Thursday 14 January 2016

Here's Lucy: a new cop on the mean streets

I've had to field quite a lot of questions recently about when the next Heck novel will be coming out, will there be any more in the series, and is it conceivable that HUNTED, the most recent Heck adventure to date, will be the final outing for the lone-wolf detective with the know-it-all attitude and the dogged determination to pursue his prey to the very ends of the Earth?

Well, the short answer is ... no, it is nowhere near the end of the line for Heck. But it will be another year at least before there are any further Heck novels. And the explanation for that is relatively simple and hopefully non-too alarming.

I was writing Heck at a rate of two novels a year, and while it was fun it wasn't leaving me much time for anything else. On top of that, for quite a while I'd been wanting to pen something different.

One of the problems with writing the same characters all the time is that, despite your best efforts, you sometimes feel there's a danger it can get stale, a little samey. I don't think for one minute that this has happened with Heck, but I didn't want there to be even a danger that it might. So I had a conflab with the powers-that-be in Harper UK's incredible new home on the South Bank of the Thames, and we decided to give the Heck series a brief rest.

And when I say that, I mean it - a BRIEF rest, that's all. If it'll help soothe any nerves, the next Heck novel, THE BURNING MAN, is written and awaiting a few edits, and it can already be preordered. In the meantime, I decided I was going to have a crack at something else for Avon Books. Another thriller, obviously - as I rarely stray beyond the boundaries of dark fiction - but centred around a different set of characters and circumstances.

Most of my readers will know that the Heck novels are based at Scotland Yard, where the National Crime Group's most specialised division, the Serial Crimes Unit (of which Heck is a detective sergeant), embroils itself in a relentless hunt for Britain's serial killers. It is high-level crime-fighting by a bunch of people who have all the modern police's most sophisticated techniques and facilities immediately to hand.

But in the new novel, I fancied toning things down a little - going back to Division in fact, where more down-to-Earth kinds of coppers also walk a tightrope in the world of crime, but with less hi-tech backup and at the same time having also to deal with the grimy fall-out of it: the drunkenness and drug-addiction; the ruined lives; the desolate, vomit-covered streets; the brutalised, terrorised citizens.

I also wanted to revisit a character who first appeared, believe it or not, in a television drama I wrote back in 1993 called NO FURY (aka DIRTY WORK). Though that script was optioned several times, and a fairly well-known British TV actress expressed strong interest in it, it was never actually filmed and in due course all the rights reverted to me. The character in question was a certain LUCY CLAYBURN, a young but feisty uniformed constable in the Greater Manchester Police, who is very self-conscious that her family come from the wrong side of the tracks but determined all the same to make a big splash in this most difficult and macho of professions.

At the time of NO FURY, Lucy is already an effective copper with a good working-knowledge of her beat and the various villains and vulnerables who live on it, but what she really wants to do is join CID and start chasing the higher league criminals, the detritus of whose activities make life for everyone else so difficult. Don't be worried about encountering any spoilers here, by the way. NO FURY is long dead; monstrously dated, with big chunks of its original story subsequently cannibalised for other projects. The only survivor from it now is Lucy herself, and in the new novel in which she stars, she goes on to follow a very different path from the one I originally envisaged.

The novel is to be called STRANGERS, and I've just completed - as in this very morning - the first draft of it. All being well, I can announce that it will be published in summer this year. Again, there'll be no spoilers here, but I don't think anyone will mind if I give this much away ...

At the start of STRANGERS, Lucy is ten years in the job. She's an excellent uniformed copper, having spent all her service working the mean streets of Crowley, a run-down, largely unemployed Manchester borough sandwiched between Salford and Bolton. But she is still young and still has ambitions to join CID, the opportunity for which finally comes when a series of extremely horrific murders commences in the district, and the call goes out for young policewomen who don't mind getting their hands dirty to accept various, risky undercover assignments.

Naturally, Lucy volunteers - only to find herself near enough marooned in a dangerous and sordid world of prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts, general purpose sleazeballs, and of course, gangsters.

From this point on, those who enjoy the Heck novels will probably know what to expect.

I'm an ex-copper and newspaper reporter, so I try not to pull punches when dealing with this kind of subject-matter. STRANGERS comes to us from a very dark and dingy place, where the gutters run with filth, there is always blood in the bus station toilets and syringes litter the back alleyways. I make no apologies for any of that, nor for presenting violent crime the way it is: brutish weaponry, savage beatings, horrible injuries, and a plethora of gleefully twisted, depraved and downright certifiable villains, the sort who get no pleasure in life unless they are hurting others.

Another inheritance from Heck is the action. Sorry if there are folk out there who prefer the armchair approach to criminal investigation, but that isn't me - nor is it Heck, nor Lucy Clayburn.

Lucy isn't Wonderwoman, but she's kicked more than a few doors down in her time and chased plenty of bad guys hell-for-leather across the city in her police car. That was how I always conceived her, and that's exactly how it is in this new book. Of course, it's going to be a slightly differerent experience from Heck in that Lucy is a woman, and if she wants to come out on top when there are hoodlums to be collared, she's going to have to use at least as much guile as brawn.

Anyway, I've said enough.

Hopefully I've now put everyone in the picture about where we stand with Heck. Watch out for THE BURNING MAN in 2017, but also for STRANGERS featuring Lucy Clayburn, the action/cop heroine who'll be introducing herself to you this year, and who, if everything goes well - and this is really up to you guys, I suppose - could well be embarking on what may be a whole new series of high-octane investigations.

(The top image and the bottom two come to us courtesy of Pixabay. The armed cop is by John Crosby). 

Friday 1 January 2016

Blood, foam, fury - terror on the high seas

It gives me great pleasure to see in the New Year by officially announcing volume nine in the TERROR TALES  series I edit for GRAY FRIAR PRESS: TERROR TALES OF THE OCEAN.

Yep, it's done and dusted at last, and you can order it right now from either the publisher's site, or from AMAZON.

The original idea behind this anthology series was to do a round-tour of the British Isles, publishing brand new scary fiction from a range of top-drawer writers, each book interspersing these works of fiction with true tales of terror relating to each region under examination.

However, nine volumes in, we've got around the UK at a rate of knots, and though there are several British locations still to visit, it was probably inevitable that gradually we were going to start looking farther afield, and to a certain extent this new volume is the first one of that ilk. In a nutshell, this time around I gave my writers free rein - they could look at any sea or ocean on Earth, not just those washing along the shores of the UK, and I told them to go over them, under them and all along their edges.

As you can imagine, there was considerable potential here for some truly chilling horror stories, and as you're about to find out - if you buy! - none of the lads and lassest disappointed. But ... as always, it's now time for me to shut my mouth and let the book do the talking. Here's the official front cover artwork (courtesy of the near-superhuman Neil Williams) and the back-cover blurb. Below that sits the full table of contents, and under that a few choice excerpts to hopefully whet your whistles for the greater terrors to come:

The rolling blue ocean. Timeless, vast, ancient, mysterious. Where eerie voices call through the lightless deeps, monstrous shapes skim beneath the waves, and legends tell of sunken cities, fiendish fogs, ships steered only by dead men, and forgotten isles where abominations lurk … 

The multi-limbed horror in the Ross Sea
The hideous curse of Palmyra Atoll
The murderous duo of the Messina Strait
The doomed crew of the Flying Dutchman
The devil fish of the South Pacific
The alien creatures in the English Channel
The giant predator of the Mariana Trench

 And many more chilling tales by Peter James, Adam Nevill, Stephen Laws, Lynda E. Rucker, Conrad Williams, Robert Shearman and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.


Stuka Juice by Terry Grimwood
Ship of the Dead
The End of the Pier by Stephen Laws
The Swirling Sea
Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed by Steve Duffy
The Seventh Wave by Lynda E. Rucker
The Palmyra Curse
Hippocampus by Adam Nevill
The Offing by Conrad Williams
Blood and Oil
Sun Over the Yard Arm by Peter James
Echoes of an Eldritch Past
First Miranda by Simon Strantzas
The Derelict of Death by Simon Clark and John B. Ford
Horrific Beasts
The Decks Below by Jan Edwards
The Flying Dutchman
Hell in the Cathedral by Paul Finch
From the Hadean Deep
Hushed Will Be All Murmurs by Adam Golaski
And This Is Where We Falter by Robert Shearman

It is William Bates who is at the stern and spies something strange in the seas behind us. What is that? he says. I say I do not know, it looks like a black spot upon the surface of the water. I am sure that we will lose sight of it soon, fast as we are now speeding, but an hour later we think to look back, and there it still is - it is larger, if anything, it is ganing on us. It is in pursuit. How it bobs about on the waves.
     Before sunset it is close enough that we can identify it, and it is a coffin ...
And This Is Where We Falter
Robert Shearman

Cold water arced across her face like a slap, returning her to her senses; and to a roughly humanoid shape framed in the doorway.
     Its arms seemed too long, with webbed hands clutching the hatch edge. Its legs were bowed and short. A ridge of bone rose across its skull, which was narrow, with eyes set more to the sides than was human. The mouth was wide, with a pronounced peak to a thin upper lip, giving a beak-like appearance ... 
The Decks Below
Jan Edwards

Feeling lighter now as the buoyancy supported the weight of the suit, I made a half-turn on my platform so I could see the keel of the ship and maybe discern what held her in place. I waited for a gush of bubbles to pass so I could get the whole picutre. But what I then saw sent sheets of ice through me. I pushed my face forward against the glass plate, my eyes bulging, my heart thudding.
     Gripping the bottom of the ship like a massive sucker was an amorphous piece of flesh, Pulpy and white, it was; almost the shape of a wine glass, its wide mouth clamped onto the keel as if the creature sucked at the timbers. Beneath that, it became fluted, growing narrower and narrower until a stem little thicker than my own waist ran down into the deeps ...
The Derelict of Death
Simon Clark and John B. Ford


And now a quick and personal, though not completely unrelated thing, if you don't mind. Just a reminder that Avon Books at HarperCollins, who publish my Heck crime novels, have started raiding my own back catalogue of horror stories and putting them out (for the first time ever) as ebooks - as both a single collection, DARK WINTER TALES, or individually, as per this, one of my favourite supernatural thriller stories, TOK, (though there are plenty of other titles to choose from too).

If you're interested, just scroll down to the previous post on this blog, and you'll find all the details.