Short Stories 2: “Blue & Sentimental”

A blog post or so back I wrote about the business of writing short stories and the first – my first – “Now’s the Time” – in particular. Well, the arrival from the States of the US edition of Ten Year Stretch, published by Poisoned Pen Press, brings me to my most recent published story, “Blue & Sentimental”. Title courtesy of Count Basie this time, rather than Charlie Parker. And in place of Charlie Resnick, the central character is my London-based private detective, Jack Kiley.

Stretch

 

Ten Year Stretch brings together twenty stories commissioned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of CrimeFest, the Bristol-based festival of crime writing and writers. Edited by Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller and published in the UK by No Exit Press, it features a broad range of contributors, from Ian Rankin to Sophie Hannah, Lee Child to Simon Brett, Ann Cleeves to Mick Herron and James Sallis to Zoe Sharp.

My story had its beginnings in a lunchtime meeting in Dalston, East London, with a long-time friend, now living in Ireland, and her daughter Lucy, and is dedicated to Lucy and her partner, Anna. Just around the corner from our lunch spot is the Vortex, a jazz club I’ve been patronising in its different guises for some little while. Aside from the good music upstairs,  Nicki Heinen runs a monthly poetry and jazz session in their downstairs bar where I’ve read on a couple of occasions. All of which set the story in motion. This is how it begins …

Kiley hadn’t been to the Vortex in years. A celebration of Stan Tracey’s 75th birthday, December, 2001. Bobby Wellins joining the pianist on tenor sax, the two of them twisting and turning through In Walked Bud before surprising everyone with a latin version of My Way which, for the duration of its playing and some time after, erased all thoughts of Frank Sinatra from memory. Now both Tracey and Wellins were dead and the Vortex had moved across east London, from Stoke Newington to Dalston. A corner building with a bar downstairs and the club room above, which was where Kiley was sitting now, staring out across Gillett Square, waiting for the music to begin.

The call had come around noon the previous day, just as he was leaving the flat, his mind set on a crispy pork bahn mi sandwich from the Vietnamese place across the street from the Forum. The 02 Forum, as it was now less fortunately called, Kiley old enough to wish for things to be left, mostly, as they were.

“Am I speaking to Jack Kiley?”

He’d assured her that she was.

“You find people who’ve gone missing?”

“Once in a while.”

“That doesn’t sound too encouraging.”

“I’m sorry.”

There was a silence in which he guessed she was making up her mind. If he moved the phone closer he could hear the faint rasp of her breathing.

“Can you meet me?” she said eventually.

“That depends.”

“Tomorrow? Tomorrow afternoon? Somewhere around four? Four thirty?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“You know the Vortex? It’s just off … “

“… Kingsland High Street. Yes, I know.”

“I’ll see you there.”

She rang off before he could ask her name.

Out in the square a group of elderly black men were sitting quietly playing dominoes, oblivious to the cries of small children and the bump and clatter of skate boarders negotiating a succession of mostly successful pirouettes and arabesques.

Behind Kiley, the musicians who had been arriving, haphazardly, for the past ten minutes or so, stood chatting, shrugging off their coats, freeing instruments from their cases, starting to tune up. On stage, the drummer finished angling the last of his cymbals correctly and played an exploratory paradiddle on the snare. With the concentration of someone threading a needle, one of the saxophone players fitted a new reed into place.

Gradually, the composition of the ensemble took shape: rhythm section at the back, piano off to one side; three trumpets; two, no, three trombones; the saxophones, five strong, down at the front of the stage, one – the bartitone player – leaning back against the side wall.

The leader stepped forward, called a number from the band’s book, signalled with his hand: four bars from the piano then four more and the sound of fifteen musicians filled the room.

Smiling, Kiley eased back in his chair.

The repertoire mixed original compositions with new arrangements of the tried and tested; after an extended work out on Take the A Train, Kiley got up and made his way to the bar.

Only one woman sat alone amongst a scattering of couples and a dozen or more single men; smartly yet casually dressed, dark hair swept back, Kiley wondered if she might be the person he was meeting, but when he passed close by her table she gave no sign, and by the time he’d paid for his beer she’d been joined by a stylishly bearded thirty-something energetically apologising for being late.

Back at his seat by the window, Kiley saw that a woman wearing a bottle green apron over a brightly patterned floor-length dress had stationed herself behind the domino players and was busily cutting hair, a short but steadily lengthening line of clients waiting their turn. A quartet of youths criss-crossed the square on scooters, revving noisily, while on stage the band strolled its way into the interval number, a slow rolling blues that climaxed all of ten minutes later, electric guitar ringing out over a volley of brass.

As the applause faded, the musicians began to set their instruments aside, the taller of the two tenor players unclipping her saxophone from its sling before crossing the room.

“Jack Kiley? I’m Leah Temple.”

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Totally Wired for Sound

Thursday of last week saw the first of what is, for me, a surprisingly long list of readings, mostly of poetry with, here and there, a modicum of prose levered in. Totally Wired is a monthly series that takes place in the Wired Café Bar in the centre of Nottingham, and organised by the poet, Becky Cullen, along with two lecturers from Nottingham Trent University – Rory Waterman and Andrew Taylor – both poets themselves. It’s no surprise perhaps that the majority of the audience are on the young side [let’s face it, anyone south side of fifty or so registers as young to me these days] or that a good number – the majority? – are students from NTU. What is a surprise is how many people are there, extra chairs having to be hauled up from the back of beyond, so that by the time Andrew has gone round collecting the names of those poets who want to read from the floor and the event is due to begin there’s a real sense of being squeezed up close to one’s neighbour and sharing their air – in my case, that of my  daughter Molly Ernestine, who’s come along for moral support and is prepared to step into the breach should I falter.

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The first four readers do two poems each, good poems read well, and, after an introduction from Andrew, I’m on. One of the most difficult things for me, when working out which pieces to read, is what to begin with. It doesn’t want to be too long, too obscure, too – for God’s sake – too dull. I used to make a habit of kicking off with “What Do You Say?”, a sort of riddle of a poem, to which the answer is the saxophone player Roland Kirk – which is fine when I’m doing a poetry and jazz gig with the band, but less successful otherwise – most people tend to scratch their heads in mild bemusement and I can’t say I blame them.
So, emboldened by the fact that not long since I was in Nottingham to take part in a Frank O’Hara tribute at the Five Leaves Bookshop, and surmising there may be more than one or two O’Hara fans in the audience, I opt for “Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”, which is exactly that and turns out to have been a reasonable choice.

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After a pause in which I take the risky step of asking people not to applaud after every poem (as if!) on the grounds that I could probably fit in another poem in the time lost, I make my way through the remainder of my twenty minute set. You can see, feel, the audience listening, responding in what I think of as the right way – a couple of laughs in the right places – and I can relax and enjoy what I’d doing.

At the interval, Molly hustles and sells the relatively few books we’ve brought with us; I chat to friends, drink another (seriously good) flat white, and wait for the second part of the evening and half a dozen more readers – a good number reading for the first time – and it’s a real pleasure to hear so many good new poems – some humorous, some heartfelt, some both.

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I say my goodbyes, shake hands, and Molly and I set out for the station and the London train, the sounds of poetry and the strong sense of having had a better than good time reverberating around us.

For those who like to keep abreast of those things, this is what I read …

“Poem (In Imitation of Frank O’Hara)”
“Apples”
“Slow”

“Apparently”
“Winter Notebook” [Also with quite a few changes]
“Chet Baker”
“The U. S. Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.”
“Curve”

… Nothing too unusual, save for “Slow”, a poem I dedicated to Lee Harwood and Paul Evans, and which I thought to read after receiving a positive comment about it from John Kieffer on this blog, and the little poem set in the Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C. – as I said, the last thing you might expect coming out of. D.C during the week of Trump’s inauguration is a love poem.

The U.S Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.

The floor is azure blue tile
slick with the residue of that morning’s watering,
green hose slack within the leaves.
We used to come here, safe, and sit
not touching, humidity high in the nineties
and helicopters hovering, a block beyond the Hill.
In the display of medicinal herbs, I break
small leaves into my hand:
yarrow, for internal bleeding; foxglove
for the muscles of the heart.

When we meet again a year or more from now, by chance –
the departure lounge at Heathrow, hurrying
along the platform at Gare du Nord,
and your eyes as, uncertain
whether to offer your cheek for a kiss,
you hold out, instead, your hand,
I will slip into it these remedies I have long carried:
the knowledge that, nurtured, passion flowers
in the darkest places.

The keen-eyed will note that’s been trimmed and altered a little since it was published in Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998)

The next poetry reading I have coming up is at Words & Jazz, Downstairs at the Vortex, in Dalston, East London, on Thursday 23rd March, after which I’m back in Nottingham on Wednesday, 12th April for an evening of Poetry & Jazz at Bromley House Library, with Ian Hill (saxophones) and Geoff Pearson (double bass). Then, on Friday 28th April, I’m at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden [or, just possibly, at Bar 48, Brixton, please check] for Fourth Friday, where I’m hoping to be reading alongside Debris Stevenson, with two sets from singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

On Tuesday, 23rd May, along with Leah Fritz, Danielle Hope and others, I shall be reading at Primrose Hill Library, North London, in a benefit for the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, and on Thursday of the same week, the 25th, I’m reading with the John Lake Band as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe.

Oh, and I might sneak a few poems into my session at Almondbury Library, Huddersfield on Thursday, 9th February, when I’m talking about my 40-odd years as a writer.

 

 

 

The Year Ahead

Belated Happy New Year! Here’s what it has in store for me so far …

EVENTS

Thursday, 21st January. 8.00 – 11.00pm
WORDS & JAZZ
Vortex Jazz Club / Vortex Downstairs
11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ
This is a lively and well-attended Poetry & Jazz event, hosted each month by Nicki Heinen. I shall be reading along with three other poets: Richard Scott, Ann Macaulay & Will Roychowdhuri, & music will come from Rachael Cohen (sax) with Mark Lewandowski (bass).
Details & Info: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/event/words-jazz/

Thursday, 25th February, evening.
PIGHOG POETRY
Redroaster Coffee House, St. James Street, Brighton BN2 1RE.
Another regular and lively Poetry venue where I shall be reading with Chrissy Williams and poets from the floor.
Details & Info: www.facebook.com/Pighog

Saturday, 19th March. 10.30am – 12.30pm
BROMLEY HOUSE LIBRARY
Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HL
As part of the Library’s 200th Anniversary Celebrations, crime author and Nottingham native Daniel Pembrey will be interviewing me about my writing, the Resnick books and their Nottingham connections, notably Darkness, Darkness (2014) the final book in the Resnick series.
Details & Info: enquiries@bromleyhouse.org

Saturday, 2nd April
DEAL2NOIR
The Landmark Centre, 129 High Street, Deal, CT14 6BB
I shall be one of a number of writers taking part in this one day festival of crime writing near the Kent Coast, organised by Susan Moody.
Details & Info: https://dealnoir.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 12th April, 7.30 – 9.00pm
NOTTINGHAM CIVIC SOCIETY
St Barnabas Cathedral Hall, Wellington Circus, Nottingham, NG1
Illustrated talk about my 40 plus years as a professional writer, including the various connections between my work and the city of Nottingham and the surrounding area.
Details & Info: http://www.nottinghamcivicsociety.org.uk

Friday, 22nd April, evening.
FOURTH FRIDAY
The Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H PBP
This is a monthly poetry & music event hosted by Hylda Sims. I shall be reading alongside one other poet, yet to be named, and music will be from singer-songwriter Liz Simcock. There are also readings from the floor.
Details & Info: https://fourthfriday.wordpress.com

Saturday, 23rd April, 2.30pm
HERTS LITFEST
Stevenage Library, Southgate, Stevenage, SG1 1HD
To celebrate World Book Day I shall be returning to the town where I taught English and Drama in the early 1970s to give an illustrated talk, My Life as a Jobbing Writer – From Blackboard to Best Seller.
Afternoon Tea for all and a free signed book for the first 25 ticket holders arriving that afternoon.
Details & Info: 01992 555947 http://www.hertsdirect.org/libraries

Friday, 3rd June, Evening
DERBY BOOK FESTIVAL
The Cube, Déda, Chapel Street, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3GU
Poetry & Jazz with the band Blue Territory
Details & Info: http://www.derbybookfestival.co.uk

In addition to which, the band and I will be playing three Nottinghamshire Libraries poetry & jazz gigs in October, venues and dates to be confirmed.

POETRY

With poetry in mind, I have two new poems in the new issue of The North
http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/north-menu

and one forthcoming – March? – in the online magazine, London Grip New Poetry
http://londongrip.co.uk/category/poetry/

FICTION

As if to prove that old pulp stories never die, the four Scott Mitchell crime novels I wrote for Sphere Books in the mid-1970s – Amphetamines & Pearls, The Geranium Kiss, Junkyard Angel & Neon Madman – are to be republished in the States with a new introduction, in both paperback and Ebook format, by Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press.

Distribution will be through Open Road Media, who have a nice little video on their web site, showing me walking on Hampstead Heath, sitting in the garden, and expounding on the writing of crime fiction from the comfort of my settee.
http://www.openroadmedia.com/contributor/john-harvey/

RADIO

Towards the end of last year, my dramatisations of two Inspector Chen crime novels by Qui Xiaolong – A Loyal Character Dancer & When Red is Black – were broadcast on BBC Radio 4, along with a third – Death of a Red Heroine – adapted by Joy Wilkinson. Three more books have now been commissioned, with Joy this time adapting two and myself the third – A Case of Two Cities – in which the Inspector visits America.

THEATRE

Together with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives Theatre, I’m working on a dramatisation of Darkness, Darkness, the 12th & final Resnick novel, for Nottingham Playhouse. Details soon!

Whew! …

 

Barry Wallenstein at the Vortex

Poetry and Jazz, the two operating together, can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes. Also, as some of my own experiences have taught me, it can be tricky, fraught with difficulty, hard to pull off, to hold together. But when it works, as a performer, as a poet, there’s nothing much to beat it – lifted along on the rhythm of someone else’s bass, someone else’s drums; your words, your lines etched around, embellished, occasionally upstaged (no matter) by this horn player or that; for those moments when you’re up there at on stage, the mike clamped close to your mouth, barely able to read the half-remembered words (I wrote that? I did!) through the sweat pouring off your forehead, over your eyes, your glasses smeared with steam, it’s unbelievable – top of the world, ma! – better than best.

Jack Kerouac did it. Back in ’58. With Steve Allen at the piano. With Al Cohn and Zoot Sims on tenors. With Allen again in ’59. Not strictly poetry this time, but prose. Jack’s prose, the prose of On the Road. “It’s the Beat. Be-at.”

Others since.

In this country, politely at first. Poetry and Jazz in Concert. Danny Abse. Laurie Lee. The Michael Garrick Sextet.

Less politely, New Departures and Mike Horowitz – the man with the kazoo, the man without whom …  The Poetry Olympics. Stan Tracey at the piano.

I myself first read with the Midlands Jazz Quartet, as they were called then, in the Nottingham Playhouse bar in 1992. With only a change of sax player, Mel Thorpe removing himself to France and Ian Hill taking his place, and a change (or two) of name, I’m still reading with them now. Whenever we get the chance.

But last night at the Vortex Jazz Club in East London belongs to Barry Wallenstein.

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Barry Wallenstein, an American poet who’s been collaborating with jazz artists such as Stanley Cowell and Cecil McBee since the 1970s, and is here briefly from New York and reading last night – brilliantly – with the Mike Hobart Band – each and all of whom deserve a name check: Chris Lee on trumpet, Danny Keene at the piano, Greg Gottlieb on bass and Eric Ford at the drums. Hobart himself plays a thrilling, sometimes raw-sounding sax, controlled and lyrical where needed, at others wild and echoing shades of R&B as he drives into the edges of the avant-garde. Archie Shepp? Was I hearing something not a million miles from Archie Shepp?[Next time I see him, he’d doubtless tell me my ears need a serious retread.]

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But no matter, it was Barry who held it all together, front and centre, the evening’s raison d’être; Barry who exemplified the art of holding our attention without ever being showy, letting the words, the rhythm of the words do, as it were, the talking; barely moving, other than to turn the pages of his poems, remove and then replace his glasses, listening carefully all the while to music around him, just as the musicians were listening to him – hanging, as we were in the audience, on to his every word.

Barry Wallenstein!

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