Book Review: Molls Like It Hot by Darren Dash

I recently had the pleasure of receiving an advanced copy of Darren Dash’s latest novel to read and review. Here are my thoughts…

Molls Like it Hot is the fifth novel by Darren Dash, the eclectic alter ego of bestselling Young Adult author Darren Shan. This latest title from the macabre maestro is a contemporary noir thriller about a London cabbie who gets dragged into the blood-soaked criminal underworld of Britain’s capital city.

The story is told from the point of view of Eyrie Brown, a wisecracking taxi driver and ex-servicemen who leads a relatively quiet life, revolving around his work and caustically comical banter sessions with his tight circle of friends. He is basically a 21st century Luddite, owning just two pieces of technology, a smartphone which he seldom uses to its full capability and a TV so old it will probably turn up on the next series of Antiques Roadshow.

One dark and rainy night Eyrie is driving his black cab through the submerged streets of London when he hears a series of gunshots. Your average cabbie would plant their foot firmly on the accelerator and head for safety but Eyrie being the unflappable streetwise bruiser he is, sticks around to see what transpires. Moments later, a smartly dressed if not slightly weather-beaten gunmen emerges from an alleyway, weapon in hand. Without a hint of fear or trepidation Eyrie offers the man a lift before her Majesty’s constabulary can put in an appearance. The shooter hops inside and the two men strike up a conversation. When Eyrie recognises the make of his passenger’s gun the man realises that Eyrie isn’t half as green as he first assumed. The sinister yet stylish gangster introduces himself as Lewis Brue, pays Eyrie handsomely for his trouble then tells him to look him up if he should ever need any work.

Eyrie takes his pocket full of readies and thinks of his encounter with the brutal Mr Brue as nothing more than an exciting anecdote to entertain his mates. But when one of the gangster’s henchmen breaks into Eyrie’s flat and invites him to a meeting with his boss, Eyrie’s curiosity gets the better of him. In the back room of a grotty North London bookie’s Lewis Brue offers the cabbie £25,000 to act as guardian and chaperone to a girl for the weekend. Eyrie is an old hand who knows better than to ask questions and being in no position to refuse a payday of this magnitude he accepts the job.

In due course a mysterious young woman named Toni Curtis arrives at Eyrie’s flat and his once simplistic existence is immediately transformed.

Molls Like it Hot is a fast-paced, cinematic unflinchingly gritty piece of modern day noir that is both sophisticated and pulpy. The story pulsates with compelling characters, ultra-violent action and the sort of gob-smacking twists which Dash is renowned for.

Within the pages of this high octane yet surprisingly compact novel Dash shows off his multifarious writing gifts to exquisite effect. He crafts a brilliantly layered protagonist in the shape of Eyrie Brown, a fearless, hard-hitting badass with hidden depths that are gradually revealed throughout the narrative, giving the character a carefully defined three dimensional personality which sets him apart from your typical action hero. In Toni Curtis the author has created his most seductively psychotic female lead yet. She is a human hand grenade of danger, unpredictability and sex appeal, and God help anyone brave enough to pull her pin. Another weapon in Dash’s creative arsenal, which he puts to expert use, is a bone-dry sense of humour. Although Dash/Shan is often rightly praised for his command of the cliffhanger and hair-raising horror his subtle, pitch-perfect wit particularly in this book is equally worthy of plaudits.

A tip of the hat must also be given to all the references and homages to several timeless pieces of cinema, nestled like gemstones in amongst the broader narrative. From classics like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the 1947 crime drama The Devil Thumbs a Ride to a certain Billy Wilder picture. This sort of first-rate film-buffery does not go unnoticed here at Books, Films and Random Lunacy, bravo Mr Dash.

Molls Like it Hot is a pedal-to-the-metal taxi tour around Eyrie Brown’s London, taking in all the unsettling sights, crazed villains and bloodthirsty action the city has to offer. The exhilarating plot, snappy storytelling and filmic atmosphere fill the reader’s mind with vivid imagery that lends itself perfectly to adaptation.

This cracking little novel would be prime pickings for any TV or Netflix exec looking to make a hit gangland show to rival the likes of Peaky Blinders.

On the whole this new Dashing yarn is a triumph, my only quibble being I wish it could be slightly longer giving us even more thrills to enjoy but to paraphrase a famous movie quote, No book is perfect.

 

New Wellbeing for Writers Post

Greetings dear reader,

‘Tis I, your be-hatted, wheelie pal, back with a new blog post for your visual delectation. I’ve been busier than the proverbial bee over the past few months, working on the first draft of a novel and a couple of scripts for a very exciting new project.

I look forward to sharing more info about my large-scale scribblings as things progress but in the meantime in between time, please feel free to have a read of my latest WBFW post.

To Hope is a piece of prose written straight from my heart about what I believe is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. I hope you enjoy it.

Wellbeing for Writers – To Hope

Ta-ra ’til next time,

George.

Wellbeing for Writers

As regular readers of this blog will know, I recently had the pleasure of speaking on the Overcoming Obstacles: Wellbeing for Writers panel at the 2019 National Writers’ Conference. It was an honour to be a part of such a well-ran literary event and speak alongside my fellow wordsmiths Maisie Chan, Jane Roberts and our chair Louise Palfreyman. Our discussion took place in the University of Birmingham’s Bramwell Music Building and in an hour of honest and heartfelt conversation we covered some important, timely topics. 

We all shared our individual insights into our experiences of living with ill-health and a number of the creative and personal coping strategies we use to help us through. 

Maisie spoke with candid eloquence about her battles with depression, Jane conversed bravely about what she humorously refers to as her “Mixed bag of health conditions” and gave a deeply powerful reading from her piece Little Follies: Notes on Thyroid Illness & fibromyalgia. Louise discussed her struggles with M.E. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how she stays productive by carefully choosing when to focus more on her editing work and when to concentrate on her fiction writing. I talked about how having quadriplegic cerebral palsy impacts on my life and writing, the perspective it gives me and the importance of finding humour in adversity.

Our audience at the Conference were amazingly receptive and many of them opened up about their own varied experiences throughout our talk. This level of honesty and mutual understanding transformed it from a standard panel discussion to a wide-ranging chat among a roomful of people bound together by creative comradeship and hope for a positive, more inclusive future.

My co-panellists and I were hugely inspired by our audience and are keen to keep this channel of discussion open. So with that in mind we have created wellbeingforwriters.com a blog that we hope can become an online community where people can talk, post, share info, give and receive solidarity when they need it the most.

There are already a handful of powerful and thought-provoking pieces on there from my talented collaborators, as well as a humble scribbling by yours truly. We also have a resources page where you can find a range of organisations who offer personal and writing-related support. But there is room for so much more.

If you are a writer or creative who is fighting a mental or physical health battle, if you are someone with a disability or a carer with stories and wisdom to share or if you are a person who is cooking up ideas on how to increase inclusivity in the arts and wider society, please get in touch via the contact page. We’d  love to hear from you.

Wellbeing for Writers – Inspiration for a Happier Writing Life

 With love & best wishes,

George.

Big News: The National Writers’ Conference 2019

I am thrilled to report that I will be speaking at the 2019 National Writers’ Conference.

It’s a day-long event that offers wordsmiths from a variety of backgrounds, genres and disciplines the opportunity to network and share information with experts from all areas of the writing industry.

This year’s conference will be taking place on Saturday 22 June at the University of Birmingham and will include a host of insightful discussions, engineered to help you sustain your creative career.

There will be addresses from keynote speakers Mandy Ross (poet, children’s writer and community arts practitioner) and Kit De Waal (acclaimed author of My Name is Leon and The Trick to Time)as well as panels featuring a multitude of literary talent from novelists, poets and publishers to journalists, vloggers and bloggers.

I’ll be speaking on the Overcoming Obstacles: Wellbeing for Writers panel alongside Maisie Chan and Jane Roberts. The discussion will be chaired by fellow writer Louise Palfreyman.

As well as being multi-disciplined word weavers each of us has something else in common… disability or ill-health.

We all have our own physical or mental health issues that give us unique perspectives on the world around us, perspectives which inevitably feed into our writing. For the panel we will be discussing how our health affects us both personally and creatively, as we reveal the coping strategies, daily rituals and innovative pieces of tech that keep us firing on all cylinders.

We’ll be sharing our insights and experiences on how to achieve the intricate balancing act of maintaining creative productivity and personal wellbeing:

 

  • Ways to stay motivated, especially on bad days.
  • Ways to remain positive and keep going when self-doubt kicks in.
  • Ways to increase creativity when fatigue zaps our energy.
  • How to see the funny side of adversity and embrace our differences.
  • How to deal with inaccessibility when navigating the world in a wheelchair.
  • How to take care of our minds and bodies as well as our websites and manuscripts.

 

And much more besides.

Writing can be a very isolating business and all too often we struggle in silence. We need to change that, so to anyone in the creative community who is battling a physical or mental health issue, come along to our panel. We can’t promise miracle cures or wonder remedies, but we can help equip you with the tools needed to keep both your word-counts and spirits high.

 

Maisie Chan is a British writer from Birmingham. She writes for children, teens and adults. She loves dim sum and yoga and is currently writing a middle grade novel about a boy whose Grandmother arrives from China and turns his world upside down.

Jane Roberts is a freelance writer living in South Shropshire, UK. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in a variety of anthologies and journals. She has been listed in numerous awards, and most recently was on the winning team for Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards 2019, for High Spirits.

Louise Palfreyman is a writer, former journalist, and editor of the Arts Foundry. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies in the UK and America, including Best British Short Stories. She is currently editing an anthology of Black Country memoir.

 

Booking info and further details can be found here: https://t.co/QD1VdCYD9Z

 

A Book Review: ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was one of those classic books that had been on my radar for a while, but for some reason I never received the proverbial kick up the backside that I needed to make me choose that title before any others on my massive to-read list. The kick I’d been subconsciously waiting for came earlier this year when one of my greatest inspirations, Sir Billy Connolly revealed that A Confederacy of Dunces was his favourite book as part of his Made in Scotland documentary. If the book was good enough to earn such high praise from the Big Yin, I knew I had to grab a copy post-haste.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a cult classic American humour novel by John Kennedy Toole, although first written in 1963 it didn’t see print until 1980 following the efforts of Toole’s mother to get it published after the author took his own life. Despite its unorthodox and tragic route onto the world’s bookshelves, the novel is a rib-tickling romp that leaves the reader feeling a million miles from melancholy.

The book tells the story of one Ignatius J Riley, a hilariously pretentious, morbidly obese, highly educated, bone-idle moustachioed man-child with delusions of grandeur and a temperamental pyloric valve. Despite his natural intellect and inflated self-importance he remains blissfully unemployed, living with his mother in a blue-collar New Orleans neighbourhood populated by kooky residents. Ignatius is a walking ball of contradictions, he complains bitterly about the 20th Century’s lack of taste and decency yet he’s as flatulent as a Jersey cow. He has the ego of a Greek god but the dress sense of a vagrant; his everyday attire consisting exclusively of a baggy flannel nightshirt and a green hunting cap that he takes off so rarely, it might as well be stapled to his head. He is forever decrying the moral impurity of the motion picture industry, but goes to the cinema on a weekly basis. It is these stringently held beliefs and unconscious hypocrisies that inspire him to write. Our pompously puritanical protagonist spends most of his time locked in his bedroom penning a comprehensive critique of the modern age, scribbling frantically about anything that offends his medieval ideals.

Some of the novel’s funniest passages are excerpts from Ignatius’s vitriolic musings in which he rants at length about his run-ins with some of the wildest and wackiest people in New Orleans. These oddball adversaries include local cop Patrolman Mancuso, the staff at The Night of Joy, a nearby bar that Ignatius brands “a den of vice and iniquity” and his neighbour Miss Annie, a nosy older woman who doesn’t appreciate his nocturnal trumpet playing. Mr Reilly would be quite happy to remain at home composing his scornfully highfalutin manuscript for the rest of his days but after he accidentally incurs a hefty debt, his mother forces him to get a job.

The book then follows Ignatius on his comically tempestuous forays into the working world. His first experience of gainful employment comes at the offices of the Levy Pants Company, a local firm that has catered for the trouser-related needs of New Orleans folk for generations. Try as he might Ignatius simply isn’t cut out for life as a humble clerk and soon unleashes his own unique brand of chaos on his colleagues and superiors. After placing himself at the epicentre of an industrial up-rising Ignatius parts ways with Levy Pants and becomes a hot-dog salesman. He proudly pushes his Paradise Vendors cart all over the city, merrily flogging frankfurters as he goes but things soon turn sour when he is found to be eating more than he’s selling.

In Ignatius J Reilly, the author created one of the funniest, most unpleasant main characters in all of literature and his journey from slothful slob to working boy would be enough to fill a novel in its own right, but our man Reilly’s absurd antics are just one facet of this comedic yarn. Almost every character with whom Ignatius interacts throughout the novel have their own richly detailed backstory that runs concurrently with Ignatius’s. 

There’s Ignatius’s mother Irene, an anxious liquor-quaffing widow whose disappointment in her offspring is made sadly apparent.  Patrolman Mancuso, a lawman with a penchant for naff disguises who is Ignatius’s sworn enemy and Irene’s bowling partner. Other characters who play essential roles in the book’s vast interlinking plot include, Jones the supercool, highly astute cleaner come doorman at the Night of Joy, his coldhearted boss Lana Lee and many more besides. 

Another vital and often hilarious vein of storyline that runs throughout the novel is Ignatius’s correspondence with his pen pal and on/off love interest Myrna Minkoff. Myrna is a fiercely intellectual and rebellious New York beatnik who is Ignatius’s academic equal. Ignatius holds Myrna in high regard, but he fears her social and sexual freedoms worrying that she will rob him of his closely guarded virginity.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a colossal work of comic fiction, bursting at the margins with absurd humour and caustic wit. John Kennedy Toole’s storytelling and exquisitely crafted imagery is wonderful, his sentences like brushstrokes that vividly paint each raucous character inside the reader’s head. I’ve read a lot of books in my time, but never have I known flatulence be described in so many varied and poetic ways. Toole’s comic timing and gift for characterisation is undeniable, but his plotting and story structure is far from seamless. 

In any given chapter the story can flit from a standard third person narrative focusing on Ignatius to an extract from his handwritten ramblings, then dart off into another third person sequence in The Night of Joy before going back to Ignatius and a transcript of a letter from Myrna. This scatter-brained pacing sometimes proved discombobulating and would certainly be a turnoff to some readers. 

Another thing that struck me as I read was the frequent sprinkling of un-PC language and terminology that looks quite shocking through contemporary eyes. However I realise all books are products of the times they were written in and it would be unfair to condemn a 20th Century work by 21st Century standards. 

No matter how erratic and multifaceted its narrative may be, A Confederacy of Dunces is a very enjoyable novel full of memorable characters who stay with you long after the covers close.

A Tribute to Lindsey: My Teacher and Friend

I was truly saddened and shocked to hear that Lindsey Bailey had passed away. She was an incredible writer and a lovely person who will be missed by many. This one’s for you, Linds… 

I first met the wonderfully talented creative dynamo known to the world as Lindsey Bailey when I was a member of the Polesworth branch of Writing West Midlands’ Spark Young Writers Group. I was an ambitious bookworm of a teenager who along with a like-minded cluster of kids would rock up to the monthly class to let our imaginations run free. It was the start of a new term and we all arrived at Polesworth Abbey (the headquarters of our geeky gang) to find the group had two new tutors. The freshly appointed Lead Writer was author and journalist Alex Townley and the new Assistant Writer was of course, Lindsey Bailey, a wordsmith and teacher with an endless supply of enthusiasm and a smile bright enough to outshine every star in the Cosmos.

From their first session onwards Alex and Lindsey put their own stamp on our group and changed it for the better. The Abbey’s refectory room where our writing took place transformed from a hub of silent swotting to a vibrant laboratory of storytelling.

This was due in no small part to Lindsey who would kickstart every Polesworth session by doling out at least two packets of biscuits to raise our energy-levels to a sugary crescendo before setting us one of her ever inventive warm-up activities.

It was anyone’s guess what intriguing new creative challenge Lindsey would give us each month, sometimes she’d have us compose lengthy poems on the beauty of the changing seasons or task us to write detailed journalistic reviews of what we had eaten for breakfast. She’d also encourage us to embrace the silliest aspects of our imaginations by getting us to pick three entirely random words from a bag and use whatever we selected as the title for our story. Such delightfully daft tales as Purple Elephant Trampoline were written as a result. Other times she would lead us outside into the Abbey grounds to take inspiration from our green and pleasant surroundings.

‘Let’s all write a story from the perspective of that bee,’ Lindsey would say, pointing towards the stripy rotund insect as it pollinated a nearby hydrangea. And off we’d go to spend the next fifteen minutes penning The Unauthorized Biography of Bobby the Bumble Bee. 

Lindsey would spend the remainder of the sessions darting up and down the room at the speed of light, offering advice or constructive feedback as we all scribbled in our notebooks. She radiated kindness and her love of the written word was truly infectious. Lindsey was as hungry to teach us as we were to learn and I know that every young person in our class left it with a deeper appreciation for both the art and craft of writing.

By the time Lindsey moved from our Polesworth Spark group to become the Lead Writer over in Burton and later Walsall, I’d already started publishing my own work via this blog. We stayed in touch on Twitter and she would always be the first to give me a retweet and spread the word whenever a piece of my writing went online. We’d always keep an eye on each other’s literary progress and every time we met up at various Writing West Midlands events we always talked shop. I’d congratulate her on the work she was doing with her brilliantly innovative StoryChefs workshops or the publication of her children’s book The Cape of Courage while she’d advise me on my latest projects

It was also at those events where Lindsey and I would share a good few biscuits and laughs before the conversation inevitably drifted onto our dogs. I, like Lindsey, cherish my canine companions (Tolkien the Goldendoodle and Merida the Labradoodle) and it was always nice to hear about the latest adventures of the superstar schnauzer himself, “Bostin Austin”.

Lindsey was the first person I contacted when the good folk at Writing West Midlands appointed me the new Assistant Writer at Polesworth. She was pleased that I would be taking over her former role, but I knew I had big shoes to fill.

Not only did I get the chance to follow in Lindsey’s footsteps at my new gig but I also had the joy of being her Assistant when she came back to Polesworth Abbey to lead a couple of classes. It was like she’d never left, both the sessions I worked with her ran on biscuits and magic, just like old times. The only difference being I was now on the other side of the writing table, listening to the stories instead of reading them out. 

After the first of our co-run sessions, Lindsey reeled off an aptly poetic turn of phrase about The Student becoming The Teacher, and smiled proudly. That particular snapshot in time has taken on a new level of poignancy since her passing and has become a memory I shall treasure.

I feel privileged to have called Lindsey both my teacher and my friend. This world of ours seems like a much darker place without Lindsey in it, but as long as the many young people who she inspired keep writing I know her light will shine on.       

With love and deepest condolences to Lindsey’s family & friends,

George Bastow

A Comic Book Review: ‘Combat Colin #1’ by Lew Stringer

Combat Colin #1 is an independently released comic book written and illustrated by the prolific humour strip artist Lew Stringer. This issue is a compilation of Combat Colin’s earliest adventures which first saw print in the vintage British weekly comic Action Force back in the 1980s. It is prefaced by an introduction from Stringer himself, giving the reader an intriguing insight into the titular character’s initial inception and creative development from a light-hearted Rambo pastiche to the bobble-hatted, camo-jacket-sporting, yampy badass we know today.

As the pages turn, the reader is treated to a rib-tickling progression as the story and character evolve from a modest half-page gag strip to a full-throttle, full-page extravaganza of absurdity. Even in the earliest episodes which were originally published under the name Codename: Combat Colin, the character is fully formed and humorously polished. A well-meaning yet dimwitted protector of the peace who collects military grade weaponry as avidly as I collect funny-books. Whether our haplessly hilarious hero is cleaving through his dad’s greenhouse with a machete or accidentally blowing the roof off the family home with his beloved grenade-launcher, the laughs come thick and fast.

It is also in these high-octane half-pagers where Colin becomes acquainted with his loyal bazooka-toting sidekick Semi-automatic Steve, the pair form the ultimate daft duo and their larger-than-life antics take the fun to an explosive new level that demands a broader margin. As the strip expands to its full-page format, Stringer seizes the opportunity to take the reader on a guided tour through the wonderfully wacky wider world of Combat Colin. The creator lets his extraordinary imagination run free, skillfully crafting a majestically madcap array of serialized stories for our reading pleasure. Throughout these gloriously surreal interlinking tales Colin and Steve face a collection of sublimely eccentric foes, from their arch nemesis Dr. Nasty with his dreams of world-domination and stylish goggles to the ice-cold villain Aunt Arctic of the Antarctic and her army of Kung Fu Penguins.

Combat Colin #1 is a genuinely memorable collection of action-packed stories that hit the reader right in the chuckle muscle. Stringer’s classic art style and distinctive wit is a winning combination that will visually intoxicate any and every British comics fan, his work on this title is a hybrid of the timeless cartoon brilliance of Leo Baxendale and the manic no-holds-barred hilarity of The Young Ones.

From the opening panel to the final caption it is easy to see why Colin has been going strong for 30 yampy years, and if the comic gods are smiling on us he’ll stay with us well into the future.