Cover Your Ears or Run: The Origins of the Dark Choir (Part 1)

3 May

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One of the most common questions writers get asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I can’t speak for other writers but my answer would be ‘lots of places, experiences and events.’ Places and events that build up until you have enough ingredients for a story. It’s a complex process and sometimes it takes time but once the idea is coherent enough then you have a story. All you need to do is write it down and then you have a book.

Clear as mud? Okay. Let me explain.

Dark Choir is a story set in Derbyshire. The protagonist Dan returns to his home town of Scarsdale to attend his mother’s funeral and take care of her estate and his severely disabled sister, Lindsey. Whilst there, odd things begin to happen. Strange singing is heard from the abandoned asylum, St Vincent’s. Other supernatural happenings seem to occur around six people with special needs, one of them being his sister, Lindsey. All of these six people, in the past, spent time in the either the St Vincent’s or St Brendan’s, a block of newer but abandoned hospital wards on the same site as the old asylum. As Dan begins to investigate, he is drawn to this derelict site and uncovers a dark history of abuse and consequent cover ups.

So, that’s the story. This is how it came about.

Back in 2001 I got a job as a caregiver on a newly built unit for six guys who had special needs. Some of these men were confined to wheelchairs and others could walk. As well as attending to their personal needs staff would also take them out, on the bus or for a walk around the grounds. I’d not done this sort of work before so it took me some time to get used to these guy’s behaviours and mannerisms but, as I got to know them as people, me and the guys developed a working relationship. I got to know their likes and dislikes, what made them laugh and what made them sad. One thing that was clear was their vulnerability. They lacked the physical or cognitive ability to defend or advocate for themselves. I’m glad to say I saw no abuse where I worked but there were rumours from the past.

One day myself and another caregiver called Sally took two of the guys for a walk around the grounds. It was a sunny spring day. I asked Sally if we could see the abandoned Asylum. Its clock tower loomed out of the trees and could be seen from the home. I’d heard rumours and stories about it, stories that it was haunted and that security guards wouldn’t go up there at night. So off we went. I pushed once of the guys in his wheelchair and Sally took another one of the guys who could walk and was always keen to get out into the fresh air.

The hospital site was still operational back then but being phased out. These squat white buildings of the newer part reeked of institutionalisation. They were wards where thirty people would share a large bedroom. In the new unit the guys had their own rooms, much more dignified. The strange, squat buildings fuelled my imagination but it was the Asylum I wanted to see.

Sally knew a back way into the asylum which had been abandoned in the 1980s and was surrounded by a high wire fence. Sally knew of a break in this wire fence. As we neared, we went under trees and the ground got rougher. You try pushing a wheelchair over humps and tufts, it wasn’t easy but my charge thought it was hilarious and was enjoying the ride.

As we passed through the fence and into the grounds we came out from under the branches of the trees and beheld the asylum. I’ll never forget that moment. My astonishment at the sheer size of it. I’ve replicated the experience in the book where Alison and Dan take Nigel and Lindsey to see the ruins of the St Vincent’s. The following passage from the book.
He took Lindsey through the hole in the fence and followed Alison and Nigel until they came to a clearing. Emerging from the trees, Dan took in the huge edifice which he now faced.
‘Fuck me. It’s massive.’
The red-brick almost shone in the autumn sun. The jutting buttresses rose twenty feet above them. Dark windows pitted the carcass of the asylum. Peaked roofs had shed their dark tiles in places but rose and fell at crazy angles under the almighty tower which reached into the sky. The two clock-faces Dan could see were stuck at ten past six and three forty, the mechanism that once worked the clock now long dead.

Some of the book was set inside the asylum but, on this day, we couldn’t get in. Coincidently, my wife worked there when she was younger so was able to describe the reception area, main hallway and concert hall which served as useful information.
This event sowed the first seeds of Dark Choir. I remember thinking that this walk was like a scene from a film. As I continued to work at this strange home under the shadow of the asylum clock tower other events shaped and added to the story but I’ll finish this is part two.

The Asylum still stands and was turned into luxury apartments with now a working clock tower. The white squat buildings were demolished and new houses built as well as a care village for the elderly. That’s almost another story right there.

American English

23 Apr

I’ve been to America once. It was in 1999 and I stayed with some friends in New York State and spent a couple of nights in New York. We see places like New York on the telly and read American books so the culture is ingrained in our minds so, as British people, don’t question it. To be honest, I’d never really thought about how Americans view British people, apart from the fact a lot of baddies are played by Brits in their movies which is cool.
When an American publisher offered me a contract for my novel Dark Choir I was, to be honest, pretty blown away. It was nice telling people that I’d been offered a publishing contract and adding that it was with an American publisher impressed people (my non-writer friends and work colleagues seemed to assume I’d be making millions as it was an American publisher. I’ve let them believe that)
Dark Choir is set in Britain. In Derbyshire, a picturesque area of England in the north Midlands. The book centres around six disabled people who extract revenge on their former tormenters via supernatural means. The main protagonist, Dan, is an ordinary guy who likes football and works as an IT consultant. Dan has to return to his mother’s old dark house when she dies to arrange the funeral. On his return, strange, supernatural events lead him to uncover dark secrets about an abandoned asylum in the nearby town.
Obviously the publisher didn’t find the story in its self to be too confusing for a potential US readership which led me to conclude that our societies are not that different. Some of the action centres around an abandoned asylum. Both the US and UK both have abandoned asylums and an almost parallel history of treatment of the mentally ill (I recommend a film called Session 9 that deals with this subject). However, there were some cultural differences, as I found out, and the devil was in the detail.
Editing Dark Choir, I must say, was a joy for me. I can’t speak for my Editor, Ken, but for me it was one of the most coherent, clear editing experiences I’d had. Some to the editing work was about language that the US audiences might struggle with and the regional sayings. As Ken pointed out, the majority of the readership would be North American and so we didn’t want to alienate them with confusing regional English phrases. For instance, In Britain, the owner of a bar is called a Landlord. In America a landlord is the guy who owns the house or apartment. In Britain we have carers for old or disabled people which isn’t a term used in the US so I had to change this to caregiver. My favourite which caused confusion was in dialogue where one of the characters speaks in a regional dialect and said he’d ‘Not done ‘owt’. Yeah, we needed to change that.
There were plenty of regional sayings that didn’t scan but I was surprised at the number of relatively obscure things that didn’t cause confusion. The main character is a football fan and it seems that a lot of the football terminology has crossed to the US. ‘Five-a-side team. ‘The ref’ etc. Surprising for me Ken seemed to have no problem with popular sayings like ‘nutter’ or ‘twat’. Not that these sayings crop up that frequently in the book but it’s nice to know that some British sayings have crossed over into American English.

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An Interview with Lady Grey

5 Feb

 

An interview with Lady Grey.

This installment of the blog is given over to intrepid interviewer Nick Kent who interviews Lady Grey, Notorious, immortal sadist and star of Paul Melhuish’s Novel High Cross.

 

Good morning Lady Grey and thank you for joining us for the interview today. How are you?

Oh, I mustn’t grumble Nicholas, or would you prefer me to call you Nick? After all, Nicholas is so formal. And I fear you don’t really like being called Nicholas, not after you mother used to address you in that way. Stealing money from a newsagents at the age of twelve, wasn’t it?

Whoah…how did you know that? Anyway, on with the interview. First question, So, Lady Grey who or what exactly are you?

Ah, that would be telling. What I will reveal to you is this. I’m not a vampire or a succubus or any of those made up monsters. I am much more than that. I worm secrets from your mind and use them against you. I’ve been around for some time. A Lady never reveals her true age but I will tell you this. I saw England nearly fall to the black death, aided the cavaliers in the only civil war this country has known and attended Queen Victoria’s funeral. I’ve been asleep for a while. Last time I was awake the second war with Germany was underway. Now I’m awake in an age where the people of this county are obsessed with gadgets and losing weight. I am, I suppose, a seductress, an people in this modern age are so easy to seduce. Promise them a car or a fake tan and they’re yours.

 

Well, I suppose so, I don’t know. You appear in Paul Melhuish’s novel as the baddie. Do you see yourself that way?

Morality is such a human concept. Good and evil are merely shifting social codes. If you want me to be the devil, I’ll be the bloody devil. I’m not concerned by man’s opinion one jot. I’m quite ordinary really. I like a large, tidy house, fine clothes, fine wine and servants to cook, clean and endure my whims. What makes me bad in the eyes of this world? Yes, I have my idiosyncrasies, my little whims. I inflict a little pain, a negligible minority of my staff may end up in an unmarked grave in the woods but, honestly, You can hardly call it evil. My cruel appetites are so parochial they hardly warrant a mention.

 

Right. Okay…err,  next question. Having missed the last seventy years, what decade would you have liked to have lived through?

Oh, it’s a terrible crime that I slept through the nineteen fifties. I would have loved to see Sinatra sing. There was a man after my own heart. A man who knew what he wanted. That decade had a style I would have fitted into and used well. Every fashion that followed was crass, vulgar and, unpopular as it is to point out these days,  working class. Hippies. I wouldn’t have tolerated them in my land. I’d give them a trip they’d never forget. The only decade with a spark of life was the eighties. I do admire Margaret Thatcher but she was hampered by that plutocratic concept democracy the  simpering sheep of this island are so fond of living under. I gather there’s some faux self-defeating youth culture called Emo. A couple of my girls adhered to that before they made The Promise. Now they’ve got something to be miserable about. Ha, ha.

 

And what do you think of the digital age that we live in?

You’ve enough technology to live out in the stars but all you do is write to each other on your funny little electric picture frames. It’s made you weak and neurotic. When I was awake in the forties the people of this country were at war with fascists. Now they’re at war with themselves. Pathetic really but it makes my job unspeakably easy.

 

What’s your favourite colour?

What sort of question s that? What do you think am, five? I have several outfits of different colours and shades, all hand-made from the finest cloths money can buy. However, I do like to keep my nails a deep shade of red. Unless I’m attending a funeral, then they’re as black as the grave.

 

What’s your favourite book?

In the name of the unholy one, what is this? Twenty bloody questions? I don’t have a favourite book as such. I did started reading the Fifty Shades of Grey but gave up when I realised it wasn’t about me. Ha ha. Now, I do read the Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover when I’m awake because it’s important to know how your enemy thinks. I must say, I do prefer the King James version to this New International Version they have now.

 

You live in Highcross? Describe Highcross for us.

One of the oldest villages in England. My family have been squires there for centuries until I attained immortality. It has a church dedicated to by Martyn Wreath. You know, the famous occult practitioner? It has a shop but no ale house. I’d never allow my servants to indulge in such distractions. When I was last ‘Put in the ground’ the Ministry of Defence took over the village, ordered all the villagers to leave and turned it into a training ground. Big mistake. So, Highcross has stood empty for the last seventy years until some property developer decided to renovate all the houses and move the scum of the nation into my village. Now I am awake it’s time to have some fun with the people of this modern age.

 

Have you read Paul Melhuish’s book Highcross? What did you think of it?

I enjoyed it, I must admit but then again it was all about me. I’m a tremendous egotist, you may have noticed. He dwells on the sexual aspect a little too much for my tastes and relished the sadism and violence but that’s men for you. He portrays me as a psychopathic sadist. He should watch that. I might have to visit him personally. I am of course, a psychopath and a sadist, but I don’t want him telling me that.

 

 And what do you think of Paul Melhuish?

Pathetic little twerp. Toolting down to Luton everyday day in his Nissan note to that hospital he works in. Coming home at night to turn his sordid fantasies into fiction for the populace to consume. He has these misguided religious beliefs, you know, and he’s a vegetarian. Not that you’d know it with a girth like that. Someone should take a razor to that fat throat of his, stop him eating so much. Maybe I’ll arrange that.

 

You possess supernatural powers. Could you demonstrate them for us?

I’m not some performing monkey young man. If you want to see some display of supernatural power you have to do something for me.

Such as?

Promise yourself to me.

How do I do that?’

Simply say, ‘I promise myself to you Lady Grey.’

And that’s it. Okay, I promise myself to you Lady Grey. There. I’ve done my part so how about you walk through a wall or breathe fire like you do in the book. Oh, hang on. Excuse me, I’ve got this pain in my chest. Ahh…it’s like…fingers, squeezing my heart.

Yes. You promised yourself to me. An entity has entered you and that pain on your heart will increase unless you obey me.

 

Ahh…make it stop.

The pain stops when I say. Now get up, go the cellar and join the others.

Ahhh….yes Lady Grey…ah…at once.

 

After this interview Nick Kent was strangely absent from his home and wouldn’t answer his phone. He now lives in Highcross and is unable to do anymore interviews.42204394_2676144599276798_1544963757153714176_n

Night night, Gregory

17 Dec

 

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The following is a excerpt from Highcross that didn’t make it through the edits. This short piece introduces the characters of Lance and Vicky and reveals their big secret.

Night, night, Gregory

Lance got a text from Vicky while he was still on the motorway telling him to pick up a Chinese from Weedon. When he reached his junction, Lance pulled out from the slow moving traffic, sped along the empty dual carriageway to Weedon and stopped to make the order.

The lights and noise from the Chinese made him sentimental for city living. Lance wished he could just go down to the pub or to the cinema like they used to before moving to Highcross. Sitting in this Chinese waiting for noodles and rice made him want to return to the city more than anything. He collected the order and returned to the car.

Driving out of Weedon felt as if he were leaving the real world behind. The dark lanes of the countryside were depressing and isolated. Even the lights of Highcross didn’t fill him with a gladness that he was home and it was Friday night. This place belonged to another century and all the electric lights and newly opened shop couldn’t change that. He parked the car up right in front of the cottage. The grass of the green was already white with ice. Not only was Highcross stuck in the past it was freezing cold.

Madam had wanted to move here and whatever Madam said went. Lance checked himself. He didn’t mean it. He’d always intended marrying young and he was dead lucky to have met Vicky. She’d been through a lot in the past year. They both had.

He unlocked the door of number 24 The Green, crossed the threshold and closed the door on the outside world.

The cottage was warm. He’d wondered if having a thatched roof would make any difference to the heating bills. Lance looked forward to studying the next quarter’s statement and comparing it to last year’s bill from their old house.

‘Vicky. They didn’t have mushroom chow mein so I got you vegetable instead,’ he shouted through to the lounge as he passed through into the kitchen.

‘That’s fine,’ she shouted in reply. She was in the small lounge, curled up on the large flower-patterned sofa watching the wide-screen TV.

He plated up the Chinese, gave both plates a minute or so in the microwave, cracked open a beer and poured a glass of wine for Vicky. Then he joined his wife in the living room.

‘Thanks.’ She pulled him down by his tie and kissed him on the mouth.

‘So, what have you been doing all day?’

‘I went to the doctors in Weedon. He says I’m still fertile and we shouldn’t stop trying.’

‘Oh babe, that’s great news.’

‘Then I went to that craft shop and picked up some bits for Cheryl’s blanket I’m going to start making her for Christmas. I went to find a gym. You know there’s not a gym around here for miles! Then I went on the NHS jobs website.’

He laid his fork down and gave her a disappointed look. ‘Babes. We’ve discussed this. You don’t need to work. I’ve got a good job and we have enough money.’

‘It’s not that. I thought if I could do some locum work I’d keep my hand in and not lose my registration.’

‘And think of all those germs and infections you could pick up?’

‘Darling, I’d stop the moment I became pregnant. Honest.’

‘You know I’ll support you in whatever endeavour you want to follow.’

She moved over to him and put her arms around him. ‘I love you, Lancey-boy. I love you loads and loads and loads.’

She kept hugging him even as he ate.

‘We’ve been invited out on Sunday,’ she said once he’d finished.

‘What? To your sister Cheryl’s in Oxford?’

‘No. Nearer and posher than that. To Lady Grey’s house for afternoon tea at three. There was an invite on the mat when I got back.’

‘The big house on the hill?’

‘Yeah. I thought we could walk there. If it’s not chucking it down.’

‘Why has she invited us?’

‘She’s inviting everyone. Number twenty six had one for next Tuesday.’

‘That should be interesting. Unless she’s one of these aristocrats that’s totally potty. No, that’d be nice.’

He finished his meal and she hugged him closer. ‘Do you want to watch that comedy later? That hangover one?’

‘Yeah, I’ll just chuck these in the dishwasher.’

She jumped up. ‘No. I’ll do that if you check on Gregory.’

‘Vicky.’

‘Please, Lance. Then we can settle down.’

Lance sighed, took a swig of beer then passed through the kitchen into the utility room out the back. The small back garden was monochromed with moonlight and frost. Lance didn’t switch the light on. It felt wrong somehow. A light went on when you opened the chest freezer anyway so he didn’t really need to.

The horizontal handle felt cold to his grip. Hesitating once, he pulled up the lid and the light inside flicked on. Gregory was the sole occupant of the freezer. Little blue hands lay flat by his sides on his unicorn-patterned blanket and his head was turned to the left as it always was. His pink teddy kept him company, propped up the wall of the freezer. He was at peace.

‘Night night, Gregory,’ whispered Lance then closed the lid gently.

 

Additional notes

I wrote this chapter for Highcross one Friday night before I was going to meet a friend for a few drinks. I’d not decided what Lance and Vicky’s great secret was at this point. I didn’t want to to be anything sexual as enough characters had weird sexual preferences already. ‘I know what,’ I thought, ‘they keep their dead baby in the freezer. Yes, that’s horrific.’ However, my own literary sadism bit me in the arse. As Lance gently opens the freezer and bids his dead son night night, I was struck by how tragic this was. It really had a profound emotional effect on me. I’m not a father myself but you’d have to be pretty heartless not to be moved by infant bereavement. I’d stepped into Lance’s shoes and imagined the tragedy of this situation.

Spoiler Alert: 

In Highcross Lady Grey brings Gregory back to life and he survives the whole thing (probably one of the few characters that do) and escapes with his parents to grow up as a happy, healthy boy.

 

 

 

Prose and Cons: Launch Anxiety and how to deal with it.

22 Oct

Firstly, credit where credit’s due. This title, Prose and Cons, came from my wife as we were stuck on the M6 staring up the arse of a lorry in a traffic jam on the way to Chester to launch my book High Cross at Fantasycon. As a pun I thought it was so clever I just had to nick it. Sorry love.

So, today’s blog concerns what I term ‘Launch Anxiety’. I’m not sure of other authors get it but I did. It’s a mixture of heightened excitement interrupted by negative thoughts such as ‘What if nobody turns up to the launch? What if nobody buys the book? What if I do the reading and my flies are undone?’ That sort of thing.

So, my novel, High Cross was being launched at Fantasy Con on the 20th of November at 11 am, a date and time branded into my psyche for the past month. It was a joint launch with Thana Niveau who was launching her novel House of Frozen Screams as well. To be honest, I was glad to be doing a joint launch and I felt less pressure than if it was just me up there. Thana also had a collection launching at FCON called Octoberland so I felt pretty honoured to be launching with a more experienced author and past BFA nominee.

So, having a book launch is a big life event. Like a wedding or getting your degree. Why the anxiety Paul? It’s a great experience, Paul.

Yes, Paul. Why the anxiety?

Let’s get it clear. I wasn’t paralyzed with terror. I was looking forwards to it. I’m not fazed by public speaking or performing. I used to do stand-up comedy a few years ago and that is terrifying. Also, I’m a Morris dancer so public performance isn’t a problem for me. However, the last time I had a launch was for a an anthology called Haunted from Alex Davis’s Boo Books. My story The snap end Morris Men was included. It was in Derby back in 2014. Some if you reading this may have been to Edgelit and SledgeLit which is held in Derby Quad. This launch was a Saturday afternoon in the large studio room upstairs. I didn’t expect that many people to turn up.

Two people turned up.

So there was my wife, The partner of one of the other contributors and a couple who had come from a creative writing day hosted by Alex. It’s at that point I became aware of how big the room is and how flipping empty it was. As I did my reading I looked into one of the spotlights and sort of pretended there were more people there.

Common sense told me that the House of Frozen Screams and High Cross launch wasn’t going to be like that. Friends from Facebook and my writer’s group said that they’d attend. But still, the nagging voice in the back of my head, the voice of Satan, said otherwise.         Leading up to the launch I had two anxiety dreams.

Anxiety dream number one

I’m at the launch but the books are still being printed. We’re waiting for a big, steampunk looking engine to print off the pages while outside a giant penguin is standing at the door urging everyone to boycott the launch for some obscure reason, probably Brexit. (Important note: the real, non- dream book looks fine, typesetting, formatting all looks lovely).

Anxiety dream number two

I had this dream in the hotel room the night before. It’s the morning of the launch. An elderly relative wants to attend so I need to find her a wheelchair. The hotel becomes a hospital and I scour the wards looking for a wheelchair, asking nurses, porters and doctors where I can get a wheelchair. They send me down to the basement to see a bloke called Bob and all the time the clock is ticking and I should be at the launch but I’m trying to find this frigging wheelchair.

***

So, how did it go? Did more than two people turn up? Well, yes, or I don’t think I’d be writing this blog today if that were the case. The launch went amazingly well. The people who said they would come came and so did lots of other people. A lot of people bought the book and I lost count as I was signing. People I didn’t know bought it as did people I knew and respected. People who are authors themselves and people who had been on panels at FCON (you’ve made it if you’ve been on a panel at FCON, as far as I’m concerned).

Nothing went wrong. In fact, everything went very right.

There was no giant penguin, an elderly relative didn’t need a wheelchair and my flies weren’t undone during the reading. We did that bit sitting down.

Many thanks to Thana Niveau and Graeme Reynolds at Horrific Tales Publishing.

Many thanks to Donna and Neil Bond for encouragement and reassurance before as well as Mark West and Andy West and to all the brilliant people who were there.

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-PAXP-deijE

High Cross: Welcome to the Weird Village

10 Oct

Hello and Welcome to the Weird Village. In an effort to publicise my forthcoming novel I’ve resurrected the blog and renamed it. So, ‘High cross’, my novel is being launched at Fantasy Con on the 20th of October alongside ‘House of Frozen Screams’ by Thana Niveau at 11 o’Clock.  I’m obviously very exited about the launch and about the publication of ‘High cross’.

The cover art is by Ben Baldwin who has done, I think, a smashing job and the book is published by Horrific Tales who have a history of publishing quality horror from the likes of Jonathan Woodrow (‘Wasteland Gods’). William Holloway (‘The Immortal Body’, ‘Song of the Death God’ and ‘Lucky’s Girl’) and Graeme Reynolds (The High Moor’ series).

After publication I’ll be updating the blog with a interview with the main baddie from High cross, Lady Grey ( might not survive that interview) and other Highcross-based trivia plus news and reviews.

So thanks for stopping by and next time I’ll bake us a (virtual) cake.

Regards. Paul.

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Guest Blog: Alex Davis

2 Mar

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So, I’ve actually got a guest on my blog today. I’ve cleared out the empty beer cans, gave the place a bit of a hoover and got the kettle on. My guest today is Alex Davis, Author, publisher and film analyst. Welcome Alex.

  1. So, Alex Tell us about Film Gutter.

 

The whole thing started back at the start of 2015, when Jim McLeod of the fantastic Ginger Nuts of Horror said he was looking for new writers and reviewers for the site. I’d been a fan for a while, so I was really keen to jump on the opportunity, and then I had to kind of decide what to do. I’d always been interested in really controversial films, and that was getting really resparked by youtube channels like Otoobach, so I figured that was something I could bring to the table. Film Gutter is effectively a quest to find the movie I simply can’t watch – I’m 15 months in and still trying, and although some have come close I’ve managed to reach the end of everything so far! It’s been a crazy journey really, because it just started out as a weekly review and then the interviews started kicking off, and now the ebook is out, and I have Jim and the incredible readers to thank for that.

 

  1. What extreme/ obscure films to you recommend to the open minded viewer?

 

I think an open mind is essential for Film Gutter! Phil Stevens’ Flowers was a real highlight of 2015, and Julia was also a wonderful recent movie. Headless was as disturbing as hell but genuinely brilliant too. Of less recent offerings I really enjoyed Cutting Moments.

 

One thing that has really interested me is how many people I know read the articles just out of interest – they wouldn’t watch the kind of horror we look at, but I suppose there is a morbid curiosity that drives some of our readership!

 

  1. So, you watch a lot of extremely violent and disturbing films. Has this adversely affected your mind or polluted your soul?

 

I wonder sometimes! I don’t think so though – I’ve always loved horror in all its forms, I’ve just been digging a lot deeper into one particular niche of late. There are definitely films that have affected me and left me really down in the dumps – Megan is Missing stands out as a great example of that. If there’s a more depressing 20 minutes of cinema in existence than the closing of that movie, I haven’t seen it. At least not yet. There are also really visceral films like Thanatomrphose and The Vomit Gore Trilogy that you simply don’t forget, no matter how much you might prefer to. There are many fans of horror – even this much darker end – that are just totally normal, well-adjusted folks. I like to consider myself among them!

 

  1. Do you watch ‘normal’ films (like Star Wars or Deadpool)?

 

I’ve actually not thought about this till you asked, but basically no. That’s in part a time consideration – I probably have time to watch a few movies a week, tops, and with so much great stuff out there and the odd screener and stuff that I get that largely gets taken up with stuff for Film Gutter. But I think it’s also partly because it’s such an incredibly cool scene of people, and there’s so much great stuff out there – it’s rare I give a movie low marks because the quality on the whole has been excellent, and I love indy and foreign film on the whole, which the majority of our stuff tends to be.

 

I’ve not been to see Star Wars or Deadpool – in fact my last trip to the cinema was to take my daughter to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. And even that had a John Waters cameo and a Pink Flamingos gag to keep me going. It’s also very rare I go to the cinema even to see a horror film – the mainstream stuff just feels a bit disappointing to me so much of the time, even stuff that gets so hyped and loved like It Follows. That was such a huge letdown for me. I suppose you could ultimately say I’m pretty much happy in the gutter!!

 

  1. So, enough about films. Is there anything you’re reading which is sick, terrifying or just gripping you can recommend?

 

Disturbing-wise, one of my very favourite books is Conrad Williams’ The Unblemished. He’s always been one of my favourite horror writers, and to me this is his magnum opus, and has a lot of pretty extreme stuff in it. The book that most freaked me out – although it doesn’t really get marketed as horror – was Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It’s so immersive and believable that it legit gave me nightmares and had me lying awake at night for a bit.

 

  1. You are also a publisher. Tell us about Boo Books. Any new releases on the horizon?

 

Boo Books is my small press venture, which I set up about 18 months ago with a view to trying to publish regional writing talent. We’ve had some great stuff out so far – Andrew David Barker’s two titles The Electric and Dead Leaves have been particular big hits for us. Next up is James Everington’s stunning neo-ghost story Trying to be So Quiet – a slim volume but one that literally reduced me to tears – and Tracy Fahey’s incredible short story collection The Unheimlich Maneouvre, which we’ve just announced.

 

  1. You are also a writer with a sci-fi book out. Very different to horror I think. Tell us about that.

 

I suppose SF would be my second love behind horror, and The Last War was initially written to be part of a shared universe for a publisher out in Australia. When they went bust, I was left with a manuscript I rather liked with no home. I sent it on to Gary at Tickety Boo some time afterwards and he was really keen right away, and we released last summer. It’s a story about the start of an alien civilisation, and for me was kind of an effort to explore religion and how it affects people and society. There’s some good old telepathy in there as well, which definitely causes its share of problems for our protagonists.

 

  1. As well as running Film gutter and Boo books you also run the Edgelit Convention. What’s in store this year?

 

Last year was our biggest yet – with 250 attendees – so that was really cool, although we now have to match that! We’ve got three Guests of Honour confirmed with M John Harrison, Emma Newman and Alastair Reynolds, and we’ll have our patented mix of panels, workshops (those are always really popular!), readings and shenanigans such as the raffle and quiz. We’ve already got more launches and dealers than ever before, so it’s shaping up to be a cracker at this early stage.

 

  1. What music are you listening to these days.

 

I tend to flit between obscure metal and obscure rap these days! Metal-wise I’m bang into Rammstein right now – it’s so motivational with that industrial feel. I love a lot of the Scandinavian metal – Katatonia are a particular favourite right now. Rap I love a lot of the stuff on Tech Nine’s Strange Music label – I think MayDay are astounding, and Brotha Lynch Hung’s cannibal-inspired stuff is so dark and out there.

 

Bonus Question:

  1. In or out?

 

Honestly, I don’t know. Weirdly the one thing I do feel strongly about is the referendum – if parliament isn’t there to make decisions, based on expertise and suitable information, then what the hell is it there for? We might as well all vote on huge national decisions via our Sky remotes if the government aren’t going to make them. Press Red to Stay In Europe…

 

Sure, there will be some people who will look into it and make a judgement based on the info they find, but how many will be voting knee-jerk or without the facts in front of them? It’s like a football manager going out and asking the fans to pick the team – it’s nonsense. He’s employed to get the best results, and because he knows football inside out. If the powers that be don’t know, how is the man on the street supposed to know?

Thank you Alex Davis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autumn of Discontent: ‘Dead Leaves’ by Andrew David Barker reviewed.

26 Jan

 

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Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker is essentially about a day. A day where dramatic, scary, funny events don’t just take place but shape a life.

Scott is a seventeen year old living in Derby in the eighties. He and his friends Mark and Paul are horror film fans living in an era when Mary Whitehouse whipped up a media storm about so called video nasties. Dead Leaves offers a snapshot of these times; high unemployment, youth violence, heavy metal and police raiding video shops. All these things happen within a day. Dead leaves is one of those books which is an absolute page turner and with some chapters being only three words long you really have no choice but to turn the page. Don’t let that put you off, though.

For me, it managed to capture what it’s like to be young, have dreams and have people tell you that your dreams are worthless. Scott realises he wants to be a film maker but he’s working class, lives in Derby and has a mum and dad that do not share those dreams. This is something of an understatement. The odds are stacked against him but he knows that his parents vision of his future, that you work and work and work, marry, have kids, work then die, is a waking nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

I grew up in the eighties. None of my friends had video players and my family didn’t get one until 1987. So I didn’t see any video nasties myself. My father wanted me to go into the building trade, I wanted to be a writer. And a traveller. And a…well…I don’t know what I wanted. I had no clear vision but work, marriage, kids death was not for me. Not at that age anyway. Reading Dead Leaves bought back powerful memories of arguments with my father, that feeling of despair when facing the possibility that your days will be filled with working on building sites and getting up at six every morning.

As I said earlier Dead Leaves is essentially about a day when everything turns round. I had my day in 1988. It started with a wedgie.

Having listened to my father  I found myself unhappily slogging it through a Youth training scheme in painting and decorating at the Tech. One day my compatriots decided to get me. I wore pink boxer shorts which would stick out at the back so I was asking for it really. I got very upset as my balls were hoisted into my belly, called them all wankers and stormed out. The guy who’d pulled the wedgie followed me up the road, apologised and we actually had a good chat. He tried to persuade me to come back to the course but that was it. There was no going back. We shook hands and I hitch-hiked home, a first for me. That evening I went to the village disco and had my first snog (another first) with a woman who was 43.

At the end of the book it’s clear that Scot did follow his dreams and didn’t take up a factory job. I ended up hitch-hiking around Europe two years later then went back to get my A levels (all right, I did an Access course) then left my home village and moved to the vast heaving metropolis of Northampton to study English, Drama and Sociology.

Okay, so, this is supposed to a review of Andrew David Barker’s Dead Leaves but I’ve talked about myself for most of it. That’s because the book triggers such personal memories, for me at least. To my knowledge Dead Leaves has had only limited exposure which is a real shame because it’s as good as any classic coming-of-age novel. Dead Leaves is a Kes for the video generation. The age old struggle to break free from your parents demands is a timeless source of literary material which Andrew David Barker has tapped into and used brilliantly.

The Lost Film

13 Jan

downloadI’m always complaining that there are too many rehashed monster books and films out there. Dracula, Frankenstein, Zombies for flip sake. Bacon and West have come up with a new type of evil entity. One that stinks and gives you a hard-on (or the female equivalent) if you’re close enough to them. Strangely this idea works.
Another idea that works is the notion of a lost film that contains power to curse. This had been explored in The Ring series by Koji Suzuki but it’s an idea that can be reworked in new and interesting ways. Mr West and Mr Bacon have had a go and pulled it off rather well. The Lost Film consists of two novellas. Steven Bacon’s Lantern Rock and Mark west’s The Lost Film.
Lantern rock is set on an island and home of elderly film director, Lionel Rutherford. This director has his own home cinema and plenty of strange rooms in his rambling mansion which is the only house to inhabit the island. Reporter Paul Madigan and his slightly unwanted companion Ellie Rutherford arrive at the island to interview the reclusive director. Like all good horror stories a storm cuts them off from the mainland and the fun begins. Bacon manages to mix the occult aesthetics of Dennis Wheatley with the otherworldly creatures of HP Lovecraft but doesn’t give too much away. Enough tantalising hints kept me turning the page.
Mark Wests The Lost film (the title track if you will) is altogether different. A typical gumshoe detective story but set in the fictional towns of Gaffney and Heyton (both having appeared in his work before) sees private investigator Gabriel Bird on the trail of lost film director Roger Sinclair. Sinclair’s unreleased film apparently drives people mad and clips have started appearing on the internet.
The detective clichés are all there; from the opening scene where the client appears to Bird in his office to offer him the case to a visit of a past associate in a mental hospital which goes horribly wrong.
In this decade, the seventies are close to becoming ancient history. I imagine that in the Seventies they treated World War Two in much the same way but the old films that we watch on the Horror channel late at night fire the imagination as to how they were made and what went on behind the scenes. They are testaments from another time and are used by West in much the same way as medieval texts were used by MR James to give historical credence to a story. Hats off to Bacon and West for being the first (as far as I know) to use the canon created by Hammer and Amicus etc as a tool in horror fiction.
The two novellas are both satisfying horror reads using an interconnected mythology created around both Seventies film directors. Well-researched and atmospheric, these two novellas almost belong in the archaic canon which they so revere.

Religious madness: God Bomb by Kit Power reviewed.

17 Nov

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I heard about God Bomb back in the summer, read the blurb and instantly wanted to read it as so many issues explored in the book seemed pertinent to me. God bomb is set in North Devon in 1995. A teenage atheist suicide bomber walks into a born again Christian revival meeting and states that if God doesn’t appear now, in person, then he’s going to detonate the bomb strapped to his body and kill everyone in the hall. The ensuing story details (and it does detail with excruciating clarity) the next few hours of this siege situation. The book screamed for my attention for several reasons. I’m a Christian myself and I go to small rural church. Also I naturally gravitate to anything with a theological angle. The old adage of ‘write about what you know goes’ both ways as far as I’m concerned as I also like to read about what I know too.

In short, God Bomb is an excellent book. The tension of the siege situation bleeds from every page and I found myself torn between wanting to read the next chapter and needing to put it down because the tension was too much. The narrative is in first person, jumping between character’s different points of view. I usually find first person prose a bit pretentious, a tool to try to give prose more of an edge but with God Bomb this is absolutely necessary because the fast pace and the tension of the situation demand it. This also worked well with the Hunger Games series, books brimming with tension.
Kit also uses broken dialogue as an effective tool, sometimes starting conversations halfway through or not finishing them, a neat tool to show how distressed a character is as they collapse into near mental breakdown or sharply focus on action taking place somewhere else in the room. This technique is well used in the part of the story where one of the characters, Mike, is giving his testimony but never finishes. There is no second guessing the plotlines to this story either and Kit throws in some really unexpected curveballs as far as plot goes.

The realism in this book is absolutely spot on, achieved largely because the characters portrayed are so lifelike. As I said earlier I go to a small rural church myself in a not so small market town and I’ve met every one of these characters. Twitch, the alcoholic man in his in his mid 30’s can be found in my church as can Mike the sax player and the ordinary couple Peter and Emma. As a description of a ‘modern’ protestant church (It’s set 20 years ago but society hasn’t changed that much) the book is spot on. It’s how these characters interact under pressure which is the really interesting part. How they bare their souls and make their choices. The preacher seems like a genuinely nice man (perhaps I’m biased) and here a writer with an agenda could have painted him as a Bible-verse-spouting nutter but the beauty of God Bomb is that this character is allowed to a be a fully rounded human being with a range of emotions who is trying to do the right thing in his own eyes. The bomber himself is the most chillingly realised psychopath Iv’e read in a long time. His motives are driven by his fluctuating morality and he is utterly unhinged and unpredictable.
For me, the key strength of God Bomb is the power the book possesses to provoke thought. Quite simply it doesn’t preach to the reader. It doesn’t preach Christianity. It doesn’t preach atheism. It allows the reader to make up their own mind yet promps more questions as the story unfolds.
So, what other texts could God Bomb be compared to? Well, I thought God Bomb could almost fall into the religious fiction category (okay, some of the more conservative Christians might have a problem with the sheer amount of violence but this is about a psychopath holding a church to siege. It needs to be violent) Iv’e not read much modern Christian fiction (for example The Shack by William P. Young. Iv’e not been moved to pick it up) Iv’e read C.S. Lewis and Adrian Plass but that’s about it.
This book is a million miles away from those two writers: an academic and a comedy writer.

However, this did strongly remind me of the small biography of Cassie Barnell a girl murdered in one of the many high school shootings in the USA. The book was called She Said Yes: the Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Barnell by her mother Misty Bernall. Two heavily armed nihilistic youths walk into a school, begin shooting, find Cassie cowering under a desk. With guns pointed at her they ask her is she’s a Christian. Cassie replies in the affirmative and they shoot her dead on the spot. God Bomb is a ‘what if’. She Said Yes is a true story. Just because God Bomb is fiction this does not invalidate its content.
For me the book is close to the bone. Iv’e met some quite intense characters, Christian and non-Christian, in the church. People with quite extreme ideas making chilling verbal statements (Iv’e also met a lot of nice ordinary people in church, just for the record). I could easily imagine someone walking into a church with a bomb or a gun making the same statement that the bomber in the book makes. I could imagine it happening in my church. No one from outside would call the police because no one really knows what goes on on a Sunday morning in that funny old building opposite Costcutters just off the high street. These days someone inside might be able to text a message or make a phone call (I see one reason why Mr Power chose to set the book in 1995 when mobiles were few and far between). The church is often a target for the deluded yet the church is open for all to enter.

Of course attacks on churches have happened. Recently in America, in Charleston, a white supremacist walked into a church with a gun and opened fire. In 1999 a man walked in to St Andrews Roman Catholic church in Croydon one evening with a sword and attacked the congregation. My aunt was one of those people in that church. She relayed how she lay on the floor under a pew, a severed hand close to her face. She said that she tried to pray but couldn’t because she was so paralysed with fear.
God Bomb can’t be praised highly enough. Our world is still vastly influenced by religion. We live in the era of post 9/11, Islamic fundamentalism and the GOD channel. God bomb is a book of our age.