Glenn McGoldrick is another author I discovered via twitter when he posted a link to one of his free short stories, Breaking Spirits. Never one to pass up an opportunity to discover another short story writer, and for free, I downloaded said story. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I saw he had two more free shorts on offer. They too proved equally enjoyable – I shall definitely be purchasing and reviewing his other stories in the near future …
Glenn McGoldrick is from the North East of England, and where he still calls home. English was his favourite lesson during his school days and always enjoyed writing stories.
Then he grew up (kind of) and worked in Casinos for twenty years, spending fifteen of those years travelling on cruise ships and got to see plenty of great places!
He has been writing dark short stories for five years and has a number of books on Amazon.
He is an avid reader, particularly enjoying James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker and Lawrence Block. When not busy writing, he enjoys music, movies, beach walks and beer.
The following three stories are all FREE to download on Amazon!!!
A Dark Teeside short story
Despite its short length, a hell of a lot happens in this story. The author doesn’t waste time with flowery description or unnecessary scene setting, every sentence and indeed every word is used to maximum effect to drive the story forward to its perfect ending. It’s a simple story and it’s easy to see the general direction it’s going quite early on but that doesn’t diminish its impact one iota as you get the feeling the author wants you to see the whole picture right from the start.
An absolutely super little story. With such a short story it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it but suffice to say, within the space of just 13 pages there’s murder, revenge, karma and even an add sort of feel-good factor to it. Will definitely be checking out more of this author’s work!
A Dark Teeside short story
As in the last story I read by this author, the scene-setting and characterisation are among the best I’ve read; Glenn McGoldrick uses every word to perfection, placing the reader firmly at the centre of events. Once again, its impossible to say too much here without giving too much away, other than how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Despite reading a lot of short ‘twist in the tale’ type stories, I must admit I couldn’t really guess where this one was going, and even at its conclusion, the ending is incredibly subtle.
In the story, we see a snapshot of the life of a somewhat unlikeable, rather pathetic young man – a man making no effort to get a job, a failed relationship behind him with hints of something more sinister than the usual reasons for break-ups, and a thief to boot. As I’ve said, the ending is very subtle, not the usual ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming’ sort I’ve come to expect, and yet, it made me think about the different directions this story could take were it to continue … another fine and intriguing effort.
A Dark Teeside short story
Another super short but captivating little tale. The author’s clever use of imagery i.e. the ‘three dead flies’ for the missing years, was a touch of genius, bringing home the cold reality of the unfolding story. The thoughts and reflections of the past, memories captured in old photos, and a host of other nice little touches make you believe in the characters. Unlike the author’s other stories I’ve read to date, there’s no what I would call a ‘twist in the tale’ here. If anything, the ending what could be read as the start of a new chapter or a glimmer of hope at the end of a sad tale? Almost like leaving a longer story hanging in mid-air, again leaving it to the reader’s imagination as to how it might progress … So pleased I’ve discovered this series of super stories!
See here for Glenn McGoldrick’s Amazon Author page for all his other collected works
Sharon Brownlie was born in Malta in 1962. Her parents were in the Armed Forces and she spent her childhood travelling all around the world. As a mature student, she graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master of Arts Hons degree in History and a PGCE. Sharon spent some years working in Adult Education. Sharon Brownlie is also another valued member and prolific contributor to the wider Indie Author community, and I’m proud to say, an equally valued member of my own IASD writing group.
In addition to her writing, Sharon Brownlie is a talented and successful print and eBook cover designer, as well as offering a number of other related highly competitive author services, including formatting, proof-reading, and copy editing.
Amazon description – Betrayal (Book1)
What makes a woman kill? An upbringing marred by rejection and hurt when you are let down by the ones you love and a society that is supposed to protect you? As a teenager, that rejection lures Helen King into the world of drugs and prostitution.
Now, as an adult, Helen is spiralling out of control. Old wounds are surfacing; can she face her demons without the drugs? Will revenge help release her from her past? Beating her addiction is her only chance at a new life. But, an encounter with a former school teacher opens up old wounds that had been festering deep within her. While quitting drugs, another craving takes its place. A desire for revenge: payback for those who’d betrayed her.
Plagued with bitterness, Helen heads to Edinburgh to begin her killing spree.
Police are mystified when her first victim is found. A second death convinces them it’s the same killer. Can they connect Helen to the crimes? How many more will die before she is stopped?
What an awesome book! As a fan of police procedural and murder stories, I can honestly say this is one of the best I’ve read in the genre in a very long time. While some books try to intrigue and tease the reader into reading beyond that all-important first chapter, Sharon Brownlie grabs you by the throat from the very first line, commanding your attention to the last.
The writing was crisp and sharp, always propelling the story forward or helping set the scene in the reader’s mind. I liked too that there were strong female characters on both sides of the law, which gave the story an additionally interesting slant. The portrayal of the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh, namely the drugs and prostitution, and the equally seedy characters that inhabit such a world was utterly convincing.
This is a story of bloody revenge taken to the nth degree. The main character, Helen King, is as loathsome, ruthless, and manipulative an individual as you would never want to meet outside the pages of a book, and yet her background and motivation allow the reader to, if not condone, at least understand and sympathise with her, even more so when she finally shows a few glimmers of humanity. Likewise, with the other characters – the author doesn’t strive to make the reader actually like or empathise with them, concentrating instead on portraying them as realistically as possible within a totally engaging story. A couple of traumatic incidents and a chance meeting of sorts are the catalyst for Helen’s transformation from an abused and cruelly exploited young girl and woman into a ruthless killer. Driven by her vivid dreams of revenge on those people she perceives as having let her down when she was a child, she’s consumed by a need to make them pay for their ‘betrayal’ of her. The author doesn’t exaggerate the violence in the book i.e. it’s not as graphic or detailed as you might expect given the theme of the book, but yet the author still manages to conjure a clear image of it in the reader’s imagination. The investigations into her activities are authentic and well constructed but without bogging the reader down with every precise detail or overuse of police terminology. As you would expect, there are several police officers involved in the investigation, though of course, the story focuses on those leading it, and the author brings them to life with little snippets of background information and all the varied character traits you would encounter in the real world. In addition to the story being told, these characters could easily warrant further crime thrillers in their own right.
It’s impossible for me to overpraise this book; anyone who’s ever read and enjoyed Lynda La Plante’s ‘Prime Suspect’ series (or seen the tv adaptation) will be in for a real treat with this one. My favourite crime book this year.
Amazon description – The Consequences (Book2)
A year has passed since the arrest of serial killer, Helen King. She has languished in jail awaiting her fate. Her wait is over and her day of reckoning has arrived. It is time for her to face the consequences of her crimes.
Will Helen go quietly? Has she laid her ghosts to rest?
The Consequences (Book2)
The second of this two-part series is really more a short novella than a full-length novel, but every word of it helps bring closure to the first part. In this second part, The Consequences, we learn more of the detail of Helen’s tragic young life in her own heartfelt words, and through that, the reader is finally able to empathise more with Helen, and this time truly understand her compulsion to exact revenge on all those who had failed in their duty of care towards her at an age when she needed it most. We also see a softer, more human side emerging in DS Brennan and DI Ellington, two of the female detectives responsible for bringing her to justice. Although a relatively short read, it was for me, the perfect length epilogue – any longer and it would have come across as needless ‘padding.’ I sincerely hope for more of the same from this splendidly talented author.
Click Here for Sharon Brownlie’s Amazon author page:
Murderous Little Darlings is the first book by John Hennessey I’ve read and reviewed, another author from the IASD stable, but it certainly won’t be the last. I actually downloaded this little gem of a book on a whim when I saw a post in the IASD Fb group without even reading the Amazon freebie sample first… though the fact that the author had mentioned it was Free to download on Kindle might have had something to do that considering I had already gone way over my monthly book buying budget! Having said that, I’ll be more than happy to pay for any future books I read from this author.
John Hennessy is the British author of paranormal fantasy horror for YA, psychological horror and murder mysteries, plus his own unique take on vampire lore. He has also written ghost stories and delved into high epic fantasy with a hint of romance.
A kung fu addict; he teaches martial arts full-time but writes at all other times.
When he doesn’t have a book in his hands, he likes to travel and see weird and wacky things. He admits to having an unhealthy addiction to Star Trek, Batman, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name but a few. He will also travel to reputed scary places in England, as he feels it makes his books more real.
John has an exclusive Readers Group where they can receive FREE Story Previews and Chapters from his books: available on his blog/website at:
With two specimens of the undead on either side of her, Juliana knew there was no escape. Kill the one they had selected for her, or be killed, and become one of them. What had the neighbours in the road called them, back when their childhood pranks were just that?
Oh yes, she remembered now. Murderous Little Darlings. They had the faces of angels but possessed the very soul of the Devil.
Marcus had fully embraced his vampire side from the moment he was born. Rocco was the second eldest and had fought the temptation all of his life. Then Marcus finally broke him.
That just left Juliana. Will she resist them, or join in the hunt?
A vampire novella which is the first in a Tale of Vampires Series. In A Tale of Vampires, there will be seven short horror stories that can be read alone but should really be read in order. Murderous Little Darlings could be considered a dark urban fantasy. When you’re finished reading this, go straight to The Blood and the Raven.
By John Hennessy
(Available from Amazon in eBook & paperback formats)
I read this novella in under two hours but it was two hours of darkly humorous pure entertainment. I’m not really a fan of gory horror so a story involving vampires wouldn’t normally appeal but the humour and unusual scenario of triplet pre-teen vampires kept me hooked from beginning to end. For the real purist fans of the vampire genre expecting black cloaked Dracula like characters only coming out at night, avoiding crucifixes, and sizzling away at the touch of a drop of holy water, this might not be to their liking, but if you enjoy your reading full of dark humour and the unexpected then this is definitely worth a go. I particularly liked the line ‘Oh yes, she remembered now. Murderous Little Darlings. They had the faces of angels, but possessed the very soul of the Devil.’ I wasn’t sure at first if the three young siblings really were vampires or whether it was all just the over-active imagination of Marcus, the eldest convincing the others of it. Whatever they are or turn out to be though, as the story progresses it becomes clear there is definitely something sinister and different about them. In terms of traditional vampire characters, they defy all the usual traits and stereotypes but given their tender years and being ‘born’ of a vampire rather than ‘turned’ as it were, the reader can allow their own imagination to run wild with speculation. The indiscriminate violence along with the blood and gore was well handled without venturing into over-elaboration of it – in fact it was well incorporated into the story when you consider Marcus’s extreme youth; it’s hard to conceive of such a young boy committing gory acts of murder, but Marcus knowing (or believing) himself to be a vampire with superhuman abilities but without all social constraints and discretion we learn as we get older, it’s easy to accept his violent behaviour, and the others too as they come round to his way of thinking. You do have to suspend disbelief at times, but considering this is a tale of child vampires that’s hardly surprising; the siblings’ dialogue and manner of speaking is rarely what you would expect from youngsters but given their apparent vampire nature and existence the story remains entirely credible. Just when you think you can see the direction the story is going or the end in sight, events take a totally unexpected and impossible to foresee turn. Were this a stand-alone story I might have been a little disappointed, being left wanting to know more about these characters and perhaps their further development and adventures. Thankfully this is just one of a whole series of related vampire tales, all of which will be going on my reading list for the future.
Further links to John Hennessy’s writing:
The John Hennessy collection: click on thumbnail for Amazon links:
A dark and murderous tale to chill the blood…
Bad Blood by Max Power is the third book from this author I’ll have read and reviewed, the previous two being Darkly Wood and Larry Flynn. Having originally come to my attention via the Indie Author Support & Discussion Fb group and IASD website I’m involved with, along with growing attention on twitter and various other social media and the ever increasing number of positive reviews he is accumulating with is books, Max Power has quickly established himself as one of my favourite Indie Authors.
Max Power has written several books including Darkly Wood, Bad Blood, and Little Big Boy. Originally from Dublin he currently resides in Maynooth in Kildare Ireland with his family, and following the huge success of Darkly Wood, is currently working on its sequel. More recently, he has also had a short story featured in Ian D Moore (And Friends)’ Youre Not alone: An Indie Author Anthology, an IASD anthology bringing together a multitude of international Indie Authors in aid of the cancer care and support charity Macmillan Nurses.
Click on above thumbnails for links to said book & website
As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer, blogger, and regular contributor to a number of Indie Author Support Fb groups, the IASD website, Goodreads, and other assorted social media, and is fast establishing himself as a major name in Indie publishing.
Further information on Max Power and links to his writing can be found at:
Note: As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…
When lawyer Carol Berkley visits a man on death row, who has not spoken one word from the time of his arrest and right through his trial, she is shocked by his first spoken words. James Delaney is a man sentenced for one murder, but it turns out that he may be the most prolific serial killer the world has ever known. When James despatches Carol to find a priest, a priest with a secret, she becomes tangled in a web of murder, blackmail and revenge, as her life spirals out of control. Father Martin Doyle thought he had left a terrible secret behind him in Ireland, but when Carol turns up at his church in a poor Miami neighbourhood, he is forced to travel back home to confront the demons of his past and discover even more sinister new ones. With a hurricane looming large off the Florida coast, James knows that there is a far more dangerous storm brewing. The arrival of new prison officer Elias Wainwright means that James will never make it to his official execution date, without the help of Carol Berkley and the priest with a very particular secret. Time is running out for James and he has a secret of his own that may change everything. But some secrets should be kept in the family.
By Max Power
(Available from Amazon in eBook & Paperback)
This book really hooks the reader from the opening page, raising questions right from the start that keeps the reader turning the page in the hope of answers. For the most part this is a thriller of the first order, but one that skates around the fringes of horror and the paranormal. None of the characters are quite what they seem, least of all James Delaney, the mysterious figure who at the start finds himself on Death Row for unintentionally killing a police woman, and for most definitely trying to kill another man; and yet, for a man facing years of incarceration and a death sentence at the end of it he seems remarkably unconcerned by his situation, and as the story progresses we learn he may be responsible for many more deaths, a serial killer of unimaginable proportion. But he is in good company here; with just a few exceptions, virtually every character has at one time had blood on their hands. I won’t say in what way but there are several clues early on and throughout that there’s something ‘different,’ something ‘more,’ about James Delaney and his enemy Elias Wainwright that sets them apart from ordinary men. And the other characters too, an ambitious young female lawyer, a priest with a less than angelic past, and Jamal, a street wise young man from the ‘less than affluent’ side of town, all command the reader’s attention. Max Power expertly lays the foundations of a blood and corpse filled thriller, providing the reader with a jigsaw of literary elements that slowly come together from which an intriguing story of an age old battle and blood feud emerges.
Although written in the third person, Max Power delves in to the minds of the most prominent characters in such a way as to make the reader think and almost believe that the story is being told from the perspective of each one at any given time. Another of the great strengths of this author’s writing is also to create a real sense of atmosphere, usually somewhat dark and brooding, and characters that defy all the usual stereotypes, ones that hover and glide between being the hero and the villain, being liked and loathed in equal measure. Some of the narrative is a little graphic at times but always in keeping with the context and tone of the story. One area I would have liked to see explored more was the history between James Delaney and Elias Wainwright and their respective families, and perhaps a little more explanation about the alluded to mythology about them.
I almost feel guilty for not awarding this book five stars, and perhaps if this had been the first of the author’s books I had read then I might well have done so, but having previously read Darky Wood and Larry Flynn by the same author, this one didn’t quite work as well (for me) as the previous two but it still remains a thoroughly well-written, enjoyable and blood curdling read nonetheless. Soon after finishing this review I shall be moving onto Max Power’s latest book, Little Big Boy… If Edgar Allan Poe was writing in the modern era then Bad Blood and Darkly Wood would be the sort of books I would be expecting from him…
Max Power books: Click on thumbnails for Amazon links
It’s funny, the little things that provide the inspiration for a story. In the following story, the seed of the idea started with a TV commercial featuring a woman in the kitchen receiving a phone call from a loft insulation salesman. She puts him on hold while she goes off to make a cup of coffee. It got me thinking of all the different ways to deal with cold callers…
Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.
The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.
I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes, I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe.
Disaster… The landline is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…
“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…
“Is that Mr Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.
“Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…
“Oh I’m sorry, did I not say?”
“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.
“So you said. Now, who are you?”
“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…
“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…
“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”
“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.
Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more..
Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…
“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…
“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly
“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”
“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?”
The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…
“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”
I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.
“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption.
“You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act.
I feel my blood pressure rising, I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…
“Oh but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid up member of the Sun Worshiping Pagan Tree Hugging Society, have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”
It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…
Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has been become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.
The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work, I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more…I take one anyway.
My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the landline ringing, my second call of the day…
“Hello, is this Mr Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.
“Yes it is. Who’s calling please?”
“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr Brown.”
“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”
“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.
“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…
“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”
“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”
“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?
“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”
“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, what I wanted to…”
“Thank you for that John…I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue:
“Tell me John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change and I quite like the idea of sitting round all day just talking to people…”
“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…
“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ set ups is it? I would insist a on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”
Time to give him a moment to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…
“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”
“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognizes the distain in my voice.
“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…
“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per cent discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”
“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in instalments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”
“Yes, definitely, you can pay in instalments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”
“And the deposit, can I pay that in instalments too?”
“Well, not really, we do require the ten percent to paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed.
“I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”
“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.
“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”
“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”
He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss take.
“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue companies carrying out bad work, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Your company isn’t one of those is it?”
There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:
“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…
“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling your company. According to their entries your company was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”
I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply…. Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though, our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity….
Time – 11:55: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the final pieces of my literary jigsaw. The final dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the final scene comes alive on the page…
Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters the tranquillity, again…
Deep breaths, in out, in out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will go away…
Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…
They’re still there. I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…
“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more dodgy second-hand car salesman.
“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers; we spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”
My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?
“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…
“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”
“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”
Time – 13:45: I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…
It just after 2:20pm when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr Brown was sitting at his desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring anymore interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when they came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC, and told them he was done now done and would be happy to oblige. It was the strangest call-out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the make shift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.
One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. The doctors tell me I’ll be here for the next twenty years at least, even longer with a bit of luck, though I’ll have to play up a bit if I want an indefinite stay.
Now what was I writing, ah yes, a storyline for the murder of an annoying room-mate…
Preface: I must admit to cheating a little on this one; Most of what follows here is actually taken from my novel in progress, ‘Blue Murder’, but with a little editing and a few interjections here and there, I do think (hope) it makes for an interesting stand alone piece. Thanks for reading…..
Prison itself is not the problem, nor even the prospect of losing one’s liberty, even for many years. It’s the fear of prison, fear of the unknown, the uncertainty, and what we expect it to be like. There od course other considerations: separation from one’s family, loss of friends, career, and way of life, but for the man who has never been to prison such fears are secondary to the fear of what will happen to him, of just not knowing.
The ‘first timer’, more so when he spends time on bail, will torture himself with worry, picturing visions of his worst perceptions, convincing himself that every bad thing he’s ever been told or heard about prison is true, will come true; come the day of sentencing you think you’re about to enter the gates of Hell. No need to be confronted with the adage Abandon hope, all ye who enter these gates, hope will already have given way to despair.
And it gets worse long before it gets better. Even the strongest of men are broken by its prospect, separation from what they know, exchanged for what they don’t. The closest analogy is that of a child’s first day at school. He wonders why he’s being plunged into a strange new world, new surroundings, figures of authority, unfamiliar faces, and no one to guide him through the nightmare ahead, the horrors to come. It’s something we’ve all been through. But by the day’s end, that frightened child, his initial fears, that sense of isolation, will have all but disappeared, replaced by a lively youngster full of exuberant chatter, and new friends, reassured by gentle words of comfort from sympathetic listeners, his fears a forgotten memory.
It is here the analogy ends abruptly! The prisoner’s first day does not end, but carries on long into the night, surrounded not by those who care, but by those who don’t. And how different that first day is…!
It was a bit like my first day at school, old and Victorian looking, massive and imposing, frightening almost to a four-year old. But this was different. This was terrifying. Man a I now was, I knew the world I was leaving behind was one I’d be a long time in seeing again. The hug pair of wooden gates dwarfed me as I squinted through the tinted glass of the narrow slit windows of the prison van, or sweat-box as it’s often called on account of its tiny one-man .box like compartments. Moments later I was on the other side of those huge wooden gates. this was real, no one telling everything would be alright. Just a grim sense foreboding as the bus pulled to a halt. I tried not to think about what lay in store.
What hit me first was the age of the buildings, seemingly accentuated by years of decay and neglect, as evidenced by the vast tracts of chipped brickwork, rusty iron bars, and filth strewn pathways. But it was an impression, quickly replaced by something worse – the sight of several surly looking, powerfully built officers, screws as they later become known to me, going about their business, awaiting the arrival of more bodies, waiting for me…
With barely a word I was ushered out of the bus, my cuffs removed while one of the other screws unloaded the personal property boxes of some of the others who were arriving rom other prisons. How many years would it be before I too was the owner of such boxes I wondered, not that I was given much time to ponder the thought before ‘escorted’ along a short gravel path. I couldn’t help noticing how many pigeons there were; shabby moth-eaten looking creatures, fighting over a variety of scraps and discarded rooting bits of food thrown from out of the many cell bars I could see as we made our way to the reception block. what would that be like?… again I wondered…
It was too depressing . Nothing I could have imagined. The word ‘reception’ seemed an odd choice of name for it, implying a place of welcome, to help you settle in. At least that’s what I thought; I was wrong.. herded into a communal cell like so many cattle with no idea how long I’d be there, too afraid to ask one of the others what to expect. Twenty minutes later or thereabouts another screw came and opened us up, but only to ask if any of us wanted a meal and a cup of tea. Some humanity at least? I hadn’t eaten all day, and was surprised when most of the others refused. But I could see why when I saw what was being offered, a revolting swill, a mixture of over-boiled cabbage and potatoes, a meat pie that would have been greatly improved if the kitchen staff had bothered to cook it first, and finally, the traditional mushy peas, some sort of green slime reminiscent of something out of a ‘Spielberg’ movie. Now I understood.
Never have been to prison, the procedures and routine were all new to me despite the many well-meaning tips and bits of advice from mates and acquaintances, many of whom had spent the odd stint ‘inside’ themselves. But nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead, an ordeal which had already began from that moment I’d stepped off the prison bus… Walk this way, walk that way, wait here, stand over there… I might just as well have been an item of stock they didn’t have room for and weren’t quite sure what to do with. I was as though every last detail had been carefully worked out with me in mind; of course, I was wrong, I wasn’t that important. Nonetheless, a deliberate and systematic procedure to humiliate and degrade… it was a procedure I was only vaguely aware of from T.V. and other people’s accounts but this was real: first they wrote down my details; name, date of birth, marital status, dependants, and so on. Then came the doctor’s ‘examination’, a tersely word with a white-coat just to confirm I was still alive and well enough to cope with whatever else was in store – they ere making sure I wasn’t suicidal and likely to cause them all manner of laborious paperwork by going and harming or topping myself or the like closely followed the check on all my personal belongings before sealing them in a plastic bag. Then it was to be the final humiliation, the ritual and literal stripping away of everything that is you… in this case, me…
First it was my clothes they took, right there in front of whoever happened to be about; screws, other cons, anyone… shivering with cold and disgust, and fear, I removed most of my clothes and dropped them into a heap on the floor.
“And the socks,” a voice commanded.
I took them off and stood barefoot on the cold stone floor.
“Open your mouth…. Wider… Say ‘ah’… Again, say ‘a-a-h.. Now raise your tongue.”
Like some horse trader, one of the screws inserted two of his latex gloved fingers into my mouth, stretching one cheek, then the other until he was convinced there was nothing hidden.; then he checked my ears, pulling them back, checking my hair at the same time. Then I was told to spread my hands to show there was nothing concealed between my fingers, and to swing my arms as a final check that my armpits were equally devoid of contraband.
I felt self-conscious at first but the feeling soon passed, realising just how unimportant I was to them. There I stood, naked but for one small token to modesty, a towel wrapped about my waist. Then, in that same flat, irrefutable tone as before, he ordered:
“Take your penis in your hand..”
Stunned and further disgusted, I let the towel fall to the floor…
“Turn back the foreskin.. Move it up and to the left.. now to the right… Right, you can let it go now.” But the ordeal was not over yet:
“Turn your back to me.. Straddle your legs. Wider… Bend down and touch the floor… Legs wider…Stretch your buttocks with your hands… Right, now squat. Quickly! Again!”
It wasn’t just my body they were stripping, but my very identity, reducing it bit by bit, wiping clean until I was just one more flesh covered statistic with a number, my name serving as little more now than a cross reference to the past.. I was now RP 2019.
Having suffered and put up with every humiliation, I stood in dejected silence as the screw handed me another towel, nodding at me to proceed along the counter. It was frightening to feel that way, but even more disturbing was not only how easy it been to strip away the last remnants of my personality, who I was, but how completely powerless I was to resist…
“Reynolds RP 2019. Sign here, here, and then again at the bottom to state that your property sheet’s all correct.” I obeyed without question, not bothering with even a cursory glance to check if indeed it was correct. I no longer cared, and judging from his manner, neither did he.
“Through that door and get yourself a shower, then back here to collect your kit.”
Again I obeyed. The showers were a large open communal type, enough to accommodate maybe 20 men. Three other cons were also showering, some distance apart as you would expect. One of them briefly glanced in my direction, and then looked away again. The water was loop warm at best, the floor tiling grimly stained and cracked in in various places. I showered quickly. Ten minutes later I was back at the reception counter as ordered. My ‘kit’, as it was called, was the mismatched bundle of prison-issue clothing I’d be wearing from now on, along with some clean bedding items for whatever cell I would be allocated. I was then ushered to a communal cell for another twenty minutes being opened up again…
“Okay you lot, this way,” some other screw beckoned. We followed him in the direction of what I later learned was ;E; Wing., through dimly lit narrow passage way, until we reached what I suspected must be one of the main wings, a huge gloomy hall, again dimly lit but light enough to see that it reached up three or four levels with numerous cell doors on each, every one of which was shut.
There were a few screws dotted about, but otherwise the place looked deserted. It was a first and misleading impression though, knowing as I did that behind each and every one of those doors probably there a prisoner, each with his life and memories and a story to tell.. just like me…
Eventually we came to a circular, open area called the ‘The Centre’, from which I could see another four halls all radiating out from it like some satanic pentagon, each exactly the same as the one we’d just walked along. It was now that the escorting screw sternly emphasized that we were to walk round the Centre, never across it! Only officers were afforded that privilege. Yet another petty rule I couldn’t see the point of. It was a relief when we finally made it to ‘E’ wing and allocated our cell numbers. Mine was 1:34 on the ‘ones’ as it was called on account of it being on the ground floor.
At least I would be on my own and not two’d up with some homicidal maniac I thought with some relief, noting there was only the one bed in the drab twelve by eight foot cell…
“Well, this is it. You’ll find a prison rule book on the table. Make sure you read it!”
Before I could turn to reply the door slammed shut. The sound of the lock mechanism sent a cold, convulsive shiver throughout my entire body. I threw my kit across the bare mattress of the bed and stared at he four graffiti defaced walls, totally numbed for the moment. It was several minutes before my thoughts began to make any sense again. I wished they hadn’t… With a determined effort, I set about making up my bed, sorting my kit and arranging what few possessions I’d been allowed to keep with me, in a vain effort to personalize the empty vacuum that was to be my home. Vain indeed though; there was no disguising its bleak emptiness. I was tired and defeated, afraid almost to get undressed for bed, afraid of experiencing again the humiliation of the past few hours even though I was alone now. I’d been prepared to defend what I’d done, my life, my morals. Never had imagined anything so simple, so dull, and so irresistible as the cold hard reality of the past few hours. The people who’d received me were brutal, petty-minded low-grade officials: Little Hittlerites in the making, as uninterested in me as in my supposed crime, but alert and watchful for the slightest rule infringement, things I hadn’t even thought of and thereby unprepared for, watchful for the slightest sign of resistance. But what would resistance mean, I wondered, and what good would it do me? With every step I had taken, every screw I’d met, on a different context each time concessions had been required of me, so trifling compared to the long battle ahead that there seemed little point in making a stand – yet taken as a whole, the systematic procedure of breaking you down, breaking me down, was as effective as any you could imagine.
It was all too real. I didn’t want it to be. I switched off the naked bulb, hoping to extinguish the reality as easily as the light. At last I was able to muster the strength to undress and climb into bed. But even in the dead of night there was no escape from where I was. My eyes focused on the far side of the opposite wall. It was illuminated by a stream of light emanating from one of the external security watch-towers, casting a silhouette of the bars through the tiny window above my head, a shadowy, nightly reminder of my captivity for more years than I care to remember now.
I’ve heard it’s not so bad these days, that they try to ease the blow and not through you in at the deep end as it were. I hope that’s true, that your reception is warmer than mine…