Tag Archives: English Horror Author

Saints & Skeletons

My latest novel, ‘The Lychgate,’ allowed me to indulge in writing some good, old-fashioned, last person standing survival horror. I always have a strong pull towards ‘story,’ so there had to be more meat on the bone than pure situational hi-jinks. By the time everything kicks off, the reader should feel invested in the characters and back-story. A tale that makes sense, rather than offering some weak excuse for undead corpses going on a wild killing spree as an afterthought.

The premise surrounding the book had been bouncing around in my mind (and sitting on my ideas notepad) for about a year. Lychgates have always held a distinct fascination. The variety and history behind them, adds to the enjoyment of visiting many an English church. As a long-time fan of fantasy literature and a student of folklore, the common etymology shared by a mythical ‘Lich’ creature and this familiar churchyard architecture was too good to pass up. A Lich is typically the resurrected but decayed body of a holy man, raised by devoted followers reciting their ancient incantations. Legend depicts them being master manipulators, enslaving an army of the risen dead. Both ‘Lich’ and ‘Lychgate’ come from the old English word ‘Lic,’ or corpse. Before mortuaries and refrigeration, when most people died at home, bodies would reside with a guard under the lychgate until the funeral took place. The service began at the gate and proceeded inside the church; re-emerging for burial within its consecrated boundary.

For setting, I toyed with a variety of environments. The one I kept coming back to, and which provided ample scope for isolation and subsequent wild terror (hidden from the modern world), was the South Lincolnshire Fens: Big skies, bleak landscapes, and difficult to traverse terrain thanks to criss-crossing drainage channels. Close enough to civilisation to be engaging, yet remote enough to provoke a sense of helplessness.

A creepy setting always works best when it’s an integral part of the story, rather than a tacked-on device for dramatic effect. So it was that I delved into local history, in search of characters and legends around which I could build the monster’s genesis. The British Museum features a historic, pictorial document called ‘The Guthlac Roll.’ This depicts the story of St. Guthlac, a late seventh century Mercian soldier turned monk. He resided as an anchorite on the island of Croyland, where present day Crowland sits today. Guthlac was said to have settled in an oratory formed from a barrow, with his younger sister St. Pega and a male helper called Beccelm. Pega left to found her own oratory at Peakirk, when both those sites were still islands in the previously undrained fens. After Guthlac’s death, Pega supposedly moved several items from her brother’s tomb, before his resting place was re-located. His body was re-sited a couple more times after the construction of Crowland Abbey. Roundels on ‘The Guthlac Roll’ show the saint fighting demons and driving out a demoniac. These tales offered a perfect situation around which to introduce Nechtan, a holy man of the Bilmingas tribe who comes into conflict with him. Keying aspects of Guthlac and Pega’s lives into the plot became a joy after that, and added significant breadth to the overall tale.

Parallels are always fun when spinning a yarn. With ‘The Lychgate,’ there is a foundation based on a vengeful, pagan spiritual manipulator, ousted by a new religion. He carries that offence beyond the grave, longing for retribution and power. In the modern world, several of the characters are ousted from their own comfortable lives by new ‘religions’ like political correctness, corporate profiteering, liberal orthodoxy and an obsession with metrics. It is these supplanting ideas that drive them to join life at an off-grid community. One promising to provide an antidote to the modern world and its insane doctrines. The only problem is that in literally digging up the past, they unearth an evil of significant destructive power and unfathomable malevolence. Think ‘The Mummy’ meets ‘The Evil Dead’ and you’ll have some idea what to expect.

Like my other novels, ‘The Lychgate’ is to be released in paperback and Kindle formats, from 16th December. You can pre-order the Kindle version. Its page count will correct to 347, once both products go live and are linked on Amazon.

Amazon UK   :   Amazon US   :   Amazon CA

The Power of Where

One joy of writing a book that crosses multiple historical timeframes whose events spatially intersect, is the ability to double-down on locations in a way that adds poignancy to the story.

While ‘The Shackled’ features a central narrative of primary events occurring in 2019, there are side-stories with additional characters in various places from 1815, 1914-1918, 1941-2018, 1985-2005, 2008-2019 and 2016-2019. In the interests of my readers’ sanity, I’ve labelled these to avoid confusion.

Locations include: Rochester, Chatham, Folkestone, Maidstone, Barham, Selling, Gravesend – (Kent), Middle Woodford – (Wiltshire), Bath – (Somerset), Gateleigh – (Fictitious Devon village), The Western Front (Belgium), Aylesbury, Bridechurch (a fictitious estate based on Belmont in Kent, but not set there) – (Buckinghamshire), Danbury – (Essex), Fernhurst – (West Sussex), and London.

Several locations feature in more than one of the side stories. The first is the Great Lines Naval Memorial in Chatham, visited by Andrew Miles and Sally Nelson.

The second is the Step Short Memorial Arch in Folkestone. This stainless steel construction marks the top of ‘The Slope,’ where First World War soldiers embarking on ships for France and Belgium from Folkestone harbour shortened their stride for the downhill march. In 2019, our central character Samantha Riley walks past it on her regular strolls along The Leas. By this time, the memorial has been constructed. In the tale of Peter Haws (who goes off to fight on The Western Front), we see him receive the command to ‘Step Short’ at the point where the arch would later be built.

All the characters are present in one form or another for the modern day showdown along The Esplanade in Rochester.

As I mentioned in another article, the central characters visit Rosalind Layton’s stately home of Bridechurch from 1815, at the end of the book in 2019.

‘The Shackled’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

I wrote about the relevance of the old song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ in a previous post that included a nice instrumental version. It’s a piece which has featured many lyrics over the years. In the book, I’ve used a verse and chorus from the 1815 version for accuracy:

Courage, boys, ‘tis one to ten,
But we return all gentlemen,
While conquering colours we display,
Over the hills and far away.

Over the Hills and O’er the Main,
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
King George commands and we’ll obey,
Over the hills and far away.

Here is a beautiful modern rendition with updated lyrics based on a similar time frame.

Bridechurch Revisited

There’s a wonderful 18th century, neo-classical stately home near my house called ‘Belmont.’ Containing the finest clock collection in England, it is an exquisite property on a commanding and beautiful spot in over three thousand acres of prime Kent countryside. The name derives from its elevated position and extensive views. Belmont has attracted a new generation of fans in recent years, thanks to the CBBC production series of ‘Hetty Feather.’

I’ve been a regular visitor throughout my life and drove past the house every day for a decade and a half. About seven years ago during one of the guided tours, I peered into a roped-off room set up as a nursery. It struck me how sad the fine toys looked, waiting for long-departed children to come back and play with them. Fast forward to 2019, and I knew I wanted to feature that room (and an estate inspired by Belmont) in my fifth horror novel: ‘The Shackled.’ I took two visits and another guided tour to refresh my memory as writing commenced. Thus, ‘Bridechurch’ – home of the tragic Rosalind Layton and her rocking horse – came into being.

Bridechurch features in one of several side-story chapters which introduce us to shackled spirits, who – for a variety of reasons – have remained trapped between worlds after their deaths. Thanks to the courage of little Rosalind, readers are treated to another visit to Bridechurch in the denouement.

There are various features from the fictitious estate you can experience in real life at Belmont. These include the nursery, master bedroom, staircase, kitchens, stable, orangery and gardens. When we meet Rosalind in 1815, she is a ten-year-old child with a deep love of horses.

At the end of the book in 2019, our main protagonist Samantha Riley finds the house open to the public. She stops with her family for refreshments in the stables, which have been converted to a tea room. You can do the same at Belmont and even walk through the archway alongside. The place the book ends as Samantha hums Rosalind’s signature tune: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’

I’ve included photos I took from some of these spots, along with this article.

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ was a popular song during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In ‘The Shackled’ Rosalind sings it with the household cook. Her frightened ghost sings it while she rocks on Geraldine the toy horse. And she sings it to bolster her resolve and take action during the intense story climax in a dingy Rochester warehouse. Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, Samantha hums it during a modern day visit to Bridechurch.

There’s a delicious joy that comes with fiction writing, when an already outlined scene gets textured with additional details that add an unexpected richness to the overall tale. I wanted readers to sympathise with the little girl and how the manor staff loved her. In a story about setting trapped spirits free to cross over, this traditional ditty ended up becoming an anthem for the entire book. Its lyrics took on a new significance and enabled me to wrap the novel up in an emotive style I know many of my readers have come to appreciate.

If you’ve never experienced Belmont and find yourself in Kent, I hope this post and the novel will inspire you to take a visit. It makes a wonderful day out.

‘The Shackled’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

I’ll leave you with a fine instrumental rendition of ‘Over the Hills and Far Away,’ performed by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Setting the Tone

When it came time to look at suitable cover art for my latest novel, ‘The Shackled,’ I made the unusual choice to go with a predominantly black and white theme. Anyone who knows me, is aware I avoid purchasing books with black and white covers, unless I have a strong urge to delve into their contents. There may be many artistic reasons to employ such a medium, but to my mind it suggests boring, arty-farty lit-fic with unreadable purple prose and very little story. An unfair generalisation, but enough to cause me to pass over clicking the ‘buy now’ button on more than one occasion. There are always exceptions.

Thus it came as quite a wrench to make myself use black and white for the new book. Yet, somehow it suits the story. Okay, there’s some minor colour on the text. I couldn’t go full ‘two tone,’ or I’d never sleep at night. Take one look at how colourful my other covers are, and you may appreciate why.

‘The Shackled,’ is a book about extremes of light and dark; the dangers of all-or-nothing absolutism in thought, belief and action; tensions between spiritual forces for good and evil; and the drab, formless existence of being stuck in limbo after death. Not your typical jolt horror fare, nor overtly creepy or gory. After the bloody splatter-fest of ‘Maypole,’ this novel is rather tame. The central character, Samantha Riley, has come back from a Near-Death Experience with a gift for helping shackled souls cross over to the light. Samantha’s new abilities estrange her from a strict religious family, which provides an undercurrent of tension throughout. Add to that a formless spiritual entity seeking to oppose her (and something far, far darker with designs on walking this earth in robes of flesh), and there’s ample conflict. Marbled in between the central narrative, you’ll find additional tales about the lives and deaths of other characters, who’ll eventually come together at the climax and resolution.

It’s odd then, that the book is ultimately about hope beyond the despair of grief and separation from the people and things we hold dear.

The story premise which acts as an overall organising principle is this:

‘You can love the past, but you will only move forwards and free yourself when you learn to let it go.’

Way back when I wrote ‘Maria’s Walk,’ there were strong elements of a central character wrestling with Post-Evangelical withdrawal to what is effectively religious addiction. I know some readers had a hard time with that, and would have preferred more frights and chills with less introspection. My next three novels took faith largely out of the picture, focusing on creepy entertainment value instead. With this fifth book, the subject matter lends itself so easily to religious conflict that the story would have been empty without. I’ve kept things open enough at the end to allow readers to form (or maintain) their own individual views. Ultimately it’s nothing more than a work of fiction, though it draws on heavy research into Near-Death Experiences, and many years personal, first-hand experience of how religious bigotry can rip families asunder. If you read the book, see how Samantha is treated, and utter: “That would never happen,” then I’m sorry to say: You’re wrong and it does. A heart-breaking truth.

If you’re looking for something supernatural but different, with many intersecting characters and stories woven together into the whole, you’ll find ‘The Shackled’ available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.

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.

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?

Amazon UK   :   Amazon US   :   Amazon CA

Around Ardenham

Regular readers will be aware that the fictitious town of ‘Ardenham’ from ‘Maria’s Walk’ is actually based on Faversham, my hometown on the Swale Estuary in Kent.

Maria herself was also inspired by a famous, real-life spectre known as ‘Diana.’ The book is dedicated to her. Maria’s character in the story is loosely drawn from a number of local speculations about who Diana may have been (albeit with much invention and embellishment to bring the plot to life).

Here are a few locations that inspired places in the book, with appropriate quotations and the odd note for your enjoyment.

Let’s start with the title image from this post.

Ardenham Marketplace

Faversham_Market_(6110526770)The guildhall stood an elegant, green, rendered structure with high, arched windows. The building rested on thick wooden stilts allowing a market to be held underneath. Once the local court house, it also featured a clock, flagpole and weather vane in the shape of a dragon. All around, wonky timber-framed buildings with high-pitched roofs clustered about the three principal streets that fed into this oft-photographed civic space.

Westbrook Pond

PondOn the other side of Dark Hill sat Westbrook Pond, fed from the Westbrook Stream that eventually flowed into Ardenham Creek in the centre of town. Lavington church reflected down into the mirror-like calm water from a tree-lined ridge above, and proved a popular scene for artists and photographers of all flavours. Jack had many fond memories of feeding the ducks there with his grandparents, whenever they came down to stay at Christmas back in the Seventies.

The Mermaid Inn

(Description based on the inn during the Regency period, as seen in a psychic dream by Gaby. It’s worth mentioning that the actual pub which inspired it – ‘The Anchor’ – is a great place to visit today. You can still sit in the room out back, where Richard Belmont meets with his henchmen in the book).

Pub‘The Mermaid’ was a large, tumbledown, timber-framed old inn squatting at the far end of Abbey Street. The place sat just before the wharf entrance to Ardenham Creek, where sailing vessels loaded and unloaded their cargo. Its reputation as a dirty, over-crowded den of cutthroats and villains of all shapes and sizes was well deserved. If you were a merchant, deckhand or salty sea dog in search of rough grog, a good fight, or pox-infested tumble with a coarse strumpet, you need go no further into town. The more genteel population of Ardenham secretly hoped the inn would never burn down nor shut its doors. While there were certainly other rough drinking establishments, fleshpots and diverse dens of iniquity to be found close by, its proximity to the embarkation/disembarkation point of maritime crews kept some of the rougher elements at arm’s length. Many never went any further than ‘The Mermaid,’ unless they had other business to attend to.

Glyndale Park Manor

(Note that the description doesn’t match the image here, as the building had a facelift during Victorian times. The reason this is an old black and white photo, is due to the fact the manor – Syndale – suffered a dramatic fire and was torn down in the 1960’s. Today there is a motel and gym on the site, which does indeed offer a commanding view of the estuary and town).

ManorTheir cork heels crunched on the gravel path. It led up to the tall pillars that supported a shady front porch fronting Glyndale Park Manor. White rendering shone in the late September morning sun, affording the impressive structure an almost ethereal quality to match its palatial grandeur. Even though the old place had clearly seen better days – particularly when examined up close – it was still an elegant former residence.

Gaby angled her head to look at Ardenham nestling in the shallow, rolling valley behind and just to the right of Abbey Wood. Above the assorted roofs, Lavington church could clearly be seen standing sentinel atop Dark Hill. Beyond, the estuary sparkled like a shimmering blanket of sequins.

Abbey Wood

(There are of course many sinister descriptions of Abbey Wood in the book. The real place – ‘Bysing Wood’ – can be pretty wild and creepy at times. However, since I have a more pleasant photo here of some bluebells in spring, I’ll include a quotation from near the end of the story).

WoodGaby grabbed his arm with a gasp, glancing around. “Jack, do you realise where we are?”

Jack studied his surroundings more closely. “Goodness. I hardly recognised it with all the carpets of bluebells. It’s the dell.”

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this little tour around Ardenham.