Way beyond Country Dancing
Well, it’s about that time again, Folks: the release of another novel.
It’s been a busy year since I sat down to write my first foray into the horror genre, ‘Maria’s Walk.’ On 27th June my fourth title, ‘Maypole,’ will take its place among the growing collection.
As a child at a small Kent primary school in the 1970s, country dancing classes were a regular part of our curriculum. Weaving together a new tale that folds in a lot of different folklore about Maypoles and their origin has been a great joy. These traditions are found across Europe and consequently travelled to the new world. I’ve examined associations from the Axis Mundi to dubious claims of phallic symbolism and everything in between. In the book, I draw out links with Yggdrasil and Norse mythology upon which to ground the mythos that leads to the inevitable, dramatic climax. And what a climax it is. I had a lot of fun with this one; not least of all because I got to blow stuff up. There are chases, escapes, a helicopter crash, Demonic imps manipulating children in a state of temporal flux, and an inter-dimensional showdown with a mythical spirit dragon. All that wrapped in a love story sitting on a theme of loss and transience that dispels the illusion of permanence. Phew!
If you’ve not read any of my work before but enjoyed titles like ‘The Magic Cottage’ and ‘Creed’ by the late, great James Herbert, you might find this story entertaining. However, if the magical environments, energy blasts and multi-dimensional transforming monsters of those books gave you a problem, ‘Maypole’ probably won’t be your cup of tea either. I know some people prefer tales of a more subtle nature and are quite concerned with their horror feeling ‘believable.’ I understand that, and like a well-written, subtle ghost story myself. What’s scarier than something so very close to the everyday, yet just beyond it in a way that feels like it might happen to you? Great stuff. However, I also enjoy outrageous fantasy horror (albeit set in the real world) with pace, action and heart. That’s more along the lines of my work in the genre.
For readers of my previous books: if you loved the magic battle at the pond in ‘Nevermere,’ then this new title should be right up your street.
As with its predecessors, ‘Maypole’ will be available in Paperback and Kindle formats.
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.’
- You must write.
- Finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put your story on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
- Start working on something else.
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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!
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.
Horror in Hardy Country
It’s been a delightful few months, bashing away at my new novel. I decided that I wanted to do something in the haunted house line, but with a twist. Not that there’s anything wrong with the classic setup of wronged spooks roaming a creepy old building. I love books like that. One joy of the ever expanding horror market, is new authors bringing their own perspective on that delightful, tried and tested formula.
Towards the end of 2013, I rented a cottage in the small Dorset village of Sydling St. Nicholas. As a keen walker, I spent time traipsing through the surrounding valleys and enjoying The Wessex Ridgeway. During a climb from Cerne Abbas up to the broad ridge (from where the word ‘Sydling’ derives) I mused what a wonderful spot it would be for a windswept haunted house. Five and a half years later I built one there (in fictional literary terms at least), and you can now read about it in ‘Caveat Emptor.’
A number of real-life local spots feature in the book, including Sydling St. Nicholas, its church and the beautiful river walk, Cerne Abbas, St. Mary’s, Giant Hill and the street of Tudor cottages outside the old abbey that form the lead character’s flat in the story. You’ll find a few snaps I took from those locations, scattered throughout this blog post.
The tale predominantly focuses on thirty years in the life of David Holmes, a twenty year old man who moves over from Wiltshire in 1985, to become a Dorset estate agent. His first day on the job finds him performing a visit to a fire-damaged manor that pre-dates the English Civil War. Recent occupants died during the conflagration, and the house will be one of his responsibilities for sale.
Among the distinct joys of writing this book, I’ve most delighted in taking a trip down memory lane. Cars, fashions, technology, music, films, attitudes and current events are all used to set the scenes. From ‘Live Aid’ in 1985 through the ’87 hurricane, ’89 fall of the Berlin Wall, millennium bug, dot-com collapse, 911 attacks and 2015 Conservative win, there is a rich backdrop against which to present the various scenes. However, this was not done just for the heck of it. The principal antagonist is an ancient entity for whom unfolding centuries are a solitary agony, punctuated by occasional decades of joy. I won’t go into the source of that joy, because: spoilers! But observing David’s relatively brief life and the changes that occur, place the entity’s torment into a much clearer perspective.
I took a big risk at the climax as – while the ‘baddie’ element is defeated after a fashion – it’s not quite vanquished in the way a reader might expect. I guess it’ll be the ‘Marmite’ of Horror/Paranormal Romance/Supernatural Suspense, in that they’ll either love it or hate it.
At the time of writing, ‘Caveat Emptor’ is available for pre-order in Kindle format, ahead of its 25th March release date. As with my other work, a paperback version will roll out around the same time. Should you clock the Amazon page count on the pre-order, please ignore it. They always under-read by a huge margin. The book is 81,000 words/348 pages in a 5.25 x 8 paperback. Once the product descriptions are linked on Amazon, the Kindle page count will correct to reflect the actual length based on the print version.
Do you believe a house can have a soul?
If you had asked that question to David Holmes back in 1985, it might have given him pause. The next three decades of his career as a Dorset estate agent, provided a very definite answer.
Meoria Grange is an impressive manor, built around the time of the English Civil War. It stands sentinel atop the Wessex Ridgeway, occupying a site of historical importance dating back into the mists of British antiquity.
When a family move in to renovate after a tragic fire, horrific outcomes draw David ever closer to their disturbing source.
Similar repetitions unfold each time he instigates another sale, until a very personal impact causes him to seek out some answers once and for all.
How can pure love and abject horror exist together with such inexplicable harmony?