For our second #Fahrenbruary weekend, I’m highlighting the work of Russell Day, creator of Doc Slidesmith a quintessentially Fahrenheit character. Today we have the pleasure of his company on the blog. Needle Song – the first Doc Slidesmith books is available to buy direct here:
My review of Needle Song will be appearing tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll just say a huge THANKS to Russ for his support of #Fahrenbruary and hand you over to the man himself.
Good Luck, Bad Luck, Pig-Headed Rings and Getting a Publishing Deal
Some years ago, at a bike rally, when I was drunk, I brought a huge silver ring. It was in the shape of a pig’s head with a set of wings growing out of it. I’m making it sound more tasteful than it actually was. When I’d sobered up, it was pretty clear that not only was it pig ugly (literally), but it would be likely to shred the lining of my riding gloves if I actually wore it. Not knowing anyone I disliked enough to give it to, I put it on a key-ring next to the keys to my bike and called it a lucky charm.
I still have that ring. It’s still just as tasteful and now has the added attraction of a sooty-black finish, the bike it was meant to be guarding against bad fortune having burst into flames one day for no obvious reason. The bike burnt to a crisp in a remarkably short time.
Of course, someone with a four-leaf clover in one hand, a rabbit’s foot in the other, skipping around ladders while avoiding black cats would say it was the pigs-head ring that stopped the bike catching fire while I was sat on it.
Some years later, I was hit by a bus while riding to work. That bike also caught fire, also burnt to a crisp and was stolen before I left hospital. Returning to work three months later, people asked if I’d been injured. I’d then recite something that sound like a butcher’s to-do list and they’d wince and say, ohh – you were lucky.
I’m not a great believer in luck these days. Good or bad.
Bearing all that in mind, I suppose I should have started this posting with the standard writer’s spiel about hard work, not giving up, being determined etc etc etc. Because that’s how you get published, right?
Well, yes (ish), a bit.
You also need an element of luck. That’s not something I say lightly, given that luck seems to come my way with flashing blue lights and smoke damage.
I think the somewhat abusive relationship I have with Lady Luck has probably informed a lot of what I write. A lot of my stories involve gamblers, and almost all my characters are cheats. Sure, I write about crime, and by definition that means I’m not going to have a cast of honest and upright citizens, but even my good guys cheat. It’s all about fending off the blue lights and smoke damage, beating the odds. Cheating the game.
Which is what trying to get published can feel like. And much as I’d like to claim that getting Needle Song into print was all down to my hard work, not giving up etc etc etc … it would, frankly, be bollocks. Yes, I put the hours in writing, re-writing, editing, re-writing, more editing … you know the drill. Then I sent it to agents, publishers and a couple of First Novel contests.
No interest. Most times not even the courtesy of a reply.
To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. I’ve read novels where Voodoo played a part, I’ve read novels about bikers, I’ve read novels that pay tribute to Agatha Christie, I’ve read novels that feature tattoos. But, to the best of my knowledge, no publisher had ever printed a novel about a self styled Voodoo priest who owns a tattoo shop, rides a Harley Davidson and has a Miss Marple fetish. Doc Slidesmith, my almost hero, wasn’t an easy sell.
Which is where luck comes in.
In the year after I’d finished Needle Song I’d started writing short stories. I’d had a couple printed in Writer’s Forum magazine and told a few (well a lot of) people at work. One night, purely by change (or luck), someone found details of a writing competition a local hospital was running and mentioned it to me. Three thousand words on the theme of ‘celebration’. I wrote a fairly dark story about a man being picked up from outside a prison and being driven to his Coming Out party. I was pleased with it but didn’t think it would be a good fit for a competition organised by a hospital. I wrote something I hoped was more suitable but was then left with a story about dodgy geezers and cake icing.
In between setting my motorcycles on fire and throwing buses at me, Lady Luck put Chris McVeigh on the planet, which was good of her. And Chris McVeigh set up Fahrenheit Press, which was good of him. And (as luck would have it) Fahrenheit Press was running a competition of its own. They were looking for delicate slices of noir with which to build a anthology. The story I’d decided wasn’t a good fit for the hospital competition, The Icing on the Cake, was sent off to the Fahrenheit bunker in the hope of finding its spiritual home. Just before the Noirville competition was due to close I managed to put the finishing touches on a second story. That story, Not Talking Italics, featured a fast-talking tattooist and biker by the name of James Slidesmith, Doc to his friends. I submitted the story with barely an hour to go before the competition closed.
Both stories found a kind and loving home in the warm embrace of Fahrenheit Press. The Icing on the Cake made it into the Noirville Anthology and Not Talking Italics is available from Fahrenheit on E-book/Kindle format at https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/products/russell-day-not-talking-italics-ebook-kindle-version
Not long after telling me I’d won a place in the Noirville Anthology, Chris offered me a two book deal. I made a quick check for blue flashing lights and signs of smoke before snapping his hand off. Needle Song was published in April 2018. The second novel, Ink to Ashes, should be coming out later this year. It’s another novel about Doc Slidesmith who unlike me, makes his own luck. And if that don’t work, he cheats.