Why Blonde became Dust

In the mid-90s I read all five of Derek Raymond’s pitch black Factory novels: He Died with His Eyes Open, The Devil’s Home on Leave, How the Dead Live, I Was Dora Suarez and Dead Man Upright*. I’d been of a mind to write a crime novel of my own for some time, and had dabbled with the odd short story here and there, but I wasn’t sure how to attack it. Reading Raymond unlocked the handcuffs. His nameless, profane (but intensely compassionate) Detective Sergeant was the grit in the grease of the police force, but he ground out results, identifying with the victims and immersing himself in the psychology of their killers to an uncomfortable degree.

Illustration by Paul Millner
Illustration by Paul Millner

I didn’t want to get bogged down in the politics of police procedurals, and decided my rogue element would be an ex-copper with a weakness for missing persons. I wanted it to be gritty and grimy, harrowing and horrific, and Derek dark.

I wrote Blonde on a Stick in 2003, the first in a planned series in which my protagonist would come to terms with the violent death of his wife and the subsequent disappearance of his teenage daughter.

I struggled though, to find a publisher, despite the enthusiasm of my then agent. The rejections were full of encouragement, however, and one or two houses had almost bitten, which kept me optimistic. But it wasn’t until my wife noticed a Facebook post by Maxim Jakubowski referring to the news that he was overseeing the launch of a new crime imprint – MaxCrime – at John Blake Publishing, that I felt my confidence return. Maxim had known Derek Raymond; indeed he had acted as Raymond’s agent for a spell (and still represents his estate). The stars were in alignment, it seemed.

I was thrilled when Maxim bought Blonde for his list and my mind turned to future books. At last Joel Sorrell was on his way…

blondeAlas, more bad fortune was to follow. John Blake is a publisher of repute, but its bread and butter is in non fiction. This first foray into novels lasted less than eighteen months before the list was cancelled. However, they had only purchased UK rights so it was not inconceivable I might be able to resurrect the series with another publisher. Luckily Titan Books showed an interest in Joel Sorrell towards the end of 2013. They agreed to publish two more books in the series, but they also wanted to reprint book one, albeit under a new title.

I was very attached to that original title, but Titan’s argument was that it didn’t quite sit comfortably with the content. It needed a more elegant name, so I came up with one and they produced a striking cover to go with it. I was happy with the decision (all three novels in the series so far are quotes from literary sources – William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett and William Shakespeare) and excited that finally, over ten years on from his conception, Joel would be able to reopen the file on his missing daughter.

I worry a little that people who have read Blonde will pick up Dust and Desire thinking it is a new book. It is not. It has been revisited, spruced up, modernised, but it is not substantially different. A brand new Joel Sorrell story – Do Not Resuscitate – set shortly after the events in Dust and Desire is included, along with a Q&A. Not that many people would have chanced upon the initial MaxCrime version – I only ever saw one copy in one bookshop and that was positioned ‘spine on’ – so I doubt much confusion can arise given that there was no worldwide or e-book release.

I believe the novel deserves a second chance and I’m grateful to Titan Books for granting it.


007 – The Films

I was six years old when Dr No was aired on UK television in October 1975 – the first appearance of James Bond on the small screen. I was seven when From Russia with Love and Goldfinger were shown. Chances are one of those was my first meeting with 007. I was smitten, although I can’t put my finger on the reason why. It was likely due to a combination of factors. The cars. The exotic locations. The fights with the henchmen. The banter with the baddie. Not the women though… not then. Like any healthy young chap, I’d cover my eyes when there was any kissing and cuddling nonsense going on. And the music. What music. John Barry was a genius. And then there was the way the films began. That terrific gun barrel sequence and the accompanying assault of brass. The_Living_Daylights_-_Gun_Barrel

Having written about my favourite 007 novels recently, I thought it only right I should turn my attention to the films. So here are my top 5 cinematic Bonds.

5. Licence to Kill (1989)
I want my Bond to be like the bastard in the books. Mean, thuggish; a guy who looks capable of very nasty behaviour. Pierce Brosnan caught my attention in Goldeneye (which loiters just outside my top 5), but he was always a little too smug, and he looked as if he’d overdone it with the hairspray. Roger Moore? Roger Less, in my view. He played 007 as a clown (literally in Octopussy) and seems so uncomfortable in his skin. I didn’t believe in him at all, and hated the double-takes and the sheer buffoonery (the gondola through Venice in Moonraker, the Beach Boys music as he surfs across snow in A View to a Kill, and the Tarzan cry in Octopussy – the nadir). If I was to have to nominate one Moore Bond it would be The Man with the Golden Gun. But only for Christopher Lee and a cracking score. No. Connery had that cruelty, along with the glibness. Daniel Craig has it in spades. And so did Timothy Dalton, perhaps the finest actor to be in possession of the Double-O licence. Dalton was the right man at the wrong time.


The Living Daylights was a major return to form after Roger Moore creaked his way through A View to a Kill. And, as Dalton insisted, this was a return to the books. He played it straight: here was a Bond to believe in, and to fear. However, Joe Don Baker, though an excellent actor, was a rather pallid villain, and the cello case ride across the Austrian border seemed like something Dalton’s predecessor would have done.

Dalton made the role his own with Licence to Kill, which sees 007 stripped of his Double-O privileges when he takes off on a revenge mission against Robert Davi’s ruthless drugs baron, Franz Sanchez. Benicio del Toro is menacing in an early screen role. Unfortunately, due to a number of problems (failing box office clout in the face of hits of the day including the Die Hard franchise, Lethal Weapon, Batman and Indiana Jones‘ third outing; MGM’s sale resulting in legal wrangling over TV rights), it would be six years before 007 returned to the big screen, and by then Dalton had moved on.

4. Goldfinger (1964)
The last of the great Connery Bonds. A brilliant film with a strong female lead (albeit with a dubious name), an engaging villain and an imposing henchman. One of the best John Barry scores. And a genius plot: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) intends to detonate a nuclear device inside Fort Knox to irradiate the US gold supply, thus driving up the value of his own stock. Some great lines: “Auric Goldfinger? Sounds like a French nail varnish.” And one of the most iconic scenes in movie history: Shirley Eaton’s character Jill Masterson on a hotel bed, coated in gold paint.


3. Casino Royale (2006)
A much-needed reboot after the dreadful Die Another Day. Daniel Craig’s Bond crashed on to the screen like a bristling bull, a face and physique meant for dirty work: you believed this guy could kill with his bare hands. SMERSH paymaster Le Chiffre (brilliantly portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen) has embezzled his employer’s funds, and is in a bit of a panic to make it all back on the poker table; 007 is there to make sure he doesn’t. It’s a simple plot, and a welcome break from the quest for world-domination. There’s no underground lair to blow up, which is nice. And in Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, there is a confident, sassy foil for a change, who brooks no nonsense from our randy English spy.


2. From Russia with Love (1963)
A tense pre-credit sequence introduces us to Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw, a KGB thug who provides 007 with one of his toughest challenges. James Bond willingly walks into a honeytrap set by the Soviets, who want this pest of a secret agent killed. The potential prize is a Lektor code-breaking machine. The film is studded with great set pieces, including a gunfight at a gypsy settlement and a showdown on board the Orient Express, one of the most brutal in Bond history. Along with Grant, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is a memorably nasty villain.


1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The best theme tune bar none. An absolute pulse-pounding classic. I spent far too long wishing Sean Connery had been in this film, but after a lot of thought, I don’t think it would have been as good without George Lazenby. He infused the film with an uncertainty, a vulnerability that Connery did not possess. If he had been persuaded to stick around for this, mightn’t he have phoned in a performance, as he did in Diamonds Are Forever? Telly Savalas plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld, hiding out in Switzerland and trying to claim for himself a title of nobility. Bond, disguised as a genealogist from the London College of Arms, flies in to ostensibly check Blofeld’s credentials and unveils a plot to distribute biological warfare ingredients around the world. Diana Rigg provides steely support as Tracy.



Joni Mitchell


Joni is 72 today. I grew up on her music. My dad was (still is, let’s be honest) besotted with her. He’d take a walk out to Ames record shop in town to buy every new LP of hers on the day of release. Last time I asked him, he reckoned Blue was his favourite album of hers, and why not? It’s a classic. It’s up there for me too. But there are one or two other albums that vie for top spot: Hejira, for example. And The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Here are six songs of hers from those three albums I’d happily take to a desert island with me (ask me again next week and I might choose a different six…):

Little Green (Blue)
Heart-rending song about the girl Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption in 1965.

Edith and the Kingpin (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)
A lush song about a gangster and his squeeze. I remember being hypnotised by the economy and beauty of the simple line: His eyes hold Edith/His left hand holds his right.

Shades of Scarlett Conquering (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)
Another effortlessly gorgeous couplet: Out in the wind in crinolines/Chasing the ghosts of Gable and Flynn.

Amelia (Hejira)
Joni’s guitar. Jaco’s fretless bass. Amelia Earhart. I dreamed of 747s over geometric farms…

Refuge of the Roads (Hejira)
Joni’s guitar. Jaco’s fretless bass. Wanderlust. These are the clouds of Michelangelo/Muscular with gods and sungold/Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads

Blue (Blue)
Acid, booze and ass, needles guns and grass, lots of laughs…

Happy birthday, Joni. Get well soon.

Primed for Darkness

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The splendid Ali Karim has posted an in-depth interview he conducted with me for The Rap Sheet, the essential, award-winning resource for readers seeking information about what’s new and interesting in the world of crime fiction. You can read it here. Thanks to Ali and The Rap Sheet for their interest and support.

007 – My Top 5 Novels


Fanboy alert…

The good people over at Forces of Geek are hosting a blog of mine listing my top 5 James Bond novels. You can read it here. I restricted myself to the Ian Fleming series. A tough job, this one, as there are so many great stories to choose from.

My dad bought the original paperbacks when they were published, annually, during the ’50s and ’60s. I read them all one summer in my early teens. Until then, my understanding of James Bond was shaped only by the films that were shown each Christmas on ITV. So it came as some shock to discover that Ian Fleming’s creation was quite different to the sardonic, laconic, cat-who-got-the-cream version I was used to. The two films Timothy Dalton made, and the back-to-basics Bond Daniel Craig has given us are closer to the literary 007: the wine-educated thug, the blunt instrument, the cruel bastard.

Anyway, I’m grateful to FoG for the opportunity to write about one of my passions!

Chess, gloves and ‘up your nose’…


Thanks to Litro Magazine for running a Q&A with me recently. You can read it here.