Four Horsemen – Chapter One

3rd April 1961

If humans had meant to fly they would’ve been born with rocket jets up their arses, War thought as the plane touched down at Idlewild Airport. He still regarded how these heavy hunks of metal hung in the air as some kind of witchcraft, even after Conquest had drawn several explanatory diagrams.

Just sixty years ago, humanity had started out with wood and paper aircraft tied together with string. Now they were strapping themselves to steel tubes filled with explosives and firing them willy-nilly into space. War was all for progress, but he sometimes wondered if they were getting ahead of themselves.

Back in London, Death had offered to give him a lift to New York, but this was a journey he decided should be made alone. Releasing his grip on the seat’s armrests, he dismantled the small fort he had built out of pillows and blankets over the last few hours. The plane came to rest outside the terminal. Sighing with relief, he unbuckled the seat belt with fumbling fingers.

He straightened his tie and smoothed his large red beard. By the time he’d reached the plane’s exit he’d regained his composure. He doffed his trilby to the stewardess who suggested that he have a nice day and descended the metal stairs. The passengers marched across the hot tarmac towards the new terminal building. With its curved lines and modern materials, it looked as if the architect hoped the rocket ships of the near future would soon stop here before taking their passengers to the moon and beyond.

A silver-haired driver stood just beyond the arrivals gate holding a sign with ‘MR WAUGH’ written in marker pen.

‘That’s me,’ War said, pointing to his name.

The driver tipped his peaked cap. ‘Good afternoon, sir. My name’s Argyll.’ A thick New Yoik accent. He’d already grabbed War’s suitcase when he asked, ‘Take that for you?’

Argyll led the way, moving smoothly between the bodies that crowded around the arrivals hall. ‘You a Brit? What brings you to the States? Business or pleasure?’

‘I’m visiting an old friend.’

‘This your first time?’

‘Oh, I’ve often been here,’ War replied. He’d hung out with Sir Walter Raleigh in Virginia. Witnessed the Salem Witch Trials. Fought in the Revolution and Civil War (Won one, lost one). And he was sure he’d won Rhode Island in a card game at some point.

War’s ride was a long black town car. Argyll placed the luggage in the boot as War slid into the backseat. Argyll climbed behind the steering wheel. ‘Where we going to?’

War pulled a piece of paper from his suit pocket and passed it over. Argyll read the scribbled address. ‘This is in the ‘burbs. You sure you wanna go here? I can show you some sights?’

‘I told you. I’m visiting an old friend.’

‘You’re the boss,’ Argyll said and steered the car towards the exit and onwards to the freeway. He looked at War in the rear view mirror. ‘Who’s this friend, if you don’t mind me asking? Old war buddy?’

War smiled to himself. ‘We were in a few scrapes together.’

‘I was in the Pacific. Man, the things I seen. But I reckon I don’t need to tell you.’

War shook his head. ‘You don’t.’

‘Where were you in Dubya Dubya Two?’

A sigh. ‘Everywhere.’

Argyll could sense that his passenger wasn’t the talkative type so turned his attention to the road.

War picked up a copy of the New York Times from a selection of newspapers arranged in a pocket on the back of the driver’s seat and thumbed through it until he grew bored.

He watched the city swell and rise in front of him. A new empire on the horizon. Scrubbed, shiny and brimming with optimism. That always made War uneasy. He was more comfortable with empires on the slide. He was usually the reason for their crumbling and he regarded it as a job well done. That’s why London felt like home.

The car skirted the edges of the city and soon the buildings shrank and levelled out until they plateaued into suburban homes. The grey and silver gave way to greens and browns. Two car driveways, climbing frames and kids on bicycles replaced the gridlock, offices and frazzled advertising executives.

Argyll had taken a few wrong turns (‘Sorry, Mr Waugh. This ain’t my usual parish.’) but soon they arrived at the address he’d been given. It was a two storey house with a porch at the end of a tarmac driveway. Well maintained, freshly painted with trimmed lawns. It didn’t look like much, but Argyll understood why an old soldier would travel three thousand miles to be here.

War hunched over his knees in the backseat. He looked pale and nervous.

‘You okay, sir?’ Argyll asked.

‘I’ll be fine. It’s just been a while, y’know?’

‘You didn’t shoot the guy in the foot or anything did ya?’

War chuckled and straightened up. ‘No, nothing like that. Argyll, will you do me a favour?’

‘Yeah?’

‘This won’t take long. Will you wait for me?’

‘Certainly, sir.’

War leaned forward. ‘And then we’re getting really, really drunk.’

Argyll laughed, ‘Yep, that I sure can do.’

War patted him on the shoulder and stepped out of the car.

There she was.

Elizabeth sat in a rocking chair on the porch. Though she was over ninety years old, War could see the little girl she used to be in her smile.

He climbed the handful of steps. His heavy legs ached as if he’d walked to the top of the Empire State Building. His head swam. None of this appeared real. So many conflicting emotions, head and heart seeming as if they would simultaneously implode and burst out of his body. War didn’t understand how humans handled feeling like this all the bloody time.

He silently sat in the chair next to her. Between them, a small table with a jug of homemade lemonade and two empty glasses.

I’ve been expecting you, she said without moving her lips. War scratched the back of his head. It always made his brain itch when she did that.

‘You look well,’ he replied.

Elizabeth gazed out the corner of her eye. ‘I look old, War. You, however, haven’t aged a day.’

Her accent was unfamiliar. Distant. American. War realised a lifetime had passed between this moment and when he’d last heard her speak. Back then her voice had been full of dropped aitches and missing tees.

‘How have you been?’ he asked.

‘Fine. Would you like a drink?’

War was aware how dry his throat was. ‘Please.’

Elizabeth poured them each a glass of lemonade. He watched her delicate movements, the almost imperceptible strain of old muscles as she held the jug.

‘I often wonder if I made the right choice,’ he blurted out. ‘Were they good to you?’

Elizabeth leaned across and placed her hand in his. Her skin was dry and paper thin against his warm, fleshy palm. ‘Mother and father were lovely. I met a fine man. We had a wonderful time before he passed and our children and grandchildren turned out great.’

War smiled. ‘That’s good to know.’

‘Are your friends all right?’

‘You know us. We never change.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand. ‘Oh, I think you do. Now, if you’re here either your other friends are no longer a threat to me or they think I’m no longer one to everyone else?’

War ignored the question. ‘Do you still have it?’

She took her hand back and pulled out a long silver necklace hidden under her floral dress. A small red and gold Christmas bauble dangled from it. Unable to help himself, War reached over and took it in his fingers. It was so fragile. One swift squeeze and it would shatter. He let it drop back onto Elizabeth’s chest.

‘I think it’s time you had it,’ she said. ‘You should keep it safe. I won’t be able to for much longer.’

War nodded and waved his glass. ‘I don’t suppose you have anything stronger?’

Elizabeth let out a laugh so huge War was surprised her small body could contain it. ‘I thought you’d never ask.’

Watch Jaws In The Open Air! Tonight!

My Kids Don’t Like Star Wars

They taunt me with their photos on Facebook. Friends’ children wearing Darth Vader masks, Leia costumes and joyfully sat in front of the TV watching a lightsabre duel. I am reminded daily of a single inalienable truth.

My kids don’t like Star Wars.

Those who know me are aware that the sole reason I had kids was to have someone to watch those films with and how much this makes me sad.

(I’m joking, of course. “Too much wine at a family barbecue” is the actual reason I had kids)

Maybe it’s my fault. Perhaps I tried to introduce them to it to early and the damage was done then. Maybe it’s George Lucas’s fault (The first 20 minutes of A New Hope do drag a bit, George. Why would you even build a protocol droid that annoys the shit out of everyone he talks to?)

I’ve tried everything to interest them. Even explaining to them how, rather than being cute and fluffy and lame, Ewoks are hardcore war criminals.

Come on. They eat their prisoners. Five minutes after capturing them, they’re trying to cook Han, Luke and Chewbacca. The dress Leia wears in the Ewok village probably came from the last person they had round for dinner.

Still, there’s something sad about a 40 year old man owning more Star Wars merchandise than his children.

Me and Han off out for a cheeky Nando’s.

But, actually, it comes down to the one mantra my kids repeat:

“Dad likes it. It must be rubbish.”

Before kids come along, you always think you’re going to be the Cool Dad, that they’ll regard you as some hybrid of Steve McQueen, Joey Ramone and Evel Knievel. But you can’t be. Because you’re their dad. By the virtue of their existence, you’ve become an older generation and become slightly less relevant.

In fact, they have no idea who Steve McQueen, Joey Ramone and Evel Knievel are. (Though Kid C is a bit partial to “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the ao.com advert)

It’s the same with music. They’re always telling me to turn that racket down, which I’m pretty sure is not how that particular social transaction should work.

And the stuff they listen to these days. I don’t know what that’s all about. It’s got a melody.  You can actually hear the lyrics. It was just a noise in my day and it was brilliant.

I think my favourite episode of The Simpsons is Homerpalooza, when Homer realises that he’s become totally out of touch with pop culture. Of course, the irony is that my kids regard all the “cool bands” that I like in that episode as hilariously old-fashioned. Me listening to Sonic Youth is the 2017 version of 1996’s Homer listening to Grand Funk Railroad.

But when you do manage to show them something you love and they love it too and they think maybe – just maybe – dad knows what he’s talking about… Those shared moments are everything.

And it’s something I remember when they look at me with pity when I put the Stone Roses on and air-guitar my way around the kitchen.

Here We Go Again

Hello! I’m back!

If you’ve been here before, you might have noticed that I’ve tidied the place up a bit. That’s because I’ve decided to start blogging again. I’m not ready for the Youtubes or anything like that.  

I’ve grown up a bit since I last blogged regularly, so – now – as a mature husband and father of three children I thought I’d use this as a platform to write about music, films, TV, books rather than just a list of dick jokes*.  The stuff that stops me from just collapsing into a foetal position and weeping with exhaustion.

I also thought that I’d write about things that I’ve come across that make my life easier/make me more confused so – y’know – if you work in PR and want to send me free shit to write about, I’m open to suggestions.

There’ll still be books, though. There’ll be a new one soon. Honestly.

So, yeah. It’s a blog about being a grump middle-aged man written by a grumpy middle-aged man. The internet really needs another one of those.

You can subscribe using the button on the right hand side or like my Facebook page. Or even help yourself to a free book. No pressure.

*There’ll still be dick jokes. 

Giveaway Time!

It’s a well documented fact that I’m not very bright.

You may know that I recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for my new story Old Haunts.

Well, it seems that I can’t count and I’ve ended up with spare copies.

So, rather than have them sit on my bookshelf unread, I thought I’d give them away to people possessed of dubious luck.

There’s a limited edition hardback copy of the How To Be Dead stories (How To Be Dead, Paper Cuts and Old Haunts):

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3 limited edition paperback copies of Old Haunts, the third story in the How To Be Dead series:

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And a proof copy of the paperback version of the How To Be Dead series (all 3 stories), which I don’t think *anyone* has at the moment because it only went on sale yesterday:

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Not sure whether you want to read them? You can have a look at the reviews here.

What are they about? Well, Dave Marwood is trapped in a soul crushing dead end job. He’s in love with his work colleague Melanie and his only friend Gary is a conspiracy theory nut. His life is going nowhere until he has a Near Death Experience – though Death thinks of it as a Near Dave Experience. He discovers gifts he never knew he possessed and a world he never dreamed existed. A world where the Grim Reaper is a hard drinking, grumpy Billy Joel fan and the undead are bored, lonely and dangerous. A world where Death and his office staff must protect humanity from ghosts, zombies, vampires and medium-sized apocalypses.

After a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

To get in on the action, just do the biz on the form below! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

The Story of How To Be Dead

So, once upon a time, I had an idea for a series of 3 novellas telling the story of Death and the problems he had trying to sort out the undead.

“I’ll bash them out over the course of a year,” I thought. “It’ll be a nice little project to keep me out of trouble.”

Four years later, I’ve just published the last part of that story.

It all started easy enough writing the first novella. It was called How To Be Dead (after a Snow Patrol song). If you haven’t read it, you can have it for free by clicking here.

People really liked it. That made me very happy. “I should probably write the second one,” I thought.

Then I was diagnosed with a seriously massive heart condition. You know when a footballer drops dead on the football pitch? That’s the bad boy I’ve got. There were hospital visits. Medication. Implants. Wires stuck into my heart.

But I’m now technically a cyborg. Which is actually the childhood dream come true.

I’ll be honest, there were grim days contemplating my own mortality. What would my wife and kids do if I wasn’t around tomorrow? Who’d remove the Billy Joel albums off my iPhone before people discovered them?

Then I thought, “Hang on. I’m writing comedy books about death. I can probably use this.”

This may go some way to explaining the number of Billy Joel jokes in the books.

When you stare in to the Abyss, sometimes the Abyss stares back. So you wave to the Abyss. Then you realise the Abyss was actually staring at something over your shoulder and it all gets a little bit awkward.

And then you just bloody well get on with it.

Then an agent got in touch to say that he loved the first novella and did I want to turn it into a novel and be represented by him?

“Yes! Of course!” I thought.

So I left my screenwriting agent and signed with the new agency with ideas that i would be An Important Novelist. And I wrote a novel. Which I wasn’t completely happy with.

Then the agent decided he didn’t want to be agent anymore.

So I was left agent-less and holding a novel I didn’t know what to do with. So I decided that since I’d had an idea for 3 novellas, I’d better start the second one.

That was called Paper Cuts (after songs by Nirvana and The Boy Least Likely To). Because I like you so much, you can have that for free as well by clicking here.

People seemed to like that a bit more than the first one.

“I’d better write a third one,” I thought.  So I did.

It’s called Old Haunts (after a song by The Gaslight Anthem). You can get that here if you’re in the UK.  Or, if you’re in the US, here.

People seem to be liking it a bit more than the second one. Which is a trajectory that any writer would want.

Now I’ve dragged a story that’s been banging around my head for half a decade kicking and screaming into the world, I’m not sure how to feel. Perhaps because I don’t want to leave these characters behind and I’ve got more stories about them to tell. Perhaps because I have an office full of books I need to post out to the awesome Kickstarter backers. I don’t know.

But this chapter of my life has reached an end. There’s some people I should thank:

Everyone who supported me on Kickstarter from the beginning – I wouldn’t have done this without you. You rock.

If you’ve downloaded the stories, or tweeted, or Facebooked or blogged about them – You, too, are awesome.

If you’ve got in touch with me to tell me that you’ve enjoyed the stories, thank you. You don’t know how much that means to me and how much it helps when it’s the middle of the night and I have a two hour commute to work in the morning and I just can’t think of that last joke for the scene.

And my wife (who probably won’t read this), who has looked on me doing this with a mixture of bewilderment and patience. She knew I had to do this, even if she’ll never really understand why. I love her very much. She puts up with a lot.

And my kids (who I won’t let read this). If it wasn’t for the Three Infinite Monkeys, these books would’ve probably been written a lot quicker but the gaps in between wouldn’t have been even a tenth as much fun.

I’m a writer now. I always have been. I don’t get embarrassed muttering “Yeah, I do” when a friend tells someone “Dave writes books, y’know?”

Sure, it doesn’t pay the mortgage. I hope one day it will. Right now, it’s a bit of pin money at the end of the month. But some force has always driven me to take this stuff in my head and stick down on the page ever since I could hold a pen.

That’s what makes a writer. Writing. Just bloody well getting on with it.

So, I’ll be getting on with the next story. It’s a feel-good comedy about alien invasions. I promise I’ll be quicker with this one.

This was just meant to be a quick post to say “Hey! The new book’s out!” but things quickly spiralled out of control. Sorry about that.

I’ll have a glass or two of wine tonight to toast Death, Dave, Anne, Melanie and Gary. I hope you do too.

C’mon. It’s Friday.

Old Haunts – How To Be Dead 3

 

Hello!

I know. I never write. I never call. But I’ve got some news.

Well, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for Old Haunts, the third novella in the How To Be Dead series, this morning.

For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Every project creator sets their project’s funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ debit/credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

We actually hit the target by lunchtime! I cannot thank everyone who’s backed the book enough. Once again, you’ve shown what remarkable people you are. You’ve made this old geek very, very happy again and I shall raise a very large glass of wine to each and every one of you tonight.

But we don’t want to stop there! I have other stories that I want to tell and I’ll continue to publish these through Aim For The Head Books. Once Old Haunts is released, I think I’ll have a vague idea of what I’m doing. So I’m hoping to do more than publish my own poor quality jokes in the future and use Aim For The Head to help other authors get their work out into the world using a profit sharing model.

It’s all still at the ‘sketch on a back of a napkin’ stage, but if – with your help – we can make the How To Be Dead series a success and get Aim For The Head Books off the ground, this could help other writers get a better deal and see new, exciting work available.

The bottom line is the more funds that we can raise, the more I can put into launching Aim For The Head Books.

Are you in? If you are, you could help ‘Old Haunts’ with just three clicks.

1. Click on the button below to visit the Kickstarter page and pledge your support. The limited edition paperbacks are very popular at the moment.

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2. Click on the button below to share with your awesome Facebook friends.

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3. Click on the button below to let your bazillion Twitter followers know about ‘How To Be Dead’.

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There. That was nice and easy, wasn’t it? You’ve done a good thing. Three good things. Go on. Have a biscuit. Have three biscuits. You deserve them. You’re awesome.

Violence and Misery – Dave’s Favourite Christmas Songs

T’was the night before Christmas & all through the house not a creature was stirring APART FROM A BEING OF UNSPEAKABLE HORROR IN THE ATTIC.

So have some Christmas songs that aren’t Wizzard or Slade or Cliff Sodding Richard.

Father Christmas – The Kinks

Ray Davies is a lyrical genius, able to create the most romantic imagery from London’s grubby streets. But here the Kinks go punk with a tune about some little gits pumped up on sugar and excitement mugging Father Christmas.

Chiron Beta Prime – Jonathan Coulton

Just because you’ve been banished by the Robot Overlords to a mining colony on an asteroid doesn’t mean you can’t get a bit festive.

Feliz Navidad – El Vez

Traditional Christmas song put to the tune of ‘Public Image’ by PiL. It’s obvious when you think about it. A stone cold classic from the Mexican Elvis.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – Bruce Springsteen

Partly because Bruce Springsteen is the Greatest Living American Poet and Songwriter, but mostly because it really annoys my wife.

It’s not truly Christmas until my wife sighs and says “Not this song again?”

A Long December – Counting Crows

Not strictly a Christmas song, but they’re just so damn good. A band that truly refuses to be happy. You have to admire their commitment to documenting the existential emptiness in our meaningless lives.

Plus added Courtney Cox in the video.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! See you in 2016!

Me Read Books Good

I was meant to write another part of Books What Are Good but real life is in the way at the moment.

Some very nice people left some reading suggestions. I’m reading one of these at the moment, ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ by M.R. Carey as recommended by Carl and enjoying it tremendously.

So I say that people recommending stuff on this site is a brilliant idea with a 100% success record.  And I need to start compiling my reading list for 2016.

What books do you think should be read by more people? State your case in the comments below and I’ll round them up at the end of the week!

Thanks!

Books What Are Good

A while ago, I wrote a post about 9 Low Budget Science Fiction Films More People Should See so I thought I’d write some posts about the sci-fi/fantasy horror books I’ve enjoyed this year. If you’ve not read any of these, I suggest you check them out.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

birdboxThere’s something outside. You don’t know what it is, but if you see it madness and death will follow.

Bird Box taps directly into the primal fear of the dark, made all the worse because that darkness is self-inflicted. To survive, one must be blindfolded.

I’m not really affected by scary stories because I’m a double hard bastard, but one sequence left me shaking and terrified while sat reading on a packed tube train. This’ll stick with you long after you’ve finished it.

Buy From Amazon

Resistance is Futile by Jenny T Colgan

resistanceI like Jenny Colgan. She gives good Twitter.

I came across this when researching what turned out to be a similar story idea.

I thought I’d read it for research purposes and found out it contains jokes, snogging and hard sums. Which are three of my favourite things. Result. Funny and touching, if there was more cake it’d be perfect.

Buy on Amazon

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

harryHarry August keeps dying. Harry August keeps being born. He always returns to his childhood with the memory of the lives he has yet to live.

I adore time loop stories (see my love of Primer and Timecrimes on the sci-fi film link). I love to see how the writer will keep the narrative fresh as we re-visit events that have already happened.

This has a grander scope, an entire life re-lived rather than hours or days, and a grander narrative ambition.

Look, as soon as I finished this, I immediately ordered Claire North’s next book, Touch, because I wanted to keep on reading her delicious prose. I don’t think I can give any higher praise than that, can I?

Buy on Amazon

That was short and sweet, wasn’t it? I’ll continue this next week with some more recommendations. I hope I given you at least one new thing to try. What books have you enjoyed this year? Please let me know in the comments.