The Durham Chase

My new, upcoming indie horror title, ‘Maypole,’ opens with the central character, Lisa Marston, fleeing her abusive boyfriend. The chase begins at their flat in the old town part of Durham and follows a specific route (about 0.6 of a mile) to the traffic lights on Church Street. Here the pursuer gets in a scrap with a passing motorist and is arrested by police.

For those unfamiliar with this beautiful northern city, I include a series of images below to illustrate the route of the chase and an approximation of the journey seen through the fleeing woman’s eyes.

I hope you enjoy them.

‘Maypole,’ is due for release in paperback and Kindle on 27th June. The Kindle version is available for pre-order now.

Embracing my inner Tom Sawyer

Over the last week I’ve been forcing myself away from the computer. One of those counter-intuitive but necessary moments of space writers sometimes need.

Another first draft in the bag, I decided to replace a few garden fence panels and give the entire span a few coats of paint. Whenever I conduct an activity like this, I can’t help but make a mental connection with Mark Twain’s classic work, ‘Tom Sawyer.’ I imagine most people who grew up with the book will never forget that iconic scene where Aunt Polly forces Tom to whitewash the fence rather than go off to play. In a stroke of pure genius, he manages to not only get all the neighbourhood kids to paint the thing for him, he markets the idea in such a way they offer up their treasured items to pay him for the privilege. Either I need to work on my interpersonal and child exploitation skills, or I’m too much of an introvert. Yes, I painted the thing myself.

With nicer weather now present, I’m dividing the next couple of weeks between early morning gardening and later edits on the upcoming novel. As a true Heinlein disciple, I didn’t stop working during the fence episode of course. Outlining on the next book began once the manual labour was done each day. Robert Heinlein’s six rules are the bread and butter of how I tend to work, and they always serve me well. Technically of course, only the first five are his rules. The sixth is often added by commentators as a logical progression in this blueprint for success as a prolific author. In many ways ‘Start working on something else,’ is simply a way of re-stating rule number one: ‘You must write.’

  1. You must write.
  2. Finish what you start.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put your story on the market.
  5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
  6. Start working on something else.

Alone in the Dark

Recently I was part of a discussion that has cropped up several times over the years, in relation to the Stephen King classic, ‘Salem’s Lot.’

Whether you’ve read the book, seen the film adaptation or both; one scene sticks with everyone I speak to. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s the night time vampiric visitations of the Glick boys: first Ralphie to ‘convert’ his elder brother Danny. Then Danny, to sire Mark Petrie and bring him into the fold.

The first – brother on brother – is creepy and reminiscent of the Count’s visits to his victims in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’

But it’s the second visitation that haunts readers/viewers over forty years on: eerie clouds swirling outside Mark’s bedroom window. The floating approach of his school friend, sporting evil eyes and protruding fangs. A scratching of fingernails on the glass. The vampire calling out for Mark to let him in. Then Mark vacillating between acquiescence and confrontation; culminating in the latter as he snaps a cross from his graveyard diorama to drive the creature off.

Since the 1979 film production, audiences have grown accustomed to blatant gore and vivid portrayals of demonic forces. In a desensitised world of splatter-punk eviscerations, the afore-mentioned scene might sound banal. But it isn’t. Had the vampire been some OTT special effects horror that burst through the window and drained its victim dry, that might have been shocking – for a moment. Then viewers would have forgotten all about it and probably never given the encounter a second thought.

To my mind, Danny’s visit is memorable and frightening because it utilises one of the key tools in the horror writer’s kit: ISOLATION. Stephen King wields it with masterful brilliance.

Isolation can be both blatant and/or subtle in horror. We’re all familiar with the blatant scenarios: A person/people get cut off on an island/up a mountain/in a forest. Bad things are coming to get them and nobody’s riding to the rescue. Typically there might be a chance to escape, but it will involve a perilous trip into the monster’s den to retrieve a vital item, etc. Along the way, someone will probably die.

Subtler forms of isolation often revolve around societal mores and expectations, or being a misfit in a situation. Anyone who has suffered a mental health issue, physical disability or disfigurement knows what it’s like to feel all alone in a crowded place. Even introverted, loner types like myself are still social creatures at heart, despite a need for plenty of solo downtime to recharge. Being all alone is such a common human fear, some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.

In horror, this subtle isolation may manifest as someone who knows supernatural things are going on, but is afraid nobody else will believe them. Perhaps an entire group suspects creepy forces are at play individually, but none will discuss it collectively. If they did and banded together, maybe survival would become possible? They’re all isolated. A ‘dinner bell’ for the hungry antagonist, no doubt. Cue blood-curdling screams as it starts devouring the low hanging fruit first.

With regard to ‘Salem’s Lot,’ you have Mark Petrie as a victim of isolation. Earlier, his father rags on him for playing with magic tricks and building monster model kits. This gives us an insight into the kind of lad Mark might be: creative, imaginative, sensitive. Not a jock. An outsider from the ‘group’ in school. Someone who prefers one or two close genuine friends to a gaggle of surface relationships. In that sense he’s already isolated. Now King adds another layer of isolation, because his father instructs the boy to grow up and stop daydreaming about monsters. Great. So who’s he going to tell when his best (and probably only) friend appears at the window as a vampire?

Let’s add it all up:

He’s isolated as something of an introvert to begin with.

He’s isolated from his parents and can’t tell them about the real monster.

He’s isolated by losing his close friend to the vampire’s curse.

He’s isolated because there’s nowhere to run, nobody to tell, and the vampires could be back at his window any time they choose.

He’s isolated because he’s still a kid in an adult world.

As we know, Mark goes on to battle the creatures with the central character, Ben Mears. Even then they end up on the run, an isolated pair looking over their shoulders for those in pursuit.

Psychological fears remain scariest of all. I’ve no objection to gore – it features in my work. But sometimes it’s what you don’t show that stays with people. A scene like that can keep your audience drawing the curtains as soon as darkness descends forty years later, and not because they’re fastidious and organised…

The Pumpkin Approves!

Pumpernickel, my Halloween pumpkin, horror consultant and writing mascot is lending his support to the new book, as pictured above.

I should probably point out that humans also enjoy reading it.

Amazon UK   :   Amazon US   :   Amazon CA

Spring Constitutional

Every season has its fun and excitements. One thing I missed when I lived overseas, was the rhythm and variety of English seasons. Sometimes we underrate our temperate climate.

At this time of year with the blossoms coming through, warmer days and the freshness of new life in the air, it always makes me feel like a child again. There’s a certain thrill and anticipation at this turning point away from the cold, grey, dark winter days.

Here in my beautiful market town on the Swale in Kent, abundant life is shooting forth. Each morning (reasonable weather permitting) I like to take a stroll before settling down to work for the day. I have several variations on a favourite circular route, which inspired those of the lead characters back when I wrote ‘Maria’s Walk.’

This morning I happened upon a glorious Magnolia tree. My ageing phone camera didn’t do it justice, but I still thought it worth sharing the image. I’m having an ‘odds and ends’ day: spring cleaning, tweaking the website and performing basic household maintenance. It marks a pleasant respite from the manic schedule I was on to get the new book ready to fly, over the last month.

By next week I should be into outlining the fourth novel in greater detail, ready for drafting to start in April.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a peaceful week. One with an opportunity to enjoy nature at her finest, clothed in the breathtaking garments of spring.

Magnolia Tree