A warm welcome to California-based, gritty-noir guest author, Barry Crowther, who originates from Manchester, UK but buggered-off in search of pastures greener, taking with him a fine specimen of our local talent; namely, his good wife, Elly-May.
I invited Barry over after reading his latest novel As the Sun Turns Black; a very fine contrivance, indeed. I found that the plot and diverse array of characters stood up really well. I enjoyed the clipped style and up to date rendition in a style that most thriller writers would be happy to achieve. You can read my review on it here.
Visit Barry's page on the Independent Author Network for details of his other novels.
And so, on to the Q&As, and an excerpt from As the Sun Turns Black.
Q: When did you first realise and/or decide you wanted to write novels - and why?
I've been writing for around twelve years. Initially it was all short stories, some published, some not and I felt very comfortable with the work. For several years I tried to write a novel but kept somehow hitting a dead end or wrote myself into a corner. This was brutal after many months of trying it was like unraveling a huge ball of elastic bands. Somehow something shifted in my thinking and I wrote a three sentence outline, expanded it and that became an 85,000 word novel. That was 'Missing' and I never looked back from there. I have a system that works for me, and I'm sticking to it.
Q: From what I have read, you seem let the reader construct their own images of the characters. Do you do this consciously, as you write?
For me it's a choice that I don't describe the characters too closely. I want the reader to form their own lead, become their own casting agent and then see the characters for what they are. In terms of the look of the characters involved I usually drop a hint or two, nothing more, very subtle cues that give the character some appearance, but for the most part, I want the reader to choose to like or not like the characters involved. If I'm skillful enough they will like the good guys and see the bad guys for what they are. That being said, I switch the tables a few times ... actions speak louder than words.
Q: Will you be writing any more novels that include the rapport between Matt and Nathan?
I have three ideas right now to continue with Matt and Nathan. I have also written about a third of the prequel to Nothing. I'm calling that series the Zero quartet as it's more of a pet project and will go no further than four novellas to complete. That is pretty much mapped out in my mind just not on paper yet. I write that series by hand so it takes a little longer even though it's in novella form.
Matt and Nathan I can see being a constant in my future. Even though shadows have clouded my thoughts lately of killing off a major character in the not too distant future. I honestly don't want to do it, but I want the readers who follow me to know that no one is safe not even Matt.
Hannah, Matt's long suffering ex-fiancee, will return in the next one which involves more of a road trip from Scotland to London. Matt has to pick up a mysterious figure from one of the Scots isles and transport him to meet some people in London. What Matt doesn't know about this guy is that just about everyone doesn't want that to happen. All the old gang are back including some new bad guys who are proving far darker than the previous bunch of nefarious characters.
Q: What's it like being a refugee from Blighty and sunning it up like a wuss in Californy? (not that I'm a bitter limey). Do you ever plan to return to our hallowed isles?
I return to the UK twice a year, and each time I have mixed feelings when I arrive and when I leave. Sometimes I really miss it and feel one day I will return for good. This could be ten years away or never … I'm winging it. My wuss-fueled life in Californy is pretty cool. I live near the beach and enjoy the time here with my family and the dog.
Great Britain to me is more like the repository of my close friends and family. I don't miss the fabric of the country much these days when I make the comparison to how I live today (apart from the Lakes which still stabs me in the heart when I walk through it). But I do miss my friends, coming from a close-knit team they are impossible to replace – not that I would want to, but no one here can match them. I have some great friendships in the USA but the history of my old friends (we all lived on the same street from being small kids, so they are like my brothers) is very hard to live up to. Everyone here is super cool though, I've never met a group of people who have made me so welcome. Right now, it's going to be a tough move to come back. So if any of my readers want to meet up and do a tour of LA (which in English means booze cruise) then drop me a line … the invitation always stands!
Thanks for the offer, Barry! And thanks for your answers and the following excerpt , chapter 5 of As the Sun Turns Black – a smashing piece of interplay with a distinctive Brit flavour:
The sharks began to circle at around three in the afternoon. They could all smell blood, as could Matt.
It was the biggest debt and lending convention in the UK, so they all showed up, hoping for a feeding frenzy. Harry Large, a notorious moneylender, sidled up to Matt.
After plucking the inevitable cigar from the corner of his mouth, Harry said, "So it's true. You've closed Buffalo and gone on your own."
"That's about it, Harry. Bit of healthy competition for you."
Harry laughed, but it came out more like a black-lung cough. "Your old man'll be rotating in his grave, so he will. Lending money direct to this sorry bunch of piss pots." He poked a finger towards the small group of people milling around the stands in the centre of the conference hall.
Harry had done a stretch for crimes against the trades descriptions act back in the Seventies. Nothing had really changed. He got lawyered up, made sure all his paperwork was straight. Jail time was good for educating the less than scrupulous. Harry now had a lot of money after dealing in used cars – selling them on finance to people he knew couldn't afford them due to his ridiculous rate of interest. It never took long before he repossessed the vehicle and put the screws on the pricks to settle the finance. The beauty of it was he had the car back, ready to repeat the process. In some parts of the city, just about everyone owed Harry Large money. The cunt.
Matt answered without looking at Harry, "William would have done the same in my shoes. He thought collecting was always the shitty end of the stick. You got it right, Harry, money leads to money."
"What kind of money, though? You seen all the funny money on the street these days. All the local scallies are buying twenties for a tenner. The police've got nothing but their dicks in their hands 'cause the fakes are so bleeding good."
"Counterfeits? On the street?"
"Yeah. You want to keep your eyes open, son. Our game," he pointed a finger at himself then Matt, "it's up. Done. If these scrotes keep buying stuff for cash. And look at this bleeding monstrosity." He swept an arm in the direction of a central podium. It had hot girls, spinning cars, small hot air balloon – like a mini theme park. This was the 'booth' for Drood's, hosted by the private banker who seemed to have a golden touch when it came to economics.
Harry rasped out another hoarse cough to accompany his disgust. "Jasper Drood will be the death of me." He placed a hand on where his heart should be.
"Don't worry, Harry, I think there's a few years left in you yet. Drood's just another flash in the pan. As soon as he gets a default list as long as his yacht, he'll pack up his things. They all do it sooner or later."
"C'mere." Harry leaned forward in a manner which suggested an imminent revelation – Matt cocked his ear closer, always hungry for such morsels. Harry whispered, "Someone told me he went to a special school, secret like, called Hogwarts or something." Harry bit onto his cigar, winked and nodded. Through the cigar chomping, he muttered, "Didn't hear that from me," and tapped the side of his nose.
As bewildered as Matt was, he endeavoured to explain that Hogwarts was a fictional school for aspiring wizards, but Harry wouldn't believe it; he waved it off with a waft of King Edward.
Sam Bone, Harry's hired help, bent forward and whispered something. Matt couldn't hear, but he was certain it wasn't sweet nothings. Sam Bone was a horrible beast of a human. White skin, big and muscled in a super-tight black T-shirt with the letters F.U.C.K. written in white across the front. He looked like a bag of walnuts stuffed into a huge black condom.
"Well, can't stand here all day chatting up the competition, can I? Work to be done." Harry scratched his crotch, rearranged some underwear and patted Matt before leaving. All with the same hand. Bone lingered for a second in order to stare at Matt with eyes like something from the Deep, then he followed the wisps of Harry's cigar smoke.
Matt shrugged and handed a leaflet to a couple who looked like they were about to have a nervous breakdown. The husband pointed at something over on the Drood stand and they scurried over to meet their fate. That was the way these things went. It was all a big fat waste of time, but a necessary evil, William, Matt's deceased father, would have said.
"I have something for you."
Matt turned to find Nathan standing there with his hand tucked into his inside pocket. He had a long black fancy raincoat on. It looked a fine material, deep raven-black.
"I hope it's a gun to put me out of my misery, or a caffè latte to cheer me up. I'm dying of boredom out here."
"These are such tiresome affairs." Nathan slipped a pamphlet from the tall table on Matt's stand with an almost-grip between finger and thumb. He flapped it open and read the introduction at an angle, tilting his head. "The grammar in this document is ghastly. Who wrote it? You, I don't doubt."
"It was actually Trudy. And if you want to tell her, no problem this end, just wear a crash helmet when you do."
"A prudent suggestion, I own one. No, the gift I bear will not bring any further solace to your darkened soul – but it does give us an indication of Hannah's whereabouts."
Hannah was Matt's ex-fiancée. She broke off the engagement as well as everything else when Matt went in search of Vincent Barbour's missing teenage niece and almost came up dead. Nathan slid out a postcard. It was a beautiful shot of the Italian Lake Como.
Matt groaned. "So I'm stuck on a stand in this smelly pit while the sun shines outside, for once, and she's probably impaled on some Italian stallion. Fantastic. Thanks for the cheer-up."
Nathan shrugged. "At least she's well."
"Same as the others."
"Yes. Just addressed to me, postmark from the country of origin, no message. Quite cryptic, don't you think? Very Agatha Christie." Nathan made a gesture as if he was smoothing a waxed moustache.
"Speaking of Agatha Christie, what about Eddie Cannon's kid?"
"Yes…that…" Nathan said. "When do we start?"
"As I recall, Steeps requested that you find out what happened. Perhaps even catch this foulest of fiends."
"I don't care two fucks what Steeps asked me. I ain't getting involved in any more of this bloody finding people nonsense. You can look all you like, me…" Matt shook his head and traced a line across his throat with his thumb, "…I'm out."
"Why are you baulking at such a noble assignment?"
"Nathan, we don't need this. There's no benefit in this whole episode apart from grief. Who wants grief? I know you and me don't."
"So your grand plan is to let this child killer remain at large, doing whatever to whomever, whenever he likes. Not exactly what we signed up for."
Matt looked carefully at Nathan, then put the leaflets he was holding onto the tall table on the stand. "We didn't sign up for anything with anyone. Let's go for a drink. All this Eddie Cannon stuff and selling people money is just getting me down." He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair bearing the numerous applications for finance.
Nathan had backed away and stood in the corridor of the convention hall staring past Matt's booth to the Drood stand.
"I assume that's Jasper Drood's entourage?"
"I'm led to believe so. You know him?"
"He was an economics genius. Five years ahead of me at Oxford. Got a double first – small legends abound, each and all dutifully regaling his cerebral kudos in financial circles." Nathan continued to look at the stand as if he was studying a great piece of architecture.
"I get the impression you don't think so," Matt said, pulling on his thin windbreaker jacket.
Nathan smiled. "The man is a veritable clown, employing tawdry smoke and mirror artifices in order to portray financial tenets that fair dazzle the eyes of our venerable yet befuddled city bankers. Emperor's new clothes. Anyone with a half a brain, I include you in that subset, could interpolate his affinity with the Wizard of Oz. I am intrigued by this very public display of tackiness, though."
"Maybe he's diversifying?"
Nathan's eyes widened. "Such an incongruous, ten-shilling term, when uttered from your plebeian lips. But I don't think this would be a diversity strategy that could work. He's never attached his portfolio to anything so public-facing before. Looking at this sorry bunch makes me wonder what mischief he may be up to."
"Come on, we can figure it out in the pub." Matt snatched up the postcard of Como and shoved it into his pocket. "I'm sure Drood's nothing to worry about, as long as he doesn't go waving his wand at us Muggles."
Nathan said, "Whatever are you rambling on about?"