Saturday 24 November 2012

For those keen on truly devilish horror ...

If you fit that description, you might be interested in this first teaser-trailer for DARK HOLLOW.

The link will take you through to BLOODY DISGUSTING, which, despite its ominous name, is one of the premium horror movie websites on the planet. So don't be a wuss - get in there now and check it out.

DARK HOLLOW is the movie adaptation of Brian Keene's 2008 best-seller of the same title, which I wrote for director of THE DEVIL’S ROCK, Paul Campion, about a year ago.

Brian's original novel - which can still be purchased HERE - is set in rural Pennsylvania, and tells the tale of a mysterious woodland entity summoned back to life by ancient magic. To add anything else would be a big spoiler, but suffice to say that it features an extremely nasty monster, plus lots of sex and lots of violence, and that it is laced with ancient mythical rites of a distinctly dark and devilish nature.

For those among you who like their horror served with a side-dish of arcane lore and eldritch mystery, this one will definitely be for you.

Between Paul and I, we've produced several drafts of the movie script, and have even shifted it from one continent to another, and back again, during the relatively brief period that has passed since the release of THE DEVIL’S ROCK, but with the recent attachment to the project of an international sales agent, things are moving along rapidly and a 2013 shoot is not by any means impossible.

The top two illustrations speak for themselves. But above left, we have the visuals maestro himself, Paul Campion, busy grading the trailer. And below that, a piece of Paul's original conceptual art for the project.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Memories of terror both real and imagined

Lots of people have seemed to want to interview me this last couple of weeks, which is rather nice (if a little baffling, knowing me as I do).

However, for those whose interest in my opinion extends beyond the inane ramblings you'll read in this column, please feel free to check in at ARMED WITH PENS, where parts FOUR and FIVE of the rather prolonged chit-chat I had with top man Dan Howarth, can be seen.

In addition, the latest instalment of my new blog on the HarperCollins crime website, KILLER READS, can now be read and assessed. In this latest episode I talk about my journalist days, and how they prepared me to write dark thrillers.

I also drop in a few anecdotes, which may be of interest - covering everything from copycat Ripper murders to comical exploding devices, but I suppose if you want the actual nitty-gritty you'll have to get over THERE.

You may be interested to see the above photograph, which is one of a pair that I dug up specially for my latest piece on KILLER READS. This was taken during my days as a reporter on the Wigan Observer newspaper, some time in the early/mid 1990s.

In actual fact, there's a rather grim story behind it. There'd been a series of prostitute murders in nearby Liverpool - which, as of this time (as far as I'm aware), remain unsolved - and two of the victims, having been abducted from Merseyside, were dumped on wasteland in Wigan borough. They'd both been stabbed and slashed to death in ritual attacks ghoulishly reminiscent of Whitechapel during the days of Jack the Ripper. In the above picture, I'm in the process of going through a file of 19th century newspapers, specifically from that long autumn of 1888, cross-checking the recent details with the accounts of the original murders as written by reporters at the time.

It's all seems a long time ago now, and of course it is. These days I make my living penning imaginary horrors. But occasionally things crop up, as this photograph did, to remind us that reality can be far, far worse.

Now ... on a less gloomy note, I have a very exciting announcement to make in regard to SPECTRAL PRESS, who, if you recall, published my short story KING DEATH last year, helping it to gain selection for the prestigious YEAR'S BEST DARK FANTASY AND HORROR, 2012, edited by Paula Guran, and who, in time for this year's festive season, are putting out the rather marvellous 13 GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS.

It also concerns SPARROWHAWK, my Christmas novella of 2010, which thus far is one of my best ever sellers. In short, this time next year, SPECTRAL PRESS will be publishing a new hardback edition of SPARROWHAWK, specially illustrated. Alas, it's far too early to give you any small details yet - such as prices, publication dates, etc, but rest assured I'll keep you all fully informed if you keep checking in.

For those who've never read SPARROWHAWK, it tells the story of Victorian soldier, Captain John Sparrowhawk, of the 16th Light Dragoons, sole survivor of a brutal massacre in Afghanistan and a man who then returns home to London to find his life in ruins - his wife dead, his property repossessed. Broken and embittered, Sparrowhawk gambles and drinks away the little money he has left and finds himself in the debtors' prison, which is literally the next stop to Hell. Salvation of a sort finally arrives in the shape of the enigmatic and beautiful Miss Evangeline, who bails Sparrowhawk out on the condition he will stand guard over a house in Bloomsbury throughout the month of December. Sparrowhawk undertakes the mission, but it isn't just the ice and snow he must contend with. An unknown entity, a supernatural foe of the most ruthless and unrelenting kind, is soon stalking him. Sparrowhawk has never been one to back down from a challenge, but it seems this adversary has some very nasty (and very personal) Christmas tricks up its sleeve.

Here's a snippet:

He continued to walk around the exterior until he encountered the narrow side-gate that he and his sister, Nan, had used as children. It was made of wood, but had rotted with age. Its lock hung off, so he pushed it open. On the other side lay what had once been the Parsonage’s west lawn, though all he found now was deep, snow-covered bracken. He waded through it to a stone path, which he followed around to the front door. This stood half-open, icy blackness skulking on the other side.

Anyone else might have held back at this point, but Sparrowhawk was too perplexed to think straight. He entered a long, wood-panelled reception hall, which, though cloaked in near darkness, he could have walked blindfolded. A door stood ajar on the left. Through it, lay his father’s old study. Glacial moonlight spilled into this, revealing shelves filled with dust and debris, a desk and floor strewn with torn books and dog-eared papers. Further along the hall, on the right, a door stood open on the old dining room. Sparrowhawk gazed through at a scene of equal desolation. It had once been decked for Christmas, but now evergreen trimmings hung desiccated from the overhead beams. Goblets and wine bottles lay shattered. Bowls of dates, figs and scented candles had once adorned the sideboards, but the candles had long ago dissolved and the fruit was nothing but mulch. On the central table, the festive feast was a malodorous shadow of its former self. Mice, cockroaches and other vermin scuttled amid the odious relics: a goose that was now carrion; steamed vegetables that were cobwebbed husks; an ornate Christmas cake thick with fungal fur. Strangely, there was no fetor, though the temperature might have accounted for that – the few intact panes in the window were rimed with frost both on the inside as well as the out.

Sparrowhawk strode on. Ahead of him, the door to the parlour was closed but, spotting a ruddy light around its edges, he opened it.

The room on the other side had been the cosiest in the house. It looked through French windows onto a garden that in summer was a profusion of flowers and greenery. Its walls had been papered in pastel shades. It had always boasted comfortable furniture. Over the large mantelpiece there had once been an oil painting depicting his parents in their younger, more carefree days. Now the room was a shell: drab walls, bare boards on the floor, furniture shrouded with mildewed sheets. The ruddy light was cast by a few meagre coals glowing in the hearth, though these were sufficient to illuminate the elf figure, which waited for Sparrowhawk in the far corner, its arms raised above its head as if it was about to cast some fairy tale hex.

He approached it, frightened but at the same time fascinated.

The elf made no move, and when he got close he saw why. It wasn’t a real man, but a marionette. It was life-size, but its face and hands were carved from jointed wood and had been crudely painted. Its body and limbs were suspended by strings, which rose towards the ceiling but were there lost in dimness. It was also – and this was perhaps the most disquieting thing of all – a close representation of his father.

It seemed that Doctor Joseph Sparrowhawk, the one-time academic, philosopher, publisher and pamphleteer – was now little more than a comic mannequin. Its head lay to one side; its eyes were glass baubles containing beads designed to roll crazily around. Its chin and nose were exaggerated – Punch-like, in the tradition of the season – but the lank white hair was the same, the white side-whiskers were the same, the prominent brow, the small, firm mouth.

Sparrowhawk prodded at it, wondering how he could have followed this effigy all the way from Doughty Street ...

Thursday 15 November 2012

Great grue and sexy demons - will we win?

Amazing though it seems to me, it's almost a year and a half since THE DEVIL’S ROCK was released in the UK. Given how intensive an experience it was writing it, and then being a party - albeit over long distance - to a very rapid but equally intense production turn-around, it's quite breathtaking how quickly it all now seems to have been and gone, if you know what I mean.

But one of the nice things about writing movies (and the same applies to books as well) is that once they're out there, they continue to attract interest for quite some time and, to an extent, will continue to do business on your behalf. Though progress on the sequel seems to have hit a few snags of late, the details of which I won't bore you with, the original is still proving a hit in certain quarters, and is still earning the plaudits.

To begin with, it's up for yet another clutch of awards. In THE SORTA UNOFFICIAL NEW ZEALAND FILM AWARDS, it's been nominated in the capacity of Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup Design and Best Costume Design, illustrations of which are dotted throughout this column.

Top: Craig Hall looking suitably heroic; next down, Matthew Sunderland looking suitably fiendish, next down, Gina Varela looking suitably demonic (and just for the more red-blooded among you, lower down still, an extra one of Gina looking more her delightful self - even if some of that red blood seems to have got all over shirt).

On top of all that, a few new reviews have come my way which have all commended us in the strongest possible terms. Here is just a handful:

"I was surprised that a movie who'’s entire cast is made up of four, maybe five people could be so good. The script is well done and the acting only serves to support it ..." 101 JOKES I TOLD MYSELF

"Devil’s Rock is about misdirection, simplistic style, and a lot of good writing. The movie is tense in a lot of spots that most horror can’t even begin to be ..."– THE HORROR SHOW

"Don't let the DVD cover art fool you, it's actually a taut, well-acted film that happens to involve a demon and buckets of gore ..." SSCREENPHILES

"It's a quiet little flick that delivers on almost every level. It especially delivers on the sexy Demon front..." THE HORROR CLUB

And now, on an entirely different matter, as I mentioned not too long ago, winter is fast approaching, that time of ice, snow, blazing Christmas fires and things that go bump in the long, dark nights. In celebration of this most enjoyable season, we have yet another anthology that I'm proud to have been included in THE 13 GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS, the first ever Christmas Annual from the inexhaustible SPECTRAL PRESS.

How does this cover art by VINCENT SHAW-MORTON grab you?

I don't think I've ever seen anything more atmospheric of the ghostly festive season. I've already posted the full TOC for this forthcoming box of delights, so check back through a few posts in case you missed it.

My own contribution is DECEMBER, which tells the tale of Brenda, an attractive widow, who is approaching her first Christmas without her husband, and absolutely dreading it. Her younger sister, Josie, rallies to the cause, determined to give Brenda a festive season she'll never forget, but there are other forces at work here. Brenda's past was not entirely sweetness and light, while Yuletide itself has always possessed some dark and vaguely sinister undertones ... and that's it for now. If you want to know more, I guess you'll just have to get your orders in.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Okay ... time for the next 'Next Big Thing'

I was quite honoured last week when the indefatigable TIM LEBBON tagged me as part of his ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog. For those not totally in the know, this is a kind of chain-letter thing in which a writer answers a bunch of pre-set questions, and then tags some other writers of his own choice, and they repeat the process the following week and so on.

Or something to that effect. Anyway, it's a fun process, which, if it works as it should, will take those interested - readers, fans, genre buffs, internet explorers etc - through a variety of authors' blogs, which all share a love of the weird and wonderful. Who knows, it may open up a whole new world of reading matter that you didn't even know was out there.

So here we go. First the questions, then my own taggees.

1) What is the title of your latest book?


2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s the first novel in a trilogy due out next year from Avon Books, describing the investigations of Detective Sergeant Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg, an obsessive blue-collar cop attached to Scotland Yard's elite Serial Crimes Unit. Where did the idea come from? My own experiences as a police officer in Manchester, and just about every exciting, suspenseful and hardbitten cop movie or TV series that I've ever seen.

I'm a big fan of the horror genre as well as the thriller genre, so there is be plenty of dark stuff in there too - nothing supernatural I hasten to add, but this is not just a police procedural. It features some big action sequences and some very nasty killers. Those who read it - at least, this is my intention and hope - will be thrilled, intrigued and scared in equal measure.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s an crime thriller, which goes heavy on action, suspense and urban grime.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

If I could pick absolutely anyone, the following:

Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg – Tom Hardy

Lauren Wraxford – Nathalie Emmanuel

Gemma Piper – Melissa George

Des Palliser – Malcolm McDowell

Mike Silver - Jason Isaacs

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

At least 38 victims; an unknown number of killers; one detective at the very end of his tether.

6) Who published your book?

Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About four to five months.

8) What other books are similar in tone to this story?

Hell Is A City by Maurice Proctor, and Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My late-father, Brian Finch, was, and remains, the inspiration behind everything I've ever written.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Violent action, dark mystery, even a dollop or two of romance (though that will be developed more in the later books). Plus, the eternal drama of working class heroes confronting darkness in the heart of the urban jungle.

And now … enough about me. Here are my recommended taggees:

ALISON LITTLEWOOD (mistress of the taut thriller, but always with a magical, mystical undertone), and SIMON BESTWICK (master of the brutal urban nightmare, but never without a cutting political edge).

Thursday 1 November 2012

Looking forward to the long, dark season?

Now that we’ve switched to Greenwich Mean Time, the dark nights are again setting in, and of course the leaves are falling and the temperatures plunging, we inevitably start thinking of the season ahead – and by that I mean Christmas, which is always a great fillip for fans of ghost and horror literature.

This may seem like a strange thing to be talking about around Halloween, but I’m guessing that Halloween will long have passed by the time most of you read this blog, and in any case I always think of Halloween as being the start of an all-round haunted season, which culminates in the depths of December and the grand finale that is Christmas.

It’s not a totally strange thing that Christmas has long been associated with ghosts and ghouls. It was traditionally a time for stories, particularly up here in the far north, where families and friends would gather together in the light and warmth of a roaring fire, and try to ignore the icy cold and impenetrable darkness encircling them by telling enjoyable stories.

The spiritual side of Christmas also has some responsibility. Before it was a Christian feast, late December hosted the great pagan festivals of Yule and Saturnalia. In all these traditions, both Christian and pagan, this was an important and mysterious occasion – the shortest day of the year and the coldest weather brought normal life to an eerie standstill, and was definitely deemed worthy of sacrament. But it was a joyous occasion too, a time of celebration and giving, but also a time for reflection, for pondering, for new resolution. In the tales of olden times, ghosts appeared far more frequently at Christmas than at Halloween, but nearly always on these occasions their purpose was to instruct rather than frighten. They were warnings from the past or heralds of possible future misfortune. Charles Dickens was ploughing a popular furrow when A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843.

Since Dickens’s day, of course, there have been countless wonderful chillers set during the festive season (many of which are unashamedly horror stories, rather than meaningful frolics) Just off the top of my head, I can recall several.

Who could forget The Travelling Salesman’s Christmas Special by C. Bruce Hunter, in which a lecherous sales manager participates in a very curious and progressively more disturbing Christmas Eve party? What about Christopher Harman’s terrifying The Last To Be Found, in which a Christmas game of hide and seek turns very nasty indeed? And then there’s that old Christmas chestnut, All Around The House (originally an EC Comics classic, but later novelised by Jack Orleck), and telling the story of a faithless wife, who, having murdered her husband on Christmas Eve, is terrorised by a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus.

(The image at the top of this column is captured from the 1972 movie, Tales From The Crypt, in which this time-honoured Christmas tale is beautifully realised with Joan Collins starring as the murderess about to be murdered).

But why, you may ask, am I telling you all this? Well, as usual, and unfortunately, my reasons are entirely mercenary. I’m rather delighted to announce that a Christmas ghost story of mine, simply entitled December, will now be appearing in the SPECTRAL CHRISTMAS ANNUAL: THE THIRTEEN GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS, from SPECTRAL PRESS, which will be published in December.

I’m not the only one of course. Check out this finalised table of contents:

Where The Stones LieRichard Farren Barber; A Taste Of AlmondsRaven Dane; All That Is LivingNicholas Martin; And May All Your ChristmasesThana Niveau; Carnacki: A Cold Christmas In ChelseaWilliam Meikle; Concerning Events In Leinster GardensJan Edwards; DecemberPaul Finch; An Odd Number At TableJohn Costello; We Are A ShadowNeil Williams; Lost SoldiersAdrian Tchaikovsky; RitualismGary McMahon; Now And ThenMartin Roberts; The Green Clearing - John Forth.

But more importantly perhaps, how does that title grab you?


Go on, admit it – doesn’t it evoke images of yesteryear: snow outside, fairy lights glimmering on the holly, that thrill of once-a-year-excitement as you and your brothers and sisters, knee-deep in tinsel and Christmas paper, rip away yet more wrappers, uncovering one book after another – some of them filled with Jamesian tales perhaps, others containing lighter-hearted stuff, comic strips like The Duke’s Spook, Scream Inn and Frankie Stein, but all of which you just know you’re going to treasure until … well, until the end of your childhood at least?

For those of you who enjoy spook stories, and festive spook stories in particular, or for those of you who simply seek to recapture the essence of Christmases long past, I suggest you snap this one up.

SPECTRAL PRESS are relatively new on the scene – at least they seem that way when you’re as long in the tooth as I am – but they’ve already established themselves as one of the most stylish and innovative small presses in the horror/fantasy market. Their books have won wide acclaim both from fans and critics alike, not just for the quality of the writing, but for the care and attention with which they’ve been illustrated, typeset, printed and bound. Wake up on Christmas morning and find your stocking crammed with SPECTRAL PRESS products, and you’ll truly experience the spirit of the season.

(You’ll especially experience it if the THE THIRTEEN GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS is in there too – yes, I’m sorry, another shameless plug. But what the heck, I wouldn’t tell you I think it’s going to be great if I didn't genuinely believe it).

And now, before I sign off, a word of congratulation to the monstrously talented PAUL CAMPION, my good friend and the director of THE DEVIL’S ROCK, the horror movie I scripted, which was released to the cinemas in summer 2010. Paul has now scooped the prestigious Shocker Award at the Knoxville Horror Film Festival for his amazing and ultra-disturbing short movie of 2008, EEL GIRL (illustrated here).

For any fans of the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres who haven’t yet seen this one – shame on yer! Get it watched!