Monk, Me & the art of Going Down Slow

Some days, over say twenty-four hours or so, you could get to feel your stars have mysteriously fallen into happier than usual alignment.

It began last evening, at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, north London, where my friend Woody Haut and I were celebrating the publication of our new books – in Woody’s case a novel, Days of Smoke, set in Los Angeles and San Francisco during the maelstrom of 1968, and in mine, a small but beautifully formed [thanks to Five Leaves Publications] collection of short stories, Going Down Slow.

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There were forty or fifty people present; there was wine; Woody and I read and asked each other questions; the audience asked questions – good ones; at the end of it all books were sold and signed. Several of the questions, one way or another, were about music and its place in our work, its importance to our writing. I talked about not really listening to music when I was writing, but occasionally having it playing in an adjacent room, Thelonious Monk, especially; the ear being pricked, attention gathered, by a note or phrase that headed off into a sharp and unexpected direction: truly, the sound of surprise.

Woody’s favourite of my books, alongside Darkness, Darkness, is In a True Light, which is partly set in Greenwich Village in the late 50s, early 60s, and includes a chapter in which the leading character goes to the Five Spot to hear Monk play.

… Monk launches himself along the keyboard in a clattering arpeggio which calls to mind a man falling headlong down a flight of stairs, never quite losing his balance, not falling, saving himself, miraculously, with an upward swoop, and final, ringing double-handed chord.

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That passage, and that book, are referred to in a recent piece by the American critic and commentator, Bill Ott, published in Booklist Online.

With reference to the centenary  of Monk’s birth, Ott mentions a number of writers who have written about his music in various ways before concentrating, very positively, on my own attempts in both poetry and prose. So positive, in fact, that when I read it my heart gave a little lift and I’ve not yet been able to wipe the smile off my face.

Good things come in pairs?

A matter of a few hours later, the first review of Going Down Slow arrived, this by Jim Burns in the Northern Review of Books. “If anyone should be tempted to think of Harvey as ‘just a crime writer’ they should think again.”

Thanks, Jim; thanks, Bill; thanks, Woody; thanks, Thelonious: thank my lucky stars.

SLOW cover

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“Going Down Slow”

Once upon a time – 2009, to be exact – there was Minor Key, a nicely put together limited edition hardback published by Five Leaves of Nottingham and containing five short stories, half a dozen poems and an introductory essay, “Resnick, Nottingham and All That  Jazz”.

 

SLOW cover

Well, now the good folk at Five Leaves are set to publish something in the way of a sequel: Going Down Slow & Other Stories – seven previously uncollected short stories in a limited edition hardback with a run of 1000 copies, the first 100 of which will be numbered and signed. Publication date is Tuesday, 14th November and there will be a launch event at Five Leaves Bookshop between 7.00 & 8.30pm that evening. Admission is free, but, as anyone who’s been to the shop will know, space is limited, so if you’re thinking of going along, best to RSVP to events@fiveleaves.co.uk or risk being shut outside, looking in, with only the occasional punter heading for the betting shop next door for company.

As you’ll see from the cover, there’s a bit of a retro thing going on: retro-noir; retro-hard boiled detective; retro-fedora. Which is the title of one of the stories – “Fedora” – the story that was awarded the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2014. It’s a Jack Kiley story – as are “Second Chance” and “Dead Dames Don’t Sing”, the latter a tale of rare books, rarer manuscripts and pulp fiction that first appeared in the Bibliomysteries series published by Otto Penzler’s New York-based Mysterious Bookshop.

Kiley, for those who haven’t previously made his acquaintance, was formerly an officer in the Met, as well as, briefly, a professional footballer, and is currently eking out a living as a private detective in North London – hence the fedora, given to him by his friend Kate as a kind of joke. Joke or not, he wears it well.

Along the three Kileys, there are two Nottingham-based stories featuring Charlie Resnick – “Not Tommy Johnson” and the title story, “Going Down Slow” – and a third Nottingham story, “Ask Me Now”, a companion piece to “Sack O’Woe”, which first appeared in a Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Blue Religion, edited by Michael Connelly.  And if you’ve been counting you’ll know that leaves one more: “Handy Man”, a rare, for me, exercise in writing in the first person, female first person at that, which takes off from the excellent Amy Rigby song, “Keep It To Yourself”.

If you can’t get along to the launch in Nottingham, but live down south, on the Monday of the week following, the 20th, I shall be at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town with the writer Woody Haut, to celebrate the publication of his novel, Days of Smoke, and to talk about both that book and Going Down Slow. And just to round things off, on Friday 24th, 6.30 – 7.30pm, I’m reading with the John Lake Band at a Ray’s Jazz event at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road. Mostly poetry on this occasion, but I’m sure the short stories will sneak in there somewhere.

And should you want to pre-order a copy [there are only 1,000, remember] you can do so from the Five Leaves Bookshop bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk / 0115 837 3097. Price £12.99 post free in the UK.

Darkness Across the Channel …

One of the distinct and, thankfully, long-lasting pleasures, not to say sources of pride, in my writing life has been being published in France by François Guérif in Rivages/Noir, the collection that he founded and continues to direct for Éditions Payot & Rivages, and which includes such writers as James Lee Burke, Robin Cook, James Elroy, David Goodis, George V. Higgins, Tony Hillerman, Bill James, Elmore Leonard, William McIlvanney, Ross Thomas, Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake and Daniel Woodrell. Who would not be proud to be a part of such a list?

Beginning with Lonely Hearts [Coeurs Solitaires] in 1993, François has accorded me the honour of publishing all of my crime fiction written since that time in the Rivages/Noir series – looking at my shelves, some 22 books in all – in addition to the short story, Billie’s Blues, which was published as a slim volume in 2002.

Written expressly for François and Rivages/Noir, and published originally in a French translation by Jean-Paul Gratias, Billie’s Blues is a Resnick story which opens with the discovery of a body on the Forest, the broad area of inner city parkland which hosts the annual Goose Fair. This is how it begins …

Angels, that was what he thought. The way she lay on her back, arms spread wide, as if making angels in the snow. The front of her coat tugged aside, feet bare, the centre of her dress stained dark, fingers curled.  A few listless flakes settled momentarily on her face and hair. Porcelain skin. In those temperatures she could have been dead for hours or days. The pathologist would know.

Straightening, Resnick glanced at his watch. Three forty-five. Little over half an hour since the call had come through. Soon there would be arc lights, a generator, yellow tape, officers in coveralls searching the ground on hands and knees. As Anil Khan, crouching, shot off the first of many Polaroids, Resnick stepped aside. The broad expanse of the Forest rose behind them, broken by a ragged line of trees. The city’s orange glow.

Billie’s Blues can be found in two Arrow paperbacks, Now’s The Time and A Darker Shade of Blue, as well as, if you’re fortunate to find a copy, Minor Key, a limited edition hardback from Nottingham’s Five Leaves Publications.

B Blues

The twelfth and final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, partly set during the Miners’ Strike of 1984/5, was first published in France as Ténèbres, Ténèbres in a large format paperback in the Rivage/Thriller series in 2015, and is now being republished in the smaller Rivages/Noir format.

“Ténèbres, Ténèbres est de bout en bout passionnant, émouvant et réaliste.”
Bernard Poirette, RTL

Tenebres

 

Going Down Slow …

A while ago, 2009 to be precise, Nottingham-based small press publisher, Five Leaves, brought out a snazzy-looking hardback collection of my stories and poems in a limited edition. Minor Key, by name. The good news is they are going to follow it up, this November, with a similarly sized book, also a limited edition, bringing together seven stories which have not previously appeared together in any collection.

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Going Down Slow & Other Stories will include two Charlie Resnick stories, three featuring my North London-based private detective, Jack Kiley, and two others.

Of the Resnicks, “Going Down Slow” was first published as an ebook by Random House in 2014, and then reprinted in the same year in a special Arrow paperback edition of Darkness, Darkness for exclusive sale at Sainsbury’s.“Not Tommy Johnson”was first published in OxCrimes, edited by Mark Ellingham & Peter Florence for Profile Books, also in 2014.

The first of the Jack Kileys, “Fedora” was first published in 2013 in Deadly Pleasures, edited by Martin Edwards for Severn House and was the winner of the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2014. “Second Chance” was first published in 2014 in Guilty Parties, again edited by Martin Edwards for Severn House.The most recent of the three, “Dead Dames Don’t Sing”- more a novella, I like to think, than a short story – was first published as No.32 in the Bibliomystery Series, edited by Otto Penzler for the Mysterious Bookshop in New York in 2016.

Which leaves two strays: “Handy Man”, which was published in Ambit magazine, No 204, in the Spring of 2011, and “Ask Me Now” , which was published in 2015 in These Seven, edited by Ross Bradshaw for Notingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop, in association with Bromley House Library and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Take all this as an early warning; there will be more details, including how and where to order copies, at a later date.

 

“Ask Me Now” At Last, At Last …

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After much preamble, the “These Seven” booklet of Nottingham writing, detailed above, which includes a brand new story of mine, entitled Ask Me Now, is generally available …

Here’s a flavour of the story, how it begins  …

Tom Whitemore’s father left him a set of golf clubs he had yet to use, a collection of the maritime novels of Patrick O’Brian, and an abiding love of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington …

In contrast, all Whitemore’s wife had left him, the day she drove off to her parents in Chapel St. Leonard’s, taking the twins, was a note propped against the burned-out toaster in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, Tom, I can’t take it any more. I just can’t …”

That had been six years ago. His father had been dead for ten. Whitemore was still in the same house, a lodger upstairs in the twins’ room Monday to Friday, and he was still doing the same job – the one his wife had hated – detective sergeant in the Public Protection Team: domestic violence, hate crime, serious sexual abuse, assault.

“Scum, Tom, that’s what they are. Who you spend your days and nights with. Scum of the           earth and then you bring them home to us.”

She turned aside from his face, flinched at his touch. Flinched when he held one or other of the twins in his arms, helped them to undress, softly kissed the tops of their heads, ran the flannel across them in the bath.

“I’m sorry, Tom …”

 

Details of how to get hold of a copy are listed above. All the contributions are well worth reading – the Alan Sillitoe is a beaut – and it’s worth making the effort. And it is only three quid!!!

 

 

Grace Notes

Daughter’s in Nottingham today with one of her pals, looking  round the University ahead of deciding where to apply come autumn, and I shall be up there tomorrow, spending the afternoon at the esteemed Lowdham Book Festival, helping to launch These Seven, the new collection of short stories from Five Leaves which is a key part of the Nottingham Big City Read and a small part of the city’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

As part of that bid, the Notts City of Literature web site is featuring a Poem a Day (well, most days) with Nottingham connections.

Mine – a ‘version’ of the poem “Grace Notes”, recalling listening to jazz in a venue long gone – can be found here. If you’ve a few minutes, please give it a try.

These Seven …

IMG_0028This coming Saturday, June 27th, sees the public launch of the above collection, published by Five Leaves as the centrepiece of Nottingham’s Big City Read and Write project and featuring the work of seven writers – well, one is actually a cartoonist – with strong Nottingham connections. Alan Sillitoe’s contribution aside, all of the pieces featured are new and published here for the first time, the whole shebang yours at the almost giveaway price of £3.00. Incredible!

Here’s the blurb …

These Seven Nottingham writers cover a lot of ground.
John Harvey visits his traditional world of crime with a story more domestic than usual, Megan Taylor spends time in Old Market Square waiting for someone whose arrival might change her life, graphic novelist Brick imagines a Nottingham version of Simeon the Stylite living at the top of the Aspire sculpture, Paula Rawsthorne finds that being a child of a refugee brings its own problems, and Alison Moore realises that a weekend away is not always idyllic. Meantime Shreya Sen Handley’s Indian family discovers something going on at the bottom of their garden, and Alan Sillitoe is back on the streets of Nottingham, where this all began.

Saturday’s event is being held between 2.00 – 3.00pm in the Methodist Chapel, Main Street, Lowdham, as part of this year’s Lowdham Book Festival, and six of the authors will be present, with a mystery guest presenting Alan Sillitoe’s contribution. If you’re anywhere in the Nottingham area, come along and sample the fun. Details: http://www.lowdhambookfestival.co.uk

More – probably – about my own story later, but for now suffice to say that it’s called “Ask Me Now”, is set in the city of Nottingham, and features Tom Whitemore, a detective sergeant attached to the Public Protection Team, whose previous appearance was in “Sack O’ Woe”,  one of a collection of short stories about the police edited by Michael Connelly under the title The Blue Religion.

 

New French Book Look!

Even though they are not due for publication until the autumn, these new jacket designs from the French publisher Syros are so striking I had to give them an airing. [Okay, viewing?] I think they’re just great!

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Part of their Rat Noir series, primarily aimed at Young Adult readers, Blue Watch, is set in WW2, during the London Blitz, while Nick’s Blues, is a reissue of a contemporary teenage story, first published in France to considerable success in 2005.

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Just to be clear, despite the English titles, both of these books are being published in France in translation. As yet, there is no published English language version of Blue Watch, though Nick’s Blues is available from Five Leaves publications as a paperback or an ebook.

2_2_d5ce3446-528b-47d2-a5ab-aca2b16b90cehttp://www.fiveleaves.co.uk/young.html

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nicks-Blues-John-Harvey/dp/1905512465