Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Writing and a positive mental attitude...

We’ve just come back from our annual holiday which, this year, was spent in a place called East Ruston on my beloved east coast.  The Cottages4U website said it was quiet and they weren’t kidding - we were about three miles from Stalham (itself not exactly the hub of the universe) and the place was a hamlet, a small collection of houses, with no shop or pub or any amenities really.
At Wroxham
And it was wonderful.  There was hardly any traffic (I quickly found a good route for my daily 2m power walk and saw perhaps three cars over the whole time), there were no street-lights (you forget just how dark the night is until there aren’t any street lights) and more importantly, there was no wi-fi.  We talked, we played footy or went for little family walks, we played Scrabble and we enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet, though it wasn’t isolated.  Our cottage was one of ten in a group and at least half of them had kids in, so we could hear people about during the day and Dude had some company close to his own age.

I took along “Le Freak”, the Nile Rodgers autobiography (I seem to prefer reading autobiographies when I’m on holiday) which was great (you can read my review on Goodreads here), especially how he’d started the Chic organisation with Bernard Edwards and the different creative adventures he’d had.  That, as it often does, got me thinking about my own creativity and the quiet (and lack of Net access) gave me the space to reflect.

Creativity is one of those odd things to discuss (though, strangely, I often end up doing just that).  If you’re engaged in a creative project - writing, painting, composing music, making films, crafting items, whatever - you know how it feels, you understand the pressures, the highs, the lows, the bits that make sense, the bits that don’t work at all; everyone else sees you sitting there chewing on the end of a pen.  But reading “Le Freak”, where Rodgers is aware that he’s creating great work but still astounded that it’s affecting the zeitgeist, is refreshing.  It’s refreshing in the same way as when you hear writers (in my case) you admire talking at Cons, about their processes and concerns - it re-inforces what you think and feel.

I’m on a bit of a creative roll at the moment, which is always nice.  I’m just about to start the third draft of a war-based novella (which was asked for - I’ve never written a war-time set story before) and I’ve really enjoyed the process, researching it and asking my Dad (a WW2 buff) odd questions, plus I’ve had some great feedback from  my pre-readers.  Once that’s done, I’m into the third Mike Decker story (which is already plotted), that has both a home to go to and will be my critique piece for the next meeting of the Northampton SF Writers Group.  After that, I have two more asked for short stories, then I can get to the novella I’m crafting out of half the “failed novel” pitch I did last year.

Looking at this picture now, I can't help wondering how on earth
Dude saw over the boat to see where he was going...
Right now, I feel good about my writing (which doesn’t happen all that often) and that peaceful week on the east coast helped emphasise that, almost as much as if I had Major Anya Amasova herself sitting there extolling the virtues of a "positive mental attitude".  I played through scenes (from the novella and the Decker short story) in my head as I walked, I read “Le Freak” without the distractions of emails pinging in or Facebook updating and I went out and did things that could inspire future story ideas or give me experience I can use on the page in the future (a boat sequence in the novella is now changed because we hired a boat - Dude did most of the work - to sail up the Thurne).

Now we’re back home, I’m writing this in between revisions with my troop of plucky soldiers and although I’m plugged back into the Net that feeling of last week, that sense of positivity and believing in what I'm doing is still lingering.  And I plan to capitalise on it.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Penthouse Incident

I'm pleased to announce that "Demonology", the new anthology edited by Dean M. Drinkel, has just been published by Lycopolis Press.  This is the fourth time I've worked with Dean (as the book contains my story "The Penthouse Incident") and this features a welcome (for me) return for my character Mike Decker, who originally appeared in "The Zabriskie Grimoire" (which I blogged about here).  In additional news, I'm going to be writing another Decker story for Dean in the near future.

The Flute Of Gali
Juan J. Guiterrez

The Throne
Peter Mark May

The Call
Charles Rudkin

Sandra Norval

Kelly Gould

From Within
Christopher L. Beck

Anthony Crowley

Interview With Nybbas
Tim Dry

Demon Driver
Adrian Cole

Riding The Hag
S. L. Schmitz

The Penthouse Incident
Mark West

Climbing Out
Paul Flewitt

Our Love Comes Back
Dean M. Drinkel

The book is available (in print editions only at the moment) from the following:

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

This time around, Decker describes himself thus:

"I am an acquirer, a finder of items lost or hidden and although it’s an occasionally dirty job, I am well paid for it.  I take my job very seriously and I expect other people to do the same.  I once had a meeting with an arrogant playboy who compared me to a personal shopper and it took him almost five minutes to properly take a breath after I’d punched him in the throat."

Mike is hired by Brian Bootle, "one of Gaffney’s pre-eminent pornographers", to find his son Daniel, who has stolen a grimoire from Brian's private collection.  The trail leads Decker to a penthouse suite where, it appears, all hell has broken loose.  I had a lot of fun with this story, making my anti-hero as horrible as possible whilst also poking fun at what sometimes passes as celebrity these days.

I could smell blood in the air as soon as the lift door opened and since it wasn’t a scent you normally associated with one of the finest hotels in the city, it wouldn’t be long until someone complained.  
I stepped out of the lift onto the top floor, occupied by four penthouses.  The corridor in front of me, which serviced all of them, ran the width of the building.  It was wide and thickly carpeted, decorated in such a way as to draw attention to itself without seeming unbecoming.

If my contact was correct, my target was in 6b and the door closest to me, on my left, was 6a.  I walked down the corridor, my footsteps completely muffled.  It was so quiet I could hear myself breathing, along with the faint hum of air conditioning and the gearings of the lift.  I stopped outside 6b.  The door looked exactly the same as the others, there was no pentragram scrawled in blood on one of the ornate inlay panels, no claw marks around the handle, nothing to tip me off that I was in the right place.

Leaning forward, I put my ear close enough to hear anything that might be happening in the room.  Nothing.  I touched the door-handle with my fingertips and it felt vaguely warm.

I knocked and it sounded very loud.  “Room service,” I said, in the cheeriest voice I could muster.  There was a noise but I couldn’t make out what it was.

I looked back along the length of the empty corridor.  The lift had closed.  

I opened the door and pushed it as far as it would go.  The smell of blood was overwhelming and I could almost taste it, it was so thick in the air.  Nobody rushed me so I stepped over the threshold into a small hallway that opened up into a minimalist, modern  suite.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

My Fall Guy summer...

A year ago today, I went into hospital having suffered a heart attack.  It was a shocking experience, a real slap in the face from my mortality that made me look hard at - and change - a lot of things in my life.
left - me on a bike ride (picture by Dude) - 3/8/14
right - me & Dude, at Welland Park, playing football - 2/8/15
I wanted to mark today but wasn't sure how and then found this little essay I wrote in September last year but never got round to publishing on the blog.  As it was written 'in the thick of things', it has an immediacy I couldn't recapture now, so here it is...

* * *

As we glide smoothly into Autumn (my favourite season of the year) and the nights draw in and the mornings darken, it seems - as it often does - as though summer was gone in a blink.  It was, I think.

I had such plans for this summer.  There was a novel I was going to write - I thought it was a fantastic idea, I worked hard on the pitch and critiqued the three chapters with my pre-reader band and my chums at the Northampton SF Writers group, there were adventures to be had with Dude, day-trips to exciting places and our Wales holiday.

The first adventure wasn’t the success I’d been hoping for, as Dude & I went to London for the Film & Comic Con event at Earls Court in July.  The venue was terrible, the staffing levels were appalling and we left mid-afternoon, thoroughly disappointed.  “Why don’t we go into the City?” I asked and Dude agreed and it saved the day from disaster, as we had a lovely afternoon wandering around the capital, visiting our favourite shops, eating a lovely meal on Shaftesbury Avenue and then leaning contentedly on each other in the train home as we read our books.

In early July, the publisher I’d approached with my “Fantastic Novel” pitch turned it down - he was very complimentary about the writing and structure but didn’t feel it was different enough for his list.  As nice as he was, as nice as the compliments were, I was gutted.  I didn’t write anything for a week, a fortnight.  I then had three people contact me wanting short stories, I spoke with Ian Whates from my writing group and Sue Moorcroft, my critiquing partner and writing friend and I started to pick myself back up.

All through this time, events in the world (especially the Gaza situation) were darkening my days and in a bid to stave off a black dog episode, I was browsing through ebay and found the first series of “The Fall Guy” for sale.  I decided to buy it, reasoning that I could binge-watch it (on my own, I presumed) and forget things for a while.

On Sunday 3rd August, I had several attacks of acid reflux - that awful burning in the chest sensation - which had me eating Gaviscon like they were Smarties.  When Dude & I went out for a walk, then a bike ride and my elbows ached, I assumed I’d somehow caught them somewhere.

On Monday, I had more of the acid reflux attacks, so much so that I couldn’t get myself comfortable.  “I feel like I’m dying,” I groaned to Alison.  Thankfully, she’s a lot smarter than me and packed me off to the KeyDoc where I was seen by an apparently very inexperienced doctor (who stank of BO) who carried out an ECG on me that didn’t work and sent me to the hospital for a bloodtest with no accompanying paperwork.

I made my way to Kettering General Hospital at 8pm, my Dad kept me company and at 2am I was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit.  Sometime during the day - or maybe on the Sunday - I had suffered a minor heart attack (“it happens a lot,” the nurse told me cheerfully, “people think they’re having acid attacks and it’s not, it’s little heart attacks!”).  Following a sleepless night, I was second into surgery and after an angiogram to see what was going on had a stent fitted.  The doctor later showed me a video of the operation and, when I was trying to describe it later, I likened it to a SatNav image.  I’ll try it again…

Imagine the M1 cutting down the middle of the screen.  That’s an artery, the dark colour of it the life blood that’s pumping around my body and keeping everything going.  Coming off it is a thinner line, a country lane that doesn’t look wide enough to carry much heavy traffic.  The wire appears, the balloon is inflated, the stent is positioned and suddenly I’m looking at two M1’s.  “Oh,” I said, “I see.”

I spent the rest of the day in hospital, recovering and was sent home that night.  Alison & Dude were thrilled to see me and my Mum gave me a big hug.  Even Dad, who’s not overly prone to displays of affection, hugged me.  They went home, my family went to bed, I sat up and pondered how life was going to change now, how life would have to change now.  And I picked up the box set of “The Fall Guy”, put in a disk and watched it.

I watched more episodes as the week wore on, as people treated me with kid gloves and made sure everything was all right and every time I tried to do something, I was gently pushed back to my seat to take it easy.  I started to call my mini-heart attack an episode, to try and play it down.  I was knackered, I was tired, but I was also very lucky and I wanted to get back on my feet.  As for the attack itself, the doctors reckoned that although my weight was a factor, the contributing causes were my smoking (I gave up when Alison discovered she was pregnant, ten years ago) and family history (my Grampy had several attacks, the last of which unfortunately killed him).

My holiday fortnight came and that first week - which we usually spend heading off on day trips - fizzled to nothing, our only outing being a train trip to Leicester Dude & I went on.  The second week, our time away in Wales, was wonderful but a lot more sedate than normal and I couldn’t chase around in the castle ruins like I’d have done before.

What a great excuse for a picture of The Fall Guy team!
(Douglas Bar, Lee Majors, Heather Thomas)
As the days went by I could feel myself starting to get stronger.  I’d already started losing the weight (some weeks before I saw a picture Alison took of me & Dude on the patio and I was so disgusted at the Jabba The Hutt I’d become, I decided to do something about it - cutting down on crap, more bike riding and loads of walks had lost me 17lbs before the episode), I don’t drink or smoke, but I did have to start eating more fruit & veg and I felt like I could do it.  Dude & I took to going out for a walk - of at least 2 miles a session - at least five times a week, if not six or seven.  And when we came back, after his shower, he & I would sit in a chair - him on my lap - and watch “The Fall Guy”.  He loved it (I didn’t think he would, its pace is much slower than the kids TV he now watches), it was our time and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think he did too.  When we’d finished the first box set, he immediately wanted to watch the next so I ordered it (in case you’re wondering, series 3 to 5 haven’t been released on DVD due to ‘lack of demand’ - it would appear that Dude is the only 9 year old fan of the show).

As the weeks went by and I got better, my desire to write came back and I finished off the story I’d written in first draft before my episode.  The process was fairly smooth, I read it aloud to Alison and it worked for us both and I sent it to the editor who liked it a lot.  I worked on a second story, using images I’d picked up in Wales and the editor liked that one too.  I have another story to write, which is rolling around in my head at the moment but I’m confident about it.  With my other writing, I really want to get back to the novel, to build on the pitch and go off-tangent to it at the same time, as characters and situations suggest themselves to me.

The hospital team made an appointment for me to go in to have a second angiogram, to make sure everything was okay with the first procedure and to see if another thin artery they’d seen before was standing up to the strain.  The appointment was made for Monday 8th September so I got to enjoy the FantasyCon weekend in full before it and I’m so pleased I did.  The Con was great and it was wonderful to see so many old friends, to catch up and laugh and hug and lovely, too, to realise just how much I meant to them.  To those of you reading this who came up to me that weekend and hugged me or held my arm and looked me in the eyes and said “it’s so good to see you”, it meant so very much to me, it really did.

We were almost done with the second series of “The Fall Guy” before FantasyCon so Dude & I agreed to leave a couple of episodes over until I’d been back into the hospital.  I went in on the Monday afternoon for the angiogram and it was awful - they simulated another heart attack and for a terrible handful of minutes, it felt like someone was wringing my chest bones.  Everything was clear though and I was home by 8.30pm without a need for the second stent.  I’m due to start the Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme on the 29th and, hopefully, they’ll give me the nod to get back on my bike (Dude & I have so missed our adventures).

I feel better in myself, my strength is returning, my fitness is increasing all the time and the weight is still coming off, which is reassuring - I’ve not gone back to the takeaways or loads of sweets and it’s not been the struggle I thought it would.  But then, I look at my family and friends, I look at Alison & Dude and see them looking at me and realise that’s why.

I want to remember 2014 as my “Fall Guy” summer and I hope that Dude does too (he doesn’t talk much about the episode but I can sometimes see it playing away behind his eyes) because that 30 year old TV show managed to sand off a lot of the sharp edges caused by a couple of months of horror, pain and sobering reality and I’ll always be grateful for that.

The update:
- The Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme was a huge success for me (thanks so much to Iona and her team), they gave me a real burst of confidence to get out and get exercising (and not worry that I was going to kill myself)

- The Cardiac team at KGH were so impressed with my progress, my twelve-month assessment was brought forward and I was released from their care after six months

- Dude still worries about the whole thing (though it's lessening with time).  For months, he didn't like me going out on my own ("If I'm not there, who'll help you?") and he & I have had several long and indepth chats about it - he can see that I'm thinner, that I'm looking after myself and getting fitter, but the doubt is still sometimes in his eyes.  The British Heart Foundation produce a brilliant pamphlet called "My Dad's Heart Attack" which we read together and I think it helped, as the story in that is identical to his experience with me.

- I never did write that novel, though I've now sold a novella based on half of the pitch so that's a plus

- Dude still talks about The Fall Guy and when he leaps around, I sometimes call him Colt-junior, which makes him smile.  I wrote a blog post about the show, which seemed to go down well

- I've already blogged about my quest to lose weight and I'm pleased to say that yesterday's weigh-in saw me down to 13st 7.5lbs (a total loss of 69.25lbs and just 0.75lbs off 5st), so I'm obviously going in the right direction

- I am fitter than I have been in years, so much so that a few weeks back I played for a Dads Eleven at Dude's football team and didn't disgrace myself at all

- I'm still here, I'm enjoying my life, I'm surrounded by wonderful family and friends and I'm writing again.  What more could I want?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

"Beware The Moon, Lads..." - An American Werewolf under the stars

Regular readers of this blog (there must be one or two of you) might remember that back in early May (and if you need reminding, I blogged about it here), my friend David & I went to see “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, the first film in an open-air programme run by Luna Flix at Stanwick Lakes.  It was great fun and we both thoroughly enjoyed the evening so when we saw that “An American Werewolf In London” was showing, we were dead set on it - even better, it was scheduled for July 31st, to be shown under a blue moon.  Oh yes!
"You made me miss!" - David & I get into the spirit of things...
David arrived at Stanwick Lakes first and secured us a couple of decent spots, middle row centre.  Luna Flix use a terraced area to the side of the Lake as their theatre and whilst for “Close Encounters” there were probably fifty or so people there, this time well over a hundred were expected - the show was sold out and the place was packed.
I got there for about 8.20 and as I walked around with other film-goers, I saw that the road sign had been ‘adapted’ for the evening, which made me smile.  Walking across the grass (and I couldn't help but hear Brian Glover advise me to “keep off the moors!"), I heard a steady stream of moon-related songs blasting out of the theatre.  At the ticket desk, the two ladies in charge were wearing make-up to simulate scratch wounds and looked great and there was a real sense of atmosphere with the people in the queue.  When I got into the theatre itself, I was genuinely surprised to see so many people there - the horror film, it appears, is as popular as ever.  I said hello to Simon Hopkins, the Luna Flix head honcho (we don’t know each other but have chatted on FB and he seemed to remember me from last time), found David and we caught up on things.  At one point, the music was switched off and everyone was encouraged to yell “you made me miss!” at whoever had just walked in.  That helped build the atmosphere, especially when the newcomers reacted - I went to the loo and when I came back, one lone bloke at the back shouted it at me.  I waved at him.

The film wasn’t scheduled to start until 9.40, when it was dark enough and as David & I chatted and made ourselves comfortable and wrapped up warm (we learned our lesson last time), people were still coming in (“you made me miss!”) and looking around in a panic, trying to find somewhere to sit.  After a brief introduction, we got a ‘surprise’ bonus film and it was a lovely touch that got people into the spirit nicely.  Then, in Blu-Ray splendour, we moved onto the main feature.

"An American Werewolf In London" is one of my all-time favourite films, for a whole load of reasons and it never fails to disappoint.  The camaraderie between David & Jack is spot on, Jenny Agutter is beautiful, it's very funny ("a naked American man stole my balloons..."), it's very gruesome (I still find the home invasion dream sequence - and subsequent stabbing - shocking), it has the whole 'Moondance' sequence, Rick Baker thoroughly deserved his Oscar and it's tightly written (with a wonderful English sensibility to it).

Like most people my age, my first exposure to the film was on a fairly dark and cloudy VHS (it wasn’t until I first saw it on DVD that I realised the naked bloke on the moor at the start was the original werewolf and not Griffin Dunne’s Jack) and seeing it, on the big screen and in HD, was a real treat.  The image was a little grainy and maybe some of the make-up edges showed but it was glorious and the sound was explosively loud (I hadn’t realised before how ‘jumpy’ the soundtrack was).  The film is 35 years old next year (I’m already planning my ‘retrospective’ article and wrote about Rick Baker earlier this year) and it held up superbly, easily keeping the large audiences attention completely.  Personally, I loved it (and yes, the ‘Moondance’ sequence looked particularly splendid) and spent the whole time with a big grin on my face.
Jenny Agutter, just prior to 'Moondance'.  She's lovely.
It was a fantastic experience (Rick Baker's transformation is still, all this time later, simply staggering and John Landis' direction moves at a hell of a pace) and the film got a round of applause as the credits rolled.  As David & I walked back to the car park (“keep off the moors lads!”), he admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d seen the whole film before but had loved it and we reminisced about how nostalgic it was, looking at an England from 1980/81 that we both clearly remembered - the cars, the clothes, three TV channels, the nurses uniforms, the shops that don’t exist any more and a Picadilly Circus that was a lot seedier than it is now (but, perhaps, just that little bit better).

“An American Werewolf In London”, under the stars and a full moon, was a real treat and I really enjoyed myself.  I’m not sure what we’re going watch in the programme next, but I can’t wait to go!

If you’re local, check out the schedule here and pop along, it’s great fun.

and here, for your viewing pleasure, is the masterful transformation sequence in all its glory...

Simon Hopkins (Luna Flix head honcho) and his "werewolf victim" crew...
(thanks to Simon for the picture)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The post-Con buzz (and harnessing it!)

For a writers blog, I don’t do many posts about my actual writing, do I?  Well, hold on to your hats…

I am, at the moment, working on a war-themed novella (which I’ve been procrastinating over for ages) but I now also know what I’m going to be writing after that and it already has a home, which makes the project all the more exciting.

Just to backtrack slightly, I had a grand plan last year.  I’d finally (after a couple of years) corralled my ideas for a novel-length expansion of my novelette “The Mill”, opening it out with a psychic and a haunted house and a failed TV medium.  I had high hopes, I wrote a synopsis and the first three chapters, I had it critiqued and then the publisher I was really keen on rejected it.  A huge dent to my confidence (even though he was very complimentary about my writing and the structure of the piece), it really took the wind out of my sails.  A little while later I had my heart attack and that, as you can imagine, didn’t do a great deal for my writing mojo.  I wrote some short stories (which were asked for, several of them will appear this year, a few next year) and turned the novel pitch over in my head - I got more feedback on it, all positive, but something about it nagged me.  I don’t know if it was the rejection, or maybe that it was tied up in my head with my heart attack, or maybe that I didn’t want to revisit the depths of grief that I’d plumbed to write “The Mill”.  Who knows?

Earlier this year, I was invited to contribute a war-themed novella to a collection that a publisher I have a lot of time for was putting together (forgive my being vague, as soon as it’s announced, I’ll let you know).  I agreed (of course, who wouldn’t?) even though I’d never written anything set in a war before.  I spoke with my Dad (who’s a WW2 buff) and ran through some ideas with him and a story fell into place that I thought could work well.  I had a couple of short story commitments to finalise first but my writing mojo was still limping along and they took a while to come together.  The failed-novel-pitch was still rattling around and I knew I wanted to work on new novel, but whatever idea I had seemed to feed back into the pitch somehow.  I did get the shorts written (both in a burst of activity as deadline day loomed) and made more notes on the war project.

Then I realised that Edge-Lit was coming up.

I don’t really know how to explain why Conventions (and gatherings of like-minded people) are so important to creative types, but they are.  You go along and talk to your friends, about projects and problems, you talk about films and books you’ve read, you go for a meal and a drink and have a laugh, you simply exist, surrounded by creative people who are all bubbling with the same enthusiasm as you are.  I love Cons and I’ve never come back from one without feeling like I could take on the world with my writing - even better, I had a great time at this Edge-Lit and felt great.

So I decided to use that buzz and energy, to harness it for the power of good (or not, depending on whether you like my writing).  I made notes for the war novella, I wrote the opening few paragraphs (always the hardest, in my opinion) and then I let it simmer, so that when I got back from Edge-Lit, I could use that creative energy and power on.

And you know what, it worked a treat!  The war novella is trundling along quite nicely now and the monsters have just been revealed in all their glory, leaving the heroes having a hellish job trying to survive.

Part of the NSFWG gang - Tim C. Taylor, Ian Whates, me, Neil Bond
Then, a fortnight ago saw the once-a-month treat that is the Northampton SF Writers Group (or the NSFWG), of which I am a member.  I really enjoy our little gatherings and this time, a few of us stayed on and chatted over drinks and more of that creative buzz was generated.  As I drove home, it occurred to me that a section of the failed-novel-pitch (the psychic section, whose chapter generated the most attention and interest from my pre-readers) could work as a standalone novella.  The arc for the character was complete, it fed into the climax perfectly, it didn’t involve the grief and I’d enjoyed writing it.  I let the story roll around in my head overnight and the next morning, I wrote up a brief synopsis.  I emailed Pete May at Hersham Horror Books, who'd asked me a couple of years ago for a novella and told him I thought I had one.  I sent him the synopsis, he liked it and we’re on for next year.

These events were then capped by the announcement of the British Fantasy Society Awards 2015 nominees, where I appeared in the Best Novella category, courtesy of "Drive".  As I blogged at the time, it's long been an ambition of mine to get onto the shortlist but what I didn't expect was how good it felt to have the acknowledgement of your peers.

So I don’t know if it was creative energy developed by Edge-Lit and the NSFWG or if it was just a case of me making certain decisions in my writing but whatever it was, it seems to have worked.  I’m enjoying the war novella, I’m enjoying the fact that I have novella ready to go but, most of all, I’m enjoying the writing.

This is going to be a creative summer and I’m looking forward to it!  Roll on FantasyCon!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Guest post by Alex Davis

Today on the blog sees Alex Davis, organiser of the wonderful Edge-Lit conventions and publisher of Boo Books, contribute a guest post.

As the epic that has been the July Blogswap Trail draws towards a close, it's time for another extract from The Last War, which I hope is reasonably epic in its own right... Here we're getting a bit deeper into the story – Chapter Eleven to be precise – where the proverbial is about to hit the fan, and the flames of conflict are just springing to life...


'I have no intention of harming your temple, Re'Nuck. I have come to harm you.'

Apius can feel his own face grow pale, the threat of violence meted by Asha this morning about to come to an unlikely conclusion. He can feel his body tense, but does now know if it is in readiness to run or fight back. How would he even fight back? The wooden rake may not be much of a weapon, but it is more than he can bring to bear. He tries to stutter a reply of some kind as Asha mounts the steps to the altar itself. One of his braver followers, a man he cannot name, leaps up behind Asha and tries to launch a crude attack of his own. Apius never finds out what his intention was, because she turns quickly and lashes out the rake. The clash sends shivers through the Re'Nuck, and the would-be attacker falls by the wayside, knocked silly by the force and hatred behind the blow.

'Do something, brothers and sisters! Take this despoiler away!' Apius finally wrenches from his throat, but the words bring no action. Asha turns to the timid flock, knowing they will do nothing. Many are still transfixed by the prone form lying on the floor, a livid bruise rising on the face. They have never seen an act of violence before, and Asha finds herself delighted by their fear. With a wolfish smile, she says, 'I suggest you leave now. This is between me and your precious leader.'

Apius dives to the floor, as though the altar can offer him some protection. There are only one way out of the temple, and the front door is blocked by Asha's coiled form – and Apius can hardly believe the sight of his followers leaving him behind! They are afraid, he tries to tell himself, they have no experience of such things. They must be forgiven. I will forgive them. If I survive this, he adds morbidly.

She continues her climb of the stairs to the altar, amused at the sight of the Re'Nuck cowering without the strength of numbers to fall back on.

'It is no use trying to hide, Re'Nuck. You would give yourself more honour in facing me.'

Apius gathers all his courage to stand before the feral, aggressive spirit of the Noukari given flesh. Swathed in mud, ready to explode into violence, Asha makes a sight to chill the strongest of their number.

'Thank you, Re'Nuck. At least now you may die with some dignity. Your death will mean the death of your religion, and all the darkness it brings.'

'Animexianism will survive. Someone will step into my place.'

'From among your loyal followers? Those who fled at the first risk to themselves? They are unwilling to put themselves in the line of danger for their precious gods.'

'You speak of darkness, but you are about to commit the darkest of all acts.'

'Do not moralize with me, Apius. My act is the lesser of two darknesses. I have no doubt of that.'

For more information, Alex can be found online here

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Drive nominated for a BFS Award!

Holy crap.

I wrote the first draft of “Drive” in early 2008, the germ of the idea coming to me as I drove to Luton in late 2007 on my way to the airport.  I’d left home at 3am and didn’t see another car until I got to Northampton and that feeling of dislocation triggered a series of images I bullet pointed as I waited in the departure lounge.

Chris Teague, at Pendragon Press, took the story late in 2008 and it finally saw publication in August 2014.  Since then, I’m pleased to say, it’s not only picked up some cracking reviews, it’s sold well too.  The story is a bit of a departure for me - I said we should market it as an urban chiller, since it’s a horror story of real life, rather than featuring supernatural frights - but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

Thankfully, it appears other people got it enough that it’s been nominated for the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novella 2014, the shortlist of which was announced this morning.

The 2015 nominees for the British Fantasy Award for best novella are: 
Cold Turkey, Carole Johnstone (TTA Press); 
Drive, Mark West (Pendragon Press); 
Newspaper Heart, Stephen Volk (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories); 
Water For Drowning, Ray Cluley (This Is Horror). ‪

It should go without saying that I’m thrilled to have been included - it’s long since been my ambition to get onto the BFS shortlist on my own and to have done so with this story, against such a strong field (and in such excellent company), is brilliant.

I was already looking forward to FCon, now my excitement levels have gone up a notch!

Thank you to everyone who voted for “Drive” (and Chris, for taking it on), good luck to my fellow nominees and bring on the awards!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Edge-Lit 4, Derby, 11th July 2015

Following the success of Edge-Lit 3 at The Quad in Derby (which I wrote about here), I was really looking forward to number 4 and, judging by the excited comments on my FB feed, I wasn’t the only one.  After last years difficulty in finding the place (damn you, Google Maps), I used the AA route-planner and had absolutely no problems at all in finding the Assembly Rooms car park.  Blocking the square this year was a beer festival - as noisy as last years Afro-Caribbean carnival, but much less colourful and nowhere near as much fun - with the attendees leaning on wire fences looking out as us like extras in some half-rate zombie flick.
At the Pendragon Press table - left to right: Wayne Parkin, Stephen Bacon, Chris Teague, me, Steve Harris, Kit Power
I went to get signed in and straight away saw Ross Warren and his sister Lisa, then Steve Bacon turned up.  He was accompanied by his friend Wayne Parkin, an aspiring writer who was one of the early reviewers for my King For A Year project - I’ve spoken with him on FB and it was nice to finally shake his hand and say hello.  Once signed in (“you’re half the man you used to be!” exclaimed the ever delightful Pixie Puddin as she gave me a big hug), Mark Morris arrived and we said hello then I saw Steve Harris and we went over to say hello to Chris Teague before heading into the (small but bustling) dealers room.  Adam Millard’s Crowded Quarantine were just inside the door and it was good to finally meet him, after being FB friends for five years (as he reminded  me).  Sitting with him and signing book-plates was Paul Feeney (whose debut print novella, “The Last Bus”, was being launched - I read it earlier in the week and really enjoyed it) and it was great to see him again (we first met at Edge-Lit 3).  At the end of the room was Andrew Hook and his partner Sophie, so Steve H & I went to see him, I bought a book and Steve bought a collection and we caught up on news.

In the bar - Alison Littlewood, me, James Everington, Richard Farren Barber, Wayne, Steve
After meeting Kit Power (who contributed a review of the Fleming novel to my “Moonraker” appreciation blog post) and a quick photo-opp with Chris, we headed for the bar where we met Alison Littlewood & Fergus.  It was great to see them both again, we had a chat and Fergus & I brainstormed some ideas for his zombie novel to rival her forthcoming one.  I spotted Paul Holmes (Pablo Cheesecake) and said hello and he chatted with us all for a while.  By now it was lunchtime so, with Terry Grimwood, Richard Farren Barber and John Travis (all old friends) in tow, Wayne led us away from last years lunchtime treat (the Acropolis (“Pensioner Special - Liver & Onions!”) café) and we wandered around to The Strand and had sandwiches from Baked.  We also utilised their toilet and when it was my turn, I hadn’t clicked the lock into place properly and a lady of a certain age blundered in on me.  She apologised and left, so when I went out I apologised about not locking it properly and she said “I’ve been married 45 years and raised two sons, I’ve seen it all before…”  The sandwiches were lovely and we ate them outside, basking in the sun and chatting.
'Lunch on the strand' (the bench and bus don't make it look as glamorous as it sounds, do they?)
Me, Terry Grimwood, Steve, Richard, Wayne - John Travis, Steve Harris, James
Steve at Eagle Books
James had to head back to the Quad and I led the others through to the Eagle Market where the great bookshop Johnny Mains introduced me to last year, Eagle Books, was situated.  I was thrilled to see he was still there (and had taken over another cubicle) and I think it’s safe to say we all had our fill (and Wayne managed to pick up a Mad Max novelisation his Mum had refused to allow him to buy when he was younger!).  I got some great old horror paperbacks and a nice, smutty NEL one - great fun.

Back to the Quad, Steve, Wayne & I bumped into Jay Eales & Selina Lock, Jethro Lentle, Ray Cluley & Jess, Graeme Reynolds, James Bennett and Roseanne Rabinowitz, I got a nice hug from Adele Wearing, said hello to Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner, finally got to meet Lily Childs after too many years of missing each other at Cons, Jan Edwards, spotted Phil Sloman and Adam Nevill before heading up to Adam’s panel on ‘Monstrous Regiments’.  The panellists were Sarah Pinborough, Mark Morris and Alison Littlewood and it was a great session.  We headed straight down to The Box for the Spectral launch (saw Theresa Derwin on the way), where Stephen Volk, Mark Morris and Cate Gardner read from their new releases (I’ve already read Stephen’s “Leytonstone”, which is terrific).  After saying hello to them and Dean M Drinkel, we chatted with Sarah Pinborough for a while, which is always fun, then I stayed on for the Knightwatch Launch with Steve H, as Phil was reading at it.  When that session was over (and after a brief hello with Vincent Holland-Keen), we all met back in the bar and since Steve H had to leave straight after the raffle we decided to head out for a curry then.  Anthony Cowin and his daughter Honey had just arrived so, after introductions, they were quickly included in our plans as was Fiona Ní Éalaighthe, who’d also just turned up.  Last year, James organised the curry and we all complained how far away it was from the venue - this year, local boy Wayne recommended a place and we trooped off and ended up at Anoki, the exact same restaurant!  It was very nice though and they accommodated all thirteen of us with no bother and the meal was lovely - though James & I, sitting next to one another, were taken aback at how ‘warm’ our chicken curry was.
The Curriers...
Wayne, Phil Sloman, Anthony Cowin, Honey, Steve H, Richard, Terry, John, James (who's also hiding Fiona), me, Steve B
Racing back to the Quad for the raffle, we took our places (I finally got to meet Kevin Redfern) and hoped the ‘luck of Andromeda’ (see here for more details) would be with us but it wasn’t to be - only Phil and James picked up prizes.  To make up for it, the ‘drawing partnership’ of Sarah Pinborough and John Connelly was good fun and nobody can do a disinterested shrug like Pixie Puddin!  Steve H, James and Phil left (I really don’t like saying goodbyes at Cons), so Richard, Steve B, Wayne & I headed back for the bar and set up at a table with John, Anthony & Honey (later joined by Terry and Chris) and talked the evening away (and I played noughts-and-crosses and hangman with Honey).  It was the perfect way to end the day, which had zipped by much too quickly.  At ten o’clock, as other folks came over to say goodbye to us, we called it a night.  As they’d stored their book haul in my car, Steve, Wayne & I headed over to the Assembly Halls car park together and we chatted for a while.  Edge-Lit was Wayne’s first Con and I was chuffed that he’d enjoyed it (and our company) so much, he’s now coming to FantasyCon too.  We said our goodbyes (Steve gave me a big hug) and I drove off into the night and got home for about 11.30, buzzing with a huge sense of enjoyment and that wonderful creative zing I always feel after a Con.  I’m already looking forward to Edge-Lit 5 (thanks for organising everything Alex!) and, as usual, it was the people who helped make it such a great event (those I've mentioned above and loads more I've forgotten - sorry).  It was also nice to have so many people compliment me on my weight loss, a heartening reminder of the power of friendship in the horror genre.
My book haul (bottom row from Eagle Books)
Brilliant fun!  Great friends, great venue, great organisation, new books and second-hand paperbacks, wonderful food - what more could you ask for?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Hunt: The Blog Tour - guest post by Tim Lebbon and a review

Today is the last stop for Tim Lebbon's "The Hunt" blog-tour (which I'm pleased to be hosting) and he's very kindly written a piece for me about his inspiration for the novel.  It's a departure for him, moving out of the horror/fantasy genre into the straight thriller, but I think it qualifies as a major success.  I was lucky enough to read an ARC of the novel and my review of it follows Tim's guest-blog.


Inspiration for THE HUNT 
Tim Lebbon

Since 1997 I've written over 30 horror and fantasy novels, dozens of novellas, and scores of short stories, as well as a handful of screenplays.  So why suddenly write a thriller?

Simple––because of my love of being shot at whilst running.

Well, actually that hasn't happened yet (although I'm sure some race entrepreneur will read this and realise there is a way to top the challenges of Ironman, Tough Guy, and Tough Mudder...).

In truth, The Hunt came about for a couple of reasons.

First, I've always wanted to write a thriller.  I'd never written anything without a supernatural or fantastical edge, and I liked the idea of a challenge.  Before now, anything I've written has always developed fantastical elements, whether I intended it or not.  With The Hunt, that would not be the case (although interestingly, in the very first draft of the first couple of chapters, the character Rose 'knows' that something has happened ... I soon cut that out).  It also felt like a good choice career-wise.  I've been trying to spread my wings a bit, writing YA novels and screenplays as well as horror and fantasy.  That's not really a commercial choice, more of a creative one ... I want to write for a living forever, so experimenting in different mediums is a way of keeping things fresh.  It's all storytelling.  And it has become very satisfying creatively to do this, resulting in books such as the Toxic City YA trilogy, the Secret Journeys of Jack London books (with Christopher Golden), and several screenplays alone and in collaboration.

The last piece of the jigsaw, and the main reason The Hunt was written, was discovering a sport I loved so much––endurance racing, marathons, and eventually triathlon and the epic Ironman.

I only started exercising properly a few years ago.  Before that I was the fast-approaching-middle-aged chubby bloke at conventions, smoking and drinking and generally not really looking after myself.  That changed in 2011 when I committed to tackling the national 3 Peaks Challenge with a few mates.  I had to get fit for that, and pushing myself to achieve something I thought way beyond my reach opened my eyes to the possibilities.  I've always believed it would take me committing to something outrageous to get fit, and I was right.  Training for the 3 peaks, I lost a load of weight and started running.

The next year, I raced my first two marathons.

A year later, after learning to swim and buying my first road bike, I raced my first Ironman.  From any sensible viewpoint, an Ironman is outlandish.  You swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, then run a marathon.  Cut-off time is seventeen hours.  You start at 6am, which means up at 3am to make sure you get enough fuel on board (bananas, porridge, toast, tea...).  You can burn around 10,000 calories during the race, so you're eating constantly on the bike, too, to fuel your marathon.

Like I said, outlandish.  Ridiculous.  "You must be mad!" I've heard a few times.  But I did it, and pushing myself to do something so beyond my comfort zone quite genuinely changed my life.

It also gave me a scorcher of an idea for a thriller!

So when all these threads came together, The Hunt was born.  I decided to write a chase thriller, a really fast-paced, pared down novel about an endurance sports enthusiast being chosen as target in a human trophy hunt.

If he is caught and killed by the hunters, his kidnapped family go free.

If he escapes, his family are killed.

Into the mix, throw a woman who once escaped her own hunt, and lost her family in the process.  She wants revenge.  He wants to survive and save his family.

That's how the story began.  A vague idea, building into something more rounded.  I researched trophy hunting ... not nice reading.  I'd always found it disgusting enough, rich fat cats paying huge sums for the chance to kill lions, giraffes, elephants.  I couldn't really understand what they'd get from it.  Then I looked deeper and realised that the animals are usually hobbled to make the hunting easier, and more likely a success, netting a 'bagging bonus' for those arranging it.

One small leap shifted the idea of trophy hunting from big game to people.  And the scary thing?  It really isn't that much of a leap.

So I had the idea, and I also knew enough about the subject matter to 'write about what I knew'.  And writing the novel was an absolute pleasure from start to finish.

I wrote the book on spec, which means I was not under contract.  This was written just for me (of course, always with the hope that it would interest a publisher), and I had fantastic fun writing it.  A bit of research was required.  In fact, probably more than with any book I've ever written.  Reading about trophy hunting wasn't nice.  But when the bulk of the research is spending time in Snowdonia, and running around my local mountains, it's not hardship at all.  Especially when much of it was tax deductible!

Avon bought the book (and a follow-up which I'm working on now), and now it's out there in the wild.  The ebook is going well, and on July 16th it will hit the shops.  It's going to be a surreal experience seeing my book for sale everywhere, including the supermarkets.

I do hope you'll take time to try The Hunt.  And if it kick-fires an interest in running or triathlons ... I'll see you on the start line!

My review of "The Hunt"
She will hunt down the men who took her family. She will have blood. Rose is the one that got away. She was the prey in a human trophy hunt organised by an elite and secret organisation for bored super-rich clients seeking a unique thrill. She paid a terrible price - when she escaped The Trail murdered her family. Every moment since she has been planning her revenge. Watching, waiting ...And now her day has come.

Chris returns from his morning run to find his wife and children missing and a stranger in his kitchen. He's told to run. If he's caught and killed, his family go free. If he escapes, they die. Rose is the only one who can help him, but Rose only has her sights on one conclusion. For her, Chris is bait. But The Trail have not forgotten the woman who tried to outwit them. The Trail want Rose. The hunters want Chris's corpse. Rose wants revenge, and Christ just wants his family back.

The hunt is on...

Chris Sheen returns home after an early morning run to discover that his family - wife Terri and girls Gemma and Megs - are missing and a stranger is standing in his kitchen drinking coffee.  He’s told by a shadowy operation called The Trail to run and that if he’s caught and killed, his family will go free - if he escapes, they will die.  Into this maelstrom comes Rose, who was once hunted by The Trail herself but lost her family when she beat the chase.  Now Chris needs help, she wants revenge and he’s the perfect bait.

Riffing on “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Tim wastes no time in setting up the situation and it’s beautifully simple.  The Trail takes a person who can, in theory, handle themselves (Chris is a good distance runner), pits them against rich idiots who’ve paid for the pleasure of hunting a human, puts them into a games arena (in this case, it was supoosed to be downtown Cardiff until Rose stepped in) and monitors the situation so the rich never lose.  The Trail members that we meet are well trained and vicious, though we only tend to see them moments before Rose kills them, except for Vey - she was the one who killed Rose’s family and is now standing guard over Chris’.  Without any semblence of emotion, we see her through the eyes of Gemma, who is old enough and sharp enough to try and understand why she, her Mum and sister have been kidnapped.  With Rose’s intervention, the hunt is moved to the Welsh mountains (somewhere around Snowdonia, though it’s never specified) where Chris has a slight advantage and she has enough space to figure out how to reduce the odds.

I liked this a great deal.  I immediately identified with Chris (not the running part, but certainly getting fitter) and his fear for his family and because the book wastes no time in ‘cutting to the chase’ (sorry), you’re immediately thrown into the middle of things.  His progression over the book - fearful, resilient, resourceful and, above all, determined - is well handled.  Rose is equally good, at first a killer like the Trail until her character is revealed through flashbacks and we get a better understanding of what set her up in this way.  The hunters are mostly seen from the distance, generally overweight and sloppy people who just want to get their jollies but when the tables are turned, it’s nice to see their arrogant facades melt quickly (especially when one is recognised and smiles at the attention, completely forgetting his situation).  Tim uses the wild locations well, making us feel the elements and see the barren mountains and valleys that Chris has to traverse, where the ground is as liable to hurt you as those high-calibered rifles are (and the swim in the mountain lake is truly terrifying).  Having spent time in Snowdonia, he not only captured the atmosphere of the place well but made the bleakness of the area - and the lack of other people - almost another character.  The pace is relentless, barely pausing for breath as you’re dragged through lean and sharp scenes, whilst the set-pieces are superbly handled and thoroughly gripping.  The book doesn’t shy away from the terror of the situation either, from Chris’ terrifying ordeal on a cliff-face to the sudden bursts of shocking, brutal violence, but it’s all the better for that.

Marking a tangent for Tim, who before now was better known as an award-winning horror/fantasy writer, this is an assured thriller debut, well written, told at a breakneck pace and engrossing from the first page.  I highly recommend it.

TIM J LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer with over thirty novels published to date, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories.  Recent releases include The Silence, Coldbrook, Into the Void: Dawn of the Jedi (Star Wars), Reaper's Legacy, and Alien: Out of the Shadows.  He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and been shortlisted for World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards.  A movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, will be released soon, and other projects in development include My Haunted House, Playtime, and Exorcising Angels.

He has had around 20 novellas published and hundreds of short stories, steadily building a dedicated following among the horror & dark fiction community.  A movie of his short story PAY THE GHOST was filmed last year in Toronto, starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies, directed by Uli Edel. He is also working on two TV series ideas, as well as a new original screenplay.

He has won 4 British Fantasy Awards (3 for Best Novella, one for Best Novel), a Bram Stoker Award and a Scribe Award.  He has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award multiple times, the World Fantasy Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Thanks to Charlotte Woods for all her help