Archive for April, 2012

Magick – Horror Novel

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Horror, Novels

I have a mission: to write the most terrifying horror novel EVER. This is something I’ve been plugging away at for a while, ever since an idea popped into my head on the shores of Loch Ness.

The idea: four friends rent a holiday cottage on the shores of Loch Ness, for a lad’s weekend away. The only trouble: it is Boleskine House, former residence of black magician Aleister Crowley. They have to survive three days and three nights of inexplicable terror, and not all will make it through the weekend.

So far… the four friends have arrived, hung-over from a drinking session in Edinburgh. After a surly encounter in the nearby village, they have made their way to Boleskine House, past the graveyeard close to the shores of Loch Ness. They’ve dumped their bags, set up the X-Box (or Playstation or whatever) with cans of lager, and left it for the moment to explore the house. They don’t quite glimpse the bizarre images flicking on the screen as they turn and leave the lounge. They discover a trapdoor and a cellar with dust-covered ritual paraphernalia. One of the guys pulls on a Golden Fleece with a rams-head mast… he grunts and chokes as it tightens on his face, struggling to free himself. It only comes loose as something crashes to the floor upstairs. They scramble up the ladder to see a stag’s head has fallen to the floor… but it shifts and changes into the severed head of a goat, spluttering blood as gore spreads from its ragged neck.

Coming soon….  one of the friends makes a run for it, walking to the village to book a taxi when the phone doesn’t work. The village is strangely shut and he makes a terrifying discovery in the waters of Loch Ness. After a night of terror involving nocturnal presences, shambling shapes and a windowful of flies, the remaining three try to escape, but are herded in by goats and something which stalks the nearby wood. A scraping at the window indicates the return of their departed friend… in some form or another. What horrors are hidden in the secret tunnel between the lodge… what rituals were conducted a century earlier, and what does “crossing the Abyss” mean?

I’ll be getting on for 10K words very soon at this rate. Then I’ll put it down and pick up one of the other works-in-progress!


The Weegie Dead

Posted: April 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

What if Glasgow was over-run by zombies? Not Philadelphia, not some made-up place, but Glasgow? That is the idea behind The Weegie Dead, a collaborative zombie gorefest centred on the people and places of Glasgow.

It will be bounced around Glasgow Writers, like pass-the-parcel. Just for fun, but we’ll see what happens.

So far… the police have discovered the corpse of “Bucky” McFast, a jakey* with a reputation as unkillable, due to his intake of intoxicating substances. The death is attributed to a new street drug called “Rip” or “Ripper” which burns out its users faster than anything else on the street.

As the lawyers argue over the disposal of Bucky’s corpse and estate (he is, in fact, the disgraced Angus Horatio Buckingham-McFast, of the Buckingham-McFasts), something twitches beneath the mortuary shroud…

Coming soon… corpses rise from the Necropolis and break out from the glass cases of the Anatomy Museum. What will happen next? Will Glaswegians barricade the Buchanan Centre? What about the Old Firm games? These, and many more, questions to be answered sometime soon…

*Jakey = tramp, down-and-out, usually laid low by alcohol and/or drugs

The Stories We Weave

Posted: April 28, 2012 in Novels

Not that long ago, I was seized by a novel concept: Hokusai the Exorcist. Great, and I’ve done some work on it, but my mind has pogo-sticked elsewhere since then. Not once, but twice.

I’ve had a story in mind based on an Ancient Egyptian curse from the Second World War. An idea jumped into my head which has turned it into a workable concept. So “The Book Of The Dead” is now shaping up.

The sequel to “By The Sword” has gained momentum with a couple of plot ideas, just popping in to my brain. So it is time for a feverish burst of activity to tie all these threads together and bring this up to scratch.

There are at least other stories in the embryonic stages, as well as the near-completed “Cats”.

“The dog that chases many rabbits” will catch none. But I just can’t help it. I need a lot more time to do these, to prioritise these, or to chip away at them one-by-one. I think it’ll end up being the latter! This is without all those short stories just popping up… or the Weegie Dead! More on that later….


Hokusai – Undead Hunter

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Japan, Novels
Tags: ,

I’ve been scrabbling around for a decent novel-sized project I want to do now. “The Cats” is 30,000 words, but is mainly for fun. “By The Sword” is crying out for a sequel but that is another story, as they say. There are two horror novel/novellas I want to finish, but not quite at the moment. I have a handful of more serious ideas, but those are… well, serious.

 The idea popped into my head yesterday… Hokusai, Undead Hunter. For those unfamiliar with the artist, Hokusai is famous for his ukiyo-e prints of thirty-six views of Mount Fuji and other iconic images… the great wave off Kanagawa. His father was a mirror-maker, and this featured in an earlier story of mine, Mira. Hokusai has never forgotten the demons and conjurations employed in mirror-magic.

So, Katsushika Hokusai will pack his materials and journey along the Tokaido (Great Eastern Road) between Edo and Kyoto, secretly commissioned by the Shogun to rid the route of the undead plaguing it, seeking out the souls of travellers far from home.

The Tokaido was made more famous by another ukiyo-e artist of the era, Utagawa Hiroshige, who created the Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido, but Hokusai had undertaken a similar project in earlier years, less well-known than Hiroshige’s memorable images. I’ll need to think about the images to use, perhaps drawing on some of Hiroshige’s work.,. what I’m thinking about doing is using Hiroshige’s better-known (and arguably more advanced) prints as a record of Hokusai’s quest, as Hiroshige later became a Buddhist monk.

The undead – yoma – are many and varied in Japanese folklore. The first part of the book will deal with the Kusokan phenomenon, The Contemplation Of Nine Stages of Decay, and this is already written, but for a different story. I want to include a faceless geisha, an possessive mask, a mirror-demon, taking heads in glass jars (a link to another story) and the tale of Hoichi the Earless from the Kwaidan epic. Plus a really big skeleton, called the Gashadokuro, which bites people’s heads off. There will be a modern-day link as well.

So I’d better get on with it. Hokusai, Undead Hunter  will do as a title for now.

Fifty Shades of Shite

Posted: April 12, 2012 in Review

I had a look at “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Amazon, courtesy of their “look inside” facility. This does not include the dirty bits.

It’s written in first-person present tense. Or rather, it is over-written in first-person present tense. “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” “I roll my eyes in exasperation.” People tend to scowl at themselves and roll their eyes for these reasons. Present tense is hard to sustain, but I think it will probably work in this case as a self-obsessed stream-of-consciousness.

The dialogue is poor. The exchange between Ana and Kate at the start is lazy exposition, when Ana has already agreed to do the interview. “Of course I’ll go, Kate. You should get back to bed. Would you like some Nyquil or Tylenol?” Pointless empty words.

The overwriting continues, breathless stuff covering all sorts of self-obsessed and trivial details. But we miss a description of a “stunning vista” of the Seattle skyline. What does it look like? That Space Needle thing and all that? The headquarters of the global enterprise she visits is a “huge twenty-storey building”…. Twenty storeys is tiny in Seattle. The tallest building in Seattle is seventy-six storeys. The Alaska Building, completed in 1904, is fourteen storeys, the Smith Tower (thirty eight storeys) was the tallest until 1969, and there is not a building in the Top 25 tallest in Seattle that is less than thirty storeys. A modern architect would not dream of designing a twenty storey building in a world city centre, at least because it would not be economically viable. So all Ana would see is a sea of other office windows, and certainly not the Sound or any of the other things we do not actually see beyond the “stunning vista”. This is incredibly lazy in an age of Google and online mapping, and an insult to readers expecting some “city” alongside the “sex”… writers need to convincingly describe both places and people.

We find out (and don’t really care) that Ana prefers curling up with a “classic British novel” yet we don’t know which particular novels she favours, which could provide an insight into her personality… we are inside her head, reading her thoughts FFS! Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Lawrence, Greene or Christie? Ana strikes me as someone who prefers leaving “classic British novels” lying unread on her coffee-table and instead reading… err… this sort of shite!

Ana rolls her eyes a lot, including “at herself”. She must look like a bloody lunatic!

EL James is not a *bad* writer but, to be honest, most people could string together this sort of thing. However, she is certainly not a *good* writer.  “Leather chairs” and “spacious” repeated within three or four lines. Not acceptable. She seems to have a thing about white leather. And the laziness, and the lack of credibility….

Ana somehow knows nothing about the man she is visiting (after having somehow parked effortlessly in downtown Seattle). Has she never heard of Google? Doesn’t she have an internet phone thing? Companies plaster the details of their CEOs all over the internet. What bollocks! She even knows generally that he is a famous entrepreneur at the start of the story… or rather she claims not to have heard of him but knows all of this. It is unconvincing and a fairly lame device to set up her surprise at his relatively young age.

The interview is unconvincing rubbish. Grey is a CEO in charge of some company that employs forty thousand people and does something or other, but we are not exactly sure what. It invests in manufacturing, telecommunications, farming and apparently feeds the world’s poor. This is just laziness – the author should have treated the company as a character rather than just a backdrop. Ana’s anxiety is somehow replaced by passion which leads her to stray from the question sheet with some fairly impertinent questions. I’m uncertain how the question sheet relates to the dialogue (questions being prepared in ignorance of the answers) and also Ana’s own questions.  Now, this is supposed to be the focal point of the first part of the book in terms of the conflict between the two main characters. It should have been written and rewritten a few dozen times to bring various strands together and set up the next sections of the story. To cap it all, the “Are you gay?” question is completely ridiculous.

I started off this review with low expectations, anticipating a tongue-in-cheek response poking fun at James’s writing. It is worse than that. The book is just lazily written crap. This illustrates the hypocrisy evident in publishing. Ebooks are frowned upon by the publishing giants as not worthy of seeing the light of day, until a horde of people eagerly download the lowest common denominator… then the dollar-signs spring up with a big “ker-ching” and the publishers happily hand over big-money advances to publish… this sort of shite.

Valley of Death

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Anthology, Thriller
Tags: ,

ACTION: PULSE POUNDING TALES is an extravaganza of action pulled together by Matt Hilton, creator of the thrill-packed Joe Hunter series. Among other writers, it will feature the well-known Stephen Leather … and a character new to action fiction.

My story “Valley of Death” introduces Earl Steele, a Vietnam veteran who travels to the Deep South on a personal mission of honour, driven by a debt forged in war a few years earlier. Haunted by the memory of a battle and a sacrifice, he has a run-in with bigoted and brutal law enforcement officers, ending in a bloodbath in the Valley of Death, eerily similar to the events burned into Steele’s memory. The story makes “First Blood” look like a teddy-bear picnic 😉

This anthology will be released in May… grab it like a grenade when it comes out….

 It started on a spring day in 2010, on the train, when I read about yet another of those ned-with-a-samurai-sword attacks in Glasgow. Then the thought occurred to me: “what if it was a really bad guy, like a serial killer?” The character of Banzai Billy Boyle began to take shape in my mind.   It needed a setting: I had just started working in Glasgow and didn’t know it that well. But I joined the inspirational Glasgow Writers Group and got to know the city. From this, grew a short story of around 5,000 words, based on a sword-wielding killer and a conspiratorial twist.  I submitted it to a short story competition, inspired by Stuart MacBride’s first line “In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.” The story wasn’t shortlisted and sunk without trace. I was disappointed as the characters were very good, but the story didn’t work well as too much happened in it for a short story.Then, someone at the Glasgow Writers Group suggested turning it into a novel. So I did that.

The start grew first of all, the initial murder and the police investigation. Then I added a grand finale inJapan. This part of the story was largely set in Yokohama and Kamakura, two places I’d visited and liked a lot. At this point, the story was maybe around 20,000 words or perhaps 30,000 words – can’t remember.

I added a section in Barlinnie Prison, which allows the character of Boyle to develop through memory and interaction. Before that, Boyle was glimpsed only briefly from newspaper headlines and case files.

I’m not sure at what point the “story” was complete, but it was probably around 50,000 words. Then it was a matter of rewriting it until flesh was put on the bones, reaching 80,000 words. The Japan section in particular wasn’t satisfactory at this point, as it read just like a travelogue with little action. So some incidents were included, such as a subway confrontation. Other small changes were made, to make it seem more like a rounded story rather than a sequence of events witnessed by characters.

I submitted it to the standard agents and publishers. Agents were generally helpful in terms of feedback but not willing to take it on. Mainstream publishers were not interested even if they were open to unsolicited submissions. It is incredibly difficult to get a publisher interested in a new writer’s manuscript. That effectively leaves small presses and self-publishing.

A few small-press publishers were interested, one or two were looking at it or willing to look at it, but Wild Wolf Publishing took it on board in the end. I had a story in their “Holiday of the Dead” anthology and liked the look of them, as a dynamic small press with a dark fiction identity.  It got to a quick start, picked up in September and complete by the New Year, far quicker than the publishing process in the past.

Success? Woo hoo! But there is no massive marketing budget (as for the Big Six) and it is very difficult to get exposure or reviews for such a novel. So the struggle continues. I think it is a good story, it has had encouraging comments, and there is a market for this type of novel. Thankfully we have a vibrant and growing industry in terms of small presses willing to take on board new writers, especially in “genre fiction” like crime and horror.