Here is the final blurb and cover image for my upcoming fourth novel, dEaDINBURGH:
The bubonic plague rages. In a desperate attempt to quarantine the infected, the city leaders seal the residents of Mary King’s Close in their underground homes.
Mary King’s Close is reopened, unleashing a mutated plague upon the city residents.
The UK government seals the entire city. Declaring it a dead zone they seal the survivors inside alongside the infected. dEaDINBURGH is declared a no man’s land, its residents left for dead and to the dead.
Joseph MacLeod, born onto the cobbles of the Royal Mile and stolen from the clutches of the infected is determined to escape the quarantined city. Under the guidance of former marine Padre Jock, he leaves the confines of the city centre and hones his archery and free-running skills.
Alys Shephard, born into an all-women farming community believes a cure lies in the south of the quarantined zone. The finest combatant in the dead city, Alys burns with anger. The anger of an abandoned child.
Something much worse than the infected waits for them in the south, in the form of a religious cult led by a madman named Somna who collects gruesome trophies and worships the dead body of a former celebrity. Added to this the enigmatic Bracha, a supreme survivalist and sadistic former Royal with his own agenda, stalks the teenagers.
A self-contained story, dEaDINBURGH is a character-driven Young Adult/Dystopian novel exploring the human capacity for good, evil and for survival.
Released on March 31st 2014 by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.
In this Chapter from Bobby’s Boy, my main character, Tommy Kinsella, is taking a wee walk around the town, before leaving on tour with Rage Against the Machine. The scene is set around 1992.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 9 of Bobby’s Boy by Mark Wilson. Copyright Paddy’s Daddy Publishing and Mark Wilson 2012.
Tom walked from Community Road, around past the corner shop with its pavement decorated with smashed Buckfast bottles in front of drawn steel shutters, to catch the number 14 bus to the Main Street. He walked along from Bellshill Cross, past The Crown bar, smiling to himself at memories that came to mind as he went. As he walked, Tom remembered finding a huge carrier bag full of unopened spirits and wines in the car park behind the Corrie bogs. He’d been fourteen at the time, had grabbed the bag, and sprinted through the alley to the Main Street, practically skipping with glee at his find. Unfortunately, a police van had been passing just as he shot onto the street and they soon had him at the side of the road, pouring a litre bottle of vodka, a half-bottle of Bell’s whisky, a bottle of wine, and six cans of the purple tin (Tennent’s Super) slowly down the drain. He’d been furious at the time, but later consoled himself with the bottle of kiwi and lime Mad Dog 20/20 he’d secreted into his coat.
Tom continued along the Main Street, passing where Herbie Frog’s and subsequently Valenti’s used to sit. Both had been nightclubs which catered to the fanny-dancing, crotch-grinding, Benzini jean-wearing and terminally hormonal Bellshill teen scene. Between Herbie Frog’s and the YMCA disco further along the road, you didn’t have to work too hard for a lumber in the fourteen to sixteen demographic.
Across the road was The Royal Bank of Scotland and First in Town, a hardware store, just next door. Tom’d had a drunken encounter with Linda McGovern behind that bank one night after Herbie Frog’s came out. She’d led him around to the rear of the building, pinned him to the wall, and proceeded to search his teeth for leftover dinner with her probing tongue that tasted of cigarettes. Linda had paused only briefly in her molestation to ask, “Whit turns ye oan?”
In reply, Tommy had distracted her, jumped over the wall towards First in Town’s yard, and had run like fuck, never once looking back. Despite badly tearing a ligament in his foot upon landing, he considered it a lucky escape in hindsight. Linda had been furious, roaring after him, “Ya fuckin’ poofy-prick!”
She had even turned up at his school looking for some kind of sexually frustrated reckoning a few days later. Tom took no pride in his actions at the time, hiding in the bin shed for an hour while she stalked the school growing more furious and more determined to find him with every moment that he eluded her. He’d heard later that Pez had calmed her down, sweet talking her into a date later that night. In Tom’s mind Pez’s lion-taming brought to mind an interview he’d seen with a dog-handler on the regional news where the seasoned dog-whisperer had explained that to calm an aggressive bitch, you simply had to slide a finger into her anus. It worked a treat for dogs in his charge apparently. As good a wingman as Pez was, Tom doubted he’d go to those lengths to aid the escape of his cowering friend. The memory made Tom laugh out loud as he continued on his walk around town.
Tom had actually worked in First in Town at weekends for around three years, making close friends with the Pakistani family who owned the hardware shop. They liked Tom as he worked hard, asked endless questions about their homeland and devoured the home-made curries on such a scale that it made them wonder where he put all that food. The matriarch of the family, Betty, seemed to enjoy the challenge of trying to fatten the skinny white kid. He’d eaten so much curry and worked so many shifts for the family that customers who came in began charmingly referring to Tom as the “White Paki”. Tom loved Bellshill, but some folk would always have their prejudices, especially those folks that didn’t even realise that they had them, and genuinely would be mystified at any offence caused by their comments. In recent years, the store had been in decline, following a scandal involving the patriarch.
Tom also passed Bellshill Academy, a place of mixed memories for him. Some made him laugh, others wince, and none more so than remembering Diller, who made everyone’s life a misery, pupil and teacher alike. In a school full to the rafters of vicious bastards, Diller took the prize for most evil of the lot. Tom suspected that someone must have fucked him right over within days of being born, maybe stole a sook of his mother’s tit or something, and Diller had decided to spend the remaining years he had on the planet in a state of part fury, part cold calculated malice, exacting revenge on the human species.
Tom made his way out of town and visited his dad’s grave in Birkenshaw a few miles up the road. He’d also been to see Mum, baby Jayne and Mel where they lay in their graves in Hamilton.
He was having a final look around Bellshill cross, when he spotted two familiar old faces sitting on the bench outside the church. The men were Eck Forsyth and Wullie McInally. They’d been in that spot, on that same bench, seemingly endlessly and certainly for as long as anyone in town could remember. Frequently they argued about religion.
Eck would habitually scour the immediate area searching for cigarette butts. He’d later strip the tobacco from the fag-ends in a baccy tin and use it for roll ups. “Nae point in buying fags,” he would say. “If there are cunts daft enough tae leave good tobacco lying about, then I’ll fucking have it.”
He was one of the first eco-warriors to exist in Lanarkshire. Although Eck didn’t know it, recycling was his life. Not for any lofty, planet-hugging agenda, but just because he was a tight old bastard. He reputedly lived in a lovely old house filled with fine furnishings, but sat daily on this bench asking for and getting fags from strangers and recycling their butt ends.
Wullie had his own “thing”. He was a committed insulter of the teenaged community of Bellshill, brandishing his index and middle fingers at them horizontally and shouting “Smell yer maw” at any and all passing teenagers. To be fair, Wullie was rumoured to be a former ladies man or “hoor-maister” many decades ago. If his reputation was deserved, there’s a fair chance in a town as small as Bellshill that he had indeed shagged their mothers, or even grandmothers. Or perhaps both.
Both men wore bunnets and smelled strongly of Tennent’s Super, the outdoors and ever so slightly of pish. Both had a purple tin in hand, and a rolled up paper in their coat pockets. Both were hilarious when you got them talking. Eck and Wullie were engaged in one of their usual arguments about religion as Tom approached. One man took the Protestant stance, the other the Catholic one. Tom, coming from what was referred to in Lanarkshire as a “mixed family”, had never given a damn about the religious opinions or divides.
Unfortunately, he was in a minority in his disinterest. These issues were all too important in many homes locally, fuelled by allegiance to the two Glasgow football teams. Both clubs seemed only too happy to work together and exploit the religious prejudices of the community. They supplied an outlet for the tension and hatred while keeping up a pretence of trying to stamp out the bigots, filling their coffers in the process. Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Glasgow had a long and divided history of religious bigotry, imported from Northern Ireland. Tom had never quite understood the history behind the Protestants’ and Catholics’ mutual distrust and hatred of each other, mainly because he didn’t care enough about what seemed to him to be petty rivalry, and an excuse to spit hatred at people on a Saturday, then go to work all pals again on a Monday.
Personally, he’d never seen any difference in the people of either affiliation, except that one group wore green and the other blue. One group also seemed to take comfort from departed loved ones, or God watching over them and emoting pride at times of triumph, whilst the other lot seemed to only sense disapproval or judgement when they had a wee secret fumble or something. One group had a touch of The Armada about them, in their dark hair and skin and general good looks. Tom suspected that if the supporters woke up one day and both football clubs were gone, they’d simply paint snails in opposing colours and race them to find an outlet for their ‘beliefs’.
As Tom passed close to the bench, Eck through habit said “Gies a fag”, and Wullie went “Smell yer’…” but stopped as he saw Tom.
“Aw, it’s Bobby’s Boy.”
Both men knew him through some uncle, cousin or other, or perhaps had known his dad directly, and simply asked how he was and wished him a good day.
“I’m away to work abroad for a wee while,” he told them.
“Aye, well don’t forget you’re from Bellshill son, and Bellshill will aye be yer home,” Wullie barked at him.
“Aye, ok, thanks. Take care of yourselves, in the cold,” Tom replied.
“Aye we’re used to it son,” said Eck, followed immediately by “Right ya orange bastard, where were we?” to Wullie.
Tom walked slowly back home to Community Road, taking only a detour past the family’s old house in Harvey Way. The modest, white pebble-dashed little house had been a happy home to his departed family. It now housed a new family, which was nice, and reminded Tom to call his sister before he left for San Francisco later that day.
As he reached the other end of town and approached Liberty Road, Tom had a peek in the windows of Rob Hamilton’s old place. Nobody had lived there since the family had all but disappeared one night a few years back while Tom was still living in Blackwood. When Tom had first moved back to Bellshill to live with Alec, he’d looked forward to reforming his friendship with Rob. The boys had been best friends their whole lives, and Tom had been lost without him when he’d been uprooted to Blackwood with his mum and Mel. When Tom discovered that Rob’s family had moved on mysteriously, it came as a massive disappointment to him. No one in the area had figured out for sure what had happened to make the Hamiltons depart so suddenly, but rumours of child abandonment and subsequent social service involvement persisted.
Tom left Liberty Road and took the customary shortcut over the bing. The bing was an old coal mine deposit, basically a grass-covered hill/cross country run circuit/alcoholics stomping ground. It also served as a short cut to Lawmuir Primary School, as there was a gap in the fence at the rear of the school facing the bing. Crossing over the bing made a handy cut-through from Liberty Road to Community Road too, if you didn’t mind some verbal abuse and a potential shoe theft perpetrated by the resident zombie-like glue-sniffers.
Tom had heard recent rumours about a former classmate of his named Craig Queen. The rumours concerned an apparent unhealthy interest in dogs’ arseholes, which he’d allegedly been disturbed violating in a quiet area at the top of the bing. It wouldn’t surprise Tom if the rumour was true. Craig had always been a shifty bastard who got a weird, creepy look in his eyes when the girls trooped into the sports hall during PE class. Tom had smacked him once for cornering a terrified first year in school and pishing on said first year after knocking him to the ground, apparently for getting in his way. It seemed a reasonable leap of logic to Tom that if he was pishing on first years at school four years ago, he might well have diversified or graduated to shagging canines. Tom was across the bing sharp and down the other side, with the mental image of Queen’s face twisted with pleasure, accompanied by a puzzled howl.
As he turned into Community Road at last, Tom passed the Shugs’ house. Turning the corner stealthily as always, he tried to blend into a bush hoping to go unnoticed by the house’s occupants. He’d executed this manoeuvre many times, and had little difficulty slipping past. The Shugs were a family of socially deprived and under-educated delinquents, who suffered with a variety of disorders and conditions. So said social services. Everyone else knew and feared those fucking animals for what they were: psychotic, sadistic and violent beasts.
The Shugs were masters of physical and mental torture, stalking their victims ruthlessly and relentlessly through the streets of Bellshill. Tales of the Shugs’ exploits always reminded Tom of The Terminator, embodied by the line from the movie: “It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse, or fear.”
That summed an individual Shug up perfectly. Collectively, they were a horrifying prospect that brought the nightmarish terror of the stalking, many-headed beast into stark ball-aching reality for many a generation of Bellshillians.
The whole family was male. Each man was well over six foot tall, heavily muscled, especially the back, chest, arms and neck. They were, to a man, widely regarded to be ultra-violent, and highly predatory. The Shugs seemed to possess the olfactory ability to raise a nose to the breeze, sniff out a weak animal and hunt it. All were named simply Shug. Their true names were never uttered or even known by most, though Tom suspected that the Shug moniker had been adopted intentionally to avoid police questions and confuse witness testimony. If a brave witness gave the name of the man he saw punch, maim or rob an individual, all he had to offer was “Shug”. It was futile for the police to try to determine which particular Shug and besides, they weren’t any keener than the civilian populace to visit the Shug homestead.
There were six of them that Tom knew about. There was Old Shug the dad. There were two Shugs in their thirties, Mad Shug and Shug wi’ the Dug. What it took to be called mad in that family was something truly exceptional, and Shug wi’ the Dug, well he had a dog. It was a huge baby-eating bastard of a beast that appeared to have been gestated by a wolf that’d been violated by a grizzly bear. Bundy, the dug, named for Ted Bundy, a hero of The Shugs, was only slightly less terrifying than its master. Both men, happily, spent most of their existence behind bars.
Young Shug was in his early twenties, and indulged himself in burglary, arson and cruelty to the elderly. He was the Shug with means, thanks to his chosen profession. He was what’s known in Bellshill as “a thieving cunt”. Young Shug was more often than not accompanied by Shug. Just Shug. No other description was required. Shug was a monster of a man-child, at eighteen tender years of age towering over and outweighing his massive older siblings. Shug was by far the most frightening of the clan in his calm, measured silence. He was rumoured to have blown his top completely once in HMV in Argyle Street. He was, by all accounts, observed during his rampage biting, stabbing and kicking the staff, as well as tearing down racks of CDs, screaming “Stick yer student discount up yer fuckin’ arse.”
Tom had never seen him do anything, except slide that chilling reptilian stare slowly over everyone he encountered, surveying and assessing every weakness, storing them away in that amygdala-driven pea-sized brain, for future attentions.
The last Shug was Big Shug. This Shug wasn’t the biggest; he was dwarfed by Shug, just like all his brethren. No, size wasn’t his virtue. This Shug inspired high hopes in the others of his kind. He was the future, a new model. Shug 2.0 if you like. He was the youngest, at only fifteen years, but this Shug was different from all the rest. He had all the brutality and predatory senses. He’d learned all the skills of his older siblings, but this Shug had something truly dangerous with which to augment his physicality. He had intelligence. This was one truly arse-clenchingly terrifying thing, this pinnacle of Shug evolution.
As Tom walked further down Community Road towards his place, he heard the Neanderthal roar of a Shug who’d clearly spotted some unfortunate wee bastard passing his house. “Haw wee baws. Get fuckin’ in here and gie me a fuckin’ fag.”
Poor wee cunt, thought Tom. He’d been there in that guy’s shoes many times in the past.
End of Excerpt
You can purchase Bobby’s Boy along with Mark’s other books at Amazon UK
I had a lot of fun writing my debut novel Bobby’s Boy. Several novels later, looking back at this debut makes me want to go back and re-write some sections with the new skills I’ve learned in the course of writing my other books. so far, I’ve resisted the urge, preferring to leave this very basic, heartfelt and raw book the way it is. It reflects my hometown of Bellshill best in its current form. Over the years I’ve been told several times by friends that I should read this chapter out at book events. So far I haven’t found the balls.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 9 of Bobby’s Boy by Mark Wilson. Copyright Paddy’s Daddy Publishing and Mark Wilson 2012.
Alec was in the passenger seat in the front of James’ light blue Austin Maxi, a car older than Tom was by some years. Alec had his head turned around to talk to Tom, asking him questions about the tour. Tom was currently in the vast rear, seatbelt-less chair, trying in vain to identify the interesting array of human-smelling aromas wafting up from the back seat. He’d heard that in a Maxi, the back seat could be folded backwards while the front seats could be reclined, forming a vast bed of sorts. He shuddered to think of the unholy creation that could have been conceived or the fluid that had potentially been spilled on the tan and taupe seats by James and whatever poor woman he’d duped into letting him fumble with her.
As he rolled down the window, supplying himself with a blast of much needed fresh Scottish air, he replied to Alec, “Aye, there’ll be all sorts Uncle Alec.”
James snorted. “Fuckin’ right there will, keep yer fuckin’ hawn oan yer fuckin’ wallet wee man. There’ll be fuckin’ darkies and poofs everywhere fae whit I’ve heard.”
Tom rolled his eyes, and exchanged glances with Alec, punctuated with a shake of the head to convey that they agreed. James was indeed a wanker. Neither said so though, which was unusual in Uncle Alec’s case, but both knew what a moody fucker that James was and were unwilling to risk getting turfed out his car and miss the flight while he sped off in a huff. It might be a piece of shit, smelling quite possibly of spunk, quite probably of shite, and absolutely certainly of pish, but it was the only transport that they had. Dried and crusted bodily fluids and all.
James had completely misunderstood the conversation that Alec and Tom had been conducting about meeting the huge variety of people he would encounter on the trip. He had interpreted their musings and excitement for Tom’s adventures as worries about which big darkie, or poofy-bastard, Chinky, Paki or tranny he’d be accosted by, having his arse virginity, money and/or clothes liberated from him.
James couldn’t help his attitude. He hadn’t really moved on from the gullible wee laddie he’d always been on account of his limited ambition and intelligence. Christ, he’d never left a ten mile radius of Bellshill, and never would. “Don’t see the point, everything ah need right here.”
Which was fair enough; there’s something to be said for being easily pleased and content with your lot in life. There was no real harm in the boy, so long as he wasn’t allowed to operate heavy machinery, or left in charge of animals. As daft as James was though, he wasn’t a patch on his younger brother, Sean.
“Aye, the best feeling you’ll remember from this trip is the blessed relief of having ten inches of some big darkie’s dick pulled oot yer arse, after he’s used you to wank in.” Alec and Tom ignored him and continued their animated conversations, with the odd, “Aye, right enough Jim,” thrown in to keep the mutated cunt happy and driving in the correct direction.
Young Sean had become a legend several years back when, as a fifteen year old, he had allowed his hormone-driven animal urges to supersede what little common sense he possessed. The story Tom had heard suggested that on a long walk home from a local football match, Sean had made a lucky double discovery. The first was a scuddy mag. Unusually for such a find, its pages were intact, almost in mint condition, with only the centre-fold stuck together by a stubborn mortar of someone’s gene-juice. It was only a week past its publication too.
Such a lucky soul would handle it gently like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls. Take it home and secrete it away in a custom designed album, filled to overflowing with scraps of vag and tit scavenged over the years from parks, lay-bys and ditches. The more creative types would fashion a Franken-slag creation from pieces of various women, matching skin-tone, shading, tit and bush to create their wanking masterpiece. Lovingly he’d christen her with a jet of sperm, the end product of a record-breaking ten second wank in tribute to his goddess.
The second prize presented itself as opportunity and means. When Sean arrived home, porn mag tucked in his jacket, he’d discovered that the house was completely empty save for the family’s jet black mongrel, Darkie. This was a golden wanking opportunity for any lucky teenage boy who unexpectedly finds himself with free porn in his hands. His pecker soon found its way to those same hands.
At some stage during the masturbation session, some internal demon turned Sean’s gaze away from the lovely, buxom Mary in the ‘Readers’ Wives’ section of his Escort magazine. Sean liked those big mumsy-housewife types; they reminded him of that matron from the Carry On films. Rather than staying the course with big Mary, Sean’s eyes were drawn towards the Henry Hoover propped in the corner of the room. Sean’s brain, like any other teenage boy’s, flashed with the possibility of a potential hole to fill. Normally sense prevails in these moments and the masturbator turns his attention back to the matter at hand. Not so for Sean.
He shuffled over, pants and trousers at his ankles, plugged in Henry, removed the brush attachment, and dragged Henry’s grinning face and hose over to Mary, who was still waiting for his load. As Sean inserted himself into Henry’s plastic, makeshift vagina, he sighed as the tight tube’s suction caught his member.
Ooya, I’ve been missing out here! Right Mary hen, let’s have ye.
This thought flashed for about a second, then was replaced with a darker, more urgent one. When Sean began the return stroke, moving out of the sucking tube, a valve mechanism designed to prevent hairballs and such from escaping slipped into place. No panic. He switched off the hoover, removing the suction, and gave a gentle tug. Unfortunately, his manoeuvre served to further fix the valve, locking it around his blood-filled penis, trapping both the blood and his now painful appendage.
Sean had reputedly searched the house for lubricants, trying a surprisingly wide variety of soaps and detergents, crèmes and ketchups, fabric softeners and lotions, pureed fruit and dairy products. No joy. After visiting every room, trailing the limp and now entirely unappealing Henry in his wake, Sean was ready to give up and call for help from someone when, upon spotting the dozing Darkie mid-yawn, a thought occurred to him.
Tom heard the rest of the story from James, who relayed the tale with gusto and tears of laughter a few days afterwards. The whole family had arrived home together by a happy coincidence that meant that two cars had arrived simultaneously.
Tom’s Aunty Sheena had been pleased to see that James, his brother Peter and two sisters had timed their arrival in James’ Maxi perfectly to help her into the house with her many bags of shopping from the boot of her VW Polo. As the laughing family entered their cosy living room, it was obvious that a fire was blazing. With the coal-fuelled blaze spreading its welcoming warmth throughout the large room they rubbed the cold from their hands as they entered. That fire was the only happy thing that they saw.
The family crashed into the living room, in the usual tornado of activity that always accompanies large families, and were welcomed with an entirely unexpected vista. Sean, lost in deep, pained concentration, was lying on his back in the centre of the room, pants and trousers around his ankles, tugging at the end of Henry’s tube. From his demeanour he was in obvious pain. However, the transfixed family mistook his twisted expression for one of ecstasy. An easy mistake to make under the circumstances as, in his desperation to free his bulging bell-end, Sean had smeared a handful of Darkie’s food around the circumference of the hose and was shouting at the dog, “Lick it ya cunt, don’t fuckin’ bite,” all the while holding the back of the puzzled canine’s head, as they entered the room.
Everyone was stunned for about three seconds, at which time Aunty Sheena had sprung into action, wielding an unopened bottle of Kia-Ora (orange and mango) from her bag. She attacked her perverted son, striking him in time with the words,
“Ya… filthy… durty… wee… bastard, ma… poor… wee… dug.”
It had apparently taken all four of the siblings to drag her off Sean who, during a tear-filled explanation, had impressed upon them his innocence of bestiality.
“I might try tae shag the hoover but ah widnae shag Darkie. He’s only got three legs.”
As they cut the end of the tube from Henry and from Sean respectively, Aunty Sheena scowled at the curled up boy. “You’ll be fuckin’ paying for that.”
Eventually his brother had taken him over to Monklands Hospital to get the (rather expensive as it turned out) tube removed.
James had selected a wee inadequate towel to cover Sean’s crotch for the journey. It was just small enough to let the hoover component stick out. As they left the living room, Darkie happily finished his meal from the floor under the gaze of Mary. Surveying the scene from her page, her eyes seemed to say, “I’ve seen it aw noo,” while casually opening her labia with her right hand.
End of Excerpt
You can purchase Bobby’s Boy along with Mark’s other books at Amazon UK
With dEaDINBURGH, book 1 now complete, feedback from the Beta-readers returned and re-writes finished, the book is with the editor. I’m unsure at this time as to whether dEaDINBURGH will be published through Paddy’s Daddy Publishing or another publisher as I’m currently speaking to some interested agents. Hopefully I can get the book out soon. This is the final excerpt I can preview before the books release. I’m hard at work on dEaDINBURGH Book 2 and a screenplay for Head Boy.
Hope you enjoy.
All text copyright Mark Wilson 2014
Alys’ mother threw a flurry of sharp punches, alternating between head and gut, gut and chest. Blocking each of them, he used her slight forward momentum against her, rolling her punch, extending the reach of it further than she’d intended. It caused her front foot to slide forward an inch bringing her in to elbow strike range. It was a good move, she’d taught it to him and she grunted her approval as she slid the foot forward as he’d predicted, but continued further than he had expected to sweep him off his feet and onto his rear-end with a crash as he lunged to make the elbow connect.
“Up, Boy.” She’d already assumed her ready stance.
Joey gave her a lop-sided grin, mostly to annoy her.
“Nice move, Mrs Shep….” He almost saw the kick that connected with his chest that time. There was no doubt about it, he was getting faster. The training, her training, was paying off. He really had to stop antagonising her by referring to her as Mrs though.
“Up…Boy.” She said once again.
She’d never once called him by his name in the three months he’d been allowed to stay in The Gardens. She spat out the word Boy like an insult. It was an insult in this place.
Rising to his full height, which was still a few inches short of Jennifer’s, he gave her the smile again. To hell with it, he thought.
“Ready, Mrs Shephard.” This time he managed to block and deflect twelve of her blows before he was knocked on his ass once again. He could swear that Jennifer broke a smile that time.
“We’re done today, Boy. Go back to your quarters.” She swished around and took off towards another training session with one of the younger children. Good luck to them. He thought.
“Thank you.” He called after her. Normally she ignored his ritual thank you at the end of their sessions. This time, she paused, turned slightly and gave him the sharpest of nods before resuming her walk.
High praise indeed.
Joey plonked himself onto the frost-covered grass, sitting with his wrists resting on bent knees and scanned The Gardens as his breath fogged the evening air. The greenhouses on the flat sections were busy with girls, collecting tomatoes, peppers and other produce. He could see women working metal in the Smith’s tent, prepping meals in the kitchen tent, doing drills in the training rings and scribbling away in the school enclosure. The few boys who lived there, seven of them, each younger than he and sons of women who’d been pregnant or new mothers when the men left, the boys were dragging hand-ploughs through a large section of field. None of them had spoken to him. They’d leave if he approached them. When he’d arrived, Joey had expected the boys to be pleased to see another male; if anything they seemed frightened of him in a way that not even the youngest of the girls were. They simply went about their duties and acted as though he didn’t exist.
Everyone in The Gardens had a role, a place in the structure. Everyone was important and equal; more or less. The women of The Gardens were a truly self-sufficient society, dependant on no-one and nothing but their own hard work.
Joey climbed the slope up to the fence-line that divided The Gardens from Princes Street and scanned along the long, once-busy centre of the city. Jock had described to him the city before the plague hit many times using words like, beautiful, striking and cosmopolitan. When asked about the people, he’d often used the phrase, streets full of busy fools. The streets were still full, but instead of teeming with workers, residents, tourists and shoppers rushing around, they were filled with an endless myriad of walking corpses in various states of decomposition.
It was a quiet evening, relatively speaking. The ever-present groan that vibrated dryly with the bottomless hunger that these creatures suffered with, was a little more muted today. None of them bothered to take a swipe at him through the fence as he walked the perimeter, checking the fence’s integrity. Those who noticed him at all merely followed him along with their dusty, frost-covered eyes as he moved. It wasn’t apathy, they always got a little slower in the cold weather. As he made his way along the fence shaking rails, pulling on posts, Joey reflected on his time in The Gardens.
After Jennifer’s initial refusal to allow him entry, not when he was conscious at any rate, Alys had been able to convince her mother to grant him access because of his help in treating and saving Stephanie. They’d had to agree that they would not spend any of their time together and that Joey must participate in their way of life fully. He’d spoken to Alys only a handful of times since, the pair of them sneaking out into the surrounding streets to swap stories and share survival skills. Whilst Joey had the advantage in survival strategies due to his years in the north, Alys was by far the more superior combatant. In the short spells they’d spent together they’d made good use of every moment, each absorbing knowledge and skills from the other.
He thought that she was currently out of The Gardens on a supply run in Stockbridge. Combat training, farming and security now filled his days. In addition to this, Alys had sold her mother on the benefits of having access to Joey’s Intel on the world outside The Gardens and the immediate area that the Rangers patrolled inside the inner-fence.
Jennifer had sat with him for hours at a time, fascinated at what had happened to and was happening in areas of the city she’d known as a child or in the days before The Gardens was founded. Forefront in her questions was security. She wanted to know as much as he would relay about the people beyond The Garden’s inner-fence. That was easy; most of them, whilst damaged, were good people, trying to survive another day. There were exceptions of course, the most notable being Bracha.
Jennifer had found it hard to believe that he and Jock hadn’t had any prior encounters with the man. His actions in tracking them and killing Jock seemed entirely too motivated by personal reasons. Joey had just about convinced her that he was just another wandering madman, albeit a hugely dangerous one.
Whenever they’d spoken about Bracha, an odd look had crossed her face. She’d asked many questions about the way he fought, how he’d conducted himself. The language he used. Jennifer never really explained what she had on her mind where Bracha was concerned, but had told Joey that from his descriptions, she could tell that Bracha had been a soldier. I was married to a soldier. It had slipped in conversation but she’d noticed Joey’s eyes light up at the prospect of information on Alys father and immediately shut down, resuming questioning him on the city.
Jennifer didn’t seem worried about Bracha turning up at the Gates to The Gardens. He had to admit, why should she be? No one person, no matter how clever, skilled or deranged was a serious threat to the women of The Gardens. As for his assertion that a cure existed in the Royal Infirmary grounds, Jennifer treated the notion with the same ridicule that Jock had. Joey omitted Jock’s warning of Somna and The Exalted. He didn’t doubt Jock’s account for a second, but how did you sell that tale to a stranger?
Joey, of course, had shown her the flash-drive that Jock had kept for him. She’d described to him exactly what it did and explained that without a working computer there was simply no way to determine what its contents were. As she’s handed it back, an uncharacteristic softness entered her features and tone, clearly sensing how disappointed he was in his inability to access the link to his mother.
“I’m sure you’ll see what’s on it one day, Boy.” Her face hardened again as she handed him the device.
“On your travels.”
It had been a clear and none too subtle hint that it was time for him to move on. He couldn’t help but agree. Having roamed the city for three years, he’d enjoyed his time in The Gardens, had picked up and passed on many useful skills and rested well. It was, however, time to go.
After completing his duties and chores under the ever-watchful eye of Jennifer’s people, he slipped into the small tent they’d allowed him to claim during his stay. Only once in the three months he’d been here had he left the tent between lights-out and sun-up. As he’d become predictable, the night time guards had been removed weeks before. Tonight would be the second time.
Slipping silently over the rails onto Princes Street, he looked over his shoulder, down at The Gardens to check that no-one had seen him go. All clear.
Moving between the sluggish corpses on the main city thoroughfare proved simple enough with only a few of the more warmly-dressed ones reaching out to him or half-heartedly snapping their jaws shut when he passed. Taking Hanover Street, he headed downhill, along Dundas Street and down on to Brandon Terrace where he spotted the clock at the intersection Alys had told him to use as a marker. Turning onto Inverlieth Row, Joey spotted a faded maroon-coloured number 27 Bus parked, two wheels up on the pavement. Inside a warm glow flickered.
The area leading to the bus had been relatively free of Ringed but a few shambled towards the bus, driven by the slope downwards as much as they were by the glow of the firelight. Joey sighed, drew his knives, Jock’s knives, and silenced the pair before tapping gently on the bus’ door.
Alice smiled through the fogged glass and pulled a lever to open the doors for him. The heat hit his face as he stepped onto the stairs to board.
“Any problems getting out?” Alys asked, shoving the lever in the opposite direction as soon as he stepped through the doors.
“None.” He said.
Looking around the bus, Joey noted the fire in the space where disabled passengers once parked their wheelchairs. Jock had taught him what the little blue and white sign had meant in the old world. The disabled of course had been amongst the first to fall to the plague, for obvious reasons. In his entire life, Joey had met only one person in a wheelchair; a lady by the name of Suzanne Dalgliesh. At least that had been her name in the Old Edinburgh. Here in the dead city, she went by the name, Suzy Wheels.
Suzy Wheels occupied a bungalow on Groathill Avenue; she had since before the plague. With its modified ramps, access points and lack of stairs for shuffling feet at the ends of dead legs to climb, Suzy’s home should have been one of the first invaded. Anyone who’d ever met Suzy Wheels did not need to ask why that didn’t happen. A former Tai Kwando Olympian, Suzanne had been in a traumatic accident two years prior to the plague hitting and wrecked her spine as well as her car.
She’d fought her way through eighteen painful months of physiotherapy and another six months in the gym, sculpting her upper body, building the functional muscle she needed and perfecting the technique required to fight from her chair. That had been her goal, re-enter the next Olympics, Rio 2016; the Olympics, mind, not the Paralympics, she’d say, and kick asses from a seated position. Joey could fight, but he had no doubt at all that the sixty-year old invalid could kick his ass all day long from the comfort of her modified wheelchair.
Taking a seat across from Alys who had resumed her place at the other side of the little fire, Joey picked out a potato that had been baking in the fire and began picking at it.
END OF EXCERPT
The product description for Wee Rockets put me off reading the book for several months. “Does for Belfast what Irvine Welsh did for Edinburgh.”
For me, this wasn’t a great endorsement and puts Brennan’s book into a category of book in one’s mind that it simply doesn’t merit being in.
Welsh is skilled in putting detestable people in crass and darkly humorous situations and making you cringe and laugh at their exploits, the whole while knowing that you’re sharing in their badness, just a little merely by laughing.
Scottish and Irish fiction is littered with stereotypic, ‘wee Ned’ characters, shoved in front of the readers or viewers to be sneered at from middle-class living rooms.
The worst as a heavy-handed scum-monger, Irvine Welsh managed one sympathetic novel in his masterpiece Glue, in which he fleshes out some real and sympathetic characters. It took Welsh four books to achieve this kind of writing, Brennan did this with seeming ease straight from the off with this book.
With Wee Rockets, Gerard Brennan gives you complex characters to pity, yes, but also to cheer for, shake your head at and relate to. Most importantly he lays their motives bare without judgement and allows the reader to empathise rather than marginalise.
That he conveys such a strong set of characters without asking the reader to judge them, or ridicule the very real people he’s created in any way, is testament to his skill as a writer.
There’s no morality tale here, merely a very good writer lifting the curtain to reveal people trapped in a tiny world of expectations (low) and dreams (big).
Brennan shows us the worst and best of his characters, without making them caricatures or victims; in this alone he surpasses Mr Welsh. Add in a wonderfully descriptive narrative, hugely grounded and believable characters and spot-on dialogue and you have one of my favourite new authors.
Wee rockets is available at Amazon uk
Having spent a day shooting locations from the book with Paul McGuigan of PMCG Photography, it felt like a good time for another update.
At this point in the book, Alys and Joey have reunited after a three year absence. Alys has convinced Joey to enter a no man’s land in the South of the dead city, beyond the inner fences in search of a cure and a madman.
The following excerpt is from dEaDINBURGH by Mark Wilson and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:
A sudden push against the bus sent it wobbling to one side. Alys and Joey both snatched their weapons up and stood to look through the misted windows.
“Didn’t you have a check around before you arrived?” she snapped at Joey more out of shock than genuine anger.
“Of course I did.” He said calmly.
Both turned their eyes back to the winnow, Alys stepping forward to rub some of the condensation away with the sleeve of her coat. She gasped as she looked out onto Canonmills. Joey pressed his cheek against hers to get a better look through the gap she’d made and let out a little sound of his own.
The bus was surrounded by Zoms. Every panel, front, sides and rear was being pushed upon by a herd of them, three deep in parts. Each of them was completely fixed on the bus, lips drawn back from snapping teeth.
“Where the hell did they come from?” Joey asked. “You ever see that many in one place?”
Alys shook her head.
Not like that.” He replied. “They’re all pretty fresh.
By fresh he meant fast, vicious, dangerous, and of course, hungry.
There was little chance of them pushing the bus over; they simply didn’t have the strength or coordination for that, unless they got lucky. The greatest risk to them was that the hands that had begun to slap against the windows would eventually break the glass. Neither of them was particularly worried about a zom climbing through a broken window, the panels were too high for that, but the broken window would definitely mean exposure to the bitter winter wind howling louder than the Zoms groans outside.
“Upstairs.” Alys told him, leading the way to the top deck.
From the top they gained a better view of what they faced. Alys guessed maybe sixty Zoms, all fresh, had surrounded the bus. She rubbed her temples, thinking, what the hell brought so many of them here?
Canonmills was outside the inner fence, but only just; and generally was fairly clear of the dead. Those she had encountered recently in the area had been older ones, slow and part-frozen with the winter frost.
Glancing along the aisle of the bus towards Joey who had his face pressed against the rear window, she gave him a sharp whistle. When he turned, she pointed up at the ceiling, eliciting a conspirational grin from him, followed by a quick nod of approval.
Stepping on Joey’s interlocked hands, she boosted herself up towards the skylight, pushed it open and climbed through, out onto the snow-covered roof, before dangling her arm through to help Joey up.
“I’m cool.” He told her. As Alys withdrew her arm, Joey’s hands grabbed the skylight and his feet suddenly shot through followed by the rest of him, head last. He landed lightly on his feet in a crouch.
“Show off.” She shook her head at him. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
She said, heading towards the edge to lean over. Her sudden presence above brought a surge of hungry groans from below.
“You think you can shoot them off? Maybe just clear a section for us to break through?”
Joey had a quick peek over.
“Na. Too few arrows; too many Zoms. How about we go back to the lower deck and just start braining them through the windows after they’ve broken through?”
“Too risky; too easy to get grabbed or bitten whilst reaching out.”
Joey’s face suddenly broke into a wide grin. Hooking his bow over his back, he went through his ritual of checking his weapons, tightening his laces and pulling his hood up, before cocking an eyebrow at her and flashing an even wider grin.
“Back in a minute, Alys.” He laughed and leaped from the bus’ roof onto the nearby bus shelter, from where he did a tight sideways somersault, landing on the roof of a phone box several feet away. With a final cartwheel-tuck, he span off the phone box, landing catlike two feet behind the row of Zoms who still faced the bus.
Launching into a song, he took off up the hill towards a burnt put Esso petrol station, Sixty-odd dead shuffling behind him like a grotesque parade.
“Searching for answers and finding more reasons, not to believe in the bullshit they feed us….” Joey sand loudly and out of tune, laughing as he ran, tumbled and span his way up the hill, away from the bus.
He’s entirely too full of himself, that boy, Alys thought, supressing a smile.
Returning a few minutes later, Joey had doubled back around the Zoms who were still headed up towards Rodney Street. Joey was walking towards her, arms wide in a what you think gesture. Alys shook her head, “Nice singing, Joey.”
He laughed loudly. “You like that? Jock taught me it.”
Joey launched into another verse, ducking as she threw a right-hander at him.
“Shut up, idiot. You’ll have them back down here.” She nodded up at the herd of Zoms. Some of the rear ones had lurched around and were looking in their direction, teeth bared.
“Okay. Let’s go tell your mother that we’re running away to find a cure at The Royal Infirmary, which is by the way, surrounded by murdering madmen who worship a Zommed-out footballer. That’ll be fun.”
Alys cocked an eyebrow at him. Deadpan she said. “Okay.”
End of Excerpt
You can follow Mark’s progress on dEaDINBURGH on twitter at dEaDINBURGHbook