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Advance Reviews of Laughing Boy

“Would you like an advance review copy of my book, for free?”

If people want the book, they have to agree to post an (honest, genuine, sincere) review of it on Amazon within 48 hours of the book launching. There’s nothing spammy there. I may get some negative reviews as well as some positive ones. I’m asking people to write their genuine thoughts, not just automatic 5-star praise.

Let me know.

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An Acceptance Of Pain

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Staying awake all night used to feel like victory. In my youth, I greeted the dawn with a clenched fist or a middle finger, awash in triumph.

For a time, at least.

It went away.

Hemingway had the right of it, about being stronger in the broken places. Its terse machismo kept me going even as my world then my body fell apart.

I was, in my bleakest moments, nothing but my broken places. If it led to strength, then it was a poor bargain.

The accident came because of the separation. She did not run me over although there were moments it crossed her mind.

I had brought my first motorcycle. 125cc. Japanese. I had taken it out on the A12. The speed gave me a febrile, hot humming energy in the base of my stomach. Freedom ran through my veins.

The car hit me from an angle, trying to swerve past me. It clipped my back wheel and sent me spinning across the road.

I broke my leg in two places and fractured my right shoulder.

Bones heal but the pain was constant. I spent my nights soaked in chemicals, choking down pills and risking overdose for the possibility of a night’s sleep.

Stopping made a bleak sense.

The justifications came in battalions, overwhelming the objections with the force of gravity. Planning it took on a quiet pleasure. I expected the relief with the quiet joy of seeing an old lover again.

I had enough pills to do the job. My resting place would not be the flat, but the woods a few miles west of home. I drove out, leaving the letters to my loved ones in the car along with my phone and house keys.

It was a beautiful evening to die. I smoked a cigarette and stroked the blister packs of pills in my jacket pocket. I had a large bottle of water with me.

The sun was setting. I put a pill between my lips and closed my eyes.
I did not hear it. No howls or barks, but the sound of motion, faster than any animal I had heard, its paws thumping against the forest floor.

Hot breath against my arm.

Teeth sinking into the meat of my shoulder. I spat the pill to scream. It pushed me to the ground with a paw and twisted its head to tear flesh from my shoulder.

There would be pain, even at the end.

It drew back and a brilliant flare of pain exploded in my skull. I had read that canines go for the stomach or the testicles next. My plan had been falling into sleep along a path of pills but the universe had other ideas.

Its eyes were large and bright. It licked its long white teeth with a rough, pink tongue. It scoffed and growled at me as I waited to die.

Staring into its eyes, I nodded.

It snorted, scratched the ground twice in rapid succession and then ran away.

I laid there, weeping and staring up at the night sky.

The changes began.
A brilliant infection.
A loving curse.

It was not the end of pain. It was acceptance.

I went home and burned the letters.

The cane lies, coated with dust in a cupboard. I am not broken.

I need to find whoever did this.

Offer them my gratitude.

It’s a short drive and a full moon. I don’t need to sleep.

Do you?

Care to join me?

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‘Hello, is that repairs?’

A wavering, shy voice. Elderly. The kind who attempts to make conversation with strangers because it’s worth the risk to alleviate the crippling loneliness. They’re awkward or lovely, ghosts in dying skin who apologise for having something break down in their properties, or vicious isolated assholes who never pause to think that their lives are perfect projections of their own self-loathing. Mentally, I flip a coin.

‘Yes, it is, how can I help you?’

You want to get the information, then off the phone. They will have been waiting for ten minutes or more, so you give them the opportunity to be listened to.

‘I can’t get out.’

I look over at the planning table. Harry, one of the carpenters is off sick, there are three evictions scheduled for half an hour’s time and the afternoon is packed with people who have cried wolf about their upvc windows.

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Have you lost your keys?’

She pauses and I hear her trembling breath over the line. I keep the smile on my face, so that I sound bright, but truly, these ones are a double edged sword. They’re happy that they can get an appointment, but they give you the wrong information about the problem. You send a plumber when the issue really requires the roofing team and so on.

‘No, I can’t get out. They won’t leave me alone.’

If it is kids, then we have to tell them to call the police. Or their estate manager. The former are about as likely to turn up as the latter but it’s not our problem. I don’t mean to sound cold but it’s really about avoiding attachment. I don’t give my name because the odds are, you’re speaking to someone with nothing better to do than hassle the council about why your neighbour got a new kitchen and they didn’t. If you give your name, they’ll ascribe to you any number of promises.

Never mind that these are the people who either don’t vote or vote in the people who cut housing budgets but we can never discuss politics with any degree of equanimity anymore.

Ah, equanimity, another word we can’t use. Being clever is dangerous with these lot. They either feel insulted or kin, and the consequences are equally shit for both.

‘No, it’s not that. I’ve called the police but they can’t get in either.’

I ask Penny if she’s had any calls from the police about needing to force entry anywhere but she shakes her head.  She has another call come through, it is lunchtime, after all.  

‘OK, well let’s start at the beginning. What’s your address?’

She gives it, and I’m confused. There are certain addresses, which when confirmed, elicit a groan of sympathy. This is one of them. One of the worst ones.

The tenant there, Chelsea Harford, is at least sixty years younger than whoever this woman is.

‘And are you the tenant?’

She sighs and begins to weep. A woman crying makes my skin prickle with discomfort.

‘It’s okay. I’ll send someone out to you as soon as I can.’

Ken picks up the job on his PDA. An odd pang of compulsion has me calling him to give him the details. He chuckles and says it will be fine. Ease the door and then be on his way to the other three jobs to get done before five.

It isn’t until the following morning, that I notice he didn’t get to them. The planners are calling his mobile, his landline and the company PDA as Harry stands there, debating with Ian, about what might have happened.

I go to the disabled toilet and wretch up the three cups of coffee I’ve already sunk that morning. Much like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, but it all comes up, burning and stinking.

Then, I go back to my desk and answer the next call.

‘Hello, is that repairs?’

It’s her again. There’s someone shouting in the background though, and I can barely hear her voice underneath the desperate force of a grown man rallying against his imprisonment.

I feel her voice, though, I truly do.

‘I can’t get out.’

A glance around the room and seeing everyone typing, on the phone or trying to sort out a problem. No one looks up, no one sees the tears on my face and the desperate, savage panic that has me in it’s grip.

All I can do is finish the call, wait for the next one.

Wait for the next one.


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The Bridge At Otter Creek

Justin was barking into his phone as he took the corner at speed, and when he caught a glimpse of his face in the rear view mirror, he was shocked at how angry he looked. He had spent the entire drive back from the city seething at how badly the deal had gone. Right now, he was on the phone to Tia, who had sworn blind that the deal was good.

‘You wasted my motherfucking time, Tia. How am I supposed to make my nut when you’re sending me out to mom and pop operations?’

Justin looked up, the bridge at Otter Creek ahead meant that he could get back into town before dusk. Already thinking about hitting up Kev, a gram and a couple of shots of Maker’s would salve his wounded pride. He swallowed, feeling a seam of hard steel at the back of his throat, burning with thwarted pride.

‘Justin, you’re going into this thinking that every lead is a Fortune 500, it doesn’t work that way and Mr Helsdon – ‘

‘Mr Helsdon needs to shit or get off the pot, Tia. He’s been with the same insurer for fifty years, golfs with the guy every Tuesday afternoon. You wasted my time, Tia.’

He hit the bridge and before he was halfway across, a sudden wave of emotion overwhelmed him.

‘I’m scared, Tia. I turn 30 this year and I’m fucking terrified of turning out like my dad did. Fat, useless, trading on old glories. I don’t want to look back and see that my life peaked in high school -‘

Tia took in a sharp breath, overwhelmed by the pleading and the pain in his voice.

‘It’s okay, just it’s been rough I know – ‘

Justin shook his head, squeezing out tears that ran down his cheekbones.

‘No, I know that you’re fixing to leave and I don’t blame you because I treat you like shit but that’s because I can’t stand how much I fucking need you Tia.’

Tia looked around, waited for him to laugh or someone to pop up with a camera to record her reaction.

‘Justin, just come back. We can talk about Houston.’

He crossed the bridge, his fear gone, the way a vampire dies in the sunlight, ash and bone fragments. The next few miles were strange ones for him, and better ones too.


June had kept up a running monologue for so long that when she fell silent, Andy wondered if something in his brain had finally broken. She asked him something, and he murmured his agreement without hearing what it actually was.

‘Do you ever listen to me?’

He lowered his chin to his chest and sighed. It had been a long weekend, her family would all toss disapproving looks when they thought he wasn’t looking.

‘Of course honey, just it’s been a long drive. But look, we’re nearly home.’

She sighed and turned the radio up. It was her way of ensuring that Andy did not get to speak and whereas once he would have resented it, now he was grateful. They had separate lives, running in parallel, a truce rather than a marriage. Since the kids had left, the house was too quiet and neither of them quite knew how to handle it.

As the bridge rattled beneath the wheels of their Prius, Andy reached and turned the station off with a sharp twist.

‘The reason I don’t listen to you is that you don’t give me a chance to speak, June-Bug.’

June’s face sharpened, the perpetual mask of good manners slipped to show the woman beneath.

‘That would require you to say anything that wasn’t about work or football, Andy-Bug.’

He grinned and shook his head, sighing with a gesture that made her damp.

‘When was the last time we had sex, June? Not just the time where you use my dick as a sleeping pill. That was April last year.’

June snivelled and wiped her eyes.

‘I didn’t think you wanted to. I thought you’d made other arrangements. The Hawkins girl.’

He laughed and shook his head.

‘That would be like fucking a box kite. I still jerk off about you, June-Bug but you don’t seem interested.’

He clamped a rough hand on her thigh and she thought she might explode right there.

They stopped once they were on the other side of the bridge. It was quick, but it was good and despite the years, they managed to surprise themselves.


It slipped beneath the water from where it had hung beneath the bridge. It knew that the world seldom offered such ample opportunities for it’s kind and that it could feed from here for a long time to come. It was full. That was enough for now.





Project Laughter 19/08/2015

The pages went well this morning.  I enjoy the scenes between Penny and Tom because there’s a loving acerbicity between them and having dramatised what brought them to that point, I understand them better.
So here is where I start to bring Penny into the stream of the awful things that have been happening.  I’ve rooted it in modernity but still captured that unease and disbelief which has underpinned the whole book thus far. Trying to capture the unknown in an illuminated social media age is tricky but I’m going to keep at it until it breaks or I do.
I’m interested in rooting the bizarre and paranormal in the everyday because it works well with my thoughts and the story.  Whether the book works isn’t up to me and I focus on the pages ahead with an occasional look backwards to see that I’m still in the right place.