I’d put off maturing the premise for my seventh horror novel into a full-bodied plot by two books. While ‘the written word made manifest’ is nothing new in fiction (or religion), I kept throwing out obvious branching concepts. They all seemed too predictable to my brainstorming mind. Like many writers, I ended up keeping the best scene ideas, though the story they occupy is a world apart.
‘Scribe’ opens with a man named Michael Brooks, who lost his wife, Julie, to a Cerebral Haemorrhage. A sensitive introvert, it doesn’t take long before the effects of his grieving energy impact the physical world around him. His bereavement counsellor recommends a change of scene and the act of journaling to process his grief. And so the stage is set to roll out a weird house full of restless spirits that play havoc with his isolated literary therapy.
During the process, I turn up the heat from random, unusual occurrences to undeniable supernatural encounters with mortal outcomes. Along the way Michael discovers a raft of ghosts, including those of five children who disappeared between 1885 and 1886. Michael and his wife could not conceive, yet desired a family of their own.
With a lot of horror/supernatural suspense novels, the antagonist remains a faceless beast, unveiled near the climax in a big reveal. While this is necessary for many plotlines, it can leave the villains feeling like undeveloped characters. One thing I found most enjoyable about writing ‘Scribe’ was the ability to have my (deceased) ‘baddie’ interact with Michael throughout. This occurs via paranormal experiences and the written word in his journals. By the time he makes a full-blown appearance near the end, readers know all they could want about this semi-religious, psychopathic child rapist and murderer. There’s a certain added satisfaction from that, when his plans are brought low.
Rape is an overdone and often cringe-worthy trope in the horror genre. I steer clear of it (as a general rule), with the notable exception of that mildly worded but heart-breaking scene in ‘Maria’s Walk’ where hired thugs abuse and kill Maria Belmont. It’s difficult to write without falling into classic pitfalls that trivialise a devastating act. It can also be lazy writing: i.e. we all know rape is horrible, so just roll out some rape scenes to keep the horror amped, right? Wrong! Awful though it is, reading rape scenes gets old quickly. Unless the device forms a pivotal part of the story, I wonder about the plot structure of a book that focuses on it. Throw children into the mix and you’re walking on eggshells with every word written.
However, for ‘Scribe’ it made perfect sense for the main story arc, though became a difficult cross to bear on occasion. The children all disappeared without trace in the Victorian era. Readers learn the truth behind those disappearances, the nature of their adversary and Michael’s part in the ongoing story through historic flashbacks, journal entries, and murderous manifestations affecting the supporting cast of characters in the present.
I’m of the firm belief that once you’ve established a clear character trait, reinforcing it with repetitious actions is pointless. This comes back to my earlier statement about reading rape scenes getting old. After the nature and appetites of the villain are rolled out in ‘Scribe’ with a teenage girl, I give subsequent incidents cursory mention. That, or hint at them without specific descriptions.
The first rape scene was the toughest in the book to write. I must have reshaped it a dozen times to strike a correct balance. A wobbly place between giving necessary information, sparking an emotive response and not going overboard with graphic details. Heaven forbid anyone read such an encounter and experience any kind of titillation. I opted for focusing on the girl’s traumatised mental state and physical pain, replaying certain aspects of the act with metaphor and simile. It’s like walking a tightrope in a hurricane, but the result advances the story with the right tone. A follow-on scene featuring twin victims (a boy and girl) includes just enough post-horror suggestions to show our rapist’s tastes extend to both sexes. Then things are kept to his written rantings, which blend a strict religious upbringing with depraved statements suggesting sexual imagery. In a classic example of psychological gas-lighting, he blames his victims for his own evil deeds.
Because of his grief, Michael doubts the evidence of his own senses at first. This is a mild nod to that other overused trope: ‘The Unreliable Narrator.’ As I prefer writing in the third person, this doesn’t get much more than lip service. But it helps mix things up while our suffering hero discovers what’s going on both inside and out.
Given the two heavy topics covered – bereavement and child abuse/murder – I couldn’t leave my readers without a heart-warming climax and denouement. ‘Scribe’ is also a love story. A tale about unconfessed affection finding a second chance at the right moment. If you read it, I hope it moves you. Ultimately, I hope you walk away with a positive experience.
‘Scribe’ will be out in paperback and Kindle formats before the end of March.
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
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
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.
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
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?