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Brit Grit Alley

Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.

By Paul D. Brazill 

Guest Column: Paul Heatley.

There’s a lyric in the Atmosphere song ‘Fortunate’, the opening lyrics in fact, that go ‘I highly doubt that y’all think about sex/Anywhere near as often as I think about death’.

Here’s a few short facts about myself: I live in a small town you’ve never heard of in the north east of England. The nearest city, Newcastle, lies about forty or so miles to the south. I’m not that interesting a guy. To stick a label on things, I’m a teetotal, non-smoking vegetarian that doesn’t go out much. I’m terrible at maintaining friendships and relationships. I read as much as I can, but I’m a slow reader. Like I said, I’m not that interesting. But there’s one thing I do, and it’s disputable that I do it well, but I write. And maybe I don’t do it well. That’s subjective. But the important thing, to me, is that I do it. Henry Rollins said ‘I’m not talented – I’m tenacious.’ I remind myself of that every time I set words upon a blank document. I remind myself of that every time I read over a first draft and cringe at what I’ve put down. ‘You may write it once, I’ll write it ten times.’

There’s another thing about me, besides the writing. There’s the thing that gives me drive. I’m a father. Before the kid came along, I wasted time. Frittered it away like it was something infinite. I always wanted to be a writer, but I figured inspiration would come when it came and I’d put the words down like a man possessed and that would be it. It would come. Except it doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to put the time in, and the effort. For longer than the last two years, I’ve written every day. Because after the kid came, I was still wasting time. I’ve got a lot of making up to do. The fact is, the kid won’t stay young forever. He’s growing up, and one day he’ll be grown up enough to look at me and form his own opinion on the kind of man I am based upon my accomplishments, or lack thereof. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t go to university. I don’t have some high-flying career where I’m raking in millions of pounds per annum.

Most of the jobs I’ve had since I dropped out of Sixth Form have been minimum wage drudgery. But I can write. Let’s go back to Henry Rollins again – ‘If you can write, you can write. And you can have as much authority over your writing as Flannery O’Connor, or Ernest Hemingway, or anyone you can imagine. You will find in your life that some of the only true freedom you will ever get is your imagination, your thoughts, and what you can put on the paper.’  If I’m trying to teach the kid anything in life, I guess it would be this. It’s a cliché, of course it is, but my kid is my motivation.

It started small. It started with short stories. Before his arrival I’d had three published. Two of them are of questionable quality. Those three were my legacy for a very, very long time. A shamefully long time. The fourth appeared in Thuglit issue three. It was called ‘Red Eyed Richard’. Before, I wasn’t much in to self-editing. Whatever I wrote, I’d read it through once and tell myself that was it, that was okay, if they liked it they liked it and if they didn’t, they didn’t. It was a very lazy way of writing. It was a wrong way of writing. That’s another reason, apart from not writing at all, that my story count stood at three for so long. But Todd Robinson scared the hell out of me. I read that piece maybe ten times before I sent it off. It’s a practise I’ve maintained ever since, whether it’s a flash piece, a short story, or something longer. Read, re-read, and read the fucking thing again. Currently, my short story count stands at forty-two.

In late 2014 I started work on six novellas, with the goal in mind to self-publish them via Amazon’s KDP over the course of 2015. Those works were the loosely connected Motel Whore trilogy – The Motel Whore, The Vampire, and The Boy – and three standalone pieces: The Mess, The Pitbull, and Three. ‘I got a head full of ideas that are drivin me insane.’ I read, and re-read, and read again. I put them out myself, through Amazon. There’s a stigma attached to self-publishing. Every writer is aware of it. But writing is writing, and if you can write, you can write. Those six pieces, they were for me, to prove to myself that I could set a lofty goal and see it through. Those six pieces are for my kid, and while the darkness of my work ensures he won’t be able to read any of it for a very long time, they’re out there. They’re not going anywhere. At twenty-five, frustrated with his lack of progress, Bill Hicks told a friend ‘I’m not here to blow time away. I’m running out of time.’

So what came next? In late 2015 I had a short story published by Near To The Knuckle called The Straightener. I write something, and then I move on. That’s how I work. Put my head down and charge through. I didn’t think anything more of The Straightener until Near To The Knuckle announced they were looking to put out a line of novellas. I kept this information in the back of my mind and pondered ideas for a few days, and then I returned to The Straightener. To the characters therein. There was another story to tell. An Eye For An Eye was born. It was released via Near To The Knuckle in July of 2016. So my output stands at forty-two short stories, and seven novellas – six of which were published by myself. Am I satisfied with this body of work? No. While I am proud of it, I’m not satisfied. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied. I know I’ll never be satisfied, the same way I know I’ll never stop. But at the least, it’s something to leave behind. If anything were to happen to me tomorrow, then there is something tangible left for my kid to remember me by. A piece of me. There’s nothing of me in my stories, not so far as I’m aware at least. I’m not a drug dealer, or a sexual deviant, or someone that goes out looking for fights. I’m just a man with an imagination, a broad imagination and a wide array of weird and wonderful interests. He might not like them, but they’re there, and they’re for him.

So what next? Another novella, the longest one so far (though we haven’t gotten into edits yet). This will be through All Due Respect, with a tentative release schedule of May 2017. Currently it’s entitled ‘Fatboy’, but all things are subject to change. And in the meantime? Malcolm X said ‘The future belongs to those that plan for it today.’ That’s what I’ll be doing. When I’m not writing, I’ll be planning for my own small slice of the future. And I’ll be hoping, too, that one day, many years from now when my kid is old enough to read the words I’ve dedicated to him, I’ll in turn hear those words all father’s dream of: ‘Yeah, my dad’s pretty cool.’ And it’ll be in the present tense, just like that.

There'll be more carryings on down Brit Grit Alley very soon, sorta kinda thing, like.

Paul D. Brazill's books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. His blog is here.