Well, you know what they say: ‘When a one armed man chops down a tree in the forest, a butterfly claps’. No, really. The thing is, everything is connected, it really is. And Kevin Bacon is only six friends away from you, even though he isn’t on Facebook.
Anyway, it was a while back. I’d been writing flash fiction for about a year and I had this vague notion of writing something with interconnecting stories. One city. One night. You know the score.
I really liked this idea and I thought – even though everyone told me it was dead hard to do – that I’d give it a go.
So I did. Three or four stories interlocking in London on New Year’s Day. In a 1000 word flash fiction story. Yes, I know.
A pretty daft idea but, you see, Eric Beetner had just launched a Flash Fiction Challenge and I really wanted to enter my story, which was called The Big Blow after the Manu DiBango song.
Of course it didn’t win but I let it marinate and, from time to time, I added bits to it and took bits out until, after about a year, I had the scenario of two interconnecting stories. Simpler. But longer.
For some reason I’d set part of the story in Brixton which, of course, meant I was pretty much obliged to call the story Guns Of Brixton, after the classic song by The Clash. Mark Timlin’s novel Guns Of Brixton then came out via MaxCrime and I considered changing the title but in the end I didn’t.
When I’d decided to write a faux London gangster story, it seemed the sensible thing to take a title from a song by The Clash, that most London of all London bands – even though only one of them was actually born ‘dahn The Smoke.’
And I had plenty of cracking titles to choose from and reject, too – London Calling (been done to death),London’s Burning (reminded me of the TV show about firemen), Guns On The Roof ( a silly song about when The Clash were told off for shooting pigeons with an air rifle), Somebody Got Murdered (too obscure), The Last Gang In Town(close, close …) Police & Thieves (Maybe …)
I’ve been to Brixton man, times. When I lived in London, I was more than somewhat partial to visiting the Brixton’s cracking cinema, the Ritzy Picturehouse– which, on screen, was the only place I ever saw any guns. Somehow the title had to be Guns Of Brixton, written and sung by the Clash’s coolest member, bass player Paul Simenon.
Not one of my favourite Clash songs, for sure, but there was something about the scary lyrics – ‘When they kick out your front door /How you gonna come?/With your hands on your head. Or on the trigger of your gun’– and cod reggae feel that seemed to suit a faux London gangster story down to the ground.
I was pretty pleased with the yarn, too. It was, at the time, the longest story that I’d written and it felt fairly grown up. Well, for me. And so I sent it to Crime Factory because, well, who doesn’t want to have a story in Crime Factory? And they said yes, too, and scheduled it for issue five. And I was chuffed.
Cut to few months later, before Crime Factory 5 had even seen the light of day. I was working in summer school in England and sharing a computer without a load of other people. I had a short time to check my emails and saw that I’d received an email from the legendary Maxim Jakubowski (coincidentally the publisher of MaxCrime, you see how things interconnect, eh? Told you!)
He asked me if I’d like to submit a story for the next edition of The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime, which he was editing. I was chuffed again, wasn’t I?
So, I sent him a few stories but didn’t think I’d be accepted. This was, after all, a book that featured work from the top bananas of British crime writing. Colin Dexter was in the 2010 edition! However, only a few hours later, he emailed me back to say he’d take Guns Of Brixton. Yes, I know. This chuffed goes up to eleven.
And The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime 8 has been out for a couple of years now. And I’m in there with Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, Paul Johnstone, Stuart MacBride, David Hewson,Allan Guthrie, Sheila Quigley, Nick Quantrill, Zoe Sharp, Nigel Bird and all sorts of classy types. And my name’s even on the back cover and I get mentioned in the introduction. No, really.
And guess what?
I let Guns Of Brixton marinate some more, too, and it has since developed into a novella, first published as an eBook by Byker Books, and now a longer version published as an eBook and in paperback by Caffeine Nights Publishing.
Well, you know what they say: ‘From little acorns a tree grows in Brooklyn.’ Or Brixton. Yes, I know.