Saturday 23 February 2013

A Man's Hands by Andrew McCallum Crawford - free on Kindle

My latest collection of stories, A Man's Hands, is available for one day only as a free download.

A Man's Hands on Amazon uk 

A Man's Hands on Amazon com

From the reviews:

'...his writing presents humanity stripped back to the essential...' - Carol McKay in the Indie eBook Review

'...These are spare, intelligent stories that don’t talk down to you; they demand you engage with them and complete them...' - Jim Murdoch in The Truth About Lies

Remember that you do not need to own a Kindle to download the book. Get the free reading app from the Amazon store and read the stories on your PC, tablet, Android device, etc.

Hope to have you as a reader!


Thursday 21 February 2013

Σκωτσέζικη ταινία The Happy Lands ψάχνει διανομέα στην Ελλάδα

The Happy Lands ασχολείται με την γενική απεργία στη Βρετανία (και συγκεκριμένα στη Σκωτία) το 1926. Μόλις κυκλοφόρησε στο Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο και στην Κίνα. Τώρα οι δημιουργοί του έργου ψάχνουν διανομέα στην Ελλάδα.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Ordinary Domestic by Carol McKay - A Review

Ordinary Domestic, a collection of fifteen stories, most of which have been previously published in literary journals (Gutter, Chapman, Cencrastus and others), represents a sample of McKay’s work from 1999 to the present. The stories vary widely in settings and themes, from the wistful ‘What Mattered About The Dancing’, about a blind woman who finds freedom in dancing lessons, to ‘God’s Jewels’, in which an old man reminisces about his boyhood on a Scottish island. These are delicate, moving stories, but McKay does not shy away from the big issues. Other stories in the collection deal with child sexual abuse, wife-battering, unwanted pregnancy, homosexual rape and depression. Interestingly, the reader soon discovers that McKay is not a writer who condemns. Rather, she presents her characters and their situations in such a way that the reader has to make up their own mind. She wants the reader to understand her characters, to understand the choices they make or are forced to make.

In ‘Frozen Waste’, the first story in the collection, we meet Jack. He’s down on his luck, sleeping rough in a scrap yard full of old refrigerators. I’ll come to the story in a moment, but it is clear from the beginning of Ordinary Domestic that McKay is an extremely poetic storyteller, especially when describing settings:

The rain-blackened playground with the pitch lines luminous.

This is just one example of the lyricism that is an integral part of McKay’s style.

So, to ‘Frozen Waste’. Jack is on the run – but on the run from what? We don’t know, although alarm bells soon start ringing when he comes across a young girl hiding in the shed where he has been sleeping. He immediately identifies her as ‘Primary Six’. I had to stop short here. Why would a man identify a child in terms of the class they attend at Primary school? This is part of the way McKay has crafted the story, because we learn that Jack used to be a Primary school teacher.

Jack clears his throat. ‘Who knows you’re here?’ he asks, in dangerous territory.

Now the alarm bells are really ringing. A Primary school teacher on the run? A young girl in his hiding place? He wants to know if she is alone? It would have been so easy for the writing to get hysterical at this point, but that’s not the way McKay plays it.

The girl asks:

‘What are all those fridges here for anyway?’
He stares at them. ‘They’re a danger to society. They’re filled with poison and have to be locked away.’


‘You should stay away from the fridges,’ he tells her.

Slowly, the tension in this story becomes unbearable. The girl disappears. Her father comes to the dump and confronts Jack:

‘What have you done with her?’

At this point, Jack takes flight yet again. Why? Is he guilty of something? The reader is still wondering why he is on the run in the first place. The fact is, however, that we don’t know. Is he the monster that is being subtly hinted at throughout the story? What terrible thing has he done that made him run away, that forced him to live like this?

I won’t give away the ending, but I have to say that the story was unsettling in the extreme. However – and this is the point – McKay writes in such a way that the reader is on Jack’s side. Perhaps not on his side, exactly, but you definitely want to give him the benefit of the doubt. As I said before, McKay doesn’t condemn – she makes you think.

‘Unrestricted’ is the story of Kerry and her boyfriend, William. Kerry is pregnant, almost due, and William couldn’t care less. He has other things to worry about as he races cars on his Playstation – he has a court hearing coming up. He doesn’t seem too concerned about the fact that he will probably go to prison. Kerry, however, is worried about being left alone with the baby:

‘What aboot me?’ Ah says tae him.
‘He glared at me. ‘Whit aboot you? You’re no goin inside.’

William would rather go to prison than be free with Kerry and their baby. Kerry, however, remains optimistic. They might just tag him, she hopes. This is a theme which appears in many of the stories in this collection – the neglected (or worse) woman who tolerates the behaviour of her partner. But McKay avoids being prescriptive. She isn’t saying how things should be – she isn’t trying to preach. She isn’t even suggesting solutions. She is describing how things are, and how people cope with the situations they find themselves in. Kerry knows that she shouldn’t put up with William’s behaviour, but what can she do? Has she got other options?

Ah nodded tae the room aw roon me. ‘Look at me! Ah feel as if Ah’m in a fuckin prison right now!’… ‘Ah feel trapped.’

When she confronts him with this, William pulls out a knife:

‘Dae ye want me tae cut ye free then?’

Kerry is terrified, but the moment passes when William realizes he has run out of cigarettes. He orders Kerry to go and buy some. She lifts her case and tells him she is going to leave it at her mother’s. It is obvious she won’t be coming back, but all William does is turn up the volume on his Playstation…tryin tae droon it aw oot.

‘Flight’, the penultimate piece in the collection, tells the story of Bird, a doctor working in Africa. He returns home to Scotland after his mother dies. The house is empty. Alone, he thinks back to his childhood, and how his family rejected him when they found out he was gay. His homosexuality was something his brother always taunted him about. It was his brother, however, who died of AIDS after using an infected needle. Bird wonders if he should have stayed in Scotland all those years ago. If he had done that, would they have accepted him? But it is too late now – everyone in his family is dead. The atmosphere that McKay creates in this story – the old, freezing house, the dust, the utter loneliness – reminded me of Bernard Mac Laverty’s ‘Life Drawing’. ‘Flight’ and ‘Life Drawing’, although dealing with the same theme (a son trying to cope with the loss of a parent) are completely different stories, of course, but I wanted to note the comparison, not only because of the shared subject matter, but because both stories are excellent. 

There are just a couple of things I would have liked to see McKay do differently. Perhaps the title story is a little rushed towards the end? Is the ‘flying’ motif in ‘Grave News’ a bit too laboured? These are minor criticisms, and I’m sure these two stories will grow on me when I go back to read them again, which I certainly will.

Ordinary Domestic is a tremendous collection from one of the most assured voices in contemporary Scottish literature. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

*     *     *

Ordinary Domestic by Carol McKay is available on Amazon co uk and Amazon com.

Friday 8 February 2013

Terse, Cogent, Salient: Anthony Malone

Ghosts Of The Real Leather Jacket

It was only a second-hand leather jacket he'd picked up from the local charity shop to keep him warm in winter but it made him do bad things. For one thing, when he put it on, he swore blind he came from Lithuania when in fact he hailed from Guildford. He started drinking shots of rum instead of his usual Bacardi Breezers and singing sentimental songs about sailing away on the Esperanza leaving the love of his life Tatiana weeping on the shore. He developed a taste for ravjul, imqaret and biskuttinis and hung round Docklands asking bewildered HSBC employees if there was any work going. He put rings on his fingers and got his left ear pierced. It was all a bit odd.

Soon he began to look forward to A Night Wearing The Jacket. When he took it off, he once more reverted to his old self but that seemed dreary by comparison. The wait in the rain for the bus to work; taking out the rubbish; washing his socks. He had a steady job working for The Carphone Warehouse but his colleagues couldn't understand why he was taking so much time off work or why he sheepishly rolled back in with cuts and bruises all over him, reeking of booze and had fresh tattoos on his arms celebrating his new friends Mariajo, Dima and Odin. After several reprimands from his Branch Manager for scaring the customers and his appalling personal hygiene, he went home one night after work, defiantly put the jacket on and for an entire month lived as a landsick Lithuanian trawlerman, drinking himself stupid, picking fights and sleeping in his flat with the jacket wrapped around him. One morning he blearily awoke and the jacket slipped off him but his old self was gone forever.

Months later, outraged by the arrears, his landlord broke into his flat, bringing the police with him for fear of finding a dead body but there was no one there, just a leather jacket slung over the back of a chair and various books and videos. Neighbours denied seeing any young man for ages. “No one of that name here,” they claimed. “Only Vigo. And he was bad news.”

So the Landlord threw out the dead potted plants, sent in the cleaners, boxed up the few books and clothes and took them to the local charity shop where an elderly widow hung the battered leather jacket up on a coathanger and put a plastic cover over it. Eventually, after a few weeks, a fifty-five year old golfing enthusiast and father of four bought the jacket, tried it on, and shocked his family by abruptly moving to Guildford, applying for a vacancy at the local Carphone Warehouse and drinking nothing but Bacardi Breezers in clubs around the West End. Madness got him too, in the end. So the world turns.

*     *     *

Anthony Malone’s fiction has been published in Murky Depths, Mad Swirl, Litro Online and many others. He has read at numerous Live Lit events and recorded for London Link Radio.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Terse, Cogent, Salient: Jax Leck

Burying Granny

It was about 11 o’clock on a cold morning in February. The hearse wound its way in front of me, passing broken headstones and graffiti. Not a nice place.So there I was with dad, Uncle Bill,  my cousins Willie, Billy and William, standing at the back of the hearse.

Granny had left strict instructions detailing how she wanted her funeral to be conducted – “don’t mess with it or I’ll come back and haunt you”:

1.      Put me in with Granda Billy.
2.      The Co-op’s  been paid so don’t let  them screw anybody for any extras.
3.      Boys only as pall bearers – no feminist crap from Willemina – she would only drop me.
4.    Back to the Lodge for some grub and a few nips of Whyte and Mackay.  (Just a few mind – I don’t want any of you getting into fights at my funeral like you did at Granda Billy’s).
P.S. don’t let the Minister say anything by that bastard misogynist St Paul.

Granny had died last Tuesday, and this was the first opportunity we had to bury her. I was aware, even on the walk to the grave, of a conversation behind where someone commented that this would probably be the first and last ‘Tim’ in this family. My  Granny was a ‘Tim’. Coming from Glasgow you might not think that particularly unusual. But in my family it was more than unusual, it was a first. Well at least since the reformation. My family were Orange to the core. Even some of the women had Red Hand of Ulster tattoos. It took ten years for the family to come round but in the end the token Tim became one of them. She had once told me, laughing, how she always wore her rosary beads under her jumper when she went to the Orange Lodge and sprayed the toilets with holy water.

I reached the graveside and placed the coffin on the trestle. The minister said all the correct things that ministers say about someone they don’t actually know and then gave the signal. I took the strain on the cords as the planks were removed from the gaping hole and I slowly played out the ropes. It must almost have been at the bottom when it happened.

The sound of a mobile phone ringtone drifted up and I fell.

I came to in the hospital, and heard Cousin Willie saying helpfully, “Aye in he went,  head stoattin off the coffin”.

So now I knew the full extent of my disgrace. I had headbutted Granny, seen her off with a Glasgow Kiss.

“So he’s going to be alright then?” asked Willie sidling towards the back of the cubicle. “Only it’s a free bar till the drinks run out, and I’ve already been here for hours.” 

“So who do you think was phoning?” the Doc asked.

I smiled to myself.

When I see yer granda again, I’ll find a way to let you know, she had said, pressing the Crazy Frog ringtone on her phone.

*     *     *

Jax Leck – Fiftysomething ex-cop who now acts as legal counsel for a whisky company has been a closet write-aholic for years and has only recently come out. One novel, The Seeress of Ruskan, science fantasy.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Terse, Cogent, Salient: John Crosbie

The Tomato Manifesto

There was four of us, in that bar, in Toledo.  They were there discussing tomatoes, and  I nodded my head in agreement, but never put forward any particular pro or anti manifesto, for the pesto ally, although if I could, I would have promoted the beefheart, and it should be on the vine too.

Spanish was a language I could not manage well, but no matter, as that was also true of my English, but I mastered the art of keeping a keen ear for the utterance of the sound of 'tamata', from the mostly misunderstood grammar of these classical Madrilenos.

Now and then the question was asked if I was alright, and a reassurance was given that I was fine.

My cheeks hurt aesthetically, prosthetically, but pathetically, I sat it out.

An occasional Mediterranean night sigh, cooled, as it hovered through the open window, carrying with it the Camel carbon monoxide mixed with a thick squid stench.

The smoker was a woman, a tramp, a tink, with long flaxen soft locks, she was sitting, with her white shorts and cut away top, that enhanced her muscular biceps, triceps and legs, that were dark, dark brown, if not quite light black, with slack flip-flops at the ends. She swallowed back, fast, the glasses of red wine that came furiously her way and I hoped that the songs she sang, to me,were Hemingway ballads of the Franco Years.

Her face was, scarred, chiseled, carved, and well worn.

She drew on her continental roots, her black fingernails, a little darker than her nicotine knuckles. Men passed and ran their fish-stinking hands about her thighs.

Her moist cleavage glistened in the moonlight.

I hadn't realised that the conversation was now on olives, and there was further curiosity about my state of mind again. The reassurances were repeated.

It was then that she asked me, this time, holding a hand rolled reefer, for a match.

She had to ask me twice.

I looked around and lifted a lighter from our table. She crouched over and down to the flame, exposing to me the full landscape of her perfect pert breasts.

Drawing on the crumpled fag, she drew back and smiled.

I did too, a little.

I put the lighter back.

She got up and walked on, still singing.

Yes, they were told, once again, I was fine.

I wasn't.

*     *     *

John Crosbie is a writer of love, life, tenderness, and savagery and a purveyor of martial arts, running and dancing.