Wednesday 17 August 2011

Nigel Bird interview: Beat On The Brat

Beat on the Brat by Nigel Bird

Author of BEAT ON THE BRAT (and other stories) and DIRTY OLD TOWN (and other stories), Nigel Bird's work has appeared in a number of magazines and collections, including the Mammoth Best British Crime Stories this year. He has just released the much-awaited PULP INK anthology with co-editor Chris Rhatigan in collaboration with Needle Publishing.

How important is a good title?

The need for a good title is something I may have underrated. There’s a difference I need to come to appreciate between an I-like-it-a-lot title and a title that works for the general reading population.

Take ‘Beat On The Brat (and other stories)’ as an example. It’s from a great song by the Ramones. It works really well as a title for a short story when the story suggests a possible inspiration for the song. And I love it.

Whether it’s a good title for a collection remains to be seen. Perhaps it’s that step too far, a matter of my personal taste overriding any sense of the market.

All the same, I’m the kind of guy who thinks ‘Baby In The Icebox’ is a title of genius. At least I’m not alone in my folly.

Where I draw some comfort from my title choice is the way it should prevent innocents stumbling into it and finding they have bought something which is far too challenging for them to work with. Due to the nature of this one, I really don’t want people taking this up as a whim and finding themselves plunged into my worlds without warning.

What was the last good eBook you read?

For fun and absolute pleasure, ‘The Long Midnight Of Barney Thomson’ was splendid. I also enjoyed ‘Out There Bad’ by Josh Stallings, a very different kind of story to ‘Long Midnight’ with energy, violence and stimulation from cover to cover (virtual covers, that is).

The Bastard Hand’ by Heath Lowrance really buzzes, is amazingly powerful and is highly recommended.

My favourite summer holiday read, however, has been ‘One Too Many Blows To The Head’ by JB Kohl and Eric Beetner. Set in 1939, it feels like it was written about then – zesty one-liners and cracking dialogue as well as a world of unpleasantness brought to life in a way that made me feel I was there. I’m not sure it has sold that well in the UK, but it should be at the top of everyone’s To Be Read list.

Where do you find out about new books?

The network of people on the internet provides a wonderful range of tastes and recommendations to dip into. There are people out there who are so well read that it makes a good deal of sense to be led by their opinions. I can get more books than I need from Twitter and Facebook alone, but it’s the blogs I love to go to for the real depth of opinion and the personal twists. I’m almost afraid to mention any lest I miss some out but – Spinetingler, Pattinase, The Drowning Machine, Jen’s Book Thoughts, My Friends Call Me Kate, Musings Of An All Purpose Monkey and You Would Say That Wouldn’t You will always give you a good all round view and will cover a lot of older material as well as the new.

I also read a lot of short stories online. Favourite places are Beat To A Pulp, A Twist Of Noir and Shotgun Honey. Offering a compass point in that region are Death By Killing, Sant’s Rants and the very impressive Criminal Thoughts of R Thomas Brown.

Goodreads does a good job of spreading the word. Once you get to know the people writing the reviews, it can be an excellent source of eclectic material.

I have picked up a couple of books from Kindle Forums and Amazon threads, too. No regrets as yet.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

It will settle. Reach a balance that everyone is happy with.

Given that when buying a Kindle readers have forked out £100 plus already, I think they need to benefit from low prices for e-books.

I put out ‘Beat On The Brat’ at the £1.49 which seems more than generous, but is above the going rate for quality work in the UK. I’ve just this morning had a rethink, however. You can get real gems out there for the bargain prices and early doors’ sales for this one suggested that £1.49 was just too much. It’s now back to the 75p/99c minimum and I hope that will encourage people to buy and read, which is why I put it out in the first place.

My biggest issue over pricing is with Value Added Tax. We’re not taxed on paper books, so to have it imposed on the sales of the environmentally friendly option seems absolutely crazy. All books should be free from tax, something I’m feeling more strongly about as I come to terms with the imposition.

I’d like to point out that I’m not against taxes at all. My daughter spent a night in hospital a while ago, attended by dedicated, specialist staff who monitored her breathing after her first severe asthma attack. They saved her life that night and I didn’t have to pay anyone a penny. It would have been the same if she’d been there for six months. I’d pay more tax to make sure these services are maintained. Just not on e-books if I had the choice.

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

About 20 years ago, I wrote something called Deborah Faints. It was a romantic comedy as far as I was concerned.

A young man working in a bookshop falls for a customer. When she puts a notice on the board asking for piano lessons for her daughter, he gives her a call and becomes the new tutor. The girl’s been a mess since the death of her grandfather, but when our guy shows up she opens up a little after a session of chaotic fun. The catch is that Chris (let’s call him that) can’t play the piano.

Chris gets lessons from an old drunk down the road, a star of yester-year fallen on hard times. Payment is in whisky and cigarettes.

The romance gets underway until the lady finds out about the fake piano skills and it unravels until it’s all tightly bound once more.

I thought it was great, like Clerks but clean.

I passed it on to a film-maker and he...

... lost it (either that or couldn’t face telling me the truth).

I have a copy still to be typed under a pile of dust.

Ever tried your hand at poetry?

Indeed I have.

When putting together ‘Beat On The Brat’, I was trying to establish a balance in the work so that it would really engage the reader. The timing of me putting it together coincided with the Norwegian massacres and that reminded me of a batch of Haiku I’d written about another killing from last year. Once the connection in my head had been made, I had to have the poems in there.

Later, when I realised I was putting together work that is about as dark as I can imagine, I felt there was a need to tone down the whole by using some lighter shades from the palette. I guess the Haiku had opened the gates, so I went for something I wrote a while ago as a kind of Bob Dylan/Nick Cave amalgamation. There’s humour in them there hills, honest.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

The release of Pulp Ink is imminent [it's out – Al]. It’s been a hugely exciting project and I need to thank all the authors involved, Chris Rhatigan (co-editor) and all those who’ve been supportive in terms of offering reviews, opinions and islands of calm when the occasional storm has appeared on the horizon.

For those who aren’t aware of Pulp Ink, it’s a collection of stories themed around the soundtrack of the movie Pulp Fiction.

The line-up for the collection is:

The authors who we’re bringing together are (in order of appearance in the book) Reed Farrel Coleman, Jodi MacArthur, AJ Hayes, Sandra Seamans, Eric Beetner, Allan Guthrie, Matthew C Funk, Nigel Bird, Paul D Brazill, Chris F Holm, David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, Michael J Solender, Naomi Johnson, Ian Ayris, Gary Phillips, Chris Rhatigan, Richard Godwin, Jim Harrington, Kate Horsley, Hilary Davidson, Jason Duke, Jimmy Callaway and Matt Levin.

Doesn’t that just blow your socks off?

And Chuck Wendig was kind enough to take an early read for us. This is what he thought:

"Tongue-piercings. Foot-fetishists. Murderous cinephiles. This gritty, grimy, giddy collection is as pulpy as they come, transcending the Tarantino reference material and stepping into its own. All because of a stable of home-run crime writers who know just what the hell they're doing."

It’s looking fantastic and I hope that everyone out there takes a look.

I’ll also be out there soon in a great anthology called Grimm Tales, soon to be released by Untreed Reads. It’s another great collection. Another honour to be included.

On my plate just now is a story I’m trying to get together for the excellent Shotgun Honey. There’s a word limit of 700 words and I’m finding that to be a real challenge for the tale I want to tell. It’s a reminder to me of the talent of the authors who’ve made it up there already and created waves of their own.

My novel is still there, too. 5000 words from the end of the first draft. I can’t wait to get the broad strokes over so I can begin to sift out what works from what doesn’t.

Something else I’m really looking forward to is a little cross-pollination. A short work of mine was accepted by artist Stacey Yates for a project she has on the way. Taking a set of short pieces on a similar theme (the report of a body of a woman found in the road) she’ll produce work to bring the stories to life visually. I’m very happy to have the chance to be in a gallery with my words – no way my drawing skills were ever going to have that happen.

Beat on the Brat by Nigel Bird


  1. And what a smashing writer Nigel Bird is!

  2. Loving Pulp Ink - many congrats for pulling this together

  3. You're right about that Paul. One of the top in Brit Grit. Looking forward to checking out that novel.

  4. Great post! Nigel Bird is a wonderful writer.

  5. Smashing interview! And, I'm a huge fan of Nigel's work--just the bestest!

  6. Nigel Bird is a wife stealer. I made the mistake of letting my bride read a couple of Nigel's stories and she is butt over bucket about him now. (grin. that's a joke folks . . . I hope). Brilliant interview you guys, but then, considering the duo, I expected nothing less.

  7. from you guys, that feels so very wonderful. and 'butt over bucket' is an expression i'm never likely to forget.


    and thanks, Allan, for the space.

  8. almost forgot.

    another place i love to find out about books from is CRIMESPREE. i love it when it arrives in the post. not only do they have superb fiction (Megan Abbott and Matthew McBride) but they review a vast range of things that broadens my thinking about fiction.

  9. Always a pleasure, Nigel.