A book review of “I’ll Pray When I’m Dying” by Stephen J. Golds (review by Matthew da Silva)

from Red Dog Press

reviewed by Matthew da Silva

The book’s hardboiled style lets you more vividly imagine the past in which the narrative is placed while simultaneously allowing the author to obscure the sometimes stark divide in Ben Hughes’s characterisation where his illness slips into view. It seems that sometimes Hughes is lucid and controlled – as when he’s working Frankie over – and at other times he’s consumed by panic and fear – as when he meets Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK) in the office of Chief Sullivan. But the hardboiled nature of the pose – all glaring edges and sharp angles – allow for this sort of contrast to be less obvious, or at least it matches it for drama.

And drama is what we all crave, whether it’s in a crime novel (as in the case of the book being reviewed currently) or a midday soap opera. Personally, I’m a big fan of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ which I watch most afternoons at 4.30pm just before the evening news. Hardboiled an innovation of a time of change and progress, when the shuddering perverse realities created by unjust laws of an older, less progressive age came up against the morphing present with a smack like the sound of a fist on a streetwalker’s pretty face.

Dealing however with modern issues like racism and dementia, PTSD and corruption of office Golds mixes the past with the present in a curious but compulsively readable melange. As you progress you’re always checking yourself to try to understand the feelings that emerge, and you wonder if it’s cognitive dissonance that formulates the drama’s rich appeal. So, for example, when Ben talks with Li Yu in her room in China Town you feel sympathy for her and an equal quantity of concern for crooked Ben and you wonder if the pleasure you sense inside you as you contemplate the possibility of more violence means that you are a man like him even though you don’t suffer from PTSD and even though you could never shoot a man out of anger because you disliked the way he sniffled as you sat at a bar. In fact the idea of holding a gun fills you with horror. Yet you understand and, in that moment of clarity, are transported, as when you watch a disaster unfolding in the evening TV news.

Addressing modern concerns in the context of the past — a time 70 or 100 years distant in time — lets you feel pity, which, it seems, is the brother of contempt, and by examining your own conscience you’re able to feel an echo of pity also for yourself because, like the people depicted in the novel, you are human. The story has this redeeming quality, letting you feel sorry for yourself while feeling sorry for obviously flawed characters as they appear in the story. It’s cathartic. Though reading doesn’t make you drunk you can feel clean and new again for a while in the same way that the second glass of wine might give you a temporary high whereas the fifth will just sit heavy in your gut, though Ben Hughes, who carries a whisky flask around with him for comfort, might continue to feel a benefit past that point, the dullness anyone would feel from drinking a bottle of chardonnay precisely the thing he seeks when he tilts his head back to take a draught. That is if he ever tried drinking wine. I gave up alcohol two years ago and I haven’t read a novel like this for longer than that. Placing the story in Boston is also evocative as the links between England and Massachusetts are ingrained in popular culture as deeply as are the tropes of Dashiell Hammett. When I was young I read John Fante, whose tales of life in Los Angeles illuminated the darkness I experienced at that time in my long and eventful life, and Ben Hughes has a dream of relocating his life – such as it is – to that city, the allure of California and the West Coast entering Golds’ story also in Kennedy’s proposal to use Hughes for a social and business event in Salt Lake City so that the whole of the North American continent is alive in Gold’s breathless imagination. And we know what happened to Kennedy’s son.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Stephen J. Golds

photo from Punknoir Magazine

with Stephen J. Golds

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Stephen: I had always been writing to some extent while I was younger, but recently started writing again seriously November 2019 to help me deal with mental problems I was having at the time. My first influences were Charles Bukowski, Knut Hamsun, John Fante, Sarah Kane. From a young age, I liked reading about people on the fringes of society, outsiders, outcasts. Still do.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Stephen: My major influences have pretty much remained the same. However nowadays I tend to look to my peers on the indie scene. Seeing the stellar work, they are putting out there really lights a fire under my ass to try and be better. Write better. Edit my work and strive for higher grounds.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Stephen: I grew up in the North of London but moved to Asia when I hit adulthood. I travelled around a bit and then landed in Japan. London is an amazing city and will always have a place in my heart but my heart loves Okinawa now and I find a lot of inspiration in the ocean, the light, and the different landscapes they have out here. The cocktail of beaches, hills, jungles, harbours, and inner-city areas. Love the people and the culture.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Stephen: I would say it is Always the Dead – a noir novel about the 1949 disappearance of a young starlet named Jean Spangler. Its probably the one book that I feel defines my prose writing the most.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Stephen: At sixteen realizing that I couldn’t sing or play a guitar so had to give up the idea of being the next Kurt Cobain.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Stephen: Boxing, skateboarding, surfing, reading, and hanging out with my two beautiful daughters.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Stephen: I have a 100-page collection of previously uncollected poetry coming out with Alien Buddha Press on the 3rd of July titled Cut-throat and Tongue-tied – Bullet Riddled and Gun Shy. And I have a new noir novel about corruption, a missing child and OCD – just out with Red Dog Press titled I’ll Pray When I’m Dying.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?

Stephen: Favorite line is probably from Always the Dead, when discussing life, “It’s all just a circle of bullshit and blood.”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Stephen: It’s a long list of great people I met on twitter. People like Rob Parker, S. E. Moorhead, Alec Cizak, B. F. Jones and Gabriel Hart to name just a few.

Links:

2 poems by Stephen J. Golds “Boat Trip in VietNam” “Bus Stop Man”

https://www.amazon.com/Books-Stephen-J-Golds/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AStephen+J.+Golds

https://www.bristolnoir.co.uk/interview-stephen-j-golds/

https://www.bristolnoir.co.uk/review-always-the-dead-by-stephen-j-golds/

https://punknoirmagazine.com/2021/04/15/3-poems-from-stephen-j-golds/

https://punknoirmagazine.com/2021/06/17/your-call-is-important-to-us-by-stephen-j-golds/

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with John Bowie

with John Bowie:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

John: As long as I can remember, I’ve written. I spent a lot of time as a child hiding in a giant second-hand bookshop in a disused train station. First influence to take seriously was Bukowski. The truth and words filled with heart and soul were hard to ignore. Also, the attitude of just getting on and doing it. Like taking a breath. An automated reflex and a gift. And damn the world if it loves or hates it—it’s for the writer.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

John: Many new and established authors. I’ve made a lot of connections through my e-zine: Bristol Noir. All the writers who submit are very inspiring creative characters and their words match that.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?

John: I was born in Northumberland. An area rich with stories and a history including Vikings, Romans, wars and battles. The scenery is epic too. I studied in Manchester in the 90s, so the bands, music and clubs were a massive influence. I was there when the IRA bomb went off too and saw the aftermath. And, I’ve done lot of travelling around Malaysia, Borneo, Hong Kong and Australia. I’m using these memories, particularly of some of the remote islands, in the current book I’m working on, Viking (due out with Red Dog Press).

Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

John: I’ve found that my poetry is. As well as being succinct emotional snapshots it’s also an exercise in crafting short prose, even tighter than flash fiction. Each one in my latest collection, Dead Birds & Sinking Ships, is like cutting me open and seeing what’s inside. My work in progress, Walking Towards The Noise, is the same and very cathartic to write.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?

John: I’ve always done it so there was no turning point as such. My credibility and confidence came with other writers and indie publishers reading, getting it and asking for it. Same with the artwork and cover illustrations.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

John: I’m a David Lynch fan and have recently discovered and started Transcendental Meditation techniques after hearing him talk about it. His weather forecasts on YouTube are very soothing too. I’d highly recommend Nick Cave’s The Red Hand Files as well.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

John: Please check out my latest crime noir thriller Division (Red Dog Press) and my poetry collection Dead Birds & Sinking Ships (Close to the Bone) both of which came out this month. My artwork is also on Redbubble – tagged The Aloof.

Q8: What is a favorite line from a poem/song of yours, or favorite piece of art or photograph?

John:

Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

John: My wife. I can’t say enough. We’re co-joined and growing together. Writing is such a huge part of my world and she has been very knowledgeable and supportive through it all.

Links:

https://www.bristolnoir.co.uk/about/john-bowie-author-biography/

https://punknoirmagazine.com/2021/05/04/4-poems-by-john-bowie-johnbowie/

2 poems by Stephen J. Golds “Boat Trip in VietNam” “Bus Stop Man”

Boat Trip in Viet Nam

Sitting on that boat in Halong Bay. 

The guide gesturing wildly at the cliffs 

telling us this one 

was shaped like a chicken 

and that one 

an elephant. 

The Orange Vietnamese sun on the water. 

Eating spicy fish prepared in the boats kitchen. 

You told me it was delicious and everything was so very beautiful. 

Perfect you said snapping photographs and kissing my neck. 

Perfect, I thought. Yes, it’s perfect. 

After the meal I smoked a cigarette at the stern, 

Watching the rats that infested the kitchen 

Fucking each other and shitting over everything. 

Bus Stop Man

Still think about him often.

The man in the green raincoat,

garbage bags for suitcases and the

burn scars molding his face.

Sitting all day at the same stop.

Everyday waiting for the same bus

that never came. Telling everyone

waiting there his wife had fucked another man.

Scratching, picking himself bloody.

Eyes passed filmy, glazed. Nothing but flesh on finger.

Still I wonder if that woman knew he loved her enough

to drive himself insane and

whether she even thought

about him or wondered

where he was

at all now?

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand. He is also current Poetry Editor of Close to the Bone @scatterofashes

Photo by Mos Sukjaroenkraisri

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