Friday, December 3, 2010

Top Five of 2010: Nigel Bird

Nigel Bird is a hell of a short story writer and runs the very fine blog Sea Minor, which has been host to the Dancing with Myself interview series.

And when Nigel recommends a story, you better believe it’s good. (Or you could not believe it, but you’d be wrong.)

My Famous Five by Nigel Bird

I’ve been writing down short reviews of all the novels I’ve read this year and now that I’ve been asked for my favourite 5 short stories I wish I’d done the same with them. You’d think I’d have thought of that when I stumbled into this excellent blog here, but no.

There have been so many brilliant pieces that when I came to try and isolate 5 I really struggled.

In the end, I decided to go with 5 that stayed with me for one reason or another, the 5 which were also the first five to come to mind.


I came across the story ‘Dark Genesis’ when I entered a competition over at Needle Magazine.  On offer was a Tee Shirt and the possibility of a space in its already legendary pages.  In the end

I didn’t win the shirt in the draw or get my story placed, though I was to join them in their second issue with another of mine. 

In some ways, however, I came away with more than I bargained for.

There were a host of richly drawn pieces, but for me none was tighter, more poetic or more original than this piece by AJ. 

Its seductive and mythological, telling the tale of the creation of the universe.  It hadn’t crossed my mind that anyone would dream of expanding the theme that far.  It spoke to me of real talent and made my entry more worthwhile than I can begin to explain.


My Asshole Brother by Eric Beetner was the winner in another competition I failed to win, Jason Duke’s Red Hot Writing Contest. Now Jason came very close to be included in my list here as a very fine writer in his own right – I’d like to thank him for his stories and for running this contest and offering a cash prize.

Soon as I read Eric’s story I understood why I didn’t finish on the podium.  It’s a marvellous effort. 

Our man get’s hauled in because his asshole brother is shy by $50 from a $17,000 payment and the Professor sends round the boys to send a message.

There are strange sounds from the basement and a wood-chipping machine sees plenty of action.

And just as I thought the story was over, it just got a whole hell of a lot worse.

If there was any doubt how good the story was, it also held one of my favourite lines of the year –
‘The Russian word is better: испуганный. Maybe it loses something in translation.’

RAISING THE DEAD by Patti Abbott

I’ve read a number of Patti’s stories this year and have been impressed by their originality (like she lives in that left field) and the worlds that she creates.

In Raising the Dead she has an ambitious young photographer as her central character. 

Her work is initially declined by a gallery owner, but then she stumbles onto an idea courtesy of her undertaker boyfriend (with whom she sleeps under a mirror above the bed).

She’s rather good at taking photos of corpses it turns out, but somewhere along the line she becomes a little over-ambitious.

I should also mention those little drips of dark humour.

“I’m getting bored with it,” she lied. “There’s only so much you can do with the deceased.”

“Tell that to a necrophiliac.”

WINE WITHOUT MUSIC - Paul S. and John H. Powers

This one was probably my favourite.  I know it seems a shame to call on a couple of old-timers rather than fresh blood, but that’s the way it is.

Christopher Grant referred to it as ‘Noir Gold’ and that’s exactly what it is.
Bill’s a screw up.  He drinks too much wine and he’s only just recovered from pneumonia. 

Before leaving hospital he’s interviewed with a young doc.  He hints at some of his darker secrets and collects $5 for talking and to keep him away from Howard Street – yep, Bill’s determined to stay off the booze and from children’s play-parks.

Things outside start well.  Bill’s holds down a job in Sacramento for a couple of weeks until he gets the taste for the booze again and from then on he’s on the skids.

What follows is one of the darkest, well constructed passages of my year.  It’s a real kick in the balls, but it’s well worth taking. 



This came my way from Brian Lindenmuth from Spinetingler.  If writing were a team game,
Brian would be one of the most valuable players I reckon.

Anyway,  I was sent this piece to review and love it.  The whole of my review is over at
Spinetingler and that saves me time here, but it’s an enormously powerful piece which to my mind was an education.  The review’s at:
and if you’re not going to make it over, here’s a snippet:

‘It’s pared down to a minimum, like a car about to race or a boxer facing the scales before a bout. The images are sharp, the prose clean and the scenes and players are described fully with minimal effort and word-count.

At the same time the voice of the story, Quinn’s own, has a lyrical quality. He has a lovely devil-may-care attitude to life, knows his flaws and is prepared to enjoy them. Even as he finds himself in ever-increasing difficulty, I could imagine a sparkle in his eyes the whole way through, possibly the hint of a smile on his mouth. It’s as if he’s casually retelling things to a group of men with nothing better to do than listen as they lean against the bar nursing their pints and whiskey.

This piece has everything I need from a short-story and more. It’s the kind of writing I can only aspire to just now.’

KNOCKEMSTIFF by Donald Ray Pollock

I can’t leave without a special mention for Knockemstiff.

It’s a collection of short work that’s almost a novel.

Donald Ray’s writing is nigh on perfect. 

I wouldn’t single out a single piece, but I’d recommend the whole thing.

Here’s a taster of a review I put together when I’d just finished it.

‘Don’t expect an easy ride if you feel like going along. You’ll meet violent men, glue-sniffers, speed-freaks, mescaline lovers, iron-pumpers, angel-dusters, murderers, draft-dodgers, those on the pull, trailer-trash, the homeless, the good, the fat and the ugly. They play with themselves and each other right in front of you, exposing themselves in a way that characters so rarely do on the page.

You can smell them and their fish sticks, the shit and the piss and the blood. You get to see the flakes of dead skin and the dandruff and taste the bologna on bread. You practically feel oppressed by the Ohio sky. It stinks and it hurts and it’s tough. It’s the way life is.

“I closed my eyes and sank deeper and deeper into that lonely world known only to those who sleep in abandoned vehicles.” ’

And Chris, thanks for pointing the way to so many via your site; you provide us with an invaluable resource as both writers and readers of the short, noir fiction art.

Nigel Bird has given up just about everything since hitting 40, everything except his job, his family and his writing. You'll be able to see his work next week as he bravely attempts to follow the most honourable Eric Beetner in Patti Abbott's La Ronde series. He'll also have work out in a holiday-themed anthology at Untreed Reads, at the Dark Valentine Christmas special, as number 667 at A Twist Of Noir and in MiCrow Magazine.

His Dancing With Myself series at is scorching the earth. In 2011 he'll have a story in
The Best British Crime Stories anthology by Maxim Jakubowski and he's also hoping to finally nail that novel of his. He's very grateful to all those who've helped and supported him along the way (thanks).


  1. This feature realy kicks ass Chris. Going to read them all this weekend. Pumped it in todays post on my blogs.

  2. What a list! Decorated with Pollock. Of course I like Cullan, I'm mostly Irish and we stick up for our homies. Eric and Patty A. knock down the walls. Thanks Nigel and thanks Chris.

  3. Thanks for including me in this list Nigel. There were some great stories out there this year. I wish I'd written more shorts. This kind of attention inspires me to keep on typing away. Cheers!

  4. Some great stories there. Knockemstiff is a big TBR for me.

  5. I'm glad to see you included the Paul and John Powers story. That was a special moment at ATON.

  6. it's funny making your favourites public - challenging, yet like putting your neck on the block. thanks for leaving my head on my shoulders and thanks for the chance to take part, Chris. great idea.

  7. Thanks for the excellent entry, Nigel. Couple of those I missed and will have to check out.

  8. Great pics Nigel, will have to rediscover these!