Sunday 27 February 2011

Imagine the Inspector Morse novels had been written by Thomas Harris

Those of you who know me will know I write fairly obscure literary fiction. Probably only those who've known me a little longer will know I also write thrillers. I began The Company of Fellows four years ago as the first in an Oxford-based series featuring bipolar atheist interior designer and some time academic Tommy West, his devoutly Christian ex-girlfriend Chief Inspector Emily Harris, and her sultry sergeant Rosie Lu. And now, I've re-edited it, cut large chunks that weren't working, and revived what may well turn back into a series.

It's available for Kindle for just 70p here.

Also on smashwords for all other formats for the same price

Imagine the Inspector Morse novels had been written by Thomas Harris. The Company of Fellows is a new thriller set in Oxford.

Tommy West. A brilliant Oxford academic, until a breakdown 12 years ago. Reinvented as a successful interior designer. His new life is comfortable, in every way, and safe. But he misses the challenge of academia.

Charles Shaw. Outspoken professor of theology. Sensualist. Unpopular with all his colleagues. Loathed by his ex-wife. And, as of five minutes ago, dead.

As a student, Shaw was Tommy’s mentor. Now Tommy must draw on the professor for inspiration one more time in order to find his killer. But all he has to go on are a handful of papers for the controversial research the professor was working on when he died. And the Professor’s 18 year-old daughter Becky, for whom Tommy is the last hope to get some closure on the troubled relationship with her father. And a police investigation convinced the Professor’s death was a suicide. An investigation led by Tommy’s ex.

The further Tommy gets inside the twisted lives of Shaw and his colleagues, and the closer he gets to the dark secrets that hide the truth, the further he gets from the safety he has so carefully built for himself, placing not just his life, but his sanity, at risk.

As thrillers go it's literary, more P D James than Colin Dexter, but I also wanted something of the menace and opulence of Thomas Harris. I also wanted to convey both the attraction and the superficiality of Oxford's academic life, and the layers of what I hope are very serious menace and darkness that just might lie beneath some of the seemingly petty and esoteric squabbles, hinting at a sensuality too long repressed by the search for intellectual betterment, a sensuality that ultimately cannot be held in place and begins to ooze toxicly through the pretence of otherworldliness the academics wear.

First and foremost, though, this is about the things all my books are about - the fundamental struggle of living in a world wear the only things that keep you sane are at the same time the things that threaten to destroy you. And how to live in a world that lives by moral codes that make no sense at all.

Here's a passage from one of the early chapters where Rosie first visits the house of the dead professor:

Rosie loved old Oxford houses that seemed to leak books from the cracks in their decaying plaster. She’d never been to university. There had been no need. She’d always known she wanted to be in the police, like her father and grandfather had been in Hong Kong. But the mix of books and solitude made her feel totally at home.

Professor Shaw’s was a typical academic’s study, a cross between a bombsite and a fly tip. It might look like it’s a mess, but I know where everything is, and that’s what matters. That’s what people who lived like this always said. From the number of times she’d watched them foraging for a vital piece of paper with all the desperation of a bear emerging from hibernation and finding its larder still buried under snow, she knew this was a lie.

Somehow she had a feeling that Professor Shaw would be different. It was true that everything looked a mess; but the dinner he’d laid out for himself had been beautifully ordered. She had a feeling he wasn’t the kind of person to leave work half done. All of which meant there had to be some kind of order underlying the chaos. Either that or he was murdered after all.

She stood in the doorway and tried to get a feel for the way he had used the room. There were piles of papers on every surface – the coffee tables, the desk, the sofa, most of the chairs. It was a fair bet most of them had been there for months and were irrelevant. If she could figure out which they were she could save herself hours. She looked at his desk. There was a clearing for his iBook but no more, and a couple of journals had spilled onto the white case. She made a note to herself to take the computer with her.

Rosie tried a technique she often used. She walked out of the door and down the corridor. She imagined herself tired from a day giving lectures, seeing students, straining her eyes in the library. She thought of the iBook, partially covered, and realised that Professor Shaw didn’t use it to take his daily notes. She tried to feel a folder under her arm, with its pages of scribblings.

She headed back to the study, yawning as she got into character. Without thinking she found herself heading across the floor, stepping over some heaps of journals, and sitting herself down in a Windsor chair with arms worn smooth and dark, placing her imaginary folder on the table to her left. The papers on it lay flat. Her folder wouldn’t fall off. They were a little beyond her comfortable reach – perfect for someone five or six inches taller than her, like the Professor.

The chair felt good. God, she needed a drink. Instinctively she moved her hand to the right, felt rounded glass, a bottle of Glengoyne and a tumbler waiting on a mahogany tray. This was where he lived when he was in this room, she thought.
She scanned her immediate surroundings. To her right was an ottoman, complete with the tray of malt. To her left was the table with the flat-topped stack of papers. They weren’t what he was working on. He used them only as a flat surface to put things on. What did he do when he’d finished whatever it was he did? She imagined him sitting down with his whisky. He’d put everything on the table – his notes from the day, his post, printouts of his e-mails. He didn’t keep them on his lap as he looked through them. That’s where he cradled his drink. He took them off the pile one by one, read them over. What did he do with them? There was no sign of a diary or a jotter. I bet you had a notebook, she said to herself.

Carefully she retraced her steps to the door and repeated the routine. As she stepped back inside it struck her. You’ve had enough of this heavy tweed. You want to make yourself comfortable. She took off her make-believe jacket and hung it on the back of his door. Sure enough, there was a tweed jacket on the back of the door, a fat mechanical pencil sticking out of the top pocket. I bet you used that pencil to take notes in the library. And, bingo! On the peg next to it was a fine silk smoking jacket. She put it on and padded the pockets. She reached inside. There was the notebook, a small Mont Blanc Mozart biro clipped over its front cover.

Rosie went back to the chair and opened up the notebook. She was right. The entries were all dated. She started from the most recent, September 3rd, and worked back. Unfortunately it appeared to be nothing but a series of references from books he’d been reading during the day. Strange that he should have bothered taking notes the day before he killed himself. Maybe he hadn’t been intending to kill himself at the time; maybe something sudden happened. She put it on the arm of the chair. It was small enough to balance. She went back to the Professor’s routine. He’d read his papers, taken whatever notes he needed and then put them down one by one. That was it.

She looked underneath the table. There was a sprawl of envelopes and letters a foot or so back. Clearly once he’d dealt with something he didn’t care what happened to it. She sat on the floor and gathered the pile of papers and correspondence, careful to keep things in order. The top few letters were unopened. A bill, some junk mail, one from college that was handwritten – why would he have left that?

She got to the first opened letter – the last Professor Shaw had read. It was a strange size – she recognised it as US paper. There it was. Exactly what she’d been looking for. It was a letter from the Divinity Faculty at Harvard. And there were the words that explained the Professor’s death, his sudden decision – we are sorry but after lengthy deliberation the Faculty has decided to appoint another candidate to the post of Professor of Social Ethics. So he had been planning to go to the States, but his plans had fallen apart.

Why get in touch with Tommy, a student he hadn’t seen in years, and ask him to come round if the Professor was going to kill himself before he got there? Maybe he’d wanted Tommy to get to him just in time. Who knows? she thought. One thing was certain, though. The Professor hadn’t bargained on his messenger dropping dead before he could deliver the message.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

I'm on Kindle and I have a new book

As many of you will know, I'm currently on a break from the internet. After 18 months on the go with Year Zero and eight cuts gallery, I finally burned myself out pretty much completely, as well as losing all sense of my own worth as a writer. Add to that mix not one but two particularly nasty bugs (no doubt caused by an immune system dramatically lowered by stress). I hope to be back and in the swing of things mid March.

But I haven't been totally inactive, and as I claw my way back into things I wanted to share two pieces about my own writing, because as I've had a chance to look through it away from the relentless melting pot of the internet I've realised there is some merit to it. In fact, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a book I'm rather proud of.

I just wanted to let people know that it's now available for Kindle at just 70p
the link to Songs on Kindle is here!
and of course I would dearly dearly love it if people who thought they would like it bought it. I'd also really really love it if those of you who have enjoyed it were to leave a review - I've had some lovely reviews over the past 18 months, but all of them before it has been available for Kindle. I've decided it's time to relaunch my own writing career as well as the other things I do, so this is sort of an official relaunch for Songs. So if anyone has any space on their blogs for a gentle literary read...

For those of you who don't know anything about it, here's a little something blurbwise:

After her mother walks out and returns to England when she’s just a week old, Szandi grows up on the vineyard in Hungary that has been in her family for 300 years. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found her place in the world. When she discovers that her father has only weeks to live, Szandi must choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a coming of age story for all who love Murakami's Norwegian Wood that inhabits anti-capitalist chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.

And here are some reviews:
“captures the rhythms and nuances of how we live now in a way that has rarely been done better” LA Books Examiner (read full review)
“Holloway’s accomplishment is in rendering a world in exquisite detail and still conveying the universal via the personal.” Emprise Review (read full review)
“a lovely book written in that rare thing: beautiful, lyrical prose.” Jane Smith, The Self-Publishing Review (read full review)
“Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is a *very* good book” Erica Friedman, Yurikon publishing (read full review)
“genuine promise”, Scott Pack, Harper Collins Fifth Estate/The Friday Project (read full review)
“In threads that shimmer like the novel’s central image of petrol-colored silk, what could have been weaves itself into every situation.” Pank (read full review)

Which brings me to the other news. The reason my blog has the name it does has to do with a book I began writing 2 years ago. And now, finally, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes is complete. It will be available on Kindle from March 10th. For those who don't already know, here is the blurb:

When mysterious Polish woman Agnieszka Iwanowa's tragi-comic death in a gym accident is uploaded to YouTube, the film's final image of her upturned trainers is rehashed by everyone from right wing extremists to a reclusive installation artist who only speaks through his dominatrix PA.

Now Dan Griffiths has to make the image fresh.Dan's search for the reasons behind the picture's magnetic pull suck him into the worlds of political extremism; BDSM; a haiku-composing graffiti artist; an online community devoted to the dead girl, and its reclusive Japanese schoolboy moderator who has just paid half a million dollars for the diary of a scientist whose work he believes will enable him to bring Agnieszka back from the dead.

And as the search for Agnieszka's secret slowly overtakes the search for his own daughter, missing for ten years, ignored by the media, and now sending him - and the reader - glimpses of messages from what seems like another world, he is confronted by the question - why are some images impossible to look away from, whilst others fade without ever being seen?

A story about a world gone numb, in which pain is the only thing that's real

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Exchange Trip

10 February 2011, 6-8pm, O3 Gallery

£3/£1.50 students

There’s a Facebook event page here

You’ve probably heard a lot about how tough it is for first time writers of literary fiction to get a deal. Which it is, but tonight we have not one, not two, not three or four but five fantastic writers who managed it, reading the work that got them there. You can even stop and have a drinl and a chat and ask questions.

In the first of a fantastic double-header, five of the most exciting young writers from London are coming to Oxford for one night only for your delectation before inviting Oxford’s, er, finest back to London.

Lee Rourke is the author of the novel The Canal, the short story collection Everyday and A Brief History of Fables: From Aesop to Flash Fiction (September 2011).

Stuart Evers is the author of ‘Ten Stories About Smoking’ which Picador will publish in March this year. A former bookseller and editor, he now writes about books for the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, New Statesman and many other publications. He is currently completing his debut novel, The Carnival’s Tattoo.

Niven Govinden is the author of novels We Are The New Romantics and Graffiti My Soul. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications including Five Dials, Pen Pusher, Time Out, Stimulus Respond, Butt, and on BBC Radio 3.

Nikesh Shukla is a London-based author, filmmaker and poet. His writing has featured on BBC2, BBC Radio 1 and 4, and BBC Asian Network. He has performed at Royal Festival Hall, Book Club Boutique, Soho Theatre, The Big Chill, Rise Festival and Glastonbury. He is currently working on a sitcom for Channel 4.

Gavin James Bower graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2004 and, while interning that summer at Dazed & Confused, was asked to model for an upcoming issue. Joining agencies in London, Paris and Milan, he worked for John Galliano and Hermes. His journalism has appeared in FLUX and the Sunday Telegraph. He lives in London. Dazed and Aroused is his first novel.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Ten covers to make you cry

Like many I’m sure, after hearing news of their official split, I spent much of last night listening to The White Stripes’ back catalogue. One of the many things I realised is just how perfect a cover their version of Jolene is. Which got me thinking about covers, and I realised all of my favourites have one thing in common – they take the original and somehow wring an extra squeeze of emotion from it, either from the arrangement, the vocal quality, or the story behind the song (I’m sure you can figure which is which).
In some cases they transform a song that was, really, rather crap. In others (Nine Inch Nails) the original is at least as perfect as the cover, but here they are.

Jolene – The White Stripes (Dolly Parton)

Hurt – Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails)

The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana (David Bowie)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy (Judy Garland)

AND Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Feeling Good – Muse (Nina Simone)

Guns of Brixton – Nouvelle Vague (The Clash)

Killing Me Softly – The Fugees (Roberta Flack)

Mad World – Gary Jules (Tears for Fears)

Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana (Leadbelly)

And one that is, ahem, “perfect” just as it is, thank you, Susan Boyle et al

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Once Upon a Time in a Gallery

Ginger Rad Cam copyright Emma Dougherty

Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?

Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is a two month exhibition featuring words, art, and music by more than twenty international artists. The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.