Defending Dennis: Some Thoughts from the 21st Century on Dennis Wheatley’s ‘The Satanist’

25 May

The satanist

Many older writers of the fantastic seem to have achieved cult status I this day and age. H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, M.R.James for example. However, Dennis Wheatley seems to be overlooked. The actual reasons are unclear but from what I’ve picked up from comments on social media and conversations with friends the reasons for his burial range from poor writing to colonial outdated racists attitudes. Well, HP Lovecraft was notoriously racist and M.R. James was writing in a time of colonialist attitudes and wider class division and they seem to be forgiven. One conversation I’d had with a fellow churchgoer who wasn’t really big on reading horror (funny that) was that Wheatley’s work shouldn’t be read because of the occult themes. With this in mind I tracked down a copy of his 1960 book The Satanist (actually, that’s a lie. It was a Christmas present).

I enjoy reading and watching older fiction to see how things have changed since the time of writing. So with some relish I read The Satanist.

The story follows British Secret Services’ attempts to stop communist infiltration of Britain via the trade unions. ‘The Reds’ are also linked to a group of Satanists. A young agent called Barney Sullivan infiltrates the communist unions whilst Mary Morden infiltrates the Satanist sect which was responsible for her husband’s murder. Mary attends a spiritualist group and meets one Mr Ratnadatta, a talent scout for the Order of the Great Ram, a Satanist group who meet in a temple in central London.

I wasn’t expecting a lot of sex and gore but I was expecting a lot of sexist attitudes and racial stereotyping.  As a novel it was real page turner with some good, jaw dropping plot twists. Mary, as an initiate, would be expected to take part in orgies at the temple and ‘have many lovers’ in one night. There is a lot of talk of having sex but no actual sex scenes. This was 1960, remember. Pre Lady Chatterley and the sexual revolution. As for sexism….well. Okay, being a man I’m not going to be as able to spot sexist attitudes in literature as my female contemporaries. I say this as my female contemporaries have pointed out sexist attitudes in literature that I haven’t spotted. For me, the character of Mary Morden was a positive role model. A strong, independent woman avenging the death of her husband. Mary who uses her intelligence to save the day more than once in this novel.

What about racism? Oh dear. Several times Mr Wheatley refers to his black characters as ‘negros’. Even in 1960 I imagine this word has horrible associations with the slave trade. His heroes also use other racial slang words which are pretty offensive today but weren’t back in the sixties. Probably the most glaring racial stereotype in the Indian Character Ratnadatta. Wheatley has him speaking in this Indian accent, over emphasising the F’s which looks clunky on the page and is actually a painful and awkward to read. The effect, for me, is the same as when the character Joseph speaks in his broad Yorkshire dialect in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Not only is it hard to understand but as prose is grates with the reader.

More than anything in the book the Ratnadatta character suggests the ‘Johnny-foreigner’-as-the-enemy-attitude that was prevalent at the time. What makes this less offensive then and more offensive now? Well, we live in a multicultural society. I’d hate to think any of my friends from ethnic backgrounds being labelled in this way and I cringe when I think of any of my Indian friends reading the character of Ratnadatta thinking I shared the writers attitude.

I’m not going to be an apologist for Wheatley but I will defend his writing. The Satanist was a page tuner, had a good plot, and (with the exception of Ratnadatta) had likeable, well-formed characters most of whom seemed to spend time having a whiskey and soda in Colonel Veasey’s club.

So, the occult knowledge seems to be quite genuine and more or less square up with what I know about real occult practices. Wheatley warns against having anything to do with the occult and seems to advocate Christianity as a viable alternative. Colonel Veasey refers to ‘Our Lord Christ’ a few times, Mary knocks out the Satanist by chucking a cross at him. I get the feeling that Wheatley is fascinated by the occult but also morally opposes it. I’d like to know if he had any experience in the occult and where he got his ideas of an international secret anti-church from.

A few times he quotes Crowley ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’, and the Satanists’ creed seems positively Crowlean in its promotion of freedom both morally and sexually. Conversely, the sect will punish anyone who doesn’t obey. Crowley was notorious in the early twentieth century and occultism did have quite an interest at that time in Europe. This popularisation of the occult may have acted as a foundation to Wheatley’s fiction. Crowley’s activities in the abbey at Thelema in Sicily made the front page in 1920’s tabloids and saw him expelled from Sicily under Mussolini’s regime.

In the sixties and seventies Wheatley’s books sold by the bucket load. Now you can’t even find them in Charity shops although they have just been reissued by Bloomsbury.   

So, if Wheatley was writing today how different would the books be? In the sixties religious fundamentalism wasn’t making the headlines as it is today. The world of the sixties seems to have forgotten religious persecution; witch trials, the Torquemada. In post war Britain the black and white, good-verses-evil was more plausible. We live in an age of ISIS and Al-qaeda, We’ve just been through the age of Bush and Blair, alleged Christians ordering bombs to be dropped on cities. This would complicate the idea of good being the church of God and evil being the church of Satan.

If he were writing today there would be more sex, more orgies would take place. There would probably be more violence too. However good plot and characterisation are universal whatever age you are writing in.

So, to conclude I wouldn’t be too hard on Wheatley. The pace, plot and overall concepts of The Satanist were strong. I’ve not sold the amount of books he has so who the hell am I to judge anyway?

How to Kill a Rat with Your Teeth

10 May

I was sitting in a pub reading alone the other week and a lovely drunk girl looked over from her cool looking hipster friends to ask me what I was reading.

‘Er…this…a book of short stories by Roald Dahl,’ I replied.

On seeing the book she actually came over and sat at my table which was nice and we had a conversation about Roald Dahl stores we’d read at school. I remember The Twits making me feel physically sick (the twit with the food, including a fish tail stuck in his beard. The only other media to make me almost physically sick being the puke-eating scene in Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste) and the alien from the Great glass elevator scaring the crap out of me.

I was reading Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and the girl, on inspecting the book, said she had book envy before the conversation moved on to veganism.

I’d remembered one of the stories from this book being taught at school. Being 14 I didn’t notice the literary subtleties and character development. I just remember liking it because it had the word bastard in it somewhere.

Dahl has several volumes of short stories for adults out but Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life impressed me because all the stores are about rural life. I grew up in the country, moved to a city but now I live in a fairly rural environment. The book is comprised of seven short stories all set in the same village with the same characters running through each story. Short stories aren’t my greatest love as I prefer the expanded plot and character development afforded by novels. However, as the setting and characters run through each story they give the same satisfaction as reading a novel. There are other instances where I’ve found an anthology with a running theme most enjoyable. One of the best anthologies I’ve read recently is Fogbound From 5. Interconnected stories all set on the last train home published by Hersham Horror press. There’s also Lovecraft’s collections of Cthulhu stories which I love.

I digress. Back to Dahl. I found the stories to be brilliant and funny. For instance Parson’s Pleasure is about an antique dealer who disguises himself as a vicar to inspect rural houses and pick up antiques. The Champion of the World is about two poachers who decide to use raisins impregnated with sleeping pills to drug and catch pheasants.

One of the most memorable characters is a The Ratcatcher, a truly disgusting creature, the kind of in your face nutter you pray doesn’t start speaking to you in the pub. The Ratcatcher revolted me almost as much as Mr Twit and his beard. This guy looks like a tramp and keeps live rats about his person to demonstrate how to kill them to his customers. He demonstrates to the narrator and his mate, Claud, how he can kill a rat with his teeth alone. Stephen King seems to enjoy creating rural working class characters but Roald Dahl absolutely rules at this. The horrific and the hilarious to rub shoulders and create a brilliant friction.

You don’t seem to hear his name banded about as much these days in literary circles but since finishing this book I’ve met all kinds of people from different back grounds who have an admiration for Roald Dahl’s adult work. Living in the countryside I just hope I don’t bump into The Ratcatcher anytime soon.

j4g_melhuish_100x120 download

The Blog Hop

10 Apr

First memory

Typically my first memory is television based. I remember watching Doctor Who in the early seventies and seeing one of the characters creep past a sleeping dinosaur. Thanks to this modern, information-rich age I now know that the story was Invasion of the Dinosaurs, screened in 1974 and thanks to the wonders of DVD I can now re-live my first memory again and again. I also remember something about a sliding bathroom door and possibly a monster behind it. I don’t really need to relive that one again.


As a youngster I used to find reading hard going but when I was twelve I read James Herbert’s The Rats. According to the school I had a reading age of 9. After finishing this my reading age went up to twelve. Previously to this I found To the Devil a Daughter by Dennis Wheatley and The 7th Pan Book of Horror Stories in a spare room at my grandfather’s house. My grandfather had been quite a moral man. He’d been in the navy for a number of years and could be quite authoritarian when he needed to be. I also remember having arguments with him about religion as I’d become an atheist when I was five. He was pro-God. Remembering his character it didn’t seem to square that he’d be reading occult horror in his spare time. I read most of To the Devil a Daughter over several afternoons when I was eleven. At the same time I read a really scary story about a giant spider in the Pan book. In fact, I read this one twice, going back to it on my next visit I was so fascinated by the concept of a giant spider appearing and giving an arachnophobe a heart attack.



I grew up I rural Oxfordshire and there were no libraries in the vicinity. However, a library van would stop in the hamlet where we lived and after a while the librarians got to know my taste in books. I was about 15 back then. They’d furnish me with Dean Koontz and Stephen King books. The library van had a big back window which in let lots of light and I remember the rocking motion the van made when you climbed aboard. I don’t know if they have library vans anymore.

Mobile library


Apart from writing I have a couple of extracurricular occupations. I volunteer with a church-run charity in Northampton called Reachout. Once every six weeks myself and three others go out and about in Northampton’s town centre and give food, clothing and a hot drinks to homeless people on the streets. There is a rota so every Friday a team will go out. There are enough people on the rota to take turns going out each week without the responsibility falling to just one team. Walking around town at night isn’t as onerous as it sounds and the majority of the people we see know us. Reachout is linked with other homeless projects which offer everything from a hot sit down meal to a residential drugs/alcohol detox programme.

My other curricular activity is Morris Dancing. Not only does Morris dancing keep you fit, you get to wear bells, a tri-corn hat and wave hankies and hit sticks in public places. I’ve made lots of good friends through this and had more fun than I’ve ever had. I’m in my forties, I shouldn’t be having fun. Morris dancing also inspired me to write a story called The Snap End Morris Men which appeared in an anthology called Haunted from Boo Books, which I’m very proud of.


I didn’t like school. I’ve been categorised before as an ‘odd learner’ by university lecturers and colleges in my current field of work (Occupational therapy). At school I was shockingly bad at maths but okay at English. Because of this I was streamlined into remedial classes and left school with a city and guilds in how to work in a factory and very little else. Subsequently In my adult life I’ve completed two degrees, one in English, Drama and Sociology and a second degree in Occupational Therapy. I’m sure, subconsciously, I only did these two degrees to make up for my lack of progress at school.

At one point in my life I started training to be a teacher and, yes, just to absolutely confirm it, I still hated school. Obviously I was then on the other side of the fence then but the same routines and disciplines, (registration, the end of period bell) still freaked me out. Some people hate hospitals because of the smell and general atmosphere. I hate schools in the same way. I work in a hospital now, though.

Despite all this there was a teacher at school who inspired me. This man was head of the remedial block where I was learning to tell the time using a cardboard clock. He recognised that I enjoyed reading so lent me 1984 and The Lord of The Rings. He also encouraged my writing and fought to get me into the mainstream sets with little success. He was sorely disappointed when I left school disillusioned, angry and without an O level to my name. I may have left school without any qualifications but, thanks to this teacher, I didn’t leave school without learning anything.


I am a firm believer that reality exists merely to provide me with interesting settings and plotlines for works of fiction. At present I work in a hospital, a microcosm of society and an excellent setting to explore mortality. I’ve previously worked in psychiatric units, placements for people with learning disabilities and once I worked in a factory painting cones red. All of these experiences offer interesting scenarios to twist into fantastic fiction. My latest novel, Bad Acid I wrote fifteen years ago whilst on night shifts in the psychiatric unit. I’ve another novel, Highcross, set in a village recently refurbished after being left empty for seventy years Highcross was written when working as an Occupational Therapist in a rehab unit for people who were overcoming physical ailments such as brain injury, stroke or fractured bones. I’ve been privileged see the many facets of the human psyche working so close to so many people which informed the characters of that novel.

bad acid - cover 1

I like doing nothing more than writing. There is no better feeling than making a coffee, switching on the computer and banging out a couple of chapters of  a story that’s really enjoyable to write. I usually find that I’m so engrossed in the writing that my coffee’s sometimes gone cold before I’ve finished it. That never happens when, for instance, I’m at work writing reports which are not as engrossing as writing fiction.

For the next blog hop I hand over to Alex Davis.

An Unpublished History

21 Mar

At some point in my life, I didn’t know when, probably when I was a teenager, I decided to be a writer. Not to write and try and get published, I was just going to be a writer. A famous one. A Booker prize winning novelist. This dream didn’t come true but it sort of did.

At the age of 27 I’d finished my degree in English, Drama and Sociology and began my first proper novel, hand written and typed out on a friend’s computer. It took five years to completer and was a long, dark crime thriller. This was the nineties and not everybody had laptops. After an aborted teacher training degree I decided that if I was going to be serious about being a writer then I needed to buy my own computer.

On this computer I was going to write my Booker prize winning exploration of mental health issues. I worked in a psychiatric unit and had half an idea for a book. However, the other idea I had about a guy who takes acid in a stone circle was not a Booker prize winning novel, it was a trashy horror. One Friday afternoon I decided to start writing this trashy horror novel to see how it went. I typed solidly for five hours and had enormous fun. I found, strangely, writing could be fun. The ideas were strong, the setting a place I wanted to spend time in, the characters I wanted to spend time with. And so Bad Acid began.

I spent a happy summer in the first year of the new millennium typing Bad Acid. I’d return from the night shift at the psychiatric unit, sleep all day until two pm then get up, make a coffee and write the next chapter of the novel, go to work, get home, read and edit the chapter, sleep, wake, write, go to work etc. My other book, this dark thriller, had taken five years to write. Bad Acid took nine months. All sorts of things around me in reality seemed to feed into the novel. That year was the only year I have ever been to Glastonbury and probably ever will, now that tickets cost three million pounds and you need a blood sample and reference from a trusted professional just to buy a ticket. The whole atmosphere of the place just fuelled the writing of the novel. The colours, sounds, people off their heads, staying up all night. That kind of thing

I finished the novel and after messing about editing it was finally ready in 2001.

So, with the novel written all I had to do was send it off to a literary agent. Back in the early zero’s you had to send a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your novel plus a stamped addressed return envelope. (I sound like a granddad trying to explain to a teenager what a record player was). I duly did this, pouring thought the Artists and Writers Yearbook 2000 to find literary agents that dealt in horror. I found three. To my shock one of them wrote back using my stamped addressed envelope and asked

  1. For me to ring her for a chat
  2. To see the next five chapters.

I was on the point of handing in my notice from my job as my huge advance would no doubt be coming through the post in the form of a cheque. Our conversation on the phone was brief; she wanted to know if it was violent, a good thing in her view and asked me a bit about my job.  I sent her the next five chapters only for her to send them back with a few comments, some advice but she wasn’t going to take it any further.


I think that word sums up my feelings at the time. Sometime later another literary agent asked me to ring him after submitting the piece. He wasn’t going to represent Bad Acid as he handled romance but knew a literary agent that handled horror and gave me his details. He did this on a Friday and he rang me at work wishing me a good weekend.

I never heard back from his literary agent friend. I think I waited a year then went back to sending my A4’s off to London literary agents. Over a period of around ten years about three more wanted to see the rest of the novel before deciding that it wasn’t for them.

I briefly changed the title to more commercially friendly The Deities, thinking the original title might put the agencies off. When I came to self-publish it I kept its original title which I much preferred and it kind of rhymed, both ‘A’s in bad and acid corresponding with each other.

The last literary agent to contact me was an agent listed in the Artist and Writers Yearbook. This guy was American and left me a message on my answer phone. He sounded like John Barrowman, I remember. He said that he thought the book was great and he could definitely find me a publisher. However, to guarantee this, certain expenses would need to be covered such as postage and packaging. Basically, he wanted two hundred quid. Being in a writer’s group with published authors and publishers I knew this was a scam. You may have dealt with this individual yourself. I won’t give his name but you may recognise the description. Let’s just say that he didn’t get £200 quid from me. I moved on from that one pretty quickly.

So, for fifteen years Bad Acid sat there on my hard drive. A few people read it and really liked it, saying it was a page turner and good holiday reading. Two work mates read it, one a guy in his twenties covered in tattoos and the other a guy in his fifties. The both liked it and discussed with me how a sequel might work.

An artist friend of mine who thought everything I did was pretentious and ego boosting read Bad Acid having found it laying around in my house and liked the novel so much she did a painting of what the cover may look like, a stone circle with light snaking upwards of into the night sky.

When electronic publishing arrived I became very excited at the prospect of Bad Acid becoming available to the public. I love that story and it brings back memories of that easy summer writing it in my shared house in Northampton. I still don’t think it’s going to win the Booker prize anytime soon.

bad acid - cover 1

Musings on the passing of Sir Terry

14 Mar

I’m Saddened by the death of Sir Terry Pratchett at the young age of 66. Probably one of the few people who actually deserve a knighthood in my opinion. Okay, I’ll be honest. I only ever read half of one of his books. I didn’t finish The Colour of Magic. I gave up on it not because it was a bad book but because I wasn’t in the mood for it. I was young, pretentious and wanted to read something dark and moody. Now I’m older and less cynical I’d probably love it. I’m really tempted by Wintersmith after having heard the fantastic concept album by Steeleye Span based on his work with a narration by the man himself.

Okay, so I haven’t read any of his books but Sir Terry has indirectly been responsible for some great conversations between myself and his fans. I feel I know the plots to his books better than any reader as Terry’s fans eulogise about the walk that Death takes across the desert. Conversations usually go like this.

Me: ‘Oh, you like terry Pratchett. You’d love Neil Gaiman and what about Michael Moorcock?’

Pratchett Fan: ‘No, but have you read Geroge RR Martin/Tolkien/CS Lewis etc’

These conversations usually take place in the dull reality of the work place and many an afternoon has been lightened by such conversations. For those moments alone, Sir Terry I thank you and I will get round to reading Wintersmith soon. Honest.


Fear and Loathing in Great Rollright

10 Feb

bad acid - cover 1

Hunter S. Thompson’s 1972 novel Fear and Loathing is Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream documents a narcotic-fueled trip to Las Vegas where, under the influence of LSD among other drugs, the protagonist Rauol Duke experiences hallucinations such as people are turning into lizards in the neon-lit bars of the casinos and insane, violent behavior is displayed by the protagonist and his ‘attorney’ Dr Gonzo. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a treatise on the failure of the 1960’s counterculture. The characters undergo a sort of self-prescribed insanity where the boundaries of morality and common sense become obsolete.

Fear and loathing

My own literary wandering into the narcotic seems to follow the same path. In my short story The Acid Lounge, and my recently released novel Bad Acid, the protagonists drop LSD and the madness begins. This is where any similarities between Thompson’s world famous work and my own obscure indie novel end.

Unlike Thompson I didn’t take a load of hallucinogens and go into Las Vegas. I did once spend a weekend at Stow-on-the Wold horse fair with a group of new age travelers who thought that the horse fair was a rave so bought a hundred acid tabs with them to sell to the thousands expected to turn up to this illegal weekend of music. Instead they found a groups of gypsy families in old horse-drawn wagons sedately sitting round camp fires brewing tea in copper kettles in scenes are reminiscent of Thomas Hardy’s work rather than anything written by Hunter S. Thompson. They were a bit miffed them they couldn’t off load these drugs to the gypsy families that set up camp in the field just outside the town.

My novel, Bad Acid, tells the story of a guy called Lloyd Weller who parks his caravan by a stone circle called the Whichford Stones. Threatened by local thugs, he decides to throw in his lot with a group of new age travelers based a few miles away. The group gather in the stones, take acid to commune with beings from ‘The other side’. Soon Lloyd joins them and finds the acid having a detrimental effect on his already fragile mental health.


The form for this story had been knocking round my head for years. When I was 24 I left home and went to university. Whilst there my parents moved to the village of Great Rollright where the famous Rollright stones are located. (note, this move was not to get away from me) It’s an eerie place; the stones are made from granite not found locally as in that part of the country soft limestone is common and the nearest source of hard granite is to be found a few hundred miles west in Wales. The granite stones are laid out in a circle on a hill and cannot be counted twice. I’ve tried many times and come up with a different number each time but maths was never my strong point. To the south there are three stones that lean against each other as if whispering conspiratorially. These are the ‘whispering knights’. To the north a large stone overlooks the village of Long Compton. This is the `king stone’ which stands alone. Legend has it that the circle is actually a circle of knights turned to stone by a witch along with three whispering knights and the king overlooking the village.

RollrightsThe Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones are also famous for being the chosen filming location for the 1978 Doctor Who story The Stones of Blood.  Now that is cool.

When I was younger my friends and I would sometimes drive up there at night. A couple of times we’d meet some new age travelers and share a joint with them, conversation turning to conspiracy theories, spirituality or drug taking experiences. On one of these nocturnal sojourns we met a group whose number included this slim girl with long blonde dreadlocks who walked the inside of the circle juggling fire brands. That was quite freaky but visually quite stunning. Another traveler who lived in the little hut located in the wood by the stones says that he regularly heard horses galloping through the stones at night. Umm…really? What had he been smoking?

Stonehenge        At this time, throughout the 1990’s, it seemed that you couldn’t move for new age travelers. This was the age of illegal raves but travelers made their presence known around town or up at the stones. The group I’d mentioned earlier, the ones I’d spent a weekend with when I was 22 in Stow-on-the-wold, had come up from London. My friend, Penny, had met them bunking up on the train that she was on. She’d got off on the stop before them, rang me and we’d driven over to meet them. We spent the weekend in this field around the fire dossing with them. I’d like to say that it was pleasant and mind-freeing like a Levellers song. It wasn’t. These people were bloody scary.

There was a large Scottish guy who introduced himself by staring at me and saying nothing. There was another guy who came across as defensive, aggressive and just totally insane. He preached in a self-righteous manner that exuded hostility. He also reckoned that, when tripping, he could actually fly and feel his ‘brothers and sisters’ in a flock beside him. I was with them when we went into the sleepy touristy town of Stow-on-the-Wold as they intimidated shop keepers and were openly rude to tourists. This was the experience that cemented my view of travelers as a collective that are a bit unhinged.

Aside from this one experience I also met other travelers up at the stones on our visits. One midsummer evening we said hello to a group of them sitting around a fire at the king stone and they just stared at up at us, their eyes and facial expressions communicating a hostility that verged on the psychotic. We left very quickly.

A also heard a story about a local woman who lived in an isolated house. One day a traveler knocked on her door to ask if he could fill his water can. She obliged him and he left the house. However, when she looked out of the window there were a large group of them sitting silently in a semi-circle on the lawn staring up at the house.

These experiences were useful when portraying the gang of new age travelers that Lloyd meets in Bad Acid, led by albinoesque nut-job, Monster. The gang have all dropped out of the society and come from colorful, sometimes criminal, backgrounds. They are portrayed as scary and defensive, something I picked up from my real experiences and twisted into fictions and, I admit, exaggerated. Let me just clarify; I also met a lot of nice, friendly new age travelers as well.

So, this book is called Bad Acid. It’s about taking LSD and the taking of that drug is used to trigger the character’s journey to the psychedelic universe I’ve named ‘the other side’. As I’ve twisted real experiences into this story you might be wondering if I’ve ever dabbled in taking drugs myself. Well, yes. I’ve taken LSD twice in my life. The first time was when I spent the weekend with the travelers at Stow-on-the-wold.

In my early twenties a lot of my peer group had taken LSD and I felt left out. They made it out to be some essential mind-expanding experience that all creative people or left-field thinkers should explore when they were young. Taking it was something of a disappointment. I actually expected to leave my body and talk to God is some multi-coloured, multi-dimensional parallel universe. Instead my fine motor feedback was compromised; hard objects felt floppy and everyone seemed to be talking in a Scottish accent. Hardly talking to God face to face. The second time I took it much the same thing happened but I spent  paranoid afternoon believing that I was going to hell when I die, possibly a contributing factor in my conversion to Christianity the same year.

The experiences described by Monster and the others are preconceptions of what I thought LSD might be like, not how it actually was. Unlike the characters in the book I took a tiny drop of the stuff on dried litmus paper, I didn’t take 5 to 10 ml from a pipette straight into my eyeballs as the characters in the book do.

Taking LSD is dangerous. Fact. My mental health wasn’t permanently damaged by my experience but a few years later I worked as a carer in a psychiatric unit and saw first-hand the damage drugs can do to the fragile human mind. I met guys my age and younger who had dabbled in drugs and were now permanently damaged, plagued by voices and delusions, their condition barely controlled by the prescribed medication they were taking. These unfortunates were locked into a chronic pattern of mental illness that never seemed to resolve. They never told you that in the just say no adverts in the eighties when I was a kid. Let’s be clear, I do not advocate the taking of drugs. Bad Acid is a morality tale of sorts. The clue is in the title, Bad Acid.

So, to conclude, unlike Thompson’s work, Bad Acid isn’t an examination of the failure of the counter culture. Yes, there seemed to be lot less travelers around at the end of the nineties when the story is set but Bad Acid is a psychedelic horror story with lots of violence, scary scenes and a supernatural element. Obviously the book means a lot to me and I sometimes revisit the stones if I’m in the area. There are no new age travelers there now and the feel is more National Trust then new age traveler. I still can’t count the stones. Or maybe I just can’t count.

‘Were my Parents Satanists?’ Childhood Paranoia exposed.

27 Jan

When I was eight years old I thought that my parents were part of a satanic cult, or they might have been demons in human form, I wasn’t quite sure.  Anyway, I got it into my head that they couldn’t be trusted because they were up to something. My dad would stop at the top of the stairs after he’d put me to bed for some reason and I imagined that he was talking to the devil, or a demon, or an alien, or an alien demon. In reality I think we was just fiddling with the thermostat. Childhood paranoia was nothing new; I was also convinced that the house where we lived was haunted. In my bedroom the cupboard door never closed and I was sure there was someone in there looking out at me.

Hail Borgnine   Is this what my parents were up to on a Friday night? And they told me they were line dancing down the British Legion.

We lived in an isolated part of Oxfordshire in a hamlet of around 15 houses located halfway down a hill. Directly north of the hamlet was a massive dark wood which was definitely haunted and that’s where they were going to take me when they sacrificed me, or took me to be possessed by the alien demon or whatever. My parents weren’t the only ones involved in this cult, everyone else who lived in this hamlet were also part of it. Mr Griggs opposite, Mrs Vernon next door. Even Mr and Mrs Howlett who walked their dog past my house every day.  However, I couldn’t be absolutely sure that any of this was true, I just had unfounded suspicions. A psychoanalyst would have a have a field day if they’d used the eight year old me as a case study.

downloadRural Oxfordshire. Pretty creepy, eh?

There were other terrors to face, real terrors, such as the school bully and authoritarian teachers at the village primary school I attended. (step forward Kingham Primary School and particularly Mrs Anderson) so I couldn’t fully concentrate on my imagined terrors. As I said, I also doubted their validity.

By the time I was ten I eventually worked out that my parents weren’t Satanists and the tiny hamlet of Kingham Hill wasn’t populated by weird sect members. The school bully got moved to another class but Mrs Anderson was still a twat.

So, this is a pretty weird thing for a kid to imagine but I was a pretty weird kid and, some would say, I’m a pretty weird adult. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and I believe, as a child, you begin to identify what is real and what is not. This was one of those learning curves, I guess. My doubts about the validity of these hypotheses kept my behaviour in check; I never acted on these fears and tried to run away for home. I never of actively distrusted my parents to the point that affected our relationship abnormally. As far as I know they knew nothing about my paranoid fantasies. As an adult I’m not ‘coming to terms’ with it or ‘seeking closure’ because the experience wasn’t real.

These days I channel the same ‘what if’s’ into my writing and it gets pretty close to the knuckle sometimes using current realities I’ve twisted into fictions. The spark of the idea has to come from somewhere, so where the hell did this paranoid fantasy come from? How did I know of the existence of Satanist cults at the age of eight? Where did I get the idea of immediate family and a whole community being part of something that wished to harm or forcibly subsume me?

I dimly remember seeing the film The Devils Rain as a child. The plot runs like this: a man returns to his family to find out that they are all part of satanic cult. I don’t think my parents would have let me watch such a film at that age or let me stay up that late so as an explanation this doesn’t fit. There must have been some other stimuli to trigger this.

I think I’ve found it.

Children of the StonesAh, there’s the culprit.

I got the DVD Children of the Stones for Christmas. I watched it the other day and was quite surprised at what I saw. Children of the Stones is a TV series filmed in Avebury, the village built within the famous stone circle. Everyone in the village, apart from the protagonist and his father, are part of this cult The Happy Ones. There is one chilling scene where the protagonist stumbles upon the whole village standing on the village green holding hands singing at night.

Gotcha! So this is the guilty party. Children of the Stones was shown in 1977 and I remember watching it. I think that scene was the trigger. One year later I thought that my parents and the rest of the community were all in on something weird. Ironically, the TV series was shown at tea time, being a children’s television programme. The DVD has a 12 certificate.

I’m not saying that this should never have been shown. If I’d not seen this then something else would have triggered my paranoia. I watched Doctor Who every week, maybe I’d have believed my parents were Autons or something. I also believe these fantasies were by products of my real fears of school bullies and teachers.

RollrightsThe Rollright Stones. Definitely a portal to another dimention.

I grew up to be a normalish teenager and a normalish adult. My parents moved when I was 24 to Great Rollright, the village with the stone circle nearby. I think if they’d moved there when I was eight that really would have sent me over the edge. They’ve moved to a stone circle, they’re definitely going to sacrifice me/possess my soul/send me to the mother ship.

When I was in my twenties I asked my mother is she had ever been part of a Satanist cult when I was a child. She laughed.

‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘We were too busy working in the underground lab testing the subsonic paranoia machine for intended for use on children.’

Names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.

Morris Man Madness

16 Nov

Apparently James Herbert was once told, ‘write about what you know’. So he wrote about rats. I subscribe to this idea so I largely write about places, people, groups or beliefs that I have had personal experience with. So far I’ve written fiction about or involving psychiatric hospitals, old folks homes, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, painters and decorators, farms, rock festivals, homeless projects, stand-up comedy, hitch-hiking and Christianity. All of these things I have first-hand experience with, be it through jobs I’ve had or just because I’ve tried them or become involved with them.

In November this year I have ghost story called The Snap End Morris Men coming out with Boo books for a ghost stories anthology called Haunted which I’m very pleased about. I’ve always wanted a story included in a Christmas ghost stories anthology since seeing Lawrence Gordon Clark’s Ghost Stories for Christmas a few years ago.

So, this story is about Morris dancers, something else I can add to the above list as having first-hand experience with. For the last year and two months I’ve been a Morris dancer. To write about Morris dancing you have to know a bit about the tradition so being in a Morris side helps. I didn’t join a Morris side exclusively to write one ghost story but the story came from the experience of being part of a Morris side.

So why the heck did you decide to take up Morris dancing, I hear you ask. Well, I like folk music and actually like Morris music. I have a few CD’s of it at home wedged in between the doom mental section and the prog section of my collection. (I know, arranging your CD’s by sub-genre seems to be a male pastime) So when I met Northampton Morris Men at a festival one summer I got talking to them took and they my details. As this is an unpopular English pastime Morris sides are all quite low on numbers and keen for new people to take it up  By September I was turning up to dancing practice in a working man’s club every Monday in a village near to where I live.

Morris dancing is a lot harder than it looks. Apart from the stick-hitting and the hanky-waving there is also the stepping, the complicated foot movements to consider. I’ve been doing it for a year and a bit and I’m still learning to master the footwork. There are also other movements within various dances; the half jip (or gip), the whole gip, the left hand star, the right hand star, process up, process down. (You no doubt get the idea so I won’t go on)

Since joining and dancing out with the Morris men I’ve been to more village fetes than I’ve ever been to in my life and been to more pubs than I’ve nearly ever been to in my life. At one pub where we danced we were even given free beer by the landlord. Now, that alone is a reason for joining the Morris men.

There is also the aesthetic angle to consider when joining a Morris side. At Northampton we wear a baldric (a sort of double sash), short black trousers and long white socks, a tri-corn hat and, of course, bells. When twelve of us turn up to a pub wearing all the same thing it’s a bit like being in a gang. Sure, you might get a few shouts from spectators but it’s largely good humoured. I was never in a gang at school and I never managed to pull off any kind of fashionable look (I was too fat to be a Goth) so this is about as close as I get to being in a gang with a look. With our tri-corn hats, white shirts and socks I sometimes feel like a droog from Antony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, if A Clockwork Orange had been written by Thomas Hardy and not Burgess.

Of course, all this could be perceived as sinister and weird by the modern world. The Wicker Man would not have been half the film it was without the folk music and traditional dances and costumes and to some extent used the modern world’s distrust of rural traditions. Even back in 1971 Doctor Who depicted Morris dancers as mad, possessed men who take the Doctor captive to burn him on a pyre in the story, The Deamons.

With this in mind I knew I had to write fiction about Morris men but I’d had such a good time with them that I found it impossible to depict Morris Men as sinister. So I conceived a ghost story, partly inspired by the documentary The Way of the Morris. As it is the centenary of World War One I also wanted to write something about the devastating effect of that conflict.

Compared to the horrors of the trenches, Morris dancing seems like a gentle, positive activity. What would you rather be doing, drinking ale and dancing with your mates at a village fete or being shot at, up to your neck in mud in the trenches? So I wrote the Snap End Morris Men, a ghost story. I’m sure I’ll write other fiction about Morris dancing as time goes by.

I’m thinking of writing a fantasy set in an alternative England where Morris dancing takes place but I’d invent my own dances and names for Morris dances in this universe. However, some of the names of real dances and tunes are quite strange enough without any embellishment from me. Lads-a-bunchum being one, Bonny Green Garters, anyone?


The Holocaust that Never Happened

5 Aug


On Channel 4 the series The 100 has started. The premise being that 97 years ago life on Earth was wiped out by a nuclear holocaust but some humans sat it out in a space station orbiting the Earth. Now they’ve sent down a group of young criminals to investigate and see if the radiation count has dropped. What they find are mutant creatures and primitive tribes.

            Watching this brought me back to the sort of stories I enjoyed in my youth. In the Eighties the threat of nuclear war was real. My childhood seemed to be spent watching Protect and Survive adverts shown on the news but when What-if-the-bomb-dropped? drama Threads was aired on BBC1 in 1984 the reality of nuclear war became clearer. Yes, it was a scary prospect but it was also kind of exiting. I went with the belief that it wouldn’t happen anyway. Well, it didn’t, did it.

            The holocaust that never happened  played  huge role in the sci-fi literature, television programmes and films that I was watching at the time. Other apocalypses were possible such as mass blindness as seen in Day of the Triffids or a plague envisioned in Survivors but Nuclear War was the most probable and possible threat at the time.

            One of my most enduring memories of holocaust fiction, apart from Threads, is the TV adaptation of  the novel by Robert C. O’Brian,  Z for Zachariah. A young girl is left alone in a Welsh valley that is somehow immune to radiation then a man arrives with plans to seed a new society. The Girl, Ann, understandably isn’t too keen to make babies with some beardy stranger so leaves taking his radiation suit with her.

Threads 3

            The other holocaust story that I remember vividly is James Herbert’s Domain. The third instalment of his hugely popular Rats series. The bomb drops and the rats come out to have gnaw. The story follows a group of survivors as they make their way through a wrecked London. Also worth reading is Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon.  America is nuked and an immortal force of evil walks the wasteland causing trouble. Think Stephen King’s The Stand but with a higher rad count. These are examples of apocalyptic fiction that describes a world just after the bomb had dropped. Fuel for the imagination seemed to come from trying to visualise life decades, or even centuries, after the holocaust.

So prevalent was the bomb that most sci-fi didn’t even need to mention the holocaust by name. Think of the end scene in Planet of the Apes. Charlton Heston finds the statue of liberty on the shore and we all know what’s happened. Interestingly in the new Apes film it’s a global pandemic which nearly wipes us out, a possibly more relevant apocalypse for this day and age.

John Wyndham’s The Crysalids is set many years after the apocalypse. Humanity has reverted to theocracy and there are tribes of mutants out in the wastelands, banished by the religious ‘normal’ society. The religious society has the now nearly iconic phrase Thou Shall Watch for the Mutant.

            By 1989 the iron curtain had collapsed. The threat of nuclear war decreased. Science fiction moved on and with the emergence of the digital age other concepts occupied sci-fi’s storylines such as virtual reality. However, the possibility of nuclear war never really went away.

Threads 2

In 2007 whilst at unit I showed by flatmates Threads. These guys were all in their early twenties and are too young to remember Protect and Survive or Maggie Thatcher. I thought they might find it cheesy and retro. By the end they were watching through their fingers, horrified. Of course, the nuclear threat it no less real today. The tragic events in Ukraine over the past few weeks have set the US and Russia at loggerheads again. In 2002 India and Pakistan were at the point of war, both countries are nuclear capable.

            In The 100 it’s not made clear what caused the holocaust but as Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘You can’t dis-invent the bomb’. Perhaps it isn’t as forgotten as we think it is. 

The 100   

Prog’s Not Dead – a personal journey through the zones where rock music and sci-fi overlap.

12 May

As there are hundreds of books and thousands of websites dedicated to all the bands I’ve mentioned here, I wouldn’t bother reading any further if I were you. Go on, just Google Hawkwind or Pink Floyd or Yes or Bolt Thrower. They’ll tell you all you need to know about these bands perhaps more comprehensively than I can. So why am I writing this blog entry then? Being a member of Northampton Science fictions Writer’s Group my intention was to write a comprehensive guide to the role Sci-fi plays in rock music. I’m not gong to do that. Instead I’ll tell you what I know.


Shindig guide to spacerock. More informed than my wittering on the subject. .



Twelve was quite an important age for me. My reading age caught up with my real age thanks to James and Frank Herbert, I got into music and became a fanatical enthusiast of the genre heavy metal. Another world of imagination opened up. I was as keen on listening to music as I was on reading horror and sci-fi. Sometimes they over lapped.

Iron Maiden’s 1983 album Piece of Mind concludes with a six minute track called To Tame a Land. Reading the lyric sheet I noticed that they were using phrases from the book I was reading at the time; Dune by Frank Herbert. Phrases such as Stillsuits and Gom-Jabbar. I even wrote to the Iron Maiden fan club to clarify this and received a note from their manager in hand-written scrawl.

Yes Paul,

                        You were right. To Tame a Land was inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune



Like it wasn’t obvious, but to the twelve year old me it wasn’t.

Quite how much a writer’s taste in Music affects their work is subjective and debatable. Alistair Reynolds entitled his short work Diamond Dogs, inspired or in reference, to David Bowie’s 1974 Album. The Klaxtons called their first Album Myths of the Near Future after a JG Ballard collection. Our very own NSFWG member Ian Whates is a keen fan of sci-fi prog-rockers Yes.

The history of science fiction in music consciously goes back a few years. In the Year 2525 was a kooky sixties record by Zager and Evans. Other artists dabbled with the themes of space including Pink Floyd. Floyd’s early work is laden with space references. Cirrus Minor, Interstellar Overdrive, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun all refer to space travel; pushing out into the boundaries of the unknown but obvious references to the use of hallucinogens serve a dual concept as the spacey elements become almost metaphors for the psychedelic elements. Notably on Cirrus Minor (from the soundtrack to the film ‘More’) where the lyrics tell of  a chap taking trip from a woodland glade to Cirrus Minor. He isn’t using a space shuttle to get there, guys.

Syd Barret, Pink Floyd.


Moving into the Seventies and the progressive rock movement unashamedly ally’s itself to Sci-fi. The band most associated with Sci-fi, who operate under the banner of ‘space rock’ and wear their sci-fi credentials on their sleeves is Hawkwind. If being a rock band and associating with sci-fi were a criminal offence then Hawkwind would be sentenced to instant vaporization. Collaborations with Michael Moorcock on the 1975 Warrior on the Edge of Time LP and ten years later with their Chronicle of the Black Sword LP saw Hawkwind embrace the imaginative elements to the maximum with mind melting stage shows and brilliant conceptual pieces such as Sonic Attack and Space is Deep.

Sonic Attack and Space is Deep being monologues with sinister undertones. Sonic Attack is a mock public information soundbite on how to survive a sonic attack, chillingly reminiscent of the government’s Protect and Survive campaign a few years later advising the British public how to survive a nuclear attack.

As an adolescent I needed to be spoon fed songs and anything without immediate lyrical and musical cohesion lost my interest. Sadly I only really started to appreciate the above two bands much later on in life. For instance, my brother played me Hawkwind’s debut and I remember thinking on hearing Be Yourself ‘This is just eight minutes of weird sounds. What rubbish.’

Now I listen to it thinking: ‘Wow, this is eight minutes of weird sounds, great.’

Looking like a Mayflower paperback from the 70’s, Space Ritual. A Truly excellent live album from Hawkwind.


In the seventies there were a host of sci-fi friendly bands under the progressive banner. The foremost of these being Yes. Musically more objective than Hawkwind and certainly less influenced by narcotics (although some might debate this point), Yes made songs with titles like Starship Trooper and The Gates of Delirium. Their covers were works of art by renowned fantasy artist Roger Dean. Although Yes’s aesthetics and music appealed to sci-fi fans Jon Anderson took the sci-fi aesthetic to boiling point with a concept about space travel, Olias of Sunhillow, a good old fashioned concept album about an alien called Oilas piloting a spacecraft called the Moorglade Mover from his home planet, which has experienced a volcanic catastrophe, to a new planet called earth (small e). How sci-fi is that? The cover art looks splendid as well.

I first heard Yes being played on Tommy Vance’s radio show when I was a kid and decided I didn’t like Jon Anderson’s high pitched voice. These days I listen again and I think it suits the music. I must admit that I only really like their Rodger Dean artwork period. Tales from Topographic Oceans is an album for long car journeys unless any of your passengers hate prog rock which most people I know seem to.

Olias of Sunhillow



When I was growing up in the 1980’s there was a mini prog-revival with bands such as Twelfth Night and IQ being played on the Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show. To my knowledge, the only one of these bands to adopt the sci-fi imagery and lyrics explicitly was Pallas. Their 1983 album The Sentinel was a semi-concept album focusing in the destruction of Atlantis. The cover art alone was enough to get me to ask my parents for it on my 13th birthday. I was so cool. While all the other boys were pulling girls to Duran Duran (a band whose name was taken from a character in Barbarella) I was at home studying the lyrics to prog opuses like this. Talk about wasted youth.



Another aspect of my life that guaranteed my virginity into my twenties was my love of heavy metal. Back then girls didn’t like metal. These days girls walk around in Marilyn Manson and Slipknot t-shirts. Talk about being born too early.

Heavy metal and horror go hand in hand but metal is no stranger to Sci-fi. Iron Maiden I’ve already mentioned but Brummie metallers Judas Priest wrote some fine sci-fi themed songs. Invader from 1978’s Stained Class album begins with the sound of a UFO in take-off mode and warns of aliens invading. Electric Eye from 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance uses as its subject matter satellite monitoring but the finest conceptual song from this band, in my opinion, is The Sentinel from 1983’s Defenders of the Faith. (The one with a metal lion on the cover armed with missiles and named the Metallion. Metal-lion? Get it?)

The lyrics depict a post-apocalyptic future of upturned, burned out-cars and a shell of a cathedral where hordes of Mad Max type thugs challenge The Sentinel to a fight. He kills them all with throwing knives. The drama and intensity are ramped up to the maximum by the music and Rob Halford’s powerful voice. The times I’ve nearly crashed the car singing along to this one.

Look, the metallion, teeth, claws, missile launchers and all.


Birmingham’s other, more famous sons, Black Sabbath have flirted with Sci-fi. Planet Caravan; a nice, laid back ditty describes a travel through space while Into the Void tells the story of refugees escaping a dying earth to begin a new life on a better world.


From space, looking to the Earth, it would seem as if all the sci-fi excesses in music happened in the Seventies with Yes and Hawkwind (I don’t count ELO in this even if they did have a spaceship). So what about now?

By now I mean the last twenty-odd years. Well, our old friends Iron Maiden had an album out in 2010, The Final Frontier, which had a wrecked spaceship on the cover. I’ve discovered a few sci-fi gems myself. In 1998 industrial thrashers Fear Factory had released a concept album called Obsolete. The protagonist of the story being a terrorist/freedom fighter who calls himself Edgecrusher, battling a megacorporation hell-bent on taking the Earth to the edge of destruction and oppressing its people in the meantime. The Edgecrusher fights the system without much success before finding inner piece in a ruined church. Linear notes written by Burton C. Bell, vocalist, describe the concept written as a short story. This was the only time Fear Factory dabbled with the concept album idea which was a shame as it worked very well. They even had Gary Numan on guest vocals.

Eighties thrash band, Bolt Thrower based their concept around the Warhammer role playing game. Their debut Realms of Chaos boasts a track listing of songs exclusively based on the Warhammer world such as World Eater and Through the Eye of Terror. As with most extreme metal, the lyrics aren’t always decipherable and the music is just too much for the normal ear. Not mine, of course, I love this sort of stuff.


Put this on at a party when you want your guests to leave.




Finally, in this day and age, the sci-fi concept album as something of a re-emergence with modern prog bands such as Transatlantic, Star One and Spock’s Beard. Leading this resurgence is Ayreon (no, I can’t pronounce it either), a band formed by Arjen Lucassen. Lucassen is a Dutch Multi-instrumentalist who gets his mates involved with his projects. Mates such as Fish from Marillion, Devin Townsend, Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth, Sharon Del Adel from Within Temptation and the bloke who played the flute from Focus. Ayreon release good old fashioned concept albums that span two whole discs and that is a lot of Music. 010111001 is the title of one of the concept alums and not a Stockholm telephone number, as is The Theory of Everything and Universal Migrator (parts 1 and 2)

Sorry, I couldn’t get this to go any bigger so you might have to squint. It’s the cover to Universal Migrator Parts 1 and 2, Ayreon.


I’ve only heard two of these double disc concept albums. Musically there are influences from Yes and Marillion as well as a lot of what could be termed Eurometal. The Human Equation is a concept album about a bloke in a coma going through his life. The other one that I’ve heard is the sci-fi epic Into the Electric Castle: A Space Opera (He even entitles it a space opera, how sci-fi is that!).Various characters from history get taken out of time to the electric castle by a seemingly benign entity voiced by Peter Daltrey (no relation). He begins by telling them not to be afraid then tells them that some of them may die in the tasks they will be expected to undertake (so no need to be afraid, then) and ends by having some kind of vocoder melt down as the minds of the characters that the entity has captured are the only things keeping him alive. Some songs sound like they could be entered for Eurovision and to the cynical ear this is nothing but flamboyant and pretentious. I don’t have a cynical ear and simply enjoy it for what it is; imaginative, slightly cheesy and as I can’t play a note I’m really in no position to criticise music. Also, there are some great keyboard parts and the guy from Focus can really play that flute.

 Look at the artwork on that. Squint again.




So, if you made it this far you have either a) been given some musical pointers b) been taken on a tour of songs and bands to avoid. Thanks for listening.  











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