Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Joe Hill – Horror Author

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Review
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JoeHI was recently at an event with Joe Hill, who was signing copies of his latest novel ‘N0S4ATU‘ and anything else that people brought along, as well as posing for horn-waving photographs!

First of all, thanks to Jim McLeod of the Ginger Nuts of Horror blog, for quizzing Joe with a calm demeanour that a TV presenter would envy. Those Southern Comforts afterwards appeared well-deserved. And Ellie Wixon, of Blackwells Edinburgh, deserves the highest praise….she arranged the event through the ingenious initiative of sending Joe’s publisher a heart-shaped box containing a key….

The event was held in the Pleasance Theatre on a Friday evening. It was very busy with a wide range of people. Jim and Joe had a good and wide-ranging chat, ranging from comic novels to Joe’s latest book NOS4ATU. Joe was very forthcoming and candid about his own writing and ideas… unbelievably, he was rejected for his first collection, ‘20th Century Ghosts’. He is a naturally pleasant and relaxed person and it felt like we were all sitting in a living-room/writing-den or around a table in a micro-brewery bar somewhere. It was the end of a gruelling month-long tour and the queue for signings must have seemed a mile long, yet Joe was cheerful until the very end… he thanked the audience for their passion for reading and writing, which certainly seemed to enthuse him.

Now, to Joe’s writing. I know he has an illustrious father, the horror author Stephen King, who some may know. The resemblance between Hill and King is quite eerie… big, beards, glasses (I think King has a second writer son and a daughter in the clergy, by the way). I first read ‘Heart Shaped Box’, which – to be honest – I didn’t enjoy as much as I had hoped. I was maybe prejudiced because of the Hill/King connection, either expecting a work of genius or a cynical celebrity publishing deal. Now, this needs to be said: Joe Hill has never traded on his father’s name and does his absolute utmost to promote his writing on its own considerable merit. Paradoxically, that makes it even more surprising his first collection was rejected and doubles the credit he deserves for maintaining his own identity. Anyway, enough of that relationship for the moment.

As I said, I didn’t greatly enjoy Heart Shaped Box (HSB) but that’s probably down to my own tastes in horror, which are possibly quite peculiar…. Dean Koontz, for example, is one of those horror writers who is perfectly good and very popular, but (with a few notable exceptions) who I just don’t get. In addition to HSB, Hill has published a short-story collection (‘20th Century Ghosts’, hereafter 20CG) and ‘Horns’ (just ‘Horns’ will do). I’ve read one recent log review which slated Horns but praised HSB. This made me feel better, as I thought the opposite, that Horns was an outstanding and complex novel, literary as well as horror-fantasy, and the different responses from readers indicates a writer who has no fear of experimenting with his craft.

Hill has mentioned Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ as an influence behind Horns,  and it is a complex novel which deals with loss, guilt, identity and relationships, wrapped up in a horror package that might well be subtitled ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. This novel deserves a far wider audience and is a Generation X/Y/Z literary classic.

20CG is a short story collection best described as ‘the Led Zep 4 of horror anthologies’ (by me). There are three horror collections that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest: Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’, Peter Straub’s ‘Magic Terror’ and now 20CG. All are unsettling, provocative, original and – most importantly – without any B-side stories. ‘Pop Art’ is a literary masterpiece which proves there are still original ideas out there; ‘You Will Hear The Locust Sing’ is another Kafka-inspired tale in which Gregor Samsa meets the Atomic Age (and a reader favourite); ‘My Father’s Mask’ is deeply unsettling; and ‘Voluntary Committal’ is a classic horror fantasy and strange tale that would make Ray Bradbury proud.

Most recently, we have NOS4ATU. This is a beast of a book and a good read; 700 pages or so. I enjoyed it and whizzed through the book; certainly a page-turner. The plot concerns a vampiric combination of Silver Ghost car and aged owner (Charles Manx), preying on children’s souls. However, the story focuses mainly on the protagonist, a Generation X-er called Vic, who has a “lost and found” teleportation ability since childhood. Hill discusses the novel in terms of Dracula and the memorably-repulsive Renfield character is called Bing, obsessed with Manx’s alluring-yet-evil alternative world of Christmasland. Hill has developed the concept of ‘inscapes’, a landscape-of-the-mind accessible from reality, and conveys this very well. As mentioned already, it is an enjoyable book. However, I found the antagonist Manx to be mysterious and remote: my mental image was of Mr Burns from The Simpsons. Hill mentions that he wanted to “show not tell” Manx and keep him shrouded in mystery; he is working on a graphic novel which should show-and-tell more of Manx and this is very good news. The other main problem I had as a reader of N0S4ATU was Hill’s frequent references to the ‘landscape of Castle Rock’: there are a number of notable Stephen King features, creatures and places which crop up. I didn’t like this, to be honest, as it took me out of Hill’s books and into King’s books.  However, after listening to his recent talk and thinking more about this, it hopefully means that Hill is growing comfortable with the King legacy and confident enough to weave it into his own writing. It is undeniably part of his background, after all, possibly an elephant in the room.

But Joe Hill is his own elephant, without a doubt, and he is essential reading for horror fans and those in search of more literary escapes and inscapes. In fact, I can’t think of any other writer of his generation and genre who I would use as a reference point in exploring horror fiction, particularly American writing.

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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.

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 – 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 – 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!