Tag Archives: Blasted Heath

Interview – HJ Hampson

HJ Hampson’s debut The Vanity Game is one part satire, one part crime novel, plunging into the murky hinterland of football fixers who will go to extraordinary lengths to protect a cash-cow power-couple.  It has attracted some high profile fans, including Val McDermid and Megan Abbott, two ladies who know a lot about the dark side of the sporting world, and with the Euros now in full swing it couldn’t be more timely.

Heather was kind enough to join me for an interview…

The Vanity Game is out today, can you tell the readers a little about it?

It’s a black comedy, noir-thriller about a footballer called Beaumont Alexander. He goes to a celebrity party, does something stupid and finds A-list lifestyle spinning out of control and into the path of a shady cartel of gangsters.

To say you’re scathing about sleb culture would be an understatement, why does it rile you up so much?

It seems to me that there was a point somewhere in the 2000s where celebrity culture exploded. It was probably the arrival of Big Brother and reality TV, coupled with the launch of Heat, but suddenly the public’s hunger for fame increased, and dull and boring people were becoming famous. Back in the Nineties, Kurt Cobain’s suicide hardly garnered any coverage from the mainstream news, yet he was one of the biggest and most talented musicians on the planet, but look what happened when Jade Goody died… her ‘cancer wedding’ was streamed live on some shit cable channel or whatever, and the celebrity magazines were spewing out hundreds of column inches over it. Why?

Do people really care? I feel that some people are duped into thinking they care.

I do really dislike celebrity magazines. I feel they have a misogynistic agenda. In every other edition celebrities in the bikinis are splashed across the covers, with the alternating themes of being too fat or too thin, and in every issue there is story about some stupid celebrity’s crazy diet. I really don’t think this absolute obsession with women’s (as it is always the women), bodies does any good to the young girls who are reading these magazines.

When I was younger, magazines like Smash Hits featured feisty female pop stars and printed the lyrics to songs like Faster by the Manic Street Preachers. Now teenage girls only have banal columns by people like Alex Gerrard and stuff about grapefruit diets to read, while teenage boys are, apparently, all watching free hardcore porn on the net. That generation is going to be seriously fucked up.

Or, of course, you could just read Hello!, which seems to think that people qualify to have their pictures in magazines because they are aristocratic.

I don’t know which is worse really. As you can say, it does rather rile me up!

 Where did the inspiration for Beaumont Alexander come from?

I always wanted to write about a famous person. I find the concept of fame so interesting… so many famous people are messed up aren’t they? Some people get so famous that they become totally detached from all reality, and I wanted to see what a character like that would do… if you are detached from reality, you are also detached from the social code somewhat. Originally, I initially intended him to be a film star, it seemed more glamorous, but then there was a lot of press interest in footballers and their girlfriends. I specifically remember the 2006 World Cup, when all the wives and girlfriends were allowed to go to Germany. Even before they went, the celebrity magazines were profiling all the girlfriends, bitching about how they dressed etc, but out there it was a total media circus. I remember a reporter saying in the Guardian that he witnessed a paparazzo literally trip over himself to get a picture of England goal-keeper, Paul Robinson’s, father eating his dinner. Who wanted to see that?

It was the time there was a lot of stuff in the press about footballers and their sex lives… I guess after the David Beckham and Rebecca Loos thing.  And then you got the feeling Victoria Beckham wouldn’t leave her husband because, together, they were such a mega-brand. I remember I was travelling through Thailand on a coach and it stopped in this backwater town, off the backpacker trail. I got out of the coach and there was a huge billboard with Beckham on advertising a mobile phone. I just thought his image is more famous than Jesus’, but what really is behind the image?

So he came from all that, but he not based on any one player in particular!

There’s been a string of high-profile crimes involving footballers in recent years, mostly smoothed over by the clubs, do you think they would ever go as far as covering up a murder?

Well, I think they have covered up rape, or at least paid victims off, so why not murder? I think there are some very dodgy people involved in football… it’s blatantly corrupt in some areas. Tom Bower’s Broken Dreams gives you a good idea of what happened back in the nineties, and it’s probably got worse. There’s also been rumours of gangsters extorting protection money out of players – I guess many of the English players who came from very rough inner cities areas grew up with people who later turned to crime, so undoubtedly, some have connections with people who commit or would commit murder. With the money in football, of course it could be covered up: if, say, it was a young, hot-shot striker who was integral to a team winning the league or the national team, yeah, I think anything could be covered up.

It’s been a tough road to publication for you, what advice would you give to other writers now you’ve broken through?

Just don’t give up! Show your work to people who preferably aren’t close friends or family, and listen to feedback.  And network, and exploit any connections you have. I think it’s a tough road for most people, and if you want to go down the agent/ publisher route, rather than self-publishing, it’s getting tougher by the day, so you have to have a thick skin and a lot of determination.

You’ve been very active on social media with this book, how have you found the experience of engaging so directly with readers?

Well, Blasted Heath had the idea of setting up a blog and Twitter feed for Beaumont and that has been loads of fun. I’ve found it surprisingly easy to tweet as a footballer, which is a bit worrying.  As this is an e-book, online engagement is really important but the crime fiction online community has been very supportive.  There seem to be a lot of places on line where crime fiction lovers hang out, maybe more than other book genres (apart from fantasy and sci-fi), so that has been really helpful.

Has Beaumont’s Twitter account attracted any wannabe wags yet?

No, sadly he has not. But then his girlfriend, Krystal, would not be happy if it did anyway!

As an Essex girl I’ve got to ask, why did you choose to set the book here?

Well, I wanted to set parts of it in London, as it’s the capital of ‘sleb culture. Beaumont plays for an unspecified London club… and he’s a bit too, erm, chavvy, to live in any of the other Home Counties. Places like Surrey seem to be more for film stars and rock stars don’t they? I come from Cheshire myself, which is actually known as the ‘footballers’ belt’, so I could have set it there, but I didn’t want people to think he played for my team, Liverpool, because he’s much too nasty for that!

I would like to stress that I wrote the novel long before The Only Way is Essex was even a sparkle in some evil TV producer’s eye.

So, what’s coming up next for you?

I have just sent my second novel to my agent, but it’s nothing like the The Vanity Game. I am contemplating writing a quasi-sequel though if people like the book… not featuring Beaumont but maybe giving some of the other characters a chance to shine.  I’m also working on a couple of screenplays.

The Vanity Game is available now.

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Criminal Classics – Len Wanner

Len Wanner is the author of The Crime Interviews, a series of probing encounters with Scotland’s top crime writers.  Volume Two, which features Tony Black, Doug Johnstone and Ray Banks, among others, is out today and you can read more on his website The Crime of it All.

Len’s pick is Do They Know I’m Running by David Corbett…

If reading Ernest Hemingway makes you wish he hadn’t shot the great American novel, if your only complaint about Graham Greene is that he didn’t leave an heir to the epic international thriller, if you’re still backing Malcolm Lowry in his race to grace because contemporary literature challenges you less than a walk in the park, then read David Corbett. Do They Know I’m Running?, whether you like it or love it, will bring you up to speed on just how much a single novel can still change your life.

This is the story of what happens when we go to war, see part of our humanity die, and then wish with all the heart we have left that there was some other way home. Told from multiple points of view and at a pace that gives us no time to applaud ourselves as we watch and weep, something unique sets this novel apart from the demagogy that so often taints the debate on immigration politics, human trafficking, gang warfare, and our Pyrrhic ‘war on terror’. Corbett writes with such unflinching honesty that we have to forgive him the loss of our innocence as Roque Montalvo, Latino Holden Caulfield of the 21st century, fights the law; both that of the land and that of unintended consequences.

Entrapped by a conflicted family history, Roque sits on the fence between El Salvador and the US where his people are torn apart by organised criminals and recruitment officers alike. In a desperate attempt to smuggle his deported uncle back into the country, he travels through Guatemala and Mexico while his half-brother, an ex-marine as scarred as Iraq, organises the funds necessary to safeguard their passage home. Soon Roque is entrusted with the fate of a girl as beautiful as tragedy herself, and betrayal becomes the price of survival. Worse still, no one seems too certain about the Palestinian refugee in their midst, and once his guarantor turns FBI informant, borders are crossed with every loss of faith in those who promised protection and a way home.

Why is David Corbett the next big American novelist? Because he knows what he’s doing. At a time when most men of letters think they owe it to themselves to be easily bruised, Corbett knows he owes it to his readers to be unique, understanding, and unafraid. Setting his sights on a world beyond his own is not colonial complacency but simple strength. He lets us see unfamiliar places and perspectives with the same humble sensitivity with which he lets us see our shared violence and suffering. He is at home in life, and even in his darkest moments he shows us the difference between imitation feeling and the real thing, the stuff that will singe your soul or make you wish you had one.

Yes, David Corbett knows what he’s doing when he shows us sentimentality and cynicism as two sides of one nature, when he makes us wonder just how honest we want him to be, not only about his protagonists, but about ourselves. That, after all, is the measure of how much a novel can change your life. So when you find your own answer to Do They Know I’m Running?, the world might not be a better place, but you will certainly be a better reader; one who has found a way out of hell and the wisdom to know it is paved with perseverance.

– Len Wanner

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.


Criminal Classics – Kyle MacRae

 

Kyle MacRae is the co-founder of Blasted Heath, Scotland’s first digital-only publishers and home to an impressive list of writers from both sides of the Atlantic, including Anthony Neil Smith, Ray Banks, and Douglas Lindsay.  You can indulge your inner heathen on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

Here’s the man himself on The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer…via a musical interlude…

 

The doctors are avoiding me.
My vision is confused.
I listen to my earphones,
And I catch the evening news.
A murderer’s been killed,
And he donates his sight to science.
I’m locked into a private ward.
I realise that I must be
Looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

The Adverts, Gary Gilmore’s Eyes

The Adverts tell Gary Gilmore’s story (sort of) in three verses and two minutes.  Norman Mailer takes rather longer in The Executioner’s Song.  You know the story, right?  A bright but institutionalised loner in his mid-30s takes a notion to murder an innocent man one summer’s night in Utah.  The following night, he kills another.  Despite his half-hearted robberies, these are cold-blooded assassinations, not accidents.  Shooting himself in the hand is an accident, though, and one that leads to his capture, conviction and death.

Often categorised as a non-fiction novel in the same weirdo-genre as Capote’s In Cold BloodThe Executioner’s Song is an extraordinarily detailed and dispassionate account of Gilmore’s life and death.  Through Mailer’s intensive research and interviews, we learn who Gilmore was and how he came to kill.  But not why.  Never why.  There are no explanations here.

And we follow the American Civil Liberties Union’s self-righteous fight to spare him the chair, forcing a recalibration of the nation’s moral compass.  But while others wrung their hands from the moral high ground, Gilmore spat fury at their efforts from his Death Row cell and demanded to die.  In January 1977, after several stays of execution, he finally faced the firing squad.  “Let’s do it,” he said.  His eyes and organs were used for transplants, according to his wishes.  But not his heart; that didn’t come out of it so good.

Wholly lacking in plot and with no surprise ending, The Executioner’s Song is no ordinary thriller.  So why, at a ludicrous 1,000 pages, is it such a page-turner?  Because it excels in two ways.  First, in the quality of the writing.  With stylistic detachment and remaining invisible as the narrator, Mailer excels in the art and craft of perfectly (re)creating a time, a place and a cast of ordinary yet utterly compelling characters.  Gilmore, his girlfriend Nicole and his uncle Vern live and breathe and scream on these pages, and we’re beside them all the way.  Secondly, the subtlety with which Mailer uses a crime story as crosshairs focussed on bigger, deeper issues.  Mailer recognised that Gilmore’s story was not so remarkable, nor the man himself, but the implications of those killings, both the murders and the legal retribution that followed, would change 1970s America.

 

– Kyle MacRae

 

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.


Criminal Classics – Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie is the co-founder of Blasted Heath, the punkiest digital-only publishers around, and author of some seriously impressive crime novels, including the freshly kindlefied Savage Night.

Here’s the man himself on Georges Simenon’s The Blue Room…

A few words first on the ‘literary fiction’ versus ‘crime fiction’ debate, if I may. I think this is actually about literary fiction versus commercial fiction, and genre is something of a red herring. You can see that with Georges Simenon’s work, with his Maigret detective novels falling into the commercial fiction category (indeed referred to in French as his roman populaires) and his roman durs (‘hard novels’) falling on the more literary side of the fence.

The Blue Room is one of those roman durs.

It’s a psychological thriller about a couple having a steamy affair that leads to no good. What’s of particular interest here is Simenon’s technique. In Robert Olen Butler’s book on the craft of writing, From Where We Dream, he advocates that the writer avoid summary narrative entirely, only ever using dialogue and immediate sensory experiences to drive the narrative.

The Blue Room, written forty years earlier, is a prototype for such a literary style. Occasional dialogue aside, the text of the book recounts one sensory experience after another. There’s some reflection and minimal exposition, but nonetheless, from a technical point of view, it’s every bit as mind-blowing as, say, the relentlessly behaviourist approach of that other great stylist, Dashiell Hammett.

– Allan Guthrie


Review – Wee Rockets by Gerard Brennan

After last summers riots, and the resulting chorus of accusation and analysis from a remote middle class media, Wee Rockets feels like a very prescient book, focused on feral kids with lives dominated by casual brutality and rabid consumerism.  Reading some of the early reviews I was concerned that Gerard Brennan had turned out a piece of thinly veiled moral commentary – much talk of disenfranchisement and wasted lives – but he’s a far better writer than that and sidesteps the tedious politicising in order to produce another brisk and spiky crime novel.

Set on the mean streets of West Belfast – heartland of The Troubles but now in the throes of regeneration – Wee Rockets follows a group of young working class boys who aspire towards thugdom; you couldn’t call them a gang at the outset but they’re causing enough trouble to have the residents association worried and after they beat up an old dear local Gaelic footballer Stephen McVeigh turns vigilante on them, out to give the area some Provo-style justice.

The Wee Rockets leader, Joe Phillips, scents trouble and bails, at which point the gang dynamic shifts dramatically.  Taken over by a banger-wannabe with a chip on his shoulder they quickly graduate to harder drugs and more extreme acts of violence and Brennan creates a terrible velocity around their crime spree, making it seem inevitable that they will, at some point, kill.  Their growing reputation brings more attention from McVeigh, who’s still gunning for Joe, dating his mother Louise in order to get close to him.

Even away from the gang Joe’s problems deepen.  His dad Dermot’s back in town and looking for a reconciliation.  Louise isn’t buying the reformed routine – she knows what a charming gobshite Dermot is – but she tentatively approves; a boy needs his old man, even if he is a no-good, sucker-punching drug dealer who wants Joe for an apprentice/sacrificial lamb.  With the Wee Rockets out for his head too Joe has to find a way to extricate himself from the chaos, keeping his life and his liberty as both begin to look increasingly at risk.

Wee Rockets is being marketed as a hardboiled crime novel and it works perfectly as one – Brennan knows his skank as well as any writer around right now – but it’s packaged like a YA book and from the first page I thought it felt like the kind of dark, urban grit literate 11-14 year olds would love.  This is their world after all and Brennan has gone into it very sympathetically, saying ‘this is just what you have to do to survive.’  I think a lot of teenagers would respect that position while his adult readership might have forgotten the truth of it.

Brennan impressed me hugely with his debut novella The Point and Wee Rockets has cemented my opinion that he belongs among the top rank of Northern Irish crime writers.  He has a strong, recognisable voice, which sounds like a throwaway compliment but is actually very rare – how many writers could you identify from reading a single page?  Not many.  Brennan is unmistakable though.  His characters are unpleasantly authentic, his dialogue script-ready and his plotting tighter than a marching drum.