Firm by Robert Cowan – Review

Firm is Robert Cowan’s fourth work, following on from The Search for Ethan, Daydreams and Devils, and (my personal favourite) For All is Vanity.

 

In Firm we have a much less experimental approach than seen in ‘Vanity’ and what feels like a more melancholy Cowan than perhaps we’ve seen until now. The affection he feels for the lead characters in this work, as well as the locations and the people who inhabit the novel, is palpable and utterly endearing throughout.

Robert has written in third-person, past-tense throughout, a choice which feels right for a story that basks in the glow of old friendships and memories of times past.

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Our main characters are likable, funny, and far from saints, but utterly believable and rather charming. What made this book for me, was Cowan’s skilful use of dialogue through the novel. Where many writers choose clumsy exposition, Cowan, quite literally in print, allows his characters to speak for themselves, stripping away their outside appearance to expose the very real versions of themselves in their deeds and words. Most notably, the boys’ friendship is demonstrated most ably by Cowan’s spot-on dialogue which is at times warm, very funny, scathing and cutting, as reflects the relationship between best friends.

Another step forward and a very, very good work from an ever developing writer who has grown comfortable in his skill and knows how to craft an appealing story.

 

Available now at Amazon

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Alice – Chapter One Preview

The following excerpt is from my upcoming novel, ‘Alice’, due for release in autumn, 2016. The book is being released under the pseudonym C.P. Wilson:

Copyright, Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

Alice-favourite copy

1

 “It’s about time you got your arse in gear,” he growls from his chair. Remaining silent. I bow my head, chin to my chest. Chopping carrots, I have my back to him. The chair screeches across the tiles as he rises to his feet. Fists thumping the table top, he demands, “How long is that gonnae be. Fuckin’ starving here.”

“Not long now, Mike,” I tell him quietly.

I can feel him regard me for a few moments. Lighting a cigarette, he blows the smoke out forcefully.

“You sound funny, you’d better not have a cold coming on.”

“Just allergies,” I reply.

“Good,” he barks, “Can’t be doing with you being off your game just now.” He returns to his chair. “Your hair looks different,” he accuses. “Who you trying to impress?”

I force cheer into my voice, “No-one, Mike. Would you like a beer?”

He snorts his derision at me, “Took you long enough to ask.”

Placing the chopping knife onto the counter-top, I keep my back to him as I reach into the freezer.

“Beer’s in the fridge,” he cuts in. “Idiot.”

“Oh, I put one in here a little while before you came home, love. Get it nice and cold for you.”

“Good.”

Keeping my chin tucked in low to my chest, my face obscured by my red hair, I hand him the beer without opening it.

Mike stares at the can in my hand, incredulous. “What am I supposed to do with that?” he asks. I let the can slip from my fingers. His eyes follow it to the tiles, widening as the can splits upon impact, sending a spray of beer scooshing around the kitchen.

When he looks back up at me, I watch his face through strands of my hair. Morphing from surprise to a grotesque anger tinged with joy, he stands, pulling his belt from his waist.

“Dearie me. That was unfortunate.” He sing-songs the words. The bastard is delighted to be given an excuse to punish me. Before he strikes, I lift my chin, showing him my face for the first time since he arrived home. My right hand is already in motion.  Our eyes meet and the shock breaks his glazed predatory leer. “Who the fu…”

Sliding six inches of ice-blade into his neck, I shove him back into his seat, turning the blade in his neck to widen the gash in his carotid artery as he flumps onto his rump.

Mike’s eyes are fixed on mine as I clamber to sit astride him, in his lap, a leg at each side, pinning his jerking legs. His belt has fallen to the tiles, his hands claw at his own slick neck. “You’re not…” he coughs blood-mucus.

Withdrawing my weapon from his neck, my eyes flick to the edge for a second. The arterial spray redecorates the walls. Noting that the edge is still intact, I plunge the tip into his right eye.

He screams. The Sclera of his eye slides down a few millimetres on my knife tip.

“No I’m not Sadie,” I say quietly. Sadie is gone. Despite the mortal wound in his neck, the mad woman on his lap and the ice-blade in his eye, hatefulness flickers once more in Mike. He can’t stand that she’s out of his reach.

“She’s not coming back, Michael,” I tell him. Don’t bother with the tantrum, you don’t have the strength anyway. I nod across at the blood-splattered fridge.”

My words are wasted, he’s already slipping deep into shock. The arterial spray from his neck has died to a throbbing squirt in time with the slowing beat of his heart.

Disappointed at the speed of his death, I pull the weapon from his eye which flops onto his upper cheek; a thick mishmash of cords and vessels snaking into the socket. Most of the ice-blade is wet now, its structure is beginning to disappear. Unwrapping the leather straps from around the handle, I stand and place the now-slippery weapon onto his lap.

Clawing irritably at an itch under the wig, I remove Sadie’s clothes and stuff them into a carrier bag. Stood in only black leggings and long sleeve T, I shiver upon opening the front door. The cool darkness rushes into the heated room as I leave, stirring the iron blood smell around the room then sucking it out into the darkening night. Suddenly, I wish I hadn’t left my jacket on the bike. Never mind.

“Bye, Mike.”

Stepping out into the Edinburgh dusk, I briskly walk the five miles to where I left my bike in the shadows of a Sycamore, on Grosvenor Crescent. A few minutes later I’m on St John’s road, headed for the M8.

 ∞∞∞

 The warmth of my Hamilton apartment embraces me. Headed directly to the living room, I make a quick check that my blinds are closed, and that the fire I lit earlier is of sufficient size and intensity. Absent-mindedly singing to myself, I retrieve the leather strapping from the ice-blade’s handle and drop it into the fire. Hand over hand I roll Sadie’s clothes into a tight cylinder and lay them onto the fire.  There they join the leather strap, followed by, the wig which crinkles and melts as it lands in the heat. Left wearing a simple plastic bodysuit, I watch the flames devour the last of Sadie, only a faint sense of loss tugs at me. The flames swell and dance around as I unzip the plastic suit, leaving myself naked. Kicking the plastic suit into the fire along with the rest I head to the bathroom.

Almost a full half hour later- skin reddened from the long immersion in the heat and smelling strongly of carbolic soap- I step carefully from the cubicle. Catching myself in the mirror, I toss a wink then pad, wet-footed into the bedroom. The white tiles underfoot throughout my little apartment, feel cool and clean against my skin. The clinical detachment of the day- washed from my body as surely as any traces of Mike and Sadie’s home- is replaced by the glow of expectation.

Once dried, perfumed and dressed, I leave my little apartment at the Racecourse. My Ducati seems to grin at me from the garage as I step inside. Come on, let’s fly.

Like I need any more exhilaration tonight.

   ∞∞∞

 The lock slips open. Silently I slide into the hallway, closing the door gently behind me. My phone screen tells me that it’s two am. Choosing my stairs carefully on the ascent, I use the sides of each stair, feet in against the wall where they’re less likely to creak the boards beneath. I’m good at this, the sneaky stuff. Before I reach the topmost stair, the sound of his snoring reaches my ears. Unwilled, a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. In a few paces, I’m through the bedroom door, peeling clothes as I pad silently towards the bed. Stealth matters more than neatness, so I leave my clothes crumpled on the landing floor.

Abruptly his voice breaks my stride,” Hey, hon. How did the research go?”

I enter the room and grin broadly at him. “Sorry, love. Was trying not to wake you.”

Jimmy sits, two pillows propping him. God, he looks tired.

“S’okay. Was only dozing anyway,” he smiles at me. “How’d it go? Get what you need?”

“I did, thanks, love,” I say, truthfully.

The moonlight coming in through the window cools the room, giving it a waxy look. He never draws the bloody curtains. Fussing at the tie-backs I speak over my shoulder, “Well, get back to sleep,” I admonish. “You’ve on an early shift in the morning.”

Jim nods, “Aye, I will, but c’mon.” He pats my side of the bed, “Spoon time.”

“Just let me brush my teeth, love. Won’t be long.”

“No shower?” he asks. “Had one at the gym,” I tell him as he slips under the covers, his back to the vacant space in the bed.

“Mmhmm,” good,” he drowses.

A few minutes later, I curve my cool body around his, absorbing his heat.

“G’night, Alice,” he mumbles.

“G’night, love.”

 

You can find Mark and his books at Amazon UK and US

 

 

 

dEaDINBURGH: Hunted – Preview

The following excerpt is unedited and taken from

dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4)

Available to pre-order now at Amazon

Filtering out Dad’s scraping and clattering, I focus on the errant noise. The pattern of the sounds tells me one of The Ringed is nearby, probably in amongst the trees or shrubs and making its way towards our little picnic site.

Leaving dad to busy himself with the tea, I move quietly towards the source of the noise. Shoving a heavy branch from my path, I come across a female Ringed. Both of her legs are badly broken. She walks with the ankle of her right foot folded all wrong, so that her foot trails along behind. Her lower right leg is missing completely giving her a tilted gait. I let a sigh out and draw one of my knives.

Seemingly intent on moving her awkward limbs, she doesn’t notice me until I’m three feet from her. When she looks up at me, I gasp and take a step back.

She’s newly-risen. Aside from the damage to her legs, she’s in good condition. At a guess, I’d say she’s been dead less than a month. It’s not the condition of her, or that she’s so close that makes me start. It’s her appearance. She’s my age, has my hair colour, height and general build. She also has her right eye missing.

The girl’s lips snarl back to reveal a mouthful of gums. No teeth remain in her head. Stepping towards her, I shove her powerless arms aside before driving my heavy blade through her brain. The girl flops, adding to the detritus. Sprawled onto the forest floor, I get a clear look at her. She does look like me, very much like me. Unnerved I draw a second blade and press my back to a silver birch for cover. My eye catches a glint at her leg. Peering closer, I get low. It’s a knife worn exactly where I sheath my own.

I close my eyes lightly and concentrate on the sounds around me, like Joey taught me. Filtering out animals, birds, the wind and swaying branches, I pick out an altogether more human sound.

To my left, perhaps fifty feet from me, a light and familiar footstep disturbs some dry leaves.

The girl, the location, the macabre humour of her appearance…Suddenly the tableaux makes perfect sense. In his head anyway.

“You might as well come out, Bracha,” I try to sound bored.

A moment later he ghosts out of the shadows, lifting aside a low branch with his golf club. Leaning on the club, one leg crossed over the other, he smiles broadly at me. “So wonderful to see you, Stephanie my dear.”

A soft kick to the dead Ringed girl’s shoulder, “I do wish you had played a little more nicely with my friend, though. It took me an age to find her.”

I make a deliberate show of re-sheathing my blade and taking a relaxed stance. Despite his jester’s demeanour, His eyes note every move I make. Nodding at the dead girl, I ask. “Why?”

His expression shifts to one of deep sincerity. “I missed you, Stephany,” He says. The bastard is telling the truth. He selected this girl, took an eye and dressed her as me so that he had someone to talk to…no. So that he had me to talk to. Had he really grown so used to having me around?

His eyebrows lift in faux nonchalance. “She was a lot less trouble than you, though, Stephanie. Although… you do have a certain way with you.” The shark grin returns.

“You know I’m here to kill you?” I ask flatly.

He lifts his club and performs a little flurry with it, twisting it around his fingers only to toss it overhead and catch it on his waiting foot. With a flick, he punts the club back into his waiting hand. Throughout his performance, my eyes watch his hands and feet for a hint of an aggressive twitch. The display is not a distraction. He’s simply happy to see me.

“Well of course, my darling. There’s no-one else I would rather dance with.”

Showing him a shark-smile of my own, I draw two of my knives.

“But…” He blurts, holding a hand out in front of him.

“As you’ve brought my dear friend Jimmy along on the trip, let’s say we have a civilised discussion before we engage in our dance. Get to know each other once again, maybe share a meal. I also have some interesting information to share with you and your little community.”

I’d forgotten the sharpness of his senses and his habit of scouting the area he’s in regularly. I rebuke myself silently at his mention of James and resolve to remember my lessons better in future, if I have a future.

Wondering how long Bracha has been watching us, I shake my head minutely. “No.”

Bracha sighs and leans back onto his club once again.

“Manners, Stephanie. What has happened to people’s manners in this city?” He looks at me expecting as response. I give him none.

A long resigned sigh comes from him. “Well, I suppose if you absolutely insist…” Allowing his golf club to thud to the ground, Bracha draws two of his favourite blades. His movements are much less smoothly executed than I’m used to. The cold and his injuries have shaved another portion of his speed and agility. My heart races as I realise that I’m faster than him now. I’m capable of a greater range of physical attacks also. I have a chance, so long as I don’t underestimate his decades of experience.

A wistful look replaces his predatory expression. Bracha nods at my Ringed doppelganger. “I can always make friends with you once again.” He crouches to the Ringed girl. Coating his knives in her blood and saliva he resumes his fighting stance.

“When you awaken.”

End of Excerpt

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dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4) is available to pre-order now at Amazon

Why Would Anyone Settle For Being An Indie-Author?

Why Would Anyone Settle For Being An Indie-Author?

The first question I’m asked when people discover that I’m an Indie- Author is whether I’ve approached or considered approaching agents or publishers.

‘Your books are good, Mark. You should submit to publishers.’

It doesn’t seem to occur to some that being independent is a choice, not a necessity. I never considered the traditional publishing route, although I have had offers from several Independent publishing houses and one large agency over the years which I chose not to accept for a variety of reasons.

I was very lucky to benefit early in my writing career from the advice of several authors who’ve spent some years in the publishing industry. In particular, I had a long chat with Gavin Bain, a friend of mine who has had long-term experience in the music and literary business. We chatted about agents, contracts, advances, small publishers versus large ones and I spent months doing my own research on the business. With a push from Gavin I followed my gut instinct to go Indie. I’ve never regretted this.

So…Self- Publishing or Traditional?

Asked by every writer to spurt ink.

When I started writing my debut novel, I stood firmly in the self-publish camp. As I progressed with the book, I wanted to be thorough, so I researched the industry more and more. Royalties, advances, agents, services performed by the publishing house and or the agent, big or small publisher? Did I want to write for and market to a specific genre? How could I set about building a readership?

There was and is a lot to learn. I did weeks of research, seeking out those agents and publishers (mostly independent) who I thought would like me and my book, and whom I thought I’d like to work with. After ten completed projects, that list remains unused at present.

More and more, as I immersed myself in the snaking and shaded corridors of the literary industry, the same nagging questions came back to me.

Is it worth giving away control of my work for the miniscule chance at the potential exposure a big publisher might bring?

It seemed to me that if these guys deigned to take you, they’d in all probability change your work endlessly, until it fit their formulaic idea of what a commercial novel should be, which is fine for some writers, but not for me. It seemed that most of the promo and marketing would be done by me rather than them anyway, so why should I give them such a huge chunk of my potential earnings (ha!) and, more importantly, complete control over the words that I had spent so many hours writing? What was more important? Potential earnings or creative control?

Advances: For many authors, it seems that an advance, especially a huge one, is the holy-grail. I don’t understand this mentality at all. Sure an advance is a nice pat on the back, and an indication that your book is commercial enough (or at least can be made to be, in the payer’s opinion) to perhaps recoup the investment. It also seems like a good way of allowing the author the privilege and means to write full-time. For me, it’s a scary prospect.

An advance simply means that you’re in debt to the issuer until your sales repay the money. If the sales take years to do so? Well, you’re in hock to them for years, and quite probably on a deadline for at least one more book. No thanks. Add this to the fact that a large portion of publishers give their newly-published books only a very short time to hit serious sales before shifting their enthusiasm and attention elsewhere, it added to my unease.

I know several authors who exist by paying one advance off with the next to recover the rights to their books.

Agents: Whilst there are of course many good quality agents, who work hard for their clients, let’s remember two key things about them.

Firstly, they do try to get the best deal for their authors, but that may mean something different to them than it does to the author, in terms of cash, advances or the prestige of a particular publishing house over creative control or effective care from the publisher. Your agent represents a business; the more money (debt) they get for you, the more money they themselves make, and that is their primary objective.

Secondly, agents will take around 15% of your money, which is already a very small percentage (somewhere between 7 -15% for traditionally published writers) when considering the fact that you worked so hard on your book and will continue to work your arse off promoting the book, publisher or no publisher (unless of course you’re very high on the publishers’ radar). Whilst the services of agents can be very valuable, if you take the traditional publisher out of the picture, there’s really no place for an agent until you’re selling enough books on your own to gather interest from publishers and have deals to negotiate.

Smaller publishing houses offer a more personal service and are generally more engaged with and passionate about the work they’ve chosen to represent. They are also significantly more pro-active in reacting to the market and in developing their authors than their traditional counterparts. Whilst working with small publishers can be rewarding, particularly if think you haven’t the skills or contacts to produce a decent standard of book for yourself, in my view there’s not always a need to hand your work over to a small publisher, unless they can add value that you cannot on your own. Indie publishers like Bloodhound Books have made great strides in the market and appear to put their authors first. 

If you choose to go it alone, given the time and will you can learn do it yourself with the right assistance and a commitment to pay professionals for the services you can’t do for yourself, i.e., editing and proofing.
Many of the industry professionals I hire do the exact same work but at higher rates to small publishers. Good freelancers are easy to come by and needn’t be expensive.

This is where the effective Indie-Author exists. In the centre of a web of professionals; editors, proof-readers, formatters and cover designers (if needed), hired by the author to polish his/her work and free the author up to do what he/she does best…Write.

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Are the potential benefits and rewards of being a writer great enough for me to expect to earn a living from writing?

For me the decision to go Indie was a no-brainer. However, a small part of me, the one that’s low on self-esteem, told me that I needed the recognition from an agent or publisher that my book was “good”.

I ignored that needy version of myself and ploughed on, buoyed by the research I’d done into the standard of eBooks out there. As far as I could see, my first book was as good as many self-published eBooks, and better than most (there’s the tiny little bit of ego/confidence I do possess asserting itself).

In hindsight, my first work was of a good standard but just good. I was judging the quality of my work against other independents, when I should have been planning ahead in my development and thinking bigger in terms of the standard I wanted to reach and surpass.

As a writer, I’ve developed a massive amount and learned many more writing devices and techniques during the process of writing nine more books. This kind of development time, I wouldn’t be allowed with such a public analysis and feedback in traditional publishing. Like the music industry, the days when a publisher will take a punt on a new talent and invest in developing them are long gone for the most part. “Bring us the next copy of a copy of ‘a girl who kicked a hornet in the nuts on a train’.”

As things stand; using several industry professionals who are competitively priced, and more importantly better at editing etc than me, I’ve published my stories across a range of genre, exactly as I intend them to be.

The financial rewards?

Here’s the thing few writers will tell you, mostly because you don’t want to hear it. You will most likely not make money as a writer.

You will devote thousands of hours of your time to writing the very best books you can. Time to develop your skills and broaden your writing palette. Hours and hours to learn what you can about marketing and promoting your book effectively. Building an audience. Writing some more.

None of this will guarantee you readers or an income. If you make more than £500 a month from writing novels, you deserve a pat on the back. I regularly outsell much higher profile authors who are tied to restrictive contracts and huge advances. How the hell they pay their creditors back, I have no idea. Living from one advance to the next doesn’t appeal to me.

The truth is, that for all the professionalism you will have to employ; all of the dedication and sacrifice of your time to write and to present your writing as well as it can be, writing will be nothing more than a very time-consuming hobby that you love. If you build a small readership who enjoy your books and earn enough for a little holiday once a year, give yourself well-deserved handshake. Focus instead on being proud of a back catalogue of books you poured yourself into writing.

So, why ‘settle’ for being an Indie- Author?

That’s the key, you’re not settling, you’re making a determined and smart choice to control your own literary destiny and produce your work the way you desire. No changing characters ages or sex or motivations to appeal to this demographic or that genre. No committees making a product of your labour. No debt to a corporate master which for most writers you haven’t a hope of recouping form advances.

The beauty?

If you’re one of the lucky writers who have a breakthrough hit of a book, your work is entirely in your own hands. You can make that deal when the big boys/girls come calling, but you can make it on your own terms. Use their distribution. Use their contacts to get a TV deal or international translations or Movie deals. Use them. Not the other way round.

As an independent, you can still choose to publish with an indie-publisher, or a larger one if that’s your bag, but have the choice to work with people who truly feel passionate about and can add value to your novel, rather than jumping at the first publisher or agent who shows an interest at all cost. 

Do not settle for being an Indie-Author.

Fucking aspire to be an Indie-Author.

 

Mark is the proudly-independent author of nine works of fiction and one non-fiction

You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Amazon.

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Little Fella

My current project is a (sort-of) follow-on to last year’s On The Seventh Day.

Titled ‘The Gig’, the book weaves together a series of short-stories based on experiences and moments sent to me by friends. The following excerpt is uncharacteristic of the rest of the book in terms of tone and themes, but was a very important story for me to write.

Huge thank you to the family who inspired the story for the trust they placed in me.

Trigger Warning:

if you have been affected by mental health issues or the loss of a young child, you may wish to reconsider reading on.

The following (un-edited) excerpt, titled ‘Little Fella’ comes from Mark Wilson’s forthcoming publication, ‘The Gig’. Due for release in spring 2016:

Little Fella

 You feel light…you feel just… free. It’s the only way I can describe the change. Free.

Free from all that stuff you cared about before. Free from anything that hurt or worried you. Free from wanting things. Here, it just feels like everything you ever needed has been given to you somehow, even though you ain’t been given a thing. Being here feels like you’ve just been fed, or hugged and won’t ever need anything ever again.

The room I’m in is empty apart form a few things. It has some magazines and toys and a big comfy couch in front of a telly. I ain’t watched anything. Haven’t felt the need. I think I’ve been here for an hour, but there’s no clocks and I weren’t ever no good with telling time anyway. Not on a clock and not in my head.

A girl called Meg met me when I got here. ‘Splained how I got here and what would happen next. Only eight, years old, She’d said. Straight up to Level One.

S’good. I’d thought that even babies have sin in them they have to pay for. Meg said, No. Not anymore. Just need a signature and up you’ll go, she said.

Suits me fine, and I ain’t really that surprised. Never liked the idea that kids were bad just because they were there. Must be one of the changes the new guy brought in up there.

The door slides open and a girl comes into the room. I mind me manners and stand. She smiles at me. I like her straight away. Some people ya just do, don’t’cha.

She tells me her name is Beth. You are a very special boy, she tells me.

The old me would be thinking, what’s she after? But that boy is gone. Thank you, I tell her without asking why.

Beth puts a hand on each of my shoulders.

“You’re the first soul I’ve helped through this place,” she says. “That means two things.”

I like her. She’s cool. I like that she’s new here too.

“Firstly,” she says. “As you’re my first soul, I’ll never forget, you. Ever.”

She taps the side of her head like a mini-me is already in there, making himself at home. Despite feeling like I don’t need anything, something swells inside me, pleased at meaning something to her. Forever means something here in this place. I haven’t been here long, but I ain’t stupid. I know what eternity means.

“Secondly,” she says. “I have an offer for you, Craig.”

It takes a second for me to remember that my name was Craig, when I was alive. I smile back at her. Thirty seconds after meeting Beth, I’d do anything for her. She catches something in my eyes, they all do that in this place, like they know what you’re thinking. P’raps they do.

“Don’t rush to agree. You’re not beholden. You have your place on Level One, but I want you to consider helping me out around here.”

I nod. If I had a tail it’d be wagging. She smiles warmly at me. Patient, like.

“Craig, come with me and I’ll show you what you’re needed for before you decide.

I follow Beth out of my little room, out onto a large office complex full of little pods. Me mam worked in a place like this, probably still does, I dunno. I loved running around and between pods, using her workplace as a maze, imaginary snipers round every corner.

Beth closes her hand around mine, pulling me gently along. She leads me into another room off of the main office space.

There’s a baby’s crib in the centre. One of them Moses baskets, like me little brother has…had. It’s got blue sheets and a little soft toy, a gorilla, sitting inside, but no baby. Beth gives my hand a squeeze.

“Wait,” she whispers.

A light fills the basket. The same light I felt when I came here, to Sheol. From where I’m standing, I catch sight of a little foot jabbing into the air, then a hand. A happy gurgle follows. Beth lets go of my hand and walks towards the basket. She places a hand into it and beckons me with the other.

Inside there’s a little boy, tiniest baby I ever seen. He looks fresh out the station, like me brother Harvey did when he were new, but much smaller and very red. He’s a little bruised and bashed, like they all are at birth, but no gunge. He ain’t crying. I suppose he’s feeling satisfied, happy and content, like I did when I got here.

As soon as I think it, I feel a tear run along my cheek. Beth, tickling the kid’s chins, puts an arm around me.

“It’s hard. Isn’t it?” She asks. I don’t know what to say, I don’t even know why I’m crying, so I just nod. I don’t feel any less content than I did before, but there’s something; a skelf of need jabbing me.

“Where’s his mum”, I ask. “Or his dad. Ain’t they here yet?”

Beth shakes her head. The kid in the basket coos at her as she runs a finger along his chubby cheeks. The bruising and denting, all the signs of his delivery, are fading. He looks fuller, more healthy. Beefy, me Gran would call him.

“They won’t be here for a while…Earth time,” Beth says kindly.

I move towards his cot and run my finger along between his eyes and down his nose. His eyelids droop. I do it again a second time and watch the little fella fall asleep. Beth grins at me.

“You’re good with him, Craig.”

I shrug.

“Worked on me brother,” I say. I nod at the little fella. “Why’s he here?”

Beth’s smile disappears for the first time. “He’s the reason I need you, Craig. Him and so many other babies.”

I reach into the basket and pull his blankets around him, careful to not wake him.

“He doesn’t have anyone here?” I ask.

“No,” Beth says. “All of those who would know him are still on Earth. He needs a friend, someone to take him up to Level One, get him settled in until his family arrives.”

“When will that be?”

Beth smiles again.

“Won’t be long. Almost by the time you arrive upstairs,” she points a finger up, “His people will have passed over.”

I must look a bit puzzled, cos she puts a hand on my arm and lowers herself to my height.

“Time moves different up here, Craig. A few minutes passing here can be many, many years on Earth.”

I nod. “So you want me to take him, to his new digs. Why me, anyone can do that. You could do it.”

Beth laughs at my cheek. “Yes, I could, Craig, but I have many roles to fulfil here. This isn’t one of them. This job, takes a special kind of person. We only use kids for it.” Beth looks a little sad as she stares at me.

“They…the babies, they only trust other kids, and only kids have the mental strength to do this job properly.”

I must have the face on again, cos she grins again before continuing.

“It’s not a delivery job I’m offering you, kid. You have to bond with this baby before you can take him where he needs to go. You have to witness his life, his thoughts, his pain, and then take him to his new, eternal home.”

Beth places a hand on my cheek.

“It’s…difficult, Craig. Not everyone can do it. It takes a special kind of child; a caring child. One who knows empathy but is resilient enough to take part in the bonding and not be destroyed by it.

“What’s empaffy?” I ask.

“It means that you’re the type of person who understands someone else’s feelings and even share them sometimes.”

I nod, thinking of Harvey.

“Living someone else’s life through their eyes can be painful, especially a baby’s. But that’s what it takes to get these little souls where they need to be. Someone has to take their pain in and process it for them.” Beth’s eyes fill with tears.

“Because they cannot do it for themselves.”

I crack my knuckles. Part of me expects my mum to tell me off for it, but like the little fella, me mam ain’t here yet.

I stand quiet for a while. Beth don’t say a word, just looks into the little fella’s basket.

“What’s his name?”

“Findlay.”

“Okay,” I tell her. “Show me.”

Beth smiles sadly at me. “Thanks Craig.”

She places my hand on Findlay’s forehead, my palm gently resting there and then I’m gone.

 

 

∞∞∞

 

 

It’s dark where I am, but warm…safe. I feel the limits of Findlay’s body, my body now. I’m floating in liquid. It’s…wonderful. I pull on something and kick my leg out in joy, moving something soft. A hand shape moves over where I kicked, pressing it’s gentle, loving reassurance to me. Happiness fills my little heart at the contact.

Findlay’s mum…my mum.

I can hear her voice. Singing as she moves around, making me giggle as I slosh around inside her. Her voice is everything good in my world. I tumble and kick and sleep and dream; her words the soundtrack to my entire existence. She speaks to her friends, to her workmates, to strangers and to me. Always to me. It gives me hiccoughs when she talks to me.

I love you, little one. I can’t wait to meet you.

I get excited and do roley-poleys.

Sometimes Dad speaks too. I like him, he makes me laugh and he makes my tummy fizz when he talks. But, mum. She’s there with me, always.

I breathe the liquid around me. I pee into it and laugh to myself. Mum rubs the walls around me.

Behave yourself in there, I’m sleeping.

She doesn’t care, not really. She’s giggling along with me. I slosh around in her belly as it moves with her laughter, making me laugh harder with the tidal surge.

 

Something…something feels…..So tired.

Mum. I’m so tired. Mum?

She’s there. I feel her but I can’t kick anymore to let her know I hear her. Something rushes into her blood making her heart race. The sound is deafening. She’s crying. She’s talking to me, but not like before. Not gentle, not happy, not calm.

I’m okay. I’m here, mum.

It’s a lie. I’m not, I’m going somewhere else, but I want to speak to her, kick her, one more time. She’s in so much pain, she needs me.

I leave her. I’m not inside her anymore. Not the real me. My body is still in there, but it’s following me out her into the room. Awareness crashes into me.

I look down on a woman pushing my body from herself. My mummy.

I’ve never seen her face, we’ve never seen each other’s faces until now, but I know her better than anyone else ever has. We have a bond. I know her well enough to know that she’ll endure. Even this.

Peace washes over me. All fear vanishes. I try to tell her. Mum, I’m up here. I’m fine. Look up. Just look up.

I watch as part of her leaves along with my limp little body.

Joy.

I scream with my immaterial voice.

Mum, don’t, don’t let that leave. Keep it. I’m here, be happy, I’m fine. You’ll be with me too soon. Don’t lose yourself.

She can’t hear me.

Like always she finds something in her. Something that pushes her pain aside only slightly, just enough to focus on my sleeping face and talks to me anyway. Not to the real me, I’m leaving, going elsewhere, but to part of me that’s left behind.

“I love you Findlay. My beautiful son. My boy.”

I love you too mummy, I smile down at her. My new form begins to tear.

It’s not painful, it’s wonderful actually. Part of me leaves my spirit and rockets towards her. It joins with her soul. It plants a seed that might become happiness for her in the weeks to come.

I take one last look and smile, satisfied that a part of me will always be joined to the soul that made mine, before taking my leave.

 

 

∞∞∞

 

I blink hard a few times, accepting that I’m me again, Craig. I’m on the floor, on all fours. Beth stands beside me, one hand on my back for reassurance, the other wrapped with its arm around her own body. She’s obviously worried about me.

She needn’t.

I take her hand and give it a little squeeze, but that’s it. I’m focused on Findlay now.

His face has changed so much already in the few seconds I was away. He’s a toddler now, maybe two years old. Blonde hair, healthy, ruddy cheeks and his mum’s smile in his sleep. I place a hand on his cheek, waking him. His blue eyes brighten in recognition when he sees me.

Sitting up, he raises his arms. “Cwaig,” he says smiling his rascal smile.

I reach into the basket, already too small for him, and lift him out, to place him standing onto the floor.

He laughs.

“Mummy?” he asks.

I take his hand and lead him to the elevator.

“She’ll be here very soon, little fella. Here with you and free. C’mon.”

End of Excerpt

  gig

You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Amazon.

On The Seventh Day – Chapter 5 Preview

Throughout the novel I chose to alternate between two sets of protagonists. Jay and Mo (whose chapters are written using modern, and coarse language) and Nick and Beth (whose chapters are more formal and geological in tone). Hope you enjoy. 

  
The following excerpt is un-proofed and in-edited and is taken from the forthcoming novel, On The Seventh Day, available to pre-order now at Amazon:

5 

Nick and Beth

 

Beth reached over the bar, placing a hand on top of Nick’s. “Is it painful? Telling me your history?” She asked.

Nick narrowed his eyes, thinking about the question. Finally he said,” no. It’s not, but it’s hardly the first time I’ve vented to a stranger.”

“Why me?” asked Beth.

Nick shrugged. Mostly timing and circumstance. Right place, right time,” he said.

“Mostly?” She asked.

“We’ll get to that later, Bethany,” Nick said softly. “I have a story to tell first.”

Beth’s eyes flashed fear, but she hid it quickly behind a sip of her vodka and a smile.

 

“Where was I?” Nick asked.

Beth drained her drink before answering. She felt like she’d been drinking for days. Exhaustion crept on her.

“Water,” she said, “Water and life.”

Nick nodded once in thanks.

“Yes. Water and Life. The moment when everything in Heaven and in the material universe was irretrievable altered.”

Nick smiled warmly at her before continuing.

“Water, lightning and some chemicals, that’s all it took.”

“It was random?” Beth asked.

“Yes and no,” Nick replied.

“The lightning, the spark was intentional. He meant to begin the process. What came after, He left to chance…no not chance, nature.” A shadow of sadness passed over Nick’s face as he spoke.

“God made the atoms and molecules form into nucleic acid, DNA. Proteins formed, membranes, organelles. Cells combined, proliferated. Others went extinct. This simple snuffing of a cell shocked Angels whose lives were unlimited by time, or health or predatory chance. That a spark of life, even one so small, could be snuffed out was abhorrent to us in our eternal lifespans. God reassured us that it was all in nature. Part of life.

Billions upon billions of identical cells emerged from one common ancestor. Some adapted, some disappeared from the gene pool forever. Groups of cells formed bonds or fused together, forming tissues, or other structures. The single-celled inhabitants of a pool of water adapted into a myriad of multicellular creatures. Simple organisms. Some photosynthesised food. Some didn’t. Some hunted. Most perished.

All who survived adapted in some way. Muscle, teeth, fins, gills. Some became simple worm-like creatures, or fish-like organisms. Others adapted to become plants. Hundreds of millions of years passed. Billions of organisms, whole species lived short lives and died.

Angels wept for their brief existence.

Adaptations, evolution continued. Rudimentary life found a way to survive, to adapt, to become complex life. Animals with eyes and mouths…faces emerged. Simple things, who fed and bred and not much else, but they had faces.”

Nick looked deep into Beth’s eyes, causing her to shrink back a little.

“You cannot fathom the clamour that this simple development-a creature with a face- sparked in Heaven. Angels flocked to God. ‘What does it mean? They have faces? Is it blasphemy? Does the existence of creatures with faces mock you my lord?’

It seems an absurd reaction I’m sure, Beth but consider this. We were God’s only creations, made in His own likeness by His own hand. We looked like Him. We had faces.

That nature, evolution had created an organisms with a structure so closely resembling one of our own, by random chance, seemed a heresy.”

Beth grinned.

“Yes,” Nick said. “Seems ridiculous to you, I agree, but you were born into a world where a face was the first thing you saw. In all of Heaven and God’s good universe until that moment, only God’s creations, His Angels, had faces. That these random mutations of nature had produced a creature with such a structure was truly terrifying to us.”

“Yeah, I suppose I can get that. Faces…terrifying,” Beth said, sarcasm lacing her tone.

Nick rolled his eyes.

“God- calm as he’d been since our creation- spoke to us, His Angels, gently, reassuring us that all was as he intended, part of nature. ‘Observe, my Angels. See what nature does next. Trust in me.’ Of course, we did trust in God and followed his advice. We witnessed the development of brains, simple but entirely functional. Ears, limbs skeletons, nervous systems, kidneys, hearts, livers pulsed and beat their way into existence. The rate of development was astonishing to us. You must understand, Beth, time is…different in Heaven. We existed for many millions, perhaps billions of years, before God created the universe. Time passed for us, but didn’t. Things changed, adapted I suppose, but nothing was diminished, only magnified by its passing.

Change occurred in Heaven but only as we willed it, not at the mercy of nature and not on the scale that life was adapting in the Universe. It seemed to us that time passing in the material universe simply meant death. Once an unnoticed companion to us in Heaven, time now seemed to stalk the material world. To us, the evolution present in the universe and the death that drove it was truly shocking.

I’ve been talking about evolution of creatures on earth, but this was happening on countless planets, throughout the universe.” Nick had spread his arms in a broad gesture.

“The unrelenting speed; the efficiency of nature in stimulating these frighteningly effective adaptations in animals and plants, shook us. We returned to God once more, in greater numbers than before. ‘Lord. Look what matter, what nature has done. Fish have grown legs and lungs and crawl the earth. Faces look to the skies. When will it stop?’

God’s patience with us in our ignorance seemed eternal at that time. He merely smiled kindly and allayed our fears.

As his first Creation, his closest companion, I was hurt in another manner by what unfolded in nature, so I asked God. ‘There is a spark of life in them, a light, not unlike our own ethereal light. When they die, does it come home to you, my Lord?’

I had witnessed God create matter and I had witnessed it change and evolve from basic chemicals, to the first cells and into a myriad of living animals and plants. The light inside each of the billions of cells was so familiar to me that it may as well have been part of my own self. I was in conflict. Where did this light go upon their deaths? Did their consciousness reside in the spiritual part of themselves and if so how can God suffer them to die and this light to just dissipate? If that’s what truly happened.

I didn’t really believe that He would allow these organisms to suffer such brief lives and their light to dissipate. That would be cruel. God was not cruel, He was the source of all love and warmth in Heaven and the universe. He was the Creator. But the questions remained as thorns in my subconscious.

Did God in creating this abundance of life, share his own light amongst them? He hadn’t seemed diminished in any way by the act of Creation. If anything he’d seemed magnified. Was he receiving the light of these creatures back into himself upon their death? I knew for a fact that he wasn’t, we would have witnessed the entry of such light in Heaven. Despite this knowledge, I was also certain that he must have a plan, a destiny for this light of life; otherwise the whole experiment of the universe, life, was the cruellest punishment imaginable.

Consider a brief life in the material universe followed by just… nothing? I couldn’t abide the thought. In hindsight, that moment was when I began to lose my trust in God and became his Accuser.

I recall Him looking into my eyes. ‘You must trust in me, my Angel. There is a plan.’ I nodded and prayed and made all the right noises, Beth, but something crucial and irreparable had broken inside me. Despite this, it would take many years, uncountable trillions of deaths and the evolution of humankind to set me firmly on my course.

 

God, of course, reassured time and again that all was in nature. All was intended. Many Angels made a choice to trust God and merely observe. Other turned away from watching nature’s progress altogether, returning to those concerns in Heaven that had busied them before God had created the universe. I resolved to be and remain The Watcher.

End Of Excerpt

On The Seventh Day is available to pre-order now at Amazon

Wannabes by Michael Logan – Review

Wannabes by Michael Logan – Review

Wannabes is a wonderfully nasty, unexpectedly warm, funny, insightful, and clever satire that should feel like a fusion of John Niven’s Kill Your Friends and Second Coming, except that Logan’s Wannabes is much funnier, infinitely more skilfully-written and wholly more relatable than Niven’s work.

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Logan’s writing in invigorating, inventive, wholly engaging and oozes satirical insights throughout. This is a writer unhampered by over-editing or expectations who simply writes the very best stories he has to tell. Logan’s passion for his work screams from the page. By the book’s end he has managed to pull the reader into the murky, classy, imaginatively filthy worlds of the music business, Heaven and Hell, and the psyche of a predatory serial killer.

Logan writes these characters extremely vividly and engages his reader so skilfully, that he or she comes to care about even the filthiest, most depraved of them, simply due to his passionate writing and his skill in presenting many-layered characters, whom Logan makes you empathise with and invest in, despite their flaws and sometimes crass behaviours.

With Wannabes Logan is an exciting new voice and joins a new breed of Indie and Hybrid authors, such Ryan Bracha, Gerard Brennan, Keith Nixon and Craig Furchtenicht, in producing quality, engaging, hugely imaginative and original, modern-feeling literature that oozes skill and creativity.

For me, Logan is my literary find of 2015 so far.

You can find Michael Logan and his books at Amazon UK and US, as well as at http://www.freelancelogan.com/logan/.

Wannabes is available at a special price of 99p/99c