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.

IMG_1558

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.

Light 2

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

Advertisements

“Fedora”

SLOW cover

As I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who’ll bend an ear, Five Leaves are publishing Going Down Slow, a collection of seven of my previously uncollected short stories, on November 14th and marking the event with a launch evening at their grand little bookstore in Nottingham. On Monday of the week following, November 20th, I shall be joining forces with Woody Haut at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, north London, to celebrate the publication of both Going Down Slow and Woody’s new novel, Days of Smoke. And that Friday, I shall be at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, doing my poetry & jazz thing with the John Lake Band and sneaking in a smattering of short fiction when the band’s back is turned.

I might even read the beginning of “Fedora”, which goes like this …

When they had first met, amused by his occupation, Kate had sent him copies of Hammett and Chandler, two neat piles of paperbacks, bubble-wrapped, courier-delivered. A note: If you’re going to do, do it right. Fedora follows. He hadn’t been certain exactly what a fedora was.

Jack Kiley, private investigator. Security work of all kinds undertaken. Ex-Metropolitan Police.

Most of his assignments came from bigger security firms, PR agencies with clients in need of baby sitting, steering clear of trouble; solicitors after witness confirmation, a little dirt. If it didn’t make him rich, most months it paid the rent: a second-floor flat above a charity shop in north London, Tufnell Park. He still didn’t have a hat.

Till now.

One of the volunteers in the shop had taken it in. ‘An admirer, Jack, is that what it is?’

There was a card attached to the outside of the box: Chris Ruocco of London, Bespoke Tailoring. It hadn’t come far. A quarter mile, at most. Kiley had paused often enough outside the shop, coveting suits in the window he could ill afford.

But this was a broad-brimmed felt hat, not quite black. Midnight blue? He tried it on for size. More or less a perfect fit.

There was a note sticking up from the band: on one side, a quote from Chandler; on the other a message: Ozone, tomorrow. 11am? Both in Kate Keenan’s hand.

He took the hat back off and placed it on the table alongside his mobile phone. Had half a mind to call her and decline. Thanks, but no thanks. Make some excuse. Drop the fedora back at Ruocco’s next time he caught the overground from Kentish Town.

It had been six months now since he and Kate had last met, the premiere of a new Turkish-Albanian film to which she’d been invited, Kiley leaving halfway through and consoling himself with several large whiskies in the cinema bar. When Kate had finally emerged, preoccupied by the piece she was going to write for her column in the Independent, something praising the film’s mysterious grandeur, it’s uncompromising pessimism – the phrases already forming inside her head – Kiley’s sarcastic ‘Got better, did it?’ precipitated a row which ended on the street outside with her calling him a hopeless philistine and Kiley suggesting she take whatever pretentious arty crap she was going to write for her bloody newspaper and shove it.

Since then, silence.

Now what was this? A peace offering? Something more?

Kiley shook his head. Was he really going to put himself through all that again? Kate’s companion. Cramped evenings in some tiny theatre upstairs, less room for his knees than the North End at Leyton Orient; standing for what seemed like hours, watching others genuflect before the banality of some Turner Prize winner; another mind-numbing lecture at the British Library; brilliant meals at Moro or the River Café on Kate’s expense account; great sex.

Well, thought Kiley, nothing was perfect.

“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.

New Year’s Reading

New year, new books! Some from Santa, chimney soot still caught in the corners, others courtesy of a pre-Christmas shopping excursion to the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town. The order is the order in which I’ll probably read them … the Byrne is my current designated bedside reading, while the Finkel, which I’ve already started, and which it would be dangerous to read too close to dream time, is, like its predecessor, The Good Soldiers, cut so close to the bone – and perfectly so – that I can only take it in small doses, a chapter at a time.

  • Thank You For Your Service : David Finkel
  • How Music Works : David Byrne
  • Full Measure : T. Jefferson Parker
  • Infidelities : Kirsty Gunn
  • Circular Breathing – The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain : George McKay

Poetry

  • Ancient Sunlight : Stephen Watts
  • Ex-Ville : Rhona McAdam

… and I shall be slowly but pleasurably working my way through David Kynaston’s history of post-war Britain, with the second volume, Family Britain 1951 – 57.