Monday, 24 December 2012

Festive frights are just a button-push away

Alas, only time for a very quick blog post today. But then, on the upside, it is Christmas Eve, so there are plenty of other exciting things for us all to do in preparation for the big night tonight.

So this is just a quick Christmas greeting to everyone who checks in on here, and - as a sort of unofficial Christmas prezzie - a link to MIDNIGHT SERVICE, an entirely new festive horror story, courtesy of my good self, which you can find on KILLER READS, the HarperCollins blogsite. Hope you all enjoy and approve.

I won't give too much away, except to say that it may bring an entirely new meaning to that time-honoured phrase, 'Christmas Eve in the workhouse'. Anyway, why not pop over and have a read? Unlike many other things this Christmas, it won't cost you a bean.

Have a great Christmas and a splendid New Year.

And thanks to Paul Campion and the rest of his devilish crew, for letting me pinch their Devil's Rock seasonal greeting.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Share this slow, steady descent to madness

Well, it's now mid-December, and various Christmas-themed things are on the horizon, including a couple of online stories of mine, which people might enjoy checking out.

The grim picture above could illustrate either of them, but more about those later. In the meantime, I have a new post up and running at KILLER READS, the HarperCollins crime-writing blog.

This will be my forth since Avon Books commissioned a new series of crime novels from me, and it won't be the last - they are set to run well into next year. But in this one I discuss my early days as a professional author - joining the writing team for THE BILL while I was still finding my feet as a journalist (having just left the Greater Manchester Police).

I won't say too much more, otherwise there'd be no point in anyone going and reading it there, but I'm really grateful for the opportunity KILLER READS has given me to create a brief blow-by-blow account of my gradual transition into authordom (or my my slow descent into madness, as my wife, Cathy, would doubtless say).

I highlight several watershed moments from that early stage of my career: not just the obvious ones like the first time I was invited to THE BILL offices in response to my sending them an on-spec screenplay, but the later frustration I found in trying to produce tough cop thrillers in the slightly sanitised environment of pre-9pm TV, the spin-off of which was my search for other venues in which to extrapolate some much darker themes and my subsequent arrival on the horror scene.

Anyway, as I say ... you'll have to go THERE to see the rest of it.

On the subject scary stuff, that brings us rather neatly to the point I raised at the beginning of this session - Christmas is fast approaching, always a popular time for spooky tales, and this year looks like being no exception.

To start with, a brand new Christmas story of mine, a particularly creepy one, I think - MIDNIGHT SERVICE - will be appearing on KILLER READS sometime in the next couple of weeks. I haven't got an exact date for that yet, but it will be up there in time for Christmas (I hope). Watch this space for more details on that.

A bit sooner - in fact on Tuesday this week, December 18th - a story of mine entitled DOWN IN THE DYING-ROOMS, will appear on the always excellent VAULT OF EVIL website, which specialises in fun and scholarly assessments of horror and dark thriller literature. This will be part of webmaster Demonik's annual Advent Calendar, which presents us with a different terror tale each day.

To access it, you'll need enter the Vault's actual ADVENT CALENDAR section. It isn't just my story, of course - numerous luminaries of the horror game have contributed this December already, not to mention last December and the December before. So you'll have plenty to read. But first you'll need to register (in order to get the downloads). Don't be put off by that. It won't cost you anything, no-one is going to pester you or shower you with advertising, or even expect you to participate in the Vault's daily life. If you like your daily chillers, it's a good place to be at any time of the year, but you can always delete your account afterwards if you're not satisfied.

Just for your info, my story next Tuesday will be DOWN IN THE DYING-ROOMS, which not many people over here in the UK will have read as it has only appeared once before, back in 2005 in the cracking US horror mag, DARK DISCOVERIES.

Again, I won't go into further detail, but put it this way, if you like the macabre atmosphere generated by the two derelict hospitals displayed in this column - (top, Denbigh Mental Hospital); bottom, Cane Hill in Croydon), then this one could be right up your street.

Thanks to Howzey for these amazing images of two medical facilities that time forgot.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Cool to have a bit of power in your corner

I can't tell you what a nice warm feeling it gives you inside knowing that a publishing powerhouse like HarperCollins is throwing all its muscle behind the promotion of your next book.

Regular readers of this column will know that Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, are my new publisher, and that they'll be putting out a trilogy of my cop thriller novels next year, starting in February with STALKERS (in which Detective Sergeant Mark Heckenburg, originally a Manchester cop but now assigned to the Serial Crimes Unit at Scotland Yard, is put on the trail of 38 mysteriously vanished women).

As pictured above, each one of these beautiful slip-cased extracts - which I received through my letterbox only this morning - is representative of a new novel due out in 2013 from Avon. Apparently - and this is very flattering indeed - I'm told that these particular selections have been made because they are the "standout voices of the year". All I can say is that to see STALKERS on top of this pile makes me feel ten feet tall.

These slip-cased extracts will now go out to publicists and retailers all over the country, as part of a big marketing drive. For a writer I don't think there's any better feeling on Earth than being able to sit back and let your work do the talking.

And now from a future project to a past one, but one which nevertheless continues to reap rewards for all those involved.

It didn't really surprise me last week to learn that Sean Foot, the hero whose team were behind the special make-up on THE DEVIL’S ROCK (the World War Two themed horror move I scripted, which was distributed to the cinemas in 2011), has scooped the prestigious Best Make-Up prize at the New Zealand Film Awards. Sean is pictured left, posing proudly with his trophy.

I think all those who have seen THE DEVIL’S ROCK will agree that the make-up was pretty extraordinary. The transformation of ever-alluring Gina Varela from pretty London housewife to lusty, cannibalistic devil-incarnate was a bit gob-smacking to say the least. The final product is pictured below right.

Equally amazing, handsome hunk Karlos Drinkwater morphed spectacularly from a stolid Maori commando into a grotesque shambling zombie.

(The image below was taken to illustrate how Karlos's own eye-socket was digitally replaced using the eye-socket of the skull).

On top of that, other members of the cast suffered an array of gruesome yet utterly believable injuries, including Jonathan King, who had half his head blown away (pictured bottom), Haydn Green, who got a rifle shoved down his throat until the firing mechanism jammed against his teeth, and master villain Matt Sunderland, whose entire head was bitten off and swallowed during a grisly Satanic ceremony that went catastrophically wrong.

All pretty grim, I admit. Why on Earth would someone celebrate this?, I hear you ask. Well hell, this is the movies, ya know, man. It's called tripping the light fantastic (or should that be 'dark fantastic'?).

Meanwhile, back on the self-promotion trail (am I ever off it?, you're probably thinking but this is my blog, so yaaah!), if anyone is dithering about whether or not to buy SPARROWHAWK, my Christmas themed horror / supernatural / romance / fantasy / period piece, etc, first published in 2010, please check out this exceedingly nice review from 'Wag The Fox', which has appeared on Amazon US. Before you do, make a note that SPARROWHAWK will be re-issued in a special illustrated hard back version this time next year, but it is still available, and will continue to remain so, in softback and electronic formats:

A Christmas Carol is a perennial favorite of mine this time of year. The movie that is, and has been since I was a little kid. Everyone has their favorite Christmas movie; that one's mine, namely the Alistair Sims adaptation. That's how I came to know the story, and always will, even after reading Dickens' own words. As for a Christmas read, I don't really have one. It's Halloween that gets my attention when it comes to seasonal books. For Sparrowhawk, however, I may make an exception.

Paul Finch's darkly-tinged novella is set against the sooty backdrop of 1840s London. Captain John Sparrowhawk is rotting away in a debtors prison (onga familiar setting in more than one Dickens story) until a mysterious and alluring woman, Miss Evangeline, visits him and offers him a job and a new start. His debts are paid in full and all he has to do is protect an anonymous man from three nefarious persons out to do him harm. Given Sparrowhawk's harrowing experiences in Afghanistan, he's well suited to do some muscle work, though he carries a good deal of emotional baggage given his fall from grace when he returned from the war, and that threatens to undermine his second chance at life.

In a modest 130-or-so pages, Paul builds a rich and memorable story of a tormented man whose torment has not nearly reached its end. London is captured expertly, warts and all, in this story, and the dialogue between John Sparrowhawk and Miss Evangeline is magnetic. The back-and-forth between them initially feels a bit familiar with the dashing rogue and femme fatale vibe, but it quickly develops into something all its own, with just enough sinisterness to make you wonder just which side she's on. The struggle doesn't come from Miss Evangeline, but from the powers that be out to harm the man Sparrowhawk is sworn to protect--and do so without the man ever knowing he exists.

The ending packs a punch and the allusions to Dickens' A Christmas Carol are a treat as the story progresses. It is 19th-century London, after all. I'm a guy who continues to struggle with appreciating historical fiction, at least the kind that steeps itself in the language of the time. As much as I'm a fan of Dickens for A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, his prose is a chore to get through more often than not. Paul Finch, on the other hand, offers a style of writing that harkens to that time but offers enough of a contemporary feel to make a schlub like me get immersed in the story with little effort.