Monday 22 April 2024

Monsters with claws sunk into our psyche


Do monsters roam the Earth?

That’s quite a question to ask, I’m sure you’ll agree, and not something we can easily answer in a single blogpost. Which is why I intend to dedicate an entire book to it in the not-too-distant future. Allow me to elaborate: the main thrust of today’s column will concern the next publication in my TERROR TALES series, and yes, monsters will play a big part in that, but I
’ll outline it in more detail in a few paragraphs’ time.

Before then, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to chat a little bit about …


Upcoming publications

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position today where I can give too much information about anything. Considering I’ve been working full-tilt – to start with, I have three novels to write this year – there is little news so imminent that I’m able to put titles and dates to it.

For example, check out some of the questions I’m regularly asked online.

Q – Can you tell us when the next Heck novel will be out?

A – I’m afraid not. I can only say that it’s already written and under consideration by a publisher. But factors beyond my control mean that the wait must go on for now. (There is some Heck news, though, so keep reading).

Q – You’ve already announced that you’ve signed with Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s publishing arm, to write two new stand-alone crime thrillers. Can you tell us anything about them yet?

A – There’s nothing more to add at present than you’ll have seen in my previous posts. Both those novels are exciting projects, but both are still being written, so even I am not entirely sure what their final form will be. Sorry about that.

Q – Is there any news on the proposed Lucy Clayburn TV adaptation?

A – No. In fact, this is probably the one definitive answer I’m able to give you today. Covid killed it, basically. Before the pandemic, we were apparently only a couple of months from being greenlit. Since the pandemic ended, I’ve heard nothing at all. We must assume that project is dead in the water.

Q – Will there be another book in the Wulfbury Chronicles.


A – Not as yet. What I am able to tell you on this front is that my third historical novel is now with Canelo, and in this one, we move a century forward into the era of the crusades. However, while it isn’t officially connected to the previous two books, there is some similarity among the names of the key characters, so we can safely assume that it’s a the same family.

Q – In God’s name, there must be something you can tell us?

A – Okay ... I can announce that a brand new Mark Heckenburg novella is due for publication later this year. Unfortunately, I’m unable to disclose any actual dates yet, or the name of the publisher or the title of the work. All I can say again is sorry, but modern publishers like to announce these things themselves, usually with a bit of fanfare. I can also add that a brand new horror novella of mine, though this one is actually quite lengthy – it doesn’t fall far short of being classified as an actual novel – will be published next year. As before, I can’t yet give you the title, the name of the publisher or the date of publication. 

However, one thing I can talk about in some detail, and I
’m very proud of this, is the upcoming publication of my short story, Jack-a-Lent, in the indefatigable Mark Morris’s latest horror anthology, ELEMENTAL FORCES. It's out on October 8 this year, from Flametree Press, and if you look at the line-up, you’ll perhaps understand why I am so honoured to be included.

Q – Any specific details about anything else?

A – Well, on the basis that I still owe you something …


Monsters … monsters … monsters

They’ve been with us since the dawn of human awareness. Terrifying, destructive beings, creatures that defy description, that are unknowable, uncontrollable, deadly. Ruthless annihilators of the natural order, which can only be stopped by the most heroic acts of human self-sacrifice.

In every society on Earth, in every religion and every mythology, there are references to monsters. Unspeakable abominations whose very existence is often inimical to the survival of mankind. But what exactly are monsters? How is it they have found such an unassailable place in our collective imagination? Are they entirely based on fantasy or is there some element of truth in these horrifying tales?

The forms that monsters have taken are myriad. 

Most people have heard of dragons and titans, of frost giants, of lustful, goat-legged satyrs, of the bull-headed minotaur, the zombies of the Caribbean, the vampires of Eastern Europe (check out Mr Lee, right, in Dracula, 1958). But in truth, the pantheon of malevolent beasts is so enormous, so positively encyclopaedic, that more horrific beings than I can count remain unknown to the vast majority of us.

How many readers of this column, for example, know what I mean when I mention the Fachen? The Tarasque? The Yateveo? The Tupilaq? The Lamia?

And believe me, that’s not even scratching the surface. I mean, there are so many questions to ask here. To start with, how is it that so many eyewitness reports of monsters come to us from the pages of history, and yet the beasts themselves are almost completely absent from the fossil record?

All kinds of explanations have been offered.

Monsters are metaphors for mankind’s misfortunes ...

The werewolf is a warning sign that Man, for all his veneer of civilisation, still possesses voracious appetites lurking just below the surface. The colossal sea monster, Leviathan (left, as painted by Katinka Thorondor), advised us that Man can never be dominant in the cosmos, that in the end only God will wield the ultimate power. Medusa, the youngest and most fearsome of the snake-haired gorgons, embodied the routine mistreatment of women by men, and indicated that even if they fought back justifiably, they would be demonised for ever more.  

Monsters are an attempt to understand the chaos of our world (that’s an important word today, ‘chaos’, look out for it later on) ...

Entities like Behemoth, J√∂rmungandr, Tiamat and Typhon were so vast and terrifying that they could only, in truth, be the personifications of cataclysmic Earth events (much how Godzilla was viewed in 20th century Japan). Even smaller beasts, like goblins and boggarts could be a frightening and damaging presence in the remote communities that believed in them because they caused breaches in an orderly world (souring milk, blighting crops) that everyday folk thought they understood and were appalled to learn they didn’t ...

Monsters are simply errors that our ancestors made when they misidentified natural creatures they’d never encountered before ... 

When ancient mammoth skulls were uncovered, the aperture to accommodate the trunk looked for all the world like an extra eye-socket, and if the encircling bone had rotted through, which meant the actual eye-sockets were also encompassed by the yawning gap, it was easy to assume that this was all that remained of a huge one-eyed monster, or cyclops (as immortalised by Ray Harryhausen in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, at the top of this column). Race memories of gigantopithecus, the largest ape that ever lived (12ft tall!!), and which died out 300,000 years ago, may well have provided the origin for stories about giants and ogres. The Vikings told tales of the kraken, an immense, many-armed sea horror that would drag down entire ships, and almost certainly were referring to the colossal squid.

But there is one very important thing to consider.

Our distant ancestors might not have been as well educated as we are today, but they weren’t stupid, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived, and they were quite adamant that many of these hellish beings that brought such trauma to their world were actually very real. 

Trolls (as depicted above by Einar Martinsen) did ambush lone travellers in the deep and frosty forests of old Scandinavia. 

Griffins did guard treasure hoards in the mountains of the Middle East and they would tear you to pieces if you tried to get your hands on any of it. 

Grendel, the infamous Walker in the Dark, did drive a Danish king called Hrothgar from his new hall in the swampy region of Lejre, slaughtering 30 of his warriors in the process. 

The bonze giant, Talos, did heat himself in a roaring fire until he was glowing red, so that he could embrace the wooden hulls of ships visiting his island and consume them with flames.

And these stories don’t just come to us from the distant past.

In 1959, the infamous Dyatlov Pass Incident saw nine student hikers brutally killed and mutilated in their snowbound camp in the Ural Mountains, an unsolved mass slaying, which some observers, with plenty evidence to support them, have attributed to the Alma, or Russian Yeti.

More recently, off the Devonshire coast in the 1970s, a group of scuba divers from the Salcombe Shark Angling Society were frightened out of the water by a terrifying sub-aquatic roar, though one witness later described it as being more like a repeated, monstrous bark, which is associated in local tradition with a ferocious sea serpent called Morgawr. Such a hold does this semi-mythical sea brute have on the imagination of Devon and Cornish folk that Peter Tremayne wrote a highly successful novel in 1982 called The Morgow Rises.

Many times in the last hundred years, climbers on Western Scotland’s remote Ben Macdui, the highest peak in the Cairngorm mountain range, have reported being pursued through the fog and snow by a towering figure known simply as the Big Grey Man. A giant in every sense, the unknown entity is not known to have attacked anyone, though at least one climber claimed to have taken shelter in a bothy, while the beast circled the isolated structure, and only failed to get at him because he’d barricaded the door.

You may be wondering what all this refers to, and whether I’ve just gone off on a monster tangent because I’ve lost the plot. Well, in actual fact, what I’m getting around to explaining is, first of all, there will not be a TERROR TALES anthology this year. I’m afraid that my nightmarishly packed schedule simply does not allow for it. However, Telos Publishing and myself are determined to make up for this, so, I’m also able to announce that, next year, we’ll be doing a bumper edition, in hardback as well as softback and ebook, called TERROR TALES OF CHAOS, which will be launched at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton (Oct 30 - Nov 2).

For once, it will not focus on any specific geographic region or particular period of history, but it will follow the same basic format as the other books in the series, new stories interspersed with snippets of scary non-fiction, and will be strongly influenced by both folklore and mythology. 

While the emphasis will be on chaos, it will not be on the realm called Chaos - i.e. that limitless ocean of nameless elemental forces said to lie between Heaven and Hell - but on its products, aka the many terrible forms it has taken in the eyes of mankind during its frequent visitations to Earth. 

The 17th century English poet, John Milton, took his cue from much more ancient wordsmiths by naming and describing some of the terrifying denizens of Chaos, unimaginable beings who were every bit as wild and destructive as the substance from which they were made. 

Individuals like Peor, Arioch (pictured left, as created by Useh) and Demogorgon were so ghastly that even the fallen angels lodged in Hell could not get past them. Perhaps it’s no surprise, therefore, that whenever the children of Chaos have made it into our world, they have done so in the form of unstoppable monsters.

And there you have it: TERROR TALES OF CHAOS will explore the many, many monsters that have terrorised us throughout our histories and mythologies. There’ll be none here that the writers have invented themselves, or which are the work of other writers like the Frankenstein creation or Mr Hyde. There’ll be lots of room for modern interpretation obviously, but essentially all will hail from the long-ago past, and will have come down to us in stories that our distant ancestors would have insisted are absolutely true.

And on the subject of the writers ... well, put it this way, we aren’t far into developing the book yet, but I am very, very happy with many of the names to come on board. Fans of the series will miss out this year, but in 2025 I can confidently predict that they are in for a real treat.  

Keep watching this space for further info.

Thursday 21 March 2024

Big news on the dark fiction front - at last


Humble apologies for the lengthy time lapse since my last blog post. Its the usual explanation, Im afraid. Busy, busy, busy. So many books to write, so many looming deadlines and all that. However, today is quite important on the blogging front, as I have a major announcement to make regarding my future publishing plans. More about that further down.

In addition, because I
ve been working on several new projects at the same time since this year began, a new crime novel and a new horror novella among them, I thought Id cast my eye over ten authors who are well known in the professional field for writing both crime and horror, sometimes at the same time.

Just a quick reminder that I haven
t got time to do my detailed book reviews anymore. Sorry about that, but as I said earlier, there is just too much writing of my own that I need to get on top of. That said, I still read avidly, and so will be shoving in brief, thumbnail reviews or recommendations whenever a novel or collection impresses me. You’ll find a few of those at the bottom of today’s blog.

But first of all, my ...

Big news

I’m delighted to announce that, after some lengthy negotiating, I have signed a new two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer, who most of you will hopefully recognise as Amazon Publishing. 

Both of these upcoming novels will be stand-alone crime thrillers, the first one (tentatively) titled DEATH LIST, the second (tentatively) titled THE MURDER TOUR. I say ‘tentatively’ because though both of these projects have now been agreed on with my new publishers, titles are often working-titles at this stage, and are subject to last-minute change usually thanks for forces beyond the author’s control.

The first of the two, which I’m very excited about, is scheduled for publication in June 2025, with a final date still to be set for the second.

I can’t say too much about the second one yet, but this first one, DEATH LIST, takes us to a brand new location (for me, at least): the Isles of Scilly, the southwestern-most tip of the United Kingdom, and a famously beautiful spot, a group of over 200 islands, only five of them occupied, very rural, very remote, and very tranquil, though with wild Atlantic seas raging on all sides of them, and, buried deep in the Gulf Stream, their climate sometimes more akin to the subtropics than England’s temperate norm, anything can happen here - and in DEATH LIST it will. Trust me, it really will.

I’ve been developing this novel over quite a few months, so much so that the writing has been a smooth and enjoyable experience thus far. I trust and hope it will be an enjoyable read.

Much more about this one as publication day approaches.

Heck

I need to mention, by the way, because I’m fully aware that I owe it to a lot of my readers, that DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg, my most popular and enduring fictional character to date, does NOT figure in this new deal, though this does NOT mean the next Heck novel will not be appearing in the near future.

I’m aware that I’ve promised this before, but I’m absolutely adamant that the next Heck novel, which is already written and edited, will be appearing as soon as it’s possible for me to arrange it. I can’t divulge what kind of conversations I’m having about this at present, but I assure you they are under away.

And now, as promised ...


CRIME WRITERS WHO ARE ALSO HORROR WRITERS

I've often said that crime/thriller fiction and horror fiction, while superficially very different from each other, are also horns on the same evil goat. I love that catch-all phrase, Dark Fiction. To me, it basically means anything scary, disturbing and/or twisted. And that can certainly cover a wealth of sins, ranging even into fantasy, science fiction and literary. Today though, I’m going to focus on ten authors who write (or wrote) both crime and horror fiction, sometimes enclosing them in the same piece of work, but mostly pursuing them as separate disciplines. Either way, giving everything possible on both counts, keeping their ink the deepest shade of red.

I’m purposely leaving out the mixed-genre’s most prominent purveyors. Everyone already knows that Edgar Allan Poe (as illustrated here by the monstrously talented Lewandrowsky), Arthur Conan Doyle, Dennis Wheatley, Bram Stoker and Stephen King happily and successfully double-hatted for decades when it came to producing both crime-thriller and horror fiction, so there’s nothing really to be gained from mentioning them here.

Instead, let’s focus, in no particular order, on ten writers who, while not exactly unknown, may yet to be discovered either by crime or horror fans, or maybe both ...

1. Agatha Christie


Hardly unheard of as popular authors go, it may nevertheless surprise many that the official Queen of Crime was also an occasional contributor to the ghost and horror pantheon. Undoubtedly best known for her vast range of crime novels, including the multiple investigations carried out by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) still regarded as one of the best crime novels ever written, she was also a dab hand when it came to penning the spooky stuff. Halloween Party (1969), recently filmed as A Haunting in Venice, certainly qualifies as a horror novel, as, at a push, does the superlatively titled Endless Night (1967), while it wouldn’t be much of a leap to proclaim the best-selling crime novel of all time, And Then There Were None (1939), the prototype slasher tale. However, for pure unadulterated horror, look no further than Christie’s two short story collections, The Hound of Death (1933) and The Last Seance (2019), both of which are packed with ghoulish goodies.

2. Daphne du Maurier


When one thinks of Daphne de Maurier these days, one tends automatically to think of classic Gothic melodramas like Jamaica Inn (1936), My Cousin Rachel (1951) and Frenchmans Creek (1941). But Du Maurier also ventured onto the dark side of fiction, often very effectively, regularly blurring the lines between thriller and horror. The most obvious example perhaps is Rebecca (1938), a psychological thriller in truth, but also famous as the ghost novel without a ghost. Yet, it was in the short form where Du Maurier most often dabbled in grimness. The most ground-breaking of her short stories is probably The Birds (1952), which we all know so well, but it’s run a close second and third by Dont Look Now (1971) and The Blue Lenses (1959).

3. Joe R Lansdale


It’s often been said that when it comes to Joe R Lansdale’s unique brand of hardboiled Southern Noir, the crime is often indivisible from the horror. At first glance, that’s almost certainly true, Man’s utter inhumanity to his neighbour often lying at the heart of both. It’s certainly the case in searing crime novels like The Bottoms (2000), Cold in July (1989) and Freezer Burn (1999), not to mention the Hap and Leonard series, in which two very different PIs team up to investigate a range of incredibly brutal crimes. But when he’s doing actual horror, hell ... Lansdale really does horror. The Nightrunners (1987) and Hells Bounty (2016) certainly classify as out-and-out horror novels, while some of Lansdale’s short stories - By Bizarre Hands (1988), On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks (1989) and Drive-in Date (1991), to name but three, are up there among some of the most horrific ever written.

4. Joyce Carol Oates


Another true mistress of the macabre is prolific literary author, Joyce Carol Oates, who to date has produced an incredibly diverse range of material, everything from novels to short stories, from stage plays to poetry. However, huge chunks of all of those reside in the darkness. It probably wouldn’t be true to say that Oates favours the traditional type of crime novel, the police procedural or archetypical mystery thriller, but again, crime - and quite often murderous crime - is a regular feature of her work. And as with so many others on this list, her thrillers, which are often strongly psychological, overlap into the world of horror, though all are notable for their deeper than usual analysis of the human condition. Some of her best thrillers to date include the novels, Snake Eyes (1992) and Zombie (1995), though perhaps the pick of her horror writing can be found in her short stories. Tales like The Ruins of Contracoeur (1999) and Face (2007) are truly chilling.

5. Sarah Pinborough


Though she is without doubt one of the most popular authors working in genre fiction today, Sarah Pinborough is a writer for whom the term ‘cross-genre’ could have been invented. She made a big name for herself in YA, but has also gone on to win huge acclaim for her adult-themed books, and screenplays. Again, the focus tends to be on the darker side of the human experience, but there is also much of the fantastic to be found in Pinborough’s fiction. Her Dog-Faced Gods (2011-2013) series, for example, is set in an alternative dystopian Britain, while the Fairy Tale (2013) series, though dark and transgressive, draws on many popular fairy tales. Meanwhile, her crime novel, Mayhem (2913), pursues the famous Victorian-era Torso Killer, but again with fantastical elements woven in, while more conventional seeming domestic thrillers like Behind Her Eyes (2017) and Insomnia (2022) benefit from unusual and even otherworldly denouements. Pinborough is also a veteran of much straightforward horror, as can be seen in earlier novels like The Hidden (2004) and Breeding Ground (2006).

6. Robert Bloch


There was a time when no horror anthology would appear on the bookshelves anywhere without containing at least one Robert Bloch contribution. A writer whose career spanned an amazing 60 years, Bloch was championed as a young author by none other than HP Lovecraft, though he rarely dipped into that specific Lovecraftian brand of cosmic horror, much preferring to focus on twisted psychology and manmade mayhem. That said, Bloch, who produced hundreds of pieces of work during his career, both short stories and novels, wrote a number of books that could only really be described as crime fiction, American Gothic (1974) for example, or Night of the Ripper (1984), he also wrote horror novels, Psycho (1959) perhaps the most obvious (yes, the same one that Hitchcock filmed), though again there was an element of cross-over there. Among his horror short stories, some of the most anthologised and certainly some of the most bone-chilling, include Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (1962) and The Night Before Christmas (1980).

7. Charles Birkin

Though Charles Birkin first came to prominence editing the famous Creeps anthologies of the 1930s, his heyday as a writer was after World War II. He is nearly always remembered as a horror writer, though he produced a huge volume of fiendishly unpleasant short stories, the ‘conte cruels’ as they used to be called, rather than supernatural tales, which straddled both the crime and the horror genres. Birkin was much less interested in ghosts and goblins than he was in mankind’s own capacity for madness and cruelty, often dealing with serial murder, torture and insanity. The great anthologist, Hugh Lamb, said of him: ‘If you are at all sensitive, leave him well alone’. In fact, given that he was writing in a relatively innocent age, many of the fictional situations he conjured up were almost unimaginable. In Kiss of Death (1964), a jilted lover stricken with leprosy determines to have one last night of passion with the woman who left him at the altar. In Green Fingers (1965), a concentration gamp guard’s mistress has no idea what he regularly buries in her garden even though it ensures that she wins lots of prizes at the horticultural festival. Much of his work is out of print today, but that’s not because (as is sometimes assumed) he’s been banned; it’s simply that time has moved on. However, many of his collections can still be acquired second-hand, but be warned: they are excessively dark and twisted.

8. John Connolly


The bulk of John Connolly's literary output to date concerns his blue-collar hero, Charlie Parker. There are 21 Parker novels to date (and counting). An ex-cop turned private investigator, Parker’s career appears to walk a tightrope between a Noirish world of gangsters, hitmen and serial killers and the realm of the out-and-out supernatural. Some folks in the world of publishing, conveniently forgetting John Connolly, might tell upcoming wannabes that you just can’t do this, that you can't blend such different genres together so seamlessly. Well, they need to check out outstanding cross-genre novels like A Game of Ghosts (2017) and The Whisperers (2010). Connolly has also gone full horror mode with the two collections of short stories he has published to date, Nocturnes (2004) and Night Music (2015), in which can be found some exceptional terror tales.

9. Peter James


Peter James is probably best known these days for his long-running Roy Grace crime series set in Brighton, the tired but good-hearted cop called constantly to investigate complex and often sadistic murder cases. Among the best of these are Dead Simple (2005) and Looking Good Dead (2006). The books dwell totally in the real world and are probably among the best examples of modern British detective fiction. But many may not know that James commenced his writing career penning horror, and by that, I mean real horror, as in the unashamedly supernatural variety. Early examples of this, all well worth checking out, include Sweet Heart (1990) and Prophecy (1992), though he hasn’t given up on the supernatural stuff yet. Much more recent full-blooded horror novels of his include The House on Cold Hill (2015) and The Secret of Cold Hill (2019). James has also published A Twist of the Knife (2014), a collection of crime and horror shorts containing several exquisite examples of the shortform bone-chiller.

10. Ira Levin


Beautifully described by Stephen King as ‘the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels,’ Ira Levin didn’t produce an immense body of work, though what he did turn out was distinguished by its quality. His first novel, A Kiss Before Dying (1953), which won the Edgar Award, is one of probably only two real crime novels of his, as it follows the career of an amoral young man and his quest to murder his way to the top of a corporate family, while the other, Sliver (1991), is a creepy murder mystery set in a modern day high-rise, though Levin added to his crime/thriller canon with the famous stage play, Deathtrap (1978). In horror terms, he will best be remembered for Rosemarys Baby (1967), which lit the blue touch-paper to an entire cycle of Satanic horror thrillers in the decade that followed. His other horrors were a little more off-the-wall, and perhaps could also be classified as science fiction, The Boys From Brazil (1976) seeing a war crimes investigator uncover a fiendish plot to clone Adolf Hitler, and more famously, The Stepford Wives (1972), in which the entire female population of a secluded town is replaced by identical but compliant androids. As you can see, Levin didn’t exactly produce a tidal wave of material, but he is still one of the greats.



THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS

As I’ve already said, I’ll be inserting these into future blogs whenever I have something to share. There won’t always be as many as this, but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t at least refer you all to these latest works of dark fiction to have passed through my hands.

THE OTHERS OF EDENWELL 
by Verity M Holloway (2023)

In 1917, two young misfits, shipped to a remote marshland retreat to keep them out of the trenches, become fearful that something strange and evil is lurking in the woods nearby. Remarkable and dazzling. Triumphant evocation of time and place, laced tight with strangeness and dread. Verity Holloway sets a new high bar for ghost story writers.
by Will Dean (2023)

A dead ship on the ocean dark; a conspiracy that seems too incredible to be true. Modern mystery thrillers don’t get much more mysterious or thrilling than this new one from Will Dean. 

Twists and turns galore fuelled by steadily intensifying terror. You cannot stop reading.

MEG: HELL'S AQUARIUM 
by Steve Alten (2021)

Another ocean-going roller coaster ride from Steve Alten. Exhilarating terror as primordial horrors battle modern tech in the abyssal depths, with many a cast member chomped. 

If you like your turquoise seascapes stained with crimson, this one’s for you.

UNCLE PAUL 
by Celia Fremlin (1959)

Deceptively genteel psycho-thriller of the classic era. Celia Fremlin always possessed a devilishly sharp eye for people and places but here piles on the tension and terror. 

Witty as hell but deliciously dark too. Rises steadily to a nerve-tautening climax and a killer twist.
by Greig Beck (2018)

Jaws-type deep sea chiller, as an earthquake opens the door to an underground ocean environment and a beast of nightmare emerges. Impressively written and robustly researched. 

Quality techno-horror alternates with high adventure as Man’s most ancient nemesis churns him to chum.

by Christopher Harman (2023)

Robert Aickman meets Ramsey Campbell in this jarring collection of off-kilter tales. Suggestion triumphs over exposition, oddball characters lurk, half-seen horrors abound. 

Beautifully and concisely written, and thick with an atmosphere of doom. Another gorgeously packaged collection of nasty treats from Sarob.

GHOSTWRITTEN 
by Ronald Malfi (2022)

Four novellas from Hell’s library. The ‘choose your own path’ adventure novel that morphs into terrifying reality. The gangland brothers whose mission to deliver a forbidden book pits them against nightmarish opponents. The children’s pop-up book that always means death for someone. The book with a mind (and soul) of its own. What else can I say? Malfi delivers again.
by Various (2024)

A father’s trip into a world of madness to rescue his lost son. The worn-out writer increasingly alarmed by the mysterious entity on the snow-clad roof. The badly behaved children in the Victorian nursery, and the governess who calls on Krampus to tame them. 

An absorbing trip into traditionally themed festive terror from a host of quality authors.

THE SENTINEL 
by Jeffrey Konvitz (1974)

Interesting horror novel of yesteryear. Not particularly great writing, but a Satanic chiller which, for once, does not concern itself with possession. 

Michael Winner’s 1977 adaptation worked in parts but was tasteless and controversial. I’d certainly be interested in seeing a remake, so long as they reduced the shock factor and upped the genuinely eerie mystery.

THE NEW EVIL 
by Michael Stone and Gary Brucato (2019)

An absolute must for any crime, thriller and even horror writer’s bookshelf. Two eminent psychoanalysts scientifically quantify the nature and meaning of evil in the modern world. A deep dive into modern man’s propensity for viciousness and depravity, illustrated by hundreds of terrifying case studies. 

Strong stomachs are required, but the quest to pinpoint the causes of and find solutions for the most negative and destructive forces in ‘civilised’ humanity is admirable. Totally absorbing.

ENDLESS NIGHT 
by Agatha Christie (1967)

An amoral chancer lucks into marriage with a pretty heiress, and together they build the house of their dreams in a stretch of idyllic woodland, which is reputedly cursed. What could go wrong? 

A famous chiller from Agatha Christie’s moody psychological era. Not as disturbing now as it was in ’67, when unreliable narration wasn’t a thing … but it’s not a long read, so it’s worth your time.

MR MERCEDES 
by Stephen King (2015)

Not so much horror, but certainly horrific. In the age of high school shootings and rustbelt America, the old master wreaks blood and chaos via the hand of a quietly deranged suburbanite, peeling back the layers of his fragile sanity while sending a typical band of misfits racing against time to thwart his maniac schemes. 

A tad leisurely in parts, but a gripping read overall.

THE LIGHTHOUSE 
by Alison Moore (2012)

A middle-aged man takes a Rhineland walking holiday to recuperate after the breakup of his marriage, and ruminates on his unhappy life, at the same time unaware that he is drifting into danger. Alison Moore’s debut novel, and a dark, dreamlike study of neglect, isolation and futility. 

Perfectly written (at 183 pages, an easy read), deeply thought-provoking and achingly sad.


Sunday 4 February 2024

By Heck! A few pics from my writing past


 A bit of a fun blogpost today. I thought I’d muck about with some AI picture-drawing software, to see what it made of a selection of books, stories and even plays from my back catalogue.

I should say straight off that I’m nervous about AI. I’m not sure which creative wouldn’t be. Clearly there are copyright issues and so on, not to mention widespread concerns about talented individuals finding themselves replaced by computer programmes. Quite clearly AI is now with us to stay, but for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, I can guarantee that none of these images, which rather than pulling them off the Net from various databases, I’ve requested from the app myself and purely for the purpose of having a bit of fun, will ever be used in any official capacity. 

I have very little to do these days with my own book covers, or the artwork that may accompany my stories in magazines and the like, but those I do, I will always seek from a human artist or illustrator.

Anyway, here we go. Those who read my stuff may recognise the above. It’s an AI interpretation of HECK, or rather DS Mark Heckenburg, the star of seven of my novels to date (and hopefully more to come). On seeing this, I couldn’t resist checking out what it made of a few other of my writing endeavours. 

I repeat that it’s just a bit of fun, this (none of these are going out in any form of publication). Here are twenty of my stories, books etc that I chose at random ...


BATTLE LORD (2024)


The second novel in the WULFBURY CHRONICLES, sees Cerdic, the son of a Saxon earl captured after the disastrous battle of Hastings, turn the tables on his foes, by setting Norman against Viking, but at the same time adapting to the new medieval era that has now dawned in his homeland.


WE ARE THE SHADOWS (2009)


An investigative reporter looks into a series of violent attacks, all of whose perpetrators appear to match the descriptions of famous serial killers, many now dead. The trail finally leads him to an abandoned wax museum in a desolate seaside town. (Novella, first published in GROANING SHADOWS).


SEASON OF MIST (2010)


In the autumn of 1974, a bunch of kids in a coal-mining community in northern England are advised to stay indoors when a killer starts targeting the town’s youth, but one particularly intrepid group become convinced that this no normal murderer. (Novella, first published in WALKERS IN THE DARK).


THE HOUSE OF THE HAG (2015)


A middle-aged English couple get lost in foul weather high in the Scottish mountains, finally seeking shelter in an abandoned tent, only to find that it houses three crude stone figures. Worried they desecrated some kind of shrine, they hurry away - but a fearsome pursuit now follows. (Short story, first published in THE SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR 2).
 
STRANGERS (2016)


A female police detective in Manchester goes undercover to try and catch a deranged prostitute who has been sexually murdering her male clients, entering a more dangerous world that she could ever have imagined. The first novel in my LUCY CLAYBURN series, and a Sunday Times Top Ten read.

BRANCH LINE (2020)


Two 1970s kids venture along a derelict stretch of railway line, searching for a hoard of discarded girlie mags. Both know about the legend that the revenant of a Victorian-era suicide still supposedly haunts the line, but they are too eager to get their hands on the good stuff. (Short story, first published in AFTER SUNDOWN).


THE HOTEL ON THE BORDERLAND (2001)


Before the Northern Ireland peace process commences, an RUC detective pursues an IRA gunman out into the wilds of the west, and there, amid, an eerie fog, is drawn to a bizarre coastal hotel where almost nothing and no one is what they initially appear to be. (Short story, first published in HOUSES AT BORDERLANDS).


DR WHO - LEVIATHAN (2010)


The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive in what appears to be medieval England, only to find a village community living in terror of their local baron and a monstrous force out in the encircling greenwood, which lives only to punish all those who defy the Way’. (Full cast audio drama in Big Finish’s DR WHO: THE LOST STORIES season).


THE OLD NORTH ROAD (2006)


A folklorist searching out the origins of the Green Man legend visits a derelict priory in the Forest of Lune in northern England, only to find that he’s fallen foul of a couple of very dangerous hitchers. (Short story, first published in ALONE ON THE DARKSIDE, and winner of the International Horror Guild Award for 2007).


THE RETREAT (2008)


The Russian Front during World War Two. A frost-bitten German platoon escapes the fiery ruins of Stalingrad, fighting its way through the frozen wilderness and taking shelter in a mysterious log cabin, only to discover that it is vastly larger and more mysterious on the inside than the out. (Novella, first published in HOUSES ON THE BORDERLAND).


REIGN OF HELL (2013)


At the height of World War Two, a Greek archaeologist leads his Nazi-supporting brother into a deep cave system, where he claims to have uncovered something that will aid in the Axis war effort against the Allies. (Short story, first published in WORLD WAR CTHULHU).

 
SPARROWHAWK (2010)


In the 1840s, an embittered veteran of the Afghan War is released from the debtor’s prison and charged with standing guard over a house in a quiet corner of inner London for the duration of December. But as the cold weather descends, a supernatural evil is unleashed. (Novella, first published as a stand-alone).


THE TENTH LESSON (2020)


A children’s novelist and secret Christmas skeptic is snowed into his rural cottage one frightful Christmas Eve, at which point he receives a very curious present: a life-size nutcracker soldier, clockwork of course, and with a devious mind of its own. (Short story, first published in THE CHRISTMAS YOU DESERVE).


ONE EYE OPEN (2020)


While a lady police detective investigates a car that shouldn't exist and a terrible road accident which no one remembers happening, a once-famous racing driver finds himself at odds with evil organisation who’ll stop at nothing to get even with those who’ve defied them. (Stand alone novel).

THE DOOM (2010)


When, during the renovation of a village church, a medieval wall-painting is discovered, which portrays the most terrifying images of Hell ever conceived, visitors come from far and wide. But increasingly, they are a strange and scary breed. (Short story, first published in THE BLACK BOOK OF HORROR #6).


THE AFTER SHOCK (1994)


At the height of World War One, a travelling man finds himself marooned overnight on a remote country railway station. Only when it’s too late, the following morning in fact, does the station guard realise that he should never have left him there alone. (First published in THE STEAM RAILWAY NEWS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL).


STOLEN (2019)


Detective Constable Lucy Clayburn responds to the abductions of pets in the district by closing down a local dog-fighting ring. Only when the abductions continue does she wonder if she got the right people, especially as now it is humans who are being snatched off the streets. (Third novel in the Lucy Clayburn series).


CALIBOS (2005)


When a colossal ocean-going robot crab comes ashore, now under the control of an unknown force, a special forces squad infiltrates its interior to try and switch off its reactor, but first they must run a gauntlet of ruthless mechanical antibodies. (Short story, first published in DAIKAJU).


MARSHWALL (2013)


When he learns that his girlfriend’s wealthy but estranged mother is likely to die, a shallow chancer visits her isolated Norfolk home in order to make friends, but first must contend with the fiercely protective rocking horse that lurks in the attic. (Short story, first published in THE BLACK BOOK OF HORROR #10).


THE GODS OF GREEN AND GREY (2005)


In ancient Britain, a Roman company charged with constructing a road through an area of misty fenland falls prey to a brutal band of flesh-eating ogres. (Short story, first published in PARADOX #7).