Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sacrifice at last takes a real, physical form

At last, my new Mark Heckenburg novel, SACRIFICE, has a physical form – and here it is. I can now relax in the full knowledge that it actually exists.

I’m being mischievous, of course.

The book received its final proof-read several weeks ago, so it was only a matter of time before it rolled off the presses, but it’s always a joy for an author to see your dreams and imaginings take a solid, tangible form.

SACRIFICE is the second in the Heck series, following on from STALKERS, and it takes more of a police procedural line as Heck and the rest of the Serial Crimes Unit are pitted against a so-called ‘calender killer’, a maniac working on a monthly cycle as he celebrates holidays and festivals with gruesomely appropriate human sacrifices. Folk can rest assured, however, that the action quota will be as high as it was in the first book, if not higher, and that I’ve gone out of my way to make it as scary and disturbing as possible.

On a different matter, but still on the subject of scares, I’m very proud to announce that TERROR TALES OF THE COTSWOLDS, the second in my ‘round Britain’ series of regional horror anthologies from GRAY FRIAR PRESS, has made the final ballot for the British Fantasy Award in the capacity of Best Anthology. This series originally stemmed from my love of regional British folklore and myth, and in all cases the authors contributing were asked to bear this in mind when writing their stories. So for example, with TERROR TALES OF THE COTSWOLDS, Thana Niveau told a tale concerning the famous Uffington Horse, John L. Probert discussed the magical properties of Cotswold stone, and Simon Clark reawakened a Shakespearean curse on the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, among many others of course – there are usually about 13 original stories in each of these anthologies. One of the unique features of the series, though I will admit to having been influenced by the late, great Ron Chetwynd-Hayes in this regard, is my determination to intersperse true-life instances of folklore-related terror between the stories – just a page or so in each case, a palate-cleanser before the next dish is served.

Four titles have now been published in the series – LAKE DISTRICT, COTSWOLDS, EAST ANGLIA and LONDON, and though COTSWOLDS is the first to be honoured with a final nomination for the British Fantasy Award, several tales from the other volumes have been selected for reprint in various Year’s Best editions, so overall they are making an impact.

On the same subject, the next book in the series, TERROR TALES OF THE SEASIDE, is now in the latter stages of compilation. As editor, I’m very happy with the stories thus far residing in it, and feel strongly confident that we’ll have this next book out in time for WORLD FANTASY at Brighton over the Halloween weekend. Those attending must keep their eyes peeled; we'll only have so many, and with luck they'll go like the proverbial hot cakes.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Heck to hunt down more merciless killers

I'm rather pleased to announce that STALKERS has finally earned itself 500 reviews on Amazon. It's even nicer to report that 278 of them have awarded it five stars, and 139 have given it four, a grand total of 417 who've given it the big thumbs-up. Nothing pleases an author more than knowledge that the audience is enjoying his/her work. The total sales of STALKERS, which is my first thriller novel - published by Avon Books (HarperCollins) in February this year - now stands at just over 145,000, which is way more than I anticipated when I first made the sideways jump from horror into crime.

The immediate follow-up to STALKERS, and my second outing for Detective Sergeant Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg, SACRIFICE, is due for publication next month, and though it's six weeks away, we already have 10,777 pre-orders on that, which I'm now informed - and this really blew me away - makes it the second most pre-ordered book in HarperCollins's history (and the company's current record-holder is not necessarily safe - we still have plenty of time yet).

Just out of interest, for anyone in the UK who's yet to get hold of a copy of STALKERS, here's an opportunity you may want to take advantage of. Just follow this link to GOOD READS, where there are five copies of the book to be given away.

I can also now officially break the news that, in consequence of all his, I have a agreed a new five-book deal with Avon, to kick in as soon as the third book in the current Mark Heckenburg series, HUNTED, is published next February. So that's eight novels in total I'll be writing for Avon. At a guess, at least three of that next five will be further Heck investigations - maybe all of them will be, but it's highly possible that I may write a couple of stand-alones too. It often pays to spread your wings a little, as they say.

Anyway, if you'll forgive me a personal insight, I'm finding all this incredibly exciting and will be celebrating with a few glasses of bubbly at the HarperCollins summer party in July. If anyone happens to be there, please introduce yourself and we'll chat.

Also, don't forget (if you're interested, of course), that as per the advert reprinted above, I'll be attending Waterstones at Liverpool One on Friday August 2, and sitting on a special TWISTED TALES panel with two fellow crime/horror authors, SARAH PINBOROUGH and ALISON LITTLEWOOD. We'll all be reading extracts from our new novels, answering questions and signing anything that gets put in front of us. As I understand it, tickets, which cost £3 (£2 with a loyalty card), are either available in store or can be booked on 0151 709 9820.

And now, on a completely different but hopefully equally chilling note, TERROR TALES OF LONDON, the fourth anthology in the round-Britain series of horror anthologies that I'm editing for GRAY FRIAR PRESS, has now been published, as demonstrated here by some absolute goon who clearly has no idea at all how to pose for the camera.

It looks and feels great, as they always do of course the first time you get your hands on them. I'm as delighted by this latest volume as I was with all the others, and I think you'll agree the TOC comprises some fairly hefty names from the annals of dark fiction (it includes such luminaries of the industry as ADAM NEVILL, MARK MORRIS, NINA ALLAN, CHRIS FOWLER and NICK ROYLE). The anecdotes in this particular volume have given me extra pleasure - by 'anecdotes' I'm referring to the non-fictional incidents of true-life horror with which I intersperse the actual stories. TERROR TALES OF LONDON is the first exclusively urban district that we've covered in this series, so, as you can imagine, there was a bit more scope than usual to include articles on madmen, murderers and other maniacs. Trust me, this one ain't just about ghosts (though we've got plenty of those too, and a few demons and monsters).

Still on the subject of horror, and to continue on the round-Britain folklore/mythology trail, I received some more welcome news this week, when I learned that GHOST REALM has now made it onto ebook courtesy of ASH-TREE PRESS.

For those who don't know, GHOST REALM was a collection of my stories and novellas, which was first published in 2008. The two things that marked this one as being different out from most of the others were, firstly, that it contained only original pieces - none of the stories in GHOST REALM had been published previously and none have been republished since (until now of course). Secondly, they each represented a different corner of Britain, and told a spooky story particularly associated with that district, drawing on local myth, lore or history. In many ways, it was a forerunner of the TERROR TALES series, which kicked off two years later, though on that first occasion of course it was all my own work. It's something I'd love to do again - GHOST REALM 2 has a nice ring to it, as does GHOST REALM 3 and GHOST REALM 4 - but at present lack of time poses a big constraint.

Anyway, to whet your whistle about the original, here's a quick rundown of the contents:

The Killing Ground - A movie star takes a Christmas retreat in the snowy Herefordshire countryside, but first recruits a couple of private eyes to ensure there is no truth in the local rumour about a mysterious roaming cannibal.

The Gallows In My Garden - A woman fleeing an abusive relationship, seeks comfort in the wilds of East Anglia, only to find herself in a cottage close to the site where a maniac strangler was hanged in the eighteenth century.

Be He Alive, Be He Dead - A vengeful husband hatches a complex scheme, but his hideout in London's East End is compromised by a mysterious curse, annually preceded by the stench of burning flesh.

Tregeagle’s Cove - On a sun-drenched summer day, a tough Cockney businessman takes an ill-advised boat trip to an isolated beach on the very tip of Cornwall.

The Crannog - Twitchers travel to a secluded lake in the Welsh mountains, camping out on a eerie isle rumoured to be the last remnant of an ancient, sunken city.

This Place! - Bored South Coast teenagers break into an off-season theme park, but it doesn't inspire them much - until they start to suspect that they aren't there alone.

Bloody Essex - A left wing academic and right wing journalist clash over the truth behind the stories of Queen Boudicca, but it takes a turn for the nasty in the lonely groves of Epping Forest.

In The Black And Stinking Fume - A TV medium outed as a charlatan tries to rebuild his career by exposing witchcraft in the backstreets of modern day Edinburgh.

The Moon Rising Red - When a vicious Stone Age ritual is re-enacted, a woman in a lone Lake District farmhouse is terrorised by three nameless, nightmare entities.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Safely at home with the criminally minded

Well … I’m finally starting to feel as if I’m a genuine member of the crime-writing community.

You might argue that with STALKERS selling better than I ever imagined possible (soon to be launched in Germany, Hungary and Poland – whoohooo!), the sequel SACRIFICE due out next month and the first draft of the third book in the series, HUNTED, almost at completion, I’m already there. But I’ve always been slow to make positive assumptions about myself. I don’t know what it is – some flaw in my personality, but I always feel like as if I need more proof about my own stuff.

However, things are now starting to happen that I’m finding massively encouraging.

To start with, I spent last week at CrimeFest in Bristol. It was my first ever visit to this annual international gathering of thriller writers, and I felt home from home. I met and chatted for ages with some amazing people: LUCA VESTE, MARK SENNEN, HOWARD LINSKEY, NEIL WHITE, MATT HILTON, MARI HANNAH, NICK QUANTRILL, STEVE MOSBY, DAVID MARK, not to mention numerous others (some of whom get tagged later in this column, but apologies to anyone I've missed out entirely).

It was hugely gratifying for a former horror guy like myself to be welcomed so warmly. In many ways it was an education too. It seems that even the most successful, multi-selling crime writers are apparently plagued by the same uncertainties and doubts about their work: not just the technical stuff like characterisation, pacing, authenticity and so on, but also those often unspoken matters of taste, decency and morality. I attended one particularly fascinating seminar, which addressed the issues of sadism, violence and human degradation, and asked the question just how far, as writers, should we be willing or even allowed to go when this is essentially an entertainment medium.

It’s funny but those matters always seem more straightforward when I’m writing horror. At the end of the day, everyone knows that’s a fantasy. When you’re writing crime, it’s far less clear-cut.

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. Suffice to say that CrimeFest was an absolute blast of a weekend, and I’m now looking forward very much to the HARROGATE CRIME FESTIVAL in July.

The picture at the top above was taken during one of the nights in Bristol, when I went out for a smashing meal with, left to right: PHIL PATTERSON of the MARJACQ LITERARY AGENCY, a lady who never needs any introduction - the always irrepressible SARAH PINBOROUGH (who made the journey over from horror to crime before I did – more about Sarah later), PAUL CLEAVE, STEPHANIE GLENCROSS, KEVIN WIGNALL (hiding), SIMON KERNICK, my lovely wife Cathy, moi, and TOM WOOD.

Another crime writing thing that’s happened to me in recent weeks concerns the achievements of best-selling self-published author, RACHEL ABBOTT, whose first two novels, THE BACK ROAD and ONLY THE INNOCENT, have consistently topped the recent ebook charts, and all without the assistance of a major mass-market publisher.

I’ve chatted an awful lot with Rachel in the last few days; we’ve been tweeting each other, exchanging emails and as many ideas as possible, and finally Rachel came up with the rather cool notion that we should have an open-ended conversation, write it down and stick it on both our blogs. The result is here, on RACHEL’S BLOG, which has a stated aim to help authors going through the process of self-publishing their first ebook, and includes reviews of various indie publications. I’ll reprint it all on this blog sometime in the near future, but not today. It was Rachel’s concept, so she’s the one who gets first dibs. 

Any prospective author who’s thinking of following the self-publishing route ought to find Rachel’s views and experiences fascinating. Self-publishing is a complex procedure, as we all know – but RACHEL ABBOTT has made it happen in spectacular fashion. I strongly recommend that you check out her site and her books on a regular basis.

Now … I mentioned earlier that SARAH PINBOROUGH would be cropping up in conversation again today, and here’s the reason why. I’m very pleased to announce that on August 2 this year I’ll attending Waterstones at Liverpool One (12, College Lane, Liverpool), and sitting on a special TWISTED TALES panel, consisting of myself, Sarah, and another amazing thriller author, ALISON LITTLEWOOD.

In the now tried-and-tested fashion of TWISTED TALES, we’ll each be focussing on our latest gruesome offering. In Sarah’s Case, it will be the novel MAYHEM, a semi-supernatural jaunt through a late-Victorian London in which a ‘torso killer’ is giving Saucy Jack a run for his money; in Alison’s case it will be the novel PATH OF NEEDLES, in which a rookie cop is confronted by several horrific re-enactments of various fairy tales; in my case it will be SACRIFICE, the second novel in the DS Heckenburg series, and an investigation into a procession of ghastly murders apparently committed to celebrate famous folk festivals.

We’ll all be giving readings, answering questions and of course signing copies for people. I’m not sure whether the guys and girls at TWISTED TALES have devised a title for this particular event yet, but I think it will be something like HUNTING SHADOWS, the focus being on uber-dark crime novels but with mystical and Gothic elements woven into them.

Tickets are £3, I believe, (or £2 with a Watestones loyalty card). They are available in the shop, or can be booked on 0151 709 9820.

Hoping to see you all there.