to read MAT COWARD ...
(Updated 6 June 2015. Latest additions: New Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine story; "punkPunk!"; "The Plot So Far"; "Open & Closed" e-book; Mythconceptions book; Doctor Who audio adventure)
People sometimes ask me "Who else do you write
for?" Below, you will find an almost complete list of
- My books
- The periodicals I write for regularly
- The books and magazines in which my short stories have appeared
- And also, That.
*I’m now on Twitter. I have three feeds going: my general Tweets are @MatCoward. My Morning Star gardening tips are @StarGardening. And now and then I tweet a funny press cutting from my collection, @MatsHeadlines.
*Please remember never to buy any of my books - or anything else - from Amazon. Here’s why: www.housmans.com/boycottamazon.php
*I have another website, where, amongst other things, you can read the first two chapters of my novel, Acts of Destruction: http://www.matcoward.com/ The site is courtesy of the (US) Authors Guild. This is a superb organisation, and I would strongly urge anyone who is published in the USA to join it - the benefits of membership are considerable. The Guild is at http://authorsguild.org
*I have a message board, courtesy of TTA Press. It's at: http://ttapress.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=8
*I’m currently converting all my back catalogue (including some unpublished material) into e-books. For details of the latest releases, please check the left-hand column on the opening page of www.matcoward.com
THE PLOT SO FAR (Alia Mondo Press, 2014). ISBN: 9781311648815. Available from most e-book sites, and in most formats, or direct from http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/462129. $3-99. I've been writing a column on gardening for the Morning Star newspaper since 1993 (see under "Periodicals," below, for more details.) This ebook collects around 100 of my favourite columns from that period, together with an introduction. All proceeds go to the Fighting Fund, which for more than 80 years has helped to keep this unique newspaper coming out every day.
FORTEAN TIMES MAGAZINE PRESENTS MYTHCONCEPTIONS (Magbooks 2013). ISBN: 1-78106-148-3. £6-99. Fifteen years after my first Mythconceptions column appeared in Fortean Times magazine (see entry for FT below), here's the first selection in a paperback "magbook" format. 127 pages, 55 columns; and fans of great British cartoonist Hunt Emerson will be delighted to see his terrific illos reproduced here full-page in full colour.
UPSTAIRS (Big Finish, September 2013). ISBN: 978-1-78178-085-5. Not actually a book, but an audio story, available on CD or as a download. Big Finish's plays and dramatised readings featuring new adventures for the "classic" (ie, pre-hiatus) incarnations of Doctor Who have become deservedly popular - indeed, they are what most of my surplus income goes on. So, my delight at being asked to write a story in the "Companion Chronicles" series can be easily imagined. Funnily enough, this commission didn't come about through the short story I wrote for BF a few years ago ( see "Losing the audience," below), but via the marvellous actress, Maureen O'Brien, who I first knew as a fellow crime writer! This is a 60 minute two-hander (performed by Maureen and Peter Purves, reprising their original Doctor Who roles as Vicki and Steven), and is a story of the First Doctor (who Maureen imitates superbly). I can't say much about the plot without giving too much away; but I will say that it takes place in London, circa 1900, in the labyrinthine attics of a grand house ...
"Clever, sharp, witty, perfectly paced and bristling with black humour" - Mass Movement Magazine.
"the sort of cracking, conceptually oriented intellectual mystery-adventure the series was known for during its original run [...] I found myself both engaged and entertained throughout [...] wholeheartedly recommend this excellent and amusing adventure" - Third Eye Cinema.
"gives Maureen O'Brien much more to work with than on TV [...] Coward cleverly ties the history of the building and its occupants into a narrative about British greatness and decline: those who have always suspected there's something rotten at the heart of government will have all their fears confirmed by the end of the play [...] The monster in Upstairs is genuinely vile, and Coward has a talent for a grisly turn of phrase in the narrated sections of the audio. The result is a glorious mixture of memorably horrible details and the kind of time-twisting, brain-defying logic of a nightmare, all mixed into one of the more intimate and insidiously catchy Companion Chronicles." - Doctor Who Magazine.
"A neat mystery - 8/10" - Sci-Fi Bulletin.
"This is an intelligently written, engagingly performed release that had me gripped throughout ... Great stuff - 9/10" - Doc Oho Reviews.
"Beautiful. To say that Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves are excellent in their respective roles is a given really, but I'll mention it anyway. The story is terrific, a real slow burner true to the era from which it is 'placed'. It's a nice, creepy piece with some very visual moments and also elements of genuine humour." - Listener's review on the Big Finish forum.
"the right story for the right cast with superb timing and a sense of the mischievous." Listener's review on the Big Finish forum.
"Full of great ideas, great characters and great music/sound effects. Excellent stuff. 8.5/10." - Invasion of Time.
"The whole thing was a great deal of fun to listen to and the pacing that Coward has gone for is done just right." - TomsTardis.
"a tight claustrophobic mystery" - SFCrow'sNest.
"a cracking idea" - TheTimeWarriors.
"I honestly can’t say that I’ve seen too many more original concepts in any form of Doctor Who. [...] a good, solid audio and a real treat for fans of the First Doctor’s era." - WhatCulture.
"The claustrophobic and intimate nature of many of the Hartnell stories underpinned by a growing menace is expertly recreated thanks to the intelligent writing of Mat Coward, direction from Lisa Bowerman and casts’ performances." - Cambridge News.
TILL YOU DROP (Alia Mondo Press, 2012). ISBN: 9781476171500. Available as an e-book from most e-booksellers and in most formats, or direct from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/213070. Supposing all the monsters in the world went on strike ...? This 30,000-word novella has rather a long history; I started writing it in March 1995, and completed it in June 2012! It began when I was unable to sleep one night, having had some awful news: my best friend from childhood had suddenly died. Hoping to empty my mind, I got out of bed and put on a video. I've always been very interested in anything to do with Cuba, and anything to do with comics, so I'd recorded a Cuban cartoon film. I'm afraid it didn't work, and I eventually went back to bed, resigned to not sleeping. I've no idea what the film was, or what it was about, but one brief image from it did strike me: a cartoony vampire holding up a placard saying "En huelga" - "On Strike." And the phrase came into my mind: "Supposing all the monsters in the world went on strike ...?" I started writing the next day (using the working title "Scab" or "Eat The Scabs!"), but after about 10,000 words I ran out of steam. Stories like this need two elements to come together, and for ages I only had one: the monster strike. Every now and then, I would return to Scab and write a little more, but it wasn't until 2011 that events in the real world finally gave me the idea I needed to complete the picture. As Woody Guthrie is supposed to have said, "You should be able to look at a newspaper headline and write a song about it." Well, that's more or less what I did, and I came up with the unpleasant concept of "ropetirement." As you can imagine, I'm relieved to finally have this job off my desk. Incidentally, when I started it in 1995, vampires, zombies and werewolves were not quite as culturally ubiquitous as they are today - one of the little irritations of my last stint of work on "Till You Drop" has been having to change the names of my vampires, because an internet search showed they'd already been taken!
CATS & CROOKS (Alia Mondo Press, 2012). ISBN: 9781476221656. Available as an e-book from most e-booksellers and in most formats, or direct from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/159364. I've published two collections of my crime fiction short stories, and hardly a cat tale between them - so here are nine of them in my first ever "themed" collection, as well as my first ebook-only collection. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a fashion in the USA for crime stories involving cats, and I was often commissioned to write "feline felonies." I was very happy to do so, being as obsessed with cats as most humans are - especially most writers - and quite enjoyed the tricky task of trying to find some original angle or twist for each story. The stories collected here (for details on each, see the original entries below) are: Here, Fluffy!; The cat's mother; Three nil; Missing the cat; And the buttocks gleamed by night; Under the circumstances; Be lucky; Tall man, large cat; Where the cat came in.
YOU CAN JUMP AND OTHER STORIES (Alia Mondo Press; ISBN: 9780955868627) is a second collection of my crime short stories. It’s available as an e-book from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/119487 price US$3-99, and a paperback at £8-50 which can be ordered from any bookseller or library, or bought directly, using a credit card, from www.matcoward.com via PayPal. The wonderful cover is by Dean Harkness, and the twelve stories included (for details of each of them, look at the individual entries below) are: If all is dark; Persons reported; And what can they show, or what reasons give?; The hope of the world; Jizz; Nice people; One hand one bounce; Reason to believe; Slap; So where’ve you buried the missus then, Paddy?; Too hot to die; You can jump.
Reviews of You Can Jump:
"No contemporary crime writer is funnier or more serious" - Jon L. Breen, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
“Mat Coward is a comic genius of the written word.” - http://quavid.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/mat-coward
“Original and witty, a real master of the form.” – Martin Edwards, http://www.doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/
“You Can Jump is full of witty, intelligent and knowing stories, freshly and professionally written. The collection bounces entertainingly from one wall of the genre to another, all with quality and talent.” – Michael Z Lewin
“The title story is the gem of the collection - a calm, serene, moving and reflective piece of fiction.” - John Baker, http://johnbakersblog.co.uk/you-can-jump-by-mat-coward-a-review/
“Mat Coward has always been a good writer but not until I started reading these stories did I realize that he is a truly great writer […] The best of these stories are serio-comic pieces of real latitude and depth […] for reasons of simple stunning plots "Nice People" is one of the most amusing crime stories I've ever read. It would have been Hitchcock's crowning achievement on his old half hour TV show. It's impossible to overpraise this collection. Buy it now.” – Ed Gorman, http://newimprovedgorman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/new-books-you-can-jump-by-mat-coward.html
“This collection is clear confirmation that Mat Coward is one of the quiet glories of British crime fiction […] seize on this priceless book.” - Bob Cornwell, Crime Time http://www.crimetime.co.uk/mag/index.php/showarticle/2788
Quite a long time ago, I wrote my first children’s novel, aimed at readers of around 11-13 years old: a comic suburban horror story called NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL - which at that time was a pretty clever title, rather than the cliché which it has subsequently become. The premise was pretty obvious: suppose your neighbours from hell really were from Hell? I liked it a lot, and so did my then agent. He sent it out to just about every children’s publisher in the western world, all of whom turned it down. One of them actually wrote that it was “almost too funny,” which confused us both. Well, I went on to other things - such is the life of the freelance writer - and it was only in 2011, when I was undertaking the long job of converting many of my older books into e-books, that I came across NFH again. It still made me laugh, so I’ve e’ed it. It is now available, at the blatantly seductive price of US$1-99, from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/111257
ACTS OF DESTRUCTION (Alia Mondo Press, 2009; ISBN 978-0-9558686-1-0) was the first crime fiction I’d written for some years; I intend it to be the first in a new series. You can read about how I came to write it at http://www.matcoward.com/, where you will also find the first two chapters, and a button to buy the paperback via PayPal. (It can also, of course, be ordered from any bookshop or public library in the world; the e-book, ISBN 9781476161686, is available from all the usual places, or direct from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/204462) It’s rather more topical than my usual crime novels, which made it unattractive to commercial publishers, and at the same time ideal for self-publishing. (Having said that, all other rights in the book are still available, so do contact me if you’re interested in publishing AoD in other formats, languages or territories.) By the way, this is by far my longest novel yet - I make it about 83,500 words - and so it should appeal to those readers who’ve complained in the past of my excessive brevity!
For some years, it’s been worrying me that little if any non-dystopian fiction was being written about our immediate future - say the next 15 to 20 years - and how we’re going to cope with the enormous changes which are happening now. There is a certain amount of non-fiction, but I think it’s necessary to have these discussions through fiction as well. Fiction allows people to do what I've done in this book - which is simply to throw around ideas, whether picked up or thought up, and not to invest anything in them, or put any authority behind them. That’s an important part of the open thinking that's necessary in these revolutionary days; we need the free creativity of fiction as well as the focused discipline of non-fiction.
My hope for this book - apart from that you will enjoy it as a good bedtime read - is that it will encourage more fiction writers to join the debate which will, after all, determine whether we are going to survive as a civilisation for one more generation. I’d like to see such discussions carried on through every possible medium; as well as novels like (or unlike) this one, we need future-set sitcoms on the radio, future-set hospital soaps on TV, and comic strips in the newspaper, and films and plays and everything else.
Anyway, that prompts me to say again here, as I've already said in several places, that AoD is not a manifesto: it's a police procedural novel, it’s an entertainment. To the best of my ability, it contains lively dialogue, some very good jokes, vibrant characters, and twisty storylines. I hope you'll enjoy it. Meanwhile, my political purpose in writing it is not to set forth a vision of how I think we ought to be living in the near future - merely to offer up some ideas, some of which might support my personal views, and some of which might not. I hope (and trust) that you will disagree with as many of them as you agree with - and that you’ll find all of them interesting.
It’s set in London in the near future and it follows a few weeks in the case work of DI Greg Wallace and his team in the North London Serious Crime Squad. I've long wanted to write an ensemble-cast, multi-case, crime novel, not least because it sounded much easier than the single-focus stuff I've usually done in the past. And for the first couple of months of writing this indeed prove true: as soon as you get stuck on one case, you just end the chapter and start another chapter with a different investigation. It’s only towards the end of the process that you realise that instead of having one case needing wrapping up and you've no idea how to do it ... you’ve got five cases needing wrapping up and you’ve no idea how to do any of them. Still, it worked out in the end, and I'm quite pleased with the plotting of this one.
Reviews of Acts of Destruction:
“The novel is both dead serious and hilariously funny ... One of the most original and gifted writers in contemporary crime fiction.” - Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
“Thought-provoking, entertaining and stimulating ... hugely readable and enjoyable.” - Interzone.
“This screamingly funny book is not only a whopper of a sci-fi/mystery, but also a rousing, snickering social statement.” - Mystery Scene.
“funny, dark and charming” - Morning Star.
“splendid ... a fine story ...should be on everyone's summer reading list. Wicked sense of humour and tale that barrels along. We thoroughly enjoyed it.” - Eco-Logic Books.
“Nothing I’ve read in ages has made me think more. I seem to have forgotten that it is possible to think there can be alternatives to the ways societies and economies function. There really hasn’t been much thought given in the arts to what might be possible to routinely survive without cataclysm if a drastic shift of priorities – fuel, food, weather – forces change upon us … a humorous crime novel ... There is invention, wit and wisdom aplenty.” - Dave Quayle, Lillabullero.
“I read very few crime novels these days, but I was in no way disappointed with this one ... it is a book which should spark discussion and bring some renewed hope ... I know of no other contemporary writer of fiction who is grappling with these urgent questions, and it was gratifying to find ideas of such import and imagination ... This is one to read and think about.” - John Baker, author of ‘Death Minus Zero.’
“I would recommend Mat Coward’s book both as an intriguing murder mystery and also as a thought-provoking blueprint for a possible future for Britain.” - The Forest & Wye Clarion.
“A thought provoking book which works on multiple levels, both as entertainment and commentary, Acts of Destruction is an undeniably British but very accessible novel that demonstrates Coward’s imaginative verve and breezy, extremely readable style.” - Crime Scene Scotland.
“I genuinely enjoyed the book. Like in all the best crime novels, we start with the discovery of a body, go on to apparently unrelated matters - stolen tomatoes, a missing child, some problem about bees - and find they're all tied together by the end. Along the way we've had our viewpoint characters' relationships get interestingly more complicated. I hope Mat is working on a sequel, because I'd like to meet them again.” - Ken MacLeod, author of ‘The Execution Channel.’
“As well as providing the requisite gripping yarn, Acts of Destruction is both witty and wide-ranging in its incidental detail.” - Red Pepper.
“I bought this on the recommendation of Ken MacLeod, and wasn't disappointed ... I loved this book, and I'm sure you will too.” - Dave’s Free Press.
“No matter how bad things may be, it seems easier to imagine them getting worse rather than better, which means that Acts of Destruction, set in the near future, is a very rare work.” - Vector.
"Not only great fun, but at the same time a very thought provoking look at what Britain might look like in the near future." - The Real Seed Catalogue.
"stimulating ideas, good modular plotting, and trademark humor" - Crime & Mystery Stories of the Year 2010.
SOOTHER’S BOY, (Alia Mondo Press, 2008; ISBN is 978-0-9558686-0-3) is a fantasy novel (about 35,000 words) for children aged around 11-13. Here’s the back cover blurb: “Rill is sent to the city to serve his apprenticeship as a soother’s boy, one who calms the animals known as ravings after their powerful magic has been taken from them by the beastmasters. But the magic factory is full of mystery and danger, with rituals and rules that often seem to Rill not only pointless but cruel. As his confusion mounts and his troubles multiply, the soother’s boy can trust just one person - his fellow apprentice Challi, a young girl who is his only friend in the entire city. Together, Rill and Challi are about to uncover the last, terrible secret of the Beasthole.”
It can be ordered from any bookseller or library, or buy it via PayPal at http://www.matcoward.com/works.htm. It's also available as an e-book, ISBN 9781301476725.
There’s a bit of a story behind this book. A few years ago I was asked to write a short story for a children’s fantasy anthology. “The Soother’s Boy” was accepted, and I was paid for it, but the anthology never appeared. Now, when I’d first outlined the story, the editor had said that he liked it, but that it sounded more like a novel than a short story. So, I turned the short story into a novel, and offered it to the same publisher. She was very keen on it, but ... well, for reasons which I can’t go into here (because it would give away the plot) we disagreed about the ending. We parted amicably, I went on to other jobs, and it wasn’t until a year or so later, when I read an article about self-publishing in the magazine of my union, the Writers’ Guild, that I suddenly thought what a great self-publishing project Soother’s would make. I started out writing for fanzines in the 1970s, so the DIY idea has always been something I’m keen on; on the other hand, I’m not an idiot. New technology has made self-publishing infinitely easier and more economical than it used to be, but you still need to know what you’re doing - which I didn’t.
But I had a brilliant idea: I commissioned Andrew Hook, who runs the award-winning Elastic Press - which published my collection So Far, So Near - to, as it were, “project manage” the book for me. He did everything, and did it superbly, and I just wrote the cheque at the end. The result is a really lovely paperback, with a sensationally good cover by the artist Dean Harkness; you can see it at his website: http://www.deanharkness.co.uk/index.html. Incidentally, “Alia Mondo” (as if you didn’t know) means “Another world” in Esperanto.
I only sent out two review copies, so I won’t have my usual endless procession of blurbs here, but ... Reviews of Soother’s Boy:
“this haunting and disturbing teen novel [...] The rich characterisation and depth of background in this story could easily have sustained a novel at least twice as long.” - Fortean Times.
“Rill is an engaging character, and there’s lots of interest in the way he reacts to the rigid society and rules of the city. Young readers will find it easy to relate to him and to his friend Challi. There are also truly awful characters that readers can love to hate, and enjoy it when they get their comeuppance. There are also some nail-biting sequences as Rill discovers the truth about the production of magic.” - Vector, critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association.
FORTY LASHES is a short book (or long pamphlet; it’s about 44,000 words) which I’ve was writing, on and off, for over twenty years. It’s a sort of life’s work, in a way ... or at any rate, I felt bloody relieved to have finally got it out and got it down and got it finished. It is a polemic, or squib, in which I consider the anti-smoking movement as a religion, and explain why I think it’s so dangerous. This is an argument that I’ve been involved in, often publicly, for about a quarter of a century - for more than half my life, at time of publication. And this is my valedictory yell: exhausted and bitter, I have set down everything I know and everything I think about the subject, and having done so - that’s me done. I retire from that particular battlefield, and hope you enjoy what I’ve written. (You should do; it is, to be blunt, a work of genius.) My aim is to make the booklet available free to anyone who’d like to read it, so for now it is simply posted online at http://homepages.phonecoop.coop/matcoward/smoking.htm
SO FAR, SO NEAR - my first collection of SF (and fantasy, horror, slipstream and allied trades) stories - was published in 2007 by the superb British independent publisher, Elastic Press (ISBN: 978-0-9553181-0-8), with an irresistible cover by Mike Fyles. The hardback and paperback editions sold out, but it’s still available as a downloadable audio book, produced by Action Audio. It's also available as an e-book, ISBN 9781301115303, through most outlets or directly from http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/340528
The stories included are: By hand or by brain; Clean and bright; Early retirement; Jilly’s fault; Knee deep; Little green card; Now I know its name; Offenders; One box of books; Remote viewing; Room to move; The second question; Those things; Time spent in reconnaissance; We all saw it; We have fed you all for a thousand years. Each story is followed by a brief afterword, in which I discuss its origins.
The book was published in two, beautifully produced editions: as well as the paperback, there’s a limited edition, lettered hardback. The first 50 paperbacks are signed and numbered. (Signed by me; numbered by someone who can count.) Each of the 26 A-Z hardbacks, incidentally, has a different word printed on the signature label - “A is for ... ” and so on. Each of the words appears only once in the text of the book.
Two leading SF writers were kind enough to provide blurbs for the book:
"I was thrilled to find 'We All Saw It' in
this collection. It had stuck in my mind ever since I first read it. All the
stories here have that distinctive tang, of the intrusion of the alien or
fantastic on the ordinary, that we remember from some classic SF and are
delighted to find again. Better yet, we find it fresh, and with a sharp
philosophical and political mind behind observant eyes. Humanist SF with
Martian cool!" - Ken MacLeod.
"Even with extremely humorous booby-traps lurking for anyone with the ability to laugh, Mat Coward cannot disguise his basic humanity – nor can he hide his consummate skills at writing, damn fine story-telling, and dialogue to kill for. Read this book.” – Jon George.
Reviews of So Far, So Near:
“Five stars: Brilliant! I'd never heard of this writer before... I did a bit of research but didn't find very much, and so I took a chance, and WOW AM I GLAD I DID!!! I cannot say enough good things about this collection of short stories... They are strange, unusual, weird, understandable, mysterious, enigmatic, unique, and utterly enjoyable ... It is so funny, fun, fascinating, and clever... These are truly fun and thoughtful and unique tales, with brilliant character development, very thoughtful, carefully examined ideas and themes... and the plots are brilliantly paced, and never a cookie cutter ending... VERY WELL DONE.” - from a customer’s review at www.audible.com.
“Cannot recommend it too highly ... I love his voice ... He is subtle, angry, passionate, insightful and very, very funny in a way that comes up and clips your ear some time after you read the story, leaving you wondering why you didn't realise it was that funny when you read it. There is none of the weak, obvious punnery that so often passes for humour in the genre. Neither is there anything Pratechettian or Rankinian about the humour - which isn't to denigrate Pratchett or Rankin, just to emphasise the personality of the humour. As you'll gather, I'm very much enamoured of this collection. I'd even suggest you buy it, with your own money. What higher recommendation do you need?” - http://martyn44.livejournal.com/47007.html.
“Each of the seventeen stories is told with wit and insight, full of idiosyncratic humour. One of the really nice things about the book is that at the end of every story Coward has written a little piece, often about his own perspective on the story, an interesting insight into the writer’s mind ... So Far, So Near is a good valued steal at this price. 10/10.” - www.sci-fi-online.
“There is no danger of dust collection with this collection of short stories. Coward provides us with the disparate adventures of a whole host of eclectic storytellers, all hosted under one cover ... Whether it is aliens, witches, boxes of books or just empty space, the story will hold your attention.” - Morning Star.
“layered and witty ... cohesive and direct ... an essential humanity ... warmly wonderful ... the hit-rate is high.” - Interzone.
“A delightful collection ... ‘The Second Question’ is a classic time travel story ... So Far, So Near is Mat Coward's first collection of speculative fiction and it's certain to drive readers new to his work back to their search engines and bookstores to look up his other titles ... Speculative fiction fans will be missing a bet if they don't pick up this collection.” - The Harrow.
“the most typical Mat Coward stories are those where he takes a simple idea, something that would never strike most of us as anything out of the ordinary, and then, like a jazz musician playing riffs on a theme or an artist with an eye for the surreal, transforms it into something unique and wonderful ... Coward may never write a bestseller or be in line for any of the glittering prizes, but his is a very real and substantial talent all the same, and So Far, So Near is the ideal gateway to his work. Succinctly, Elastic Press have another winner on their hands.” - Whisper of Wickednessat www.ookami.co.uk.
“excellent collection of stories. Funny, touching, intelligent and challenging ... refreshingly cosmopolitan and surprisingly accessible even for people who are not familiar with the SF canon.” - Strange Horizons.
“In each case, the results are delightfully compelling. The pace and tone of these sixteen stories are consistently spot on, while the themes themselves never dip below fascinating. The dialogue fairly sparkles with a natural wit and even in the wackiest situations (and there are plenty to enjoy here), the narrative never descends into the merely farcical. Instead, at the core of each of these tales, there is a genuine sense of humanity. Coward has an unerring ability to make us laugh at ourselves while raising some rather astute questions about science and, of course, science fiction, along the way ... engages your brainpower, and at the same time, tickles your ribs by means of subtle asides and outrageous speculative musings ... both refreshing and fully realised, breathing new life into tired subject matter. Standout story 'We All Saw It' reveals a writer at the top of his game, bold enough to take on the Big Issues, yet humble enough to make them easily digestible and utterly entertaining. Employing light touches of comedy and a genuine flair for storytelling, Mat Coward’s So Far, So Near takes the reader on a journey into Sci-Fi’s broom closet, a backstage pass to some of the world’s most niggling mysteries, and the experience is nothing short of remarkable. For anyone seeking a lesson in bona fide originality and narrative verve, this is the book for you. Many of these stories will stay in mind for a long, long time – and make you look that little bit closer at the bizarreness of the world around us. That, in itself, is no mean feat. The rest is pure enjoyment.” - Future Fire.
“Mat Coward creates exceedingly good aliens ... there are enough bright, shiny jewels to make this collection well worth acquiring, and remarkable value for money ... you will be rewarded, mostly with laughter at unexpected moments.”- Vector (the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association), which listed the book as a “Recommended Read.”
“ ... treating the fantastic as the most natural thing in the world ... Coward puts an unusual spin on a science fiction staple ... So Far, So Near is a highly enjoyable book, one that will make you want to read the next story, if only to find out what else Coward has come up with.” - Serendipity.
“All of these stories are excellent - Mat Coward weaves stories of fantastic happenings within a mundane world, making the unreal seem real and keeps the reader’s attention from start to finish.” - Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society.
“A fabulous collection.” - SF Crowsnest.com.
OPEN AND CLOSED (Five Star, 2005; ISBN: 1-59414-274-2). The fourth novel in the “Don and Frank” crime series. This time, DI Packham and DC Mitchell investigate a body in a library - a municipal library, that is, in suburban north London, which is threatened with closure. One of those fighting to keep it open is 84-year-old lifelong activist, “Bolshie” Bert Rosen who is found murdered in the librarian’s office during a sit-in protest.
The hardback is out of print, but there’s now a paperback edition, thanks to the Authors Guild’s wonderful “back in print” programme. Using POD technology, the book can be ordered through any online or physical bookshop, or direct from http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000127209/OPEN-AND-CLOSED.aspx and will then be printed and delivered to you from the nearest participating printer. It’s a quality trade paperback, priced at US$15-95, and the ISBN is 978-1-4401-6322-7.
Incidentally, two of the pages in the paperback are in the wrong order: page 174 comes before page 173. (My fault; I missed it on the proofs). Just thought I’d mention it here, so you’ll know you didn’t imagine it.
And, as from January 2014, the novel is available as an ebook, from all the usual outlets - again, as a result of one of the Authors Guild's innovative schemes.
Reviews of Open & Closed:
“Will please devotees of this too-little-known series ... Some of the banter between the two leads will remind some readers of the wordplay in a Donald E. Westlake novel, and that’s just fine. Readers who have not yet sampled this quirky and entertaining series should be vehemently encouraged to do so, with all haste.” - Booklist.
“The charm of his writing wins the reader over” - Shots.
“Mat Coward makes the prosaic exotic. The detail of our everyday lives comes alive in his hands." - Morning Star.
"For me the victim and his family ring particularly true. Definitely worth getting your library to order (or even buy it yourself too.)" - The Library Campaigner.
“Watching the pair methodically interview and re-interview all of those who are potential killers is great fun, and the depictions of the diversity of ages, personalities and social strata of all who are involved are skillfully portrayed. The plot moves along briskly with a good deal of humor. The political irrationality of the threatened closure of the library is delightfully balanced by Packham’s iconoclasm, and his acumen and wit make him a detective whose adventures are definitely worth following. RECOMMENDED.” - www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com
“Don Packham and Frank Mitchell make a humorous pair ... the characters come alive ... I highly enjoyed this novel, and the previous stories about the two British detectives.” - LoveRomances.com
"The plot clips along with the policemen as much in the dark as the reader." - Mystery Scene.
“Amusing, witty mystery ... One thing this reviewer always looks for in a book is good character work and Coward knows how to write endearingly likeable characters. The surrounding and incidental characters feel textured and real, and this is one of Coward's great skills; he knows how to write people ... They're quintessentially British whodunnits written with style and aplomb. They're not dark, they're rarely explicitly violent and they're often very, very funny ... Open and Closed is a fun, airy whodunnit with a typically cheeky sense of humour and two endearing, charming lead characters ... Coward's infectious sense of fun and his clear, flowing prose make this a fun, divertingly entertaining and pleasant read.” - Crime Scene Scotland.
“What marks this book, and indeed Coward’s other Don and Frank mysteries, out from the rest of the genteel English copper pack is Coward’s excellent sense of humour and his endearingly sympathetic characters who often surprise us by breaking free from what appears to be obvious stereotype. Open and Closed is an entertaining, light and very funny take on the traditional English mystery. Coward’s breezy style guides the reader willingly through the twists and turns of this clever, witty novel.” - Jacqueline Rice, Crimespree Magazine.
“Enter hard-bitten cynic DI Don Packham and not-so-innocent DC Frank Mitchell. Their relationship is a comic masterpiece, especially in dealings with the eccentric characters who populate this book. One incident with a mobile phone will make you laugh out loud. The case is eventually solved and life returns to near normality - one hopes to meet DI Don and DC Frank again.” - Warwickshire County Library Service, staff recommendations website.
SUCCESS ... AND HOW TO AVOID IT (TTA Press, 2004; ISBN: 9780953294916). A very attractively-designed paperback, from the publishers of Interzone, Black Static and Crimewave. The e-book version is on the way; watch this space.
Success was an idea I'd been working at, on and off, for many years. I've been making what passes for a living as a freelance writer since 1986, and during that time I've done just about every scribbling-related job you could name, in books, magazines, radio, TV, stage, greetings cards, newspapers, videos ... and so on. As you can imagine, over the years I have amassed a certain amount of knowledge (and an even greater amount of opinions) concerning the life of the freelance - not least, that writing is a crap way to earn a living, and that anyone who wants to do it full-time must be stone bonkers. This book is intended as an antidote to all the other writers' books - the ones that are full of homilies, and vague advice, and utterly groundless optimism; the ones that insist that "You too can make £££s as a freelance writer without really trying from the comfort of your own living-room after just Three Easy Lessons!" This books aims to give a truer picture of the freelance life, from the inside. It's very funny, it's illustrated with great cartoons by Rob Kirbyson and a smashing cover by Edward Noon, and you never know - it might even tell you something useful. To buy directly from the publisher, go to http://ttapress.com/books/3/successand-how-to-avoid-it/
Reviews of Success … And How To Avoid It:
"If bursting into fits of convulsive laughter is liable to embarrass you, do not read this book in public." - Tim Lebbon.
"one of the funniest and most honest titles to be published this year." - Independent on Sunday.
"the only honest guide to being a freelance writer ever written ... the stuff they don't normally tell you." - Nine To Five & Midweek.
“It is written with anger, realism and is very funny ... If you want a live example of what the much-cliched ‘anarchic humour’ really is, then this is the place to look ... Here he writes with the fury born of direct experience. You can imagine his eyes swivelling as he writes ...The main reason to read this book has to be for its entertainment value. There are numerous paragraphs that will make anyone with half a sense of humour laugh out loud ... Yet there is also much useful information ... there is hard-won knowledge here. It’s given with a finely-tuned sense of the ridiculous and above all with honesty. ... and remember that the advice in this book is given by someone who makes his living from writing.” - Stride Magazine.
"An often hysterically funny book about actually being a freelance writer ... should you actually sit down and read this book, any part of this book, you'll find something that will make you laugh." - The Agony Column.
"If you're interested in being a writer ... do yourself a favor and buy this book ... the best guide to being a writer I've ever read." - Nick Mamatas' Journal.
"Success... And How To Avoid It should be required reading for creative writing classes and for aspiring writers everywhere. ... this part-memoir part-rant captures perfectly what it means to actually be a freelance writer. ... It can be read in one sitting, but the joy of the book is in the dipping: opening the book at random to come across Coward’s clear, passionate voice as he demolishes the myths surrounding writing as a job ... the single best book on the reality of writing for a living published in a long time. Buy it, read it, then read it again. ... Highly recommended, a cold reality check and a welcome, refreshing change ... It is irreplaceable." - Whispers of Wickedness.
“I got a copy of Success and How to Avoid it by Mat Coward, and it's the funniest, most accurate look at freelance writing I've ever seen. Seriously, it's a must-read if you're even remotely contemplating the ludicrous path of misery and heartbreak that is life as a freelance writer. It's about time someone wrote a book on writing that properly discourages people from the occupation.” - Tropism, Tim Pratt's Journal.
"An invaluable guide for all kinds of writers ... Coward takes off the rose-tinted glasses, throws them on the floor, and jumps up and down on them." - The Alien Online.
"a funny guide to avoid the pain of writing ... Read, take action, be happy." - SFcrowsnest.com
"Very, very, very, very funny ... the book should work for any sentient being with a sense of humour. ... I guarantee that within 20 seconds of your opening the book at any page and reading a few lines at random, a smile would begin to creep over your face. ... Take my word for it: you should not live a day longer without this book." - Time Out.
“the ideal antidote to all those ‘how to’ manuals ... Coward tells it with a blackly comedic style that is a delight to read, his acerbic wit akin to that of a doctor who makes you chuckle even as he delivers a fatal prognosis. You simply can’t help laughing, both at Coward’s honesty and the pratfalls of the writing life that he tells with such apparent glee ... It is even, all disclaimers to the contrary, an eminently practical book. There is, in among all the ‘negativity’ and clouds of mock despair, a fund of information that’s probably going to be of use to the freelance hopeful ... The writer is the eternal optimist, forever travelling in hope to an unknown destination, and ‘Success’ is the ideal Baedeker for such a journey. ... it will make you laugh, I guarantee it, and sometimes laughter is just the thing that’s needed. - Peter Tennant, www.laurahird.com
“Coward nails each and every possible situation to the wall with brutal (and very British) honesty ... SUCCESS could have been a quick read if it hadn't been so blatantly truthful that it made this freelance writer stop and take to heart (and head) what he said. .. you will not have anything close to the common sense that Mat Coward pokes at you in his own unique way.” - Hellnotes.
“If you're really determined to beggar yourself and risk your house, your family and your sanity on what has to be one of the most precarious careers ever devised in the pits of hell, then this is the book to read first. Don't just read it. Sleep with it under your pillow. ... Success is an engaging, entertaining, and sometimes snortingly funny tour of everything that can go wrong for a writer, and Coward is a genial if bitingly sarcastic guide. Everything he says rings with the clear chime of truth ... Mat Coward is both funny and wise. Listen to him.” - Simon Morden in Vector, the BSFA magazine.
”If you want to wind down the year with a light-hearted recommendation, then here is ours: Success And How to Avoid It. Written by a full-time freelance writer about the business of being a writer, it is absolutely hilarious.” - Plain Words Training Bulletin.
"I bought this on impulse via an Interzone magazine subscription, and I am thoroughly glad I did. [...]The humour is scathing but passionate and witty and there were several lines that had me laughing like an idiot. [...]Fully recommended. I read the entire thing in one sitting and when I emerged at the end I realised it was 5am and birds were singing outside." - (reader's review online)
My first novella was published for Christmas 2004. It’s part of my “Don and Frank” police series, and is included in a four-author anthology called THE LAST NOEL, from Worldwide (ISBN 0-373-26509-3). The other writers are Steve Brewer, Catherine Dain and Linda Berry. My 25,000 word story is “Deep and Crisp,” in which DI Packham (I notice the cover blurb promotes him to DCI) and DC Mitchell are called to a murder scene in a public park on Christmas Day; the victim was a member of The 25th December Resistance Movement - but one of his friends clearly hated him even more than he hated Xmas.
Reviews of Deep & Crisp:
"This complicated mystery is an armchair reader's delight." - MyShelf.com
“The characters are superb eccentrics ... The
plot’s good, too, but Coward’s by-the-way detail is a joy.” - Morning Star
OVER AND UNDER (Five Star, 2004; ISBN: 1-4104-0186-3) was the third novel featuring DI Don Packham and DC Frank Mitchell. This time, Don and Frank investigate a death at the annual cricket match between the Writers and the Comedians.
The North American paperback was published in 2005 by Worldwide; ISBN 0-373-26541-7.
Reviews of Over & Under:
"One of the funniest writers in the history of crime fiction ... a nicely twisted whodunit." - Jon L. Breen, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
"Easy-paced, beautifully-written ... full of marvellously meandering conversations and has a wealth of amusing, generally useless information ... splendidly entertaining. The characters are great, the dialogue is terrific and there's lots of wonderful one-liners ... it should be read twice - first to find out who done it and second to savour the jokes." - Morning Star.
"Highly entertaining ... were it not for the possible adverse effects on Mr Coward's US sales, I might be tempted to dub him the Michael Moore of British crime fiction." - CADS: Crime and Detective Stories.
"Typically breezy ... an enjoyable book." - Martin Edwards, Tangled Web.
"The two cops are a delight to observe in action." - Harriet Klausner.
"The Packham and Mitchell stories are like a breath of fresh air ... The writing is easy paced and light-hearted ... What it does supply in abundance is that rare commodity - entertainment." - Ian Morson, Tangled Web.
*“Nothing about Coward’s humour is forced ... The humour and the jokes flow easily from the characters ... even if you’ve never read any of Coward’s previous books - something to which I raise my hand and promise to remedy - you feel like Packham and Mitchell are old friends before you’re even a third of the way into the book ... Mat Coward is an excellent writer, with a dry and self-deprecatory sense of humour in the vein of the most likeable comedians. Not only that, but it’s clear to the reader that he is enjoying himself with this book ... it achieves the job it set out to do: leaving the reader with a grin on their face and a good feeling inside them, even if they are still a little perturbed by the murder that forms the book’s central mystery. While the book is laugh out loud funny at times, Coward is still careful that neither he nor his characters are flippant or cavalier about the death. ... great fun. ... a good-humoured, well written novel. Mat Coward is not just a fine writer, but a funny man ... Warm, witty and guaranteed to leave you smiling, it showcases how to write a traditional mystery/procedural without insulting the intelligence of your audience.” - Crime Scene.
THE POCKET ESSENTIAL CLASSIC RADIO COMEDY (Pocket Essentials, 2003; ISBN: 1-904048-04-8.). This 96-page, 35,000-word, pocket-sized paperback is out of print, though widely available in public libraries. I hope to produce an e-book edition soon.
You could say I'd been researching this book since I was about ten years old! It consists of major chapters on each of the "Big Three" shows - The Goons, Hancock and Round the Horne - which are generally seen as the shiniest jewels in radio comedy's crown, but it also provides an overview of the history of the form in Britain, from its beginnings in 1922 to the start of the age of digital radio in 2002. I'm open to correction on this, but I believe that there is no other book in print which contains as much information on this subject - and I'm bloody certain that there has never been a book on radio comedy which told so much in such a compact form. I've compiled a basic, 15-page index to the book; if you'd like a free copy, please email me via http://www.matcoward.com/
(Note added in January 2008: I’m flattered and delighted to discover that this little book has become the standard work on the subject, frequently quoted in the text, footnotes and bibliographies of books, articles and websites on the history of radio and of comedy, and social history. On the other hand, I am forced to acknowledge that the only reason for this is that my book is pretty much the only one available covering this subject ... which, given that it’s only 96 pages long, is a bit depressing.)
Reviews of Classic Radio Comedy:
"Fascinating" - The Independent.
"If you want to be introduced, or introduce someone else to the Goons or British radio comedy, or even want to search the roots of modern comedy, then this is the ideal book for you." - Peter Sellers Appreciation Society magazine.
"Packed full of fascinating information" - BBC7 Newsletter.
"Infectious enthusiasm ... Coward's chatty style is engaging ... a nice little stocking-filler." - Morning Star.
"A great great book ... It really is an essential guide to British comedy ... Outstanding ... I wholeheartedly endorse this one ... Packed with info on all the great shows and should be on every member's library shelf." - Tune Into Yesterday, magazine of the Old-Time Radio Show Collector's Association.
"Instructive and interesting" - Ariel, the BBC's staff magazine.
"This potted history of BBC radio comedy ...
will, I suspect, rekindle and confirm old enthusiasms. But even if you are not
at all old and remember, say, only the more recent of the comedy programmes
included in this comprehensive survey, this book is for you, with the
persuasive, though never overstated, case it makes for regarding all the BBC's
comedic output as part of a still-developing continuum. In short, this book is
a balanced, interesting and well-written tribute to Classic Radio Comedy by a
writer who really knows and loves his subject." - reader's review at
My first short story collection - DO THE WORLD A FAVOUR & OTHER STORIES - was published in 2003 by Five Star, in the USA (ISBN: 0-7862-4313-9). My main ambition since I started writing short stories was to have a collection published, and I was delighted with this book - not least because it has an introduction by one of the world's leading crime writers, Ian Rankin. It’s out of print now, but I’m planning to publish an e-book version as soon as possible.
The collection contains the following stories: History repeats itself, and it doesn't even say pardon; No night by myself; The set-up man; The shortest distance; Do the world a favour; Not a minute on the day; Famous for one thing; Nowhere to be found; Breathe in; But poor men pay for all; Tomorrow's villain; Bits; Old sultan; Twelve of the little buggers.
Reviews of Do The World A Favour:
"I'm forced to admit it: he's just possibly the best writer of short stories working in the crime world today." - Ian Rankin.
"Coward is one of the most original and consistently readable short-story writers now practicing. The afterwords to each tale add to the enjoyment ... Ian Rankin's appreciative introduction doesn't overstate the case a bit." - Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
"Filled with intelligence and witty dialogue, do yourself a favour and enjoy this collection." - Harriet Klausner.
"... underlines the sheer excellence of Coward's ability to confound all expectations ... successfully stretches and tests the limits of the crime fiction genre ... an unusual and varied collection ... I really couldn't put the book down ... an addition to the crime fiction genre to die for. A truly essential read. - Morning Star.
"Do yourself a favor and read this entertaining collection ... Coward, Edgar-nominated for his short fiction, displays a light, ironic touch throughout. He has a keen eye for mannerisms and speech patterns, and presents a cast of realistic, all too human characters in the midst of crisis. The stories involve small, intensely personal moments ranging in tone from dark to comic, in period from the 17th century to the present. They are uniformly tight, efficient and well-written, sprinkled with observations that make you sit up and take notice." - Jack Ewing, on 'Shortmystery,' the e-list of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
"As Ian Rankin, no less, says in his introduction, Mat Coward is 'just possibly the best writer of short stories working in the crime world today.' There is plenty of evidence here to back up that claim, large though it is when one bears in mind the excellence of such distinguished British practitioners as Rendell, Lovesey, Hill, Barnard and Rankin ... The stories are accompanied by freshly written afterwords from the author, which are packed with background interest and self-deprecating humour ... All in all, this is one of the most varied and agreeable single-author collections of crime stories for years." - Tangled Web.
"This one left me Oliver Twistly wanting more ... Wit is one of Coward's strongest points ... Of modern practitioners, I rate him alongside Robert Barnard - there is no higher accolade." - The Mystery Review.
“The first collection by this excellent writer of crime fiction.” - Ellen Datlow’s 2003 Reviews.
TWENTY SEVENTEEN was my first children's
novel, published in 2002 by Heinemann, as part of the Literacy World Comets
series. (ISBN 0435 22907
9; also available in a pack of six, when the ISBN is 0435 22916 8). Aimed at readers of around 11 years old, it's an SF adventure story set in Britain in 2017. Dazza's life in a market town north of London is hard but happy, and the worldwide resources war that's been going on almost since he was born is merely something that happens in the background - until a stray bomb destroys his street. Dazza and his parents become displaced persons - refugees in their own country. While being evacuated to an aunt's house in the West Country, Dazza gets separated from his family. To be reunited with them, he'll have to travel the length of the country, experiencing a variety of strange and frightening new worlds, from the abandoned London Underground to an internment camp in rural Scotland.
This is a 112-page paperback, with plenty of excellent illustrations by Philip Hurst and a really eye-catching cover. The six pack comes with a laminated card for teachers, suggesting class work based on the book in line with National Literacy Scheme objectives. It's a fascinating - if slightly nerve-wracking - experience for a writer, to see his work so closely analysed. As of 2011, it’s still selling - there must be a lot of teachers bored stiff with it by now!
Review of Twenty Seventeen:
"A quick and enjoyable read ... a cracking story ... thought-provoking and entertaining. As my twelve year old nephew remarked, 'That was great, I want to read it again!'" - Morning Star.
IN AND OUT (Five star, 2001; ISBN 0-7862-3017-7 for the hardback, and 0-373-26456-9 for Worldwide’s 2003 paperback). Now available as an ebook (ISBN 9781301066339): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255324
In my second crime novel, north London cops DI Don Packham and DC Frank Mitchell investigate a death which takes place in a pub darts team. I didn't have to do much research for this book, since I spent most of my time between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five playing darts. If you're interested in the great and noble sport of arrows, you'll be pleased to find masses of darting action and philosophy in In and Out. If you're not - well, I hope you'll enjoy the whodunit and the jokes.
Reviews of In & Out:
“Light and clever.” - Kirkus.
"Immensely enjoyable … a rare treat … "one of the most original, engaging, and likeable detectives to come down the pike in many a year. In the pantheon of British detectives, he belongs right up there with Frost, Morse, and Dalgliesh." - Starred review in Booklist.
“Finely crafted and original ... holds the reader in suspense until the last few pages ... an entertaining murder mystery leavened by apposite comments on modern life and some dry wit. A wonderful follow-up to Up & Down ... witty dialogue, a pacy plot and a wickedly uplifting narrative ... Packham has the grumpiness of Morse and Frost's knack for one-liners ... sparkles with humour and entertainment ... gets the reader to laugh out loud." - Morning Star.
“A fine whodunnit.” - Midweek.
"Mat Coward writes with a droll wit ... In & Out is a light-hearted mystery that I can recommend to anyone, whether they prefer cozy or hard-boiled." - Deadly Pleasures.
"Mat weaves into this excellent murder mystery some of his own personal darts philosophy ... Although I thought I'd sussed it early on I was in fact utterly and completely wrong. That to me is the sign of a true murder mystery ... A darts themed mystery that all darts players can relate to ... Written with insight." Planetdarts.co.uk
"enough solid ratiocination to keep the most diehard of fans happy … light, ever-observant - and hilariously funny. Don't read this novel (as I did) in the aftermath of a double hernia operation. There are laugh-aloud passages here guaranteed to pop your stitches and send you back to the operating table." - CADS.
"The real strengths of the book lie partly in the relationship between two credible cops and partly in the dialogue - always a strength with Coward." - Crime Time.
"as fresh and original as their creator's droll narrative voice … the suspects are vividly characterized, and the observations of the customs and rituals of the sport are vastly entertaining." - Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
"Coward really has hit the bullseye ... some enchanting and humorous one-liners ... If you like darts and you enjoy a good mystery, then In and Out is the book for you." - Darts World.
My first novel was published by Five Star in the USA in June 2000. UP & DOWN (ISBN: 0-7862-2541-6 hardback and 0-373-26484-4 paperback, published in 2004 by Worldwide), a whodunit set on an allotment site in north London, introduced DI Don Packham and PC Frank Mitchell. I’ve written before about how I came to write this book, so I won’t go over it again - you can find it in the Fall 2004 issue of Mystery Readers Journal.
Reviews of Up & Down:
"Auspicious debut" - Library Journal.
"Impressive debut" - Booklist.
"A treat" - Deadly Pleasures.
"Ingenious and very funny, especially for the gardening-literate reader." - Organic Gardening.
"Up and Down is well plotted and the characters are lively and memorable, but the unexpected delight is that this book is laugh-out-loud funny. It isn't the story itself, but the author's voice, the thoughts his characters think, and the way they express themselves. PC Mitchell grows to understand his boss, who is actually likeable when he isn't lost in a funk. The two work well together in this very fine police procedural. It was so good I went out and found the next, and am looking forward to the third in the series." - Mystery Readers Journal.
“Great debut; reminded me of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.” - iloveamystery.com
THE BEST OF ROUND THE HORNE by Barry Took with Mat Coward (Boxtree, 20000; ISBN: 0-7522-1809-3). This is a collection of 20 scripts from the 1960s BBC radio comedy show, created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman. My part in the venture was to add footnotes to explain some of the more obscure references, and to provide an introduction to each episode which attempts to place the programme in the context of its times. Most of the scripts here have never been published before, and they are presented complete for the first time - all the material that was cut from the broadcast version has been reinstated. Any fan or student of comedy, and anyone interested in social history, will find this a fascinating book, I believe; few comedy series have enjoyed such lasting popularity - repeats are still broadcast today, in various countries, and CDs of the original broadcasts continue to sell.
My first book was CANNIBAL VICTIMS SPEAK OUT! AND OTHER ASTONISHING PRESS CUTTINGS (Gollancz, 1995; ISBN: 0575061634), a collection of bloopers, literals, double entendres and so on, which was illustrated in gloriously bad taste by the brilliant cartoonist David Lyttleton. It's long been out of print - and quite expensive second-hand - but I’m glad to say it’s now available as a multi-format e-book: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/102004
My original title was SIC! - which the publisher thought was too obscure. Gollancz initially announced the book as Exploding Head Syndrome Quite Harmless. Notwithstanding the fact that no such volume was ever published, Amazon has it on offer, and so do several sellers on e-bay. I’ve never dared buy one, yet. I keep thinking I should write an sf story about that …
Anyway, my second collection of funny cuttings - definitely called SIC! this time - is ready to go, and will be appearing as an e-book very soon. I’ve collected such cuttings for most of my life (inspired in childhood by the Gobfrey Shrdlu books of Denys Parsons), so I’m sure I’ll never run out of material. If you like this sort of thing you might want to follow me on Twitter, where I post a daily cutting under the name of @MatsHeadlines.
"Mat Coward writes terrific short stories" - Ian Rankin.
"Mat Coward is especially versatile and prolific. His quirky tales pop up in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies and are invariably worth seeking out" - Martin Edwards.
"One of the most consistently original short story writers since Stanley Ellin." - Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
“His short stories are unfailingly amazing and amusing.” - Peter Lovesey.
MORE MURDERS FOR THE FIRESIDE edited by
Maxim Jakubowski (Pan, 1994; ISBN: 0 330 33572 3).
Story title: History repeats itself, and it doesn't even say pardon. For
details, see the entry below for Constable new crimes 2.
LAST RITES & RESURRECTIONS edited by Andy Cox (TTA Press, 1995; ISBN: 0 9526947 00). Story title: Clean and bright. I actually dreamt the first half of this story, and woke up with it in my mind, just waiting to be written down. The second half involved a lot more work, unfortunately, but eventually it was done and I sent it to Andy Cox's magazine The Third Alternative (now known as Black Static), which had become by far the most talked about fiction magazine in Britain. It's an odd little slipstream piece, about a woman who washes air. I later sold it, somewhat rewritten, to BBC Radio 4, and Andy chose it for this first paperback selection of TTA stories. The title story of the anthology, incidentally, written by Martin Simpson, was one of the most brilliant and widely-admired stories of the 1990s.
3rd CULPRIT edited by Liza Cody, Michael Z Lewin and Peter Lovesey (Chatto,
1994; ISBN: 0 7011 6237 6. Also published in USA: Worldwide, 1996; ISBN: 0 373 26212 4). Story title: The Hampstead Vegetable Heist. I lived in Hampstead, north London, between 1978 and 1987, and continued long after that to set some of my stories in the pubs and bedsits of what in those days was a unique urban village. This is a more-or-less light-hearted story, inspired by newspaper reports of amateur criminals attempting to commit robberies armed only with fake guns in the form of cucumbers in paper bags. I'll always be grateful to the distinguished editors of this CWA anthology for taking a chance by publishing a story by a completely unknown writer. Mike Lewin, one of my favourite authors in this or any other genre, continued to be very generous to me with his time, advice and practical help. Crime writers are notoriously nice people! This story was picked up by BBC Radio 4 for broadcast in the Short Story slot. (The Crime Writers'
Association has a website at http://www.thecwa.co.uk/ which is of interest to readers as well as writers).
CONSTABLE NEW CRIMES 2 edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Constable, 1993; ISBN: 0 09 472670 1). Story title: History repeats itself, and it doesn't even say pardon. This was my first published crime story, which I submitted to Maxim on spec. I can still remember the thrill of seeing it in print - and of hearing that it had been shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association's Dagger Award for short stories, in that award's inaugural year. The title came first with this piece, and I then invented a narrative to go with it - not a working method I would necessarily recommend! It's about a cop who used to be a crook. He's happy in his new life, until a young colleague makes it clear that he knows his secret.
CRIME YELLOW edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Gollancz, 1994; ISBN: 0 575 05848 X; also issued as a paperback, under the cover title Gollancz new crimes). Story title: Do the world a favour. This very dark, but quite funny thriller, in which a nasty, right-wing old bag suffers a taxi ride of terror, is a story I'm particularly proud of because, unlike most of my early writing, it has a well-worked out plot - though in fact, the clues, red herrings and twists only became apparent to me when I read back the completed story, so perhaps "worked-out" isn't the right phrase. The vile woman in the story really existed - though I'm glad to say I never met her.
THE YEAR'S FINEST CRIME AND MYSTERY STORIES, THIRD ANNUAL EDITION edited by the staff of Mystery Scene (Carroll & Graf, 1994). Story title: History repeats ... reprinted from Constable new crimes 2, above. My first reprint was a great moment - there are few things a writer enjoys more than getting paid twice for the same piece of work.
A TREASURY OF CAT MYSTERIES compiled by
Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf, 1998; ISBN: 0 7867 0541 8). Story
title: Where the cat came in. Mysteries featuring cats are enormously
popular in America, and I've written my fair share of them. Obviously, it can
be difficult coming up with a sufficiently original idea, when so many cat
crimes have already been written by so many notable authors. My solution in
this story was to give a cheeky twist, and a knowing title, to a fairly
light-hearted suspense puzzle.
ONCE UPON A CRIME edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg (Berkley, 1998; ISBN: 0 425 16301 6; also in paperback, ISBN 0 425 17128 0). Story title: Old Sultan. I was naturally pleased to be invited to write for this book, an anthology of Grimm and Andersen fairy tales retold by crime writers, but when I started reading the old stories I almost gave up. Classics? They're rubbish! Trite, dull, repetitive - worst of all, very few of them seemed to me to contain any actual story at all. But in the end, I did manage a story that I was happy with, and which has turned out to be quite popular; it's about the differing views of loyalty held by a group of career criminals in London. This book is also available as an audio book, on six cassettes, published by Durkin Hayes, ISBN: 0-88646-461-7. My story is very well read by famous voice-man, Simon Prebble. The same recording features on The Better to Eat You With, a single cassette, ISBN 1-55204-649-4, with the title story by John Helfers, supported by "Old Sultan," and "Love and Justice" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
COLD CUTS II edited by Paul Lewis and Steve Lockley (Alun Books, 1994; ISBN: 0 907117 68 6). Story title: Cold calling. My first contribution to this enterprising and diverse small press series - a horror story about junk mail; I don't suppose anybody would find the inspiration for this story hard to imagine.
COLD CUTS III edited by Paul Lewis and Steve
Lockley (Alun Books, 1995; ISBN: 0 907117 72 4). Story title: Those things.
This is one of my favourites amongst my early stories, though I have to admit
that this seems to be an opinion I share with virtually no-one. Perhaps the
dull title (I couldn't come up with anything better, no matter how I tried)
puts a damper on the story itself. It's a bitter-sweet piece about a dead ghost
- an idea which I, at least, think is brilliant!
NO ALIBI edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Ringpull, 1995; ISBN: 1 89805 151 8; also in a limited edition: Scorpion Press, 1995; ISBN: 1 873567 20 0). Story title: No night by myself. This was the official anthology of the 1995 Bouchercon, and I was surprised and delighted to be asked to contribute to it, along with some of the biggest names in the field. I've always enjoyed crime stories with a Christmas setting, but this was the first time I'd written one. The finished piece turned out to be rather more sombre than I'd intended: it's a psychological suspense story about a lonely man who is determined not to spend Christmas alone - no matter what he has to do to find company.
PERFECTLY CRIMINAL edited by Martin Edwards (Severn House, 1996; ISBN: 0 7278 5132 2). Story title: Bits. This volume was the first in a new series of the CWA's famous annual anthology. For contributors, the pay's lousy but the kudos is considerable! The theme of this book is "the perfect crime." My story is about a local government worker who, embittered by his employer's refusal to offer him voluntary redundancy, takes over another man's identity.
WHYDUNIT? PERFECTLY CRIMINAL II edited by Martin Edwards (Severn House, 1997; ISBN: 0 7278 5237 X). Story title: Nice people. Planning to move house a few years ago, it occurred to me that the risk of enduring one of life's worst horrors - that of finding yourself living alongside bad neighbours - could be lessened by employing a private eye to check out the locals before you buy your new home. I decided to do exactly that; but, being a writer, to do it in fiction rather than real life. This story is narrated by an ex-cop named Doggo who, along with "my vile partner Vincent," runs the Neighbourhood Watch Inquiry Agency, London. In July 2010, I was amused to see this report in the Western Daily Press: “A Bristol businessman has come up with a unique scheme aimed at taking some of the risk out of buying a new home. Builder Paul Conibere has set up a business which will allow prospective house-buyers to check up on their new neighbours before signing on the dotted line. The businessman has helped to set up a network of 90 ex-policemen across the country who will carry out the research. Mr Conibere said he spotted a gap in the market after coming across statistics which claimed neighbours from hell led to more than 360,000 Britons moving home in the last year. He said: "Where you live is just as important as the house you live in. You wouldn't dream of buying a house without checking the structure and getting a survey done, so it makes sense to have a neighbourhood report."
PAST CRIMES, PERFECTLY CRIMINAL III edited by Martin Edwards (Severn House,
1998; ISBN: 0 7278 2232 2). Story title: Not a minute on the day. This was my first attempt at a history-mystery - and also my first alternative history story. It's a murder investigation set in a parallel universe in which the British trades unions won the 1926 General Strike. I enjoyed researching it, and messing around with history; the alternative-history-mystery is an idea I'd like to have another go at some time.
MISSING PERSONS edited by Martin Edwards (Constable, 1999; ISBN: 0 094 79930 X). Story title: Nowhere to be found. For Martin's fourth CWA antho, I wrote a story about a man who reluctantly gives a lift to an old friend who is leaving his wife. The old friend subsequently disappears, and the narrator takes it on himself to find out what became of him. Not one of my jollier pieces, but with an ending which is, I hope, moderately optimistic - if you happen to be in the right mood when you read it.
PHENOMENAL FUTURE STORIES edited by Tony Bradman (Corgi, 1999; ISBN: 0 552 546232). Story title: The monkey puzzle. My first children's story, a science-fiction courtroom drama about an ape who is claiming the right to be treated as a citizen, rather than as property, on the grounds that he is able to "talk" through sign language. This is a subject which has long interested me; in writing this story I used a file of press clippings which I began compiling well over a decade previously. (This story has also been translated into Braille.) An interesting postscript to this story, from The Independent, 5 May 07: “Campaigners have asked an Austrian court to declare that Hiasl, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, is legally a person. Hiasl’s shelter has been forced to close and they argue he needs the protection of basic rights.”
FOOTBALL FEVER 3 edited by Tony Bradman (Corgi 2000; ISBN: 0 552 546461). Story title: Strikers. Another children's story, in which a school soccer team goes on strike when it is threatened with disbandment. I found my first attempts at writing for children hard work, but very satisfying; I hope I'll get an opportunity to do more of it in future.
SCENES OF CRIME edited by Martin Edwards
(Constable 2000; ISBN: 1 84119 221 X). Story title: Nice place. Another
CWA annual, for which I wrote a second story about Doggo and Vincent (see Whydunit?, above).
CRAFTY CAT CRIMES edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg and Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble 2000; ISBN: 0 7607 1582 3). Story titles: Under the circumstances and Where the cat came in. US hardbacks are beautiful objects - their paperbacks are best used for mopping up spilt coffee, but their hardbacks are almost always very well-made and designed, as well as being priced very low. Even by American standards, though, this book is pretty amazing value - 607 pages for eight dollars. Under the circumstances (lousy title, I know; it was all I could think of) is about a woman whose marriage is being ruined by her husband's clingy ex-girlfriend, until she decides to do something about it. Stories for this kind of anthology can be quite hard work; they have very precise rules which must be followed, and you have to be careful not to end up writing a piece that's too bland and conformist. One way I try to get round this is by lacing a fairly straightforward story with crunchy bits: subverted cliches, hidden puns, echoing references and so on (a trick only slightly undone in this edition by the fact that my italics didn't make it through the email!). Incidentally, if you were to count the words in this story, you'd find there are precisely 3,000. That was the upper limit for stories in the book, you see - and writers were paid by the word. I was very glad to find that the reprinted Where the cat came in (see A treasury of cat mysteries, above) is the last story in the book, as it gives the final word to a surpassingly saucy last line!
FELONIOUS FELINES edited by Carol and Ed
Gorman. (Five Star 2000; ISBN: 0 7862 2689 7). Story title: Tall man, large
cat. Yet another cat crimes anthology (and a first for me; the first time
I'd been picked out on the cover as part of the "including stories by ...
" list. Does that mean I'm famous now?) It's a little-known fact that some
of the biggest names in British comedy earned money when they were students by
acting as bodyguards in posh hotels, for visiting Arab royals and Hollywood
stars; and that was the starting point for this little story.
THE WORLD'S FINEST MYSTERY AND CRIME STORIES: FIRST ANNUAL COLLECTION edited by Ed Gorman (Forge 2000; ISBN: 0 312 87480 4 hardback, and 0 312 87479 0 paperback). Story title: The shortest distance (see Shots, below). It's always an honour to be included in one of these year's best books, which contain not only short stories but also essays and lists covering the year in crime fiction.
MURDER THROUGH THE AGES edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Headline, 2000; ISBN: 0 7427 7253 0; also in paperback: Headline 2001, ISBN: 0 7472 6617 4). Story title: But poor men pay for all. Specially written for this anthology of historical murder mysteries, my story takes place in a pub in Somerset, where one of a group of soldiers returning from the Putney Debates is found dead. In 1647, for the first time in the modern era, a group of ordinary men, armed and organised, raised the standard for what we would now call parliamentary democracy. They demanded votes for all, the abolition of the monarchy, and religious freedom. It was one of the most significant moments in the history of the western world - which is probably why it does not feature largely on school
curricula today. I have long been an amateur of labour history, and the English
Revolution is one of the periods I find most interesting. Much of the dialogue in my story comes directly from the contemporary record of the Putney Debates which is available, in full, on the internet - type "Putney Debates" into a search engine, and you will find a wealth of information on this extraordinary and fascinating episode.
MASTER'S CHOICE VOLUME II edited by Lawrence Block (Berkley, 2000; ISBN: 0 425 17676 2; also in paperback, ISBN: 0 425 18225 8). Story title: No night by myself. (Reprinted from No alibi; see above). This is an anthology in which leading crime writers were invited to select one of their own best stories, alongside a story by a "Master" that has inspired them. I am delighted and embarrassed in roughly equal measure that Ian Rankin, one of the genre's most admired authors, chose me as his ... er ... "Master." No, actually, on reflection - I'm definitely more delighted than embarrassed. (This book won the Anthony Award for best anthology in 2001).
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF LEGAL THRILLERS edited by Michael Hemmingson (Robinson, 2001; ISBN: 1 84119 266 X; also published in the US at the same time by Carroll & Graf; ISBN: 0 7867 0865 4.) Story title: Tomorrow's villain. (Reprinted from Shots magazine, see below). This is part of a series of thick paperback anthologies on different topics, featuring new stories and reprints. Excellent value - 39 stories, 560 pages, for £6-99 or $11-95.
MURDER MOST CELTIC edited by Martin H. Greenberg (Cumberland House, 2001; ISBN: 1 58182 161 1). Story title: So where've you buried the missus then, Paddy? A few years ago, I tried to write a nostalgic story about the London pubs I knew in my late teens, and particularly about the Irish people I knew there. It didn't really work; the piece was too light, and there wasn't enough plot. When I was asked to contribute to this US anthology of murder stories featuring Irish characters, I took another look at my old story, re-worked it, beefed it up and extended it. The resulting tale is told by a young English barman who becomes involved in the mysterious disappearance of one of the regulars from the pub where he works - and with an even more mysterious Irish private eye.
DEATH BY HOROSCOPE edited by Anne Perry & Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf, 2001; ISBN: 0 7867 0845 X.) Story title: Reason to believe. For this anthology of crime stories on the subject of astrology, I came up with a sceptical London cop investigating the disappearance of an astrologer's client. (You'll be glad to hear, I trust, that this is not one of those dreadful stories in which the sceptic ends up a believer!). It's a very funny story; though I wasn't aware of it at the time, reading it now the dialogue between the two main characters reminds me of the quickfire, flirty style used in American films of the 1940s. ("Extremely witty" - Kirkus).
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF HISTORICAL WHODUNNITS, BRAND NEW COLLECTION edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 2001; ISBN: 1 84119 373 9).
Story title: And what can they show, or what reasons give? I was very pleased when Mike, one of Britain's leading anthologists, invited me to contribute a story to this anthology - not least because it gave me an excuse to do some more historical research, which is so much more enjoyable an activity than writing. In keeping with my informal "labour fiction" series, I chose as a setting the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. A murder occurs in a rebels' campsite near London, and a man is immediately arrested - but where is the weapon? This book was published simultaneously in the USA, by Carroll & Graf, under the rather more logical title The Mammoth book of more historical whodunnits, ISBN: 0 7867 0916 2. (Incidentally, this is one of the most popular anthologies I've ever been included in; years later, I was still getting royalties as the book kept on selling in significant amounts. You'll have to read it to find out why.)
SPEAKING OF GREED, STORIES OF ENVIOUS DESIRE edited by Lawrence Block.
(Cumberland House, 2001; ISBN: 1 58182 221 9. Story title: Bits. (Reprinted from Perfectly criminal, above.) An anthology in "The Seven Deadly Sins Series," which includes a new novella by Block. A very handsomely produced book, only slightly marred by spelling my name incorrectly on the back cover and contents page.
MURDER MOST FELINE edited by Ed Gorman,
Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff
(Cumberland House, 2001; ISBN: 1 58182 215 4). Story title: Missing the cat.
Thinking what kind of story I might write for an anthology of cat crime stories set in courtrooms, I soon came up with the opening line: "I've only been up in court once in my life, and that was mainly because of a dog." The story is inspired by (though not, I should stress, based on) a strike at a chain of restaurants in London in the late 1970s, during which I, like many other trades unionists from other industries, often stood on the picket lines in solidarity with the sacked workers; and by the first time I ever saw a policeman commit perjury. Of course, we all know that such things happen - but witnessing it for the first time can nonetheless come as quite a shock. Despite all the above history, my story in this book is essentially a funny and sentimental one.
THE WORLD'S FINEST MYSTERY AND CRIME STORIES SECOND ANNUAL COLLECTION edited by Ed Gorman (Forge Books, 2001; ISBN: 0 765 30029 X hardback, and 0 765 30101 6 paperback). Story titles: Twelve of the little buggers and Three nil (for details of both, see Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, below.) At 685 pages, this annual is wonderful value - not only does it reprint dozens of the year's most notable short stories; it also includes essays and reports on crime fiction in 2000 from the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany. An indispensable volume.
DEATH DANCE edited by Trevanian (Cumberland House, 2002; ISBN: 1 58182 250 2). Story title: You can jump. This is a story I'd wanted to write since 1977 - and I finally got the chance, when I was asked to contribute to an International Association of Crime Writers' anthology on the theme of dance. Well, I know nothing about dancing - the only dance I've ever done in my life is the pogo, the leaping up and down move we used to do during the days of punk rock. So, at last, I sat down to write my story about punk, and what it meant, and what it means all these years later. The result, I think, is the best story I've ever written; it's certainly one of the most commented on.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC CRIME edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Robinson, 2002; ISBN: 1-84119-500-6; also published in the US at the same time by Carroll &
Graf; ISBN: 0-7867-1002-0). Story titles: And the buttocks gleamed by night and The Hampstead vegetable heist. Another outing for the vegetable heist (see entry for 3rd Culprit, above) - I have hopes of that story providing me with a supplemental old age pension. Making its first appearance here, "Buttocks" is number three in the Charlie WFYC series (see entries for Ellery Queen, below). In this one, Charlie the cat-finder endures a nightmare encounter with a large number of horticultural figurines, a married couple who wear matching cardigans, and an arsonist. This is a great book, if you're at all keen on funny crime fiction - 42 stories, from a terrific range of writers, for just seven quid. "A great buy" - Sherlock magazine. "Brilliant collection" - Crime Time. “There are a number of gems in that collection, but Mat Coward’s “And the Buttocks Gleamed by Night,” about a hard-boiled cat detective, had me laughing for days.” - James W. Fuerst.
MYSTERY THE BEST OF 2001 edited by Jon L. Breen (ibooks, 2002; ISBN:
0-7434-4501-5). Story title: Tomorrow's villain (see Shots, below, for details). This is a new paperback annual, edited by the well-known EQMM reviewer, containing 15 crime
stories reprinted from a range of sources. "...an absorbing and varied collection that represents tremendous value for money ... Almost demanding a category of its own, Mat Coward's ‘Tomorrow's Villain’ takes an incisive look at the media obsession with race, sex and murder ... Bitter and honest, it's the most daring, and probably the best, piece here." - The Zone.
CRIME IN THE CITY edited by Martin Edwards
(The Do-Not Press, 2002; ISBN: 1-904316-04-2). Story title: Back to the land.
This was the latest in the decades-long line of official CWA anthologies, and I
was determined to get into it - but I had a problem. Well, two problems; I was
having an exceptionally busy year, and also the only city I've ever spent more
than a few days in is London. Obviously, being a capital, London was going to
be oversubscribed. I thought of writing a historical, but that would require
research - or reading, to be less pompous - which I didn't have time
for. The solution was obvious, eventually ... and this story is set in London
about 20 years from now. (Not only set there; I'm pleased with the fact that
just about every aspect of the story depends on the place and time). I still
had to write it quickly, though, so I went for a clipped, spare prose, told
mostly in dialogue. I rather despise both utopian and dystopian futuristic
fiction, but especially the latter, because it's lazy and cheap; cinematic, in
the worst possible way. So, this murder mystery takes place in a future which
you could almost describe as being what utopia might look like if partly
designed by a hardboiled detective writer. Occasionally, from the author's
point of view at least, everything in a story seems to come together: the plot,
the setting, the characters, the style - all the parts work and the whole
works, too. Doesn't happen often, but when it does it makes you buzz. This is
one of those stories, for me.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF ON THE ROAD edited by Maxim Jakubowski & M. Christian (Robinson, 2002; ISBN: 1-84119-501-4; published in 2003 in the USA, as The
Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road, by Carroll & Graf, ISBN: 0-7867-1069-1.) Story title: Remote viewing. In the early 1970s, a young soldier is assigned to drive a civilian around Britain. She's an American, and her mission is a strange one, connected in some mysterious way with the Cold War. As they travel, they get to know each other … well: a little, anyway. I'm very fond indeed of this story, perhaps because it's so different to the sort of things I usually write; it's not quite SF, and you couldn't honestly call it crime - it's a romance, and that's a genre I rarely tackle. This is another terrific anthology
in the MBO line, including pieces from Kerouac, Steinbeck, Ballard and Moorcock,
many contemporary stars, and plenty of lesser-known writers. "A great ride" - Crime Time.
A HOT AND SULTRY NIGHT FOR CRIME edited by Jeffery Deaver (Berkley Prime Crime, 2003; ISBN: 0-425-18839-6). Story title: Too hot to die. This is a themed anthology of 20 new stories, published on behalf of the Mystery Writers of America; my first appearance in a MWA book. A man who's moved from London to a quiet country town is finding his new life suits him, soothes him, until one humid evening he's sitting in the beer garden of a local pub when a stranger sits down next to him; a stranger with a gun. The gun must be there for a reason - but who's the intended victim? "A gem ... totally satisfying" - January Magazine.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FUTURE COPS edited by Maxim Jakubowski & M. Christian (Robinson, 2003; ISBN: 1-84119-502-2); published simultaneously in the USA by Carroll & Graf, ISBN: 0-7867-1204-X). Story title: Offenders. World War Three began in November 1989. Once the Berlin Wall came down, it was obvious to anyone who'd ever read any history that sooner or later there would have to be a war (at least, a cold war) between the resurgent German (or Franco-German, or European) empire and the temporarily unchallenged US empire. Empires expand, and clash; when they stop expanding they die. Those are historical laws. I spent the 1990s wondering why nobody was writing about this. Then, in winter 2001 and spring 2002, I heard several stories from people travelling in the USA, about that country's rapidly vanishing constitution. One friend, an American ex-pat, saw a man arrested by armour-clad cops at a provincial airport because he had been overheard telling a joke about hijacking. So - for this anthology, I came up with a narrator who, in a near future, balkanised Britain, works for the Offence-Related Offences Section at Scotland Yard.
KITTENS, CATS, AND CRIME edited by Ed Gorman (Five Star, 2003; ISBN:
0-7862-5032-1). Story title: The cat's mother. Another anthology of crime stories featuring cats; in this mostly humorous story, the narrator takes in a stray, and is puzzled by the fact that two of his neighbours deny all knowledge of the animal, and of each other. It's pretty obvious they're not telling the truth - but Bill can't imagine why.
MYSTERY: THE BEST OF 2002 edited by Jon L. Breen (ibooks, 2003; ISBN: 0-7434-5845-1). Story title: If all is dark. (see Crimewave, below, for details.)
BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS edited by Lawrence Block (Berkley, 2003; ISBN: 0-425-19035-8). Story title: Bloody victims. Another "Mystery Writers of America Presents" anthology, this time with a theme which asks what would drive an ordinary person "to commit an unthinkable crime?" In my comic story, PC Blick came up with the idea of the Victim Bus - on which victims of street crime are driven around the area to see if they can spot their assailants - but after just one arrest in seven months, he's beginning to wish he hadn't. And that's before one of his victims leaps off the bus to beat up a youth ... "Excellent value" - EQMM
GREEN FOR DANGER edited by Martin Edwards (The Do-Not Press, 2003; ISBN: 1-904316-29-8). Story title: Persons reported. This time, the CWA's annual anthology consists of stories set in the countryside. Mine concerns a man with a secret who turns up in a Somerset market town, and begins with the line: "My grandfather, for instance, created an entire religion based upon chips." This story was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s 2004 Short Story Dagger Award. The judges said: “He succeeds in combining brilliant humour with a snapshot of rural poverty in a highly original character-led story.”
THE BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Allison & Busby, 2003; ISBN: 0-7490-696-X; also in paperback, 2004, ISBN: 0-7490-8300-X.) Story title: Too subtle for me. (See Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, below, for details). This is great news - at last, a "Best of" for British crime-writing, which, if successful, will become an annual. It deserves to succeed: it's a hardback, containing 25 stories, for just thirteen quid, and Maxim has selected pieces from some impressively obscure sources along with all the obvious outlets. Writers include Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid, John Harvey and Peter Turnbull.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF ROARING TWENTIES WHODUNNITS edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 2004; ISBN: 1-84119-751-3; published simultaneously in the USA by Carroll & Graf, ISBN: 0-7867-1416-6). Story title: The hope of the world. Invited to write a 1920s whodunit, I fancied having a go at an Agatha Christie-style house party murder - clues, suspects, the killing happening quite late in the story - but one which would concern itself with the other side of the 20s; not so much the champagne and pearls, as the repression and revolution. So I have a group of communists assembling in a country house, where one of them is murdered, and few of them are what they seem. Incidentally, this piece contains an historical error, which I didn't notice until it was too late - please let me know if you spot it!
THE WORLD'S FINEST MYSTERY AND CRIME STORIES FIFTH ANNUAL COLLECTION edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg (Forge, 2004; ISBN: 0-765-31147-X paperback, and 0-765-31146-1 hardback). Story title: Offenders. (See Mammoth Book of Future Cops, above, for details). I'm delighted to see this controversial story reprinted in this important US annual - a book which is, incidentally, a superb overview of 2003's crime fiction, and great value for money.
THE BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES 2005 edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Allison & Busby, 2004; ISBN: 0 7490 8336 0 hardback, 0 74908 200 3 paperback). Story title: Room to move. (See BBC Radio 4, below, for details). The UK equivalent of "The World's Finest" reaches its second year, reprinting 28 stories from 2003, including stories by Ian Rankin, John Mortimer, Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter.
CRIME ON THE MOVE edited by Martin Edwards (Do-Not Press, 2005; ISBN: 1-904316-46-8). Story title: One Hand One Bounce. This story begins: “Until I was fifteen, when I left home for good, I more or less lived in the back of a car. Various cars. You could say leaving home was easier for me than for many, since I didn't really have a home to leave. When the time came, all I did was get out of the car and not get back in. Just got out, clunked the door behind me, and that was that. I wish.” I wrote that when Maxim Jakubowski was looking for contributions to his MBO On The Road (see above), but I couldn’t get much further with it. After a while, I abandoned it and wrote something else for Maxim. I went back to that opening, however, when Martin Edwards was soliciting stories on a similar theme for this CWA antho - and this time, for some reason, it worked fine. The title, which will be puzzling to some readers, refers to a rule often found in informal games of cricket or French cricket, particularly when played with a tennis ball. I’ll be honest: applying this concept to this story is a bit of a stretch, but I thought it was a great title, and I’d long wanted to use it on something.
I.D. CRIMES OF IDENTITY edited by Martin Edwards (Comma Press, 2006; ISBN: 1-905583-00-1). Story title: Jizz. This year’s CWA anthology was a very smartly-made paperback, published by an exciting Manchester-based collective of real short story enthusiasts. My piece (the title comes from birdwatching, in case you were wondering) is about a barman asked by the police to identify someone he knew a long time ago - an armed robber who once lodged at his mother’s. It’s one of my favourite stories, containing some great jokes and a decent bit of plot. Like a lot of my crime stories from that period, it uses anecdotes from my childhood, mixed with bits and pieces from my cardboard box full of ideas (press cuttings and so on) and funny lines from my other cardboard box (the one with the funny lines in it), in an attempt to write a story which completely fits the theme of the book. “Weirdly wonderful, a hard lesson in moral dilemma hiding under a masterfully-wrought mask of humour and oddity. How pleasing that this story, on the surface so lightweight and cloaked at times in silliness, should be the one that exposed the frailty of the human condition most thoroughly.” - The Short Review.
DOCTOR WHO SHORT TRIPS: DEFINING PATTERNS edited by Ian Farrington (Big Finish, 2008; ISBN: 978-1-84435-268-5). Story title: Losing the audience. It’d been a couple of years since I’d written any fiction - I’d been busy doing other things - when entirely out of the blue, I was invited to contribute to this authorised series of short stories inspired by the world’s greatest sf television series. The editor had happened to come across my book about radio comedy, and thought that the “golden age” of radio might make a good setting for a DW story. Having googled me, and found out that I also wrote sf, he got in touch, wondering if I was interested. Having been an absolute devotee of the programme since it started in 1963, I certainly was! In fact, this may well be the most exciting commission I’ve ever had as a fiction writer; DW has had a huge effect on my outlook and personality over the years, as it has for so many of my generation. My story features the First Doctor (the one played on TV by William Hartnell), and his granddaughter Susan, and is set in the Paris Studio and in Broadcasting House (two BBC buildings in London) in 1955. In terms of the internal chronology of the TV series, it takes place just before the programme began. I particularly enjoyed creating a new “monster” for the Doctor to face: the Shakers. Losing the audience involves several of my great fascinations; Doctor Who, of course, and radio comedy, as well as BH itself, and a period of history that I’m very interested in - the plans for the British Resistance during World War Two. There are lots of in-jokes and other references for those interested in radio, comedy, left-wing history, and Doctor Who; more importantly there is, I very much hope, a real flavour of the Hartnell era of the programme.
“My favourite tale in the collection is Mat Coward’s “Losing the Audience”. This features not only a well-characterised pre-Unearthly Child TARDIS crew of the First Doctor and Susan, but also a likable guest character in the form of a jaded 1950s radio comedian.” - Sci-fi Online.
"Great stuff. It’s fun to watch the pre-“Unearthly Child” first Doctor, with little hints of his future “humanity” poking through his intractable exterior, and Susan serving as his energetic arm into society. The ending is a particular delight" - AudioReviews.org
This series of anthologies came to an end in 2009, and to mark the occasion, Big Finish produced a handsome hardback “best of” book, containing 28 stories (including mine, to my undying delight), chosen from the whole range by the series’ editors. Each story is introduced by the editor who commissioned it. The title is DOCTOR WHO RE:COLLECTIONS, THE BEST OF SHORT TRIPS, and the ISBN is 978-1-84435-419-1.
PUNKPUNK! edited by Andrew Hook (Dog Horn Publishing, 2015; ISBN: 978-1-907133-89-3). Story title: You can jump. (See Death Dance, above, for details). Another appearance for my punk rock crime story, this time the only reprint in a multi-genre anthology of 16 new stories. The editor explains the title in his introduction; he was fed up with hearing about "cyberpunk" and "steampunk" (which have nothing to do with punk), so "Why not punkpunk?" It's an exciting, ambitious collection, and I'm very pleased to be part of it.
HARDBOILED issue 18, June 1994. Story title: The set-up man. A researcher is hired by a north London villain known as "Alias the Fish" to find the person who's run over his granddaughter's dog. It's a short piece, with a pretty neat twist at the end. The character of Alias was loosely inspired by a real villain I'd known years before, when I was working as a barman. This was the first crime story I ever wrote, and it was written with Gary Lovisi's magazine specifically in mind. It was a fine little magazine, which admirably flew the flag for hardboiled fiction during a period when the form seemed to be almost terminally unfashionable.
AXIOM. Story title: Allium sativum. A slipstream story, about a man who is obsessed with garlic. I've really no idea where this idea came from - except that I am a bit obsessed with garlic: growing it, cooking with it, eating it and writing about it. This is, I think, the only story I've written which contains recipes. Yet, anyway.
BLUE MURDER MAGAZINE issue 5, December 1998. Story title: Button man. I can't describe this short thriller without giving the plot away, so I'll only say that fellow writers will instantly recognise it as a typical "What if?" idea.
BLUE MURDER MAGAZINE issue 7. Story title: Follow me. A twist story about stalkers.
BLUE MURDER MAGAZINE issue 13, June 2000. Story title: Great days, eh lads? Great days ... A sequel to The set-up man (see Hardboiled, above), in which Alias hires the narrator to check out a face from the past who has suddenly reappeared on the manor. Not a hardboiled piece, in all honesty; more of a humorous story about nostalgia, with a bit of a twist at the end.
THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE issue 3, Summer 1994. Story title: Clean and bright. See the entry for Last rites and resurrections, above.
THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE issue 7, Summer 1995. Story title: Do you know this man?" A brief, somewhat grim piece about a man who is dreadfully lacking in self-knowledge.
THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE issue 20, Summer 1999. Story title: We have fed you all for a thousand years. The title comes from an old Wobblies song, which I first heard on an LP by Utah Phillips, and this is an SF story about work, solidarity, and people who make their living from banging their heads against brick walls.
THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE issue 31, Summer 2002. Story title: One box of books. For details, see BBC Radio 4, below. This is a slightly longer version of the story. It was one of the final shortlisted nominees for the British Fantasy Awards 2003.
WHISPERING WILLOW MYSTERIES, Dagger edition, 1997. Story title: Corroboration. This is a very short, light-hearted police procedural with SF elements and a little twist at the end.
GOTHIC.NET. Story title: Knee deep. This e-zine dealt in horror fiction in its broadest sense. My story concerns a man who calls in a pest control officer to rid his ex-wife's house of an infestation of horses.
GOTHIC.NET. Story title: I don't need this right now. A satirical horror story about the modern (especially female) view of guilt.
GOTHIC.NET. April 2000. Story title: Jilly's fault. A group of young people share a flat in London in the 1970s; one of them - Jilly - seems to attract trouble, and the others decide they've had enough. A low-key horror story. I don't know where it came from, as I've never actually been in a flat share ...
WORKS. Story title: There's no more. I'm a lifelong fan of the British comedian, Tony Hancock. In this SF story, about "resurrecting" dead people from genetic material, The Lad Himself appears as a character. The ending is sadder than I would have wished, but perhaps that was inevitable given the subject matter.
SWISSAIR GAZETTE October 1998. Story title: Talk
to me. This is my best-paid short story sale yet, for Swissair's in-flight
magazine. It's a humorous short-short, about a man who talks in his sleep,
arousing the curiosity of a fellow passenger on a London to Edinburgh train.
The story was accompanied by a very good, specially commissioned illustration
by Josh Gosfield.
ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE June 1999. Story title: Here, fluffy! My first sale to the world's most famous mystery magazine was inspired by a worrying month I spent a few years back when one of my cats went missing. We got her back eventually, but while she was gone I found myself wishing that I could call in a private eye who specialised in cat-finding. The result was Charlie, the protagonist of this story, who works as a professional cat-finder in the suburbs of north London.
ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE January 2000. Story title: Twelve of the little buggers. A magazine humorist gets himself into an increasingly tangled mess, when he accepts a commission to write a Christmas piece about cats. It's not a great plot, but I think it's probably the funniest story I've ever written. Yet another cat story - though in fact, the first I ever wrote; it was commissioned for, but didn't appear in, a cat crime antho in 1994. (This story was nominated for the Edgar Award in 2001).
ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE November 2000. Story title: Three Nil. A second outing for my cat-finder, Charlie (see EQMM June 1999, above). The title refers to the football match Charlie is watching on TV when an imperious American woman knocks on his door and orders him to "Follow me." Despite telling us that he "stopped taking direct orders from women when I was fifteen, and again when I was thirty," Charlie does, eventually, follow her; he hasn't had a paying case in a month.
MYSTERY MAGAZINE June 2015. Story title: On borrowed time. My first
crime short story for about a decade is a comedy - a farce, possibly - about a
secret policeman whose troubles only get worse when he tries to solve them with
a disastrously impulsive act of theft. It contains what I am confident is the
funniest fictional name for a cat to be found in recent crime fiction.
SHOTS Volume 2 Number 5, Spring 1999. Story title: Tomorrow's villain. A rather dark piece - not many laughs here - about a father who comes to believe that the man jailed for murdering his daughter might have been wrongly convicted. This well-established British crime fiction magazine (full of reviews and features as well as fiction), is currently published as a webzine, at http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/
SHOTS Volume 2, Number 6, Winter 1999. Story
title: The shortest distance. This story appeared as part of a
supplement celebrating Raymond Chandler - the author who is probably more
responsible than any other for turning generations of readers and writers into
crime fans. It's an appropriately snappy piece about an ageing London PI hired
by a dodgy businessman. Before writing it, I re-read many of Chandler's short
stories, and his famous essay on the genre, from which sources I nicked a pile
of more-or-less well-known Chandlerisms, which appear
- in punning form - in my story.
STORISENDE August 1999. Story title: Ich bin nicht betrunken, ich bin noch am Trinken. My original title for this SF sex comedy was "I ain't drunk, I'm just drinkin'," which is from a blues song. It had yet to be published in English, but I was very pleased to sell the German rights to this fine e-zine.
STORISENDE December 1999. Story title: Happs! - or, in English, "Munch munch." Two lads watch the end of the world on TV. That's about all I can say about that one, really.
INTERZONE May 2000. Story title: We all saw it. This story took me years to write, on and off, but began with a simple enough thought: supposing you really did see a flying saucer, in company with a group of your friends - how could anything else in the rest of your life matter as much? I was delighted to sell this to Interzone, easily the most prestigious SF magazine published outside the USA. I first submitted a story to IZ in 1990! "It's an interesting look at memory, and friendship, and how time and character change past experience. Decidedly original." - Tangent. "A heartfelt and accurately observed tale." - bestsf.net
INTERZONE July 2001. Story title: The second question. One of the main theoretical arguments against the possibility of time travel is "If time travel's possible, then why haven't people from the future come back to visit us?" I've always loved time travel stories, and set out to write one that would provide a possible answer to this conundrum. It was quite hard to write - I'm not a scientist, and keeping the logic straight in my mind was not easy. My story turned out to be a funny one, rather to my surprise, but I think it works well enough as an SF story, too. (This story was included in Locus Online's Recommended Reading list 2001). "This is one of those occasional droll and precisely calculated meditations on time travel that allow SF to function as authentic puzzle literature ... the narrator is engagingly obtuse; and the mixture is highly diverting." - The SF Site.
INTERZONE August 2002. Story title: Time spent in reconnaissance. The philosophy of privatisation - "Private good, Public bad" - has dominated political thought in this part of the world during the last couple of decades. In this story, a British intelligence officer, suffering memory loss after an injury, is tasked with supervising a former captive - "a four-foot bald man with three fingers on each hand" - as he is released into the community. A friendship develops between the damaged officer and his strange ward, and together they begin to wonder if there might not, after all, be a way of "awakening disbelief" in a cynical world. It's a quiet story, with a lot of humour in it - a touching story, too, I hope.
INTERZONE September 2002. Story title: Early retirement. Another in my informal "labour" series of stories, this one is horror: some junior management types are sent on a team-building exercise in rural Scotland, intended to sort the victims from the winners ahead of a round of compulsory redundancies. But how far is the guru in charge prepared to go in testing company loyalty? I don't write many horror stories - I don't even read many - and as far as I can recall, I wrote this one with a specific market in mind; probably a magazine that had already taken one of my horror pieces. It was turned down there, obviously (or maybe the mag had gone bust, I don't remember), and over the next few years was rejected everywhere else, too, until it ended up at IZ. Now the thing is, this is very obviously an Interzone story, and ideally it should have gone there first. But in practice, because most magazines take a long time to reply to submissions (even those with staff, let alone the labour-of-love jobs), it's not unusual to have in hand, say, three stories which are perfect for a particular paper - but you can't send them in, because the editor still hasn't read the two you sent him last year. Thus, stories get sent around in the meantime to unsuitable markets, and everybody ends up miserable and demoralised. It's a great business. "Crisp and complete with a horrific ending" - The Fix.
INTERZONE October 2002. Story title: Little green card. Quite a few of my stories might be described as "fortean fiction" (for instance, Time spent in reconnaissance, One box of books, We all saw it), in which I take a common fortean idea or cliché (such as secret deals between Earth governments and visitors from outer space) and then pepper it with mundane questions, chief of which is: if this really happened, what would it actually be like? (One of the first pieces I wrote in that vein was an unperformed radio sitcom, in the early 80s, called "Captain Camden," featuring a bloke who, on accidentally becoming a superhero, found he had the ability to cover objects in custard at will. No, I don't know why the BBC turned it down, either.) In this story, a man from New York arrives at a small house in an English seaside town, demanding the right to emigrate to the Planet 9Gamma.
INTERZONE January 2003. Story title: By
hand or by brain. Two people working for a dictatorial call centre try to
organise a union - but when Trish insists that their boss is "a real
witch," Ken starts to wonder whether he's joined forces with a madwoman.
Or something worse. I never got paid for this - or the three before it. This is
one of the delights of freelance writing - you hardly ever get paid on time, or
the agreed amount ... or, indeed, at all.
FEARSmag.com August 2000. Story title: Now I know its name. A horror story, about a refugee living in a flat in a strange country, who is asked to share his lodgings with an orphaned cat. He agrees, though he's puzzled by the whole business. However, once he discovers that the cat gets inside his TV and eats people, things begin to make more sense to him - and he is able to give the cat a name. (This story received an Honourable Mention in Ellen Datlow's annual list).
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE June 2001. Story title: The dog's route. My first sale to AHMM (EQMM's stablemate) is an attempt to write a quicker, sharper, less dense story, in the manner of some of the American writers I have long admired. It's a private eye story, set in London, in which a very young PI is asked to follow a dog on its daily wanderings, to see where it gets to. The idea came (as do so many of mine) from a strange item on BBC Radio 4 about a peripatetic dog; for a long time, the owners of the animal knew nothing about its journeyings. The investigator is very young simply because the previous piece I'd been working on featured a very old protagonist, and I fancied a change.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE June 2002. Story title: Too subtle for me. The second story about Keith Walker - the young PI from The dog’s route, above. Having started his career with a seemingly bizarre request from a client, I decided to continue in the same mood. In this story, Keith is hired to identify the woman renting a particular PO Box - and then not to tell his client who she is. Incidentally, if this story looks a little odd to you, that's because, somewhere between my computer and AHMM's, all the italics dropped off. Working electronically has many advantages; enhanced quality control is not always one of them.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE May 2003. Story title: Be lucky. In AHMM's first all-humour issue, here's another case for Charlie WFYC. When he's hired to find the owner of a lost cat - and doesn't let on that he already knows who the owner is - Charlie the cat finder reckons he might make a fast, effortless few quid. But that's before he discovers that Lucky's elderly owner is missing.
WWW.THE-PHONE-BOOK.COM September 2001 Story title: You again. This is a 47-word short story, published on a site which specialised in extremely short fiction published through various electronic technologies.
HAYAKAWA'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE September 2001. Story title: Twelve of the little buggers (see Ellery Queen's, above). This is my first translation into Japanese, in the famous and long-running crime mag. There's a great illustration to go with my story, but unfortunately my ignorance of Japanese script prevents me crediting the artist.
CRIMEWAVE Issue 6, May 2002. ISBN: 0-9526947-7-8. Story title: If all is dark. At last, after many attempts, I managed to sell a story to the magazine I helped establish! During 2001 I concentrated most of my efforts on writing short stories - eighteen of them, in fact. (This is not, let me say, typical of my work-rate). To write a story from scratch every three weeks, and make sure it sells, requires application and organisation, rather more than it does inspiration. When I started this one, I knew the market it was aimed at but I didn't really have a story in mind, so I began with an event remembered from my schooldays, surrounded it with some unused jokes from the files I kept when I was doing a lot of comedy writing, and gradually a plot began to emerge ... a serious, somewhat sad story, with a lot of laughs in it, about an unrequited love affair lasting through three decades, and an eternal triangle with a violent crime at its centre.
CRIMEWAVE Issue 7, May 2003. ISBN:
0-9526947-8-6. Story title: You can jump. (For details, see Death
dance, above.) This is a big, beautifully presented issue, with stories by
Gary Couzens, Debbie Moon, Antony Mann, Gay
Longworth, Stephen Volk, John Grant, Muriel Gray,
Steve Mohn, Val McDermid,
Marion Arnott, James Sallis,
Ray Nayler, Christopher Fowler and Tim Casson. "Brings to vivid life the heady days of the
Punk era" - Crime Time.
ANDROMEDA SPACEWAYS INFLIGHT MAGAZINE Issue 7, June/July 2003. Story title: I ain't drunk, I'm just drinkin'. This is the first appearance in English of a story which previously appeared in German (see Storisende, above.) This was, I think, my first Australian publication.
BBC RADIO 4
Some of my stories have been broadcast in Radio 4's "Short Story" slot:
22 February 1995: The Hampstead vegetable heist (see 3rd culprit, above). Read by Larry Lamb, produced in Bristol by Hilary Field.
9 July 1996: Famous for one thing. Read by Chris Harris, produced in Bristol by Hilary Field. A mixture of crime, mainstream and quiet horror, written specially for Radio 4, this is about a teenage boy who is mugged at Bristol Temple Meads railway station. This single, brief event comes to dominate his life for years to come - though not necessarily in the way you might expect.
4 September 1997: Clean and bright. Read by Chris Harris, produced in Bristol by Hilary Field. (See Last rites and resurrections, above; this is an extended and partially rewritten version).
6th March 2001: One box of books. Performed on stage at the Bath Literature Festival by John Telfer, and produced in Bristol by Sara Davies, the idea behind this odd little story (a kind of bibliophilic nightmare) is obvious from its opening lines: "Every time you move home, you lose one box full of books. This is an absolute rule: it applies to everyone, every time." I particularly enjoyed hearing an audience react to the reading - a rare pleasure for a short story writer.
7th March 2003: Room to move. Performed on stage at the Bath Literature Festival by John Telfer and produced by Sara Davies. Another odd one, about a burglar who breaks into a rich, fashionable lawyer's flat and finds it full of nothing but space ... so he decides he'll have some of that. When you're working with talented producers and actors (as I always have), having your work broadcast is enjoyable, educational, and excellent for boasting about. It's a pity that the BBC seems less committed to this long-running and always popular slot these days - over the years, a great many well-known writers, in all media and genres, have had their early careers boosted by "Short Story."
MORNING STAR: William Rust House, 52 Beachy Road, Bow, London E3 2NS, UK. http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php The “Daily Miracle” is the world's only English-language, socialist, daily newspaper. Published since 1930, it describes itself as the "daily paper of the left," and it provides a platform, news and a forum for people and organisations from all parts of the labour movement, as well as every variety of socialist, left-winger, Green and "progressive." Its foreign affairs coverage is unrivalled; many non-socialists read it because they know it's the one place where they can find sensible, reliable reporting from all over the world, free from the trend-driven sensationalism and trivia which is all that's available these days from the broadsheet press. If you haven't seen the paper in a few years, you should have another look: you'll be pleasantly surprised, I guarantee it. Unlike most daily papers, the Star makes all its content available free and fully searchable online, at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php - an astonishing achievement for a tiny, perpetually broke title - and a great gamble, too, of course. But then, the only British newspaper co-operatively owned by its readers has always needed to be bold to keep going through bans, bombings, boycotts and other buggerations. The paper is now also available for blind and partially-sighted readers on audio CD through Talking Newspapers UK: http://www.tnauk.org.uk/
Since 1994, I’ve been writing two monthly columns for the Star: one on gardening, and the other a review of current crime fiction. Since 2006, I’ve written a quarterly review of SF, fantasy and related genres. Starting in 2008, I wrote the satirical fortnightly column Diary of a Naebody, which purported to be the prime minister’s diary. When the PM changed in 2010, so did my column; it’s now The Butler Report, in which the PM’s valet writes home to his mum.
One of my favourite magazines ever is FORTEAN
TIMES, which I've been a devoted
reader of for many years. Subtitled "the journal of strange phenomena," FT follows the work of the seminal American philosopher Charles Fort. The fortean approach to phenomena - strange or otherwise, "orthodox" or "alternative" - is rooted in true scepticism, which rejects both cynicism and credulity. Fort himself wrote: "I conceive of nothing, in religion, science or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while." These days, FT is a glossy monthly, available from most newsagents, but still each issue reads like a labour of love. I write a monthly column (illustrated, to my great delight, by Hunt Emerson) called Mythconceptions, which deals with those "well-known facts" that everyone is aware of, but which so often turn out to be groundless -
myths such as "Hitler was a vegetarian," or "the Swedes have the world's highest suicide rate". Some of these can be read at http://www.forteantimes.com/
For some years I wrote a column for VERBATIM,
"The Language Quarterly," called Horribile
Dictu, concerning irritating English language
usages. Its web site is www.verbatimmag.com
Over the years, I've written a lot of book reviews for various journals - including those of the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society - some of which will be found by typing my name into a search engine. I reviewed books on various subjects for UK monthly WORD, for the THE INDEPENDENT, a British daily newspaper, and for TANGLED WEB, easily the biggest and most comprehensive crime fiction website in existence: http://www.twbooks.co.uk/
Just about the first money I ever earned as a writer, in the early 1980s, came from DARTS WORLD magazine (and its sister title, DARTS PLAYER). For some time, I wrote humorous (and a few semi-serious) features for them - as I remember, I gave up in the end because it was such hard work getting my small fee out of the editor. Recently, the famous historian of darts, Patrick Chaplin, scanned, posted and annotated a few of my old darts pieces on his fascinating website: http://www.patrickchaplin.com/
In the mid-1980s, I published two issues of THE COMEDY MAGAZINE. For a decade before that, I’d dreamed of starting a fanzine all about comedy; in the end, TCM wasn’t quite a fanzine, and I didn’t have the money or expertise to quite make it into a professional magazine (and, of course, this was all before the days of PCs and the internet). It ended up being what is sometimes called a “semi-prozine,” and never quite made it to a third issue. A lot of factors led to its closure, but one of them, to be quite honest, was that the comedy boom was becoming visible by then - and that rather put me off the whole business. Since comedy became a career choice for well-to-do college kids, it’s begun to bore me. Still, TCM was, as far as I know, the first serious attempt in Britain to start a magazine about comedy; many have tried since - from bedsit operations like mine, to great publishing companies - but I’m not sure anyone’s managed to crack it yet.
From 1988-2008, I wrote a regular humour column, Down the garden path, for ORGANIC GARDENING, Britain's only newsstand publication dedicated to the subject
hinted at in its title. A selection of those pieces is due out in book form in 2012. I also prepared OG's annual index from the mag's beginning until 2000 - it was, I believe, the most comprehensive index of its kind in the country. OG closed down in about 2009, its pioneering work in making organic ideas mainstream having, perhaps, caused it to become a victim of its own success: there was just no need for a dedicated organic magazine any more.
SPECTRE is that rare thing, a truly international periodical. Edited on the Continent, in English, with contributors from several continents, its main aim is to oppose the big business project to turn Europe into an undemocratic, union-busting superstate. You'll learn a lot more about the real world from this mag than from CNN, I promise you. I used to write an occasional humour and comment column under the banner Haunting Europe. Spectre no longer publishes a print version - instead, it's on-line at http://www.spectrezine.org/
Though I'm no longer involved with it, I helped publisher Andy Cox start CRIMEWAVE, a beautifully produced, all-fiction magazine, which prints short stories from across the range of modern crime fiction by both famous and unknown writers. Andy favours stories from the more literary end of the crime range; if you're looking for top quality, you're looking for Crimewave. Ed Gorman has said of CW that it "offers the best in cutting edge crime fiction and delivers it in a sleek, slick package that is a pleasure to see and hold," while Ellen Datlow says simply that it's "Head and shoulders above every other mystery magazine, in look, content and tone." Several stories from CW have won, or been shortlisted for, major awards, and I know of several authors who have secured agents and even book deals purely as a result of appearing in this magazine. http://ttapress.com/crimewave/about/
For the US crime fanzine, DEADLY PLEASURES, edited by George Easter, I wrote for many years a regular column of humour and comment called Atlantic asides. It’s an enormously enjoyable magazine, well-produced but informal and with a friendly, chatty tone to it. It's full of reviews, news about the genre, and letters. http://www.deadlypleasures.com/
MYSTERY SCENE is the mystery and suspense
writers' trade mag, started by Martin
Greenberg and Ed Gorman, and taken over in 2002 by Kate Stine. For many years - until, in 2008, I finally ran out of things to say, and decided it was time for someone else to take over - I wrote a regular column called Short and sweet, in which I picked out a few of the most memorable short stories I'd read recently, and tried to explain what it was about them that impressed me. The magazine’s a great read for fans as much as for writers. http://mysteryscenemag.com/
Since 2005, I’ve been doing some question research for a BBC TV panel game called QI, which has a very lively website at http://www.qi.com/
(Note added Feb 08: It’s been a rather depressing experience over the last few years to discover that just about everyone I know, or have ever met, watches QI; I get a stream of messages - by email, for instance, or scribbled in xmas cards - often from people I haven’t heard of in 20 years, telling me that they saw my name in QI’s credits. I don’t mean it’s depressing that they watch the show - clearly, that can only be in my interests - or even that they read the squashed-up credits so carefully and for so long that they are able to pick out my name; what is depressing is the implication that I am now so old that all my friends and acquaintances spend their Friday evenings watching TV. There was a time when any and all of us would have chosen death before television on a Friday night.)
I did some research for the first book associated with QI, called THE BOOK OF GENERAL IGNORANCE (Faber, 2006; ISBN: 0-571-23368-6). Its slogan is “Everything you think you know is wrong,” and anyone who enjoys my Mythconceptions column in Fortean Times will certainly treasure this 282 page collection of disentangled knowledge. (I spent years trying to persuade the publishers of FT that a book of Mythconceptions would be a good idea; now it’s too late, as there are quite a few books on the market covering the same area. But, in truth, I don’t think my book would have been as good as this one, so it all worked out in the end. Having said that: according to The Economist, 11 Jan 07, this book was “Amazon’s global bestseller between December 1st and January 5th,” selling 369,000 copies as of that date. Hmm. Note to publishers: next time I suggest doing a book, just do it, all right? I am rarely wrong, and never wrong enough to matter.)
QI’s second book was THE QI BOOK OF ANIMAL IGNORANCE (Faber, 2007; ISBN: 978-0-571-23370-0). I did some research for this one, too, and it’s even better than the above, with a much better design. It’s a collection of short essays on dozens of different animal species, highlighting - in the usual QI fashion - the extraordinary and often unbelievable aspects of their existences.
And QI’s third Faber & Faber book, published in 2007, was THE QI ANNUAL ‘E’ (ISBN: 978-0-571-23779-1). If you loved annuals when you were a kid - or, like me, have loved annuals all your life and have no intention of stopping loving them now - or you’re a fan of QI, or you’re some sort of foreign johnny who doesn’t even know what an annual is, or you wish me well, you’ll probably want to buy this. It’s 100 pages of colour, fun, weird facts and silly jokes and cartoons. It’s an annual. I had very little to do with it but, bizarrely, I do get royalties on it, so please buy two copies. You’ll feel cheap if you don’t.
Published in November 2008 was THE QI ANNUAL 2009 (ISBN: 978-0-571-24414-0), which covers the letter F. This is all new stuff, not seen on the TV series of the same name. In my opinion, it’s much better than the first annual (which was merely good. This one is everso good). My contribution is a double page spread on frogs, superbly illustrated by Hunt Emerson. Again, I’m on royalties, so please buy it.
And in November 2009, the world greeted THE QI G ANNUAL (ISBN: 978-0-571-25182-7) - that is, the 2010 annual; each year, QI (the TV programme) deals with one letter of the alphabet, and the annual follows suit. I think it’s a terrific read, and well worth buying, not least because this year I have written six pages for it, which are all illustrated by the great Hunt Emerson - on Gulls, Giraffes, and Gladiators.
Autumn 2010 saw two new QI books, in both of which I had a hand; the best annual yet, in my opinion - THE QI H ANNUAL (ISBN: 978-0-571-27096-5), to which Hunt and I contributed pieces on Hippos, Honey, and Hedgehogs - and THE SECOND BOOK OF GENERAL IGNORANCE, known to those who know it as BoGI2 (ISBN 978-0571269655). I share the view of many people who’ve said that, good as the first BoGI was, this one is a lot better - but then, I did spend quite a lot of time helping to research and write it, so I admit to bias. (As with all QI books, I must point out that I have no editorial say in them, so you will find things in them with which I disagree; I mention this only because one or two readers did appear to think otherwise, following the publication of BoGI1).
Also in November 2010, we had THE EFG BUMPER BOOK OF QI ANNUALS (ISBN: 978-0-57127098-9), which is a paperback omnibus, reprinting in their entirety the first three annuals - for those who missed them the first time. Extraordinary value at just £12-99.
A SECOND HELPING OF MURDER: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezahl (Poisoned Pen Press, 2003; ISBN: 1-59058-077-X) is a lovely hardback, containing about 130 recipes by all sorts of crime writers; my own offering is potato curry, which won't surprise those who knew me in my north London days. A proportion of the profits from the book (which is the second in the series) goes to a US charity called From the Wholesaler to the Hungry.
The BBC has issued a boxed set of seven CDs, containing thirteen episodes of the first series of BEYOND OUR KEN, the 1950s radio series which was the direct predecessor of Round the Horne. The set also includes the original scripts of nine "missing" episodes in Adobe Acrobat format - and a booklet, for which I have written a 1,500-word introductory essay. The whole set is beautifully presented, with great illustrations by Gary Smith. ISBN: 0563 525258.
This is not a complete list of everything I've ever written; there are things I've forgotten, I'm sure, and memories I have buried. You can also find me buried in the stacks of periodical libraries, in old runs of The New Statesman, Midweek Magazine, Oink!, Vegetarian Living, Darts World, and many others. Amongst my unpublished books and collaborations - unwritten, indeed, in many cases - are "The Bumper Book of Not Terribly Funny Jokes"; "The Official Programme of the Ridiculous Sports Club"; "Marxism For Cats" and "How To Talk Bollocks." But I think that’s probably enough for now, don’t you … ?