Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Short Story: Carnival

Posted: July 10, 2012 in Horror, Short Story
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 Okay, time for another short story. This one is called “Carnival” and it has three inspirations… the excellent HBO series called “Carnivale”, the childhood-America stories of Stephen King, and the novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by the recently-departed Ray Bradbury. The last two are closely related.

The story: A father and son feel a flash of rekindled affection after years of alienation scratching a living from a dustbowl farm, when the carnival comes to town, bringing a bit of light to everyone’s lives. But… once the bars are locked on the Ferris Wheel, once the Carousel begins to turn, that is when the slaughter begins. The showpeople massacre the town, killing every person… except for the son, who flees, and tells the story many years later, when the same carnival (much modernised) turns up at the town where he has raised children and grandchildren.

It feels like a good story, one that has been bubbling away for a while, even before watching “Carnivale” (one of the great HBO programmes, like “Deadwood”, before the money was blown on “Rome”). I read Ray Bradbury’s novel only recently, but it made all Stephen King’s (good) writing slot into place immediately. He writes about a past America that is somehow still present, big skies and wide open spaces, dusty towns, and so on. This story will probably remain under wraps for a while once written (currently at 1,500 words out of about 3,000 to 5,000) as it feels as if it could be submitted somewhere… so watch this space.

After this… road trip planned to Loch Ness to put a foot up the backside of “Magick”!

ps…. might change the name of the story. Still not 100% sure of it.

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A Change Is As Good As A Rest

Posted: June 17, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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I found that Magick  ran into the buffers after 20,000 words, when the story started to get ahead of itself.

Another idea has popped up: an ancient cauldron, gateway to the Celtic Otherworld, which wreaks havoc on the Welsh coast. Cauldron is getting on for 5,000 words, mainly the “backstory” of the artefact, set around the time of AD60. This involved quite a bit of research of Roman and Celtic history and legend and this part of the novel will be split up and interweaved with the main narrative, with links between past and present.

As well as Cauldron, I’ve knocked up a short story called “Jolly Beating Weather” about two public schoolboys called Boris and David beating a tramp to death during the last term at School, as part of an organised ritual event. That was good fun to write.

Now it’s back to Magick. I started to piece together the intervening chronology of the ritual, which will sit within the main narrative (perhaps with a nudge from Cauldron, doing the same thing for that). This has involved quite a bit of reading, including Crowley’s book on “Magick in Theory and Practice”. The highlight has been discovering the analysis of some nursery rhymes in terms of their ritual meaning! I’ll post these up some other time as they deserve a closer look.

So, as they say, a change is as good as a rest.

Cauldron

Posted: June 9, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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Okay, a story idea popped into my head. Here is the blurb:

AD75… the Romans are ready to crush the Druids at Ynys Mon in Wales. Led by Agricola, they are tasked with the search for a mysterious object, the Cauldron of Annwn, the mythical gateway to the Underworld. The cauldron is later lost at sea, as a vessel founders in the crashing waves.

 Two thousand years later… a father and son travel to the Welsh coastal village of Little Harbour in search of tranquillity after a family breakup. They stumble upon an unfolding disaster, with a series of deaths and unsettling events as the fog-bank creeps closer to the shoreline.

 What happens when the Cauldron is disturbed and the dead rise from the sea?

This is interesting for a number of reasons.

The setting is inspired by holidays in Wales and a longstanding desire to write something based on Celtic myth, set by the sea, in the picturesque village of Little Haven in Pembrokeshire.

There are a number of inspirations for the story… the 2000AD “Slaine” strip, which is a thoroughly-researched and lavishly illustrated graphic novel; the Arthurian trilogy (starting with “The Winter King”)  written by Bernard Cornwell; a visit to the awesome Macha’s Fort near Armagh; my own story “King for A Day” inspired by the Wicker Man.

I looked upon the characters as a creative writing exercise. I chose the protagonists and supporting characters using lists of “who” and “what” and “why”. The antagonists have to be defined in terms of “who” but the “why” is – at this moment – a desire to obtain the Cauldron.

PROTAGONISTS

Who: Father and Son

What: The two principal characters, told through their POVs

Why: Coincidence: holiday retreat, relationship bonding, outdoors sports

SUPPORTING

Who: Daughter, Mother, Grandmother

What: Owner and staff of the Schooner pub, with an associated mystery

Why: (SPOILER) Watchers of the Cauldron, guardians, Triple Goddess manifestation

ANTAGONISTS

Who: ???

What: Treasure-hunters, rich patron

Why: seeking powerful artefacts, specific knowledge of Cauldron (?)

I might change the antagonists’ motivation. At the moment I prefer the idea of the antagonist knowing the risks involved. However, it may be better to have an unwitting antagonist – perhaps a developer looking to install an energy-generating wave barrage, a ruthless and unpleasant character. This is a back-pocket option as I prefer the greater scope for ruthlessness that a treasure-hunter offers.

There is also the all-important category of “red jumpers” – called after the Star Trek characters who always end up dead! The expert of this must be James Herbert, who lavishes great attention on the supporting characters who end up dead in a half-dozen pages.

Then there is the plot. This is a fairly simple conflict: an ancient phenomenon is disturbed, releasing danger, and the balance must be restored. This will involve an element of back-story set in AD75. The plot’s conflict will be resolved by restoring the cauldron to Angelsey, through the resolution of a series of sub-conflicts, relating in some way to the back-story. There are thirty-six dramatic situations to choose from, according to Georges Polti and Carlo Gozzi.

Now it’s getting a bit boring and technical! I’ll have a bash at this, try and get to 10,000 or 20,000 words. This sits alongside “MAGICK” which is still very much in hand, but which really needs a Loch Ness visit to allow a first rewrite of the first section and development of the second section. Plus all the other ideas that need some work, rather than springing magically from brain to page.

This is a bit of an engine-room post for writery types and horror fans.

Fuelled with enthusiasm, at reaching 20,000 words and Night 2 in the House, I knocked out 1,000 words.

However, I hit a brick wall. Not “writers block” (which does not exist, in my opinion, just go and write something else) but one of those holes in the wrong place, in which you need to stop digging.

I’ve jumped forward a night. To cut a long(ish) story short, the nervous friends have decided to share a bedroom on Night 2. They doze off and two of them have erotic dreams, waking to find themselves naked with each other. After recovering from the shock, the trio decide to take turns at staying awake.

However, the shadow of a piglike creature appears outside, legs silhouetted through the gap at the bottom of the door, scraping the floor, grunting, growing bigger, smashing itself against the door. The three friends escape through the window, just as the beast breaks through. They are chased by a hellish hound and witness the spectacle of Leviathan rising from Loch Ness, encountering their decaying lost friend as they ponder escaping through the woods. They creep around the hillside, but see the shape of Baphomet atop the crest of the hill. So they decide to creep back down the hillside, avoiding dog and walking corpse, ending up… err… back at the house they ran away from. I chucked in a cheap plot device about the door hanging open with the pig-demon clearly absent, but it just does not work in my head.

I like it, but it does not work! It is Night 3 stuff. On Night 2, the horrors are still veiled or possible brief hallucinations. They need to stay in the house, and other stuff needs to happen.

So, it is time to step back from the page, and look at this in different ways. I think I need to reorder the chapters again, using the degrees (1=10 etc) for the present day happenings and working in the historical elements slightly differently. They need a trip to the graveyard to liven up the first bit of the story. I need to re-read Jake Arnott’s “The Devil’s Paintbrush” to renew my sense of Crowley’s character and turn-of-the-century Paris. I need to start working in the four elements of the ritual. Time to put the Night 3 stuff to one side, at least for the moment.

Magick – 20,000 words.

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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Plenty is going on at the moment, and I’ve broken the 20,000 mark. That’s getting towards novel territory (50,000 plus, more like 80,000).

The book has been reorganised into eleven chapters. These follow the typical magical order grades, 0=0 , 1=10, 2=9, etc.

0=0: we have the foreshadowing of what is to come, with a death in a Hastings nursing home in 1947, and an unwise student prank in the 1990s.

1=10: In 1745, Redcoats burn down a church… two hundred and fifty years later, four friends travel to the same location, Boleskine, for a reunion weekend, effectively isolated for three nights until the bus service resumes on the Monday. Strange things begin to happen… a costume with a mind of its own, a stag’s head that takes the form of a freshly decapitated pig’s head, and an oven full of skulls and bones.

2=9: In 1899, one Aleister Crowley makes the owner of Boleskine an offer he can’t refuse, helped by a mysterious death and a severed head. In the present, one of the party has had enough of the mysterious manifestations and departs, to meet a gory end on the shores of Loch Ness. He turns up later, knocking at the bedroom window with sodden and sloughing knuckles as his friend cowers in bed with a pillow over his head. Strange dreams follow but, other than that, the three friends have an undisturbed first night.

3=8: In 1961, a conman builds a piggery at Boleskine, as part of a bigger scam aimed at the Board of Trade. It goes horribly wrong. In the present, the three remaining friends take a trip up the mist-shrouded hillside. They come across a herd of goats and flee from a sinister horned figure. Shaken (and one of them bitten) they walk down to the village and have another terrifying encounter when they think they see their friend near Loch Ness. Tensions grow between the friends as they try and make sense of their situation.

4=7: In 1950, a haunted Army officer shoots himself. His spirit remains in the present day, along with the ghosts that drove him to his doom. The three friends decide to spend the second night in the same room for safety and comfort, with only one further night to go until the bus service resumes. Bizarre dreams force two of them from sleep and a strange creatures snuffles at the door, growing to bestial size, breaking through the door in a blast of heat as the three friends clamber out through a window.

5=6: In 1900, the butcher’s boy calls at Boleskine. Diverted from the Ritual of Abramelin,  the Laird of Boleskine (Crowley) scribbles his order on a torn scrap of paper, which also bears the name of Beel’zebub, an insect manifestation of Belial. The butcher reads the order and is distracted by creeping shadows and swarming flies… his cleaver slips as the side of pork twitches on the block and he cuts off his hand, bleeding to death. The present day events are yet to unfold…

Effectively, this is five chapters out of eleven (the butcher section is quite short). The second night of terror is about to begin… then there will be the climactic third night. It’s proving surprisingly easy to weave in horrors at most points of the story. I think the challenge will be balancing the horror element with other aspects of the story, and ensuring an escalation of tension rather than a series of scary events. I know how it ends and I know roughly how the third night unfolds. The events of 1900 also become clearer, with four episodes of Crowley’s invocations (he invoked demons to gain power over them via his guardian angel) and also the disastrous interruption of the ritual.

So, it’s getting there! I reckon 50,000 words for a first rough draft. Then it’s back to the start, to colour in the bits I’ve missed. A field trip to Boleskine will be essential (I’ve only ever seen it from the other side of the loch) but it must be stressed that “normal people” live there now.

There is another element, a celebrity element, that I’ve been asked about. The Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page bought the place in the early 70s, apparently restoring it to the way it was in Crowley’s era. Does this feature in the novel? The answer is “no” for a number of reasons: it would unbalance what is a work of horror fiction, and I think this element is largely overblown anyway. Page never really lived there (a friend of his lived there and looked after the place) and his interest in the occult tends to be sensationalised… by comparison, both WB Yeats and Bram Stoker (among other literary names) were active members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, somewhat more than an acknowledged interest, which passes largely without comment.

Incidentally, Yeats’s ritual books are online, thanks to the National Library of Ireland: http://www.nli.ie/yeats/main.html

I think mysticism and the occult was a bit more “innocent” in those days, and it became notorious through Crowley’s lifestyle and enjoyment of notoriety. This led in turn to the Dennis Wheatley black magic novels, the Hammer Horror films and the rock music of bands like Black Sabbath and successors, all in a tradition which stretches back many centuries in art and folklore. People love being scared, and the occult is one of the scariest things.

This has gone on a bit longer than I intended, but the wider issue of the occult in the arts and society is quite interesting.

Magick – 14,000 words

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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The novel is now 14,000 words. To celebrate, I’ve designed another image.

In the latest developments, Redcoats burn down a church in 1745, a piggery scam goes wrong in 1961, a haunted Army officer shoots himself in 1950 and Mr Crowley makes a property purchase offer that simply cannot be refused in 1899. The same Mr Crowley attempts to summon his guardian angel a few years afterwards, in a demonic ritual that goes horribly wrong.

Some students burn a Bible in front of a pig’s head in 1992, and this all comes together in the present day, when the same friends gather for a reunion at Boleskine House.

Now, what about the gory bits?

A severed head, thumping to the floor in the middle of the night. A goat’s head, spraying blood as it tries to speak. A Leviathan rising from Loch Ness and a hidden pyramid-city. A man dragged to his watery death by the dead who hide beneath the waters.  An Aga filled with scorched skulls and bones. A ritual mask chokes the person who foolishly tries it on. A hike up a hillside that turns into a fogbound encounter with a herd of goats and a shadowy horned figure looming out of the mist. A man shoots himself in the head with a shotgun and his pet dog picks up one of the morsels. Mercenary Redcoats set fire to a church full of screaming people. Dead knuckles knock on a bedroom window in the middle of the night, leaving streaks of loch-water and sloughing flesh. Pigs run amok in a mad frenzy, chanting gibberish as they savage a policeman and a vet.

I’m trying to make this the most terrifying horror novel ever! Only 20% of the way there, as well… there’s a lot more to come yet, two more nights of terror. I’ll aim for 20,000 words by Monday 28th May, which is getting to the critical mass point of a viable novel-in-progress.

Magick – 10,000 words

Posted: May 21, 2012 in Horror, Novels

Magick is now at 3 chapters and 10,000 words.

The book is coming together as a story, or rather as three stories:

– the story of Boleskine House, which has a sinister history dating from the Jacobite Rebellions

– the story of occultist Aleister Crowley and his Abramelin Ritual, interrupted with dire consequences

– the story of four friends who arrange a weekend in Boleskine House, tempted by its macabre reputation

This is a work of fiction, but much of it is drawn from what we would now call “stuff on the internet”. There are many biographies of Crowley and most of these focus on either his notoriety or the idea that he was a misunderstood genius. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere between these two extremes and, although a free-spirited, artistic and charismatic intellectual, he did revel in his diabolical reputation and indulge a sexual appetite probably unparalleled in history.

Those studies which take his occult interests seriously tend to conclude that something went horribly wrong at Boleskine, following a well-intentioned attempt to summon a guardian angel, which summoned things far worse and tainted his life thereafter.  This is the perspective that it suits this novel to take.

The history of Boleskine is dark and compelling – a church burning down with its congregation, Highland feuds dating from the Jacobite Risings, ghostly severed heads, gruesome suicides and accidents. The place has become a character in this book, rather than simply a setting.

However, one part of Boleskine’s history this book doesn’t really touch upon is its ownership by legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. He bought the place in 1971 and restored it (in Crowleyesque style) but didn’t seem to spend much time there, leaving it in the hands of a friend.  Since Page sold the place in the early 90s, normal people apparently live there, and this story leaves them (hopefully) untroubled.

Having said that, I’m intrigued by a rumour  that some criminals tried to raid the place in the 1980s, attracted by its world-famous owner… they were never seen again. Or so it says, on the internet, which is good enough for me.

Magick – Chapter Three

Posted: May 19, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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Chapter Three is taking shape very quickly. This is when the true horror becomes apparent.. we’ve been seeing events mainly through the eyes of Matthew, one of the friends, who doubts what he is seeing.

The backstory of Boleskine House is woven into the book from now on, beginning with its purchase in 1899… basically, an offer the owner couldn’t refuse! There are interesting stories surrounding the place, apparently pre-dating the Crowley purchase, dating back to the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and Highland feuding. Another story involves a butcher losing his fingers, and there is the infamous Floating Head… coincidentally, a member of the Lovat family, the local clan, was the last person executed by beheading in the Tower of London, a place rife with ghostly myth.

I’m inserting a fake newspaper article at the start with the headline “three men missing” to set the context… I’m interested in feedback: is this foreshadowing, adding authenticity, or giving too much away?

I may need a short break from this novel in a week or so. It’s either back to Edgetown, an urban horror novella, or a few short stories… I have one in hand about a ventriloquist’s dummy which goes berserk.  Still very keen on the Japan Hokusai story, plus a literary novel looking at the manipulative nature of modern society, but you have to go with what you have in your mind at the time!

Magick – Chapter Two

Posted: May 12, 2012 in Horror, Novels

I’m making good progress now. Chapter Two is complete.

One of the characters has met a grisly end. I’ve changed the severed goat’s head to a severed pig’s head, there is a whispering skull in an Aga, and a walking corpse has dragged itself from Loch Ness to come knocking with waterlogged knuckles, after a bizarre dream of underwater pyramid-cities.

That’s the horror bits.

There is an unfolding backstory: as drunken students, the characters did something stupid one Hallowe’en. This incident has followed them through their lives, to varying degrees.

The protagonist’s struggle with depression has also been revealed: this causes him to doubt the horrific images he is glimpsing.

There is also the story of the former owner, one Aleister Crowley, whose occupation of Boleskine a century ago gave rise to many local rumours including a chair that moved by itself, a severed head and a butcher who lost the fingers from one hand after interrupting a ritual.

The first night is drawing to an end as dawn creeps above the mist-shrouded horizon. Day 2 beckons, when the full realisation of the horror will be unveiled.

Magick – Horror Novel

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Horror, Novels
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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!