Tuesday, 30 December 2014

And the Ass saw the Angel

   "...because once you've got one scar on your face or your heart, its only a matter of time before someone gives you another - and another - until a day doesn't go by when you aren't being bashed senseless, nor a town that you haven't been run out of, and you get to be such a goddamn mess that finally it doesn't feel right unless you're getting the Christ beaten out of you - and within a year of that first damning fall, those first down borne fists, your first run out, you wind up with flies buzzing around your eyes, back at the same place, the same town, deader than when you left, bobbing around in the swill - a dirty deadbeat whore in a roadside ditch.

   "But a little part of you doesn't die. A little part of you lives on. And you make an orphan of that corrupt and contemptible part, dumping it right smack in the laps of the ones who first robbed you of your sweetness, for it is the wicked fruit of their crimes, it is their blood, their sin, it belongs there, this child of blood, this spawn of sin..."

                                             Nick Cave

'The Mistake'

My new novella, 'The Mistake' will be published by Number Thirteen Press on the 13th of January.
Many thanks go out to Chris Black for his tireless efforts in helping me prepare the book.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A House is not a Home

I was in Reykjavik four years ago for Christmas on what was my second visit here. I had seen that there was a service in English at Hallgrimskirkja in the city centre on Christmas Day and decided to go. Those plans fell through as plans often will. I wound up going out to lunch instead and never made the service which I regretted. So I promised myself I would make amends this year and today I did just that.

I haven't been to a church service in ten years. It's not a fact I'm overly proud of but living in Northern Ireland did a pretty good job of putting me off organised religion. I found it had less to do with peace and unity than it had to do with one-up-man-ship and division. For far too many people there it is nothing more than a banner to hold over your neighbours to remind them that even though you don't know each other they aren't good enough for you and never will be.

In a country where children are segregated at primary school I saw very little to convince me that religion could do anything to help the scars left behind by six hundred years of sectarian squabbling. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the strides forward that Northern Ireland has taken in recent times but if you keep picking at old wounds some of them will never heal.

Today was a different story altogether though. The Reverend Bjarni Þor Bjarnason led the Holy Communion accompanied by organist Friðrik Vignir Stefansson and leading singer Arni Gunnarson. The awe-inspiring interior of Hallgrimskirkja is home to a seriously impressive 5,275-pipe organ. The combination of the grand visual style of the church and the heavenly sounds of the organ leave you in little doubt that you are in a very special house of the Lord. It left me feeling humbled in the best possible way. It's Christmas, you're a long way from home and you feel tiny under the enormous weight of concrete that hangs majestically above you in there.

Bjarni Þor spoke eloquently and succinctly about the distinctions between having a house that one can fill with furniture and other worldly possessions and the concept of creating a home. A home can only be achieved by filling the house with the right kind of atmosphere brought about by meaningful and caring relationships. His message was simple but all the really important lessons in life are.

One of the most fundamental of all human traits seems to be that we require the basic elements of our relationships with each other pointed out to us over and over again in order to get them right. Or more correctly, to not get them wrong so consistently. Our self-centred ways make us immune to each others needs when it is these very relationships that will define our time on this planet. It is who we surround ourselves with and how we treat them that matters the most.

The things around us make no difference to who we are as people nor are they capable of making our lives any better in the same way that not having something you want is incapable of making it any worse. Except perhaps in our own heads.

I left feeling refilled and with a redefined set of expectations for those around me, and probably more importantly, myself.

Today went a long way towards rebuilding my faith in the role that religion can play in modern society as well as in my own life.

Thank you Iceland.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Review of 'The Harrowing' by Alexandra Sokoloff

‘The Harrowing’ by Alexandra Sokoloff

Reviewed by Grant Nicol

It’s Thanksgiving and all the residents of Baird College are going home for the holidays. All of them that is except for the disenfranchised and discarded boys and girls of the Mendenhall dorm. The five members of Sokoloff’s very own ‘Breakfast Club’ stick around in the dark, lonely rooms and empty corridors of the old building rather than heading home to households they no longer want to be a part of. It appears that for each of them a lonely four-day weekend in the deserted building is preferable to having to endure the torments of spending time with their respective families.

Martin, the overly-serious, studious and withdrawn Jewish law student is undoubtedly the brain of the outfit hiding himself away in the library hunched over law books in his self-imposed scholastic solitude. He would prefer no company at all to frivolous company and is more than happy to point this out to the others if not with words then with his body language and unmistakable withdrawal.

Patrick, the jock of the ‘club’ is a stereotype and an enigma all at the same time. His princess girlfriend Waverly is one of the ones heading home for the break and he is happy to see the back of her. Yet for whatever reason he would rather stay and drink on his own instead of seeking out like-minded company elsewhere.

If there is a basket case in the group then it is definitely Robin Stone who starts the story off with an aborted suicide attempt with her roommate’s (Patrick’s girlfriend, Waverly) spare medication in the dark as soon as she thinks she’s alone. When she discovers that she’s not the only one hiding out in the building for the Thanksgiving break she hides the pills and attempts to cover up what she was about to do but still harbours a dark desire to die.

Then we have our two other outcasts to make up the five members of Sokoloff’s ‘club’. Cain, we’ll call him ‘the musician’, is a brooding, intellectually superior artist with a cynical heart and a mind to match. Lisa, we’re going to have to call her ‘the promiscuous one’ because I don’t think I should call her a slut. She is damaged and loathes many things in her life but probably herself most of all.

Five disparate individuals and highly unlikely allies thrust together by fate and boredom and loathing who ostensibly have nothing in common until they decide to sit around in the dark together after a power cut and share a few beers and joints. As you do. I certainly did a lot of that in the dark when I was their age. Despite their uneasy alliance they find themselves initiating a séance with the help of an unearthed Ouija board and a distinct lack of anything better to do.

Scepticism is slowly replaced by an uneasy feeling that they have really stumbled upon something and their lives soon begin to run in an agonizing parallel with the original users of the board. From here on in there is a comparison to be drawn with William Peter Blatty’s great novel of 1971 but to say anything more would be inappropriate and might get me in trouble in this life as well as the next.

The main problems that the characters face throughout the remainder of the story is finding a way to cooperate with each other. They are all just so different but that is the fun of what is basically a locked-room mystery with supernatural overtones. Only the room isn’t as singular or as locked as you might think. Sokoloff does a great job of building tension between the characters as they attempt to navigate their way through a hazardous minefield of conflicts and arguments with each other, the tension between Lisa and her polar opposite Patrick being particularly delightful to watch unfold.

I actually read this over Thanksgiving in the middle of a really nasty storm in Reykjavík and for much of it I was actually there with them. Locked away in my 4th floor attic bedroom the banging windows, the flickering candlelight, the howling wind and pounding rain took me into the heart of their nightmare. Once alone in their brave new world their struggle to get on with each other is soon superseded by a struggle just to survive. Haunting, engrossing and thoroughly spooky this is exactly what a horror story should be like.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Words from the Dalai Lama

"After all, death is part of life; there is nothing strange about it; sooner or later we all have to pass through that gate. At that time, whether or not there is a life after, it is very valuable to have peace of mind. How can we achieve peace of mind at such a moment? It is possible only if we have some experience in ourselves that will provide inner strength, because no-one else can provide this for us - no deities, no gurus, and no friends."

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

A Review of ‘The Healer’ by Antti Tuomainen

By Grant Nicol

Question: ‘Which was worse – complete certainty that the worst had happened, or this fear, building up moment by moment? Sudden collapse, or slow, crumbling disintegration?’

Answer: You’ll need to read this book to find out for sure.


We are in Helsinki. It is three days before Christmas and the whole world has gone to hell. At some point in the not so distant future mankind has finally achieved what it has been striving to do for so long now. Through its greed and seemingly endless reserves of stupidity it has made vast parts of the planet uninhabitable and it is working hard to render the rest unusable as well. Pandemics are sweeping the planet and medical resources are stretched to breaking point everywhere.

Many of the inhabitants of Finland have become refugees in their own country due to the deteriorating condition of much of the infrastructure and housing. The police are so ineffectual that those who can afford them have hired private security firms to protect their property. The people who have the money to leave Helsinki are moving to the north of the country. It is the last safe place to live, for now anyway.

Tapani Lehtinen has an even bigger problem though, he can’t find his wife. Johanna is a reporter at a local newspaper and is working on a piece about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. An idealist who kills businessmen and their entire families to help heal the planet. One massacre at a time. As the hours since her last phone call to Tapani tick by he gradually becomes more and more concerned for her well-being. He knows that something has happened to her and that if she is to be found he will have to do it himself.

The local police have so much to do and so few detectives left to do it that Chief Inspector Harri Jaatinen is unable to help even though he knows Johanna personally. He is simply being overwhelmed by a system that no longer even pretends to work. Unable to contemplate life without her, Tapani sets out on his own to solve the mystery of her sudden disappearance.

He enlists the services of a North African taxi driver called Hamid. Together they form a bizarre yet oddly effective team as Tapani lurches from one disaster to the next on his quest to find his beloved wife. The lengths he is willing to go to in order to achieve this end grow in stature as the obstacles placed in his path do the same.

‘On the other hand, I had heard that there’s something in all of us that’s ready to do almost anything.’


This is a surprising book in many ways. It is the first thing I have read in the now hugely popular genre of Nordic Noir that has tried to paint outside the lines and try something a little different. And that is why it is so good. It’s not even really crime fiction. The story is not driven by the need to solve a crime. It is a love story. It is the story of a man in a world that is falling apart whose own life in the process of doing the very same thing. It is tender, it is thought provoking and it is alive.

Tapani’s first person narration is infectious and captured me from the very first chapter. You want him to succeed because you like him and more importantly, you understand him.


 ‘I thought about how it’s not the things that are new to us that surprise us, it’s the things we think we know, and find out we don’t.’

Chapter 14 of Part 2 in particular was one of the most touching pieces of literature I’ve come across in some time. It is predominantly Tapani’s reflections on his relationship with Johanna that makes this story so wonderful.

 “What if one of us dies?”

“The other one will still be alive”

“No, really.”

“Life goes on,’ I say.

“You always say life goes on.”

“Because it always does.”

“Except when it doesn’t.”

“I don’t know,’ I say. “Everything in its time, I guess.”

“If something happens to me,” she says, “I hope it doesn’t get you stuck. I hope that your life will go on.”

“Likewise,” I say.

The dust motes have less sunlight shining on their dance.

“But then,” she says, “if something happens to me and your life goes on in the wrong direction, I’ll definitely come and say something about it.”

“I knew there was a catch.”

“Naturally,” Johanna says. “There’s always a catch.”

I rub her feet and watch her close her eyes. The soft, safe darkness surrounds us and Johanna’s lips curl into a little smile. She’s about to fall asleep, or about to laugh.


This is not just one of the best examples of Nordic fiction I’ve ever read, it is simply one of the best books I’ve read in years. Compared to so many others in the same genre it is strikingly original and succeeds simply because it dares. Antti has invented a strange and yet thoroughly believable world because it is only a few steps away from the one we presently inhabit. As in Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic masterpiece ‘The Road’ you buy into it because it’s just too damn likely to happen to us at some point or other. Mankind is blissfully ignorant of the precipice along which it teeters because it doesn’t want to know. And that is our great shame, because one day, like Tapani we will turn around and find that that which we loved the most is gone.



Poles Apart

The world is smaller than you think

By Grant Nicol

There’s a gentle yet remarkably cool breeze blowing across the faces of the locals as they soak in pools of warm water alongside tourists from every corner of the world. They listen intently to the foreigners’ tales of adventure from around their beautiful country with a quiet and unassuming pride. They know it’s a great place but it’s always good to hear it from others especially when their memories are still so fresh in their minds.

Tall tales and true ones too

One of the visitors has been fly-fishing, standing waist deep in freezing cold water in one of the many rivers that hide the prestigious prey he has spent the last four years chasing all over the world. He’s never short of a tall tale to tell about a huge trophy fish he caught ‘back in the day’ or an even larger but ever-elusive ‘one that got away’. After a while no one’s listening to the story of the rainbow trout the size of a cocker spaniel he had on the end of his line once but they’re all pretty sure he’s had a good time telling his outrageous lies.

One couple has been living their outdoor adventure dream. Walking across an ancient glacier, staring into the caldera of a fearsome volcano, walking along volcanic black sand beaches and watching geysers erupt. On top of that they’ve seen awe-inspiring waterfalls and majestic whales. They never imagined they would be able to do so many spectacular things in the one country, “all under the same roof” is the way they like to describe it. They’ll be recommending the place to their friends when they get home there’s no doubt about that.

 Business before pleasure

Another one of the visitors, a more pragmatic businessman has visited a huge hydroelectric power plant with the largest freshwater dam in the country as well as the unsightly smelter that its electricity feeds to help it turn bauxite into aluminium. It doesn’t sound like much of a holiday to some of the other tourists but he insists he’s had a great time, mainly because it’s all been on the company’s expense account. There are a few muted concerns that the sort of business he’s in doesn’t always take into consideration the natural landscapes that it affects but these complaints soon dissolve away into the warm, mineral rich water.

A younger quietly spoken couple have been visiting the shooting locations of one of their favourite fantasy sagas. They’ve always wanted to see the locales where the scenes of adventure, romance and high drama that fill their weekends were really played out. Now they can go home and brag to their jealous friends until everyone’s sick to death of listening to them. Then they’ll play the DVDs and point out to anyone who’s still listening what they were doing the day the two of them were actually there.

Confused yet?

I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you were. I’m talking about Iceland, right? Or am I talking about New Zealand? Well, as a matter of fact I’m talking about them both. Whether it be the hot springs at Reykjadalur or the ones at Hamner Springs, the trout-fishing heaven of the Minnivallalækur River or the Tongariro River. I could be talking about the mighty Vatnajökull or the Tasman Glacier, the infamous Eyjafjallajökull or Mt. Tarawera, the black sands at Reynisfara or Muriwai Beach. It could just as easily be the world famous Geysir or the Pohutu Geyser in Rotorua I’m referring to or the staggering Gullfoss or Huka Falls. The whales off the coast near Húsavík or possibly Kaikoura on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Plant or the one at Lake Manapouri.  

There are shooting location sites from The Game Of Thrones in Iceland as well as the ones from The Lord Of The Rings in New Zealand. There are so many similarities between the two countries that if you weren’t careful you could get them confused and I didn’t even mention the sheep, or the thirteen ‘Icelandic Christmas hobbits’. Of course you’d have to completely forget which side of the planet you were on momentarily and not listen to anyone speak for say, a month or so, but in theory it’s possible. Unless you started counting trees, but where I come from we only count sheep.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Don't Die Wondering

Recently at the Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik I was approached by a young lady who had a question for me. Luckily it had nothing to do with books. She had been thinking about moving to Denmark and wanted my advice. Yeah, I was a little surprised too.

She had overheard me telling someone about my relocation to Iceland and was curious. What she wanted to know was whether she should make her move or not. Some of her friends had been telling her that it was a big risk and now she was having second thoughts.

One thing I've learned in life is that with the exception of a very, very small number of people (normally only one or two at any given time) you should never listen to what others think you should do with your life and that's what I told her.

I said she would never regret any of the things she did with her life, only the things she didn't do. Recent events in my life have proved to me beyond the shadow of any doubt that I was right. Never die wondering. No matter the perceived risk or potential cost of failure find out one way or another. It will make you a better person.

Listen carefully to your instincts.

They are never wrong. If you fuck up, chances are you will learn something, perhaps even something that will change your life forever. If you don't fuck up you will change your life too and either way it will be for the better.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Sins of the Fathers

The beginning was the end

This is my favourite review of my book yet. Hannelore has obviously enjoyed reading it which was great but just as importantly she really 'got' the ending. One of the main things I wanted to explore while writing and researching this book was why people do the terrible things they do. Not just in my story but in life in general. The crimes in 'On A Small Island' are admittedly gruesome and required serious justification if they were not to be exploitative.

The inspiration

One of the main reasons I wound up setting the book in Iceland was that I found I could write a sympathetic 'bad guy' more easily here. There's a humanity about the people in Iceland that is extremely difficult to find elsewhere. Like all the best things in this country, it's not something you can hold in your hands or buy in a shop, it's all behind your eyes and between your ears.
A documentary, Syndir feðranna (The Sins of the Fathers) proved to be a major turning point in the creation of the book. The international release title was, 'The Edge of the World'.


Click on the 'View Trailer' link to get a feel for the documentary.

I've seen many documentaries about child abuse but this one touched me the deepest. The dignity with which it was handled was amazing. It skilfully avoided melodrama and yet was still enormously upsetting. The story of these young lives destroyed by the ignorance of the Icelandic authorities and the cruelty of those handed the job of 'retraining' them for society was one that will stay with me forever. Most of the 'crimes' committed by the young boys that led to them being sent to Breiðavík were extremely minor and the damage done to them permanent.

The Review

Dec 01, 2014 Hannelore Cheney rated it 5 of 5 stars            
Once I started reading Grant Nicol's On a Small Island, I could not stop. A well-written, claustrophobic (in a good way), and very tense read with a terrible crime. However, I ended up feeling sadness for the 'bad' guys and the ending was quite poignant, with redemption and hope. A thrilling read...highly recommended. 
Amazon US:       http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I8LM48Y
Amazon AU:      https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00I8LM48Y