Weekly Blog

Monday 25th May

Last week I made guest appearance on Future Radio, a Norwich based community station.  The interview went well, with the questions centring on my debut novel, Justice For All, along with related topics such as what gave me the inspiration for the story, how I come up with my characters, what type of research I undertake, and how music influences my work.  This was the first time I’ve been live on air, and I even got to pick a song at the start of the show – I went for ‘Stay Positive’ by The Hold Steady, but more on them later.  I’m hoping to get hold of an audio file of the interview to put on my website – stay posted for further updates.

On the gig front, I had two fantastic nights out in Cambridge last week.  The first was to see Nine Black Alps play at The Portland Arms (a pub with a separate gig room).  For the uninitiated, Nine Black Alps are a UK rock band that turned a lot of heads when they first broke on the scene a few years back, but who’ve subsequently slid off the radar a little (probably due to their incredibly slow release schedule in my opinion, as their music remains far superior to most of the bands that are currently championed in the press). 

The gig room held maybe a hundred or so people, so the event was intimate to say the least.  Why a band as good as Nine Black Alps were playing in such a small place is beyond me, but I wasn’t complaining as the chance to see one of my favourite acts up close and personal was a rare treat, and boy were they on top form!  The set list was comprised of classic tracks from their debut album, Everything Is, along with a smattering of cuts from their slightly poppier follow up, Love/Hate, plus a whole host of new songs from their as yet unreleased third album.  For me, the new stuff was the most exciting, as it looks like they’ve gone back to the heavier sound of their debut – a move I heartily endorse.  This gig will go down as an all time great in my book, and I hope to catch Nine Black Alps again at one of the major summer festivals later this year.

So having had the bar set so high after the first gig, there could have been a danger that the second one would not live up to expectations, but I was quietly confident that this wouldn’t be the case – after all, my second night out in Cambridge was to catch ‘the best bar band in the world.’  This is the moniker that the press has bestowed on US blue-collar rockers, The Hold Steady, but for me it does them a disservice, as they’re fast becoming the best band in the world. 

Musically, they’re as tight and accomplished a unit as you could wish to see, but it’s vocalist Craig Finn that propels them to another level.  First and foremost he’s a storyteller in the grand tradition, weaving a dense narrative throughout the music that captivates and excites in equal measure.  I once described his vocal style as ‘like a drunken poet has got up from the bar and grabbed the mike to entertain the masses.’  He’s also the most enthusiastic front man I’ve ever seen – you can tell that he’s enjoying every second that he’s on stage, and you get the impression that he’d be exactly the same whether he were playing to a hundred thousand people or an empty room.  While the lyrics can deal with some pretty dark subject matter at times, there’s always an overwhelming sense of optimism pervading the songs, and if I were to pick one to sum them up, it would have to be ‘Stay Positive’ – the track that I chose while appearing on Future Radio.  When I left the gig I felt like anything was possible once again – I need to get The Hold Steady on prescription!



What’s Steve been listening to this week?
Boys and Girls In America – by The Hold Steady
21st Century Breakdown – by Green Day
Everything Is – by Nine Black Alps

Monday 18th May

I just spent a really enjoyable weekend at CrimeFest in Bristol, a convention for fans of the crime writing genre comprised of panels, interviews, reading groups, writing workshops, dinners, and award presentations.  The life of an author can be a pretty solitary one at times, so its always a treat to get out and meet others that are involved/interested in crime writing, as it reminds me that I’m not alone.

This was my first time at CrimeFest and I’ve got nothing but praise for co-organisers Myles Allfrey and Adrian Muller, as the event was professional yet informative, stimulating yet relaxing, sobering yet intoxicating, but most of all fun.  As I’ve come to expect from events such as this, everyone I met was incredibly supportive, and it was nice to catch up with a few old friends as well as make some new ones. 

I appeared at two panels held on the Sunday:  Pick Up On South Street: A Date With Debut Authors; and Edge Of Doom:  What Pushes Your Characters Over the Edge?  This was the first time that I’ve been up on stage as a published author, and I’d like to thank all the other panellists for making the experience such an enjoyable on – so the following authors should all take a bow: Alison Bruce, M.R. Hall, Matt Hilton, Jenni Mills, Aly Monroe, Brian McGilloway, and Caro Ramsey.  And special mention should go to the two moderating authors for each panel, namely Peter Guttridge and Martin Edwards, as the skilful way that they kept each debate moving along in a lively and interesting fashion was an education in itself.

I’d also like to give a brief mention to some of the other authors I had a chance to chat to over the weekend, to give you a flavour of the weird and wonderful conversations that events such as this can throw up:

Declan Hughes, whose passionate speech on the wonder of all things Bob Dylan was a joy to witness at 2 a.m. in the bar on Saturday morning.

Barry Forshaw, whose knowledge of Cary Grant’s Bristolian past puts mine to shame. 

Paul Johnson, whose wise words on the life of an author act as a valuable guide for a novice such as myself (although the four letter broadside he directed at me when I left the bar before dawn was slightly less eloquent than usual!)

Simon Kernick, whose unflinching support for Bristol’s kebab shops is laudable in these recessionary times. 

And the incomparable Kevin Wignall, whose ability to impersonate half the cast of Where Eagles Dare never fails to impress.

Next week I’ll be appearing on Future Radio, a Norwich based community station, on Thursday 21st at 11 a.m.  If you’re within broadcast range tune in on 96.9FM to catch the interview, if not, tune in to next week’s blog to see how I got on.



What’s Steve been listening to this week?
The Sufferer And The Witness – by Rise Against
To Lose My Life – by White Lies
The Bronx III – by The Bronx

Monday 11th May

This week’s blog will be mostly forwards rather than backwards looking, as I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you about my upcoming appearance at CrimeFest.

CrimeFest is a convention for fans of the crime writing genre, whose programme is comprised of panels, interviews, reading groups, crime writing workshops, dinners, and award presentations.  It’s an annual event held in Bristol, with this years festivities due to run from the 14 – 17 May at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel on College Green.  I’m scheduled to appear on two of the panels:

  • Sunday 17th May, 9.30am – 10.30am
    Pick Up On South Street: A Date With Debut Authors
    Appearing alongside Alison Bruce, M.R. Hall, Matt Hilton, Jenni Mills, Aly Monroe. 
    Moderator – Peter Guttridge

  • Sunday 17th May, 11.00am – 12.00pm
    Edge Of Doom:  What Pushes Your Characters Over the Edge?
    Appearing alongside M.R. Hall, Brian McGilloway, Caro Ramsey. 
    Moderator – Martin Edwards.

Should any of you be planning on attending the event, I hope to see you there.  Tune in next week to see how I got on. 

And finally, a brief mention of a gig I attended last week.  First up, I should warn you that the day in question had been a poor one for me.  My hometown football club, Norwich City F.C. had been relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in fifty years, my hi-fi had suddenly and inexplicably decided to stop working, and my dog had been sick all over the carpet, so when I set out to see Graham Coxon (Blur guitarist) at the Norwich Arts Centre I was hoping that his three minute pop-punk songs would go some way to cheer me up.  Sadly this was not the case.  While not wishing to go into the messy details, suffice to say that I’ve been to countless gigs over the years and this was the very first time that I’ve left one halfway through to go and sit in the bar, and trust me, I was not alone.  I guess you can’t win ‘em all!



What’s Steve been listening to this week?
Cage The Elephant – by Cage The Elephant
Much Against Everyone’s Advice – by Soulwax
The Bronx III – by The Bronx

Monday 4th May

Justice For All has attracted another glowing review, this time from the Eurocrime website, which describes itself as a site for fans of British and European crime fiction writers.  Eurocrime describes JFA as a ‘gritty book with an aggressive feel to it’ and says that it ‘builds up to a tense ending.’  In closing, the reviewer concludes that ‘this is a promising book from a new author, and I look forward to Zac's next outing.’  To read the full review, click here.



What’s Steve been listening to this week?
The Bronx III – by The Bronx
Siren Song Of The Counter Culture – by Rise Against
Love Travels At Illegal Speeds – by Graham Coxon