Friday, 21 December 2012

The Best Christmas Ever

This is a reading from 'Lescar 2', which Blackheath Books were going to publish, and then didn't. Oh well. It's a good story anyway...

 Zack Wilson is the author of 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

It should provide some Christmas cheer...

 Zack Wilson is the author of 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

Friday, 14 December 2012

My Next Big Thing

Thanks to Steven Porter for tagging me for this, which is a promotional device which hopefully gets some writers some decent publicity for free. It works like a chain letter, with me tagging the next three people to take part. It's all about what I am working on currently, fiction-wise...

Zack Wilson is the author of 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

What is the working title of your book?

I haven't decided yet. The first chapter is called 'The Big Meet Up', I can tell you that though. I tend to wait for titles to jump at me from the text, to be honest. When a line seems to work well, that's what I'll build a title around. It will be something over-dramatic, slightly baroque and bloody though. Like the best spaghetti westerns.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It's been brewing for years. I've wanted to write a western ever since I can remember, so the idea has come from years of watching western films and TV shows, and reading about the frontier days of America. My interest in the frontier was the main reason I chose an American Studies degree, actually, 20 years ago. I've had a lifelong obsession with the West and this is a logical step for me to take. I wanted to combine my knowledge of the real West with the European mentality found in spaghetti westerns, where the tone is brutal and often overtly political. There's often a more realistic tone in spaghetti westerns than there is in American westerns, certainly about greed, venality, violence and oppression, and I wanted to get that into the work too. I'm also fascinated by the idea of scum rising to the top in the melting pot, which is why the characters will have a diverse set of national and ethnic backgrounds.

What genre does your book fall into?

Western. Post-modern, spaghetti, anti-western, whatever. It's a western.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

For the Irish former British Army cavalry officer, Stephen Butler, who also fought for the North in the American Civil War, it has to be Pierce Brosnan, although he might well be a bit too old once it's finished. Naylor, the ex-Royal Marine from Hull, would need to be played by someone who can do a proper Hull accent, which should limit the search a bit. I'd like some hungry unknowns in there, and I reckon American actor James Tropeano could probably handle the part of John Slaughter, the half-Cheyenne, half-Boston Yankee knife fighter. It'd be nice to get Robert Carlyle in there somewhere too, perhaps as the old Texas Ranger in the gang. And as for the women in the book, well, it would be nice to get Sherilyn Fenn and Wendy Robie from Twin Peaks in there. If Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson are still alive by then, it would be nice to fit them in somewhere too. Wes Studi would be great as the Kiowa warrior character.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

Bunch of trained misfits fall together and make a reluctant living as hired thugs and gunmen, dealing out extreme violence and learning about what makes America in the process.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The whole idea of agents is a load of bourgeois shit. Just another gate to stop characters like me from getting our foot in the door. I'll be looking for an independent publisher like Epic Rites to take a chance with it. But it's going to take a while to write this, so we'll see what happens. If anyone wants to offer me a huge advance on it, I'm open to offers.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I'm still writing it. It might take years. It all depends on what happens this year really.

What other books would you compare the story to within your genre?

Well, it would be nice if someone compared it to Cormac McCarthy, but I think it'll be a lot funnier than him. To be honest, I don't care much for comparisons, they're often very misleading. One writer I would love it to be compared to is Bernard Cornwell, who wrote the 'Sharpe' series. I do read quite a lot of historical fiction, and this is what this is to me, really, so I'll say Patrick O'Brian too.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The fascination with the American West and spaghetti western movies I referred to above really. But it was also motivated by a desire to do something entirely different to Stumbles and Half Slips. And, indeed, to do something vastly different to my previous work, which was very rooted in the North and Midlands of England, in the last decade. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, I would hope that the fact I'd written it might appeal to a few people. The characters are really what I'm all abut as a writer, and I hope that it would be them that would really grab people's attention. I've got two former African-American slaves who might or might not be gay, a celibate lesbian Irish Catholic brothel keeper, an ex-Royal Marine from Hull who has emigrated, a Cheyenne knife fighter who quotes Keats, an anti-slavery Texas Ranger, plus Kiowa warriors, whores, miners, thugs, gunmen and preachers. I might even put a drover called Doyle in there, as a little sly reference to Stumbles and Half Slips. He won't like the West too much and probably wants to go back home as soon as possible...

 My Next Big Thing nominees are:

John Crosbie is a writer from Scotland. His blog, Chaserjay, is a good way to see what John writes. When he can find the time with all his martial arts, running and dancing...

Zarina Zabrisky is the author of 'Iron', also published by Epic Rites Press. A Russian now living in the United States. A review of 'Iron' will appear at Lone Striker soon. It had probably better be good, as she used to be a kickboxing instructor...

Erin Reardon is an Irish-American poet from Boston. A review of her collection 'Meat' can be read HERE. Like me, she is an expert on television, drinking and Ian McShane.

Zack Wilson is the author of 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Stumbles and Half Slips: VISIBILITY

Here's another reading from my novel, 'Stumbles and Half Slips' (Epic Rites Press, 2012, available from This is where Ray meets some people who jealously protect their coffee and health and safety...

Zack Wilson, the author of 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


This is a little piece of semi-fiction which might well have been true once upon a time...

Zack Wilson's  debut novel 'Stumbles and Half Slips'  is out, from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

When I was nine or ten I lived in a small Warwickshire village called Tiddington, quite close to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, famous as being the birthplace of William Shakespeare and for very little else. The village was a rural place, a mixture of brick-built council housing, most of which had become privately owned, and old cottages. I, recently arrived with a Yorkshire accent and a high reading age, felt like an outsider, though that probably would have happened anywhere.

I was a member of the local Cub Scout 'pack'. We wore dark green caps and jumpers with amber and black neckerchieves. We went to a hut on the sports ground of the local club (still referred to 40 years after World War 2 as 'The Home Guard Club') on Thursday nights and learnt archaic skills like the tying of nautical knots and played archaic games like British Bulldog and Pirates. We also played football.

We had an eleven-a-side team that played on Sunday mornings against other cub packs. We were brilliant. We won the league every year of the three I was a cub. I was only ever really a squad player, coming on as substitute or filling in as a utility player when others were injured, until my last year when age made me a regular starter.

It wasn't the eleven-a-side I really enjoyed though. I much preferred the telescoped drama of the six-a-side tournaments that were held at regular intervals throughout the year. Tiddington would take a big, keen squad and enter 5 or 6 teams in them. I would usually turn out for our 'second' or 'third' team, consisting of older stalwarts and the better youngsters.

I remember one of these tournaments particularly. A typical eager gathering of parents and little players at somewhere spacious, green and wet in the Midlands. I was in the 'second' team as usual and we'd been handed a manageable draw with a good chance of progressing beyond the group stages.

The tournaments were always run like mini-World Cups, with there being a 'group stage' of mini-leagues of 4 teams with the winners and runners-up progressing through to a 'knock-out' stage of one-off games that would eventually result in a final. Our group games on this occasion would pit us against a team from a village called Brailes who were confident about beating-we always stuffed their eleven-a-side team with scores like 11-0 and 12-2 being quite common-as well as our own sixth team (who were, by definition, useless) and a strong team from the town, Clopton or The Willows I think. We were convinced we'd finish at least second and could look forward to the quarter finals.

First up against Brailes we were overconfident. I probably contributed to this. I was one of the older lads and was setting the tone. We were much better than them, but just couldn't break them down. We tried everything we thought would work as fathers bellowed and mothers shrieked from the sidelines of the mini pitches marked out on the adult pitches, portable goals rattling in the green spring breeze.

I remember our bright yellow shirts and royal blue shorts looking vibrant and new when compared with the Brailes strip of washed-out, light blue woven nylon. I can recall their goalkeeper, freckle-faced and snot-nosed, sniffing with effort and pride as he frustrated us with another save. I remember our frustrated cries and groans as another shot missed. I remember a cross flashing along the ground across their goalmouth, the keeper beaten, and my right foot darting too late to make contact and divert it into an empty net. I remember the parents of the Brailes kids yelling with surprised delight and encouragement as the final whistle neared and, most of all, our bafflement at how our sustained efforts had come to nothing and produced a 0-0 draw, such a poor and discouraging start.

We played our own sixth team next and destroyed them somehting like 7-0, which isn't bad when you're only playing ten minutes each way. This made us feel a bit better. I scored at least one-a two foot tap in that came off some ugly angle on the side of my foot and looped in. If I'd been six inches further out it would've missed. There were two brothers playing for them, the Bishtons. The elder was my age, about ten, and his brother was only about 7. The elder kept literally picking his brother up and shoving him out the way during the game, they didn't seem to be concentrating too much on playing, just on arguing with each other, much to the puerile bafflement of their team mates.

So the last match was the decider. We needed a victory to go through as group winners, but a draw would take as through as runners-up. We were playing this serious bunch from the town, and they looked much bigger and stronger than us as they kicked in and warmed up at the other end of the little pitch.

I was taking my turn as sub for this one. We all had to take a turn and tactical considerations weren't taken into account-everyone got a spell on the bench whatever. Not that there was a bench, you just stood in a bunch at the side with your mates and the parents. I'd played every minute so far, so it was fair enough.

I watched the team during the first half. They were stern and emotional. They could feel the seriousness of competition, the burgeoning stirring warrior instinct that you mustn't let your mates down. The faces were pained and became more so when we went a goal down. I exercised and jogged on the sideline. I wanted to be ready when the call came.

It didn't come at half-time, when we gathered in a breathless half-circle and listened to the enthusiastic amateur exhortations of the dad who was doubling as our coach. I had to wait.

Five minutes in and halfway through the second half I was sent on. I jogged on, twinges of pride and something else I didn't yet recognise tingling up my back and neck as serious parental voices encouraged me: "Go on Zack!, "Young Zack's the man for the job!, "Come on lad, keep your chin up!" and all the rest.

I stood in midfield, head jerking around as I tried to emulate the sharp movements of my engaged team-mates. I hated coming on as sub then and still do now. As a cold interloper, you're always an outsider for too long. I glanced and ran, made a few passes, lost a tentative tackle, before a rising sweat told me I was getting into it.

It was hectic, frenetic game, our desperation getting to them and putting them under an unnecessary pressure. We could feel them folding as a sliced clearance bounced off a defender on the edge of our area and away from our goal. The ball, bloated and white against the thick, grey sky, looped towards me. I turned and kept my eye on it, initially over my left shoulder and then side-on as I improved my body position and strengthened my stance as it descended.

I watched it right onto my forehead, knowing instinctively as I moved the muscles of neck and shoulders that my technique was perfect. I let the ball almost hit my forehead and then turned slightly, creating the angle and power necessary for a bullet header that sent the ball downwards and towards their goal. Anticipation syruped the air with slowness. The stitched white panels and faded grey makers' blurbs on the ball span.

It hit the underside of the bar and bounced clear and I couldn't believe it. Those on the sideline gasped. I put my hands on my head. My sublime moment was an instant of glorious failure.

As it bounced back into play, time started again. A yellow shirted figure had come striding downfield: Ben Woodhams, a curly blond schoolfriend of mine. He controlled the ball with one left-footed touch and powered forward, stepping into a smooth, straight right-footed shot that headed  for goal.

Again, the ball struck the underside of the crossbar. This time it bounced down and over the line and into the net. We were level!

The parents cheered and us players rushed towards Ben Woodhams. He was running straight towards me, his face was strange. He was wearing a big smile, a strange smile of something beyond joy, and just before he childishly embraced me I realied he was crying. I could see a tear rolling down his cheek. I'd never seen anyone cry with joy before.

We regrouped quickly. Fathers on the sideline warning us to concentrate. If only we listened to our fathers.

There was not long left. We knew if we could hang onto the draw, we were through.

The opposition launched one last attack. Some scuffles for the ball, a lunge from one of us, then the ball was theirs. I remember a series of crisp passes and powerful runs, me charging back in vain pursuit as they slotted the ball past the despairing, grey-clad arm of our keeper, Ben Natrins, and their satisfied exclamations of 'Yeees!That's it!' as they ran back in celebration.

There were only seconds left. Only enough time for us to kick off before the final whistle blew and our disappointment was confirmed.

I felt a moment of breathless futility as the parents came onto the pitch to dispense sweatshirts and words of pride. It was a feeling that would grow more familiar over the years, watching and playing football, that final whistle feeling when the struggle and the hoping has to cease. My dad patted my head and said, "That was a great header son. I thought you'd got us through with that. I was proud of you then." I tried to tell him that it was Ben Woodhams who'd scored but he said that I made the goal.

Then I had to go across with our coach to hand the result into the scorers. They were sitting at a big table in front of the club house, busily collating scores and final group standings from the whole tournament.

"What was the score then, young man?" one of them asked me.

"2-1 to them."

"To them? And who are you?"

"Tiddington 'B' team."

"Oh right. That's a shame for you, fella."

I nodded. I felt sad and heroic but wasn't sure why. I was trying to kid myself I could still feel where I'd headed the ball so well-I was wishing, trying to stay in that moment for longer than it had granted me.

"It was a good game though," our coach told the scorer.

The scorer smiled. "Yeah, but you don't get three points for 'a good game'," he pointed out.

The coach agreed with a laugh. I knew the scorer's words were correct, but I didn't know then how true they were.

I do now, and I bet Archie Gemmill does too.


 Zack Wilson's  debut novel 'Stumbles and Half Slips'  is out, from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

Sunday, 2 December 2012


 This is a story I'm quite proud of, but it has never received an especially wide audience. It was originally published online, at an arts mag called Smallfish Online (it's not still there, so don't bother looking for it). I thought it might make interesting reading in the light of some other stuff that's been up here recently, including the poem 'Plantations'.


Zack Wilson's  debut novel 'Stumbles and Half Slips'  is out, from Epic Rites Press. Also available from

They see me on the bus and can't help it. "No surrender! No surrender! No surrender! To the IRA!" they chant. Two lads and a girl who looks like she knows better. Students probably, full of cooking lager and disappointment because England could only draw. They've seen the green flicker of my football top through the gap at the top of my jacket and made assumptions. I turn and stare at the taller of the two males. They're sitting in the sideways seats normally reserved for the disabled and I'm standing up at the front because I'm only on for the two stops.

My stare shuts them up for a bit. The girl's hands fumble with the scrunchy holding her blonde hair back, as she half giggles, "Don't, he's getting angry, don't." Her accent is southern and exclusive, as are those of her friends when they remark, "So what. Stupid paddy cunt," and, "fucking terrorist."

I decide it's time to speak. "Have you three got a problem?" I ask.

I think my Sheffield accent throws them. They were probably expecting Kerry or cartoon Belfast. The girl replies, giggling again and avoiding my sharp glare. "No…no," then her friends start chanting "No surrender" again, briefly. I shake my head and leave it. My stop's coming up.

There's a kind of quiet hostility on the bus. The other passengers seem to be trying to work out whom to hate most and can't quite decide, so they fear and mistrust me as much as the students. I can hear my three antagonists muttering and laughing, there's some kind of joke being told. The girl can't help her giggling, she keeps saying, "Shut up, shh!" then snorting and laughing again.

My stop arrives. The bus doors hiss open. I turn to the students and challenge them. "If you three twats want to make something of this then we can get off the buys now and sort it." I thought the lass would be flattered to be included.

"Just banter, mate. Just banter," the tallest of the three says from underneath his NY Yankees baseball cap. There's an expectant hush from the other passengers. I can feel their slight approval now. Taking control is something they can admire.

"T'int funny then," I reply. I stand and wait. The driver, a butch woman with boy's hair and nasal piercings, has left the doors open. I glance across at her. She's placid, waiting, looking ahead with no sign of irritation at all.

The students mumble. I lose patience, shake my head and tut. I raise my eyebrows inquiringly at the driver. She looks back with a sympathetic and world weary expression. I get off the bus, and the doors close.

The adrenalin's going and I'm full of empty, frustrated anger. I've got the game on the telly in the pub to look forward to anyway, and hopefully the boys can give the Danes something to think about and we can do better than England's pitiful draw at home to Macedonia. An away draw'd suit me fine and I feel better in the fresh air as I head to the pub.

It's not a part of town I'm used to, and I realise I've got off a stop too soon. Never mind, the walk'll do me good.

I'm almost cheerful again when I see three people up ahead, walking towards me through the yellow sodium light. As they get nearer I realise it's the students. They've got off at the stop I should've done and they're either lost or they've come to find me.

It takes them longer to recognise me, but they manage to do so at a distance of about thirty yards. They point and laugh. The girl seems to be trying to discourage the two lads from doing something. The lads begin to run towards me, chanting 'No surrender' at a quick rhythm.

Whether this is a joke or not I decide I've had enough. I stand and wait, next to a side road and a billboard. The first one to reach me gets my shoe in his groin, hard. He gasps and falls. That's him out of the game for a while. I see the other's face, washed out pallid in the streetlight, change its expression from sneering triumph to naked fear. My keys are in my left hand, and the long back-door key protrudes from amongst my fingers. I jab it into his solar plexus and he stops and totter back but doesn't fall. I smack my forehead into his nose and feel a satisfying squelch and crunch. He bends over and veers sideways, hands to his face. I kick his head and he falls into a foetal position.

His mate's lying by the billboard, trying to sit upright. I put my left foot in his chest and push him prone. I stamp on his elbow. Then I grind it into the pavement with my heel. He yelps and bleats. I pick up a decayed half-brick lying under the billboard and raise it above my head.

The girl's standing 10 yards away, frozen and crying. I raise the brick higher, yelling, "I'm gonna fucking kill ya!" I look down and he's shut his eyes. I bring my arm down hard.

The old brick breaks apart on the pavement six inches from his head. Lumps and rotten dust scatter and stick to the snot and tears on his pale, podgy face. I remove my heel from his elbow and spit. I breathe through my nose, deeply. All three of them are crying, moistly, childishly.

I lean over him and whisper. My voice is harsh and guttural as I give him some ancient words. " 'Our cry was no surrender/No republic we will join/And this will always be in mind/Derry, Aughrim and the Boyne.' My parents are Prods from Larne, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom," I add, as I turn away.

I leave them. I'm feeling quite good and I've got a taste in my mouth that only lager will shift.

Sometimes violence is the only thing these people understand.

 Zack Wilson's  debut novel 'Stumbles and Half Slips'  is out, from Epic Rites Press. Also available from