All posts by changingborders

Book Launch OR Crime Scene?

The launch of I NEVER LIE took a little imagination. When I asked my publisher whether they would do a book launch they replied, ‘We don’t usually do that as it’s not a physical book.’ It is the dilemma of a digital publishing deal. How to launch an e-book in the physical world. I definitely wanted my ‘oh hail the author moment’ just like my compadres who have print deals. So I put my thinking cap on and figured I’d create an experience. Something people would remember and take away with them, so I set about recreating the crime scene from the opening chapters on London Fields.

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While glamorous onlookers stood by, a team of forensics got busy conducting their investigation. It was a truly unique launch that brought the book to life. My publisher Canelo and my agent Ivan came and supported the party. It really was so much fun. Canelo had the insight to bring promo codes to hand out to people who were curious enough to stop and ask what was gong on, so they could download the book. Genius.

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I baked a cake and got the cover made by eatyourphoto.com which was amazing and turned up magically within twenty-four hours of ordering it. I had a slight mishap as the icing melted – it was no easy task coordinating chilled booze and cake, living in Hastings, while having the launch in London, on one of the hottest days of the year! My niece who led the forensics team got creative and bloodied it up with red icing, no one knew what had happened! It was a serious cake rescue mission! The drinks were kept cool in trugs filled with plenty of ice.

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My niece and her band members took on the role of forensics bless them in the blistering heat. They worked tirelessly on their investigation but were spotted eating sandwiches while on the job which did confuse some passersby.

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My agent delivered a lovely speech and so did I. It was great to thank everyone who had been there while I wrote this novel.

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It was a wonderful way to spend a summer’s evening. In the park, in the shadow of a crime scene with warm-hearted people. Thank you to everyone who came and made it special. The moral of the story? Just because you have a digital book deal, doesn’t mean you can’t have a launch. You just need to think outside the box a little.

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I love bookshops where launches are traditionally held, but this was a great way to celebrate the launch of I NEVER LIE and I think everyone had a truly unique experience. THANK YOU to all my readers too who are making this possible.

Here’s a few more images from that special night.

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The Writer In Me

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BD aka Bob Dylan who knows exactly the moment when I want to start writing and is exceptionally good at causing yet another distraction… Yes BD it’s all about you, it’s all about you obvs.

This is my blog. It’s a work in progress. A place for rambles. Ideas. Fiction. Non-fiction. Music. Images. Anecdotes. Discussion. Poetry and anything that inspires the writer in me and hopefully the reader in you.  A friend/reader suggested I write a blog so here goes…

One of my fav quotes about writers is this: ‘A writer lives their life twice. Once through observations and again through reflection.’

This is how I feel most days. Reliving moments in my mind. Trying to work out the fundamentals of those experiences. Dragging the blood and guts out of them until I’ve beaten them up and massaged them into a new form, a figment of my imagination. Most people don’t give that much thought to what happens around them they just crack on with it. We writers contemplate, ruminate and steal everything we can like magpies. We collect and protect. We think we’ve figured it all out only later to realise that we haven’t and we are right back at the beginning again. It’s a endless source of joy and pain. A puzzle we must work out.

People always ask me, ‘So how do you write?’ The answer is simple, you just do. You just write. You just put the words down and that’s how it starts. You need something to work with as Emma Thompson once told a BAFTA screenwriting audience which is true. Basically you need anything you can get your hands on! It’s a fearless beginning. One in which you can’t worry about the outcome. I wish I could apply this philosophy to my daily life and just let go. Life would be so much easier!

One of the questions my agent asked during our first meeting was : ‘Why do you write?’

And my answer was simple, ‘Because I wouldn’t know how not to.’

After that he signed me. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as answering one question, finding an agent who you gel with, but that was how it progressed.

Meeting my agent was a real moment. It is in any writer’s career. I felt I had finally arrived at a destination that had been evading me for over a decade. Following years of rejections – likely upward of 50 – and the submission of two books both of which were not fully baked, I met my agent after swiping right on Tinder. Full disclosure here. He was not on Tinder and I was not single.

In a moment of absolute despair with my partner-at-the-time I downloaded Tinder just to see what my options might look like. I swiped right and so did a handsome barrister from Dublin. Lord knows how we matched he was in another country! But we did and we became friends. I told him the full story of my emotional crisis and being a true gent he became a friend.

After a few months of face timing he mentioned that he had a friend in London who was a literary agent and the rest is history. Of course winning the CWA Debut Dagger in 2014 got me noticed but it wasn’t everything. I had plenty more rejections after that. My agent took the prize seriously and although he didn’t like the book I had just finished he did have the vision to ask me what I was writing next. So I told him and he bought into my future potential and has been a solid source of motivation ever since.

So, what’s the lesson here? Who knows. The connectivity of the age we live in allows for all kinds of shit to happen? Or that throwing enough emotional momentum behind a moment will eventually pay off?

Having lived and worked in Istanbul for almost a decade I decided to return to the UK and retrain by doing an MA in Creative Writing at City University. That’s where the transformation began from journalist to creative writer. My external moderator marking that book which was my thesis went as far as saying, ‘If she could string a proper sentence together she might have half a chance.’ I took it as a challenge. I’d won the Debut Dagger. I couldn’t be that bad.

They say there is a book in everyone, but I’m not sure because sitting on your own in a room with only yourself to contend with for long periods of time is actually quite frightening. It can lead to procrastination of the worst kind, moments of serious self doubt, but it can also lead to amazing breakthroughs of self discovery through overcoming it.

There are a number of reasons I think I write. Firstly, I’m fascinated by people. They excite me, inspire me, bore me, screw me over. They make me feel all kinds of emotions from the best to the worst and it is in the reflection of these experiences through writing that I hope I gain a deeper insight into the human disposition. They say writing is therapeutic. It can be. Perhaps that’s why writers think they know it all. Because they are finely tuned to explore the depths of being human, of the imagination. It’s something that other animals can’t do. To seek out a truth because in that there is a moment of kindness and compassion we can hold on to in a world that can be so cruel.

Perhaps we’re just obsessed with being constantly connected to another world, our imagination. A world we have created and ultimately control. There’s a kind of peace in that. In being able to shape your own narrative. There’s also a sense of achievement in knowing you’ve climbed another mountain of words to survive another day.

We humans are painfully aware of our own end. A friend and social psychologists believes to be happy in life we all need a mortality project of some kind. Perhaps writing is mine, but perhaps it’s just something I don’t know how not to do.

NOTE: I flew to Dublin last year and bought dinner for the man who introduced me to my agent as a way of saying thanks. It was the least I could do after years of rejection. Life can be surprising when you let it. 

 

SCRIBBLES BLOG

INSTALMENT NO.3
02.10.14

Exercise in action.

NOTE: They’ve just hit something in the road, which sent the car off course onto the dirt in the desert. There is a dramatic scene of panic that proceeds this one as the car careens off road. They were traveling on a highway in Somalia. Ahmed is the driver. Jane is the local fixer/aid worker. Carla is out on an assignment to cover the famine where she is also digging into the GM monopoly on food aid. This passage is from a book I’d like to write.

SOMALIA DESERT

Punching in the numbers frantically, Jane’s fingers froze when she saw through the dust what was coming at them. A pack of young men wielding AK47s were running towards the vehicle. They wore balaclavas to protect their identity although the uniform of worn out camouflage jackets hinted at a militia and spelt danger.

‘Did you get through?’ Carla was looking at her bleeding forehead in the mirror of the damaged sun visor when she too caught a glimpse of the men approaching the vehicle. ‘Start the car Ahmed, quick. Start the God damn car.’

Ahmed turned the key. ‘I’m trying, I’m trying.’ But when the car didn’t respond, in defeat, he raised his hands helplessly in a non-threatening pose. ‘I’m sorry Miss Carla, it’s too late and this motor doesn’t want to go anywhere.’

Carla managed to get the paper cover off the sticky plaster and plug up her wound. The training she’d done prior to the trip had instilled in her the need to keep herself healthy, but it hadn’t prepared her for the terror pumping through her veins. At least eight scrawny young men on unsteady legs were now standing by the windscreen, ‘Out of the car. I said out of the fucking car. Now!’ The smallest of the group shouted boisterously.

The gun barrels pounded on the metal skin of the jeep, a fragile shell against such high-velocity weapons. Ahmed’s door was flung open and he was dragged from the vehicle first. The youths were laughing and dancing while firing rounds into the air; bang, bang, bang. The shots cracked overhead. In the commotion, Carla was having trouble opening her door. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and she couldn’t grab the handle. ‘Get out before I shoot you out.’ The menacing tip of the gun was now tapping against her cracked window and pointing right at her. Tearing her eyes away from the scene and Ahmed, she looked at the door panel. It was locked. ‘Get this door open now, lady.’ Carla didn’t realise it but she was in shock from the bump to her head and her movements were not coordinated. She could hear Jane in the back crying. A second later, a larger guy arrived at her side of the car. He was holding a pistol and looked like the ringleader. ‘Open it, now.’ His gun scraped across the glass. Eventually, the door swung open and she was dragged out.

The small guy with an AK47 pushed her to the ground. He smelt of alcohol and sweat. The aggressive midday heat mixed with dread made her feel quite ill. In the seconds that followed, Carla was dragged by her arms at gunpoint across the scorching sand and deposited next to Ahmed. ‘On your knees.’ Her head hurt. Although she’d worn trousers to cover her skin, her knees were blistering from the surface heat as if resting on burning coals.

There’d been three of them in the car, but only two were kneeling in the dirt. Where was Jane? Were they bandits? A group of rogue child soldiers left over from the war? Then she heard Jane’s voice, but it wasn’t a good development. She was crying and begging them to leave her alone. Carla turned to look for her, but the Russian-made metal tip forced her to turn away. ‘Keep your fucking head down, lady, or you end up like her.’ The ground was arid and unforgiving here. Someone was smoking pot, another was swigging something that smelt like whiskey. ‘Move out of my way.’ One by one, grunting like wild animals, they took their turn to rape Jane. She screamed in agony, begging them to stop. Her cries for help echoed across the open desert but only Carla and Ahmed could hear her. Carla’s stomach was churning. It was the most sickening sound she’d ever heard; young men raping a defenceless woman. Her body began to have convulsions.

‘Don’t hurt her, please. Please, she has a daughter who needs her.’ Carla tried to shout, but nothing came out. Fear had stolen her voice. Ahmed had a gun to his head and could do nothing. He had his own family to worry about. Would she be next? Carla focused hard on the ant scurrying across the sand in front of her to block out Jane’s howls, but it was hopeless.

Within minutes Jane’s wailing became a tortured whimper, but they kept at it, swapping over and over until they’d each had enough. Overwhelmed by the terror of what was happening to Jane and what might happen to her, Carla’s senses slowed down as if she were the one smoking pot. After the men were done, each fired a single shot. The explosion of rounds being forced from a barrel sounded; bang, bang, bang, followed by a high-pitched ping in Carla’s right ear bringing her back to real time. A bullet She heard a thud and saw the sand in front of her jump. She’d counted seven rounds, but the last two shots sounded different. The bangs were followed by a thud that she didn’t see. Silence. Jane’s weeping had stopped. Then Carla lost control of her bladder. The warmth of her own urine trickled down her legs. She’d never felt so humiliated and horrified in her life. If this was it, life had played a vicious trick on all of them.

‘Put it on.’ A black hood was thrown on the ground. ‘Put it on now.’ The rifle jabbed her back as Carla pulled the hood over her head. This was more than a robbery. Her face smothered in the thick fabric, breathing became a struggle. The hood was suffocating. They were baking out there, likely about to be killed or raped and no one was coming. No one was coming. The eternal night of the black hood bore down. The gunmen were crazed, shouting at each other in their mother tongue. Carla’s wound stung under the coarse fabric. The plaster had come loose from the sweat.

‘Stand up.’ The solid metal of the gun shoved against her rib cage, Carla breathed hot air onto her clammy face. She stood up. The blood rushed to her head, she became dizzy before regaining her composure. Her hands were guided to someone’s shoulders by rough hands, one with a missing finger. ‘Hold him and walk. Walk now!’ Recognising the fabric of Ahmed’s clothes immediately, Carla felt a light relief. The material was the type used in sports outfits. It was smooth to touch. She squeezed Ahmed’s shoulders with affection. He replied with a tiny lift. Jane was dead they had each other now.

INSTALMENT NO.2

The Accidental Murder

NOTES: Murat is a conservative working class Turkish man. He’s married to a woman who refuses to have sex after a serious case of cervical cancer. He is frustrated. He hadn’t planned to kill, but when a young girl approaches his car for reasons he doesn’t understand, he views it as an opportunity. I hardly ever write in first person, but on this occasion wanted to. This exercise was to look at character.

I lit my fifth cigarette of the hour and opened the window to let in some air, not that it did much good. The radio said it was the hottest day of the year and I’d have bet my weekly pay-cheque on that being right. I undid the top button of my shirt, but it didn’t help. The cotton was stuck to my skin because of the humidity infiltrating my car, since the air filters were blocked and the AC no longer worked. There was about an hour before my wife would expect me home and Perhaps I should find a cool café to sit in, but even that felt like too much effort. I could barely breathe in this oppressive heat, but it was better than the atmosphere at home.
This part of Istanbul is dull compared to our neighbourhood with its kids playing on the tarmac and vendors hustling to make ends meet. The buildings there are shiny, unlike our crumbling apartment block with its brightly coloured laundry strung from the windows on old TV cables. I bet they don’t wake up to howling street dogs, fighting couples or gunshots around here. I bet they get a proper night’s sleep.

I pulled hard on the cigarette and the smoke gushed down my throat and out through my nostrils. I shut my eyes and leaned my head against the headrest I’d just fitted that week. The car was my territory and it was where I was happiest. My prayer beads felt smooth passing them between my fingers, a habit that was calming. Work had been demanding and my wife was being difficult since she’d had the operation. I watched the foreman across the way lock up and let my mind remain idle.

I didn’t see the girl approaching and to be honest it was a bit of a surprise when she stopped by the open window.

‘Are you the flower man?’

I looked up at my nicotine stained air-freshener, the shape of a rose, hanging from the rear view mirror, then back at her. ‘Yes,’ I said, because she was young and pretty.

She walked around the car and climbed into the passenger seat. What was I supposed to do? She just hopped into my car with her legs dangling from her summer shorts and smiled back at me. She wore a hoody that didn’t fit with the heat we were both sweltering in. She smelt of lemons. She was shiny and smooth. Her legs were as long as the horizon stretching out before us. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d started the engine and we were pulling out of the car park. I offered her a cigarette, but she said she didn’t smoke although she took the packet from me anyway and looked inside. I got on with driving because I didn’t know what else to do.

‘Would you like some tea?’ I suggested for lack of anything interesting to say.

‘Maybe next time.’

‘Would you like something to eat?’

‘No. I need to get home. Got stuff to do for tomorrow.’

‘Okay. But I need to get some petrol.’ I needed a destination while deciding what to do. I turned on the lights and attempted to shut out the call to prayer by closing the window. ‘Where are you from?’

‘Germany, but my dad’s Turkish.’

‘Yeah? Your Turkish is good.’

‘Thanks. I’m working on it, you know.’

I was keen to show her I knew cool people in the area so I slowed down and honked my horn at the porters outside the nightclub. They waved back. She didn’t look impressed.

‘The petrol station is just ahead.’

‘Okay. Then you give me the flowers, yeah?’

‘Sure.’ We drove in silence for a few minutes until we reached the station. Thankfully, it wasn’t busy. The attendant put the desired amount in the tank, not much, twenty liras worth, just enough to get me somewhere else. She looked at the dial as if assessing the small amount of petrol the attendant had put in the tank.

‘Are you scared?’ I asked as I started the car. I don’t know why I asked her that.

‘No, should I be?’

‘I’m not going to rob you if that’s what you think. Look, I have plenty of money.’ I showed her the stack of notes I’d just got from my boss that day. ‘See?’ I pulled out of the petrol station and turned north.

‘This isn’t the way home.’ She said, her voice sounded different.

‘We’re going in the right direction. Don’t you worry.’

‘Doesn’t look like the right direction.’

I’m not sure when I decided to do what I did to her. I hadn’t planned it. But there comes a time in every man’s life when one must decide to take control. Anyway, she was the one that had gotten in my car. It wasn’t my doing.

‘Look, haven’t you got the pot?’ She asked.

‘What?’

‘Pot. You know. Smokey smokey.’ She made a hand gesture as if she were smoking a joint.
Me carry drugs. Was she kidding?

‘Look we’re going in the wrong direction.’ She was clutching the bottle of water I’d bought her at the station.

Stupidly I’d asked for the most expensive one and it was made of glass. What was I supposed to do? She might have used it against me.

I took the turn onto the interstate, she kept asking me to stop and buy some flowers as we passed some gypsy flower sellers on the side of the road. I agreed and suggested red, yellow or perhaps pink. I had no intention to buy flowers. The colours became a blur as we passed them by.

‘You need to take me home. This isn’t the way.’ She pointed at the signs, but she was bluffing. She didn’t really know where she was.

‘Look at the lights.’

We passed a bridge and I took the slip road east away from the interstate. She became quite annoyed and told me to stop the car but I kept driving. It was too late for that.

As we turned the bend, she opened the passenger door. ‘Stop the damn car. I’ll jump.’ She was serious. Her feet were now hanging out of the car.

I leant over and pulled her hoody with my right hand. She was struggling and tried to hit me with the bottle so

I grabbed her hair and next thing you know she’d hit her head against the dashboard. Her body went limp. We were out of the city now. I drove for a few hundred metres with the door flapping, holding onto her hair with my right hand. The road was deserted, so I slowed down.

She was still breathing at this point but her head was bleeding all over the seat. There was a forest up ahead, which was a stroke of luck. I kept driving. She should never have gotten into my car, foolish girl. I mean, who does that? A girl who buys drugs, that’s who. Far be it from me to let that go unpunished.

INSTALMENT NO.1

SCRIBBLES INSTALMENT NO.1 
Published 17.09.14

This is a piece that was written to demonstrate pacing. I hope it worked!

Human Traffic

At a rundown guesthouse on the outskirts of town, a young Kurdish girl buried her face in the scraggy pink pillows as a man twice her age repeatedly penetrated her. She knew better than to complain; an act of emotion that would not go unpunished.

The man withdrew and lay on his back revelling in the sexual release. She was a good girl this one, and he’d come back to indulge himself as often as possible.

Leyla smiled obediently. ‘Do you have a cigarette mister?’

‘In my jacket, help yourself. You’re a fine thing, you know that?’ He didn’t move.

Leyla reached inside his pocket and pulled out the pack. Rummaging for his lighter she found a second object, a penknife. She took it.

She left the man lying on his back and wandered up the corridor in a lace nightgown bought by her boss, puffing on the cigarette lightly like a Hollywood actress from a bygone era. She was the prettiest of all the girls and she knew he wouldn’t resist. She tapped on the door three times.

‘Come in,’ the deep-throated voice replied.

She pushed the door open and puffed away, stretching her teenage body to show off its beauty. She knew the distraction would eventually prove too much and become the undoing of his careful planning. If there was one thing she’d learned from her customers; a man in love was a man easy to control.

Leyla closed the door and dragged her hands along the desk, puffing and pulling on the cigarette. As she reached his side of the cheap metal office furniture, he was already unbuttoning his jeans.

Moving towards the target, Leyla questioned, for a split second, if she’d have the guts to go through with it. The client had given her a choice. The time had come. The opportunity was this moment.

Her lips curled around the target and he relaxed. He groaned with the sweetest pleasure. And in that rhythmic groaning, Leyla took the knife she had minutes earlier slipped into her g-string, and very slowly moved it under her chin. She was on her knees and only the seat of the chair stood in her way.

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Florence traced the outline of the pebbles with her bare toes. It was colder here than anywhere she’d ever been. The open wounds of freshly formed blisters were stinging from the damp. She picked up a pebble and dragged it across her lips. It was salty. Was she on a beach?

Her world had been dark since the day of the kidnapping when she was blindfolded at gunpoint. They hadn’t bound her hands or feet. They didn’t need to. Resistance was met with an invasive hand somewhere intimate.

Sitting on the chilly ground, her clothes soaked with fog, she yearned for the warmth of home and family; thoughts that were interrupted by large footsteps moving closer at a pace that meant trouble. Florence’s body tightened and prepared for the punishment of a groping hand, but the footsteps passed her by and kept going. She was shivering.

The t-shirt and sweatpants she’d been made to wear were oversized, flimsy and smelled of body odour that wasn’t hers. The few voices she heard spoke with funny accents.

Right get them into the van, we’re moving,’ a male voice instructed.

It was warmer in the van. Traveling in the dark at high speed, exhaustion set in. Whispering snores had replaced the restless breathing of the travellers and it was a real bind to stay awake. She didn’t.

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Leyla was going in for the kill. She raised the knife. For a split second the groaning became louder. He tapped his feet in time. She knew it was now or never. Thinking about the countless men, she plunged forward with the knife and bit down hard.

‘What the… ‘ His voice trailed off. Before she knew it, he was on his feet and holding her by the neck. ‘You little bitch. You’ll pay for this. You…’

He was damaged. There was blood flowing from the vein she’d hit, but it wasn’t enough.

Leyla raised the knife with the air being squeezed out of her and made the fatal gash. The hole in his neck spat blood on her face and his grip began to loosen. He fell back on his chair. He was dead.

She found the gun in the desk, locked the door behind her and tiptoed back down the corridor. She had gone over this a thousand times, but now the moment was here she wasn’t quite sure how to proceed.

She reached her room. All was quiet. The man had gone. She was covered in blood, but got dressed and headed downstairs. Her hands were shaking and she couldn’t make them stop.

Florence woke up when the van stopped. The doors slid open. A set of strong hands locked on her wrist, pulling her forwards. The surface was hard and cold on her feet. It was a paved road. They were in a city.

‘Hurry up girl. Come on,’ a woman’s voice commandeered.

The floor was warm and soft. The woman removed the blindfold. Florence rubbed her eyes, urging them to focus. When they did, she saw at least ten girls.

‘Not bad this lot. Good looking girls,’ said the woman. ‘She’ll clean up well. Might even be my star girl. Very exotic.’ Chunky fingers with chipped nail polish and nicotine stains lifted Florence’s chin to inspect her face.

‘So you got the money?’

‘Hold your horses. I haven’t inspected all the merchandise yet,’ the woman, hissed. ‘Clothes off,’ she commanded. Florence was still shivering.

Leyla’s timing wasn’t ideal. Ten new recruits were arriving and there were more gun wielding assholes in the house than usual. She had managed to get downstairs before the new girls were unpacked. The only way out was through the reception area. It would only be a matter of time before they discovered the body.

From between the doorframe she had a partial view of the reception room. Leyla recognised one of the men immediately. He had been kind to her when they’d brought her in. He looked nervous. Standing next to a very tall barefoot girl, he kept fidgeting from one foot to the other. Someone left the room and took to the stairs.

‘Just going to get the boss. Don’t go anywhere,’ the woman shouted.

Leyla’s hands were still shaking. She had no idea how to use the gun.