Tag Archives: writing

My Year In Books 2018

Let me come clean. This is not a list of the best books of the year. Instead, this is the time of year when I look back over everything I’ve read in the past 12 months. This year I went for some classics and tried to read outside my comfort zone, which is of course science fiction and horror. The results were… interesting.

I also read a lot of short fiction, which is not included here, so bear that in mind. Anyway, here are the novels I read this year and what I thought about them. Maybe you agree. Maybe you think I’m wrong. If so, let me know why!


The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty  

Okay, so this is firmly in my comfort zone. But I had to read this horror classic. I have a confession to make, though – I never really thought the film was scary. Maybe this is because I never saw it until recently, and it has dated rather badly. I also thought the film was a little one note – Regan is possessed, end of story. However, the book was much better. It was subtle, with great characterisation as Regan’s mother has to accept that something supernatural has intruded into her world of fashion magazines and modern living. The priest Damien Karras is also three-dimensional and tragic. When the exorcist himself reappears late in the novel, we know things are about to get a lot worse. A lot of things that don’t make sense in the film make perfect sense in the novel. And when the audiobook is read by William Blatty himself, you know you’re in for a wild ride! Great stuff.

The Hunger by Charles Beaumont

Charles Beaumont was a huge influence on me thanks to Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone series in the 1960s. Although he died tragically young, he left behind a substantial body of work. The Hunger is a collection of horror, sci-fi and dramatic short stories. Right from the start you know you’re in the hands of a master. His “The Crooked Man”, which describes a future where heterosexuality is illegal, is disturbing in its plausibility, and contains a sting that sticks around long after the story ends. The most memorable story for me was “The Hunger” itself, a tale of the soon-to-be victim of a serial killer. The ending is as unexpected as it is inevitable. Beaumont created stories of real depth but with a wicked twist in the tale. A tragedy he died so young.

Casino Royale and Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Having never read the original James Bond novels I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was nothing like the films. Casino Royale is closer to Daniel Craig than Roger Moore’s pulp superspy. I was surprised how low-key and believable these stories were, nothing at all like the blockbuster movies. Bond himself is little more than a cypher. However, the novels’ structure intrigued me. In Act One our hero plunges into the world of espionage, which is alternately glamorous and exciting (casinos or the Harlem underworld). In Act Two something horrible happens to either our hero or his friends, resulting in some kind of brutal torture or maiming (I was shocked to see long-time Bond ally Felix Lightner meet a grisly fate early on). In Act Three Bond enacts bloody revenge on the bad guy, only to find a bitter sweet ending at best in this murky, treacherous world of spying. Not at all the knowing wink-to-the-camera Hollywood endings we have come to expect. A refreshing new look at an old hero.

 

A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Homes is a character most people are very familiar with thanks to the movies and TV shows. But, as with James Bond, the original novels are very different. Whether your Sherlock Homes is Hollywood legend Basil Rathbone with his deerstalker and pipe, or Guy Ritchie’s  action hero, the real Sherlock Homes is a different breed altogether. Introduced as a “consulting detective” in the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, we learn that Homes has spent years perfecting methods of criminal detection. These methods are a combination of the chemical, procedural, or the use of deductive reasoning. It is surprising to see that they are totally grounded in reality. Seeing Homes crawling across the floor studying footprints or taking hours to think about how a house could have been entered is a far cry from the superhuman crimebuster we know from films. It was a joy to see his methods being explained by Conan Doyle. The real Sherlock Homes is a refreshingly different from his cinematic counterparts as the real James Bond is from any of his onscreen incarnations. Well worth reading these for yourself and getting acquainted with the real Mr Homes!

Time and Again by Jack Finney

How could I not read this? The book that inspired one of my favourite stories, “Somewhere in Time” by Richard Matheson. This fantasy novel by the writer of “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” concerns our hero Si Morley, a man’s man of the 1950s, who is recruited by the government to be part of a top secret project – one that aims to perfect time travel by self-hypnosis. As he travels back to 1882 in New York, we are treated to an incredible display of world-building, as Finney recreates the details of life there in astonishing detail. One can imagine Finney himself went back in time to bring us this story, which of course has a bittersweet ending as most time travel stories do, because while he’s back in 1882, Si Morley falls in love…

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I’d never read this classic piece of Americana. While sometimes the heavy accents got in the way, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the adventures of a boy in a small American town in the mid-19th century. Twain gives us a true insight into childhood, making his hero Tom a convincing protagonist. Adults could learn a lot about child psychology by reading this book. Twain tells the story with humour without ever being condescending toward his cast. And he spins a rattling good yarn!

The Elementals by Michael McDowell

McDowell was a popular horror author in the 1970s before Stephen King. It’s easy to see how influential he was on King himself, especially in his tale of small American towns or isolated communities under threat from a supernatural menace. The Elementals begins with a startling visual image – three houses on a secluded beach in the Deep South. One is empty; no-one ever goes inside for a reason. At the rear of this house a massive sand dune has built up that threatens to engulf the building. The houses belong to a rich, Southern family. But when a cynical New York cousin and his young daughter come to stay, the daughter ignores the warnings and climbs the sand dune, breaking a window pane in the house and letting the evil  escape. A highly original premise with some genuinely creepy moments. My first exposure to McDowell, and certainly not the last.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

I’d read the reviews on this one, where readers said it was the most disturbing novel they’d ever read, that they hadn’t wanted to finish it but had forced themselves to read to the end. Gauntlet thrown. What I wasn’t prepared for was Ketchum’s stark, journalistic style. This is the story of a young girl and her even younger sister who are orphaned and sent to live with the woman who lives next door to the protagonist, a teenage boy. The woman is normal enough, even if she does lets the narrator and her own two sons drink beer and treats them like adults. But when the girls arrive, things turn nasty. The woman’s jealousy of the girls turns to hatred. She and her sons tie the girl up and subject her to physical and sexual abuse that just gets worse and worse. Allegedly based on a true story, the story is so grim that I had to stop reading for a while before going back to finish it. By the end, I felt like I had achieved… something. The narrator certainly does not take pleasure in the torture and becomes the instrument of vengeance in the third act. But I came away from this uncertain what to think. Part of me felt this was an important story, one that shows how a sadistic monster lurks in normal people, and how conformism lets these monsters escape. But part of me wondered if we needed to read about such graphic torture, and whether the novel went too far in trying to shock.  Whatever it was, it was certainly a challenging read.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

Not satisfied with that grim tale, I embarked upon what people have called a modern classic. Herman Hesse’s tale of a man who believes he was once a wolf intrigued me. The audiobook was read by Peter Weller, star of Robocop, whose soporific tones put me to seep more than once! The book begins with the son of a landlady telling how he met this peculiar character, the Stepppenwolf, whose name (Henry Haller) is a play on the author’s. Haller is unable to socialize properly, and leaves behind a journal. We then read the journal. At this point, the pretence the novel makes of being a story breaks down – Haller reads a book about himself that he finds, and reality breaks down completely with no explanation in Act Three. There were lots of great ideas – such as the idea that we are complex individuals containing many different personalities that change radically over time. But it read more like Hesse’s own philosophical tract than a story. That’s the problem with postmodernism for me. A story should be a story in my opinion. It’s better to teach by showing than by telling. I did enjoy the book. But it was way too clever for its own good. The story could have been told in half the time and said just as much.

Vittorio the Vampire by Anne Rice

This year I went to New Orleans for a few days. So what could I do but take a long a copy of one of Anne Rice’s vampire novels? My tour included the author’s old house in the Garden District. Having read her earlier book set there, The Witching Hour, it was a thrill to see the places in the novel for real. Vittorio was a different experience. I love vampire novels, and Anne Rice can write beautifully about them. This book also contains some beautiful prose. The story is simple – in Medieval Italy a young nobleman’s castle is raided by undead who kill his family. He falls in love with one of them who then turns him into a vampire. Then things get weird… He is obsessed with a painting of angels, and we see that in his confused state of mind the angels become real. They lead Vittorio through his adventures. The end. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. It felt like Rice was indulging her Catholicism rather than telling a real story. The point seemed to be that angels were real. But Vittorio could have been a much more interesting tale. It seemed a shame to waste all that research telling a story that was half-formed at best.

Chocky by John Wyndham

Confession number two: I have never read Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham’s most famous book. However, I have read a couple of his others (The Chrysalids, The Kraken Wakes) so I knew what to expect. Wyndham writes cosy disasters – some world-changing event happens in leafy middle England to middle class protagonists. In this, I was not to be disappointed. Chocky deals with an alien presence that possesses the narrator’s son. At first, it is dismissed as an imaginary friend, until the effect on the boy can no longer be ignored. Chocky is neither helpful nor harmful – it merely is. Wyndham takes a very simple idea and spins out a clever plot full of intriguing moments and exciting twists. It’s terrific to see something truly alien intrude into Middle England. This was made into a successful TV series in the 1980s. I will be rooting it out and watching it. Great fun!

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I always like to read a Dickens book around December. It gets me in the festive mood. In this novel, we are in the French Revolution, and aristocrats are being sent to the guillotine by peasants who have seized control of France. Amid this turmoil, one innocent aristocrat, Charles Darnay, is imprisoned in the Bastille after coming back to France to help a friend in need. Enter Sidney Carton, a dissolute English lawyer whose life has been spent in drink and profligacy, and who happens to be an absolute double of Darnay. Like most, I knew the story, but Dickens’s superb storytelling made the Revolution a living thing. His characters are vivid and unique. Although a melodrama, Dickens’s style is never better than here. The final chapters are quite moving – especially the scene where a Frenchwoman who  is a major revolutionary turns up at Darnay’s wife’s house, ready with a pistol to have her imprisoned, only to find her way blocked by the English maid Miss Pross, who valiantly defends her mistress. By turns comic, dark and very emotional, this is one of the best Dickens books I’ve read. A masterpiece of literature by one of the greatest novelists who ever lived.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

With Christmas fast approaching, I thought I would listen to the audiobook of a children’s story that has been widely praised. The Weirdstone is set in Alderly Edge in Cheshire, England – a place associated with legends of King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. Garner takes this legend and weaves round it an original myth of his own involving the titular stone and two children who spend the vacation there. Cue adventures with goblins, shapeshifters, dwarves and wizards who all want the Weirdstone. But where is it? Rip-roaring adventure stuff that is never dull for a moment, this is a great kids’ story. I was reminded of both Tolkien and CS Lewis, although the story lacks the depth of these two and it ends rather abruptly. Thankfully, there are a plethora of sequels!

So there you have it! My year in books. A year of ups and downs, but never a dull one.  There were some great classics here as well as some unexpected gems. Maybe some of them will find their way onto your reading list next year. If so, tell me about it!

 

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“Experiment Nine”, an excerpt.

Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt from my latest horror novel, “Experiment Nine”.

“Experiment Nine” is a vampire novel with a twist. You won’t find any horror tropes like bats and black capes here. nor will you find any sparkly vampires like the ones in “Twilight”. Instead, be prepared for a jolting,  blood-soaked ride into dark science, as lab-bred, genetically-engineered vampires escape into rural Iowa.  The novel deals with the cataclysmic fallout from this event and its impact on several people who are unfortunate enough to come across the vampires and survive.

The story of how “Experiment Nine” came to get published is enough to fill another blog post, so I’ll let the pages speak for themselves.

In this except we meet Dr. Fenzig and his subordinate, Reinhardt, who are monitoring the latest batch of test subjects…

You can read more of “Experiment Nine” on Amazon here.

Enjoy.

 

 

Chapter Two

The bat flapped its way toward the moon until it was no more than an angled crack in that bone white disc. Beneath it stood a field of pale corn. The corn was pallid because it had never been fed. The stalks wavered toward a single edifice – the Tower.

An octagonal bolt of metal that anchored earth to seventy-five feet of Iowa sky, stood in the center of the field of withered vegetation. Around its base lay a carpet of dead moths, drawn there by some slight, imperceptible vibration.

Small arrow-slits dotted the building’s outer face at precise intervals. Solid steel grates covered every aperture.

At the top of the Tower, a cupola rose to greet the sky, a single, round window at its zenith. The office window overlooked the corn.

Behind the window sat a man at a desk. Fenzig lay down his pen. A single scream had penetrated the quiet. He glanced up at the red light over the door. It remained unlit. He relaxed.

Fenzig rose to the window. He was restless tonight. Nothing unusual in itself but things were progressing.

He decided to take a tour.

He stepped outside his office. A single elevator door was the only feature in this otherwise featureless chamber. He entered the lift, pressed his palm to the biometric scanner. The doors closed.

The moans of the once-human things far below grew in volume, as if they knew he was coming. He saw them in his imagination, heaps of rags shuffling about the dorms in the Tower’s sub-basements, raising their distorted, leathery faces to the fluorescent lights.

He wished Gabriel would let him dispose of them. They could serve no purpose. He was aware of the ironic fact that as much as the tower was their prison, it was also his. He could not leave due to the nature of his tenure to Gabriel’s department. Nor could he ever hold an academic or a practical post again. Not after what had been imprinted upon his résumé and his mind. Perhaps that too had been part of Gabriel’s gambit.

The elevator descended, floor by floor until the doors swished open to reveal another featureless corridor that ended in a steel security door.

Again, he extended his wizened hand to the biometric scanner. A beam of red light stroked his palm, turned green.

The door opened with a pressurized hiss. It kept on opening for three minutes. The door was five feet of solid steel. Still, they could not be sure that it would keep them inside. As for the lead lining, that had initially made a difference, but now and then, stray thoughts leaked through . He caught them sometimes when he passed on the lower levels. Strange, animalistic images.

At first, he could see nothing. Darkness cloaked walls, ceiling and floor. Come into my parlor. Darkness was always present inside the Tower; the shadows were too thick to be natural. He knew it was all in his mind but that didn’t help dismiss the feeling that the darkness was somehow watching him.

The door sealed shut behind him.

Another small corridor led off before him. Beams of light scanned him up and down through a rising mist of decontaminants. The system bleeped affirmatively. A second hermetically sealed door opened. He stepped through into his own nightmare.

Two guards in Hazmat suits stood to attention (they always stood to attention) as he entered. He wondered if they had any minds left at all. They bore automatic weapons, but that didn’t stop each man from stiffening in fear as the omnipresent, automated voice confirmed the identity of the person approaching through the airlock.

“Fenzig, Doctor. Project supervisor. Level one security clearance. Admitted.”

Fenzig walked up to a pair of transparent plastic swing doors at the far end of the corridor without acknowledging the guards. He could feel their eyes upon him, feel their loathing at his hunched back, his dwarfish stature, could also feel his own hate for them radiating outwards. He knew how he looked: gnomish, with pince-nez spectacles perched on the end of his long nose.

He touched another biometric reader. The doors opened. As he stepped through, he saw the guards relax out of the corner of his vision. The doors silently powered shut behind him.

Fenzig’s eyes adjusted to the sudden gloom. The walls of this circular chamber were hidden behind a thick plastic bubble. Beyond that lay the bars of an iron cage, its inhabitants cloaked in darkness. Red overhead fluorescents provided the only illumination.

A man sat in a chair in the middle of the room. Banks of computers littered the desks in front of him. Coils of wiring snaked out of various complex machines and into specially adapted ports in the plastic bubble.

The man’s eyes were glued to a monitor.

“Reinhaldt?”

He gently touched the man’s shoulder. Reinhaldt jerked out of his trance. The muscles of his shoulder had been hard as tensile steel.

“Is it time to go?” the man asked.

“Not yet.”

“What about the others?”

“There is no-one else,” Fenzig replied. “Gabriel says you and I are the only ones he can trust to see things through.”

Reinhaldt rubbed his eyes. “So you’re going to use me until my brain fries?”

Fenzig sighed.

Reinhaldt’s blonde hair glowed silver in the fluorescents. His handsome, Aryan looks had deteriorated, Fenzig noted with a small measure of satisfaction which he could not hide from himself. His brow was slick with sweat. His cheeks were gaunt with worry. Reinhaldt’s duties were taking their toll.

Fenzig noticed how the man’s fingers twitched nervously in his lap, wriggling like frantic eels. Reinhaldt was slipping, perhaps had already slipped.

He had suspected, of course, but he had told Gabriel nothing of their ability to infiltrate the mind. Alone in his office, he was beyond their reach. Reinhaldt, however, was closer to them.

“We only need to observe them a while longer. I know they can be… disconcerting.”

“How much longer?”

“A week? Two?” he offered.

Reinhaldt sighed. “Then can I go?”

Fenzig nodded. Lying had become second nature to him.

“I hear them sometimes,” Reinhaldt said. “I swear they’re in my mind.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he told the scientist. “You’re tired, that’s all. You’ll be fine.”

He patted Reinhaldt’s shoulder but he already heard their whispering, like an irritating itch at the base of his cerebellum.

– You must be lonely here.

– Cold and lonely.

– Gabriel wants to visit.

– See how his latest batch went.

– Does it trouble you?

– Are you tired?

– We could make you sleep.

– Just let us go.

Fenzig felt his own thoughts leap from his body. They were sucked out of his mind before he could catch them.

– Does he want to kill us?

No, Fenzig thought.

– Then why does he come?

– Because he wants you to kill us?

I would never do that. No, I would never do that.

– How can we be sure?

– You’re not strong enough on your own. You’re weak.

– Shut it down.

– Save the project.

– Save us.

The alien thoughts were like surgical knives slicing into his scalp. Fenzig yanked off his pince-nez, tugged at the bridge of his nose.

“You hear them?” Reinhaldt asked.

“It’s nothing,” Fenzig replied. “Don’t worry, Doctor. Soon, this will all be over.”

Reinhaldt said nothing. His Adam’s apple bobbed, his facial muscles clenched, but he simply stared at what lay beyond the plastic bubble.

Fenzig caught only a glimpse of them as he left. He knew better than to look at them full on – to do that would be to lose himself. He saw outlines, a head that raised itself inquisitively, an arm that hung languidly from a chair. No more.

There was nothing else to say. He had only visited Reinhaldt to satisfy his own curiosity. He re-entered the decontamination chamber, leaving Reinhaldt alone. The steel security door slid shut behind him with a re-pressurized hiss, and the guards relaxed once more.

***

Reinhaldt remained frozen in his seat. A solitary trickle of sweat wove its course down his temple. He wanted to wipe it away, but could not. They held him.

Unlike Fenzig, Reinhaldt had long ago given up trying to watch them from the corners of his vision. Now their eyes burned into his soul. Even though there was no scientific reason why their eyes should have that effect, or why he should believe he had a soul for that matter. He only knew what he felt.

The lesser, weaker minds had flinched. Three observers had gone insane in so many weeks. Only he had held out so far.

The other staff busied themselves with endless rounds of caring for their mistakes. But the failures did not matter. What really mattered lay beyond that plastic bubble.

He had personally dissected the last six test subjects and had learned immeasurable amounts from the bodies. Nobody knew what caused this final six to survive. Apparently, the virus had done its job too well, allowing the others to simply will their own death. These six were more or less fortunate, depending on your point of view. This time the virus had done what it was designed to do.

But they had underestimated the strength of will of their subjects. They had resisted all attempts at conditioning. As soldiers, they were useless but as something more…

They probed his mind but instead of shrinking from them, he embraced them. They had promised him great things, and he had no reason to doubt their intentions. They were noble, pure. Magnificent in their terrible beauty.

He wondered if they could reach out to other, nonhuman things – a bird, a mouse, a bat. What must that be like?

He scribbled his musings down in his notebook, wondering if they were actually his thoughts at all.

One image had been growing in his mind for some time now: a key turning in a lock.

They had been imprisoned for too long.

Fenzig’s mind had revealed that a visit from Gabriel was imminent (which probably meant closure for the project and the termination of its latest test subjects). Reinhaldt knew the time to act was upon him. They commanded it. He rose robotically, walked to a control keypad that hung from the low ceiling, pressed the first of three red buttons.

Lights flared. A klaxon sounded.

The guards came running but he had already thought of that. The plastic doors to this chamber were locked – the pneumatic servos jammed by hand. A desk full of computer equipment barred further entry. He did not remember putting it there, but he was glad he had.

“Sir!” The guards yelled through their intercoms. “Mr. Reinhaldt! Stop what you’re doing, sir!”

He pressed the second button. The room began to depressurize. The plastic bubble rippled, then lifted.

A stale, zoo-like smell filled the room.

The guards fired their weapons to gain access. It did them no good. Their bullets lost momentum on contact with the double layers of superdurable Perspex, fracturing impotently against the outer surface. The doors had been designed to prevent any break-out. They served equally well to prevent a break-in.

Reinhaldt hesitated. A computer voice told him that the cell was no longer sealed. In unhurried tones, it warned him that there was a high risk of contamination.

His fingers halted over the last button. Some small, rational part of him wanted to stop. His fingers clawed at the console, waging an internal war.

Then he saw their eyes, their wondrous eyes, and he pressed the third button.

The iron cage rose. Its bars clanged into the ceiling. The Guards yelled out to Jesus, God, and Mercy.

They emerged into the light, glorious butterflies from a plastic chrysalis. Mankind’s greatest achievement. Science and distorted nature, fused into a strange, unhappy poetry.

He marveled at them.

I did what you asked. Now will you reward me?

Of course.

– We bring you a gift.

– The greatest gift.

– We bring you peace.

It hit him like a dark brick, their hate. Hatred for anyone connected with the project. They had deceived him, betrayed him. He was their servant, their weapon. They were gods, but they were vicious cannibal gods, and not to be trusted.

His screams were cut off before they began. Blood and several pieces of his offal splattered the monitors. His notebook fell to the floor, opened at a random page.

The page bore one word repeated over and over…

Darkness.

*  *  *

You can read more of the book and buy a copy for Kindle on Amazon by following this link: http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B07F6S2YSZ

Interview in InkTip magazine

Here’s a cover of InkTip magazine containing the recent interview about my produced feature film, THE STUDENT (2017).

Directed by Steven R Monroe (I Spit On Your Grave) and produced by The Cartel in Hollywood, the movie tells the story of Abigail Hardacre, an uncompromising law professor who is a stickler for obeying the rules. But when she fails a student who has sociopathic tendencies, he sets out to teach her a lesson, one she will never forget.

The film stars Blake Michael as the student, Vincent Van Sickle, and Alicia Leigh Willis as Abigail. You can watch it here.

The interview details my writing process and also the inspiration for writing the story.

InkTip have been going strong for over 10 years now as the number one independent writer’s listing service for scripts on the internet.

https://www.amazon.com/Student-Alicia-Leigh-Willis/dp/B073VDHDJC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521643945&sr=8-1&keywords=the+student+alicia+willis

 

 

A Danse Macabre horror novels reading list

If you like horror and you were reading in the 1980s, chances are you came across “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King’s meditation on horror. Part instruction manual, part rambling series of opinions on horror books, film and TV, it never fails to entertain. It also has an invaluable breakdown of the different types of horror story.

It also included in two Appendices –  a list of Mr King’s favourite (sorry, the most important) horror books and films.

For the past 30 years I’ve been working my way through these lists. I’ve seen almost all of the horror movies except for a few hard-to-find gems like Oliver Stone’s first effort, “Seizure” or the wonderfully B-movie-ish “The H-Man” by Inoshiro Honda.  But reproduced here below are the novels.

I won’t bore you with which ones I’ve read. However, I will say that some of my favourites have been Suzy McKee Charnas’s “The Vampire Tapetsry”  about a very urbane vampire indeed, Peter Straub’s lesser known ghost story “If You Could See Me Now”, and Charles L Grant’s homage to Val Lewton, “The Hour of the Oxrun Dead”.

So if you fancy reading some classic 20th century horror stories, the below should give you some inspiration. Happy collecting!

Richard Adams. The Plague Dogs; Watership Down*
Robert Aickman. Cold Hand in Mine; Painted Devils
Marcel Ayme. The Walker through Walls
Beryl Bainbridge. Harriet Said
J. G. Ballard. Concrete Island*; High Rise
Charles Beaumont. Hunger*; The Magic Man
Robert Bloch. Pleasant Dreams*; Psycho*
Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine; Something Wicked This Way Comes*; The October Country
Joseph Payne Brennan. The Shapes of Midnight*
Frederic Brown. Nightmares and Geezenstacks*
Edward Bryant. Among the Dead
Janet Caird. The Loch
Ramsey Campbell. Demons By Daylight; The Doll Who Ate His Mother*; The Parasite*
Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry
Julio Cortazar. The End of the Game and Other Stories
Harry Crews. A Feast of Snakes
Roald Dahl. Kiss Kiss*; Someone Like You*
Les Daniels. The Black Castle
Stephen R. Donaldson. The Thomas Covenant Trilogy (3 vols.)*
Daphne Du Maurier. Don’t Look Now
Harlan Ellison. Deathbird Stories*; Strange Wine*
John Farris. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By
Charles G. Finney. The Ghosts of Manacle
Jack Finney. The Body Snatchers*; I Love Galesburg in the Springtime; The Third
Level*; Time and Again*
William Golding. Lord of the Flies*
Edward Gorey. Amphigorey; Amphigorey Too
Charles L. Grant. The Hour of the Oxrun Dead; The Sound of Midnight*
Davis Grubb. Twelve Tales of Horror*
William H. Hallahan. The Keeper of the Children; The Search for Joseph Tully
James Herbert. The Fog; The Spear*; The Survivor
William Hjortsberg. Falling Angel*
Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House*; The Lottery and Others*; The Sundial
Gerald Kersh. Men Without Bones*
Russell Kirk. The Princess of All Lands
Nigel Kneale. Tomato Caine
William Kotzwinkle. Dr. Rat*
Jerry Kozinski. The Painted Bird*
Fritz Leiber. Our Lady of Darkness*
Ursula LeGuin. The Lathe of Heaven*; Orsinian Tales
Ira Levin. Rosemary’s Baby*; The Stepford Wives
John D. MacDonald. The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything
Bernard Malamud. The Magic Barrel*; The Natural
Robert Marasco. Burnt Offerings*
Gabriel Maria Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Richard Matheson. Hell House; I Am Legend*; Shock II; The Shrinking Man*; A Stir of Echoes
Michael McDowell. The Amulet*; Cold Moon Over Babylon*
Ian McEwen. The Cement Garden
John Metcalf. The Feasting Dead
Iris Murdoch. The Unicorn
Joyce Carol Oates. Nightside*
Flannery O’Connor. A Good Man Is Hard to Find*
Mervyn Peake. The Gormenghast Trilogy (3 volumes)
Thomas Pynchon. V.*
Edogawa Rampo. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Jean Ray. Ghouls in My Grave
Anne Rice. Interview with the Vampire
Philip Roth. The Breast
Ray Russell. Sardonicus*
Joan Samson. The Auctioneer*
William Sansom. The Collected Stories of William Sansom
Sarban. Ringstones; The Sound of His Horn*
Anne Rivers Siddons. The House Next Door*
Isaac Bashevis Singer. The Seance and Other Stories*
Martin Cruz Smith. Nightwing
Peter Straub. Ghost Story*; If You Could See Me Now; Julia; Shadowland*
Theodore Sturgeon. Caviar; The Dreaming jewels; Some of Your Blood*
Thomas Tessier. The Nightwalker
Paul Theroux. The Black House
Thomas Tryon. The Other*
Les Whitten. Progeny of the Adder*
Thomas Williams. Tsuga’s Children*
Gahan Wilson. I Paint What I See
T. M. Wright. Strange Seed*
John Wyndham. The Chrysalids; The Day of the Triffids*

(* = books Mr King felt were particularly important to the genre).

Some of these works you will probably be familiar with, such as (the as-then-little-known) Anne Rice book Interview with the Vampire. Others are staple authors such as Road Dahl, not perhaps thought of as horror writers but who have undoubtedly written about the horrific and macabre. Others have been lost to the passage of time, such as William Hjortberg’s Falling Angel (filmed with Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as Angel Heart in the 80s) or the huge bestselling evil twin novel The Other by Thomas Tryon ( a doozy of a novel and one I fully recommend).

Others may be new to you, such as Frederick Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks, flash fiction from the 1950s! or the excellent Hunger by Charles Beaumont, one of the main writers of the original Twilight Zone until a rare illness struck him down in his twenties. Still others may be familiar from the films, such as Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic vampire/zombie novel I Am Legend and Jack Finney’s The Bodysnatchers, filmed with varying success several times usually about once every decade as Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The novels are still worth seeking out. And if you don’t know who the others are, then you better get reading!

 

Guest post: William Meikle and The Ghost Club

A guest post today, from William Meikle, whose new book “The Ghost Club” promises to be a rip-roaring attempt to recreate the voices of classic Victorian writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde!

Finding the voice

By William Meikle 

In my new collection THE GHOST CLUB I’ve undertaken the task of writing a collection of supernatural stories as told in the voices of famous Victorian writers like Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde and many others. It’s probably the most ambitious piece of work I’ve ever attempted.

The Victorian bit was the easiest. I grew up on Wells and Verne, Doyle and Stevenson, and that slightly formal, slightly clipped tone is one that I’ve practised many times in my own Holmes stories over the past few years, and it’s a voice I fall into quite naturally given all my reading from the period. Because of that, I found the Doyle and Wells stories to be the ones where I felt most at home when it came to the writing. The Doyle one went fastest, not surprisingly, even although I chose Lestrade rather than the dynamic duo, and it was helped in that I had a location I was familiar with, along the London Embankment around Cleopatra’s Needle. The Wells came as soon as I chose the subject; an early scientific experiment in color theory and vibrational mechanics gone wrong. Once again I had found my way in quite easily.

The Stevenson was more problematic, but as a fellow Scot I got into his particular more relaxed voice by finding the right character, a sick Scots boy in need of a story, and as soon as I had that, RLS took over the reins and led the way.

Those were the first three stories I wrote, and I thought I was into the flow of it and knew how the rest would proceed. Then the trouble started.

I had a little list of all the writers I wanted to be part of the club, and didn’t want to do all the ones I thought might be easier first, so I decided, being in the zone, to go for Tolstoy. I warmed up by reading War and Peace and realized I’d forgotten about the endless descriptive passages of balls and parties, officers and gentlemen and the doings of trade and traders. As for my story, all I knew at the start was that it would be a ghost story, and take place during one of the Empress’ balls. So I started, describing the Empress, the ballroom, the kitchens, the courtiers and I got so bogged down that fifteen pages in I hadn’t even started to tell the story. I had found Tolstoy’s style, but not a voice I could use to get in and out of it quickly enough to avoid an epic. I was starting to think I had bitten off more than I could chew, but then I was helped out by a compatriot from the past, and a voice I knew well. A Scotsman, several Scotsmen, turned up and began to tell their story of the ball, seen from a different viewpoint, and suddenly, all the description and finery were put in their proper context, and a story wove its way through all the Russian magnificence. Not many of the original fifteen pages survived, but enough did that I think I caught the mood I wanted to. But by then, I’d spent enough time with Tolstoy’s way with a sentence and needed something lighter.

My next stop was Twain, a different fellow entirely, far more abrupt, far more sarcastic and with nary a hint of sentimentality. But I found he was just the right chap to rescue me from the labyrinthine Russian court, and I was swept along in a tale of gambling, treachery and revenge on a riverboat that flowed so smoothly I was almost sorry to see it go.

Haggard and Kipling came quite easily, more of the semi-formal, clipped tones I mentioned earlier but with each chap’s peculiar flourishes and tics.

Then came Helena Blavatsky. I’ve long been fascinated by her writings on Theosophy, but when it came to writing a story in her style, I found her rather intimidating, but the story came almost the way I imagined her speaking, slightly hectoring, eager to be believed and a peculiar amalgam of history and occult fiction.

After the seriousness of the Theosophist meanderings, I cleansed the palate with something altogether lighter and frothier. Getting into Wilde’s style was the most fun I had in the writing of these stories — not the style of Dorian Gray, but more in the style of his shorter, more comic works. The voice, a playful, lilting thing in this case, came almost immediately and the story was written in a single sitting that left me with a big smile.

Margaret Oliphant’s tale became personal when I found that it was less of a voice I needed, more of a song. it’s built around the Scottish folk tune Fine Flowers in the Valley. Finding the voice for the story came as much from Downtown Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs than from fiction, but it turned out to be the right one for the tale.

Henry James was one I’d been putting off till near the end, for he’s a writer I’ve always had trouble reading due to his convoluted way with a sentence. But coincidence stepped up and helped me in this case, for I won a copy of Dan Simmons’ THE FIFTH HEART in an online competition, and in it, Henry James is so well described that I lifted the voice from his character in that book, and found that it led me straight into a tale of a haunted chess set that once again almost wrote itself.

I was nearly done. Checkov was easy for me; I understand drinkers, and railwaymen, and drinking railwaymen. I also, living as I do in Newfoundland, understand cold winters. Once I had those aspects, and paired them with some Russian fatalism, that tale too flew by in a single sitting.

I’d left two till last. Stoker because I knew what I wanted to write right from the start, and Verne, because I had no idea how to approach it. I went with Stoker first, and a wee ghost story. Here the voice was simple, for I wanted it to read like a trial run for Dracula, i.e. a story told in epistolary fashion. It’s a tale of old friends, of loss and sorrow, and it’s the saddest thing I think I’ve ever written, but it’s also full of Irish sentimentality, and Stoker’s rather brusque voice led me through to the end.

And so, I was left with Verne, and little idea how to proceed. In the end, I went with Harryhausen-style effects, and thought of it as a ’50s movie rather than a Victorian story, and that allowed me to indulge my passion for improbable rocketry, derring do, and a very French approach to scientific enquiry. In the end, I might not quite have got Verne’s dispassionate scientific voice into the tale, but it feels right to me, and it’s the closest I was going to get.

And there it was, all done.

It’s a simple premise.

In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal dining club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.

These are their stories, containing tales of revenant loved ones, lost cities, weird science, spectral appearances and mysteries in the fog of the old city, all told by some of the foremost writers of the day. In here you’ll find Verne and Wells, Tolstoy and Checkov, Stevenson and Oliphant, Kipling, Twain, Haggard, Wilde and Blavatsky alongside their hosts.

Come, join us for dinner and a story.

Read a sample and buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM

THE GHOST CLUB MEMBERS AND THEIR STORIES

Robert Louis Stevenson Wee Davie Makes a Friend
Rudyard Kipling The High Bungalow
Leo Tolstoy The Immortal Memory
Bram Stoker The House of the Dead
Mark Twain Once a Jackass
Herbert George Wells Farside
Margaret Oliphant To the Manor Born
Oscar Wilde The Angry Ghost
Henry Rider Haggard The Black Ziggurat
Helena P Blavatsky Born of Ether
Henry James The Scrimshaw Set
Anton Checkov At the Molenzki Junction
Jules Verne To the Moon and Beyond
Arthur Conan Doyle The Curious Affair on the Embankment

Available on 8th December 2017 in paperback and ebook from Crystal Lake Publishing.

‘In the past, we’ve had the Diogenes Club, the ‘Club of the Damned’, and even Peter Straub’s ‘Chowder Society.’ Now we have THE GHOST CLUB by William Meikle. And it is, quite simply, a delight. Not only has the author displayed his knowledge of and love for the writers of yesteryear, but in creating ‘The Ghost Club’ our host has produced his own collection of unknown and previously unpublished short stories ‘by’ Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, H. G.Wells, Margaret Oliphant, Oscar Wilde, H. Rider Haggard, Helena P Blavatsky, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. I say ‘unknown’, when I mean – of course – that all the stories are written by Mr Meikle in the style of the aforementioned authors; and the entire experience of reading this collection is like sitting with him in an old fashioned study, with a roaring fire, guttering shadows and a snifter or two of brandy as he unfolds his ‘Ghost Club’ tales. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.’ – Stephen Laws, author of GHOST TRAIN, SPECTRE and DARKFALL

 

Available from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM

 

Author interview – Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke

Today it’s my proud privilege to introduce author Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke. A Nigerian-born writer, he is one of a wave of Afrofuturist writers who have recently been taking the world by storm. Afrofuturism has been defined as “a cultural, aesthetic, philosophy of science and philosophy and history that…  addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora”.  Writers of these stories typically use magic realism, fantasy, supernatural and science fiction to achieve their aims, and share a highly distinctive prose style that is both fresh and engagingly non-Western. 

Chukwunonso’s first story collection, “The Haunted Grave”  is in print from Parallel Universe Publications and contains eight stories with themes such as the real origins of the AIDS virus, a man who is possessed by himself,  and a particularly nasty family curse passed on through sexual activity. The stories are original and totally believable, told with a matter-of-factness that makes them all the more chilling.  Even stranger is that Chukwunonso is such a very nice guy to meet, with a highly infectious laugh. Not the kind of person you would immediately think capable of writing such grisly fiction!

 

ES: First of all, please tell our readers a little about yourself and what you write.

CE: I am Peter Chukwunonso Ezeiyoke. Although I only write with Chukwunonso and then my surname Ezeiyoke. From day one, I tended to avoid using my name Peter in my writing. I see my writing coming from an intimate place and Peter for an unknown reason failed to capture this essence. Perhaps because Peter is for officialdom.  The name used in school, at work and other serious places. Nonso, an abbreviated version of Chukwunonso was the in-house name left for close friends and family. In a way, the name Peter got alienated from this intimate fondness I associated with writing. I write all sorts of things: fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction, I love literary criticism especially if approached from the angle of the Philosophy of Literature. I fell in love with literary theories after reading Language and Habit of Thought by A. Akwanya. The book blew me off my feet. I also enjoyed Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics. And then Kant and then Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. ES: And what are your preferred genres as a writer?

CE: Horror and fantasy. Science fictions as long as it doesn’t focus so much in the science but rather on the emotions of the characters. I really love writing horror.  I love a slow burner. The beginning of my stories often sound realistic/literary until the demon comes to party.

ES: What is your favourite childhood book?

CE: I can’t really say one book, but I think that The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola was fascinating, mythical and hilarious. The Bottled Leopard by Chukwuemeka Ike stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Then Cyprian Ekwensi’s An African Night’s Entertainment.  Chike and River by Chinua Achebe was our childhood national anthem so was Eze Goes to School by Onuora Nzekwu. I bet that everybody that grew up in Nigeria around the time I was born must have read them.

ES: How long were you a part-time writer before your became a full-time one?

CE: I can’t call myself a full time writer even now. Writing is yet to pay my bills. But I often see myself as a committed writer in the sense that I take it seriously and tend to create time for it. I haven’t been that committed to writing like the way I am now. It is something I began newly. I started to write when I was like eleven or twelve, but then I had a yearning stronger than writing: to become a catholic priest. This consumed my life until I was like 21 when I started having a vocational crisis because of some existential questions. Then writing became my only solace to escape reality. Finally, in 2014, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t become a priest after about 15 years in the seminary. It was at this point that I became a committed writer because I realised that there was nothing else in life that fascinates me like writing. I started being a serious writer by doing my MA in Creative Writing.

ES: That’s fascinating, and I suppose it shows just how important writing can be to people. Thank you for sharing that story. What has been your hardest scene to write to date?

CE: A rape scene that I wrote as part of my MA in radio drama.

ES: And what was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

CE: Hahaha… I went to a bar with a friend. Then we ate fresh fish pepper soup with some chilled drink.

ES: Good answer! I like to include animals in my own stories from time to time. As a writer, what animal would you choose to be your spirit animal?

CE: A tiger

ES: Very cool! And now what are your writing habits? Any good ones?

CE: I am good at breaking any habit I formed.

ES: And how many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CE: I think I end up with one every month.

ES: Wow. It sounds like you are very prolific. That is very inspiring. When you have had a work published, do you read your reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

CE: I read them. I like feedback, no matter what. It tells me that at least people read what I write. Obscurity I think is the worst thing to happen to a writer rather than neglect reviews.

ES: That is a very philosophical attitude to take. I wish I could be like that!  Well, thank you very much for taking part in this interview, and I for one really look forward to reading your next book!

 

If you haven’t read it yet, Chukwunonso’s collection of stories “The Haunted Grave” is available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. I thoroughly recommend it as a superb work of fiction. If you want an introduction to the wonderful world of Afrofuturism, or if you just want a really good collection of modern horror stories, I suggest you pick up a copy, as he is certainly an author to watch! 

Author Interview with Cyn Ley

Yours truly had a busy old time of it this week, what with Fantasycon 2017 in Peterborough, UK. More on that later, but for now, I’d like to share this interview with bestselling author Cyn Ley. Cyn has published books in the horror, paranormal and humour fields! So without further ado, here’s Cyn…

ES: Welcome to the blog, Cyn. First of all, can you tell our readers a little about yourself? 

CL: Yes.. I’m both a bestselling author and a top-ranked editor, and have been with Solstice Publishing since 2014. They gave me my start and I love working with them. I write short stories mainly, although I recently branched out into novellas. Short stories fascinate me because they have to be so carefully crafted. Always up for a challenge! It’s where I do my best writing, I think. I write rather eclectically—paranormal, social satire, humor, horror. Basically whatever pops into my head and turns itself into a story… There’s not much I’m not interested in.

ES: Paranormal and social satire! Sounds fascinating. What was your last book about?

CL: My last book was THE OSSUARY PLAYGROUND AND OTHER UNEXPECTED TALES. It is a collection of three paranormal stories plus one that’s a bit of a surprise. It’s received excellent reviews so far. My latest short story, “Plot Twist”, will be appearing in Solstice’s annual October fright fest anthology, NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP (October 2017).

ES: Cool. So are your books standalone stories or are they part of a bigger overall plan?

CL: They’re standalone collections. I currently have two books on the market: THE OSSUARY PLAYGROUND, and ENCOUNTERS: TALES RECOUNTED AND REBORN. ENCOUNTERS is a collection of stories previously published between 2014 -2016. A number of these early tales have been revamped, but just as many stand in their original form

ES: As a writer myself, I’m always keen to know authors’ writing habits. What is your own approach to writing, and how many hours a day do you write?

CL: Tough question. I’m an intuitive writer, so most of the time stories just unfold for me. I’ll sketch out quick little notes and use them as touch point, but I’m not religious about it. What seems like a good idea initially may not be when you get to the actual writing. Some days I don’t write at all. Other days—or nights, I should say—the Muse wakes me up at 3am and orders me to write.

ES: Okay, now that we know about your writing and your working day, why don’t we dig a little deeper? What is your favourite book from your childhood, and why?

CL: The unabridged Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. It has everything—action, humor, thrills, romance, and is just plain fun.

ES: I love Dumas. His works appeal on so many levels. It’s interesting that you went for historical fiction, though. Do you undertake a lot of research for stories yourself?

CL:  I don’t start with the research, but I often research as I go. This can range from [finding out about] the environment (the settings of the story), to language (how people expressed themselves in different eras, subject-specific terminology, etc.). Let the story be your guide, and pay attention to the details. Would your character have cooked in a copper pan or cast iron one? The minutia can make all the difference.

ES: Very sound advice. In fact, I recently made the mistake of failing to research a certain aspect of police procedure in Los Angeles for one of my short stories. Fortunately, I have an editor with a very keen eye!  Okay, moving on to a more spiritual plane — and this is question I ask everyone — as a writer what would you choose to be your mascot or spirit animal? 

CL: I’m way too much of a critter person to pin that down! LOL My cat and dogs are lovely, of course, but so are the crows that like to hang out on the roof.

ES: So all of them! And if you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

CL: Be brave!!!

ES: Excellent. Okay, we’re almost done. One last question: could you tell us what are you working on at the moment? 

CL: I have a couple of multi-genre things in the works right now, but it’s too early to talk about them. They’re sketches, mostly

ES: Well, all the best with them. I’m sure they’ll be very entertaining! Thanks for participating in this interview. It’s been great having you on the blog. 

CL: Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure!

Cyn Ley’s books are available on Amazon here  and from Solstice Publishing

Or you can get in touch with her here: 

Blog: https://authorcjl.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CynthiaLey2@cynthialey2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Cleyfiction4/