Tag Archives: iain rowan

Guest post: 52 Songs, 52 Stories by Iain Rowan

52 Songs, 52 StoriesIt was quite a simple idea. Every week for a year, I’d set iTunes to shuffle, let it pick the next song at random, and then I’d sit down and write a story inspired by that song and publish it on the web.

In part it was a bit of fun, but in part it was also a really useful lesson about discipline, and not waiting for inspiration. I was working on a novel at the same time, plus the usual family and day job commitments, so I didn’t have much time to spare. No time for writer’s block. No time for procrastination. No time for mulling over ideas or scrapping and starting again, no time for second or third drafts. Just listen. Write. Quick scan for typos. Publish.  Repeat.

There were times when it was hard, but I learned a lot about not waiting for inspiration, instead just writing and writing until something took shape, and I could discard what I didn’t need, and keep what felt right. Just start writing, and trust that something would come. It’s always a satisfying feeling to have written, but it’s even better when the writing process itself is enjoyable. I enjoyed writing the stories for 52 Songs most when the words and ideas just flowed, as if already shaped before I thought them. But exactly where was all this coming from?

Some of my favourite stories from the project are those that just seemed to appear from… somewhere. Re-reading the year of stories with a critical eye, I can’t see a difference in quality between the ideas I sweated over, and those which arrived, fully formed, almost before I knew it. I’ve always been cynical about the idea of waiting for the muse, as it’s an excellent excuse not to write and I really don’t need any more of those. Sometimes though, in those moments when the ideas just rush in from nowhere, I can at least imagine the muses gathered in a corner, nodding approvingly.

But that’s just an all-too human trait of ascribing outside agency, to what comes from within. I’ve always been fascinated by how we can better feed the subconscious, stoke up its fires and let it run riot with its tools: everything we have ever been, or thought, or known.

I’m also fascinated by how we listen to what it’s telling us. That’s the trick, and creative artists have found many ways to do it: long walks in the country with the dog, long walks inside their head with drugs, running (or in my case, cycling) long and hard, drinking long and hard, losing themselves in music, the shower or the bath, staring out of windows on trains. The endless chattering monkey mind settles for a moment or two, the subconscious seizes its chance, there’s a shuffling and a clicking, the puzzle pieces move a little further into place, and the words flow.

Of course, as soon as the hard work of revision starts, the muses and your subconscious all shrug, pretend to look busy, and mutter, ‘You’re on your own now, pal’. But for 52 Songs, 52 Stories, I learned better ways of getting that first part out, and onto the page.

52 Songs, 52 Stories is available now:

Eleven questions, eleven answers

Okay, so thanks to the inestimable Iain Rowan, I’ve somehow got roped into one of those meme-things that spread like herpes around the blogosphere. What you have to do is…

Give eleven facts about yourself, answer eleven questions set by the person who’s prompted you, then set another eleven questions for eleven more people. Eventually, as Iain says, everyone in the world answers it and then the world ends, or something.

Well, I’m not so sure about roping in another eleven victims, but here’s my attempt to answer…

Eleven facts, all true, apart from the ones that I made up. And if anyone identifies which are true and which not, I’ll send a copy of my Philip K Dick Award nominated alt.human (confusingly called Harmony in North America) to the first to get it right.

1. I nearly became a chartered accountant, but chose not to because… well do I really need to give all the reasons?
2. I’m a distant relative of Walt Disney.
3. I used to play in a band and one of my songs was used as the soundtrack for a Carpet Warehouse TV ad.
4. I was arrested for shoplifting with friends when I was nine years old; one of my friends, whose name I can’t recall, got off with it because he cried when we were caught, but Gavin and I didn’t buckle and got a good telling off, and then we ran away from home to live in the woods.
5. I once stood for election to the local council, but was heavily beaten.
6. My fingers used to bend far enough backwards to touch the back of my hand, but now they’re too stiff.
7. I had an operation to remove an extra toe when I was about 18 months old – it had to go because it curled under my foot and made walking painful. If you get me drunk enough I’ll show you the scar. Whether you want to see it or not.
8. I am not from Norfolk.
9. Beetroot, yum.
10. I have a PhD in creative writing.
11. It has done me no good at all.

And eleven answers to the same number of questions.

1. What is the single thing you are most proud of having written?
Ooh… tempting to give a flippant answer, but if I’m serious it would have to be The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie – a short fantasy novel where I think I get the closest I’ve ever managed to writing what I set out to write.

2. If your latest novel or story had a soundtrack by one artist, who would that be?
Bizarrely, the first name that comes to mind is 80s electro-popster Howard Jones. I think he’d nail it. Radiohead would be good, too, or Muse (although I’m not a huge fan of theirs these days).

3. Flight, or invisibility? Choose one.
Telepathy, definitely.

4. Have you ever secretly based one of your characters on a real-life person, just so you can kill them off?
Oh yes! In alt.human/Harmony there’s one guy who gets eaten alive by tiny alien bugs. Slowly. And another guy who gets badly beaten up by some bigger aliens. They had it coming.

5. Do you get more upset when one animal is harmed in a film than a hundred people?
Depends on the animal, depends on the people.

6. What’s the worst film version of a good novel that you have ever seen, and why?
Do you know, I’m struggling to think of one? The two worst films I’ve ever seen are the second Sex and the City and Did you Hear About the Morgans? I dread to think what the novels of those would have been like, if they’d ever existed.

7. What is the single thing that scares you more than anything else? I don’t mean the essential futility of life, fragility of family and all the real things, I mean the embarrassing thing that still completely creeps you out? My wife has repeatedly run into a clown collecting money recently, and that is a very good example.
I’m terrified of heights and water, but that’s perfectly normal, isn’t it? Ventriloquists’ puppets have always terrified me, ever since I had one of those far too realistic dreams as a kid where I opened my eyes and watched one of the damned things walking, all stiff-limbed and red-cheeked and grinny, across my bedroom floor towards me. I woke up just as it reached me and fully expected it to be there, and that I’d just blinked.

8. What’s the one book that you wished you had written?
For art’s sake, almost anything by Ian McEwan. For materialist, living in comfort’s sake, Fifty Shades of Grey. For mischief’s sake, the first four Harry Potter books, and then I’d have left everyone dangling and refused to carry on because I was bored.

9. If you owned some variety of sports team, and had to design your own strip, what would it be like?
I’d own Manchester United and make them play in mankinis and high heels.

10. A choice: big money and sales as a ghost writer, or cult figure but poor under your own name?
Both. Or that’s the plan!

11. Dolphin or manatee?
With mayo or ketchup? It makes all the difference.


The Penny Dreadnought Files: Transcript of the Debriefing of Agent #742C – a guest post by Mr Everington

“So, what can you tell us about these so called ‘Abominable Gentlemen’, Agent #742C?”

“It’s worse than we thought, sir.”

“What do you mean? I thought they were just writers?”

“Well sir…”

“And not even proper writers, but – and I can barely bring myself to say this – genre writers. People fixated not just on what isn’t, but on what can never be.”

“I’m not sure how we could ever truly know what can never be, sir”

“This isn’t a philosophy class Agent #742C. This is you telling me whether these Gentlemen really are Abominable. Or Gentlemen. What are they each like individually, when they’re not calling themselves damn silly names?”

Alan Ryker is a cad, Sir, and Iain Rowan a rotter; Aaron Polson is a ruffian, and James Everington a n’er-do-well.”

“Hmmm. And are they really writers, or is it all just a cover for nefarious activities?”

“Well they do publish fiction sir. Both separately, but also as a group in a series of themed anthologies called Penny Dreadnought…

“Well, it’s a nice title I give ‘em that. But no – genre writers. Can’t be any good.”

“And they’ve recently published all sixteen stories from the first four volumes in an Omnibus volume, sir. You can buy it on places like Amazon and Amazon UK – I’ve checked and it is legitimate sir. Proper artwork and formatting and all that. But…”

“But,  Agent #742C?”

“But I don’t believe a word of it sir! They’re supposed to be horror writers! This Penny Dreadnought thing should contain stories about zombies or romantically inclined were-bats! That’s what horror readers want, isn’t it? It’s what Mrs #742C reads sir, and…”

Penny Dreadnought“I have no desire to learn the squalid secrets of your marriage, Agent #742C. So if it’s not that sort of thing, what sort of stories does this Penny Dreadnought Omnibus contain?”

“There’s ambiguity sir. Things that are unclear and make you think, long after you’ve finished the story… and… “

“Don’t falter now Agent #742C.”

“And strong prose and characterisation – like real books! There’s even stories based on the theme of ‘epistemic doubt’ sir! They reference Descartes.”

“Good Lord!”

All the stories are like that sir. Literate and street-smart”

“You’re right, these can’t possibly be horror writers! What possible justifications can they give?”

“They claim they are part of a long line of ‘literate horror’ sir…”

“Wash your mouth out Agent 742C!”

“… which includes such people as Shirley Jackson, T.E.D. Klein, and Algernon Blackwood sir. They claim they grouped together as the ‘Abominable Gentlemen’ because they all shared similar sensibilities as writers, and wanted to band together to put out the best of their stories…”

“I don’t think I’ve ever come across a case as bad as this before. I don’t mind admitting to feeling some nausea.”

“They claim publishing their work together in this way allows them to increase their audience and allows their readers to find new and exciting authors. Further issues might even feature guest Gentlemen sir, of either gender, who are also writers of unashamedly high-brow horror…”

“I think I’ve heard enough. You’ve read this abomination – what do you suggest we do Agent #742C?”

“Nuke the site from orbit Sir?”

“Oh, you will go far Agent #742C.”

The first Penny Dreadnought anthology is available now and more information is available on the PD website. The Gentlemen themselves have been conspicuous by their absence since this debriefing took place, but hope to be bringing you more tales of nefariousness soon.



Now in print: Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanNow available in a stylish trade paperback: Iain Rowan’s Nowhere To Go collects together stories previously published in Alfred Hitchcocks’ Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and other top magazines and anthologies, and includes the Derringer Award-winning short story “One Step Closer”.

Recently shortlisted for a Spinetingler award for Best Short Story Collection, Nowhere To Go is available in ebook and print editions from:

Trade paperback
CreateSpace ($10.99)
amazon.com ($10.99)
amazon.co.uk (£6.99)
Ebook
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“A short story writer of the highest calibre.”
– Allan Guthrie, author of Top Ten Kindle Bestseller Bye Bye Baby, winner of Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year


Update on UK pricing for our print editions – good news!

One of Us by Iain RowanI posted recently about the unsatisfactory distribution – and erratic pricing – of our print editions in the UK. Prices were higher, with high postage rates; and just to complicate matters, prices could vary widely week to week; and all of this was beyond our control at infinity plus.

We have some very good news on this: CreateSpace (our print-on-demand supplier) and Amazon (our main distributor) have finally got their European act together!

Now you can order our print editions from Amazon’s UK and other European stores for a price we’ve set, with the advantage of Amazon’s normal delivery options (including free).

So what’s stopping you? Right now we have the following available:

  • Iain Rowan’s CWA Debut Dagger-shortlisted crime novel One of Us, at £7.99
  • Eric Brown‘s collection of psychological horror stories, Ghostwriting, which contains some of his finest writing to date, at £6.99
  • And bestselling children’s author Kaitlin Queen‘s first adult novel One More Unfortunate, at £7.99

Coming soon we’ll have Iain Rowan’s crime collection, Nowhere to Go, recently shortlisted by Spinetingler for a best crime collection award, plus more to be announced soon.

Ghostwriting by Eric BrownNowhere to Go by Iain RowanOne More Unfortunate by Kaitlin Queen


Great review for Iain Rowan’s One Of Us

Lovely review of Iain Rowan’s CWA Debut Dagger-shortlisted novel, One of Us:

“enough satisfying twists and turns to satisfy any crime fan… An excellent novel”

http://indieebookreview.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/one-of-us-by-iain-rowan/

One of Us is available from:
CreateSpace (paperback $11.99)
Amazon US (paperback $11.99)
Amazon UK (paperback £14.99)
Book Depository (paperback £7.45 - cheapest UK option we’ve found!)
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)


UK pricing for our print editions

So far, UK pricing and distribution for our print editions has been a bit erratic. For example, today’s prices at Amazon UK are £14.99, a hefty mark-up on the $11.99 US price; when I checked a couple of weeks ago the price was a much more reasonable £7.99…

Over at The Book Depository, however, the UK prices are much more reasonable, at £7.45 with free postage:

 


One Of Us: an extract

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, here’s an extract from One of Us by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve months more of medical school, back in my country, and I would have been a doctor. Here, I scrape grease from a stained griddle under buzzing lights, while drunks stagger and shout on the other side of the counter. When they vomit on the tiled floor, I have to clear it up, with a metal bucket and a mop that is falling apart. Maybe this is not so different to a hospital on a Saturday night. Thinking this helps, sometimes.

Before the burger bar I worked in a cheap hotel, stripping stained sheets and emptying ashtrays for three pounds an hour until the assistant manager came and closed the door behind him, and smiled while he undid his belt. If the old couple had not returned to argue about who had left their theatre tickets behind, I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.

Before the hotel I scrubbed left-overs that were worth more than I was from dishes in a restaurant, and before that I shivered on the streets for four nights that lasted a year. Before that was a boat, and before that, days in the back of a lorry. Even now, if I smell lemons I also smell diesel and fear. Before that was another lorry, and before that another city, and before that was the day that the policemen beat my brother to death, and dragged my father away to die in a prison cell, and I heard it all from the cupboard under the stairs, shivering behind an ironing board with my fist stuck in my mouth to stop my screams from coming out.

So I scoured grills, and burnt my hands, and I wiped half-chewed chips from plastic tables. No-one asked me for any papers, the work paid me money in my hand, and the money paid for a bed in a room in a hostel. I shared the room with three other women, and a small bathroom and kitchen with everyone who lived on the same floor, but there was a bed for me, and there was a lock on the door, and after the four nights on the streets that was enough.

Alice came from Kenya. She worked very early in the morning, cleaning in a hotel. She had a picture of a beautiful child stuck to the wall next to her bed. At night she touched it with her fingers as if she was touching the child’s face, and she cried without making any noise. Safeta was Kosovan, and she worked in a laundry, washing and drying a thousand sheets that a hundred Alices stripped from beds every morning. She smelt of the laundry, a clean and nice smell, but her hands were always red and she bled from around her fingernails. Sally was English but she was also a drunk. I do not know what she did in the daytime but at night she just slumped on a couch in the common room of the hostel, drinking cheap wine and staring through the television into a world beyond. Sometimes she had bruises and what looked like bite marks all over her arms.

If I lived there for too long I would go mad, and end up sitting with Sally by the television, pulling at my hair or picking at scabs on my arms. But without the proper legal documentation I could not get a better job, and without a better job I could not make more money, and without more money I could not live anywhere other than the hostel.

I could not go back; it was not safe for me. Even if things changed I could not go back. Would not go back. I could not live with so many ghosts. So I am here.

I save as much as I can from the endless nights in the burger bar to buy some papers that will say that I am legal. I do not want to do this, because I want to be a good citizen, and because the men who deal in the false papers remind me of the men at home: they do everything with a swagger that says that anything that gets in their way will be beaten out of it. I do not want to deal with them.

But I do not want to go back.

Daniel was not one of those men, but he worked for them. He was all smiles and loves and sweethearts and he laid his hand on my arm as if he were my friend. Safeta knew a Kosovan who would not deal with me, but he gave me a phone number, and I rang it and spoke to an English man who did not give me his name, not then. I met him three days later in a busy coffee bar at the railway station. He was tall and slim, and the way that his black hair fell loose over his forehead made me think of a boy that I had known in school.

“I’m Daniel, sweetheart,” the man grinned. “Just Daniel.” He sat opposite me, sipping at his coffee, smiling at me a lot and looking at me a lot, and asking me questions about what I wanted. The cafe smelt of coffee and warm pastries. Daniel asked me why I did not have a drink.

“Because I do not want one,” I said.

“Don’t have the money for it, more like,” he said, shaking his head. “Come on, don’t lie to me, sweetheart. How can I trust you if you lie to me? And I want to trust you, really I do.” He leaned over, rested his hand on mine for a moment, just a moment, and then took it away.

“I cannot tell a lie,” I said. “It is because they use Robusta beans for this coffee, and I prefer Arabica. I am fussy that way.”

He smiled, a perfect white smile that I could tell he had practised on many girls before. I thought that it would usually have worked too, that and the way he held eye contact just that little bit longer than necessary. Once, it maybe could have worked on me. But not now. I was too tired, too busy just living, for anything like that. “So if you can’t even afford a cup of this slop, how exactly were you planning on paying me?”

“That is why I do not drink the coffee,” I said. “It is why I do not buy newspapers, or cans of cola, or anything except for rent and food. So I can save the money, so I can get what I need.”

He liked my answer, because he laughed a lot and bought me a cup of coffee and told me that he liked my spirit. He asked me where I came from.

“I come from North Ossetia,” I said, and Daniel made a face and shrugged.

“Russia,” I said. “To most people here, just Russia.”

“Don’t think I know it,” Daniel said.

“You won’t,” I said. Most people do not, and to them it is all just Russia and Russians. The one thing that people know about my country is the school called School Number One. This school was in a town called Beslan. But I do not like to talk about what happened there. “My home was in a city called Vladikavkaz.”

“I know that name,” Daniel said. “Why do I know that?”

It was my turn to shrug. When I did, I caught him looking at how my breasts moved under my sweatshirt. He gave a little grin of no apology but an acknowledgement that he had been caught.

“Think United played there once, didn’t they, mid-Nineties?”

I folded my arms, and then shrugged again, I am not here for small talk, do I look like a woman who cares what United did? Anyway, it was Liverpool, and we lost to them. Aleksey took me, kept threatening to embarrass me by holding my hand when we were walking to the stadium.

“So what did you do Anna, back in Vladiwhatever.”

“I was a medical student,” I said. “I was studying to be a doctor.”

“Were you now,” said Daniel, and he did not seem very interested in talking about it, because all that was past and gone, so I did not say anything else. I remembered when I was at school, studying hard for exams. I was sat at the kitchen table, my books spread everywhere, a cup of tea gone cold, when my father came in. He stood and watched me for a moment, not saying anything.

“How’s it going?” he said in the end.

“Lots to do,” I said. “And I’m tired, can I not—”

“No,” he said. “You can not.”

“But I haven’t—”

“You don’t need to. Listen Anna, your schoolwork is important. You pass these exams, as I know you can, and there will be a place in the Medical Academy and you will be a doctor, Anna. Think of that, a doctor.”

“I know,” I said, sulking because I wanted to be a doctor but I also wanted to be out with my friends. “But—”

“If your mother could see you a doctor,” he sighed. “She would be so proud.”

And that was the end of that. I could not argue any more, because I knew that he was right. She would have been.

My father placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Study hard, Anna. I know I seem like a tyrant. But my daughter, a doctor. I will be so proud, too, to see you do something with your life. Something better than I do.”

I stared down at my books.

“Yes,” he said in the end. “Well, dog won’t feed itself.” And he stomped off, out of the kitchen, and I went back to my work because I wanted so much to pass those exams, but it was hard to concentrate when my vision was so blurred.

Daniel bought me another cup of coffee even though I said no, and then he named a price that I could not afford.

“I do not have that much,” I said. “Not nearly that much.” Can you not tell, I thought. Look at me, look at these jeans, which cost less than I would once have spent on a pair of tights. Look at these hands, with their bitten nails and their red marks from hot grease. Once, everyone in this place would have looked when I walked in. Now, they probably think that I am staff, on a break.

He shrugged, flicked his hair away from his forehead. “You’ve got a problem then. I really do want to help you sweetheart, but that’s the price. I’ll throw the coffees in for free. You’ve got my mobile number. Phone me when you have the money. We’ll do business.”

“It will take me a long time,” I said. “When I pay for food and rent, there is not much left to save.”

“Girls manage,” he said, “they find ways,” and he gave me a long look over his smile. I went back to work, and ate food that customers had left so that I could save more money, and I slept, and I did not do much else.

~

A month later I was working the evening shift again, slapping a mop around the floor in front of the counter and trying to replace the stink of vomit with the smell of bleach. Rain rattled against steamed-up windows. Sean slouched at the till, deep in a library book about ancient Rome. The week before, it had been a library book about astronomy. His obsessions changed with the weather.

I met Sean on my first day at Peter’s restaurant. Peter handed me my uniform of bright red shirt and itchy grey trousers, and told me that he was going to be very busy in the office, so one of the team would show me how everything worked.

“Sean,” he said. “This is Anna. Show her the ropes, will you?”

A tall, thin man with scruffy hair that wasn’t the colour of anything in particular took an awkward step forward, like a heron. He held out his hand, and I went to meet it but my own hands were in my pockets and by the time I got one out he had blushed and dropped his hand, thinking that I did not want to shake hands, and then when I did hold my hand out again, he had put his in his pockets. He said, “Oh, sorry,” and blushed again.

“Sean,” he said. “Um.” He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I work here. Good to have you around, we’re short on staff. Sorry, don’t mean that it’s only good to have you here because we need just anybody, it’s good to have you here as um, you.” He tailed off, coughed, scratched at an eyebrow. “Right. Anna, yeah?”

“Yes, I am still Anna.”

I regretted it when I said it, because I thought that he would be offended, and I did not want to offend this shy man who I would have to work with. But he did not look offended, he laughed.

“Good. Be a bit scary if you were someone else, really. Let’s start again and give the comedy routine a miss.” He smiled, and held out his hand again, and I thought: there is more to this man than there seems. Sean became the closest thing I had to a friend. He was well-educated, I think that he too had been to university, but he never spoke of it, and only ever talked of many dead-end jobs like this one. There was often a sadness in his eyes and sometimes his hands shook and shook until he put them in his pockets and clenched his fists very tight and I pretended that I had not noticed.

I plunged the mop into the water that was already dirty, and slopped it onto the floor because I was too tired to go and change the water. The door banged open and I felt cold air and then somebody standing near me, so I concentrated on mopping in circles around my feet, not wanting to look up, to have to see a leer and allow the chance for a conversation to start with a middle-aged man running to fat who did not often get the chance to talk to twenty-five-year-old girls running to skinny. I tried just to be a piece of furniture, without age, without sex, nothing to look at of interest. Since I had left my country, I had much practice at this. Not that it made much difference to many men. I was a woman, and so I was fair game. I could have worn a potato sack and not washed my hair for a month, and it would have made no difference to some.

“Forgot which burger place you said you worked in, didn’t I,” a voice said. “Fifth one I’ve been in. I’m getting soaked, and I’m sick of chips.”

It was Daniel. He grinned at my surprise, like a child who had just performed his first magic trick. I did not know what to say so I did not say anything. I do not want to talk to you, I thought. Not now anyway, when my hair needs a wash, and I am sweating into this stupid shiny red blouse that reflected the lights on to my face and made me look like I was blushing.

“So, this is your office,” he said. Peter came out from the kitchen and frowned at the sight of someone standing talking and not buying, but he dropped a cardboard box of plastic cups behind the counter, grunted at Sean to put the damn book down and follow him, and stomped away again. Peter was the manager of the burger restaurant. He made me think of a bear in the zoo at home, he was hairy and he growled, and whenever he came into a room it looked smaller. Sometimes he was kind, sometimes his temper scared me. I forgave him that, though. He gave me a job, without asking for papers or identity cards, and he paid me on time, and he did not try to touch me. He looked sometimes, but he never did more than that, and that is no more than most other men that I have known and it is much less than many others.

“What do you want?” I said to Daniel. “Why have you come looking for me? I do not have the money yet.”

“Got some good news for you on the money side of things, sweetheart,” he said. “You come with me now, but no messing around, it has to be right now, just do one little job, and you get a new identity, the full works, all the papers. Real, not fake, people on the inside, worth ten times what I quoted you for a knocked-together one. Make you one of us, as legit as me.”

“A job?” I said. “I am already working in a job.” I slapped the mop down on the floor. “And you are messing it up with your wet feet.”

“Is that what you call this?” he said, looking around. “A job? Must have been desperate, where you came from.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

I said it with more anger than I had meant to let out, and Daniel did not know quite what to say.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.” He flicked hair from out of his eyes, and did not look very sorry at all. “Listen, man I work for, he needs your services for the night. But we have to go now, or not at all.”

I shook my head, backed away, holding the mop handle out as if it would protect me. “Fuck off,” I said.

“Didn’t put that well, did I?” He laughed but he was nervous, I could see it in the way that he shifted from foot to foot. “It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christ, I’m not a pimp. It’s your medical skills, not your beautiful body, that Corgan’s after. But you have approximately, oh, fuck all seconds at all to make up your mind. I mean it, the car’s outside, you come now, do this little job, you get your papers, the works, make you more legal than the queen. Trust me, Corgan can help you go places. He’ll help you, and me bringing you to him will make me look good. We both win, see? Besides, you really, really don’t want to piss him off.”

“What do you mean, medical skills? I was only a student, I—”

“Close enough. You studied hard, didn’t you? Read all the books? Two minutes,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll be right in the shit if you don’t, but hey, it’s your call.” The door banged behind him. I stood for a moment, watching the floor dry to a dull smear. I thought about waiting for my number to be called, for yet another interview. I thought of the noise my brother had made when they were kicking him. I had seen a horse fall once, and break its leg. We were staying out in the country, at my uncle’s house, and my brother and I had been playing in the field. A woman had been riding a horse, hard. It was beautiful to watch, it raced the length of the field with power and grace. Then one foot must have gone into a hole left by a rabbit, and the horse came down in a tangle of legs that were now too long for it, the woman pitched over its head and onto the ground, and we heard the horse’s leg break from where we were standing. The rider staggered to her feet after a moment or two, cursing, but the horse rolled about on the ground, and I put my hands over my ears but I could still hear its terrible squealing. My father and uncle came rushing out. My father led me back to the house, made me tea and held me tight while I cried. He held my head tight against his big chest, and it was only that evening I realised that he held me this way on purpose so I would not hear the shot.

Late that night, when he and my uncle got drunk, and I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my uncle complaining about the woman who had been riding the horse.

“A beautiful animal,” he said. “I had to shoot the wrong one.”

When the men kicked my brother to death, he made a noise like the horse did. And I put my hands over my ears then too, but I could still hear the terrible sound he made.

I walked out into the kitchen and told Peter that I was sick, I had to go home.

“Sick? What the hell do you mean sick?” Peter tugged at his beard, as he always did when something came along that upset the smooth running of things. I often thought that when we had a health inspection at the restaurant, the thing that would get us closed down would be Peter’s beard.

“I mean vomiting. I think I have a stomach flu. There is diarrhoea too, I think, I need to go very bad.”

“Jesus, spare me the details. Don’t want to catch it either.”

“I can manage fine on my own Pete,” Sean said. “It’s not exactly busy. Tuesday, quiet night.” He frowned at me, from behind the coffee machine, his face a question I could not answer.

“Go on then, get yourself away Anna, before you give it to me. It’s coming out of your wages though; if you’re not here I’m not paying you.”

Daniel was waiting in a dark blue car, talking on a mobile phone. When I came near he finished the call, and leaned over to open the passenger door.

“Good girl. You’ve just saved my life. Already told ’em you were coming, had faith in you.”

I got in, and he drove away fast, looking in his mirror a lot. We drove down wet streets that shone orange on black, and I thought, this is how a life changes. A stupid decision, a moment where what you want so badly wins over what sense tells you, and then you are in a strange car, driving in the night and you do not know what waits for you at the other end. I thought of girls from my home, who had wanted so much, and so had gone on journeys across Europe without asking too many questions. And I thought about where they ended up. Because I knew this. I knew this very well.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I thought, this is stupid, because when you open them again, nothing will have changed. So I did, and it hadn’t.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Onwards and upwards, Anna, onwards and upwards.”

I did not see the point in asking any more, because I knew that I would not get an answer. We stopped at a quiet row of old houses. They had once been grand, I think, but now next to each front door a rash of bell pushes showed how the houses had been divided and divided and divided, and the sagging curtains at the windows looked as if they would not be opened in the mornings.

“Here we are,” Daniel said, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Here we are for what?” I said, but I knew that it was too late to ask the question. Whatever I was here to do, I would have to do. I felt sick.

Daniel did not answer. He got out of the car, then walked around to my door.

“Come on, it’s this one,” he said, and we walked up a cracked concrete path. Daniel used a key to open the front door, and I followed him in. The hallway was lit by a single dusty bulb that hung without a shade. A table inside the door overflowed with free newspapers and junk mail. A pay phone hung above the table. Someone had patterned the wall all the way around the phone with cigarette burns. Daniel walked up the creaking stairs, and I followed him. I could smell burnt food, and cigarette smoke, and sweat. We stopped on the first floor, and Daniel paused in front of a wooden door that was all pits and splinters.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “Keep your eyes on what you’re doing, say nothing. Just do what you’re told, and it’ll be fine. Promise you, sweetheart.” He tapped on the door. It opened a fraction straight away, as if someone had been standing there all along, and I saw a shadow inside. Then the door opened all the way, and Daniel put a hot hand in the small of my back, and I walked in to get away from it.

A man with an expensive suit stretched over big shoulders leaned against the wall by the door. He looked me up and down with the cold eyes of a shark. I could smell violence on him, like sweat. Another man lay on a bed, naked from the waist up, with a sheet wrapped round and round his arm. The sheet was stained dark red in the middle. The room stank of whisky, and an empty bottle lay on the floor by the side of the bed.

“This it?” the big man said, and it took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about me.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry, Corgan, she’s cool.”

“Oh, thanks Danny boy,” Corgan said. “If you say not to worry, that’s OK then. I’ll stop worrying.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to speak, but he did not.

Corgan said, “You waiting for something?”

Daniel walked off without a word.

Corgan reached out a hand and slammed the door shut. Then he turned the key. He was no taller than me, but he was wide, powerful, and a man who would never be afraid to use that power.

He looked at me for a long time and I felt like a fish on a slab in the market. “Well,” he said in the end. “Here’s our new doctor.”

…continues in One Of Us by Iain Rowan (available in ebook and print editions)


Snapshots: Iain Rowan interviewed

What are you working on now?
Right now, a new short story for the Penny Dreadnought series that I’m involved in. PD’s a collaborative project which is proving to be a lot of fun, working with my fellow Abominable Gentlemen, three great writers (James EveringtonAlan Ryker and Aaron Polson), and putting out a collection with a weird fiction story from each of us every month or so. This short story is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while, prompted by a description of nineteenth-century polar exploration: the air was so cold that when people spoke the condensation in their breath froze and fell around them in tinkling shards of ice. In my story, someone believes that he can learn the language written in this landscape of frozen words, but finds out that it is maybe something that is better unread.

There also won’t be a week that goes past this year without me adding a short story to my project  52 Songs, 52 Stories. Simple idea really, I pick a song each week, and then write a short story that it inspires in some way.

Also chewing around novel ideas.

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanWhat have you recently finished?
Proofing the print version of  Nowhere To Go, my crime collection [editor's note: just as this interview was completed, Nowhere To Go was shortlisted for Spinetingler magazine's Best Short Story Collection award]. Another piece of weird fiction, ‘The Singing’, which will be appearing in  Supernatural Tales in 2013. This morning I’ve written this week’s story for 52 Songs, this one inspired by the song Grey Ship by EMA.

What’s recently or soon out?
This last week has seen the biggest release to date, for me:  One of Us is my debut crime novel, and I’m thrilled to see it published.

In short story action, apart from the regular slot at 52 Songs, my story ‘The Edge of the Map’ has just been published in Supernatural Tales.

Crime fiction is nothing if it’s not authentic. What kind of research did you have to do in order to write One of Us?
I have a terrible confession to make – I’m not one for lots of research. That’s OK though, because by and large I don’t write the kinds of books that needs lots of research. I hope One of Us feels authentic, but if it does that’s because most of my research is people, and what they do and think and say.

You write in a variety of genres, but crime and suspense is where you’ve probably had most success. Do you have plans for more crime fiction in the near future?
One of Us by Iain RowanFor sure. I write what I enjoy reading, and I write what I enjoy writing. So there will be more crime fiction, and more weird fiction, and if something else takes my fancy then more of that too. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of not being tied in to a contract which says: more of the same please.

Describe your typical writing day.
I wish I could. The trouble is, there is no typical writing day, because it’s a question of fitting it in as and when I can, in whatever free time I get.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?

You might want to check out Nowhere To Go, my collection of short crime fiction. It includes the short story that I couldn’t let go. Eventually it grew into a novel: One of Us.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
My colleagues in the Abominable Gentlemen as mentioned above are all excellent writers, and well worth checking out.

And to plug a book:  Off the Record is an anthology from a great collection of writers (disclaimer: and me), with all profits going to child literacy charities in the UK and US.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Talking about writing thinking about writing writing about writing is not writing.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years?
What will readers be reading?I think there will be a mixed economy. Still publishing houses, though they may be rather different in form, doing different kinds of things. Still writers doing things for themselves. The best of those getting picked up by the publishing houses – sometimes. I read something recently written by Hugh Howey, a self-published writer who has been selling a huge number of copies of his sf stories. He was approached by a traditional publishing company, who offered him a deal that would have seen him have to pull all his books (currently selling about eleventy billion a day) from Amazon, see nothing published by them until January 2013, give up more rights, and get less money. Probably to their surprise, he turned them down. Publishers will have to think creatively about what they offer, and what the relationship and partnership between them and the writer looks like. I’m pretty sure that in many cases, it won’t look just as it does now.

More…

Born in 1967, Iain Rowan began writing in 2002. Since then, he has had over thirty short stories published in a variety of genres. Some of those are collected in  Nowhere To Go (short crime fiction) and  Ice Age (stories of the strange and the chilling).

One of Us One of Us, based on a crime short story of Iain’s, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award, and has just been published in print and ebook  by infinity plus.

In 2012, Iain embarked on a project called  52 Songs, 52 Stories, in which he committed to write a short story every week of the year, each inspired by a song. He is also part of the Abominable Gentlemen, the publishing collective behind the monthly Penny Dreadnought.

For more information on Iain and his writing, please visit www.iainrowan.com

Buy stuff:


Iain Rowan’s Nowhere to Go shortlisted for a Spinetingler award

Great to see Iain Rowan’s rather good collection of crime and suspense fiction, Nowhere to Go, shortlisted for Best Short Story Collection over at Spinetingler magazine.

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanIt’s very easy for good books to get lost in all the noise of e-publishing, and it’s common – and, to be fair, quite reasonable, based on the statistics – for reviewers and award-givers to assume the worst and overlook ebooks. It’s very much to the Spinetingler team’s credit that they considered and shortlisted Iain’s book, and yet another significant achievement in the career of a writer who deserves far more attention (it sounds silly to say that of a writer who has won a Derringer award for a story included in Nowhere to Go, and been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger for his novel One of Us, but he should certainly be getting commercial attention to match the critical success).

To coincide with publication of One of Us in March 2012 we’ve given Nowhere to Go a new cover; you’ll also notice that it’s a wraparound cover – the collection will be getting a much-deserved first print edition very soon, which we’re very excited about.

On a personal note, it’s been a delight to work with Iain. Editing and producing Nowhere to Go was that rare experience where I found myself prolonging a piece of work because I was enjoying the fiction so much; similarly, when working on One of Us I found exactly the same thing happening.

Here’s hoping that what we’ve done at infinity plus is just one step in the process of Iain becoming a hugely successful and award-winning (again) writer!

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,433 other followers

%d bloggers like this: