Sunday, 26 June 2011

Agents' Reading Fees

I am not a published author. So what do I know when it comes to advising other wannabe writers? First of all, I am not ethereal. I really do exist. You know who I am and should you wish to know more, well just ask; or comment. So am I touting for kudos? No, although comments would be nice, for or against!

My target audience is that group of writers, just like me; fairly hard working, unpublished, and in the main unnoticed; maybe even unloved! What ‘heads up’ do I want to give you? Look out for a major hole in the footway, on the road to publication.

Think carefully, before you send out a piece of work to be 'read'. Read the agents’ blurb properly. Make sure they accept your kind of story. Know their wordage limits, and what exactly they want from you for a first contact. But above all, ‘DON’T PAY FOR A 'READING'. Why not? Because you don't need to; not even if you are 100% sure, the ‘reader’ will give you an honest appraisal of your work, and that too, without any empty promises.

Why would I warn you against reputable agents, just because they advertise, without any qualms, that they charge a reading fee? Simple. The best agents don’t charge a reading fee. That sentence bears repeating, so read it again. The best agents don’t charge a reading fee. Furthermore, those agents are the ones you should be targeting.

What’s wrong with reputable agents charging a reading fee? Some people might think it reasonable. There is a problem though. The amount of 'dross' that falls through an agent's letter-box, or inbox must be staggering. No agent in the world has the time to read everything from page one, right through to the end. We should also know, or at least suspect, that few of these agents would ever consider taking on more than two or three new authors per year. So when they read your submission, and know within a few pages that it's not publishable, they are going to charge you for reading it. Why? Because they said they would. Conversely, the least you should expect in return is an appraisal, telling you what is wrong with your work. By this I don’t mean the standard, ‘Your writing is not yet up to publishable standards. We suggest you revise your plot, draw your characters better, and pay attention to grammar.' And so on. You won't get that response though, because there simply isn't time for them to read your work. This is why I think agents who ask for a reading fee are at least, chancing their arm. There might be agents who will waive the fee, if they know your work isn't right. That's fine, but I would prefer not to take the chance. I admit, a quick standard response is better than nothing. No one has swindled you. They told you in their advert they would charge a reading fee. As long as they don't make false promises about huge royalty advances and lucrative film deals, then they are being straight with you. Even so, if you choose the right agent, you can get the standard response for nothing too! Therefore, my standard response to 'reading fee applies' is, ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’ll look elsewhere.’

The other adverts to be wary of are from agents who say there will be a reading fee, if your Ms. is accepted. That’s better isn’t it? Yes, but only marginally so. There is still no solid assurance they can sell your work, (There couldn’t be, and in my opinion, any such claim is bordering on fraud.) Why then should there be a reading fee? Thus, my response again is, ‘Thanks but no thanks… blah, blah.’

The truth is simple. The best agents DON’T charge a reading fee. There, I said it again, boldly! If your work has any promise, a reputable agent will ask to see more of it. If your Ms. passes this test the agent will most likely find an editor to work with you, to help make your book more commercial. In other words you are over the first hurdle. The rest is mostly down to you and how much you are prepared to ‘grindstone’ over your book.

I wish I could say there is another way, but there isn’t. (Well, I suppose the Head of a major publishing house could find the Ms. you left on a train seat, and immediately realise that here is a blockbuster.) Some hopes. Besides, the Heads of major publishing houses don’t often travel by ‘bus or train. So that route to fame and fortune is itself the stuff of fiction!

So my friends… Remember, and forgive me if I am boring over this, ‘The best agents do not charge a reading fee.’ They will be content with the commission on good sales that they know will be forthcoming; and well they should be content. Neither should you begrudge their commission. They earn it believe me. Coming from an unpublished writer that is praise indeed, but if an agent ever does get my work onto the bookshelves, I will happily pay his or her percentage.

One final thought. Have you just written the 'one' book, we are all supposed to have within us; or have you written the first of many books that you long to write? It matters because to make a solid career as a writer; as a novelist, you must be able to pull stories from the hat repeatedly. (It isn't magic of course, but it should appear to be so.) That's when agents realise they made a good investment. It's when you know you are pursuing your chosen life's work. It is that serious. So if that isn't you, consider taking up some other paid work. If it is you, then until you find that agent, do as I intend to do. Keep writing and keep submitting.

It’s the best and only way.
Good Luck.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Characterisation in Fiction Writing

The importance of characterisation in fiction can’t be over-stated.

In many cases characters are the story, even when the character is a death-dealing, demonic motor car called ‘Christine’. Where would ‘Treasure Island’ be without Long John Silver? It seems impossible to imagine any other character for that story, no one else could pursue the treasure with such ruthless determination as Long John.

Good characterisation is important for all of the ‘hats’ in your story, Good or bad they must have a believable reason to do what your story asks of them. They must have the will to see it through. A good-hat should be given a few shortcomings. An important turn of plot can hinge on your hero’s secret fear of elevators for instance. Your protagonist has gotten herself into a situation, with an elevator being the only physical way she can keep up the chase. She must use the elevator, despite her fear, and so the plot can turn.

That’s a simplified example, which I hope hints at the importance of knowing your characters fully.

I hear you say, ‘Of course I know my characters. I invented them.’

Well yes you did, but have you invented enough to body them out? For instance do you know the reason why your villain is as evil as he is?

‘Come on,’ you say, ‘he’s a bad guy. He’s bound to be evil.’

For your story he might need to be evil, but he will be much more convincing if he has a genuine reason for his evil ways. You need to justify the things he must do to make your plot go round, because villains are as important to plot as are heroes.

So how do you go about inventing reasons for who and what your character are?
There are probably as many ways as there are writers, but I have a way that works for me, and I’ll share it with you:

What do I do? I ‘interview’ my characters and what follows is an ‘Interview’ I did with the leading character of a novel I was working on; a novel based on the exploits of the SOE during WWll. Harry Craven is the main character, but he is a bit of an ‘anti-hero’. So, it’s especially important to make him real; convincing, so he ‘comes off the page’. To stand a chance of accomplishing that, I needed to ‘know’ him. So here then is my ‘Interview with ex Able-Seaman Harry Craven.


‘So Mr. Writer-man, you want to know what makes me tick.’
‘That’s the general idea Mr. Craven.’
He winked at me and tapped his nose. ‘Lots’a folk would like to know that.’
‘But I’m not just lots of folk Mr. Craven. I’m different, because I made you up.’
He pulled a wry face and nodded slowly. ‘That’s true, and I s’pose if I want a decent existence and maybe a bit of a good time from you, I better tell you a few things about m’self? Yes?’ He grinned again a bit wickedly. ‘Especially the good times.’
‘Well, I wasn’t thinking along those lines at the moment.’
‘But I was.’ He chuckled again. ‘And you have the advantage on me lad. You’re a bit of a mind reader where I am concerned and there’s stuff you know already.’
‘Yes that’s right. But I need more from you.’
‘Will I get the good times?’
I grinned. ‘I should think so, but I won’t bribe you.’
He laughed aloud at that. ‘I didn’t think you would. But… you could try.’
‘You’ll have to wait and see Mr. Craven. Right now there are things I need to know about you.’
‘How I got to be who I am; the way I am.’
‘That sort of thing Mr. Craven, yes please.’
He opened his eyes wide in pleased surprise. ‘So, not all you youngsters are pig-ignorant when it comes to manners.’
‘Wasn’t bought up like that Mr. Craven.’
‘Me neither.’ He shifted in his chair, and lit a well-used Meerschaum pipe. His eyes twinkled as a slow smile formed. ‘Anyway, you didn’t come ‘ere to talk about manners.’ He shook out the match; settled back. ‘You know if you really want to get to know me, you should play me at chess.’ He stabbed towards me with the pipe-stem. ‘You play the game?’
I shook my head. ‘Just know some of the basic rules Mr. Craven, but as you bought it up, you could probably wipe the floor with me.’ I smiled.
‘You and a good few others, I can tell you.’ He checked his pipe again. ‘Not that I’m boasting you know, but I do play a fair game of chess. Won quite a few amateur tournaments before I left school as it happens.’ He smiled. ‘So yes. I could wipe the floor with you..’
I grinned and noted his willingness to acknowledge his strengths and his unashamed way of telling me; and others no doubt. I looked at him. ‘Interesting Mr. Craven, but that’s only a facet of who you are.’
He nodded slightly. ‘Aye, just a facet. But it could be important to you, if you want to write about me. ‘
I nodded and scribbled a bit more down.
‘Not so dim yourself are you.’ He sucked on the pipe. ‘And I reckon you know when you’re beaten.’
‘I can be persistent Mr. Craven.’
‘Like now? Trying to get me to talk?’
‘Something like that.’
‘And patient?’
‘To a point. Yes.’
‘You really should take up chess son.’
‘Err can we get on Mr. Craven?’
‘Patience laddie.’ He grinned then said, ‘You’ll need patience with me. Chess would teach you that.’
I nodded. ‘Fair enough.’ I waited for him
‘He grinned. ‘I can see you’re not like most others I met.’
This was better. He was coming out a bit. ‘How do you mean Mr. Craven?’
He got the tobacco burning a bit more. The smell wasn’t too bad. Reminded me of old oak-panelling and quiet Sundays with my own Father.
‘Well I reckon you can tell I ain’t one for bullshit routines and I don’t think you are either.’
‘Wouldn’t get either of us anywhere at the moment would it?’
‘True enough.’ He nodded. ‘And no need for the Mr. Craven. I think you already got some ideas about me. Enough to know I ain’t the formal type.’
‘I had an idea er... Harry.’
‘That’s better lad.’ He said.
‘So what does make you tick Harry?’
He got himself right in the chair again. ‘I s’pose I really started getting myself together when I was about eight or nine.’ He smiled slightly, obviously reminiscing. ‘I was always a titch you see. Just one of them things; one of the cards you gets dealt.’ He shrugged. ‘I never got to be tall enough to join the Police even, let alone the Guards.’
‘You wanted to do either Harry?’
He shook his head. ‘Not really. Just pointing out I was always a short-arse, and it had its problems.’
I nodded. I knew how he felt. I once suffered the opposite problem being long and gangly as a kid. Now, I have had to learn to put up with the occasional unkind remark about my weight. Life eh?
‘I handled it well enough.’ Harry went on. ‘Didn’t mind the piss-taking too much and let the twits get on with it if it made them happy.’ He shrugged. ‘And it kept them from leaning too hard on me.’ He smiled brightly again. ‘I soon found out the best way to deal was to act the goat.’ He chuckled softly. ‘Craven the Clown’, they called me.’ He winked again. ‘Little men is often funny men, and well-liked, or maybe tolerated for it. You notice that?’
‘You mean like Arthur Askey was funny?’
He nodded ‘Yes, that’s it son. Although I always preferred Tommy Trinder. He was a bit taller, but sharp.’ He pulled a face. ‘I allus felt Askey relied on clowning a bit more than his wit.’
‘Most comics are sharp Harry.’ I said.
‘Aye I s’pose they need to be.’
I felt relieved. Harry’s sense of humour sounded okay too. he also seemed to
So Harry respected another’s point of view then. I jotted that down and said, ‘Maybe comics like taking a chance when they go on stage?’
‘You believe in chance then?’
‘Do you Harry?’
‘Me? Nah… ‘He paused, as if reconsidering, then said. ‘Well it ain’t so much as I don’t believe in chance, but I don’t wait around for it. ‘His grin widened. ‘I ain’t a pessimist, but nor am I as optimistic as old Mr. Micawber.’ He shook his head. ‘I never believed in waiting for something to turn up; for chance to come me way see.’ He winked. ‘But I do recognise a chance when one comes along, and I know when it’s wise to take or leave it.’
I was beginning to respect this old guy. He would have been a bit of a handful as a youngster. ‘Where did you go to school Harry?’
He made the tobacco glow. ‘I was just a Grammar School boy.’
‘Just?’ I said. ‘That’s more than I managed.’
‘Is it now?’ he chuckled. ‘Many are called… and all that eh?’
I nodded ruefully.
‘Well, it weren’t what it was cracked up to be.’ He fiddled with his matches. ‘I still had to play the Clown, even to them what was supposed to be clever kids.’ He chuckled softly. ‘You know the sort of thing; miming some of the crankier teachers, and the odd practical joke. Take the piss out of the Head boy, and his fancy for the Matron.’
I noted that Harry was probably a good mimic. I smiled back. So you kept things stored as ammunition Harry.’
‘Ahhh well, I kept my powder dry, didden’ I? That’s a wise thing to do, when you don’t know what’s likely to happen.’ He went on. ‘Fact is, anything that would help I stowed away for later.’ He drew on the pipe again. ‘And I always had the idea I was a bit smarter than most of them. Not boasting, like I said before. Just something I knew. They made me laugh too, but they didn’t realise it. I had to do it behind their backs like?’
I agreed. I knew what he meant. I was warming to Harry more and more.
‘They can take the Mickey all they like now. Rolls off me like water from a slate roof son.’ He leant back again and looked at the ceiling a moment. ‘I never really understood why I didn’t grasp the nettle and go to University though.’ He chewed his lip. ‘I mean, my old man wanted me to, but I wasn’t sure I could face up to it, run the course like?’
‘Your Father got upset?’
‘No son. Not really. I was lucky. He was the kind of man who recognised we have to do what we have to do.’ He grinned. ‘How about your Dad?’
‘Well it isn’t important really Harry, but yes; he was a bit like that.’
‘What’d he think about you wanting to write?’
I shrugged. ‘He was happy with it. Just wished me luck, but I didn’t make the leap then and never gave up the day-job.’
‘And now you want to make the leap and you want me to help. Right?’
‘That’s the idea of this interview Harry, and I don’t have a day job any more anyway.’ I smiled as I made a few notes and went on. ‘Now, what did you do when you left school Harry?’
‘Well I didn’t fancy diggin’ holes in the road that’s for sure. So I got me a nice apprenticeship with The General Electric Company. On the Engineering side. Making generators and the other big stuff.’
‘Sounds interesting Harry.’ I made the note in my book.
‘You bet your life it was son. But then along came the bloody war, and I got stuck in the Royal Navy for a spell.’
‘I had the idea you volunteered Harry.’
‘See you already know some stuff about me.’
‘Some yes. But what made you answer the call?’
‘Same as all the other fools lad. Stupid ideas of fighting a just war for a just cause, and all that rubbish. ‘He sucked his teeth then and clicked his tongue. ‘Seems we wasted a lot of time and a lot of good men eh?’
I had to agree. ‘You saw action though Harry?’
‘Oh yes I saw action all right.’ He said. ‘I was a gunner on a ‘Bird’ Class Frigate.’
‘Like the Starling?’
‘Yes them’s the ones.’ He paused. ‘You seem to know about the Navy son.’
‘I should do Harry’ I explained about my own service. ‘But I didn’t see much action. Just that skirmish at Port Said in 1956.’
‘I can sense that was enough though son.’
I nodded. Perceptive old bugger too.
‘Got a medal did you?’
‘General Service Medal. Just for being there.’
‘Same as me.’
‘What about your three Mentions in Despatches?’ I said.
‘Oh.’ He said. ‘You know about them?’
‘ I do know some stuff about you. We already agreed. Remember Harry?’
‘Yes we did.’ His pipe had given up and he laid it aside. ‘Well the truth about them is a bit of a let down. I never did nothing brave. Just me job. Stuck to me guns, as y’might say.’
‘But you had to be recommended for MIDs Harry.’
‘That weren’t no difficulty son. My Gunnery officer was a mad keen chess player. He reckoned I gave him the best games he ever had.’ Harry winked. ‘I even let him win now and then.’ He laughed.
I laughed with him. ‘I get you Harry. Chance came along, you took it.’
‘That’s about the size of it son. Although I never thought I’d ever get MIDs for playing me favourite game now did I?’
‘See.’ I said. ‘Chance again.’
‘Yes. It came along I took it. As for the medals, well like I once told a chap on a train. Medals are ok, but they can weigh you down a bit when you have to abandon ship.’
I think I got his meaning. ‘You’d sooner have the life-jacket.’
‘You bet. And the only thing you need to have shining on them is the little red light.’ He paused. ‘I found that out sure enough when we were torpedoed in the Straits of Gibraltar. I was the lucky one. I lost all me mates. The whole bleeding shipful.’
I fancied I could see something glistening in his eyes, as he stared into the flames of his modern gas fire. ‘Then he looked up. ‘That made me think again about ideals and all the bullshit about King and country. When that tin-fish struck son, I thought the gates of Hell had opened up.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘I never told this to anybody before. But if it hadn’t been for that, I would’ve probably gone down on some other bloody ship, or carried on having a pretty ordinary war.’
‘If there’s any such thing eh Harry.’
He nodded slowly ‘You have something there son.’
‘So your war wasn’t ordinary then Harry?’
He smiled that faraway smile again, but it turned weary. ‘But I’ll have to tell you about that another time.’
I nodded, and smiled closing my book. ‘You bet.’ I said, using his vernacular. It was time to leave him with his memories. He was right. I could come and see him any time, for an update. But old salts can be cantankerous at times. He might be a little less co operative next time. Still, I smiled. I had plenty to be going on with. Besides I have an idea what he did and why he did it.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Nothing is Graven in Stone

Writing can be a frustrating business; especially when contemplating a new chapter, or story. With a mind that seems numb, a writer will stare at a fresh sheet of paper, (or maybe these days a blank field in the word processor.) and break into a nervous sweat, wondering just where to start.

From experience, I know that painters have the same problem when starting a new canvas. My cure is simple. I thin out a neutral colour with turps and I wipe this ‘mix’ all over the canvas. The canvas will still be blank, but it will be changed. The painting is started; the first stage of the work is finished. Yet it doesn’t read like a picture yet.

Writers can use a similar technique and seasoned authors often advise the novice to start typing. Get on with it and bang out the first thoughts that come to mind, even if the result is merely nonsense prose. (E.g. Once upon a time there were three brown-nosed foxes, who applied to join the Civil Service.) Hmm! Is there a sniff of truth in that nonsense?

I think you can see what I am getting at. You have a similar result to the artist. The work is started, but it doesn’t read like your story yet. Well that approach is fine, especially if you want to perfect the ‘quick brown fox and the lazy dog’ routine. However, there is a more practical way of defeating your ‘daily-block’. A simple and effective way that I use often.

Just say to yourself. ‘Nothing is graven in stone. I’m going to get on with my story/article/poem. I can return later and edit this.’ In a worst case scenario, you can always use the word processor’s version of tearing out the sheet and crumpling it into the bin. The cut or delete facility.

So don’t cave in under the tyranny of the blank page. You must have some idea which character you are going to be working with or maybe which idea you want to develop. So, crack on with your project. That’s why you sat down with your laptop in the first place isn't it?

I know that what you see on the screen afterwards might look like gibberish, but the chances are there will be a ‘seam’ of gold in there. Something will shine and you'll recognise it as part of your story. You just have to ‘mine’ it. Edit out the ‘spoil’, and extract the precious seam.

Writers can do this, because nothing is graven in stone.
A cliché I know, but an absolute truth.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

About Haig's Law

The following 'story' isn't a complete entity, even though it might seem so. There are questions in there, which need answers. (Especially the query posed at the end.) In fact this was supposed to be the first chapter in a full-length work, one of those that probably won't bear fruit. My main contention with it is its wordiness. There's little dialogue to get to grips with and there's precious little action. I probably could have started the 'Chapter', at the scene of the murder and woven the remainder of the 'history' in as I went along. Still, I think it's complete enough in itself to act as a short story. With regard to what happens to Jack Haig after the murder and investigation, maybe it rests entirely in a reader's imagination.


Haig's Law

My name is Jack Haig.

No middle name to clutter things up; which is good. Although, I hate my name because I’m sick and tired of the whisky jokes. I don’t know much about whisky. I don’t work in the industry; not even behind a bar. I don’t drink much, but whenever I do, I don’t drink Haig; especially when there’s a good single malt going begging. So, that’s as far as my whisky expertise goes. The only relief I get from the worn-out whisky jokes, is when someone ignores the spelling difference - or doesn’t realise there is one - and mentions John Haigh and acid-baths.

Now murder, acid bath or otherwise, is my line of work, because I’m a Detective Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. If you put that with all the other stuff I just told you, you can work out that I’m not your stereotypical alcoholic cop and that I’m discerning when I need to be. Being able to discern comes in handy because the job brings me into contact with some interesting people; depending on your view of whom or what might be interesting. Plenty of folk tell me they wish they too could meet lots of interesting people, but they move in different circles to me, and their idea of different means they don’t always know what I know. So, coming across these so called, interesting members of the human race can be a problem; especially in my private life.

You see, quite apart from encounters through my work, I have this knack of getting involved with the weirdest people. You know what I mean? Like when you’re on a half-empty ‘bus, and the City idiot chooses to sit next to you, rather than anywhere else. Except in my case, it isn’t only on ‘buses this sort of thing happens.

Yet, I never go out of my way to find these strange people. I don’t go out of my way to do anything that might result in problems for me. I don’t need to. There’s Sod’s Law to cover those eventualities and Sod’s Law singles me out every bloody time, despite the fact that my job is always there to put me in the firing line to begin with. In fact, Sod’s Law, is virtually ‘Haig’s Law’ to me.

Take the girl I met a few weeks ago at one of those Emergency Services, ‘Three Nines’, parties. You’ll have heard of those I expect. A gaggle of like minded, lonely souls, sucked together by the mutual desire to get pissed, get laid, or generally make fools of themselves among people who don’t give a shit and even if they do, they’ve seen it all before anyway.

The party was okay, although there was no single malt available. I hadn’t bought any with me either, in case some other discerning sod found it and had it away. So staying with the house wine, I was no more pissed than your average Vicar might be on a Sunday. Then this girl, Anne, a psychiatric nurse, came on to me real strong.

She was doing some bluey-gooey stuff from a bottle; a kiddie pop masquerading as a real drink and dangerous only to a system unused to alcohol. No one I ever met at a ‘Three Nines’ bash came into that category, so the detective in me concluded she was sober too; which meant she was coming on to me with serious intent. I should have turned the other way, but being the discerning sod I am, I noticed right off, this girl was… well she was stacked… I wanted to get to know her better. And I did just that.

At first there seemed to be nothing remarkable about her, if you didn’t count her fabulous body and gorgeous model girl face. Oh well, okay I suppose I should mention her random, excessive and colourful sexual urges. That had been the initial reason I let things go on I suppose… I am only human after all, it was kind of nice and I considered I had earned the perks. Being a virtual monk is novel, but only for so long. During our fling, we did it just about everywhere it was possible to do it, and in ways even I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

Now, to jump back a bit. I'd realised Anne Stevenson wasn’t certifiable, but she was about as close to it as any sane person could be. I suppose there are people who like a girl with a quirky sense of humour, but I tell you, Anne Stevenson’s idea of a joke was way into touch. That was probably the reason I began cooling off.

The first warning signs came along when she started telling me about some of the patients’ more amusing exploits. Yeah, okay. Like any tactless, tasteless, red blooded idiot, I could laugh at some of the stories, but the tales started to become more and more lurid and ever more unappetising.

She nearly pissed herself one night when she was telling me about an industrial therapy project some of the more able patients had been involved in. Making and selling, concrete slabs and blocks. This cheap source of landscaping material had pleased the local gardeners no end. Until they started finding strange objects mixed in with the cement. You can imagine the sorts of things I mean; like tea-bags, dog-ends, and the occasional dog turd; or maybe other kinds of turd. Who knows? The point was such additions to the concrete mix were not only objectionable; they made the finished product unreliable to say the least. It was the used condoms that finally put the battle-bowler on it all. Sod’s Law again, decided that batch would find its way to the local convent; although, I wondered privately, if someone had exhibited a sense of humour which ought to have been beyond a sectioned patient.

I suppose the story could have been seen as humorous, but I got the impression Anne Stevenson was talking the rise out of the patients, more than she was telling a funny story. So my discernment came to the surface again and her sense of ‘funny’ didn’t appeal to me quite so much.

Then one evening, maybe a month after our first date, she drank more than was usual for her, and between girly-giggles and knowing winks, she told me that she got a sexual kick out of being spied on when she was getting ready for bed. Well, any time really, as long as it was dark enough. She liked to perform, with lights full on and the curtains drawn wide; knowing, hoping, there would be eyes leering at her from the darkness. Unless there’s some new medical speak for her little kink, I suppose she was an exhibitionist. Many would have said a pervert, but as a Copper, I can assure you, 'the many' probably wouldn’t know what a genuine pervert is.

She shook me out of my reverie. ‘I'll even lend you some binoculars if you like.’

To smother my surprise I replied, ‘I’ve got my own.’

‘So watch me sometime.’ She kissed my nose softly, and fondled me in the way that I privately called her special handshake. She whispered in my ear. ‘Do detectives have a truncheon, like the uniform men?’

Considering where she was fondling me, I was sidetracked for a moment and I took off on another tack. ‘I don’t really know. I’ve never compared…’

She cut me off with a burst of giggling and I remember thinking: God, it hadn’t been that funny, surely.

Then she said. ‘Silly! I mean a real, wooden truncheon.’

‘Ohhh… Yes… well... er… I knew that,’ I smothered my confusion. ‘I was trying to be funny.’

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as lusty as the next man. I knew what was in her mind, and I tried to steer her away from the subject and said. ‘Yes we do, but they aren’t made of wood any more, and anyway Inspectors don’t carry one.’ I kissed her lips softly. ‘You’ll have to buy one yourself.’

‘I will, so long as you promise to use your binoculars.’

I’ll spare the details, but I pretended to go along.

The next time I saw her she asked me almost straight away. ‘Did you like what I did with the truncheon?’

Trouble was I hadn’t the slightest idea what, if anything, she had done with the truncheon. Yeah… well, of course I had my suspicions... but I hadn’t been anywhere near her window on the arranged evening. I had used the binoculars, yes, but as I often used them on my own lawn, gazing at remote star-fields. I just made some excuse about my binoculars needing a good clean, and tried to brush the subject aside.

Still, the events of that particular night had started me thinking. Was her job getting to her? Was she beginning to crack? And if so, did I really care? I ought to have done, but then there was the other side to things. The sex was good, Christ… way better than just good, so what the hell? I was happy enough; enjoying myself with her. What man wouldn’t be? Now, wrapping my arm about her shoulders, I tucked my hand beneath her right breast, and got the usual thrill from its firmness. I steered her towards the park.

She put her arm about my waist and squeezed. ‘I’m at work early tomorrow Jack.’ Her protest was half-hearted, I could tell.

I guided her across the path and pressed her against someone’s larch-lap fencing. ‘Well sweetheart neither of us is at work now.’ I leant against her as I kissed her warm, soft, eager lips. God, why did she have to be so bloody gorgeous? So I let things carry on.

We didn’t always have our fun under the stars. There were some wild encounters in her room, and over time, her imagination started to unleash itself, on her rickety, folding divan. That bloody divan… It had put the brakes on more than one earth shifting climax, I can tell you; probably why I hadn’t managed to put her in the family way. That’s by the by, but the things she started talking about.

Now, I’d served on the vice squad so none of her little fantasies were news to me. That didn’t mean I wanted to practice any of that stuff and I began to go off the heater a bit. It never occurred to my ego that she might have been categorising me as vanilla; which was true of course. I do like different flavours, you understand, but only so many where sex is concerned.

The lying awake nights started for me. How could I break the relationship without hurting her? That was my ego again maybe, although I truly didn’t want to cause her any grief. So, having tested the endurance of the larch-lap again last night, I resolved to take her out tonight, for a nice meal, and try to soften the blow.

Then something happened that made my problem redundant. I’d finished my breakfast, when I got a turn-out call. I recognised her address of course, and my heart leapt about like a frog on heat. Fifteen minutes later I was in her room looking at her bound, mutilated corpse.

Someone had finished her with a savage blow to the back of her skull, caving it in like an empty egg-shell. To make it worse for my conscience - although good for the investigation - the old-fashioned, wooden truncheon, covered with blood and a few matted hairs, was still there beside her body.

The blow had been delivered after someone had finished torturing her with a sharp knife, - which wasn’t there - and then raping her. According to the pathologist, and confirming my own suspicions, they had probably used the truncheon too. Forensics would determine that. There was a great deal of blood around the corpse, and around her intimate orifices. She had also been bound helpless with rough, hempen twine, which was still cutting into her body and we didn’t need forensics to tell us that through all her suffering, she had been alive. Not any more though. I looked at the truncheon again.

I felt sick. This had to be the truncheon she no doubt had bought herself.

Oh shit… this was going to make interesting reading in the case file, because I certainly couldn’t leave any of it out of my statement. Also, as my relationship with Anne was common knowledge, I would be off the case and the statement would be the sum total of my professional involvement; as well as a source of embarrassment for me. I was going to come in for a bit of stick, if you’ll excuse the pun. Nor would it be mere piss taking. I knew I would be a suspect, Christ… even I would suspect me, if you see what I mean. I was glad I had spent that particular evening studying the night-sky. Until I remembered there was no one to substantiate that. Here it was then… Sod’s Law again. I was a suspect and worse; a suspect without an alibi.

Then I remembered a couple of other things.

The larch-lap fencing and fairly fresh DNA.


Sunday, 3 May 2009

About 'The Hit'...

The following short-story was written for an on-line 'flash-fiction' site. I was attracted to the idea of flash-fiction, because it gave me a chance to educate my 'writing-muscle' to producing a complete work, within the frame of a low word count. The object is to tell a tale, whilst losing nothing that you would expect to find in a normal length story. Also, the limit of the word count goes some way towards immediacy. I just had to start in the midst of it all. I hope I succeeded:


The Hit

For some time now, Lou Garino had started to feel sick after a hitting a mark. He stared at the two bullet holes he had just put in the man's forehead, and swallowed sour bile. He wondered. Was he getting too old for this stuff?

Garino started then, as he heard a door close somewhere along the landing outside. He half turned and froze, watching the door he had left on the latch. His heart thumped heavily, as he waited not in panic, but listening, his gun ready. There was nothing. Just a neighbour? Probably, but he was sure no one would have heard the slight pop of his silenced .22 automatic.

Happier now, Garino turned back to the corpse. He grimaced again, seeing the head and shoulders thrown into grim relief, by the glow from the PC screen behind the dead man’s chair.

Garino hated computers. He kept away from them as much as he could. Now, what he could see of the monitor seemed to be mocking him, the sickly yellowish hue of the screen’s wallpaper making him feel worse. He noticed his hand was shaking. That was something else that had crept up on him lately. Could be, it was time to get out of this business. He shook his head clear and leaned forwards to check the pulse in the fat man's throat.

There was no real need to do that, but you could never be sure with just a .22 and if nothing else, Garino had always been thorough. One of the reasons he had lasted so long. The guy was door-nail dead. Job done.

Then there was a foot-scrape from the landing, and a sudden draught from the door.way. Garino's heart flipped; almost stopped and he whirled around.

In the open doorway stood a young, slim guy in shirt-sleeves. The man had his jacket slung over his right shoulder, his tie was half-undone and he was wearing a shoulder holster, packing what looked like a .38. Something else caught Garino’s eye. The polished gold-shield tucked into the guy's shirt pocket.

Christ... A Cop. An off-duty Cop?

Garino recalled hearing the door earlier. The guy must live on this floor. Why hadn't he been told about this?

The Cop spoke, “Who the Hell are you?” He was frowning, trying to peer around Garino. “And what the frig's up with Pete?” Then he must have noticed the .22, because he went for his own weapon.

Garino didn't hesitate.

The Cop was gazing down at a red stain spreading across his chest. He looked up at Garino, a brief bewildered glance, an unspoken question in his glazing eyes. The revolver fell from dying fingers. He staggered against the door frame and slid downwards. He was dead before his body reached the floor.

There was a moment's panic, unsettling even Garino's cool, professionalism. A Cop for God’s sake… He’d killed a Cop. Garino fought against the nerves. Damn it. He had to stay with it. It was no problem. No one knew he was here. Besides, it wasn’t the first time he had needed to close down a witness to a hit. But a Cop for Chris-sakes. A Cop. He fought the panic.

Eventually he managed to regain his composure. The ice came back into his soul and he finished the job with a second tap to the Cop’s forehead. Then he slipped the automatic into his pocket. Without a glance downwards, he stepped over the body as he would a sleeping dog, and headed for the stairway.


Some three thousand miles away, in her London apartment, Sarah James was stirring a fresh cup of coffee, as she shuffled back towards her PC. She wanted to carry on her Yahoo chat with Pete. He was well-versed, educated. It was a delight to chat with him. Also Sarah never ceased to marvel at being able to speak to and see him from all the way over there in New York.

She glanced at the screen. Pete's chair was facing away from her. Then her coffee cup dropped unheeded to the floor, as she saw a man in front of Pete; a man raising a gun. The movements were jerky, but she saw the double flash of the gun, and heard the two slight 'phuts' over her speakers. Then the murderer just stood there, doing nothing, his face bathed in yellow. He looked ill. God she felt sick too. This was unbelievable and her eyes widened in macabre fascination, as she watched the rest of the horror show unfold.

Frustration almost overwhelmed her. There was nothing she could do, but watch this animal going about his work. She realised she was biting her knuckles so hard they had started to bleed. Holding back the need to vomit, Sarah pulled herself together and she stretched out a trembling hand. The killer had barely glanced at Pete's screen, so Pete must have minimised her image on the monitor. The trembling abated and, with remarkable presence of mind, she checked that her web-cam had been on record. She clicked her mouse and saved the Quick-Cam video. Then she reached for the phone.