Halloween is the best time of year for fans of Horror, and to celebrate, I present to you my first horror/thriller novella, Haunted Ltd, available on Kindle, Epub devices, or PDF, and of course, free. Download links are below.
Conrad is an estate agent who specialises in Murder Houses. But as he tries desperately to piece his life back together and sell the property on which it relies, he discovers there is something different about this house. Something that will haunt him forever.
I’m perhaps a little late to the party with this one, and I heard a lot of good things about Stranger Things, but after finishing up a few shows I was watching, I finally got around to the 80s horror/ sci-fi homage that had been filling my Facebook feed for weeks. And I can report that I have very few bad things to say about it.
Firstly, I might add that I didn’t live through the 80s so a lot of the references might have gone straight over my head, but within minutes of watching, I was already consumed in this world that simulated a lot of old Stephen King movies and sci-fi flicks.From its opening credits, to the soundtrack, it perfectly invoked a world to which it paid homage.
But for all its intentional tropes and cliches, Stranger Things presents a great cast of characters and a pretty investable story, the likes of which you might find in a feature-length movie, so I’m grateful that we got a little longer to explore the story in its TV format. The bravado of the boys definitely reminded me of Stephen King’s IT and ET also, my favourite of which was Dustin, who offered much of the comic relief.
And speaking of comedy, Stranger Things had, I think, a perfect mix of genuinely tense horror scenes, laugh out loud comedy, drama, and mystery. It effectively takes all of the best elements of all of the genres and their respective tropes from 80s movies, and combines them into one, which could have gone terribly wrong, but thankfully hit the nail on the head.
And as a side note on references, there was one scene where the boys hide from a helicopter ahead, which bore a lot of similarity to a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring where the party hide from Saruman's birds. I wonder if that was intentional, because it doesn't quite fit the theme, but at the same time, why not reference a great movie? Or quite possibly I was just imagining the correlation.
There were times when the characters reacted very humanly to events, and others where they seemed relatively unaffected by life-threatening events, the latter of which is quite conventional for its genres, and as a result you can kind of see where the show fades between its various genres. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind, it adds a little more character to the show. Similarly with the special effects: some of the visuals were really good for a television production, and others were almost laughable, the way children would laugh at the special effects of The Thing, let’s say, which again is very in line with its conventions but maybe next season they’ll step up the sfx with a higher budget.
I would certainly welcome future seasons, but I wonder whether the writers will keep the same cast, or mix it up like American Horror Story or something. I think either approach would work well, because there’s definitely potential for deeper characterisation, yet at the same time I feel as though the season rounded off quite nicely. I suppose that remains to be seen. I know the writers have said their ideas for a second season are ‘darker and weirder’ which, as a massive horror fan, I’d welcome.
Overall, I really enjoyed Stranger Things, an unexpected treat when it turned up on Netflix. Now if A Series of Unfortunate Events would be released, that’d be great.
It’s been a while since I posted last, and I’ve wanted to start uploading more frequently again, so I’m going to try and write a post each month giving my thoughts on what I've been reading.
Firstly, I suppose, is my own novel, which I’ve been re-reading closely whilst making extensive notes in preparation for a second draft, which I’m on schedule to start in a few days. There is much to be improved upon, from character consistencies to whole plot threads that need changing, but I’m feeling hopeful that I can fix everything I’ve found.
Without further ado, then, the first novel I read this month (or at least I think so. It could have been late last month, but who cares?) was The Loney by Andrew Michael Huxley. I’d wanted to read this for a long time, as it was consistently at the top of horror charts, although I wouldn’t describe it as such. It certainly has elements of horror, but it also has just as many feet in other genres, though I accept it’s one of those novels that’s hard to pin down to a single genre. The first thing I’ll say about The Loney is how beautifully it’s written. I found myself closing the novel on several occasions, just to revel in a particularly evocative metaphor. Huxley’s descriptive style is, in my opinion, perfect. He has a knack for painting a whole picture in a few cherry-picked words. I personally can’t stand lengthy description that goes straight out the back of my head, but Huxley gets it just right on many occasions. I loved the characters for the most part, especially of the boys and their relationship, and it was most likely this that kept me invested in the novel - and I was - because it probably wasn’t the plot. The story wasn’t bad, and I found the ending paid off, but it was rather drawn out and dilute. Overall a great read, especially for a debut novel, but it’s clear that Huxley’s strengths lie in the writing more than the story.
Most of my month’s reading was taken up by the mammoth of a book that is The Passage. I’d already read a lot of the novel before, but with the release of the final book in the trilogy, I couldn’t put off reading the first two any longer. It’s easy to see why The Passage is so successful. It’s epic, thrilling, and engaging on a personal level. I loved the world Cronin created in the second part of the novel, if it did take a while to get going what with the lengthy descriptions of everyone in town and what colour horse they have and what the horse is called, which frankly should have been cut, but whatever, I know a lot of people like that kind of expedition, though I’d rather get to the action first. At times you do have to be patient with Cronin’s prose but the overall impression is epic, and I can’t wait to get on to The Twelve and continue Amy’s story in his beautifully intricate post-apocalyptic world.
The last book I read was Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. (See, I don’t just read Horror and Thrillers.) It’s been a few days since I finished it, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. It centres around one man’s exploration of his self and his place in society, ranging from deep philosophical thought to Stephen-King-esque surrealism at the end, in which I suppose he travels inside himself. It’s certainly an interesting read, the likes of which I would like to read much more, because at the end of the day the novel isn’t so much about Harry as it is the reader and their own thoughts and experiences. By which I mean it certainly makes one reflect inwardly. Hesse’s rather unbiased when it comes to the implications of the story’s events. In fact, the ending is decidedly ambiguous, but Hesse’s stance on society and existentialism is quite open to interpretation. As I said, I don’t suppose it matters. The real takeaway is in the readers’ thoughts of their own lives. As I write this now, it reminded me vaguely of Inarritu’s Birdman, which I really need to re-watch.
I also started reading Stephen King’s newest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, of which I’ve read a handful of short stories, mostly pretty good, but a couple meh. Anyway, more thoughts on that next month (probably).
After over a year of writing, two computers, God knows how many cups of tea, the first draft of my novel is finished, and as I prepare to edit the fucker, here is a little taster, the first four chapters:
Stephen King’s sequel to his thrilling hard-boiled detective novel Mr Mercedes hit stores in June, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s taken me far too long to read it. But I finally have, and I loved it. I strongly recommend you go and start the series, or read any of King’s greats rather than reading my meagre words, but here are my musings anyway.
I loved Mr Mercedes. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t even amongst King’s best but with over 50 novels to his name, that’s not half bad. It was thrilling and kept me turning the pages with genuine intrigue. It’s the kind of book that reminds me how much I love reading after the relatively laborious efforts of lesser writers.
The biggest negative comment I’ve heard, and this seems to be an issue a lot of fans shared, was the pacing of the first half or so of the novel, and the fact that Bill Hodges, our protagonist of the first novel and probably this too, doesn’t appear until about forty percent of the way through. At the time this wasn’t a problem for me; I was thoroughly invested in the characters of Pete Saubers and Morris, and although there was little action, I found myself as eager to keep reading as I was in the build-up to the climax. In retrospect, it might have been an idea to feature Bill earlier in the novel, although I understand that his part in the larger story didn’t come into play until later.
The characters were great, the story was thrilling and engaging, and the writing kept me reading without any slow down in pace. The writing is largely commercial, I would say, in that it’s very easy to read and serves the story great, and is even seasoned with some great description but for the most part leaves something to be desired in more literary writing. What I mean is, there is little that makes you think, little substance to the novel, other than a fun read, but that’s what King writes. I’m cool with that.
My main issue with Finders Keepers was the latticework of characters building up to the finale. Of course all of the storylines have to converge and all the characters come together but a lot of the logic that leads characters to cross paths seems to be very coincidental and on the part of the writer, almost lazy. It’s like they speculate upon the very specific circumstances of the story and hold them as gospel as they happen to lead them right to where they need to be. I think some carefully considered causality would give a greater sense of realism than just pure coincidence and speculation - chance, basically, but hey artistic licence and all; it’s an exciting, fun story in the end so it’s not a huge issue.
I love how well King can portray an antagonist. He did it with Brady in Mr Mercedes, and he does it again with Finders Keepers, and it’s a pretty crucial skill in this genre of literature that he describes as hard-boiled detective fiction. I don’t read much crime, but it certainly has a different dynamic to your typical whodunits where the build up is to the revelation of who committed the crime and how. I find this genre heavily saturated and so riddled with cliches that it takes a really good writer to make any kind of impact. This genre, on the other hand, is a tense cat-and-mouse chase to prevent a crime. And for the cat part, we need a convincing and relatable antagonist, which King nails.
Let’s finish by talking about the ending. The last chapter. The final jump scare in a horror movie, after its peaceful resolution. Mild Spoilers ahead so tread carefully. Although I more or less saw it coming, the final chapter was still incredible creepy and satisfying. I have a slight issue with King undermining the foundations of the realist world he’d setup not through just this novel, but Mr Mercedes too, and introducing supernatural elements, although probably it’s the unexpectedness that gave it such impact. I’ve never truly been scared by horror I’ve read, not like I have in movies or games, but the creepy atmosphere and development created in this final chapter is among those closest to it. Of course, I’m now drumming my fingers, calculating how long it is until End of Watch, the third novel, comes out, and ahhhh it’s far too long. At least, it took me 6 months to read this one so it’s only another 6 to wait, but goddamnit King, why you do this?
Finders Keepers was fucking awesome. Master of Horror? Shit, King can nail thrillers too; hell, better than most thriller writers out there. I’d say even better than Mr Mercedes, although it’s been a while since I read it. Either way, you won’t be disappointed, whether you’re usually a Stephen King fan or not.
I don’t hide the fact that I’m a huge Gillian Flynn fan, and as you can imagine I was pretty fucking excited when I saw a new story from her on amazon. It’s not technically new; it was released in a collection helmed by George R R Martin but I hadn’t read that so it was new to me.
Flynn is never one to shy away from explicitness and when I read the opening line ‘I didn’t stop giving handjobs because I wasn’t good at it,’ I was like okay, this is going to be interesting, and very much a Gillian Flynn story. Ultimately it was, but it didn’t quite reach my high expectations, although having said that neither did her second novel Dark Places. I was completely gripped by Sharp Objects and Gone Girl but something about Dark Places pace and overall payoff didn’t quite hit the spot for me, and neither did her new(ish) short story The Grownup although for the complete opposite reason; whereas Dark Places felt a little drawn out and slow, The Grownup felt quite rushed, particularly the climax, and although the ending was deliciously psychological I think the ending’s two twists were far too close together and although I suppose this adds to the confusion and ambiguity, the delivery comes across a little too unnatural for me. The substance of the story was great though, and I was gripped by the characterisation of the protagonist from the get-go and Flynn kept me hooked throughout. I loved how the story dabbles in the supernatural but from the psychological angle fans have come to expect from Flynn, and it doesn’t feel out of place either; it only adds to the mystery and tension.
Overall I think The Grownup is a must-read for fans of Flynn’s other novels, and a great gateway story for those sorry folks who have yet to read her novels. I really want to see another novel-length psychological thriller from her but this certainly helps to pass the time until then. It’s not perfect and I think the ending could be stronger, although its twist was certainly better than Dark Places’. Gillian Flynn certainly knows her genre, and she nails the female protagonist therein. I’d give it maybe three and a half stars out of five, as it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, though in its own right is still a fucking good read.
Every day I screamed inside,
For you to bring me home.
But your wings were black.
How could you just turn your back?
Drowning, sinking into the depths.
Falling, falling, too dark to see.
I reach blindly, desperately.
Where was your hand to rescue me?
I ran home with blistered feet,
The lights were out, no one home.
The walls echoed as I screamed your name.
Please help me, I’ve lost my way.
So maybe there’s a part of you inside,
But I’ll always hold my head in pride.
Because everything I am is because of me.
I swam out of the dark to safety.
I'd like to preface this with the assurance that it was constructed within the confines of creativity. It is, for all intents and purposes, a work of fiction...
I feel my life has run its course. I’ve been thinking this for a while now, and the more I think about it, the more I’m sure it’s true. It’s not a sporadic suicidal tendency, or a particularly low period of hopelessness or desperation. It’s a logical, calculated, and sane notion. If you were to take me for a psych assessment, the doctor would assuredly declare me of sane mind. I suppose I have some rather unorthodox views on life is all. There’s a quote ‘everything that has a beginning has an end’, and all lives must end. Like a great tv drama, it either goes out with a bang or it stumbles along, degrading in quality until it barely resembles that which you loved in the first place. Most people think that life itself is sacred, and worth living regardless of its nature. If you think that the case, let me ask you why so many choose to cut the cord than let their life run its natural course, and I invite you to preach the sacredness of life to a man who has lost everything and for whom every waking moment is a living hell. I find it the most fundamental right, if the only one we have, to have the power to end our own existence. I don’t want to wither into a state of complete dependency, where memories and thoughts, my only friends, cannot be drawn into coherence. I’m not ungrateful for my life, far from it. I feel so blessed with my experience of existence, but like your favourite tv show, everything has to end, and its demise takes nothing away from the joy and pleasure that its life brought. To quote Kurt Cobain, it is ‘better to burn out than fade away’.
There’s a dark place in each of us - a place we bury deep within. A locked door at the end of a hallway; a box hidden under a loose floorboard. The best of us keep it well out of sight, but it’s there all the same, a place that calls to us in our darkest hours. If you linger too long outside the door, you’re drawn to its power. You press your ear to the door and hear the screams of pain and delight echo through the room. It’s now that you realise just how thin the door is between you and the darkness. It’s calling to you. You tear away from the door and run as fast as you can. But you’re never free of the things inside the room, inside the box. The key hangs around your neck and the dark place is inside you. You can only run from yourself, you can never be free. All your life you fight to keep the darkness at bay but the monsters inside are screaming for release and sometimes they win.
As a brief afterword, let me ask you how many horror movies are there about a locked room that one must never enter? I draw attention particularly to The Shining as it's one of my favourite movies (and book) but it's a common trope of the horror genre, and it dates back as far as we've been telling stories it seems, to Pandora's box in greek mythology. They are all examples of embodying the darkness of human nature. In the case of The Shining, the room represents King's alcoholism and all the demons that came with it. Take The Lord of the Rings, the ring can be interpreted as a metaphor for greed and power. I think the reality is that there's a darkness in everyone, some of us are just better at keeping it at bay.
Wow it's been a while. Like way too long. A lot has been happening and i'll catch you up soon but for now here's a short piece of prose. It was very spontaneous and not quite what i usually write so check it out and let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy,
The realisation that life is slipping through your fingers is a queer feeling. At first it’s like a thick gloopy papier mache glue slowly oozing between your fingertips and though it seems to be falling slowly from your hands in lumps, it’s just as sure as the light rain that comes next - glancing off your empty hands and often slipping through your open fingers as though they barely impede the inevitable rain. By the time you realise you’ve lost everything, you’re kneeling on the ground, your trousers torn open at the knees, staring down at your numb fingers, barely aware of the storm raging above you, or the rain pouring down on and around you.
You’re so lost that you are truly indifferent to living or dying. Your broken heart pulses in a lacklustre process, providing just enough pressure to pump cold blood around your plastic veins. Your sodden clothes cling to your skin, it would have been uncomfortable at any other time but you’re just beyond caring, and though your clothes cling so tightly to your skin, you feel naked, flayed in the street like a falsely accused rapist, with angry eyes tearing you open with every glance. Where your skin was only a shining reddy orange remains. All your defences have fallen like a curtain, crumpling on the floor and leaving you exposed, indifferently so.
The life that you once knew belongs to another man. His wife, his house, his family, his… happiness. You aren’t living. Your heart is beating (just) but this isn’t living. Everything is distant. You can just make out the ghost of your life, like a faint light at the end of a blindingly dark tunnel. You reach out your trembling hand. As your fingers line up with that dim light, you close them into a fist and for a second everything you’ve ever wanted is in your clenched fist, locked away from you by your own caged fingers. But when you open your hand, there’s nothing there, like a wisp of black smoke drifting to the sky, and to try and grab hold of it again would be just as pointless. The light at the end of the tunnel fades and it hits you with a slight coldness, like a candle blown out by the wind, that your life is long gone.
You’re dancing with her. A handsome, brightly lit hall, with chandeliers hanging from its high ceiling. Her arms around your neck. You can almost feel her fingernails brush the hairs on the back of your neck. Yours on her hips, firm but relaxed. You feel the warmth of her body, the soft fabric of her dress that almost floats upon her figure. Your feet lift effortlessly as you sway gently like a feather in the sky on a light spring wind. The floor you dance on barely feels there; you’re dancing on a cloud and you’d tear the stars from the sky for just another second pressed against her warmth. But she’s gone, her skin blisters and cracks, her body melting to the ground and rising in that same black smoke, till you’re left with only a yellowed wedding dress hanging limply in your numb fingers.The hall is cold and deserted. Spider webs arch around the high ceiling and dust covers everything in the room; broken, upturned furniture, shattered glass on the wooden floor also covered by a thick coat of dust, or maybe ash. The hall is dark, devoid of natural light. Only thin beams of light shoot across the ceiling, carrying dust in its beams, from holes in the roof. Your feet stop and your arms hang at your sides. You’ve been dancing on your own. The ring on your finger cracks and turns to ash. A faint band of pale skin remains, a reminder of what you once had.
It’s a bright summer day, the trees are in bloom. You’re pushing him on the swing. He’s too small to push himself properly but he kicks out his feet as he rises into the air. You see his bare ankles between his shorts and socks. He wears small brown shoes, kicking them in front of him as if reaching for the clear blue sky. But his height is only momentary; the swing falls back and soon your hands touch him, warming something deep in your heart. They push out with enough force to send the boy flying again. His back is to you, but you can imagine the beaming grin on his face as he yells ‘higher, higher, Dad!’ The boy soars forward and up, kicking his little brown shoes out ahead of him and your heart breaks as you realise he will never reach the sky. As if at that realisation, he is gone, gone in a blur of smoke. The smoke rises, heading for the blue but the smoke dissipates and fades, not making it ten feet toward the sky. You scream inside your head, hate and destroy yourself for not holding onto the moment for another second. The small wooden seat, hanging from the tree’s limb by two strips of rope swings back to you, empty. Your arms are still outstretched uselessly, but the swing passed by them and swings back out. It’s fall now and the leaves are falling from the trees. The child is long gone but the swing still sways in the wind.
With a crushing realisation, you finally understand. Your wife is gone, your son, your life. Everything you have ever loved or cared for has turned to ash and is falling around you among the black rain. Falling, light as feathers and you know that when they hit the ground they will be dead and gone forever. Your outstretched hands clench unconsciously and then open again. Though your heart and mind have given up, a trace of instinct, of muscle memory, remains. Yet this is only the final cherry on top, oozing blood red into the remains of everything, a cruel reminder that you are so helplessly lost, so forsaken by the world that time has ceased to exist. It’s irrelevant. Even in the second that your knees hit the concrete, tearing open fresh cuts on your already broken body, you’re completely and utterly lost and nothing else matters when this realisation finds you. It could be an eternity that you kneel there, your world falling around you but you are armed with one final defence, one last weapon, a shard of glass clenched in your desperate grasp; the knowledge that once your life has crumbled all around you, once you are truly forsaken, you know with every icy inch of your existence, that you have nothing left. And a man who has nothing left has everything to gain.
Free horror. More? What could you possibly want?