I am not a natural short story writer. I don't dash them off when I have a spare five minutes − I tend to need a commission and a deadline in order to get my brain into gear. Even better if the publisher dictates the subject or the theme but, now and then, an idea for a short story just pops up out of nowhere and I simply have to get it down on paper.
Some novelists, I know, began their careers exclusively by writing short stories and eventually decided that they needed more space, more freedom to develop their favourite characters. With me it was the other way round − I wrote my first novel when I was just a teenager and it came naturally to me to develop the story line and the characters at length. That first effort wasn't published but some very encouraging critiques from several generous editors encouraged me to keep on grafting.
My professional writing career took off in 2001 with the publication of the first Charlie Fox book, KILLER INSTINCT. It wasn't until 2003 that I published my first short story. Since then, I find myself increasingly being asked to submit stories. Two—Served Cold and Lost And Found—have been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Short Story Dagger, while another, Tell Me, was longlisted, and turned into a short film.
A Charlie Fox short story collection
FOX FIVE is an anthology (or should that be e-thology?) of stories all featuring ex-Special Forces soldier turned self-defence expert and bodyguard, Charlie Fox. Four stories have been published elsewhere in highly-praised anthologies and prestigious outlets such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Bonus material includes an excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT and a taster of each of the first ten books in the Charlie Fox series.
In A Bridge Too Far, we meet Charlie before she’s become a professional in the world of close protection. When she agrees to hang out with the local Dangerous Sports Club, she has no idea it will soon live up to its name.
Postcards From Another Country has Charlie guarding the ultra-rich Dempsey family against attempted assassination − no matter where the danger lies.
A finalist for the CWA Short Story Dagger, Served Cold puts another tough woman centre stage − the mysterious Layla, with betrayal in her past and murder in her heart.
Off Duty finds Charlie taking time away from close protection after injury. She still finds trouble, even in an out-of-season health spa in the Catskill Mountains.
Truth And Lies is an 11,500-word tale in which Charlie has to single-handedly extract a news team from a rapidly escalating war zone.
TEN YEAR STRETCH: CELEBRATING A DECADE OF CRIME FICTION AT CRIMEFEST
Edited by Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller
No Exit Press, April 2018
Twenty superb new crime stories have been commissioned specially to celebrate the tenth anniversary of CrimeFest, described by The Guardian as ‘one of the fifty best festivals in the world’.
A star-studded international group of authors has come together in crime writing harmony to provide a killer cocktail for noir fans, in the form of Ten Year Stretch: Celebrating a Decade of Crime Fiction at CrimeFest.
I've been an attending author at CrimeFest since its inaugural event in Bristol when it was actually Left Coast Crime. Since then, I've hardly missed a year and I'm a huge fan of the festival. So, I was honoured to be invited to submit a story for Ten Year Stretch, although I confess I still hanker after the title that was originally suggested—Decade Bodies.
Published this month (April) by No Exit Press, the foreword is by international bestselling thriller writer Peter James. The editors are Martin Edwards, responsible for many award-winning anthologies, and Adrian Muller, CrimeFest co-founder.
All royalties are donated to the RNIB Talking Books Library.
The contributors to Ten Year Stretch are: Bill Beverly, Simon Brett, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Jeffery Deaver, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis, Peter Guttridge, Sophie Hannah, John Harvey, Mick Herron, Donna Moore, Caro Ramsay, Ian Rankin, James Sallis, Zoë Sharp, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Maj Sjowall, Michael Stanley and Andrew Taylor.
My own contribution is 'Caught on Camera', a snapshot of what might be our future in post-Brexit Britain where the best of the police force is now in private hands. It follows the start of newly-minted Detective Olivia Milton's first day on the job, the ink still wet on her university police degree. She thinks she has a lot to offer her new boss, the highly experienced Lieutenant Job. She has a lot to learn.
Caught on Camera
Traffic was murder. Olivia sat simmering inside her vehicle, one of a stationary herd on the A40 eastbound. Part of the usual vast migration into London on a Monday morning. All going nowhere.
She clenched her fingers around the rim of the steering wheel, a useless gesture when the car was in self-drive anyway, but it gave her some small illusion of control where none existed.
“Time?” she snapped.
The in-dash unit responded promptly, although to Olivia’s ears its soothing female tones sounded ever so slightly smug. “The time is 08:48 and 26 seconds. The distance remaining to your destination is 4.9 miles. Your current speed is 0.0mph. At your current speed you will be unable to reach your destination by 09:00.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Olivia muttered. “Now tell me something I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand that question. Can you repeat it?”
“No.” And before the computer could query that, she added quickly, “Mute audio.”
CULPRITS: THE HEIST WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING
Edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips
Polis Books, February 2018
This book is an anthology, but not in the usual way. The editors wrote the opening set-up – the heist and the complications that followed. The contributors wrote what happened next, and I’m proud to be part of it (my story: 'The Wife').
Some stories are all about the crime. These stories are about the maelstrom of what happens after…
A hard-bitten crew of professional thieves pull off the score of their lives, coming away with seven million in cash. Like any heist there are some unforeseen complications, and unfortunately they don’t get away without a few bodies dropping. But despite this, they getaway with the swag. Seven million. Enough to change their lives, make new identities, start fresh. But that’s when the real trouble begins…
"A well executed heist, like fine wine, pleasures the palate and can age well. In CULPRITS, liken the aftermath of the criminals from a heist to craft beer and a bumpy ride. Prepare to stay up all night!"
Cara Black, New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc series
Twenty-four hours earlier
Gracella arched away from the blade slicing down toward her back. The bite of it jerked at her wrists, then her arms flopped free. She tossed the remains of a severed zip tie and yanked the gag from her mouth. It came away in a ball of spit that she wiped inelegantly with the back of her hand.
"You okay, ma’am?"
A sheriff’s deputy crouched in front of her. Although her robe was gaping open his eyes were on her face, a fact which was unusual enough for Gracella to register. The badge on his uniform breast pocket read Martinez, and she realised she knew about him. Married, with twin daughters in first grade, she recalled. Off duty, his tastes ran to the boys in the local biker gangs, and slim-hipped bull riders when the circuit was in town.
She pulled the edges of the robe closer, even so. "Yes… gracias, José."
CRIME PLUS MUSIC
Twenty Stories of Music-Themed Noir
Edited by Jim Fusilli
Three Rooms Press, October 2016
Crime Plus Music collects twenty darkly intense, music-related noir stories by world-renowned mystery authors and luminaries from the music world. This anthology exposes the nasty side of the world of popular music, revealing it to be the perfect setting for noir. I contributed a short story: Earworms.
‘Earworm: ɪəwəːm (noun) A song that sticks in your mind and will not leave, no matter how much you try.’ The Urban Dictionary
She wakes from the maelstrom of sleep, from a black hole at the center of darkness. All she hears is the beat of her own blood. All she feels is the urge to flee. For a few seconds she lies absolutely still, letting her senses stabilize, her logic circuits reboot.
Perhaps it is simply the echo of another nightmare.
MURDER UNDER THE OAKS
Edited by Art Taylor
Down And Out Books, July 2015
Winner of the Anthony Award 2016 for Best Anthology or Collection
I was honoured to be invited to contribute a brand new Charlie Fox story - Kill Me Again Slowly - to this anthology, published in conjunction with Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, held in Raleigh, North Carolina - the City of Oaks. As with the convention itself, the anthology spreads a broad canopy across a wide range of crime writers from across the country and around the world, including both veteran writers and the brightest up-and-coming talents in the field.
Celebrating Bouchercon's first-ever meeting in the American South, several of the stories in Murder Under The Oaks also draw on the region's history and culture, including the birth of a secret society at the University of Virginia, a mystery from Edgar Alan Poe's childhood days, and a series of less-than-welcome visits by everyone's favourite hometown sheriff.
Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 1
Collected and edited by Matt Hilton
Sempre Vigile Press, May 2012
The Night Butterflies
Retired ‘insurance’ man Tommy Renshaw runs a quiet little bar in Bali, enjoying a dream retirement with girlfriend, Pia. Until an unwelcome visitor arrives to remind him you can never outrun the past—only hope to outlive it . . .
"Last name I woulda picked out for you is somethin’ lame as Tommy Renshaw," Manfrotti said, lifting the drink with the fruit and the parasol wedged amid the rapidly melting ice. He was a big man not coping well with the high humidity that came before the monsoons. "What made you go for that, for cryin’ out loud?"
The man who had become Tommy Renshaw shrugged and gave a fractional smile. "Possibly because it’s the last name you would have chosen," he said.
MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA PRESENTS VENGEANCE
Mulholland Books, April 2012
Edited by Lee Child, who says in his introduction, "If I were a woman, I'd be Zoë Sharp. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he'd be Charlie Fox."
Follow this link for Lee Child's introduction to the anthology, together with my account of how I conceived my contribution, Lost And Found.
Lost And Found
He waits. No hardship there − he’s waited half his life. But now, tonight, finally you provide him with that perfect moment.
The one he’s been waiting for.
In the alley, in the dark, just the distant glitter of neon off wet concrete. And he’s so scared he can hardly grip the knife. But anger drives him. Anger closes his shaking fingers around it, flesh on bone.
He tries not to know what the blade will do.
The CWA Anthology
Edited by Martin Edwards
Severn House Publishers Ltd, November 2010
Rules Of Engagement
A long time ago, when Angel was just starting out in the business, an old pro she met lurking in a doorway opposite the Russian embassy in Paris laid down the Rules of Engagement. “Get in. Take the shot. Get out,” he’d said, with the careful solemnity of a man not quite sober at ten o’clock in the morning.
To this advice Angel had since added a bitter rider of her own.
Always get the money.
The fees for Angel’s particular line of work were elastic, only sometimes connected to the difficulty of the shot. In this case, the money was nowhere near enough to justify attempting to evade capture across two hundred acres of jealously guarded parkland in Buckinghamshire. Not for an off-chance glimpse of her targets at the limit of her operational range.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME 8
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Constable & Robinson, April 2011
This story also published in Criminal Tendencies - Great Crime Stories from Great Crime Writers (Creme de la Crime, April 2009), and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July 2010).
Off Duty (from Fox Five, a Charlie Fox short story collection)
The guy who'd just tried to kill me didn't look like much. From the fleeting glimpse I'd caught of him behind the wheel of his brand new soft-top Cadillac, he was short, with less hair than he'd like on his head and more than anyone could possibly want on his chest and forearms.
That was as much as I could tell before I was throwing myself sideways. The front wheel of the Buell skittered on the loose gravel shoulder of the road, sending a vicious shimmy up through the headstock into my arms. I nearly dropped the damn bike there and then, and that was what pissed me off the most.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME 2009
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Constable & Robinson, March 2009
This story was a finalist for the CWA Short Story Dagger, 2009.
Served Cold (from Fox Five, a Charlie Fox short story collection)
Layla's curse, as she saw it, was that she had an utterly fabulous body attached to an instantly forgettable face. It wasn't that she was ugly. Ugliness in itself stuck in the mind. It was simply that, from the neck upwards, she was plain. A bland plainness that encouraged male and female eyes alike to slide on past without pausing. Most failed to recall her easily at a second meeting.
From the neck down, though, that was a different story, and had been right from when she'd begun to blossom in eighth grade. Things had started burgeoning over the winter, when nobody noticed the unexpected explosion of curves. But when summer came, with its bathing suits and skinny tops and tight skirts, Layla suddenly became the most whispered-about girl in her class.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES 2008
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Constable & Robinson, March 2008
“So, where is she?”
CSI Grace McColl ducked under the taped cordon at the edge of the crime scene and showed her ID to the uniformed constable stationed there. The policeman jerked his head in the direction of the band shelter as she signed the log.
“You'll have your work cut out with this one, though,” he said.
Grace frowned and moved on. She was already dressed from head to foot in her disposable white suit and she made sure she followed the designated pathway, picking her way carefully to avoid undue contamination.
GREEN FOR DANGER: The CWA Anthology 2003
Edited by Martin Edwards
Do-Not Press, October 2003
This story was also published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July 2007.
A Bridge Too Far (from Fox Five, a Charlie Fox short story collection)
I watched with a kind of horrified fascination as the boy climbed onto the narrow parapet. Below his feet the elongated brick arches of the old viaduct stretched, so I'd been told, exactly one hundred and twenty-three feet to the ground. He balanced on the crumbling brickwork at the edge, casual and unconcerned.
My God, I thought, He's going to do it. He's actually going to jump
“Don't prat around, Adam,” one of the others said. I was still sorting out their names. Paul, that was it. He was a medical student, tall and bony with a long almost roman nose. “If you're going to do it, do it, or let someone else have their turn.”