not by tradition like the fishermen, nor by desire or competitive­ness as I’d been, but by her imaginings and passions and, to use her word, interpretations. Either because of or in spite of her past, she’d become a culture unto herself, far removed from anyone or anything I’d ever known and, for that, there was something uncorrupted and beautiful within her – unlike myself, the waste of a man beside her, who’d been given much and only wanted more, and who’d traded love and purpose for the grotesque satisfactions of a smirking man.

I turned around, reached for her dirty hand through the bars, and kissed it; and nothing in mind and memory seemed more honest, more true than this single kiss.”

— Excerpt from THE LAST ISLAND by David Hogan

 

 

Available here: http://viewbook.at/thelastisland 

The Last Island is currently on promotion in Australia.