Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dancing with Myself: KHALED TALIB interviews KHALED TALIB



According to a BBC report recently, everyone one of us could possibly have a cosmic twin. I’m not sure what the other identical copies of me are doing with their lives, but let’s pretend one of them is interviewing the original one on earth. They might argue they are all originals, and that I’m just mirroring what everyone else is doing right now.  Let’s not get into the philosophical aspect — it’s too deep for me. But if one of them was a reporter interviewing me as an author, this is what I’d tell him:

Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in Singapore. My ancestors emigrated from southern Yemen more than a hundred years ago during a Diaspora. I began writing at a young age. My first legally published material was a letter to a shopping mall’s marketing department. I had participated in a contest based on the old movie, The Deep, with Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte and Louis Gossett Jr., but I forgot to enclose the shopping receipts in the envelop. I was disqualified, but I received a letter from the mall with a complimentary T-shirt. That made my day.
I started out as a staff writer for an oil industry newspaper. All I did for a year was cut newspaper clippings and rewrite the stories. It was boring. When the job offer came to work for a lifestyle magazine, I grabbed the opportunity. In fact, my first character was based on a reporter working for a glossy magazine.

Why do you write?
No idea, but I’ll tell you something. If I was born in the U.S. or the U.K, I think I would’ve written my first novel when I was much younger. Singapore isn’t really a literary scene.  People don’t talk books here, and you hardly hear people talking about writing. I only met one or two other persons who’s been trying to get a book published. That’s encouraging because I don’t have to consider myself an ugly duckling. But seriously, I don’t think in a parochial or xenophobic sense. The world is a very big place, and I’m an explorer. The more you see, the more you have materials to write. 
I was also inspired by other thriller book characters, and I always wanted my own. From Edmond Dantes, James Bond, Simon Templar to characters created for the screens and comics. It’s a bit like playing with Ken and Barbie in your head, except they don’t have a sparkling set of teeth. 


What do you write suspense and thrillers?

My whole body feels like there’s electric sparks coming out of it. I find it difficult to write something at a lower tempo. I relish writing scenes that are unpredictable and intense. Don’t get me wrong, I can be calm if I want to, but life is a roller coaster. But don’t let me fool you — if you go more than 120 miles an hour on the busy road, I’ll scream at you to stop.  I’m a thrill seeker, but I’m also sensible.

If you could go back in time to three different places, where would you go?

I’d like to go back to the Victorian age and find out who Jack the Ripper really was. With modern technology, I think I might be able to catch him. Besides, it would be nice to dress up in the attire of that time. Hell, Singapore is a hot and humid place. You put on a tie and a jacket and see what happens to you. Never change since time began.
The other place would be ancient Egypt. I really like to find out who built the pyramids and how.  Everyone’s got a theory, but wouldn’t it be nice if we knew how it was done from the horse’s mouth itself?
The last place would be the Brady Bunch set with the cast and crew. It may be make believe, but I’d like to see how the show was made. When I was a kid, I used to love the house, especially the staircase and the brick walls and stairs.

Tell us about your new novel, Incognito.

Incognito (USis a more than meets the eye story. It tells of a Pope who has gone missing, but the story behind the story is about political and religious tolerance. Not a day passes by these days that you don’t hear about Islam. This novel of mine touches on terrorism. The media, in my view, has been irresponsible in managing the news. They want to sell anything that excites their readers, so they don’t care about the moral justice of things. I’ve been in public relations for a long time so I know when the press uses key messages to embed into the minds of readers about things. I wrote this novel to show how things are and why it should not be.
I was also inspired by some of the statements made by Pope Francis concerning Islam. It led me to do some more research about Catholicism. I was wondering why this man was defending Islam when the Crusades is far from forgotten. My research led me to the Vatican II documents. It was an assembly that took place between the 50s and 60s to revise some of the religious doctrines. I learned, for example, Muslims and Jews were part of the “brotherly” faith. I hope, somehow, the novel would have effect on the reader; to see things from a different perspective. By the way, the novel is peppered with murders.

Did something happened that inspired you to write this novel?

Oh, yes. Two things, in fact. One winter night in a small Geneva hotel, I saw through the window of my room a tall woman in black standing under a street lamp. She just stood there staring into the blankness. Later, I left my room to go downstairs. I took the stairs since my room was just one floor down. I saw the same woman at the empty foyer. She gave me a cold, hard stare. I ran back up and locked myself in the room.  You had to be there to experience it.  Now imagine if she had a knife in her hand. The thing is, you need a password to open the hotel’s door entrance. So how did she get it? She reminded me so much of Mrs. Baylock, the character from The Omen. I took the idea to weave into my latest novel. I even gave her a nickname.
At another time, I was trekking a Swiss mountain. A woman started talking to me. She was friendly initially, but she got worked up suddenly and began talking about religion. She pointed to the direction of Italy and told me the Vatican is responsible for many of the problems in Europe. She had a pair of trekking poles with her, and I didn’t. I was praying hard that she wouldn’t ask me what’s my faith. Those poles can be deadly. If I had to defend myself, it would be my word against hers since there was nobody else on that side of the mountain. I survived and live to tell the tale!

Khaled Talib

Saturday, 15 April 2017

#free - but get them quick before Trump goes for the nuclear option.



A great bunch of thriller and mystery titles that you can have for free. Better get in quick, mind, we may not have as much reading time ahead of us as we think. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE MUGGER by ED MCBAIN



'They write songs about Saturday night. 
The songs all promote the idea that Saturday is a particularly lonely night. The myth has become a part of American culture, and everybody is familiar with it. Stop anybody, six to sixty and ask, 'What's the loneliest night of the week?' and the answer you'll get is Saturday. 
Well, Tuesday's not such a prize either.'

The Mugger (US) is the second book in the 87th Precinct series. It takes a slight detour from the first in that Steve Carella is on his honeymoon and is out of the picture. 

Two big cases dominate, one a series of muggings against women by a deluded criminal who believes he is a gentleman of sorts and the other the killing of a young girl. There's also a third, the disappearance of huge numbers of cats in another precinct, but that's an aside that's there to add texture and a very good joke. 

There's the usual gripping tension and expertly handled solving of crimes here. You get the hard-boiled nudges in the ribs and thick slices of humour. The camaraderie is enough to make you get up and join some kind of club and the dose of romance tells of personal frailty and general fragility.    

Above all, the story told is about the elevation of Bert Kling from patrolman to detective third grade. He gets involved in a personal case after hours and functions as a private eye for a while. His job is to find out what's happening in the life of a school friend's sister-in-law, a beautiful young woman with a huge secret. As you might expect, he gets into things further than he could ever have imagined as an unexpected turn alters his life forever. 

It's great to spend so much time with Kling. He's one of the stars of the show and getting to know him from the roots up was a real treat. Definitely worth a read whether as a one off or as a delicious piece of an unbelievable whole. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

SMOKE: The Resurrection



Due to the sad demise of the wonderful publisher Blasted Heath (more to follow when the emotional turbulence has settled down) my novella Smoke ('Grim, but really good.' Ian Rankin) was killed off. 

As with most obstacles, this one wasn't insurmountable. With Smoke, the simplest solution I could think of was to self-publish and here it is. 

Fitting, then, so close to Easter that the novella has been resurrected. It's also free for today (Smoky Sunday) should you not yet have a copy. 

A warning that it is dark and brutal and upsetting.  

As for my other Blasted Heath titles (namely the four books of the Southsiders series), I think I need some time to work out whether there's another path. I have taken an early step to see if I can find them a home, but as the first two have already been published I'm not feeling overly hopeful on that score. If you're able to see the wood for the trees and can shine a light in the right direction, I'd love to hear your thoughts privately or in the comments.  

Till then, enjoy Smoke (US) and check back in for my Blasted Heath obituary. 

Thanks, as always, for your support. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

One Man's Opinion: KING SUCKERMAN by GEORGE PELECANOS



‘Don’t be wishin’ me no good luck. It’s all luck man. If there’s one thing I learned overseas, that’s it.’

I’m usually a sucker for a Pelecanos. He ranks right up there as one of my favourites. Suckerman (US), however, took a good while to win me over.

It’s a novel that harks back to the nineteen seventies and deals with some cracking modern American themes. There’s a blistering soundtrack, the shadows of Vietnam, guns, drugs, cars, basketball, race, gangsters, movies and loyalty.

The opening is a cold-blooded killing at a drive-in movie. It’s ruthless and exciting and almost too brutal to allow for an early connection with the characters.

From there we meet our protagonists, Greek waster Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay, who enter into a drugs deal and cross swords with the murderers from the drive in. Things go wrong at the connect and Karras and Clay walk away with a large amount of cash and a gangster’s girlfriend who’s looking for an easier life of getting high and watching TV.

What follows are the inevitable consequences of stealing from a bunch of thugs and an inevitable showdown that is as tense and exciting as they come.

It took me a good while to find my bearings. There are a lot of people to get to know. There’s a lot of information about TV, films, sport and music to digest and I didn’t immediately connect to anyone other than Clay.

At around the mid-point the author began to wind me in. The diverse threads began to tighten into one thick strand. Insights into the lives of Karras and Clay won me over. The consequences of the early crime spill over to hurt the innocent and this allows windows into souls. There are subtle hits like the categorisation of a Hendrix album, the responsibilities of parenthood and the connections and mindsets forged in war. There are even appearances from Nick Stefanos and his grandfather to ice the cake.

By the finale, I was emotionally hooked.


This may not be my favourite book by the author, but I’d recommend it nonetheless. It’s a cut above a hell of a lot of fiction even if it is a little below par.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Making A Difference




In a time when global issues are going haywire and the world has begun to spin backwards, it can be difficult to make sense of anything. Influencing outcomes feels further out of grasping distance than maybe it should. In the UK and the US the driving forces defy the rational and appeal to the insecure. I have no idea how to move forward just now and am reflecting on ways in which I might make a difference when the time feels right.  

Maybe the best thing to do is to look to the local. There are many worthy things happening in my neighbourhood that respect both people and environment and I manage to do my bit without actually ever making a huge effort. I’m very grateful to those with big hearts who are out there influencing the world on my and our behalf.

My hope that all can be well has been given a boost of late by a campaign to help a girl who lives in my home town. Her name is Macy and she requires major spinal surgery to correct a massive curvature. In order to get the best of treatment £150000 is required and that’s a lot of dosh. Not that the organisers of her fundraising group have been daunted by the size of the mountain they have to climb. The Facebook page is here if you’d like to take a closer look.

I’ve loved watching the community come together to help them on their way. There have been or soon will be mammoth walks, swims, outdoor events, ceilidhs, gigs, school dress-downs and talent shows to help out. This morning I went in to the pop up shop on Dunbar High Street in the Be Green shop and bought a few things I don’t really need – if you’re in the area today or tomorrow it’s fab and well worth making a visit for.

In the light of such togetherness, I’ve offered to help out in the only way I really know or understand, and that’s by raising money through the sale of books.

For the next three months, any money I make from sales of The Shallows (US) will be going to Macy’s fund. I’ve chosen The Shallows because it’s been very well received and is possibly the most accessible of my crime stories. It’s practically mainstream fiction and there’s even a police procedural thread weaving through the fabric. The money will come whether the sale is a paperback or an ebook and if you feel like enjoying a read and helping out a great cause, then I’d be grateful of the support.

I know that there are lots of worthy people and groups out there who deserve your attention and that you may have your own favourite charities or organisations , but I still would like to flag this up to you in case you feel like joining this particular cause. Maybe it’s by coming together in circumstances like this that those seemingly untouchable bigger issues might be addressed.

If you like the idea of supporting Macy, but don’t really want to buy into the author angle you can always make a direct donation at www.gofundme.com/fund-spine-surgery-for-macy Every little bit will be gratefully received.

Thanks for listening and good luck Macy. Here’s hoping.


J

Monday, 26 December 2016

One Man's Opinion: SO DEADLY FAIR by GERTRUDE WALKER


Walter Johnson alights from his boxcar in Middletown Minnesota. Hungry and worn down, he sets off to seek sustenance. His walk into town is interrupted when he looks up and sees a woman waving at him from her window and gesturing for him to come into her home. In spite of his instincts, he goes up and meets Elizabeth Frazer, a lady who is hot on the outside and ice cold within. She entices him with the promise of food and maybe a little something extra for afters, then nails him by shouting to her neighbours that there’s been a murder. Said neighbours show up and it seems that Johnson has been caught red handed, until he reveals that his red hand is actually wooden and wouldn’t be capable of committing the crime in question.

The sensible thing for him to do at this point would be either to run or to wait for the authorities to prove his innocence. Instead, he waits for things to settle and is pulled into the orbit of Elizabeth whose magnetism and allure prove to be irresistible. They drive west, avoid the attention of the police and settle down into a life of the humdrum. Things should go fine, only Elizabeth isn’t happy with surviving or being average. Her discontentment grows until she pulls out another trick from her bag. This time, she’s feigned her own death and once again pins Johnson down as the perpetrator. This time, however, Johnson isn’t so lucky. He’s sent down and spends the next ten years in prison.

While away he meets a forward thinking warden who suspects Johnson is innocent. The pair spend time discussing the world and putting things right until it’s time for Johnson to leave, an improved and contented citizen with a free spirit. The warden has provided him with the tools for survival and the connections to make sure civilisation won’t chew him up and spit him out.

Everything should be fine. The world should unfold at Johnson’s feet and provide him with more than enough to satisfy his needs. The problem is he has a passion for revenge that won’t leave him alone. The shadowy compulsion to track down Elizabeth grows until it is his reason for being. All his wonderful wisdom and philosophical leanings are trampled underfoot by his desire and as he journeys in pursuit of his prey, his life slowly unravels.

So Deadly Fair is a delight. That said, it took a while for it to grow on me. The first person narrative seemed a little clunky at first. I reckoned a tidy edit might make all the difference and create a smooth passage through the opening pages. I was also a little uncomfortable by being addressed directly by the protagonist every so often. These jabs interrupted my flow and caught me off guard when they came.

As the story unfolded, many of my early issues disappeared. I came to appreciate the voice and the conversational style, not least because it allowed a deep understanding of the character’s reasoning. Johnson’s back story is slowly exposed and adds layers and depth. His views of the world and his love of travelling and getting by are so pragmatic that they verge upon the romantic. His drive and lack of control in the face of his desires is well explained and adds solid foundation to his decision making, even when his choices seem to be utterly insane.

The story itself is handled really well and any contrivance is justified as the plot moves on and comes to its unexpected climax.

This one is a slice of authentic American noir. It carries a familiarity that is comforting and yet has a freshness that needs to be savoured and appreciated. The pictures come in black and white and the shadows are everywhere. If it was never made into a B-movie then it should have been.


Hats off to you, Gertrude Walker. Thanks for the journey.