Monday, 9 September 2013

Short excerpt from Harm by Titus Powell

My third novel, Harm, is a thriller set in the fashion world and is out now (available here). So you can read a quick sample, here's the opening scene.

(WARNING: contains violence!)

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A rancid smell was coming from the mound of plates in the sink. He had been away for two months and the crusted remains were evolving into a new ecosystem. The state of the fridge wasn’t much better. He would have to hire someone to sort things out around here once everything settled down.

Vincent never understood the desire to identify oneself with a place, a house and a pile of possessions. Freedom was the ability to move, to put everything behind you and reinvent yourself as often as you wanted. To escape your mistakes and be whoever you wanted to be.

Maybe after he was done he would leave London and be a nomad again for a while. He really didn’t need to rent a flat as expensive as this. He could melt into the darker corners of the world. Lose himself in Singapore, or a remote village in Morocco. It would be refreshing to start again.

If you can do it.

The doubt nagged at him, the possibility he might fail.

His practice session would be good. That was important. Then he would know. Without that, no matter how sure he was that he could go through with it, there was always the chance he would freeze again.

Vincent worked his jaw from side to side to ease the ache in his dead eye socket. He took his knife from the table near the door, unsheathed it and felt comforted by its weight. He let it lead him to the collage on the wall, where he had taped all the pictures he had found of the girl. The initial ones he had found on fashion websites and printed out, and the others he had gathered from magazines in Rio and added to the wall last night when he got home. Twenty-two photos in all, including the Time Magazine shot of her with her father in their exotic mansion.

He absently tossed the knife from hand to hand while he looked at the photos. Yes, he was ready all right. This time there would be no hesitation.

There was a thump and a clatter from the bedroom. Vincent rolled the knife handle in his palm. His gaze lingered on the photos on the wall. Unknowable forces were at work. Things kept falling into place. He hadn’t needed to go back to Brazil at all; the universe was bringing her here. Bringing her to him.

Another clatter. Vincent tore himself away from the photos and limped through the foul smelling kitchen to the large bedroom, making no sound as he went. He pushed the door open.

The whore had knocked her chair over backwards and was lying on top of it, looking up. She recoiled as she saw him, her bare feet twisting against the rope. Muffled vowel noises came through the ball gag.

Vincent felt his determination wane. Three hours of crawling London’s underworld looking for a mixed race brunette, and this was the best he could find? She looked nothing like the girl.

He bent down and hauled her chair upright. Her eyes bulged at the sight of the knife.

You should be so lucky, he thought.

A headache took hold at the back of his skull. He sat down on the bed behind her. The whore squirmed and moaned more now that he was out of sight. He thought of the photos on the wall. His girl wouldn’t whimper like this. She would come to him and surrender to her fate with dignity.

He watched the whore fight her bonds and pressed a finger to his temple against the throbbing there. His fingers were trembling. It disgusted him that he had thought her a viable practice object. Cutting her would sully him; it would be a regression to the days of his pitiful relationship with Diana, who would sit in the corner for hours waiting for him to abuse her and then be pathetically grateful for every knock. Hurting this whore would prove nothing, and then he’d have the mind numbing task of disposing of her, cleaning up the blood, getting the image of her out of his head. Picking her up had been a mistake. He should have just been patient and trusted the universe.

He smelled urine and saw the sheen of liquid trickling down the chair into the bedroom carpet. He sighed. Why the hell hadn’t he put her in the bathroom? It was tempting to abandon the flat altogether at this point, skip the clean-up, just get on with his mission. Maybe burn it down or rig it to blow a hole in East London. But he couldn’t afford to rush things. He needed a base while he waited for the right time, and there would be too many eyes if he stayed in a hotel.

The whore was mumbling again, an incoherent stream of whimpers and sobs. Vincent tried to imagine how other men would look at her, as a sexual object, tried to imagine having the desire to clasp her sweaty body close and penetrate her. The thought made his headache worse.

He grabbed the shopping bag of bin liners and cleaning products he had bought earlier. He tipped the contents on the floor and moved to stand behind her. His heart was pounding. He wished he still had one of those little brown potassium cyanide capsules so he could force her to bite one and then let her walk free, knowing she would drop dead within minutes, sparing him the clean-up. But those pills were hard to come by and his last batch were long gone.

Vincent whipped the plastic bag over her head and tightened it around her jerking face. His own breath had deserted him. He blinked moisture from his eyes and tried to steady his shaking hands where they met at the back of her head. A stupid, pathetic part of him just wanted to let go and curl up at her feet.

Man up, you pussy.

The weakness passed and he found himself thinking clearly again. Could he could get away with disposing of her whole? If he did his heroin trick, wrapped her up and dumped her in an alley somewhere, no one would care or suspect foul play. He just had to be careful no one saw him leave the building.

Yes, that’s what he would do. In the small hours, when everyone was asleep. Then he could get back to the task.

The whore’s head, locked in white plastic, finally became still. He let go after a minute and walked around her to inspect her. A shallow concave dome of plastic curved across her open mouth. Other parts of the bag were still attached to her cheekbones and forehead where it had stretched. There was a beauty in the shrink-wrapped geometry of her face that she had lacked in life.

He started to feel better.


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If you enjoyed this opening scene, you can get the full book on your Kindle for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Thank you!

www.tituspowell.com/Harm.htm

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Short excerpt from 'Kingdom of the Flame' by Titus Powell

My second novel, Kingdom of the Flame, is finally out (available here). To pique your curiosity, here's a sample passage from it.

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It was two weeks later, after a long lesson on court politics, that Mylène brought up the concept of dark thoughts. She tacked it on at the end, as if an afterthought, but Lily could tell this had been on her mind all day.

They were in the palace library, in a section where nobody could overhear. Lily had never seen Mylène embarrassed to talk about anything before, or to choose her words with so much care. It was as if the wrong choice of words might send Lily racing off to try the very thing she was warning against.

“There’s something else I need to mention,” Mylène had said to introduce the topic. “It’s not something I care to talk about, but you are a young girl and I must.” She began pacing again.

“Humans are by their very nature flawed. We have different drives and desires, many of which serve us. A few, however, are destructive. Particularly for a girl in your position as Candidate. I want to make you aware of certain… thoughts… that will inevitably arise and must be guarded against. Certain dark thoughts.”

Lily sat forward, her interest suddenly engaged.

“It’s not having these thoughts that is bad, because they often can’t be helped. But it is crucial they be denied.”

“What thoughts?” Lily asked.

Mylène walked to the window and looked out. “The desire to be more than friends with someone.”

“Oh. You mean love.”

Mylène looked back at her fiercely. “No. Not love. Love is what you feel for your mother, and what your mother feels for you. I’m talking about something entirely different. Though people do sometimes confuse it with love.”

Mylène pushed a lock of curly red hair out of her eyes and looked at Lily. “For what you are being trained for, you must be pure in body as well as mind. It is vital that you are never sullied by the filthy bodies of men. Once that dignity is taken, a woman can never get it back. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Lily blushed. Now she wished Mylène would go back to politics. “Yes. You don’t need to worry. I am a virgin.”

“Of course, or you would not be here now.” Mylène stood leaning on the back of her empty chair. She looked at Lily hard. “What is of the utmost importance is that you remain one. Common people have dalliances and indiscretions. In places like your village these things are forgiven or even encouraged. But not here. Not as a Candidate. You must be chaste, now and always. It is not a mistake you can make and then repent for. If you give yourself to a man, or even are perceived to have given yourself to a man, then it is all over. You cannot be chosen.”

“You’ve nothing to worry about. The men in the palace aren’t the least bit tempting.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of human nature to lead us astray. You must be constantly on your guard. The men in the palace know that to touch you would mean their death, but you can be sure they lust. And under the spell of wine, men become even more dangerous. You are an attractive young woman, Justinia. Many more would take advantage of you than you realise.

“Be even more wary of your own desires, because those in particular could be your downfall. More than one Candidate in history has failed on that account. Those physical desires for union are dark thoughts, thoughts which for a Candidate like you can only lead to corruption, misery and death.”

“I understand, Madam,” Lily said, embarrassed by the whole topic. “I will be careful.”

Mylène exhaled. She looked tired. “Very well. We have done enough for today. You may retire and I will see you the day after next.”

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If you enjoyed this sample, you can get the full book on your Kindle, iPad or iPhone for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Thank you!


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Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Rise of the Freelance Creatives


Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet think back just a decade or two. Computers were clunky; the internet was in its infancy; there was no Facebook, no Google, no YouTube, no Wikipedia. If you wanted to find out where a place was, or the definition of a word, you had to walk to the bookshelf and look it up in a physical A to Z or dictionary. And now the internet is mobile, available on your Smartphone wherever you happen to be.

The internet has reshaped virtually every industry, transformed the way business is done and even changed our social behaviour. It is not a passing trend; this is a fundamental shift that affects every area of our lives. And it is just the beginning.

This rapid ongoing transformation is ultimately a good one – for those who embrace it and are willing to adapt.

We are enjoying the benefits but mostly still underestimate the impact it will have, both in business and on our lives. The music industry was one of the first casualties of a failure to adapt. The digital world changed the way we acquire, store and enjoy music, and the established corporations resisted as hard as they could. They have been battling to stay relevant ever since.

The publishing industry is going through a similar transformation with the rise of e-book readers like the Kindle and the iPad. These devices are brand new and they are already shaking the industry – who knows what will be available just one decade from now? Analysts predict the collapse of the traditional publishing model within 2 to 5 years.

The general effect of the internet change is one of empowering individuals. Hulking industries have long been the gate-keepers between creatives and their potential audience; by holding the key to distribution they held the power to choose who emerged as an artist in any field. But the internet is rapidly smashing these traditional structures, and making the once all-powerful middle man obsolete. Now a musician or an author or a film maker can put his work onto the internet and find an audience directly.

Thus begins the Age of the Creatives. Technology has made it easier than ever to take a great photo, make a video, write a book or record a song. And we no longer need an agent or a record deal.

Yes, a lot of rubbish will be released. The dying gate-keeper industries used to provide a filtering function, sorting the wheat from the chaff. But the social web will replace that; through user reviews, ‘likes’ and similar rating mechanisms, we will learn to quickly determine whether someone’s creation is worth our time. Word of mouth will become increasingly important. That can only encourage great content – the things that ‘go viral’ and become wildly popular will be those that are the most interesting and impressive. So to achieve success in the Age of the Creatives, people will have to produce work of real value.

Artists of all types now also need to be internet savvy and learn the art of self-promotion. They need to market themselves and win their own fans. They need to build themselves up as a personal brand and become a leading figure in their field, which requires a solid understanding of social networking tools and constant innovation. They have to be their own manager, their own business partner. But that is incredibly liberating.

All this is wonderful news for the individual, and for creativity in general.

If you aren’t building a personal brand and active internet following for whatever your passion is, you risk being left behind. Get creating and get out there!

Be part of the rise of freelance creatives.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

How to Add Meaning to Your Life... With Only a Moderate Chance of Injury or Death

A PERSONAL CONFESSION

Perhaps you can relate. In 2003 I was sitting at work in a boring office job, realising the years were starting to slip by, and wondered, “Is this it?”

I was in my late twenties, when photography was just a hobby for me. I had a university degree, a comfortable job, an attractive girlfriend, enough income to get by. I should be happy. Yet I couldn’t get away from the nagging feeling that something was missing.

All this stuff had just kind of happened to me. I hadn’t planned it. And now that I was comfortable, I was coasting. I realised that unless I did something to break the routines, the rest of my life would be exactly the same. I needed to inject some meaning. I needed to feel alive. I made a decision to do something about it.

THE PARACHUTE JUMP

Two weeks later I was sitting in the open doorway of a plane thousands of feet in the air, hearing the wind blasting past, seeing the ground far below. I had trained all weekend for this moment, yet when the instructor yelled “In the door!” all I could do was stare at him in disbelief. Surely this was all an elaborate, surreal joke and I wasn’t actually expected to go through with it. Then in a daze I found myself sliding across the floor of the plane and dangling my legs out of the door until I was sitting right on the edge.

“Jump!” Before I knew it I was falling through the skies above Cambridgeshire. Soon after I felt the jolt and found myself looking up breathless at the parachute canopy above me. I was free, I was flying.

A few minutes later, walking on shaky legs back across the field towards the hangar with a bundle of parachute cloth in my arms, I smiled the biggest grin of my life.

THEN AND NOW

Fast forward to 2011. I am a professional fashion photographer and living my dream lifestyle. The journey from frustrated nerdy office worker to adventurer and free spirit hasn't been easy, but now I travel the world, hang out with models and do what I love for a living.

You can do this too. With whatever you're passionate about.

Skydiving is not the answer. The insane stunts my characters in The Dare Ring do definitely aren’t the answer. The way to add meaning to your life and feel more alive (without risking injury or death!) is a subtle shift of attitude, a decision to seek out adventure and the unwillingness to settle for a life that is merely ‘okay’.

What can you do to make today count?

When you find yourself doing something outside your routines, something that is adventurous for you, I’d love to hear from you. You can message me via the contact button here: www.TitusPowell.com/Books.htm

For anyone curious about The Dare Ring, see my next blog post, which is a short, exciting excerpt from the novel.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Short excerpt from 'The Dare Ring' by Titus Powell


(Contains swearing and irresponsible behaviour.)


By the time we’re near the front of the queue, we know exactly what we’re going to do. The timing for this has to be exact. There are eleven seconds from the time they check the harnesses to the time the cars round the first bend. Can we cut through both straps in that time, while restrained by them? I don’t know. I feel like Houdini back stage before a new escape act. Will it work?

I watch the attendants, zombies in red shirts. They’re on autopilot, going through the same pattern each time a car pulls up, a minute and a half apart. They usher people into the newly empty seats, strap them in, give each strap a tug, and move on.

It’s our turn next. We’re the next batch of four. I finger the knife lovingly through my shirt.

Don’t do it, my common sense tells me. It’s a bad idea. Bad bad bad.

The train of cars slams into place ahead of us beyond the barrier. The electronic release mechanism on the harnesses release them all at once, and four excited teenagers pull off the straps and vacate what will soon be our front row seats. As they skitter off, clutching at each other and enthusing about their safe little ride, the row of empty seats beckons like a lighthouse above the rocks.

“Party time!” Owen says.

“You okay, Sébastien?” I ask, grinning.

“No,” Sébastien says. I look at him and he manages a smile.

The spotty teenage attendant opens the gate with a bored look on his face. I lead the way through, and climb into the furthest seat. Sébastien sits next to me, then Lorelei, then Owen.

“Remember guys,” Owen hisses from the opposite end of the seats, “we’re going to have to run as soon as it’s over. Just split up and make your own way back to the car. Make sure no one follows you.”

We all nod, grin, whoop.

I get my first chance to examine the harness, which has not yet been fastened. The material is reassuringly like a car seat belt, and arranged in an ‘X’ just as Sébastien and Lorelei described. We never got to practice on anything in the end, but after visualising it carefully, I reckon I will be able to cut through each strap in under four seconds.

Bad idea, my mind says again.

“This is a great idea,” I say out loud, to counter it.

“Damn right,” Owen says. “Everyone ready?”

The attendant passes in front of us, just as we anticipated. He plugs in Owen’s harness, tugs it, and moves on to do Lorelei’s, Sébastien’s and mine. As soon as he has locked and checked mine, he moves out of sight to the car behind us. This is it.

“Go!” I say, and grab the knife out from under my shirt. I flick out the blade and start sawing through the harness. It is tougher than I expected, but the knife is sharp and I am making progress. A couple of seconds later, the top strap gives way, sending shivers through my body. I go to work on the lower one. As I’d anticipated, the angle makes it harder to apply pressure. But it’s still possible. I cut upwards, which is more difficult, but I don’t want to accidentally plunge the blade into my thigh. I clench my teeth and focus intently on the sawing motion and the ever widening slit.

I finish cutting the second strap just as the cars jolt into motion. Our roller coaster shudders around a corner and starts to climb towards the first big peak. My strap flops open and the central disc swings down behind my left elbow. I am free, loose in the seat sans safety harness. With relief, I retract the blade and push it into my jeans front pocket. The half twist I have to do to get it in gives me a minor rush as I feel my bum slide free on the seat.

I’m not strapped in! I tell myself, to maximise the effect. We’re moving and I’m not strapped in!

“Finished!” shouts Sébastien in the seat next to me. He turns to look at me and waggles the longer half of one of his severed straps. I jiggle two ends of my ruined harness back at him, grinning stupidly and kicking my feet in the air. I look past Sébastien to the others. Lorelei is still sawing on the lower strap, the concentration on her face almost comical. Owen has already cut both of his, and is holding his hands up in the air with his eyes shut, a tranquil look on his face. I smile to myself. This is what it’s all about.

Fuck!” Lorelei shouts. I look, in time to see her knife twisting down through the air. It clatters to the overgrown gravel far below. “Quick,” she cries as we climb higher, “give me a knife!”

Sébastien scrabbles to retrieve his from his shirt pocket, and in the rush almost slips from his seat. He finds it, slides out the blade and thrusts it handle-first at Lorelei. It’s too late; the first big drop is moments away.

Lorelei bellows in frustration that she’s not going to be able to do it in time, and hurls the knife away with a snarl.

I feel for her, but I can see over the drop now and everything else goes right out of my head. Still reminding myself that I’m not strapped in, I try to drink in the out-of-control feeling as much as possible. As we go over the peak and start to accelerate down, I let my arms raise up, and for a moment I’m weightless. Then the G-force is pinning me back in the seat as the wind rushes in my face and we plummet down. I hear the screams of all the punters behind us, the punters who all have safety harnesses holding them in.

We slam down in an arc and then whip up and around to the right. Is this dangerous? I wonder, body rattling. I don’t know. That’s what makes it good.

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If you enjoyed this sample, the following link will show you where to order the full book. It's available worldwide both in paperback and e-book form, the latter for only £1.49. Thank you!

http://www.TitusPowell.com/TheDareRing.htm

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