ITW Round Table: Romance in Thrillers?


I’m part of the roundtable over at the International Thriller Writers’ Big Thrill this week with Bernard Maestas, David M. Salkin, Alex Shaw, L.R. Nicolello, Eric Red, Mauro Azzano, Colin Campbell, and Alan L. Moss. Join us!


Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys
Viv Albertine


Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.

Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.


I kept thinking I’d already written this review because the book has so completely seeped into my consciousness. This is a warts and all memoir that tests you at the start to see if you’re strong enough to make the journey, throwing the messy chaos of her early life at the reader with both hands. I doubt the teen Albertine and I would ever have bonded as friends — she’s just too much of a girly girl for me, I never dealt well with the ‘boy crazy’ types — but I so admire this woman, I cannot tell you how much. She had a lot more chutzpah pursuing the things I only dreamed of like swanning her way into the music scene and picking up a guitar and keeping at it. Her life is tough from the get go but she persists through it all. She was there at so many of the pivotal moments in punk and beyond. Our culture does not idolize women except for beauty (which she has plenty of but never mind) or she would be mentioned in the same breath as Mick and Joe and Johnny and Sid, but they Slits don’t even get more than a grudging mention as one of the ‘girl bands’ of the era. The obsessiveness any art requires (the title comes from her mother’s lament about the young Viv’s preoccupations) is scorned in women as ‘narcissistic’ which seems to be what all women who create are disparaged as being. How dare they spend time on themselves?!

Like the Raincoats the Slits stretched so far beyond the simple punk chords so fast that in part their identity didn’t really sit with that particular genre. An amazing bunch from the singular Ari Up and fabulous Palmolive on drums with a vengeance. They moved onto more experimental stuff, changed, changed innovated added the amazing Neneh Cherry for a time and like most bands, broke up, moved on and found new things. Albertine pursues everything with the same zeal, throwing herself headlong into filmmaking, pottery, marriage, and a desperate fight to give birth, which is almost immediately followed by an agonizing battle against cancer.

And one day she wakes up to find herself a ghost of what she was, living in the country, which had once been an escape and had become an exile. And she resurrects her love of music and starts to battle back to it one pub gig at a time. She’s still a work in progress (thankfully!) at times frustratingly abject (there were times I just shouted at her through the pages, “What are you thinking, woman?!”), at times so amazingly strong that you have to cheer. It’s a remarkable journey that will leave you feeling exhausted but thrilled, just like a great gig.

I don’t know if this qualifies as a FFB as it’s not been released in the US I guess (?), but you can check out other overlooked treasures at Patti’s blog. Click the picture above to buy the book.

The Slits

Albertine live at Rough Trade

Daniella Dooling at Esther Massry Gallery



Esther Massry Gallery – October 10 – December 7

Daniella Dooling’s mixed media installation is a transgression of borders: sculpture/archive/ adolescence/adulthood/sobriety/hallucinogenic drugs/gender/sexuality. Societal inscriptions of normalcy are reconstructed and reclaimed through a process of sifting through memorabilia, family history, natural phenomena, and cultural artifacts. The artist serves on the faculty at Bard College and lives in the Hudson Valley. Visit:

The provocative title turns out to have a funny source: according to the tales Dooling’s grandfather would tell a remittance man lived on the road where the Diamond Bar Inn was built in Jackson, Montana. His name was Dick and he swore at everything “bloody” this, “bloody” that, so of course the nickname. One spring he didn’t come down from the mountain. Eventually a bunch of ranchers went up to see what had become of him. A bear had feasted upon him. So they buried him and lacking any knowledge of his name, Bloody Dick he was interred.

The pieces in this collection vary greatly, but most of them operate as amber catching moments of the past. I was fortunate to hear the artist talk where she explained a number of things from her background — why David Bowie (though I’m not sure that needed any explanation), the history of the ranch and her family’s moves from Montana to California to D.C. with side trips to South America and some excerpts of her at times harrowing experiences including her institutionalization for anorexia and acid flashbacks.

Her treatment also included a stay at her grandparent’s natural health center. Her grandmother was D. M. Dooling, the co-founder of Parabola Magazine. Family played a large role in her life (no surprise) and Dooling reveals a great deal of very frank and troubled times in her life — a survivor much against the odds in many ways.

It may sound very personal and singular, but as Dooling remarked in her talk, the effect is opening up the commonality of those traumas. The students she’d spent the week with all wanted to share their own lives and experiences. I had a vision of all my old diaries similarly captured in a vitrine: what pages would I choose to open up to public scrutiny? How do you choose? Take a wander around this fascinating collection and see what it sparks in you.

And come away with an appreciation of Abe and the Genie lift.

The Reboot of Dorian Gray

“Basil has painted the most amusing picture of me,” Dorian said as he threw himself onto a settee opposite Lord Henry ‘Harry’ Wotton, who lounged on an Empire chair with oversized wings. “You really must see it. Quite captures my ethereal beauty for the ages.”

“ I have seen it,” Harry replied with an intolerable air of insouciant smugness. “He posted it on Facebook an hour ago. Fourteen likes. My. I must say I expected more.”

“What?” Dorian grabbed his iPhone and checked. “Twenty now. Well, I’m sure it’s due to the change in metrics. Probably lots of people hiding Basil from their timeline what with his tedious happy horse pictures.”

“When he posts a laughing equine,” Lord Wotton drawled with a peculiar smile, “his stats on the website boom for a week after. It’s quite remarkable.”

“Tedious kitsch!” Dorian could not tear his eyes away from the screen. “Oh god, no!”

Harry sat up. His meme sense was tingling. “What is it, dear boy?”

Dorian’s hand curled into a fist. “Sybil,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

Lord Wotton’s lupine smile widened. “Oh dear, has she posted another snap from your night out?”

“Bloody woman!”

Harry set down his e-cigarette holder and took up his iPad, opening the buttery leather case to reveal the gleaming instrument within. “Oh, that is choice. How much did you swallow that night, Dorian? Half a butt?”

“She’s just mad because I shared the selfie I took with her brother at that opium den. I had no idea he was the same Vane family, let alone—”

Lord Wotton brought up his monocle to gaze at the young man in mock shock. “You didn’t sleep with him, too? Oh, you must change your Tinder profile again, dear boy.”

“Oh god, no!” Dorian stared at his phone with a mixture of loathing and horror on his face.

Harry pressed the refresh button rather too excitedly then roared with laughter. “Oh darling, it doesn’t do you justice. Amazing what you can do with Photoshop.”

“That horrible man!” Dorian’s hands shook. He thrust the phone down and got up to pace the room, muttering darkly. “He can’t get away with it. I will make him pay.”

“Oh, look. Alan Campbell has posted the picture to Twitter. Hashtag #oldDorian.” Lord Wotton shook with laughter. “You’re getting a mash-up with that toothless old man everyone was sharing last week. Oh and the grumpy cat. Remember him? Or was it her? I forget. These things pass so quickly.” He did his best to smile reassuringly at the young man, but he had dropped back onto the settee in a posture of abject despair, one arm over his eyes as if he could not bear to see how the meme evolved.

“It is too terrible to contemplate. A hashtag!”

“You know what Oscar said,” Harry tutted. ““There is only one thing in the world worse than being memed about, and that is not being memed about.”

Dorian sat up and glared at him. “He did not!”

Lord Wotton grinned. “Yes, he did. I went in and edited Wikipedia.”

Dorian sank back with a sob.

Goodbye, Kipper

Kipper in Window

He is gone, he of the splay foot and the silky coat. My little buddy, my little Jean Marais beastie. He’s Connor’s cuddle buddy. He’s my alarm clock; even this morning I awoke thinking I’d heard that impatient yowl. He was always quite the talker. And always underfoot: I always feared one day I’d trip down the stairs as he wound around my feet.

Things happened pretty fast. What we thought was his teeth flaring up again turned about to be a combination of underlying problems. He went from appearing fine and healthy just a few days ago to this. The vet — who’s so very English but kind — let me be with him as he slipped away. Bertie came home at lunchtime to help me bury him. I put a veve for Erzulie on the little white cardboard coffin and we wrapped him in the Gossip Girl lap blanket (thanks, Brenda) that he loved to lie on, so he went off in style.

So now we have a pet cemetery at the house. Robert’s going to put Jordan’s ashes next to Kipper’s marble slab. It’s so strange to be without him.

Drag Noir #FreeRead: Smallbany by Graham Wynd


October is for drag and noir — and free reads!

Originally posted on Graham Wynd:

Drag Noir publicity — free read story Smallbany by Graham Wynd crime noir sexy

via Drag Noir #FreeRead: Smallbany by Graham Wynd.

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TOA/V: Paul Quinn & the Independent Group – Will I Ever Be Inside You?

Tip o’ the hat to Mr B for turning me on to this group; you know when you’ve hit the right songs at the right time because you have to listen to them over and over. It’s been a week and I am still listening to this disc (well, is it a disk if only virtual?) a lot. I suppose in the wake of all the fun I had in Poland and having nothing but tons of work ahead of me — and missing a special little girl’s birthday this week — a mood of melancholy might be expected. And it’s the perfect frame of mind for this lush set of songs by Paul Quinn and the Independent Group.

The title song is shot through with such longing. From the first elegiac strings and soft backing vocals the melody swirls around to serve up Quinn’s velvety tones like a bittersweet dessert. He’s one of those singers who perfectly evokes heartbreak in his aching delivery. The complex weave of aural textures rewards close listening, but its really the vocals that enchant — no less because Scottish opera singer Jane-Marie O’Brien adds her amazing voice to the song, soaring over the lyrics like a promise of hope.

The rest of the songs match that beauty. “You Have Been Seen” has lyrics that continue “in a country where you should not have been” — it seems like a great theme song for Chastity Flame. The rueful lyrics of “Lover, That’s You All Over” offer a kind of resignation the jangly guitars belie — a kind of acceptance that’s the way things will remain, dwindling down to the piano notes at the end. “Mooreefoc” has a loopy sense of fun that entirely suits its meaning.

The whimsical interlude doesn’t really prepare you for the painful simmering heartbreak of “A Passing Thought” about a heart that’s heard “too many lies” because after all “one more tear won’t make no difference to the rain”. Quinn’s voice swings between a growl and a soaring glide with such ease and the arrangements follow his lead, guitars crunching in to join the synth swell and then dropping back out to let the piano hit notes like rain drops. “Misty Blue” is just gorgeous. I’m running out of superlatives. I just love this.  If you never listened to a word of the lyrics you’d still be enchanted; yet there’s perfectly little sad stories like “you want to see her” repeated then the knife twists with “but you haven’t even got the right/ to ask her where she was last night”.

“Stupid Thing” is so good: “This is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard” indeed. It captures perfectly that sense of self-loathing from words that can’t be taken back, like John Hiatt’s “Tip of My Tongue” does.

You may have to be in the mood for it. If you’re not a fan of the New Romantic vein of songs or passionate torch singers you may find it overwrought at times. I defy you to listen to “At the End of the Night” and remain unmoved.

Delighted to find they’re local to Dundee and played there this summer, so I hope to be able to catch them live. Here’s a fan site devoted to Quinn. Here’s him and Edwyn Collins doing the Velvet’s “Pale Blue Eyes” which I love so much.

Click the picture to buy yourself a copy; drop by Todd’s to get a bunch of recommendations of overlooked audio and video.