Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

More Bones from the Kingdom

Tastes vary. I can remember going to see an afternoon show of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks with a group of friends and realising that, out of all the fellow-cheapskates and pensioners who made up the rest of the meagre discount-ticket audience, we were the only ones laughing. Looking around and seeing all those stony faces and folded arms in the light reflected from the screen… well, it was like we’d just pissed-off some visiting Cossack dance troupe.

Which thought is my excuse to introduce the following Kirkus Review:

Gallagher, Stephen/THE KINGDOM OF BONES
In this moody, gripping period thriller, the shadowy world of the undead sucks in a beautiful actress and the man who would give his life to save hers.

Forgive me for skipping the next bit because the reviewer then goes on to synopsise the plot in detail, albeit with far more elegance and compression than I could ever accomplish… before summing up with

Dark but splendid entertainment.

Now, that’s a review to die for and I couldn’t be happier with it. Kirkus Reviews are, in the words of one publisher, “notoriously critical”. So it’s not an issue when I say that there’s one word in there that made me pause and see my own work in a different light:

Dark but splendid entertainment.

Note that ‘but’. It’s a reminder that not everybody likes ‘dark’.
I’m thinking of the time when a neighbour asked me to give a talk to a meeting of her Young Wives and Mothers Group. Not quite as down, boy! it sounds… these young wives and mothers had all got together when their children were babies and had been meeting for about thirty years.

I went along and did the whole what-I-do and how-I-broke-in routine, and ended by retelling the story from one of my novels… I think it could have been Valley of Lights, which most people seem to find racy and spooky and pretty much the escapist fare it was meant to be.

I looked around about midway through, and noticed to my surprise that one or two of the Young Wives had gone a bit pale. One was fanning herself as if feeling faint. And I thought, Ooh. Result.

Now, I understand that the young Lord Byron had a similar effect on his female audiences but, much as I’d like to kid myself, I don’t think the sweatshirt and bad ’80s mullet (which I stuck with waaaay too far into the ’90s) put me quite in the same league.

In this case it was simply that the tale I was giving them – not telling it, just telling about it – was over on the other side of a line that some people never think to cross. When they do cross it, by accident or by finding it unexpectedly in some more familiar style of narrative, the inherent thrill is there. But it’s raw to them.

Either that, or I need to think seriously about regrowing the mullet.

The Kingdom of Bones is published in the US in September, but the hardcover’s available to UK buyers through Amazon – the price yo-yos a bit with the exchange rate but currently hovers around eleven quid and is eligible for free delivery.

Go on. Christmas is coming. Chills’n’thrills. Perfect present.