It started with a “Hi, whatcha write” on Twitter, and weeks later author Shaun Baines and I were exchanging book spotlight info and a Q & A or two. It’s got to be serendipity, right?
Shaun’s bio reads like a kindred. Who hasn’t had a run-in with a bloke with a “Bad Joe” tattoo? (And if you haven’t, there’s this guy I met in Oshawa with a scorpion on his neck…)
Crime mixed with darkness and a lot of fantastic means BIG CHARACTERS with BIG PROBLEMS and Shaun’s all over this with WOODCUTTER, his debut novel available now as an ebook and then paperback on June 7.
Congrats, Shaun. Damp Scottish cottages yield results.
Your novel is set in Newcastle Upon Tyne, an English burg a mere stone’s throw from Southdean. To what extent do the two cultures meet?
As coincidence would have it, I live near Southdean, following a move from Newcastle to Scotland. Daniel’s story begins somewhere like Southdean. He is hiding from his criminal family in Hounswood, a village in the Scottish borders where he hopes to make a new home. As you can imagine, places like these are off the map in some respects. They’re quiet and friendly and the cultures of Hounswood and Newcastle don’t meet so much as clash. Newcastle is a busy, sprawling city in real life and the city I depict is also dark and dangerous. There is a certain anonymity to both places, but Newcastle shines so brightly, it’s hard to hide for long.
Protagonist Daniel Dayton is in a tough spot—at odds with his family and possibly his own skin. What attracted you to writing a character with such enormous identity dilemmas?
I think we all have identity issues at some points in our life and one of the themes of the book is to look at how identity is shaped. Whether you love or hate your family, they are instrumental in how you are shaped. It’s the Nature versus Nurture debate. You inherit from them genetically and they mould you as you grow. Daniel rejects both these ideas and sets out on his own to discover who he is. His biggest problem is that he is too late. The Daytons have crept into his soul and won’t let go. He is as much a part of them as they are of him. How can anyone run away from that?
I love a good crime/noir/thriller. How would you categorize Woodcutter?
I set out to write a crime novel. It’s what I read and what I enjoy, but it’s a huge canvas with many sub-genres. There are police procedurals, psychological thrillers, serial killers making it personal – the list is endless.
Woodcutter is best labelled as Newcastle Noir. It’s hard-boiled fiction with morally dubious characters and violent action. There is dark humour and a casual style to the writing. Of course, the final judgement rests with the reader. They can decide what it is. Just as long as they think it’s good!
Ed. – Amen! 😀
Tell us how you got here? Was the publishing process onerous or a piece of cake? (I say this with tongue firmly in cheek :D)
The whole process has been a dream; painless from start to finish. I say that knowing how lucky I’ve been and some other writers may not have had that experience. The truth is I wrote a book, the best book I could and then submitted it to various agents. I was fortunate to have been chosen by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. Super Dave sent it to publishers and we decided on Thistle Publishing. A contract was signed and the front cover came through, blowing me away. If it doesn’t win any awards, I’ll be amazed. And then Woodcutter was published. It doesn’t make a dramatic story and sounds like I’ve had an easy ride. Maybe I did, but a lot of it was down to the people I surrounded myself with. My agent, my beta-readers and most importantly, my wife, who suffers my writer anxieties on my behalf.
Ed. — The support of family and friends is integral.
Thanks to Netflix, a lot of us here in North America are well acquainted with English Scandi Noir—Broadchurch meets Wallander meets Shetland. To what extent does geography figure in your novel? Does it play a part in drawing Daniel home and keeping him there?
I wanted the Newcastle I know to be recognisable to others. I use street names and landmarks readers can identify. Any businesses or specific locations are of my own devising and I had fun naming them. I’m particularly pleased with the naming of a café called Mag’s Pies and Peas. People from the north-east of England will get that one. (The Magpies is the nickname of the Newcastle United football team. I don’t follow football, but I know enough to come up with a pun.)
Actually, it’s the geography of the north-east of England that drew me in. It didn’t occur to me to write something about my town until I moved away from it. I was alone in a different country and it made me feel closer to home.
We have now shared our books and views on our respective blogs. What are your promo plans for Woodcutter?
I’ve been both surprised and warmed by how welcoming the writing community is. Support is everywhere. I have several book bloggers working on reviews, other authors tweeting and retweeting about Woodcutter. I have had articles in magazines and in the local newspaper. It’s ongoing. The book will be released as a paperback on 7th June so expect another flurry of marketing around that time. I’ll probably stop short of walking the streets wearing a sandwich board. But then again, maybe not.
Ed. — Sandwich boards are “in” this year!
Thanks for stopping by Shaun and sharing your insights! — A.B.
Woodcutter is available on Amazon. If you read and enjoy it, he welcomes reviews.
You can also reach Shaun at shaunbaines.com or on Twitter as @littlehavenfarm.
What it’s about…
On the run from his criminal family, Daniel Dayton returns home to Newcastle Upon Tyne when his abandoned daughter is attacked.
But his family have problems of their own. Targeted by a brutal mercenary, their empire is destined to be destroyed should Daniel refuse to help.
Betrayed by his parents. Despised by his brother. In love with his sister-in-law. Home has become a dangerous place to be.
Daniel wants his daughter safe. And he wants his revenge, but in the shadowy streets of Newcastle, things are never what they seem.
Charles Bronson woke with a start. He was five foot five, thick set with wavy blonde hair. Like his namesake, he sported a handlebar moustache, but it wasn’t so he looked more like the movie star or that lunatic in prison. It was to detract from the nervous tick in his cheek coming alive from the moment he rose to the moment he fell asleep.
He rubbed his eyes and gulped. “Are you still up there?”
The room was a bedsit in an abandoned block of flats known as the Devil’s Playground, home to junkies and rat faced dealers. The tatty furniture was pushed against the walls, clearing a space for a tin bath filled with slurry. He’d obtained it from a farmer in Crawcrook who was paid enough not to ask questions. Above it was a naked man called Enoch, suspended by his ankles to a beam in the ceiling. His arms were either side of the bath, braced against the floor. Enoch’s skin was slick with sweat as he struggled to stop his head dipping into the slurry.
Bronson checked his watch. “That’s almost two hours. Sorry I nodded off, but if you’re not going to talk, then there’s nothing for me to do, is there?”
“I don’t know anything,” Enoch said, squeezing the words through gritted teeth.
“I wish I could believe that. You know, I’ve drowned two people in that tub so far and they all keep telling me the same thing. They don’t know anything.”
Bronson approached, smoothing out his moustache. His nostrils had become accustomed to the smell of the slurry, but he was annoyed about his clothes. This kind of stink couldn’t be washed out and he’d binned two suits already. He lived on a budget and the organisation he worked for weren’t the type of people to dish out clothing allowance.
“Enoch, I’m going home for a shower. Don’t worry. I’ll come back, but I live a fair distance away and I love long showers. Do you think you can hang around for me?”
He smiled at his own joke, though he’d used it before.
“Please, Bronson. Let me down. I don’t know anything,” Enoch said.
Who had scared these people so badly they would rather drown in cow shit than spill the beans? This was going to go wrong again, Bronson thought. His boss wanted answers, but no-one was talking. He’d be left with another dead body to dispose of and an awkward conversation to be had with his superiors.
“You pay the Daytons one hundred pounds a week, right?” Bronson asked.
“What’s it called? Your restaurant?”
“The Peking Lantern.”
“Oh, I’ve been there. It’s nice. Anyway, you pay money so your lovely restaurant doesn’t get burned down with you in it, right?”
Enoch nodded again.
“Why would you stop paying?” Bronson asked.
“I don’t know.”
Bronson grabbed Enoch by his hair and stared into his frightened eyes. “You do know, but you’re being very rude by keeping it a secret.” He yanked downwards, forcing Enoch’s head under the slurry. Enoch fought against him, but he was too weak to offer much resistance. Counting down the seconds on his watch, Bronson finally released him.
Enoch coughed and spluttered, choking on the slurry in his mouth. When he was able to breathe, his breaths came as whimpers.
“I. Don’t. Know. Anything.”
“Jesus Christ,” Bronson said, wiping his dirtied hand down the side of his trousers. “That’s bad for you and bad for me, isn’t it?”
This was supposed to be his breakthrough. He figured Enoch would crack the minute he saw the bath full of shit, but he’d turned out to be a hard bastard. He would have admired that except his own head was on the line too. Someone was choking the money supply to the Daytons. If he didn’t figure out who, Bronson’s name was as much shit as the slurry Enoch was about to drown in.
A knock came at the door. The authorities gave the Devil’s Playground a wide berth, refusing to pour resources into an unwinnable fight. They allowed the tower block to police itself. Knowing he was safe, Bronson opened the door and smiled.
Peter Pan Hands shook his coat from his shoulders as he entered. He was in his forties with tumbling locks of ginger hair. His green eyes sparkled with mischief no matter what he was doing at the time. The Irish lilt of his voice charmed women and gangsters alike.
“If it ain’t the Magnificent One,” Peter said. “I gather I’ve got a collection.”
Bronson closed the door. Peter wrinkled his nose, but seemed unfazed by the scene in front of him. “Why do you always take their clothes off?”
“It’s something Daniel taught me,” Bronson said. “People feel more vulnerable when they’re starkers.”
Peter considered the idea until he was distracted by something. “I thought you said this guy was Jewish. Aren’t all Jews circumcised?”
“Enoch runs a Chinese restaurant. How orthodox do you think he is?”
“Orthodox or not, it’s obviously pretty cold in here, if you know what I mean?”
Bronson laughed, slapping Peter on the back, but Peter’s face grew serious. “Listen mate, I only dump these bodies out at sea as a favour to you. I’m not dropping a live one in for anyone.”
“I understand. I didn’t think he’d last this long.”
“I’m freelance and I need the money, but…”
“It’s okay, honestly. I’ll take care of it.” Bronson pulled out a knife and waved it in front of Enoch’s face. “This is my friend Peter. He’s an arms dealer, but he also has a boat. He’s going to drop your dead body in the North Sea if you don’t give me the answers I’m after.”
Despite his exhaustion, Enoch swung away from the blade and started to cry. “Okay. Cut me down and I’ll tell you.”
Bronson looked to the knife in surprise. Why hadn’t he thought of this earlier? He’d carried that tub of shit up three flights of stairs for nothing.
He placed the knife under Enoch’s penis. “Get talking or maybe you’ll get circumcised after all. I ain’t no doctor and this place ain’t sterile. You don’t want little Enoch to go green and drop off, do you?”
With his face purple and his eyes wide, Enoch spoke to the knife. “Someone sent a photo to my phone. It was of my wife. She was tied to a chair. She had a blindfold on. Her face was bloody, but she was alive. Then they sent a text.”
“What did it say?” Bronson asked.
“No more money to the Daytons. Next time she dies. Tell no-one.”
“That was it?”
Enoch nodded. “They released her. She didn’t see anything, I swear.”
“And you never saw anyone either, I suppose?”
“No, but when she came home, she had five hundred pounds with her.”
“Jesus,” said Peter to no-one in particular.
Bronson looked at him. “They’re paying people to not pay us? That’s crazy.”
“Or really smart,” Peter said. “Who’s going to give you money when it pays more to keep it in their pockets?”
“And if they do pay, their loved ones die. Who are these guys?” Bronson rubbed his chin, hoping the answer might come in a blinding flash of brilliance.
Enoch snuffled back a sob. “That’s all I know. Please cut me down.”
The twitch in Bronson’s cheek took on a staccato rhythm. It sometimes happened when he was worried. Enoch had told him all he knew, but it wasn’t much. Aside from a text, Enoch had no contact with this new, mysterious gang. Bronson could check his phone, find the caller ID, but it was probably a throwaway and already smashed into several pieces. No-one this careful would be that stupid.
After hours of interrogation and buckets of cow shit, Bronson still knew nothing.
“Okay, Enoch, time to go home,” he said, working his knife through the rope.
Bronson shivered as the temperature dropped and a voice spoke behind them. “What did you find out?”
Bronson and Peter turned to see Scott Dayton walk into the room. He was as tall as Daniel, but with none of his warmth. Scott’s eyes were icy blue and his skin was white. He dressed in dark suits, tailored to limbs as thin as icicles. Sometimes he looked like a funeral director, sometimes like the corpse about to be buried.
He adjusted the knot on his silken tie. “I asked you a question.”
Clearing his throat, Bronson recounted the little he knew and tried not to stutter. When he finished, Scott studied him for an uncomfortable amount of time before turning his attention to Peter.
“It looked like Bronson was letting Enoch go.”
Peter shrugged. “He can do what he likes.”
“No, he can’t. Neither can you.”
Peter pulled on his coat, evidently feeling a chill. In all the years Bronson had known him, he never backed down from a fight. He admired that in Peter, but hoped today might mark a change and if it didn’t, Bronson was powerless to intervene.
“I don’t work for the Daytons,” Peter said, buttoning his coat, “and I’m not scared of you, either.”
Scott gestured to Bronson. “Give me your knife.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it, Scott. There was no disrespect.” Bronson looked at Scott’s extended hand and turned to Peter. “Tell him you didn’t mean anything.”
Peter’s mouth clamped shut. His eyes narrowed as Bronson presented the knife to Scott, who held it aloft like a trophy.
“It’s time you learned who has the power here.” Scott span on his heel, driving the blade into Enoch’s chest. There was no escaping the strike and Enoch didn’t scream. His strength had long been spent. He gulped in surprise and his arms gave way, his head sloshing beneath the shit. The body convulsed, spilling slurry over the floor and spattering Bronson’s shoes.
“It’s like that freaky cheek of yours,” Scott said with a grin. “All that jerking around for no reason.”
“You didn’t need to do that, Dayton,” Peter said, his big hands rising from his side.
“You came for a dead body, right?”
Bronson slipped between the two men. His back was to Peter, but his eyes were locked onto Scott.
“He didn’t pay his debts, Peter,” Bronson said. “He was protecting the gang trying to take us down. He deserved it.”
“You Daytons are butchers.” Peter placed a hand on Bronson’s shoulder. “You’re on your own with this one, pal. Give me a call if you need anything else.”
They watched the Irishman leave. Bronson sensed the coldness emanating from Scott in waves. “He won’t say anything,” he said.
Scott punched Bronson in the stomach. He doubled over and Scott forced him to his knees. He held Bronson’s face over the bath of slurry. The oily stain of Enoch’s blood rested on the surface.
“You better start getting me some answers or you’ll be the one hanging up there next time. Who’s out there? Who’s trying to take us down?”
“I don’t know,” Bronson said, immediately recalling Enoch’s fateful words.
Scott pushed his face into the slurry. It was cold and drew itself up his nose. It’s just water, he told himself as disgust clawed at the back of his mind. Just water. Not cow shit.
He was released, but didn’t dare breath. He blew the slurry from his nose, wiping his face clean before gasping for air. He’d rather suffocate than have that stuff inside him. When his head stopped spinning and the gagging passed, he looked around the room to find Scott was gone. He was on his own.
“Bollocks,” he said.
About the author
Shaun didn’t always live in a damp cottage in Scotland. He once unwittingly lived in a flat beneath a white supremacist. He wasn’t always a writer, either. He worked in a factory, a government institution, as a manager in a purchasing department and later as a gardener.
He has had a gun levelled at him and been threatened by a man with ‘Bad Joe’ tattooed on his neck. He doesn’t knowingly associate with criminals.
Shaun comes from the north east of England where his novels are set. He is represented by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. His short stories combine dark fantasy with contemporary crime. They can be found online, in magazines and in anthologies, including Eclectic Mix Vol 5 and Metamorphose Vol 3.
Woodcutter is his debut novel published by Thistle Publishing. It is based on the criminal underworld of his native home, available as an ebook on Amazon. The paperback will be published 7th June 2018.
These days, he keeps chickens and bees, grows his own fruit and vegetables and wonders where it all went so right.