Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Things of the Week: 22nd July

Alexandra Benedict: designated Mains-wrangler.
Well, this week's been better.

The three of us - Cate and I and Priya - went to Edge-Lit in Derby on Saturday, and had a blast. It really was just the tonic. My self-imposed Facebook exile didn't magic away my anxiety and low mood (as doctors call it - low? It was bloody subterranean. I kept expecting to run into Peter Cushing and Doug McClure) but did a lot to reduce it.

Being among friends, spending time with people face to face, was huge as well. It was great to see Sarah Pinborough, Ray Cluley and Jess Jordan, Victoria Leslie, Lynda Rucker (fresh from winning the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story!) and Sean Hogan, James Everington, Mark West, Andrew Hook and Sophie Essex, Nina Allan, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Conrad Williams, Alexandra Benedict, Johnny Mains, Emma Newman... and so many others. (The final event of the night was Johnny Mains being interviewed by Alexandra Benedict, but quite frankly 'unleashed' would probably be a better word. Gloriously funny, rude and indscreet - but painfully honest, too. I suspect Alexandra needed a few large drinks afterwards.)

Talking of Sarah Pinborough, her excellent YA novel 13 Minutes came out in paperback this week. Cate got hold of it as soon as it came out and read it voraciously; I wrenched it from her grip immediately afterwards...

I was dead for 13 minutes. 


I don't remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this - it wasn't an accident and I wasn't suicidal. 

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you're a teenage girl, it's hard to tell them apart. 

My friends love me, I'm sure of it. But that doesn't mean they didn't try to kill me. 

Does it? 

13 MINUTES by Sarah Pinborough is a gripping psychological thriller about people, fears, manuiplation and the power of the truth. A stunning read, it questions our relationships - and what we really know about the people closest to us ...

I went to see my GP this week, and am now back on Citalopram for the depression and anxiety. Some mild stomach upsets, but I'm feeling better already. I've been here before; hopefully things will be okay.

I know I've said this before, but never suffer in silence with depression. And don't listen to it. It's a liar. It will tell you that you're worthless, that everything you do is pointless and doomed, that nothing you've achieved is of any worth. And it isn't true. Be aware of the signs, and if they're there, see your GP. Get help. It's illness, nothing more.

Anyway, this week's big news: Devil's Highway is finally finished!

Well, at least until Emma and Tik at Snowbooks come back to me with edits and notes. But that's half the Black Road now written, as good as I can get it. It's probably the most action-packed instalment of the series - not that any of the others are exactly quiet, but this book is built around a brutal siege in which Helen's old enemy Colonel Jarrett will stop at nothing to destroy the rebellion against the Reapers and kill Helen herself.

I'll be getting to work on the third book, Wolf's Hill, later this year, all being well. This one will be... interesting. More about that nearer the time. For now, I'm having a couple of days off to write short fiction...


Monday, 18 July 2016

The Lowdown with... Toby Venables

Toby Venables is a writer, editor and lecturer in Film Studies at Anglia Ruskin University. His historical-horror-zombie-mashup novel The Viking Dead was published by Abaddon in 2011, and was followed in 2013 by Knight of Shadows, the first of the Hunter of Sherwood series in which Guy of Gisburne is the hero and Robin Hood a psychopath. The second volume, The Red Hand, was published in 2014 with the final book in the trilogy – Hood – due for publication in late 2016. He occasionally appears at conferences and conventions to talk about zombies, or medieval things, or both. He Tweets here.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

- I'm also a screenwriter, and have had one commissioned screenplay - a heist story.
- I once turned down dinner with Cate Blanchett.
- There's a sword and a longbow in my wardrobe (not the only medieval accoutrements about the place, but the ones I like to keep handy).

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
I've worked for years as a journalist, so have published a lot – mostly interview features with a diverse range of people, some of whom are personal heroes (Ray Harryhausen, Bill Bailey, Chuck Palahniuk, Ray Davies...). In terms of fiction, though, the big breakthrough for me was The Viking Dead, which was published as part of Abaddon's Tomes of the Dead series. I had actually pitched a completely different idea for their steampunk series but didn't get the gig, then heard they were looking for standalone zombie tales. At the time, I had been doing a lot of research into Vikings (as you do) and the two elements clicked together in my head. Vikings. Zombies. Vikings seemed to me to be remarkably well-equipped to deal with a zombie problem, lacking as they do our slightly crazy attachment to mass-produced consumer goods and with a self-reliance which we would clearly need to rediscover if the brains ever hit the fan. I later discovered they also had zombies of sorts, in the shape of the draugar. If you don't know about them, get Googling...

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 

In the first Guy of Gisburne novel - Knight of Shadows - there is a flashback to the Battle of Hattin in 1187. This was the 9/11 event of its day, at which the Christian armies in the Holy Land were annihilated by Saladin, who completely outmanoeuvred them. It was the first decisive blow in his campaign to take back Jerusalem and the event that precipitated the Third Crusade, taking Richard from his newly acquired kingdom (England) for years – with all that this implied. I had both Gisburne and Robert of Locksley (AKA Hood) fighting side by side at this desperate battle. The description of it drew on Arab eyewitness accounts – even quoting them in parts. I was very happy with how it came together. Beyond that, my proudest achievement is a totally ludicrous moment in The Viking Dead in which Viking fire ships crash into a harbour and unleash their cargo of flaming zombie wolves.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 

There are a few things that make me wince, though not too seriously. That's more to do with the need to let the stuff go than any notion of uniform excellence, however... We all have lapses of judgement and some of them get into print, but you just can't dwell on them. Take it on the chin. Move on. Do better next time. The one thing that really gets to me, however, is not a piece of writing so much as a nerdy detail that I got wrong. A lot of historical and social research goes into the novels, and while many outlandish things happen, I strive to make the settings as real as possible, with all the sights, sounds, smells. As much as possible, I want things to feel as hard won as they would have at the time. In The Red Hand, however, I had Guy of Gisburne in Jerusalem and then back in England a month later. It worked for the drama and so far only one person has picked me up on it, but such a journey would have been impossible in so short a time in the 12th century. Nothing to be done – unless I can cook up some fiendish explanation in the next book! [UPDATE: Toby now informs me that the impossible journey has in fact turned out to be possible after all!]

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

I wish I knew... There is never a normal day – more often, it's a plate-spinning exercise, during which I am desperately trying to balance the various 'jobs' I do: editing a Peterborough lifestyle and entertainment magazine, lecturing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge (on film, journalism and screenwriting) and writing books and screenplays. Somehow, this works out, but it amazes me I have any hair left. Sometimes, days go by without any writing, which is bad; big writing projects gather momentum, and it's hard to re-establish that when it's lost.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 

Probably the first book, The Viking Dead. That's where it all starts. The Gisburne books have no supernatural or fantasy elements – it's all 'possible' – but if you like the historical elements of The Viking Dead, then you'll like Gisburne – and if you love the horror, you'll certainly like some of the things I have lined up next. The Gisburne books actually do have a distinct streak of horror in them, albeit more real-world stuff. Knight of Shadows has a minor character who is straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

7. What are you working on now? 

There are two things in the frame. The final book in the Hunter of Sherwood trilogy (AKA the Guy of Gisburne novels) is being written right now. It's called simply Hood and deals with the final confrontation between Hood and Gisburne. It's going to be a pretty bloody affair, with some big battles (including the siege of Nottingham Castle by the returning King Richard, which actually happened) and some rather shocking losses. That will be finished by winter 2016. After that, I'm returning to horror and zombies for a bit with a big, late-Victorian apocalyptic adventure set in London. It starts out as an entirely accurate and detailed depiction of London in the 1880s, focusing on a kindly doctor who has a very unusual problem locked away in his cellar. Then all hell breaks loose, and London is destroyed in an orgy of Wellsian undead steampunkery. It's called Zombie & Son.

Hood is available for pre-order here.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Things of the Week: 15th July 2016

This week... has been a bit rough.

For the past few weeks I haven't been feeling good at all - a growing sense of hopelessness, of everything feeling like too much effort, constant nagging anxiety.

Earlier in the week, some old social media bullshit flared up again. That was the final straw; by the time Cate got home that evening, I was practically a wreck. I just about managed to cook dinner for us. At which point I decided Facebook and I needed a break from one another.

I thought it might just be stuff on the news - Brexit and so forth, and all the worries that go with it - and they probably helped tip me over the edge, but ultimately this is just the return of an old enemy. The black dog: depression. It's a bloody horrible thing that I hoped I wouldn't see again - but it's back, worse than before.

After a lot of prevaricating - too bloody much of it - I'm going to see my GP on Monday. Hopefully get something sorted.

I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating: do not suffer in silence with this. Men, especially, seem to, believing you're supposed to 'man up' and soldier on. And all too often that makes it worse - and more likely to kill you. I could have saved myself a lot of pain by ringing the surgery on Monday. There's no shame in antidepressants, if they're what you need. You wouldn't think twice about taking painkillers if an injury was causing serious pain; they help you function as normally as possible while you heal. This is no different.

My friend Ren Warom, in addition to being a smashing writer, has blogged and vlogged candidly about mental health issues and recovery. I heartily recommend her blog posts on the subject. And indeed the rest of her blog.


Cheers to Ren, Sarah Pinborough, and a few other people for kind words and cyber-hugs this week. And to Cate, without whom I really don't know how I would have coped. Love you, hun.

*clears throat following embarrassing schmaltzy bit*

Otherwise, what things have there been this week?

Steady progress on Devil's Highway; hopefully the beast will be finished soon. It's taking shape, and I think I'm going to be pleased with how it turns out. Hopefully the publisher will too.

Tomorrow we're off to Edge-Lit in Derby with Priya Sharma - some good company and laughter will, I hope, do me a lot of good.

Saving the best till last, though: I am very, very proud to announce my inclusion in an anthology that will be released at Fantasycon By The Sea this September.

When Joel Lane passed away in 2013 - Jesus, nearly three years ago now - he left behind him a wealth of notes for stories he'd never found time to write. Last year his old friend Pete Coleborn of the Alchemy Press invited me to contribute to an anthology he was editing with Pauline E. Dungate, another of Joel's friends: a number of writers, each working with a different set of notes, would set out to complete the stories.

I've blogged previously about the tale I wrote, 'And Ashes In Her Hair.' This week, Alchemy published the table of contents for the tribute anthology, Something Remains. All proceeds from the anthology will be donated to Diabetes UK (Joel suffered from Type 1 Diabetes since his teens.)

Here's that TOC in full:
  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary McMahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor [1] by Gary Couzens
  • Through the Floor [2] by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by Joe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)

I'm very proud to be in this one. Hope you'll all buy a copy.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Lowdown with... Kristi DeMeester

Kristi DeMeester writes spooky, pretty things in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her Masters in Creative Writing from Kennesaw State University in 2011. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as The Dark, Year's Best Weird Fiction Volumes 1 and 3, Black Static, Shimmer, and others. Her chapbook Split Tongues from Dim Shores Press is currently sold out. In her spare time, she watches trash television, but if you ask her, she'll never admit it.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 
I was an opera singing hostess at Macaroni Grill for one horrifying year in college.
I've never broken a bone or been stung by a bee.
I used to play the alto saxophone.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
A nonfiction essay titled "Why I'm Not A Luddite" in Free Inquiry magazine. The essay focused on my lack of exposure to necessary technology within my fundamentalist Pentecostal church and how this affected my education as a teenager and young adult.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
It's a tie between my story "The Beautiful Thing We Will Become" which will appear in Word Horde's Eternal Frankenstein anthology and my story "Slipping Petals From Their Skins" which will appear in Gamut.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
After grad school, I wrote a terribly stilted story about hysteria and pregnancy, and I remember being exhausted when I finished it. It was only 1,200 words.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 
I try to squeeze my word count in where I can. Generally, it's after I put my little one to bed, and then it's a lot of staring at the screen and pretending to be taking a break by getting on Facebook until I hit my 1,000 word a day quota. Here lately though, I've been doing 500 a day, and that feels less intense. That may be the better approach if I'm thinking longevity.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
Unfortunately, it would be my chapbook from Dim Shores Press, Split Tongues. I say unfortunately because it's since sold out. Eventually, those stories will be included elsewhere, so they'll be out in the world. I promise!

7. What are you working on now? 
Currently smack in the middle of a new short story, and letting my second novel simmer for a bit longer before I tackle edits.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Things of the Week: 9th July 2016

*Brandishes sword in triumph*
*falls over and passes out*
Well, it's been hard work, but Devil's Highway is finally completed. Slightly past the deadline, but not disastrously so.

I finally admitted defeat on trying to type up the pre-recorded notes last month, realising that the text I was getting was rambly and in need of serious rewriting. So I rewrote the hell out of what I had and set about writing the rest of it again from scratch.

There were just under 40,000 words in the draft at that point. Between two and three weeks later, there are now 107,000.

There's still rewriting to do, but the beast is done. And it may, actually (whisper it) not suck.

Emma Barnes of Snowbooks has just tweeted Devil's Highway's inclusion in the Inpress catalogue, so
it's finally been announced outside my blog. Here's the blurb, for those who prefer to read these things without dislocating your necks:

Their hair was bleached and matted, their chalk-white skin dry and fissured like sun-baked earth. Their eyes were near-black, glistening clots with a gleam of red; when they grinned their teeth were needles of bone. “Don’t worry, Helen. We won’t hurt you. But something will.”
In the haunted desolation of post-nuclear Britain, the Catchman walks. Spawned from the nightmare of Project Tindalos, it doesn’t tire, stop, or die. It exists only for one purpose: to find and kill Helen Damnation, leader of the growing revolt against the tyrannical Reapers and their Commander, Tereus Winterborn.
 
Meanwhile, Helen is threatened both from without and within. Her nightmares of the Black Road have returned, and the ghosts of her murdered family demand vengeance, in the form of either Winterborn’s death or her own. And close behind the Catchman, a massive Reaper assault, led by Helen’s nemesis, Colonel Jarrett, is nearing the rebels’ base. Killing Helen has become Jarrett’s obsession: only one of them can emerge from this conflict alive.
 
With the fate of the rebellion in the balance, Helen faces her deadliest challenge yet, pitted in single combat against an unstoppable killer, commanding armies in a bloody and pitiless battle – and, at last, confronting the demons of her past on the Black Road.
Also in the last week, the first royalty statement for Hell's Ditch arrived. I did my best not to dream of private islands or having my own personal airship when I clicked the email, but I cried anyway.

HE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO LOOK HAPPY.
Luckily, along with an incredibly loving and supportive wife, I also have good friends - including one author whose career is currently all writers hope for, and who's been unfailingly kind and generous with their time and advice. When I bemoaned my sales figures, I got a healthy dose of real talk about how many copies most writers sell. Left me feeling better anyway...
Similar real talk, as ever, can be found in this blog here, by Kameron Hurley.
In other news, we got Sky. (Yeah, I know.)  Mainly because having just finished the Game Of Thrones Season 5 box set, we would actually like to see Season 6 some time before 2017. It helped us catch up on the BBC's The Living And The Dead (which despite the gorgeous landscapes and good cast, managed to be yet another wasted opportunity) and The Tunnel, which is damn good, although I'm still getting used to the sight of Stephen Dillane smiling, after four seasons of him as Stannis Baratheon in GoT.
Anyway, time to step away from the computer and into the real world. Catch you all next week, and take care.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Real Talk

Excellent advice for all racists and xenophobes.
Gloria has been my friend for over 20 years. She's Manchester born and bred, and one of the kindest, funniest, warmest, most big-hearted human beings it's ever been my privilege to know. Today, she was tailgated and nearly run off the road - deliberately - by a driver who glared at her with a loathing and contempt that scared her stiff.

Did I mention the colour of her skin isn't white?

This is just one of dozens if not hundreds of similar incidents I've heard about since the EU Referendum. Not just in the news. From people I know. Doesn't even matter if they were born in the UK or not. They look 'a bit foreign.' And that's enough.

Also, as of this moment, I have several friends who've lived in Britain for years but now have no idea whether or not they'll be able to stay.

Real talk: I do not give a FUCK, right now, if you voted Leave ‘but aren't racist’. That's not the issue. Whatever your reasons, every racist piece of shit in the UK now thinks that 52% of the population agrees with them and has just given them the green light to turn on anybody different.

So if you voted Leave, then you need to stop saying 'I'm not racist' when you hear about stuff like this, and instead you need to stand up and SPEAK UP. Make it clear to the racists that they do not speak for you. Because you, more than anyone else, are the ones they need to hear that from. They think you agree with and support them. Tell them, loud and clear, that they do not.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Lowdown with... Luke Walker

Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His novel Hometown will be published by Caffeine Nights in July 2016 while his novella Mirror Of The Nameless is published by DarkFuse. His collection of horror fiction, Die Laughing, is also available. Several of his short stories have been published online and in print. Luke welcomes comments at his blog here and his Twitter page there. He is thirty-eight and lives in England with his wife and two cats.  

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 
Hmm…background: I’m 38, live in England with my wife and our two cats and I’ve been writing for years while working full time. 
When I was 11, I wrote a letter to James Herbert for a school newspaper. From what I remember, the questions were completely random in the way only a kid can manage – everything from his writing life to his favourite colour. He replied and I still have the letter. 
Rachel’s sister in Pet Sematary still scares the shit out of me. 

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

I had five or six poems featured in anthologies around 2000 – 2001. Back then, I wrote predominately short fiction with a poem every now and again although I haven’t written any poetry in best part of seven years. The last one was for my wife on our wedding day and that seemed like a good place to call it a day on my attempts to rhyme. Fiction wise, it was a short story called 'I Could Murder A Good Book' which featured on a horror website in 2008, I think. It was a black comedy (very black) narrated by a wannabe writer who’s had enough of what he thinks of as inferior writers wasting publishers’ time when those publishers could be reading his stuff. So he decides to kill as many writers as he can. Well, it made me laugh. 

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
Tough one. Although I’ve written several books since the first draft of my soon to be published book Hometown — and I try to improve with every new book — that one was the first that felt as if all the things I’d been trying to say with my fiction came together. Character-wise, it was the most honest up to that point and felt closest to the story I wanted to tell. Since then, I’d probably say an as yet unpublished novel called The Dead Room which, again, is pretty much the story I wanted to tell right from the start. Putting together a collection of short fiction and publishing it myself last year (Die Laughing) was a lot of fun, too. Seeing the finished result was a nice moment. 

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
Just about anything I wrote between 1996 and 2007. Poems, attempts at novels, short stories…all crap with the only positive being it taught me what worked and most definitely what did not. A lot of the time, I (without realising it) tried to say something with that stuff when I should have concentrated on just telling a story and letting anything deeper come by itself.  

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 
With a 9-5 job, I have to make use of evenings and weekends to write and take care of my social media stuff. Generally, I work for a couple of hours on three weeknights and more over the weekend. Depending what I’m working on, that could be outlining a new book (I have to outline rather than making it up as I go), reading a finished draft or working on a new book. I aim, roughly, for two thousand words a session if it’s a new book. A first draft takes anywhere between two to four months depending what else is going on in writing or my personal life.  

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up
first?  
I’d probably say either my collection Die Laughing to get a taste of my stuff (Lovecraft, Jack the Ripper, witchcraft, zombies, the horror of the future etc) or a novella called Mirror Of The Nameless which the editor described as ‘Lovecraft meets Mad Max’ — a comment I loved because that’s what I wanted to write. Either should give a new reader a fair idea of what I’m like before Hometown is published.  
 
7. What are you working on now? 
Now that all the final edits for Hometown are done, I’m reading through the second draft of my last book – Winter Graves. It’s a murder thriller thing that takes place over a few days. Teenage girls are being killed by someone the police can’t identify, and the person who might be able to can’t face what’s happening because he knows he has a connection to the killer – a connection that isn’t possible because the killer is dead. After that, I’m very probably going to edit an older book that was published as an ebook a couple of years ago by a company that has since closed and perhaps publish it myself. It’s much more fantasy than horror so we’ll see how that goes. Then it’s a new book…cannibals, nuclear war. All that fun stuff.