Celebrating Graham Joyce

I found out that Graham died just before I headed off to Poland. Stuck in the Warsaw airport for seven unexpected and very long hours, I found it impossible to put away the thought that I was living in a world without Graham Joyce. I’m sure the sight of a woman bursting into tears is not at all uncommon in that airport, or so my two lengthy experiences lead me to believe. He was ailing for a long time so I suppose we should have all braced ourselves for the worst and yet — how can you?

I have continued a terrible lifelong habit of having my last words to friends be bad jokes, kidding him about the frighteningly huge scar from his last surgery by suggesting they’d left the zipper off. But he liked it. He always had that wit. I remember first meeting him at Necon of all places. I can’t remember when I first read Requiem but I know it’s the first one I read. He was among those telling ghost stories in the first night tradition and I recognised the folk tale he was telling anew so I paid more attention to how he told it, the delight and the timing. I was too much in awe to talk to him much but we ended up opposite each other at a meal and chatted away quite naturally because he was always so direct. He was surprised to find me an Arsenal fan.

I find it hard to sort out timing. I am pretty sure that I wrote the essay on Memoirs of a Master Forger [never mind the terrible American name for it] for the 21st Century Gothic collection before we read together at my first Alt-Fiction. I was nervous. What if he hated what I wrote? Of course I loved the book. I love fakes and hoaxes especially when you try to make them true and there’s a heart-breaking honesty that lying allows you to be truthful about. The forger William Heaney at the end of the book realises the irony of this:

What an odd group. I loved them all. I fancied that I could see myself in the shining brilliance of their eyes. They reflected back at me, which was appropriate because the biggest demon I faced was the one I saw in the mirror. Because he was the master of all the others. What should I say? I had lived in the shadow of a wrong I didn’t commit and in doing so made a counterfeit of my own life. Faked my own death in a way… You let go. No one needs to hang on to a first edition.” (307)

We sat at opposite ends of a big table and read from our books. People sat in between — people who were almost surely all there to hear him. He read from The Silent Land and I don’t know what I read from, Owl Stretching maybe. And we talked after it and I was delighted to find that he had read the essay and was pleased that I saw the strands of Yeats running through the book and understood what he meant to capture in those pages.

I never lost my awe of him. He was a writer I admire and yearn to be like — to slip between genres and make everything so very real especially when it seemed fantastical. I remember the shocked wonder of reading the ARC I got of Some Kind of Fairy Tale in the Russell Square Hotel, that rare feeling of this book has been written especially for me! Thousands may feel the same but you think it anyway. And then we were on the panel together at another Alt-Fiction talking about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk and how people misunderstand them. I don’t remember what all we said but it was one of my best panels ever because we were just delighting in the conversation and other people happened to be there.

Grief in the social media era is still a weird thing. Dead friends appear in my timeline on Facebook unexpectedly, due to whatever mystical metrics. Depending on how my day is going I smile to see them or cry again to know they’re gone. Phil will forever have Gene Hunt’s face; Jack will forever have the Facebook default picture, a gap of white in blue. Mostly they’re all writers, so you mourn all the things they will never write.

But they will live forever as long as we read their books and that is a great comfort. The pages spring to life again and a voice like Graham’s is as vivid as breath all over again. It’s not enough, but it is much to celebrate.

Writing to Music (SinC Blog Hop)

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Music is my drug, my balm, my mood enhancer: assuaging a bad mood (though sometimes wallowing in it for a while) or extending a good one usually to the point of dancing and singing.

Music is my haka. If you’ve ever experienced New Zealand’s All Blacks perform theirs as a pre-game ritual, you know the power of it. They chant, grunt, and move as one in aggressive postures, slapping their chests and thighs while contorting their faces into grimaces pulled to intimidate their opponents.

It often works.

The right music does the same thing for me. It calls forth my warrior: who are my opponents? The blank page, my lizard brain, the weight of apathy every creator faces. And on my team? The muses, my ambition, the sheer joy of creation.

‘Listening to music while writing’ needn’t always be that. I just need it to get me to that sweet spot, what Poppy Brite calls, ‘falling through the hole in the page” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as “flow”. We all know the state: it’s the drug whose lure keeps us writing in the face of failure, rejection or the worst of them all, the blank wall of indifference. It’s the Wonderland that catches us as we fall—timeless, boundless, rich with possibility. The mundane world falls away and your only concern is the struggle to type or scribble fast enough to capture the wonders unspooling before you.

You are immersed, excited, alive in a way this vegetable world cannot match. You realise genius is not a quality, but an activity, one you have to work to earn. Music helps you get there because it bypasses the lizard, the logic and the doubt. Just dance: the trance, the movement, the beat—they all conspire to lift. Try to imagine any celebration without music. Like drinking or other mind-altering chemicals, it suppresses the inhibitions and allows us to play, but it leaves us coherent enough to remember it all. It’s joy in motion.

Trust no one who refuses to dance.

For a long-term project, music can provide the path back to the same muses who got you started. Instead of a jumble of disconnected parts, you can have a cohesive whole. The monkey mind, who leaps eagerly for the next shiny thing, can be wooed back to the path you’ve selected with the right kind of music.

We can lure the needed muse with the proper music, like a mouse to cheese. I have a double CD set of German techno music that I never listen to (or even dance to) but play whenever I have a loathsome project (which may well have begun life as a delightful assignment that has since become burdensome because of deadlines or an evaporation of inspiration or the lure of other projects). The physical effects are immediate: an increased heart rate, alertness, adrenaline. Combined with pomodoros it’s an unbeatable technique for that last sprint to the finish line.

Since turning to crime I have found that the muse muttering in my ear is usually The Fall. I don’t know why, but the lyrics of Mark E. Smith coupled with the hypnotic music has fueled so much of my writing in that genre that I have begun to suspect that I am possessed. The bard of Salford may have captured me to use as a mystical conduit for his writing ambitions. I hear a song and I know a story; I see a line of lyric and the world unfolds before me. I manufactured a drug—mandrake anthrax—but Smith had already created it, so I can take no credit except in the theft. The music provides a deep well I drink from regularly. I feel a tug of superstitious fear even writing of this—muses are notoriously shy and inclined to disappear when too much light catches their shadows—but then I have blathered on at length via social media about my obsession, so it ought not matter that much to name it now.

I will make burnt offerings just in case.

Then again, I am also promiscuous as all artists must be with their muses. I have crime stories that sprang from other bands: most recently White Rabbit but also “Losing My Religion” and “Kiss Like a Fist” (which is wrong anyway, it’s “with” but that’s not how it came out of my head as opposed to Florence’s). It’s a wide tradition. There are countless books titled from songs (Norwegian Wood, Exit Music, You Must Remember This, Crazy for You) and the favour has been returned with bands taking their names from books (The Doors, Steely Dan, The Velvet Underground, Veruca Salt, and of course, The Fall). All arts intertwine at some point.

Music: a drug, a lifeline, a cheering section, a haka. Freud hated music, but Nietzsche wrote that, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I know without music I would still be staring at the blank page, despairing and lost. The beat goes on.

Follow along with the Sisters in Crime September Blog Hop and meet new authors.

I tag my Mavens of Mayhem colleague, Frankie Y. Bailey, who shares my love of Alice in Wonderland-themed crime: check out her novel The Red Queen Dies.

My Inspirations playlist: Songs that Spawned Stories.

[An early version of this originally appeared thanks to Frank Duffy’s invitation at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, May 2013. A longer version exists at Medium.]

TOA/V: Straight to Hell Returns

So I got to meet Alex Cox at the Hudson Basilica run by former Hole member Melissa Auf der Mauer (who introduced him) and see the rejiggered STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS so how big was my smile? Very! I love this film. I felt for years as if I were the only person crazy enough to do so (though Bertie is too if only by osmosis), but it was so great to see it with new colouring, cleaned up and with some of the missing bits restored as well as the final song from Strummer. How was it Awesome. I won’t pretend to have any critical distance about this film. It only improves upon reacquaintance. I was laughing my head off.

We don’t half live in hipsterville, eh? Many of the local varieties in attendance. We should write a guidebook to the varieties.

The basilica is an amazing space. I was imagining all the things that might be done with it. I have to read up a little more on their plans. Hudson really is chock full of — yes, hispters — but also people who are trying to do cool things with the space here. I’m all for it.

Cox talked about the making of the film — how a planned tour in support of the Sandinistas fell through and he had bands with time on their hands, film crew and Joe Strummer’s love of Almeria. Three days to script and boom. They were on their way. He spoke graciously of Tarantino ripping off paying homage to Sy Richardson’s role (the man does not get the respect he deserves) with Samuel L. Jackson’s take on the role in Pulp Fiction. You cannot see this film and have any doubt about that debt. Cox is teaching in UC Boulder and seems to enjoy working with the students and is ambivalent about working in Hollywood. He characterised it as getting rid of all the people with talent and filling up the studios with not very smart admin — just like academia.

No argument here.

I got to ask him a couple questions including whether the cameos were planned or just whoever happened to be in Spain at the time. A combination: Grace Jones was filming Siesta and stopped by. Dennis Hopper had just got clean and his manager was keen to keep him far from temptations so he was available. Cox spoke about how impressive Hopper’s work was, his ability to be natural that he tries to convince young actors to hold onto: “Every reaction is a gift” which captured it perfectly. In contrast to Shane MacGowan who couldn’t repeat a take no matter what but was always entertaining. The Pogues on the whole were very good — and I’m not just saying that because they looked so good in their bandito outfits especially Jimmy Fearnley and Spider Stacey (rowr). I also asked about how he got to work with Kathy Burke who is such a phenomenal woman; again it was sort of coincidences but he went on at length to talk about how amazing she is (hope the hipsters were taking notes).

As we were leaving I told him how obsessed I was with the film when it came out. Nice to have the opportunity. And be sure to check out Cox’s books on films including his Spaghetti Western book, 10,000 Ways to Die.

Be sure to check out all of Tuesday’s Overlooked Audio/Visuals at Todd’s blog.

Crime Fiction in Gdansk: Day Three (and Four)

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It’s the little things that make a difference. I liked the attempt to give the authentic feel of a crime scene to the conference area.

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Although rat poison in the loo might have been overdoing it… O.O

Good thing I resisted the urge to call these posts “Gdansking Lessons” which I was temped to do, following in Vonnegut’s footsteps (“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”). After the late night, I nonetheless managed to get up early and have a hearty breakfast before heading to campus one Paul short (I had already arranged the day before to change my name by deed poll to “Where’s Paul?” because that’s what everyone called me most of the time).

I got some tea, got my Powerpoint slides up and then launched into my talk on Dorothy Hughes’ In A Lonely Place, a too-often overlooked classic of noir. I was surprised how many people turned up for the last day — and an early talk — but the audience was kind and I hoped I had a reasonable argument. David Malcolm put me in a good mood by saying he’d read “ASBO Bambi” the night before and really enjoyed it (and here’s the original headline that inspired it for those interested). With luck there will be a proceedings volume in the future, so you will all be able to read a better version of my paper.

After a brief break we were back for a catch-all panel that brought together very interesting topics. Wendy Jones Nakanishi spoke about Japanese crime fiction of which I knew not a jot and was captivated. I’m going to have to get a list from her as they were really fascinating. Natalia Palich talked about the ‘metaphysical’ detective story in Czech literature (maybe that’s what I should have called White Rabbit) and Janneke Rauscher looked at readers reading crime fiction in public, particularly how they review novels set in their own towns. People take it personally if you a) get anything wrong or b) fictionalise anything that’s not really there.

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The last panel had Gill Jamieson talking about adaptating George V. Higgins and I don’t know how I’ve managed not to ever see The Friends of Eddie Coyle in all these years — especially as I love Robert Mitchum so much — but I will remedy that blindspot very soon because the dialogue is just so great. Dominika Kozera talked about Hoodwinked! which I’ve not seen at all but the opening riff on Red Riding Hood hooked me of course and I think this is a programme I ought to investigate.

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The closing lunch gave us a chance to chat with folks for a while before the dispersing began. I had a Royale with Cheese and this beer which was very tasty. I sat on the end of the long table (I always choose liminal space) and chatted with Hector, Wendy and Maurice Fadel. Funny that Wendy turns out to be a Hoosier, so we were swapping “how I got where I am” stories. Fascinating woman! Then some folks left for a walking tour, but I took advantage of hitching a ride back to the Willa Marea so I could pack up before the evening’s activities and do quiet stuff like watch Adventure Time in Polish.

I love conferences, but it’s a drain being surrounded by people all the time when you’re accustomed to being alone a lot.

I chose the right moment to head out to the conference ‘cooling’ as it had been jokingly called because I ran into Paul J who was likewise heading out. I kept us from getting lost on our way to the pub ;-) even though he had said “women have no sense of direction”.


He also told me he had run into Mr B who was going to the Kinski pub. “He was supposed to take me!” I complained. So I texted him to give him a hard time and he said I should come by. It turns out the Kinski is just around the corner from the warming/cooling pub. So away I went. And fell in love!

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It’s dark, quiet and full of little nooks. You could hold a conversation. How rare is that, where most pubs deafen you with noise — either music blaring or television screens. And the beer was good but you’ll have to ask Mr B what it was I got as he picked it knowing what I like. Tasty.

I think this is his birth certificate.

I think this is his birth certificate.

Behind the bar!

Behind the bar!

So we sat and chatted for a long while and after all the hubbub of the conference, it was great. The music was good, the beers were tasty and nothing better than yakking with an old friend. When they closed the downstairs bar, we went upstairs and while it’s more open — you could imagine a jazz trio playing there until dawn — it was still relatively quiet and peaceful and just the way to spend my last night in Sopot. And neither of us had to get up too early the next day.

Would you buy a used novel from this man?

Would you buy a used novel from this man?

Agnieszka and her husband (a Scot — so many Scottish connections at this conference!) took me to the airport when I checked out of the hotel, so we had a chance to talk over coffee for a while so I could thank her for this fantastic opportunity. Agnieszka did amazing work and so did Ula, Marta, Arco and the rune master tech guy (who’s name I missed!) and everyone else who had a hand in the conference. Well done, very well done.

The less said about being caught between the moon and New York City, the better (never fly Lot!). Thanks Bertie for picking me up at JFK and driving us back upstate. In bed by 2 am, up at 6 and away to campus to teach a 12 hour day. But that’s the price we pay for seizing great opportunities. Bring on the dancing lessons.

And I have my limited edition dishwasher unfriendly mug, which I am not allowed to wash!

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Crime Fiction Mug

Crime Fiction in Gdansk: Day Two

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Day Two kicked off a bit later for which I blame the two Pauls, of course. I missed the keynote! And it was on college mystery novels, so I hope to read it in the proceedings in the future. Ditto for Fiona Peters’ presentation on Barbara Vine; and I need to get to work on the Highsmith paper I owe her (by the end of the month, yes, I know!).

The schedule got shuffled a little bit because of some last minute cancellations (grrr!) but I did make sure to catch the ‘Tartan Noir’ panel and was amused to hear the crows chiming in outside the window as Marta Crickmar talked about the translation of Iain Banks’ The Crow Road. Agnieszka read from her dissertation work on Ian Rankin. Although apologetic about the quality of her paper due to being tied up with conference duties, it was of course superb. Monika Szuba talked about Dunfermline writer John Burnside who I definitely have to check out. Her discussion of Summer of Drowning fascinated me; it seems like a weirdly surreal journey that I’d want to take. His other books sound equally intriguing.

As usual it was hard to choose between panels most of the time but I’m glad I went to see the media panel. Anousch L. Khorikian gave a really interesting talk about Silent Witness that almost made me want to jump into the 17 (!) series of it, but I fear that may never happen. My Facebook pal and now real world friend Hector D. gave a lively talk on Breaking Bad that clearly proved an audience favourite.

Of course the big event of the day was “When Paul Met Kate” where the plan was just that Mr B and I would just blather on about any old thing and for some reason somebody thought that might be entertaining. Of course as the hour approached, Agnieszka became nervous because there was no sign of Hartlepool’s finest son. Paul Johnston offered to step in substitute Paul should it become necessary, but of course all turned out well as Mr B turned up whole minutes before the scheduled time.

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Doesn’t Paul look scared?

But on the principle that two Pauls are better than one, Agnieszka asked if I “wanted to do a threesome” \O.O/ HELLO! with both Pauls and so we did — and it worked even better I think because Paul J is much more formal and was sort of stern with our shenanigans, so we were even more the crazy Katzenjammer Kids. I don’t know if anybody else had as much fun as me and Mr B but we sure did. People seemed to be laughing along with us and they bought up most of our books after (thank you, Adele and Agnieszka for arranging that and Arco for handling all the exchanges). I finally got signed copies of Mr B’s books for my own collection.

What did we talk about? Oh, I don’t remember. Ask someone who was there. I know I laughed a lot.

And afterward a lot of folks all went to the brew pub in the centre of Gdansk, so trailing the two Pauls I did the same and it was great fun. Although a big table is always a bit awkward, arriving late we sat at the far end so we got a mix of the dance music playing inside and the guy with guitar playing outside (what a strange playlist he had too, starting with ‘Ring of Fire’). I had this interesting platter of nibblies that included some great pickles. Fortunately people refused to tell Mr B the location of the karaoke bar so I never had to sing and Hector took pictures like this.

I’ll try to wrap this up next post whether I get to that today or tomorrow I’m not sure. Of course attempts to make it an early night because I had a keynote in the morning didn’t quite work…

Crime Fiction in Gdansk: Day One

The short version: fantastic apart from Lot Airlines. Never fly Lot. Delays going from and coming to NY, mechanical problems, plus they didn’t admit to the delays until everyone was milling around waiting to board. The crew both in the airport at Warsaw and on the plane were unfriendly and often downright surly, so it made a difficult situation even more unpleasant.

Don’t fly Lot.

It was a bit worrying because with the delay going over I got stuck in Warsaw for almost seven hours and missed my connection and Ula picking me up. So they didn’t know when I was getting in, I had trouble reaching Agnieszka because she was busy getting the conference last minute details together and dealing with all the guests. I had stopped paying attention to necessary details like what hotel I was staying at once I heard someone would pick me up at the airport.

Fortunately, Agnieszka figured out the situation and the info awaited me as soon as I turned on my phone in the airport in Gdansk. The flight there was much nicer, the lights of the city looked pretty and the big moon followed along for the journey. I showed the address to the cabbie and he took me to the right hotel. The woman at the desk expected me and handed my key before I got my name out and pointed to the kettle which was available at all hours.

Ah, tea.

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I was sad to miss the warming as I was supposed to see Mr B there, but given the worries that our finally meeting might result in an epic cataclysm (news that solar storms were approaching the planet and the volcano in Iceland was rumbling added to the concerns) perhaps it was just as well for the safety of others.

In the morning I ran into the ‘other’ Paul, Paul Johnston, who was across the hall and we shared a cab to the lovely campus, which gave us a chance to chat. Although Scottish, Paul lives in Greece and it was interesting to hear what it’s like when Tom Hanks buys up property on a small island there O.O

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It was a busy conference. Here’s the delightful David Malcolm and Agnieszka, our tireless hostess and organiser who pulled off an incredible event with mix of people from around the world. They welcomed up Rachel Franks who’d come all the way from Australia to talk about why we like to read about the bad ones who get away with it. Then came the agony of the first choice: Victorian Legacy or Nordic Noir. I might as well have flipped a coin as both looked good. I went with noir and Kerstin Bergman, Inge t’Hart and Daniel Ogden gave me a lot to chew over and the certainty that I really must read Theorin and Lapidus.

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Our tea breaks in the center of the building (the floor below the first picture) were surrounded by this very kitschy collection of North Korean art that was apparently sponsored by the NK government. There was a whole table of “our glorious leader” books. We weren’t sure if they were for taking but I had to at least get a picture of this strange horse mosaic. It was quite mesmerising.

In the afternoon I stuck with Golden Age crime with Jacqui Miller, Jadwiga Wegrodzka, Simon Dwyer and Eric Sandberg talking about Christie, Sayers and Marsh. It’s been some time since I read anything Golden Age so it made me long for those long afternoons spent reading novel after novel when I was younger. I spend so much time writing there’s very little time for reading.

Paul Johnston’s keynote was the last big event and he spoke from the somewhat perplexing position of being a writer at an academic conference — though he has a PhD, too, as well as all those novels. Paul is very droll and managed to poke at the academics a bit without making them feel any pain and gave a good deal of insight into the writer’s side of things that probably helped give perspective to the academics who are not also fiction writers.

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And then there was the wine reception where at last me and the elusive Mr B met and the world did not end and no one died and it was pretty much like we’d known each other all our lives. After the wine reception me and the two Pauls headed out to the boardwalk in Sopot which was lovely on such a mild night. A lot of the big casinos were closing by the time we got there, but we found a small cafe that stayed open late and sat and talked for ages and yes, the photos I remembered to take pretty much look like the one above.

I realise this is going to take longer than I thought or maybe being out of the habit I don’t have time to be brief so let’s call this day one and more anon as I have places to be.

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Out Now: The Big Spin


Light and breezy humour!

Originally posted on Kit Marlowe:

The Big Spin by Kit Marlowe - 500

★`*´¨`*´•.¸¸¸.´ !! AVAILABLE NOW !! `.¸¸¸.•`*´¨`*´★

THE BIG SPIN by Kit Marlowe
The World of Constance and Collier series, book 2
from Tirgearr Publishing

When her fiancé Mr. Wood lets her down by flirting with another woman, Constance Wynne Hare tears off to Monte Carlo to forget him in the world of high rollers in the flashiest casinos on the Riviera. Will the ever-reliable lady’s maid Collier be able to rescue her from a dissolute life on the Mediterranean? The Jazz Age adventures of Constance & Collier return!

Enter to win a copy at Heart of Fiction today.

For more information drop by Tirgearr.

The Big Splash by Kit Marlowe - sm banner


To celebrate the launch of The Big Spin, book two in the World of Constance and Collier series by Kit Marlowe, Tirgearr Publishing has marked down book one for your enjoyment (and to see where it all began), The Big Splash.


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