To mark the two-year anniversary of this journey into writing horror/paranormal/supernatural suspense fiction, I decided to give my backlist a much-needed do-over. Hurried, experimental design choices I made while establishing the ‘De’Ath Brand’ were no longer working. Plus, some of the covers just plain sucked!
While I’m delighted to have attracted many readers who buy book after book (you people rock), it was time to dispense with the old, heavy medieval script author name which limited my options. Also, I’d wanted to revise and fix errors in ‘Nevermere’ (still a popular book), so I knuckled down to caring for the portfolio.
The result is a tightened and tidied up text for ‘Nevermere,’ plus revised covers with updated graphics and typography for every title on the backlist. ‘Nevermere,’ ‘Caveat Emptor,’ and ‘The Shackled’ got a total cover redesign from the ground up.
At the time of writing, Amazon are in the process of updating their product images to reflect those changes. If you can’t wait, check the images below or click the ‘Titles’ page of this website. Goodreads already includes alternate cover versions of all books. BookBub will update to follow Amazon. Both Kindle and Paperback versions received cover updates for every title.
Now it’s back to finishing the outline for the ninth novel which I’m due to begin writing next week.
The title of this post is a nod to that classic 1915 John Buchan novel, ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps.’ A book that has seen more film and television adaptations than you can shake a stick at.
When I write articles at the time of a new book release, I often include one about featured locations. In ‘Pilgrim,’ a story that begins in Kent leads to a pair of wrongfully accused protagonists going on the run to avoid capture, clear their names, unmask a sinister cult and stop an impending atrocity via a vexing trail of desecrations. The trail follows nine specific locations visited by a shadowy, hooded figure with bizarre occult powers, performing a series of rituals. These rituals form a spiritual path to an ultimate wickedness designed to give fallen entities (masquerading as the pagan deity Baphomet) greater access to and influence upon modern society.
The only similarities with Buchan’s novel are a man and woman on the run, and a powerful group intent upon destabilisation. But, as I like to consider ways to answer the inevitable question: ‘So what’s your new book like/about?’ the reply: ‘A supernatural, occult suspense thriller akin to a metaphysical version of The Thirty-Nine Steps,’ gives people a clue.
During my police career, I was licensed to train detectives in using communications data for tracking. There’s a lot of nonsense out there thanks to movies and TV, so it was a pleasure to write a story in which our heroes go on the run employing realistic considerations over what their pursuers can (and definitely can’t) do. All the places they visit, the train, bus and walking routes chosen, are also true to life. Should you wish to play at being Vicky and Bill, you can follow their trail for real.
The tiny island of Lundy, off the north Devon coast in The Bristol Channel, proved perfect for the climax and denouement. While no Templar ruins exist on Lundy, the island was gifted to the order, who maintained a fleet nearby because of its strategic importance. Incorporating popular tales regarding lost weaponry from the wreck of nineteenth century blockade-runner ‘Iona II,’ added gravitas and realism. It also offered a perfect excuse for firearms availability, when the story warranted them. I even squeezed in a dramatic appearance by the Royal Marines. Brilliant fun!
‘Pilgrim’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 23rd June.
Inspiration for my latest novel, ‘Pilgrim,’ came from a situation I encountered twenty-four years ago while I was a minister and missionary.
At the time of the incident in question, I was living and working at a combined mission station and plantation in the densely forested hills above Montego Bay, Jamaica. During the humid mid-summer heat, several staff fell sick with a curious, cold-like illness nobody seemed able to shake. Weeks dragged on with more falling ill. We were getting short-handed and wondering at the cause as nobody in the local parish of St. James appeared affected.
One morning, an indigenous worker harvesting in our banana grove, spotted a strangely dressed individual crouching near a spot along the site boundary. It aroused his suspicions, so he went to check. The odd figure had planted an Obeah curse. For those unfamiliar, Obeah is a Jamaican form of Voodoo that’s still illegal to practise in the country. Our team scoured the site to discover an abundance of similar curses concealed around the entire plantation boundary. Being Charismatic Evangelicals, we set about destroying the curses and engaged in spiritual warfare through prayer, praise and Biblical declarations. Make of it what you will, but recovery came on swift wings to our afflicted comrades.
Fast-forward to the present, that encounter saw me toying with several story concepts involving a mysterious hooded figure on a diabolical UK pilgrimage to desecrate sacred sites in a form of inverted veneration. Ask any seasoned author and they’ll tell you story ideas are two a penny. Translating them into compelling, three act structures of novel length is the real challenge. I find ‘interrogating’ an idea the best form of ‘plot laxative’ to get things moving.
Who is the hooded figure?
Why are they desecrating sacred sites?
Which particular sites are they desecrating, and is there a pattern with some underlying meaning?
Is this person human, or something else?
Who will tie the threads of these desecrations together (protagonist/s), and for what reason?
How do the story arcs of protagonist/antagonist intersect?
Listing multiple likely answers to questions like that, quickly leads into a three act, plot point framework. From there, an outline with detailed scenes, character and location profiles flows with reasonable ease.
At the same time I’d been bashing around other story ideas involving a shadowy cult with powerful connections, shaping and influencing society behind the scenes. Making my hooded figure part of this larger group presented many more interesting possibilities. Once I looked into the concept of ‘Spiritual Magnetism,’ which even normally atheistic socialists consider a fusion of spirit and science leading to a perfect social order, I knew I was onto something. Another aspect of ‘Spiritual Magnetism’ is Baphomet worship. As a student of church history with a longstanding interest in militaristic holy orders like the Templars and Hospitallers (predating the time those topics became fashionable), I knew accusations of Baphomet worship formed a significant part of false charges levied against The Templars. Charges heralding mass executions and the destruction of the order.
Suddenly I had a spiritual focus for the hooded figure AND an answer to which places they were desecrating. In this case, former Templar sites to hoover up negative energies from wrongful association with the androgynous deity its cult worship. Throw in some human sacrifice, a blending of chaos and sex magic, an escaped former prisoner of the cult and a homeless man turned private investigator who become fugitives from the law, plus a ‘ticking bomb’ in the form of an upcoming atrocity that must be averted, et voila – things are about to get interesting.
Like my other novels, ‘Pilgrim’ will be released in both paperback and Kindle formats, from 23rd June. You can pre-order the Kindle version. Its page count will correct to 354, once both products go live and are linked on Amazon.
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.
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
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.
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?