Tuesday 29 March 2011

Dantean horror in my new Doctor Who

It’s become a fun pastime among authors – at least, among authors of my acquaintance – to follow the progress of their book sales through various internet checking sites.

Of course, it’s not easy to find out how quickly (or slowly) your products are shooting off the high street shelves. But you can at least find out how well they are being shifted via the online stores. Whether this gives you an accurate overall picture is open to debate. I’m not sure what percentage of the book-buying public acquires their reading materials exclusively on line. I can’t believe it’s very huge; at least, not yet. But I found it hard not to get excited when I recently saw some information on Amazon about my forthcoming Doctor Who novel, HUNTER'S MOON.

The book hasn’t even been published yet – in fact, it’s only due to be released in late April, but thanks to pre-orders it’s already positioned 10th in Amazon’s list of Doctor Who products, and 67th in their list of science fiction/ adventure products. Superficially, the latter figure doesn’t sound too breathtaking, but when you consider all the millions of books and CDs and DVDs that Amazon have for sale, I think it’s reasonably impressive. I’m not naturally one of life’s optimists, but I think it might be worth raising a glass or two this coming weekend.

You can find info about HUNTER'S MOON just about anywhere online (I’m pleased to say). But I don’t think any of the plot descriptions I’ve read to date illustrate it better than the above artwork. I don’t know who originated this wonderful image – it’s been on several other blogs with no credits attached (so I’ll happily remove it if the real owner turns up and objects). It has no official connection whatever with HUNTER'S MOON, but to date I’ve seen no other picture that more closely reflects my mind’s eye image of the Dantean planet that is Gorgoror. The Doctor and his chums aren’t going to have much fun when they arrive there, but hopefully the readers will.

New Abaddon novel and more movie news

It’s certainly been a weekend of developments for forthcoming projects of mine.

The writing business can be a strange game. You market yourself and network constantly. You put feelers out there and send samples of your work on spec and so often you get no response at all, but that doesn’t matter too much so long as you get a response now and then.

Over the last couple of weeks, several positive responses have come my way all in one go. I’m pleased to announce that the first one of these will be a new novel for Abaddon books, which I had commissioned at the end of last week. But before you all start leaping up and down in fits of excitement, I hasten to add that I can’t really say any more about it at this stage: neither its title (mainly because we haven’t agreed on a title yet), nor its premise. Suffice to say this – it’s going to be very dark and very bloodthirsty. There’s going to be action in it (a lot of action) along with monsters and beautiful girls and very evil bad guys and heroes who aren’t much better in all honesty. To catch its mood a little more, I’ve included the above artwork.

(In actual fact, this picture is Savage Landscape by John Powell, which has no official link to my Abaddon novel at all, but by pure chance it does illustrate the sort of place where it’s set rather nicely).

In other news this week, I’ve received some great feedback from the States, where a movie project of mine, which I’ve been working on for a couple of years, has caught the interest of a very active film company. I’m not going to mention names yet, but the project is HEART AND MIND, which is an urban thriller relevant to today’s world, both domestically here in the UK, and internationally (i.e. in warzones everywhere).

The nice thing about this one is that three drafts of the script have already been written and work-shopped at professional level, which always helps a little if you want to walk away from a meeting with that all-important option fee in your back-pocket.

I’ll keep you posted on both these developments. But now for a third piece of news, which is nothing – I repeat, NOTHING to do with either of the above projects, and which is equally NOTHING to do with the picture at the top of this post. And no, I’m not going to say much about this one either – at least not yet. What I will say is watch out for MEDI-EVIL.

Okay, maybe, I’m being a bit stingy with the info this week, but this last project not quite ready yet and I don’t want to spoil things. So just keep looking out for MEDI-EVIL. From the responses I normally get to my stuff, I think this one will please a few people. At least, I’m hopeful it will.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

The Power of Three - 19th Installment

Okay, it’s Friday morning, it’s coffee-break time again, and here are three more classic chillers of a standard to make the readers among us yell with delight, and the writers among us weep.

As always, this trio was chosen entirely at random, though in one of those odd occurrences of fate, all three this time come to us from the 1980s. But don’t worry, there’s nothing here in the way of bouffant hair, bad beads, or streaky make-up. It seems the horror stories of the whackiest decade in the 20th century were as unrelentingly grim and doom-laden as the horror stories of all previous decades.

So … check ’em out. Hopefully they’ll stir some unpleasant memories for those who’ve read them before, and for those who haven’t, then I’m doing you a service drawing your attention to them, aren't I?

The Catacomb by Peter Shilston

A mild-mannered academic gets locked in a musty old Sicilian church. He is entranced by the vivid frescoes and mosaics, but discomforted when he realises they all portray scenes of Biblical evil. When he attempts to escape via the cellar, he finishes up in an underground passage filled with silent, mummified forms.

A perfectly paced study in rising dread as the scholarly Mr. Pearsnall gradually progresses from one emotion to the next: first disquiet, then unease, then fear, then outright terror. And it’s all very understandable, because we readers make the journey with him. Perhaps we should have realised from the start that there was something seriously wrong with abhorrent little church in the deserted Sicilian village. Maybe we should have picked up the clues: the solid, sealed aspect of the church’s exterior, the decay of disuse that shrouds its interior, the grinning faces on its many statues. By the time Pearsnall reaches the catacomb below, it’s too late; we know we’ve reached a point from which there is no turning back. The story’s climax is a crescendo of horror, featuring a nightmarish antagonist in a setting that literally reeks of malevolence. This one will definitely keep you awake at night.

First published in MORE GHOSTS & SCHOLARS, 1980.

Robbie by Mary Danby

Robbie is a retarded child, who lives on a ramshackle farm where his overworked mother and father are employed as semi-skilled labour. Robbie dreams of having a little brother, but when his parents says ‘no’, the resourceful youngster sets about trying to construct one of his own.

Famed anthologist and author Mary Danby delves into ‘Pan Horror’ territory here, with a grisly little vignette, in which many of society’s real-life ills – mental illness, parental neglect, ‘minimum wage’ labour – combine to create an abomination. We’re not in supernatural territory – this terrible event could actually happen, and that makes it even more of a shocker. Yet the haunting reality of the dysfunctional Britain that Mary Danby presents us with here should not detract from a fine and very subtle piece of writing, which, as well as scaring us, is also heartbreakingly sad. You certainly wonder if this sort of thing should ever be offered as entertainment, but this was a line which many excellent stories original to the Fontana and Pan series skated along, and that was their strength. No-one said this one was going to be a fun ride, but it’s one you need to take anyway.

First published in 15th FONTANA BOOK OF GREAT HORROR STORIES (pictured), 1982.

Graveyard Highway by Dean R. Koontz

A well-heeled activist is tormented by daily visions of death and slaughter on an apocalyptic scale. Almost driven mad, he finally seeks answers in a vast, deserted cemetery where a dark, spectral figure is awaiting him.

For many, Dean Koontz is the ‘Mr. Middle America’ of horror fiction, and this exquisitely written dissertation on the perils of extreme politics will not change that opinion. The central message is very establishment-friendly, despite its everyman hero getting dragged through a procession of historical atrocities, perpetrated alternately by both right wing fanatics and left wing fanatics. Few of us based in the comfortable West would take issue with this, but this is a personal epiphany as much as a political text; a na├»ve young guy finally gets the message, but it has to be hammered home with awful force first. Unusually for Koontz, the horror is full-on. Massacres, executions and scenes of graphic torture hit us in the face one after another. There is nowhere to hide, particularly as this is such a powerfully and – I must say this – beautifully descriptive piece. Ultra grim for sure, but with an unexpectedly upbeat and heartening finale.

First published in TROPICAL CHILLS, 1988.

More 'Who' signing news - get there quick

I hope folks can forgive me another moment of self-indulgence here, but I’ve had my attention drawn to a very nice review of my first Doctor Who audio drama, Leviathan. Thanks to E.G. Wolverson, who wrote it and posted it on http://www.doctorwhoreviews.co.uk/6YAC.htm

It may seem a bit belated mentioning this, given that Leviathan was released a year last January, but I have more ‘Who’ titles out this year – a couple are now imminent – so, from a totally selfish perspective, maybe this is an opportune moment. The other thing is that it gives me an ideal excuse to reproduce this excellent piece of artwork by Alex Mallinson, which illustrates one of the scarier moments in Leviathan.

In other Doctor Who news, I’ll be attending the Big Finish Day, a one-day convention in Barking, on June 11th this year, which is dedicated to Big Finish and the many audio series they produce. I’ll be there from dawn 'til dusk to sign various bits and pieces, but on the off-chance that my presence alone won’t be enough to drag you up to the East End, I can reveal that there’ll be numerous other Doctor Who guests in attendance as well, including actors, directors, producers, writers and so on. There’ll also be an opportunity to meet the new companion who will be joining the audio adventures of Doctor Who in 2012.

Those whose Doctor Who audio collections are not yet complete will enjoy a massive array of CD discounts. Full details:


Sunday 20 March 2011

The Doctor is in - new 'Who' signing dates

Here’s another quick announcement for all Doctor Who fans.

I’ll be in the Waterstone’s store in my home town of Wigan, on Easter Saturday, April 23rd, from 11am onwards, to sign copies of my new Doctor Who novel, Hunter’s Moon (an original adventure for the 11th Doctor - that's the current one, Matt Smith), and any other ‘Who’ items the shop can get hold of.

My last signing at the Wigan branch of Waterstone’s was in February, and was for my medieval action/horror novel Stronghold, and it went pretty well. It was very gratifying to inscribe a bunch of books and chat to a diverse range of fans and punters. I’m expecting to have to sign a handful more this time, given that Hunter’s Moon won’t be officially available until April 28th, and that this event (roughly) coincides with the launch of the new Doctor Who television series. I’m also told that the staff at the Wigan store may be planning a few Doctor Who-themed events for that day: games and colouring in for the kids – that sort of thing, so it could be quite an occasion.

More information about that as and when I get it. But if anyone can’t make it to Wigan on Easter Saturday and they desperately want to (I just know you’re all out there, checking your calendars and timetables as we speak), I’ll be signing my next Dr Who audio from Big Finish, The Sentinels Of The New Dawn, at Act III, the Doctor Who convention at Latimer Place, Chesham, down in Buckinghamshire on Easter Sunday (April 24th).

We’re following all this up on Easter Tuesday, of course (April 26th) with the horror night at Haigh Hall. So it’s going to be a busy Easter holiday for me. In fact, no holiday at all. But it’s all for the fans, you know …

Pictured is an alternative cover for Sentinels, which I found onlline. I've no idea where it came from - I suspect it's an early prototype (so to speak). This certainly isn't the cover it will be released under in the UK - check my earlier posts for that one, but to use the Doctor's parlance, I think it's rather cool.

Friday 18 March 2011

The Power of Three - 18th Installment

Horror returns to your Friday morning coffee break in the shape of three more of the best terror tales ever written. Only my opinion of course, and all drawn from my personal list of the world’s greatest chillers.

Again, there is no consciously selected theme at work here. All were picked at random, but all are well worth looking up if you get the chance (always assuming of course, that you haven’t already read them – if you have, my humble apologies, though at least you’ll be reminded of some darkly pleasurable moments past).

The Fertilizer Man by Mark Morris

An aged allotment keeper struggles to defend his patch against marauding hooligans, until a fertilizer salesman turns up with a free sample which is guaranteed to solve all his problems. The ‘vegetables’ that subsequently sprout are unlike any seen before.

When Mark Morris has nightmares, you know they’ll be coming from left field. You can just imagine the fiendish glee with which he spun this inventive and funny, but also extremely dark little ditty. As always with Mark, the prose are sweet, the syntax perfect. The bizarre tale is told in clinical, straight-faced fashion, though it contains mystery as well as humour, and its denouement is a sublime dollop of cutting-edge horror. Typically of Mark’s weird and chilling fables, this one is as much about what happens after it’s finished as what happens during the course of it. You’re left yearning for more, even though you’ve actually had quite enough.

First published in DARKLANDS, 1993.

The Darkhouse Keeper by Rosemary Timperley

A vengeful lighthouse keeper commits the ultimate sin when he discovers that his wife has been unfaithful. One stormy night, he turns off the light as her sea-captain lover’s ship approaches the rocks. The plan works, but fate has terrible twist in store.

Rosemary Timperley has a well-earned reputation for being an author of piercingly effective ghost stories. She isn’t exclusively interested in issues from beyond the grave, but it’s in these tales where she particularly shines, and this has to be one of the best examples of them all. To begin with, its aura of ‘drawing room’ is deceptive. The story starts in simple enough fashion: its language is comfortable; its setting, a lonely lighthouse, is a familiar fixture in the genre. But this unsettling parable has a very nasty sting in its tail, the after-effects of which will linger for quite some time. How many ways are there to find horror in the claustrophobic confines of a spiral stairway? Plenty of authors have tried to invent something new, but I guarantee you’ll never have encountered a premise as hair-raising as his.

First published in COLD FEAR, 1977 (pictured).

The Red Room by H.G. Wells

A rational man accepts a challenge to stay in a supposedly haunted room. He is confident he can succeed, but soon the candles start going out and he finds himself fighting a losing battle to prevent the darkness overwhelming him.

A masterly study in rising panic, which afflicts the reader as much as the central character. Wells, though a scientific visionary in his normal life, uses all the tricks of the traditionalist Gothic writer to set the scene. The environment is a spooky castle; its custodians are pantomime grotesques. The tension is there from the off, but this story is a whole lot cleverer than that. As our increasingly fraught hero battles to maintain light in the enclosed chamber, his imagination runs wild. Are drafts blowing out the candle-flames, or is the ghost playing a sadistic game? Of course, there’s no actual sign of a ghost, but this doesn’t stop our man eventually fleeing. And yet, despite being terrified half to death, the rational chap is still rational – even if he’s no longer quite sane. He confirms that the room is haunted. Not by a ghost, but by fear itself.

First published in THE IDLER (1896).

On a not unrelated subject, perhaps a few of you folks can check in with my good friend and top horror writer and editor, Johnny Mains, who is organising an auction to try and do his bit to help the stricken people of Japan.

Quite a few rare and interesting bits of horror memorabilia have already been volunteered, including several very choice items from Johnny's own jealously-guarded collection. There are also a number of signed books from various authors in the field (including two of mine, for what that's worth).

Why not pop in there and see if there's anything that takes your fancy?


Thursday 17 March 2011

My doings with Doctor Who - the lowdown

Folk will notice that I’ve now, at last, got around to opening a Doctor Who page on here. As I’ve written quite a bit of ‘Who’ over the last few years, and indeed am involved in writing it at this current time, it seemed ridiculous that I didn’t have a dedicated section where I could give all the juicy details.

All my existing ‘Who’ products are now posted on there, but details of forthcoming scripts, novels and so forth will also be included just as soon as I’m allowed to reveal them.

The picture shows yours truly with 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, one of the best blokes you’re ever likely to meet. It was taken down at Ladroke Grove studios during the recording session for Leviathan, my first Big Finish audio drama, which was released in early 2010.

Monday 14 March 2011

Word spreads about Nazi / demon horror

Top horror mag Fangoria (issue 301, pictured) has got its chompers into The Devil’s Rock, and has produced a nice little article on the forthcoming movie, which hopefully will draw yet more attention to it.

Read it here

The edition also contains absorbing interviews with masterclass terror-scribes Richard Matheson and William F. Nolan, so it’s worth checking out just for those.

After working in the horror/dark fantasy/thriller medium for the last 20 years, this – as far as I’m aware – is the first time my name has ever been mentioned in Fangoria, which has to be one of the world’s most popular horror magazines. If nothing else, that shows the power of the movies, but it also has to be seen as a bit of a result – so much time seems to have passed (two years in fact) since I was first writing this script, blabbing into a Dictaphone while walking my dog through the Christmas snow. It seems very difficult to associate those first few bits of speculative dialogue with what is now emerging, but that’s the movie business.

Meanwhile, thanks must go to top US novelist and good friend of mine, Brian Keene, who tipped me off about this and has given the film a great little plug on his own website

I hope shortly to recommence work on my movie adaptation of Brian’s grim but sexy horror novel, Dark Hollow, with Paul Campion, who directed The Devil’s Rock, at the helm. Campion, Keene and Finch? Does that have a kind of 'unholy trinity' ring to it? At the risk of sounding conceited, I like to think so.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Honoured to be 'honourably mentioned'

I feel very flattered to have had eight of my tales selected by the indefatigable Ellen Datlow for inclusion in her ‘Best Horror Stories of 2010' honourable mentions list.

For those unfamiliar with the New York-based Ellen, let me tell you that she’s one of the top genre editors in the world, and is responsible for a number of classic horror anthologies, such as: Little Deaths; Black Thorn, White Rose; Inferno; Dark and Naked City, not to mention numerous volumes of the Year’s Best Horror collections going back decades. As well as those favourite stories of hers from the previous 12 months, which she annually reprints, she also produces an annual ‘honourable mentions’ list, so that those she didn’t reprint don’t fade into obscurity.

So yes … sorry about this, but I’m basically banging my own drum here (again). Those who are already irritated by this, by all means cease reading now. Those who are keen to know which these stories were and where they were first published, along with thumbnail synopses, keep going …

Crow-Raven - first published in One Monster Is Not Enough
A police detective, who is also an occult specialist, investigates a double-murder apparently perpetrated by something less than human.

Fathoms Green and Noisome - first published in Walkers In The Dark
Cryptozoologists look into a supposedly bottomless lake, where a mysterious, indescribable beast has been sighted.

Hag Fold - first published in One Monster Is Not Enough
A roughhouse cop, who operates with extreme brute force, is put on the trail of a savage serial killer.

Red in Beak and Claw - first published in One Monster Is Not Enough
An ex-con attempts to break out of his Witness Protection scheme by hunting for lost treasure which, according to folklore, is guarded by a merciless supernatural creature.

The Coils Unseen - first published in Craddock
Victorian detective Jim Craddock pursues a fugitive to the wreck of a derelict prison ship, which is notorious for being haunted by the ghosts of its former inmates.

The Daftie - first published in Where The Heart Is
A wimpish school-kid makes a big mistake when he takes a ‘cross country’ short cut across a local stretch of abandoned colliery wasteland.

The Doom - first published in The 6th Black Book of Horror
A money-minded vicar is proud of the medieval mural uncovered in his church, even though it is filled disturbing demonic elements.

The Formless - first published in Walkers In The Dark
A student travels to the far north of Scotland to find out how and why his one-time girlfriend died during her vacation, but menacing forces await him.

Thursday 10 March 2011

The Power of Three - 17th Installment

Okay, here we go with another trio of selections from the horror hall of fame, to provide what’s hopefully a welcome distraction from the realities of your mundane Friday morning schedule. Again, each one of this threesome was chosen entirely at random – and that’s a promise. Someone emailed me recently to say that, deny it though I may, there are clear patterns and themes in these choices. Last week, for example, I was told that ‘insanity’ was the common undercurrent, and the week before that it was apparently ‘medical men’. Well, this may be the way the jigsaw pieces have fallen, but I assure you that if it does happen, it’s completely by accident. I haven’t the time to try and get clever about works of fiction which are already way clever enough.

The Horror At Chilton Castle by Joseph Payne Brennan

An American visits Britain to research his ancestral past, and gets invited to remote Chilton Castle, where, to fulfil an ancient pact, every new earl must be conducted to the lowest dungeon, and there exposed to a truly awful family secret.

This is a very well named tale, because ‘horror’ is what it’s all about, though interestingly it’s mainly the horror of anticipation. Payne Brennan’s elegant prose perfectly sets the scene here. We have a cataclysmic thunderstorm and a weathered heap of rock serving as a castle. Yet, though it’s a little contrived how it all comes about, the torturous journey down into the stronghold’s slimy, mold-encrusted bowels is the story’s real strength. What secret could be so dreadful that generations of red-blooded British noblemen have gone insane or fallen into depression after learning it? You wonder with deep trepidation. Of course, after such a build-up you might expect to be disappointed, but as so often with this author, the final revelation is a genuinely ghastly and horrible one. If I were an earl of Chilton, I’d renounce my title too.

First published in SCREAM AT MIDNIGHT, 1963.

From The Lower Deep by Hugh B. Cave

Members of an affluent island community abandon their homes when an earthquake causes murky water to flood out from a subterranean cavern. One returns later to recover his goods, only to find that water isn’t the only thing that’s emerged from the depths of the Earth.

A very simple idea, compellingly told. This story is as tight as a corkscrew; there isn’t a word wasted as Cave – an author whose work in the genre spanned almost a century – skilfully creates a completely believable natural disaster in the space of one page, and then follows it over the next seven or eight with an equally believable unnatural disaster. The denizens of the underworld are not fully revealed to us; nor are their motives. There is no need. They are simply there, they exist and we’d better deal with it. (In actual fact, their primary power stems from the very little we learn about these odious, frog-like beings). But the really nasty twist comes right at the end, and it would an absolute sin to reveal it here.

First published in WHISPERS 2, 1979.

Ro Erg by Robert Weinberg

Suburban drone Ron Rosenberg is bored with both his life and his wife. But then, when a computer glitch accidentally sends a credit card application to ‘Ro Erg’, a new, much darker alter-ego is born.

A hugely imaginative and modern variation on the Jekyll & Hyde theme, neatly underlining the rootlessness of contemporary society, wherein who you are, who you know and where you live mean nothing – all that connects you to reality is the name on your credit cards. It also queries the power that money brings; anything you want can be bought in this world – you don’t have to deserve it, you don’t even have to have earned it; the only thing that counts is how recklessly you’re prepared to spend it. Of course, there is payback in all Rob Weinberg’s stuff, and that philosophy is well showcased here. Ro Erg is the gun-toting, hooker-abusing half of a guy who otherwise would be a perennial innocent bystander, and you know what they say: “Never be an innocent bystander – they’re always the ones who get hurt.”

First published in DARK LOVE, 1995.

Pictured is Glamis Castle in Scotland, the awesome legends of which are believed to have inspired Joseph Payne Brennan’s nerve-jangling masterpiece.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Cape Wrath, the movie, to erupt into life

I heard the news today that the movie adaptation of my 2001 novel, CAPE WRATH, is back on track and may at last be emerging from Development Hell and moving towards pre-production.

So far this has been a very active year for me, but to see CAPE WRATH reach principle photography would be a real bonus, as I wrote the script myself not long after the book was first published, and have revised it and work-shopped it many times since, sometimes when the odds really seemed to be stacked against us.

We have now recruited a new casting director, through whose services we're looking to attach a couple of decent-sized names to the project. This is how it goes in the world of indie film-making. It’s easier to attract the necessary chunks of finance when you have established professionals, not to mention a bit of star quality, connected to the property.

And as I found with THE DEVIL’S ROCK, once the last piece of the financial jigsaw is in place, things can move with breathtaking speed.

For those who don’t know, CAPE WRATH, which was a final nominee for the Bram Stoker Award in 2002, tells the tale of a university archaeology team who uncover an ancient Viking barrow on a remote Hebridean island, and reckon it will be the making of them all. Needless to say – and despite the advice on a nearby rune-stone – they cut the barrow open, and all kinds of hellish consequences follow.

The book is almost certainly out of print, though copies are very likely available through Ebay, Amazon Shops, etc. But in the meantime here's a link to the new Kindle edition:


Monday 7 March 2011

Old horrors return: new age, new format

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, some of my older short stories have now appeared on Kindle in an online reincarnation of one of the great mags of the UK’s small press ‘golden age’, KIMOTA (pictured in its heyday).

Along with early efforts by such luminaries of the speculative genre as Stephen Gallagher, Mark Morris, Steve Lockley, Willie Meikle, Peter Crowther, Nick Royle, Cate Gardner and Mark Chadbourn, three of my long-ago-published tales have now been resurrected in what can only be described as a magnum opus of the British small press in that era – in print-form, this anthology, which contains 60 stories, would be nearly 400 pages long!


In an effort to whet your whistles a little, here are some excerpts from my own contributions:

A black, tattered figure was standing framed against the trees, staring silently in at him. Its head was cocked unnaturally to one side...

July (Kimota #7, December 1997)

They all listened intently. From somewhere far below came the distinct thunder of running feet - huge feet galloping through the school...

Eugene (Kimota #6, June 1997)

A figure stepped into his path and Belper struck it with terrible violence. Tears burst from his eyes as the casualty cart-wheeled away, going head-first through a shop-window...

The Simulator (Kimota #12, April 2000)

In other news this morning, I was chuffed to bits to see a very smart article regarding THE DEVIL’S ROCK on the French website L’Ecran Fantastique, which is one of the most prestigious horror/fantasy/sci-fi domains on the internet. For those of you who don’t speak French, it’s worth checking out anyway, as the feature (which is two pages in) includes several new stills from the movie, some of which are rather gory.


Thursday 3 March 2011

The Power of Three - 16th Installment

A very good Friday morning to you all. Here, as usual, are three more selections from my list of 'best ever' horror stories to either lighten your first coffee break of the day, or to totally ruin it depending on your personal taste.

As always, this trio came out of the hat at random. There is no consciously chosen theme here. The only thing linking them is that each one had a profound impact on me the first time I read it, either scaring the heck out of me or filling me with an acute sense of follicle-tingling horror.

Check 'em out and see what memories they stir.

The Bodmin Terror by R. Chetwynd-Hayes

Stressed out artist, James, and his spoiled wife, Lydia, take a winter holiday in Cornwall, but get lost in the fog. James is already at his wits’ end, but then a mysterious old crone offers them refuge in her home. The trouble is that ‘home’ turns out to be a cave – and the old woman isn’t the only one living there.

Cornwall features regularly in supernatural literature, and not without good reason, being such a land of legend and superstition. But this tale is a cut above many in that it brings to vivid life one of the most popular traditions of old Cornwall, life, and in shockingly pulpy and visceral fashion. I’m a tad uncomfortable with horror stories whose central protagonists are stoic, long-suffering husbands and their endlessly bitchy wives, though that was a staple of the genre in a certain era, and there isn’t much we can do about it now. Suffice to say that, if you can put that mild misogyny aside, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this excellently written and ghoulishly scary story from one of the great masters of ‘fun horror’.

First published in CORNISH TALES OF TERROR (pictured), 1970.

Comrade Death by Gerald Kersh

Sarek, a scheming arms manufacturer, invites a brutish dictator to his subterranean plant, where he is devising incredibly powerful explosives and toxic gases of unimaginable potency. The dictator wants to buy them all, but just how controllable are materials this deadly?

You can imagine this tale’s impact on first publication, with horrific memories of the First World War still fresh and the build-up to the Second World War well under way. Kersh, who was Jewish, pulls no punches in this angry analysis of war, war-mongering, and those who ultimately benefit from it. Put into its full context, this is a dark parable rather than a work of simple fiction, but it contains several instances of genuine hair-raising horror – check out the nightmarish Doctor Krok, swollen to the size of a hippopotamus after exposure to one of his own experimental poisons – while the apocalyptic finale, as well as being blackly hilarious, is a true triumph of insanity.

First published in THE COURIER, 1938

Get It Out by Thomas F. Monteleone

A GP is subjected to an afternoon of terror, when an escaped mental patient abducts his daughter and then demands on-the-spot brain surgery to remove an implant that was installed to control his abnormal lusts.

A neat and very taut little thriller, which, despite its straightforward ‘good v evil’ plot, quickly and subversively starts to plant the seeds of questions in our mind: who is the more dangerous person here, the loathsome serial-rapist, whose brain has been butchered in controversial government programme, or the ‘family man’ doctor who also happens to be on the edge thanks to recent tragedies in his past? And who – and we don’t need to think about this one for very long – is capable of doing the most damage? As always, Tom Monteleone writes with great pace and economy, and handles the big issues concealed in this deceptively simple story very thoughtfully. Subtlety is to the fore, but make no mistake – the ending is full-on horror.

First published in DIAGNOSIS TERMINAL, 1996.

Victorian mysteries make it onto Kindle

My Victorian police hero, Major Jim Craddock, has now made it onto Kindle, courtesy of Ghostwriter Publications.


This new collection, CRADDOCK, will feature the first four cases of a Victorian cop who, thanks to his long military service in India, specialises in the eerie, the uncanny and the downright ghoulish.

Though very much in the police procedural vein, these mysterious tales are all steeped in mysticism, horror and the supernatural. Craddock saw many bizarre things during his days on the subcontinent, and, as a hard-nosed detective working amid the teeming slums of Dickensian England, he is still no stranger to the weird and demented. Britain might have been raped by the industrialists, her verdant landscape filthied by the smoke, soot and the outpourings of factories, mills and coal mines, but ghosts and demons still lurk in all her secret places:

Its brutish face was alabaster white and fixed in a frozen scream, the eyes starting from the sockets. Its hands were rigid claws …

The Magic Lantern Show

… even as the black bog closed over his head, his eyes remained fixed on the footpath. And on the indescribable thing that stood there, watching him.

The Weeping In The Witch Hours

… two milky bulbs for eyes observed the major with unblinking intensity. Drool ran from its unnaturally wide mouth, which was filled with broken, jagged teeth.

Shadows In The Rafters

... they caught fleeting glimpses of translucent, tentacle-like protuberances oozing up through the rubble …

The Coils Unseen

Just to whet your whistles a little further, here’s a commercial:


Wednesday 2 March 2011

Haigh Hall horror night - tickets available

Tickets are now on sale for the horror stories night I’ll be presenting in Haigh Hall, Wigan, on April 26th this year. They are £5 each and can be obtained from Haigh Hall reception, or by telephoning 01942 828508 or 01942 832895, option 1. I’m not quite sure how many we have available in total, but given the venue there will be LIMITED availability – so it might be an idea to buy quickly, if you’re interested.

Haigh Hall is a Victorian country mansion, which stands on the sight of a medieval manor house, in the heart of its own extensive and very overgrown grounds. It is now owned by the local authority, but has a reputation for being one of the most haunted buildings in the whole of northern England.

Violent and tragic events occurred in and around the Hall during the Middle Ages, the English Civil War and the two Jacobite rebellions, and the consequences of these can still be felt today. Among the many ghosts believed to roam the eerie edifice, not to mention its acres of tangled, trackless woodland are Lady Mabel, an unhappy former chatelaine of the manor, whose faceless spectre is believed to bring disaster if it is ever seen, a truly nightmarish figure in an executioner’s hood (believed to be connected to the decapitation of James Stanley, the Earl of Derby, in 1651), a whispering, giggling spirit who always dares you to look over your shoulder at it (you are advised never to do so), and a snuffling, horse-like entity, which has reportedly shrieked at intruders and chased them, banging the walls and floorboards with massive hooves.

All kinds of other phenomena have been reported at the Hall, several paranormal investigations have ended abruptly with investigators either injured or suffering nervous breakdowns, and rumours are now rife that a secret tunnel from the Hall runs several miles to the cellar of Wigan Parish Church, and links with a temple to Mithras, which was uncovered during the excavations of an old Roman camp called Coccium. Mithras wasn’t a particularly evil god by standards of that era, but he was associated with complex initiation rites, animal sacrifice and much summoning of spirits – many drawn from the rocks and the earth, rather than the bodies of those deceased. So, draw your own conclusions from that.

As well as a tour of the Hall, which will be conducted by one of the regular guides who work there (and which may include the much feared upper floor, where some of the most frightening ghostly activity has been reported), I’ll be presenting a few of the spookier anecdotes involving the estate, and reading a new purpose-written novella, THE UPPER TIER, which is based on some truly terrifying events that occurred relatively recently in the building’s past.

Newcomers to this blog can check out earlier entries for more detailed appetisers re. the haunting at Haigh Hall.

A quick warning: this event is NOT for children.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Devil's Rock will premiere at Cannes

I’ve learned today that The Devil’s Rock will be screening at the Cannes Film Festival market on May 13th and May 15th.

Obviously this is pretty exciting. The market screenings at Cannes are part of the business operation – very useful for attracting distributors, critics, buyers and so forth, but they’re also open to everyone at the festival, so they tend to receive an awful lot of of attention.

I'm not a stranger to seeing my material on screen. I wrote for ITV's The Bill for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but The Devil’s Rock is only the second of my horror movie scripts to go all the way to production, so I'm pretty over the moon about all the interest that this one is already attracting.

It takes us back to 1944 and tells the tale of an Allied commando raid in the Channel Islands on the eve of the Normandy invasion, which uncovers a Nazi plot to unleash demonic powers. I wrote the script over the winter of 2009/2010, and it was directed last summer by Paul Campion (pictured below on set, courtesy of Guernsey Press), who is already a veteran of such movie blockbusters as Lord Of The Rings and King Kong, but who also won much praise for his acclaimed shorts, Night Of The Hell Hamsters and the multi-award winning Eel Girl.

My understanding is that post-production on The Devil's Rock is now almost complete, and that we should have our first trailer sometime in the next two or three weeks.