Wednesday 20 November 2013

Horrors of war meet the horrors of winter

In the midst of all this recent chatter about novels, novellas, TV series and themed anthologies, here's a little bit of info from the slightly less glamorous (though equally dear to my heart) world of the short story. It's a bit belated, in actual fact - both these bits of info have being doing the rounds for the last couple of weeks, but I've now at last made space to mention them.

First of all, I should offer my congratulations to US editor, Danel Olson, for the incredible success enjoyed by his anthology EXOTIC GOTHIC 4, which won the World Fantasy Award for 2013 in the capacity of Best Anthology at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton two weeks last Saturday. Danel is a smashing bloke and a thorough and meticulous editor, and this award couldn't have found a more deserving winner.

I'm also pleased about this news, because a story of mine features in EXOTIC GOTHIC 4, from PS PUBLISHINGOeschart is a tale of mystical and supernatural terror set just to the rear of the Allied front-line during the Passchendaele advance in 1917. Of course, the book contains a host of other cracking stories as well. Check out some of these names - Adam Nevill, Robert Hood, Steve Rasnic Tem, Terry Dowling, Anna Taborska, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Reggie Oliver and Stephen Volk - and they are not by any means alone in there. Well worth taking a chance on, this antho, trust me. And in fact, the more of you who go for it, the more chance there is Danel will be persuaded to do EG6 and maybe EG7. Who knows? EXOTIC GOTHIC 5 is already out, in two volumes no less.

In other short story news, but still on the subject of wartime horror, I'm happy to brag that another short story of mine, Reign Of Hell, has been published in the e-anthology, WORLD WAR TWO CTHULHU from games company Cubicle 7 this last month, and edited by living legend Jonathan Oliver (the book is pictured above right). As you can imagine, these are Lovecraftian mythos tales, but each one with an authentic World War Two setting. My own tale is set in Peloponnese, when fascist forces were terrorising the Greek populace. But the entire panorama of WWII is covered. Among a variety of other stories, we get glowing efforts from such luminaries of the pen as James Lovegrove, Weston Ochse and Lavie Tidhar. Again, get in there. If you like short, terrifying tales, you won't be disappointed.


For those still toying with the idea of buying the e-version of my Victorian Christmas novella of 2011, SPARROWHAWK, it is available for only 99p for another four days. At midnight on Sunday 24th November, it reverts to its normal price of £2.07. If nothing else, it it ought to get you in the mood for the festive season, especially if you like your Yuletide ghost stories. But don’t take my word for that. Online reviewers have thus far called it “a paradox from history, beautifully crafted” and “a perfect Christmas read”.

Here are a couple more excerpts, today with less of a Christmassy feel and more of the ghoulish (after all, SPARROWHAWK is also a tale of love, hate, war and, hopefully, redemption):

LETICIA turned to face him. She smiled again, but it was a wintry smile. “This is my lot, John. My eternity. But it consoles me that I earned it in your service.”
     “My service? I … I don’t understand.”
     “You wanted me to die, and I wanted you to be happy. So this is the price I paid.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     Her smile faded. The green eyes lost their lustre and receded into their sockets; her teeth became prominent, skeletal. “You know why my parents never revealed my resting place to you, John? Because suicides can only be buried in unmarked graves.”

HE STRUGGLED violently and gibbered for mercy as he was wrestled onto the trapdoor. Up close, for Sparrowhawk and Miss Evangeline had managed to get a good position, Keggs was rather simple looking, with a low-slung brow, buckteeth and jug ears. He croaked in despair, his terrified eyes flirting left and right as the white hood was pulled down over his head. The executioner fixed the noose in place and, as the tolling bell ceased, stepped back and pulled the lever. The baying of the mob rose to a crescendo as the trapdoor swung down and the prisoner dropped.
     He tilted sideways as he descended, smashing his face against the edge of the trap, before spinning down to the end of the rope and jerking to a halt – he twisted and gurgled for several minutes, the front of his white hood turning slowly crimson, but eventually hung still.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Putting the spirit into the season of chills!

From 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, the e-version of my 2011 Christmas ghost novella, SPARROWHAWK, will be available at the one-week-only price of 99p. The truth is, it isn’t hugely expensive now at £2.07, but it only seems fair, with Christmas at last in the offing, that we try to make it even more affordable – if only for a relatively brief time.

For those not in the know, SPARROWHAWK tells the tale of damaged Afghan War veteran, John Sparrowhawk, who returns to London in 1843, to find his wife dead of a broken heart and his bank accounts empty. Struggling with shellshock and tortured by regret, lonely soul Sparrowhawk attempts to make good, but is soon incarcerated in the debtor’s prison, from where there appears to be no escape. His life is all but over, until December arrives, and he is visited in jail by the beautiful and enigmatic Miss Evangeline, who offers to pay his debt in return for an unusual favour – he must stand guard over a house in Bloomsbury for the duration of the Christmas period, and yet at no stage alert the family living there to his presence.

Sparrowhawk undertakes the odd but seemingly simple work, until it becomes apparent that a unseen foe is slowly encroaching on the address in question. As the coldest Christmas in living memory descends on London, Sparrowhawk finds himself pitted against a deadly and relentless enemy, who apparently has supernatural forces as his beck and call, and will not hesitate to use the most personal methods by which to torment and persecute his opponents.

That’s enough for now. No more spoilers, but expect angels and demons, ghosts and goblins, monsters and murderers – all wrapped up in festive Victorian packaging.

As I say, the SPARROWHAWK ebook (some 40,000 words in length, so hopefully you’ll feel you’re getting your money’s worth) will be available at 99p from tomorrow morning at 8am, for one week only.

Here are a couple of snippets:

SPARROWHAWK returned to his rooms, closing and locking the door behind him. He wondered briefly about the assailant in the bathhouse and how strange it was that he too had vanished without trace. And then he spotted the large bold message, which, in his brief absence downstairs, had been inscribed on the wall above his fireplace. He approached it slowly, eyes goggling – before going around the rest of his rooms like a whirlwind, searching every nook and cranny but finding nothing. He checked all his windows, but they too were locked. Outside, the streets were deserted. Scarcely a track – either of man, animal or cartwheel – was visible in the crisp new blanket of snow.
     On legs so shaky they could barely support him, Sparrowhawk moved back to the fireplace. The message had been made by a finger dipped in ordure or blood, or a foul mixture of both …

A MARBLE font, filled with ice, was clasped in the hands of a life-size marble angel. Both objects were scabrous with age, riddled with fissures. The angel, who, by her shapely form, was intended to be female, had suffered the most. 
     Her face was black and had crumbled to the point where it was unrecognisable – though, just fleetingly, Sparrowhawk fancied there was something familiar in it. He shook his head, baffled by the illusion. In the cathedral meanwhile, the choir had switched to another carol:

God rest you merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas-day …

(PS: If anyone hasn't guessed, the image of the two zombie snowmen at the top is in no way connected to SPARROWHAWK, though the book does have a demonic snowman sequence in it).

Saturday 9 November 2013

So who's gonna play Heck on the screen?

Here is something that may amuse a few people, particularly those who've become regular correspondents on the subject of my two crime novels, STALKERS and SACRIFICE, published earlier this year.

On and off since those novels hit the shelves, I’ve been approached by readers about whether there will be a TV or movie adaptation, and in that event, who I would like to see cast in the lead roles of Detective Sergeant Mark Heckenburg and Detective Superintendent Gemma Piper, former boyfriend and girlfriend, now turned fire and water as they work together in the Serial Crimes Unit, an elite Scotland Yard division charged with pursuing repeat violent offenders across all the police force areas of England and Wales.

Well, I must stress that to date there is no screen adaptation in the works. There have been whispers at a semi-official level, but as we speak there is no development money on the table and nobody as yet is talking about whether it would even be possible, never mind who we’d like to see in the roles of the two lead characters. So this is nothing more than a bit of FUN. It’s just me casting my eye over the various names suggested to me by readers, and my own thoughts on the matter.

For Heck …

Damien Molony is best known for his recent roles in BEING HUMAN and RIPPER STREET. He’d be a good choice in my view. It has been pointed out to me that Damien is only 29, whereas Heck is 37. Could we age him a little? Could we rough him up sufficiently? I think so. Damien isn’t the biggest guy, but I’ve never envisaged Heck as a brawny bruiser. To me he’s more an everyman figure, who gets knocked around at least as much as the bad guys do, but as Damien showed in BEING HUMAN, he can do ‘deadly’ when he wants to.

Tom Hardy is an actor I have a great fondness for, particularly as he was approached to play a character of mine in a low-budget horror movie called VOODOO DAWN, which was on the brink of preproduction a couple of years ago, only to fall by the wayside for various insurmountable reasons. On top of all that, age-wise, he’s bang-on. The trouble is that Tom’s a big name these days, having appeared in numerous Hollywood movies, and we couldn’t possibly afford him for a TV production. How would I feel if we could? I’d be over the moon. Some have said he’s a touch on the 'brawny bruiser' side, but with an actor like this, who’d complain?

Thomas Barrow is best known for his appearances in CORONATION STREET and DOWNTON ABBEY – neither could be further from the in-yer-face antics of Heck. But you know what – good call! The right age, the right look, the right place of origin (the northwest of England). After the Machiavellian but sedate goings-on in Downton, this would be a big change of pace for Tom Barrow, but I reckon he’d do it. Anyone fancy asking him?

For Gemma …

Melissa George is an Aussie screen siren of high-standing across the movie-making world. She’s the right age, and has exactly the right look. She can also act, and would easily be able to handle the English accent; she can do the action stuff too – as she has proved in umpteen movie and TV horrors and thrillers. Whether we can afford her would be another matter, but quite simply, I’d be over the moon if Melissa signed on the dotted line.

Kym Marsh is the former pop singer turned soap star. But she also hails from my home town of Wigan, which is already massively in her favour, plus she’d be exactly the right age, and boy, would she have the right no-nonsense attitude. Could she convince us all that she’s a senior police detective running one of Scotland Yard’s most elite but also most rumbustious special investigation units. I’d be happy to give her the chance (course, were it to actually happen, it wouldn’t ultimately be my choice).

Rhona Mitra can currently be seen in the explosive military action series, STRIKE BACK, in which she plays a real tough cookie and a highly organised spec-ops supervisor who can never be outwitted. Well, on that basis what is there not to like? That is Gemma all over, especially as Rhona is a native Londoner (like Gemma) and is exactly the same age (37). A big thumbs-up for me on this choice.

Various other suggestions have been made, but none of them really work for me. For Heck: Phil Glenister (too old, too associated with Life On Mars), and Ken Stott (way too old!). For Gemma, Gwyneth Paltrow (sorry guys, but Gemma Piper is working-class Cockney, not Los Angeles high society. “Yes of course, Gwyneth, we’d love for you to be in this new series. Would we mind if you played it as an American? Anything for you, dear.” Not on my watch … of course, I can afford to be so harsh with one of the best and sexiest actresses on the planet because I know there isn’t a cat in Hell’s chance of her ever wanting to appear in a role like this, mainly because it’s only ever likely to appear on British television. In the unlikely event she did, I’d snatch her bloody hand off).

(By the way, the amazing image at the top, the one in the subway, obviously and in no way represents any Heck movie or TV series. Unfortunately, I can't even offer a credit for it as I have no idea where it originates from. Needless to say, if its owner has an issue with it appearing here, he or she need only let me know and I'll take it down).


On a slightly different matter, another question folk keep asking me is which of my pieces of written work most gives me satisfaction. The answer is always the same: SPARROWHAWK, my ghostly Christmas novella of 2011.

I'm not going to give you the outline, because you can find that all over the internet, but suffice to say that it's a tale of love and war, angels and demons, ghosts and goblins, all of which, I hope, are flavoured by the Yuletide aura. It was born from my childlike love of Christmas, my lifelong interest in the Victorian era, and my fascination with the human condition in relation to the afterlife, religious and non-religious beliefs and our mysteriously universal notions about right and wrong. And hell, I'd be lying if I didn't also mention that it also stems from my utter adoration of the traditional Christmas ghost story.

Okay ... I can already hear a couple of you muttering that you've already read SPARROWHAWK and know what it's about, and that I've endlessly plugged it in this column. Well, sorry guys, but you're going to have to indulge me just a little bit longer, because I'm now about to take advantage of a new promotional deal with Amazon, and from 8am on the morning of Monday November 18, the  e-version of the book will be available at the one-week-only price of 99p (though it's not uber-expensive now at £2.07)..

Even if I say so myself, if anyone hasn't yet sampled SPARROWHAWK, I think you'll enjoy it, especially now, with the season of good cheer just around the corner. Here're a couple of teensey snippets to hopefully set the atmosphere:

CHRISTMAS WEEK was approaching, of course, and London was dressing itself properly for the occasion. The markets and bazaars, particularly around Soho Square and the Pantheon, were decked with evergreens and crepe paper, and laden with wares of even more questionable quality than usual – from the feathers of rare birds to artificial flowers, from second-hand books to alabaster ornaments, from hand-me-down trinkets to hand-me-down clothes. On the great shopping boulevards like Oxford Street and Bond Street, a higher standard of commodity was on offer; the perfumeries boasting an array of exotic oils and creams; the tobacconists replacing their commonplace clay pipes with cigar cases, meerschaums and snuff boxes; the milliners, the lace sellers, the glovers, the hosiers, the drapers all displaying their most sumptuous finery. 
William Hamley’s toy shop, the famous Noah’s Ark of High Holborn, was a particular wonder to behold, its candle-lit windows filled with ornate figurines formed from sugar and candy and wrapped with colourful foil, or made from wood and clockwork and painted in the Germanic fashion – all drawn from myth, magic and pantomime: soldiers, wizards, fairy queens, harlequins, ogres, witches. Numerous small children, buried in fur and velvet, their caps and bonnets pulled around their frost-nipped ears, their mittened hands clasped tightly by parent or governess, gazed pink-faced in wonder through the mullioned glass ...

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 …