January 2014


malkyRarely have I had as much fun writing a short story as I did with The Book of Malky, which goes live today over at McStorytellers.

One Sunday, I happened upon the first chapter of the book of Malachi in the Bible and its opening, which is pretty much transposed into the first sentence of the story, made me wonder about writing a modern book, telling a modern story, in a biblical style. Within a few seconds of this question entering my mind, I had a very clear image of an old Scottish down-and-out, languishing in his local bookmaker when he saw a vision of God. From that point on, the story really wrote itself. I’m not claiming much of an original idea here, but as I was writing, I was conscious that I hadn’t read a story told this way before, which made it a very exciting experience. The title calls back to the original source while managing to keep to the Scottish setting and the rhyming slang influence of its protagonist.

As I have lamented on these pages before, there really are only a few out and out Scottish markets for short fiction out there. Four rejections later, I sent it on to Brendan Gisby at McStorytellers who snapped it up.

Brendan has been a real champion of my work in the past. He’s published a few of mine in the past and showcased The Scottish Book of the Dead at the Edinburgh eBook Festival. If I’m honest, I really would have liked to see Malky in a publication that was new to me, but with those doors closed, I’m happy that it found a home so welcoming.

You can have a read of The Book of Malky by maneuvering your mouse to the following link and then clicking the left mouse button, or tapping on your tracking pad, or just by jabbing your finger at it: http://www.mcstorytellers.com/the-book-of-malky.html

The_Nut_Job_posterSigh.

If the first computer-animated release of 2014 succeeds in anything, it’s to remind us of how good films like Toy Story and the first few Shrek movies really are. That’s about it. In fact, that’s it entirely. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare every movie in this genre with the finest that Pixar and DreamWorks have to offer. Well, too bad.

The Nut Job follows the story of Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), an annoying purple squirrel anti-hero who, even at the movie’s opening, is something of a pariah to the other critters who live with him in the park in the fictional town of Oakton in the early part of the 20th century. At least, it looks like that’s when it’s set but it’s confusing because the makers insist on putting two, yes two, Gangnam Style gags in there.

Surly is a pariah because he steals the food from the others. And he’s pretty annoying. When he tries to usurp the annoying red squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl has never sounded more Peggy Bundy) and the über-annoying grey squirrel Grayson (Brendan Fraser who seemingly is still alive) in their attempt to nick some nuts from a peanut cart, he inadvertently causes the destruction of the park’s big tree and is therefore banished by the park’s leader, a hugely annoying raccoon named Raccoon (voiced by Liam “I’ll Put My Name to Anything” Neeson). You wouldn’t think a pariah would take this so badly, but he does. With his not-particularly-annoying sidekick, he takes to the town and finds a nut factory across the street from a bank, which he tries to infiltrate in order to steal an awful lot of nuts. In a semi-interesting twist, the human occupants of the nut factory are actually planning a heist of their own, their target being the aforementioned bank across the street. Meanwhile, with a hungry park to feed, Andie and Grayson are sent into town to find food, much like the banished one, except they can return as heroes. Annoying heroes. Paths are crossed. Blah-blah-blah.

The mirror of human life and animal life working concurrently towards different, although similar, goals is pretty much all the deceptively long running time of 86 minutes has to offer. In a packed holiday movie theatre, the laughs were so thin on the ground that I was able to fall asleep twice. The kids didn’t laugh at all as far as I can remember but they had about as much trouble as I did keeping their eyes open.

Computer-animated movies can’t just get away with having stunning visuals, and to be honest, that’s been the case for a number of years. As technology advances, even rubbish movies like this one can look utterly incredible. But these days, it really needs a story to back it all up and this is where The Nut Job falls flat on its chubby-cheeked face. The farcical dual-heist element is so thin it barely manages to cover the running time and with no truly heroic character to hang one’s interest on, it becomes such a tedious affair that sleep really is the only option.

It’s a poor offering and it doesn’t even have the good grace to be poor enough to be interesting.

Sigh.

Kid-on-BusAlthough it may seem unlikely to anyone who reads my movie reviews, my fiction, my poetry, or to James Franco, but I’m a cheery wee soul. Really, I am. The fact that most of my short stories are populated by lonely, isolated characters, challenged to fit their round frames in the square holes of society really is just a coincidence. Well, maybe.

Of course, that’s not all I like writing about. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fond of a quirky voice (as seen recently in The Peculiar Incident at Otter Creek amongst others) and I very much enjoy writing what first appears to be an everyday sort of tale but when we slowly zoom out, it becomes clear that not everything is what it seems. At the start of 2013 I was able to combine these two elements with Nevergreen, a story that goes live at Menda City Review today.

The story was written during a bit of a frenetic three or four months during which I was to write the majority of my 2013 new work. To the best of my recollection, it was born after hearing someone bemoan how children are growing up too quickly these days. These words, or words like them, are said all the time but on this occasion they stuck and a few hours later, I’d pecked out the 3,000 words that I imagined were about the right amount needed to tell the story. It’s such a simple idea, I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before.

I really like this story. It’s one of my favourites. And as is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it proved to be quite a difficult sell.. As is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it picked up a fair number of rejections. And as is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it was eventually picked up by Terry Rogers at Menda City. I was about as confident as I could be that it would be a good fit for them. Thankfully, it was.

I’ve mentioned my love of Menda City Review more than once on these pages so I’m suitably chuffed that this is the venue of my first publication of 2014.

You can read about children growing up too quickly these days by clicking on this link, or by getting an eight-year-old to do it for you: http://www.mendacitypress.com/24Broom.html