Flying Towards Reality

When I was a kid, I could fly. I remember this very clearly. It wasn’t how you imagine it, not like Superman, but if I placed my foot just right, I could step onto the air.

Gradually I was able to move forward. The sensation was not like I was zooming down the street but that I was still and the houses were moving past me. I could travel far and wide in this way at speeds that would make an astronaut sick.

This memory is as clear and as real as when I learned to ride a bike, or the first time I fell off a skateboard.

Of course really it was just a recurring dream, I wasn’t actually able to fly, I think, but I’ve always had difficulties keeping the dreaming world out of the real world.

There are two ways to go with this problem. Your can either spiral into madness or become an author. Writing, after all, is nothing more than applied daydreaming.

That harnessed flight of fancy has been tamed over the years, chained to the page by grammar and story structure. it has now been enclosed in a paperback which you can purchase, if you wish.

Jack’s Game is more than a novel. It is the culmination of years of keeping my feet on the ground and my dreams on the page.

Cover reveal tease and newsletter news!

Cover reveal for Jack’s Game!

Next weekend I’ll be revealing the cover. This is my vain attempt to build buzz.

It finally has a release date! My debut horror novel, the one I’ve been working on for two years, will finally be published this Halloween!

If you want to see the cover before everyone else, and get a FREE horror story right NOW, all you have to do is sign up to my newsletter. The link is in my bio.

http://www.subscribepage.com/gnome

When you subscribe you will get my horror retelling of the Brother’s Grimm story, Gnome for free. It is a homage to the creature features of my childhood. This is my Gremlins, my Critters, my Ghoulies!

Melody and Faith just wanted to pick fruit, but a cursed nursery rhyme could kill them both…

When you’re playing by the tree

Eat the fruit and then you’ll see

Eyes like marbles, black and small

Teeth like razors, sharp and cruel

If they find you feed them bread

Or you’ll end up dead, dead, dead!

Eat my flesh and break my bones

All should fear the twisted gnomes

– Playground rhyme*

*WARNING: DO NOT SING THIS RHYME IN THE WOODS AT NIGHT

A Village Called Christmas – A Festive Horror Story

Young Claire looked out of the window of her parents’ car as they drove into the village where her grandparents lived. The sign on the way in read, You Are Now Entering Christmas. A village that is wrong 364 days of the year, she thought.

She wiped the condensation away with her sleeve.

There was a man raking the driveway of his cottage. He was laughing at the leaves.

She had never seen anything like it before. She began to smile and then stopped. It was like the leaves had told the man a joke, but a terrible one. No, a terrifying one. For, although he laughed wildly, there was fear in his eyes.

She looked at her parents to see if they had seen the man but they were busy debating whether it was the next left, or the one after that. It had been a while since they last visited.

When she looked back at the man he was lying on the ground. She could only see the soles of his boots. The rest of him was covered in leaves.

The tyres crunched on gravel and they came to a stop.

Her grandparents were standing on their doorstep waving. Even though it was cold, the scene couldn’t have been warmer. Claire could see the tree in the window, all decorated and twinkling with lights, and there was the flicker of burning logs in the fireplace. She looked up and saw the smoke rising gently from the chimney. She smiled. She hadn’t felt festive at all so far this year. She figured she was just getting too old for it. But there it was, that happy jingle that made her heart swell. It was like stepping into the picture on the Quality Street tin.

“Aw, they’re so adorable,” said Mum, as Dad turned off the engine.

“And one day we’ll be just as cute,” said Dad.

“Sure,” said Claire, trying and failing to imagine her parents as anything other than the work orientated homework henchmen that they were.

They got out of the car.

A single snowflake drifted down from the empty sky and Claire happened to look up just as it reached her. It alighted on her eye and melted. She blinked.

“Ah, something went in my eye,” she said, rubbing at it with the palm of her hand.

“What is it? Does it hurt?” said Mum.

She opened her eyes wide and looked around.

“I think it was a snowflake,” said Claire. “I’m okay.”

“Let me take your coat sweetheart, oh look how much you’ve grown,” said Gran.

“Hi Gran, look how much you’ve shrunk,” smiled Claire, shrugging off her coat.

“Oh bless, you got your grandfather’s sense of humour. It’s a terrible family illness. One no treatment can cure. I haven’t managed to find one anyway,” said Gran.

“What’s that? She sick?” said Grandad, slightly deaf, and definitely not the funny one of the two.

“Come on in, let me close that door and keep the cold out.”

Walking into the lounge was like walking into a grotto. Claire’s eyes were wide as she entered. There were cups of hot chocolate waiting for them and Gran gave them out. They always drank hot chocolate together at Christmas. It was a tradition.

She let the cup warm her hands and looked around at the decorations on the walls. Real wreaths made of holly with red berries in them. Mistletoe hung from wall lights. Stockings that Gran had made hung at the ends of the fireplace. There was one for each of them. The tree was so tall the tip bent at the ceiling. The angel, made by Claire when she was six out of a cone of cardboard, some glitter, and a polystyrene ball for a head (with a smile drawn on with a felt tip pen), looked down at a crooked angle.

Something caught Claire’s eye outside and she looked out of the window past the tree, to the cottage across the road. There was- what was it?

She moved closer and stopped next to the tree. She took a sip of her hot chocolate and made a quizzical face. The neighbour’s boy ran out of the front door and threw the turkey clear over the hedge. His parents came out after him, the dad holding a rolling pin and the mother a carving knife.

“Err, mum,” said Claire, turning to get the attention of her parents.

The lounge was empty.

“We’re in the dining room honey, come in when you’ve finished your drink. We’ll be carving soon,” said Mum.

Something twisted around Claire’s arm and she looked down to see a branch of pine needles snaking around her. She stepped away, would have screamed, but the reflection in a bauble took her to another place.

It was dark. A forest full of tree stumps. Felled Christmas trees. Thousands of them. Men dragging them to pick-up trucks like dead bodies.

She pulled her arm away, dropping the mug of hot chocolate, stepping back. She looked down. The presents under the tree were wet with blood. It was pouring out of the axe wound that had severed the tree from its roots.

She turned and looked around at the wreaths and mistletoe and suddenly it was more like a hunter’s cabin than a festive cottage. Wreaths nailed to the walls like the heads of animals.

She ran into the dining room.

Where normality and kindness was.

She looked back. Just a lounge. Just a tree.

She sat down. Her mind was racing. Time had passed. Or it felt like it had. The aroma of the place had changed. The scent of mulled wine had replaced the chocolate smell. And the delicious taste of hot food and gravy was in the air.

“Are you okay, Claire?” said Mum, putting a steaming turkey in the centre of the table.

Claire nodded. Of course she wasn’t. But what could she say? “No mum, I just witnessed the memory of a murdered tree and I think we are all in danger.”

There was enough food to feed all of them twice and twice more. There was the bird, and gammon, there were bowls of sprouts, and broccoli, and parsnips, and stuffing, and potatoes, and so much more. A feast.

The food, the decorations, all once living things. We’re in the middle of a festival of death, thought Claire.

Everybody was seated, apart from Dad. He was ready to carve.

Mum was holding a cup of mulled wine in a porcelain teacup. Usually the kind of cup reserved only for tea. The fairy lights that had been put up around the window reflected in her wedding ring, making the diamond change colour as the lights did. Claire stared at it. She fixated on it. Trying to put whatever had just happened out of her mind.

“I hope you’re hungry, kid,” said Dad, looking at Claire.

She glanced up at him.

He stabbed the knife into the turkey.

It flinched.

Her dad stepped back, leaving the knife there.

“What was that?” said Mum.

“I don’t know.”

The roasted bird seemed to yawn where its head once had been. Its bent plucked wings gyrated awkwardly. Its feetless legs started to buck. The bowls of vegetables began to fill with blood, it was pulsing out of the sprouts, leaking out of the parsnips, dripping from the juicy gammon.

 “What, what is this?” said Mum.

Grandad stood up and stepped back, knocking the chair over as he did. A wreath that had been hanging on the mirror fell and landed over his head. He grabbed at it and the holly bit into his hands. He screamed, low and deep, as the wreath constricted around his mouth and cut into his cheeks.

Dad was at his side. He took the wreath in both hands, ignoring the pain in his palms, and lifted it free. As it came away it took the skin off Grandad’s face.

Dad stood there holding the bloody wreath, and there was Grandad; a red skull on a cardiganed body, eyes that wanted to blink but couldn’t. He fell to his knees and collapsed forwards, hitting the edge of the table on his way down. His skull cracked open and the wet insides poured out like a crimson yoke.

Mum and Gran started screaming. Dad looked at the wreath in his hands. On top of it was the hair and skin from Grandad’s head. He dropped it.

“Jesu- wha- what the hell is-” said Dad, trailing off.

He took a step back. He looked at Claire and then at Mum and Gran. “We need to go. We need to get out of here.”

Mum and Gran were unable to follow his order. Their minds were unable to make sense of what had just happened. Gran fell to her husband’s side and put her hands to the exposed muscles of his cheeks. Mum found some kind of sanity and took her by the elbow. “Come on.”

“What happened?” said Gran.

“We’ll call an ambulance,” said Mum. “Let’s go.”

“No, I’m not going anywhere,” said Gran.

Claire felt something move around her feet and looked down. There was a sea of pine needles washing in around them. She looked back at the tree, which was now just bare branches.

“Mum, Dad, we have to go, now!”

They looked down, saw what Claire saw.

Mum tried to pull Gran to her feet but the needles had already found their way into her body. She turned towards them and they saw her face. She was already dead. Pine needles had travelled up under her skin and out of her eyes and ears and mouth. Her insides had been completely shredded. She slumped to the ground like a bag of loose hay. She split open and blood gushed out. It reminded Claire of an awful video she had once seen of a dead beached whale being cut open and so much red mess pouring out.

It was time to run.

Dad climbed onto the table, grabbed Claire under the arms, and pulled her up. He jumped off, ran through the lounge, opened the front door, and got Claire out of there.

“Run,” he said.

“Mum?” said Claire.

Dad ran back in. Claire had time to see him clasp her mum’s hand and start back towards her. Claire turned and sprinted down the drive.

The car tyres were shredded. Pine needles blew around them like debris in an eddy. The car seats were torn with holly.

She carried on and stopped in the middle of the road. There were people, whole families, crawling out of their homes. The boy who had thrown the turkey lay beaten to death by his parents, turned mad by things they couldn’t explain. They too lay dead, choked to death by mistletoe.

She looked up to the top of the hill where the village church had been holding Christmas Mass. It had been full of contented families, lost in prayer and warm with the spirit of the community. The church hall had been decorated with trees and wreaths. All prayers had ceased. The doors burst open and a river of blood erupted from within. It flooded down the street towards Claire. The blood was thick with pine needles.

Claire turned and ran.

Feet are no match for running liquid and soon the red river was with her, it drenched her shoes and flowed past her. Her feet splashed as she ran.

She reached the corner and turned.

Something impossible was blocking the street. A sleigh the size of a lorry. She collided with the ornate yet gnarled bough and collapsed backwards, landing hard on her elbows.

Way up high, on the seat of the thing, was a large hooded figure in a green coat.

Santa Clause? She thought.

He looked down at her, his features in shadow, the sun peeking over the edge of his shoulder. A hand reached down out of a thick sleeve and she took it.

It was coarse to the touch. Her heart curled up inside her. Santa leaned forwards and his face came into view. It was not Santa Clause. He did not have kind eyes. There was no white beard. Its face was jagged bark and its eyes were dark holes that wept sap. His coat was made of moss.

She tried to pull away but it tightened its grip and she felt the bones snap in her fingers. She screamed and grabbed the wrist below her broken hand, trying to break free of its grasp.

He lifted her off the ground, turning her pain into something white and hot, making her nauseous and on the verge of blacking out. He placed her in his leather sack (a sack that was detailed with the occasional tattoo and lash-lined oval slit).

From that vantage she watched the stream pass. Body parts bobbed here and there. Something white caught her eye. A glint with it. It was a tea cup with a part of a hand still holding on to it. A ring on one of the dainty fingers.

She watched it float past and burst into tears.

Father Nature adjusted the reins and the sleigh took to the sky like a leaf to a breeze.

He sailed the sky to the next place on his list and the village known as Christmas paid for centuries of death.

The End

The Best Horror Films I’ve Seen This Year!

I was at work and it was raining too much to get out of the van so I recorded an off-the-cuff video about the best three horror films I’ve seen this year.

I ended up naming seven films and they are all great. If you want to watch a genuinely good horror movie this month (the spookiest of all months) you won’t go wrong with any of these.

B-Movie Review – The Black Sleep – 1956

Transcript-

I am embarking on a writing project (a screenplay) that is going to require a lot of research. Luckily for me that research mostly involves watching a whole bunch of old movies. And I’m talking b-movie schlock horror. Mad scientists, monsters, screaming girls, crumbling castles, fog, lightning, all that good stuff. As I’m watching them I figured I might as well share some of the great old movies with you, starting with The Black Sleep from 1956.

It was released in America as a double feature alongside The Creeping Unknown which, if you live in the UK, you might not have heard of. Over here it was called The Quatermass Xperiment.

The Black Sleep was so scary to audiences back in 1956 that the parents of Stewart Cohen tried to sue United Artists and the Lake Theatre for negligence after their nine year-old son died of fright. He was so afraid that he ruptured an artery.

Written by John C. Higgins, (who also wrote a film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars starring Adam West, which I’ve only discovered in writing this introduction and is going straight to the top of my to-watch list), The Black Sleep is about a mad scientist who is trying to cure his wife’s brain tumour by experimenting with people’s brains.

It stars Basil Rathbone as Dr Joel Cadman, the mad scientist of the movie. The quality of the movie is heightened by two supporting cast members, legends of Universal Monster movies; Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.

Dr Gordon Ramsey, played by Herbert Rudley, is in prison the night before he is due to be hung for murder when he gets a visit from his old mentor, Dr Cadman. Cadman tells Ramsey that he believes he is innocent but is unable to help. He offers Ramsey a sedative to make the hanging easier. This is a lie. The powder he pours into Ramsey’s drink is an East Indian drug known as The Black Sleep which induces a deathlike state of anaesthesia.

Ramsey is pronounced dead in his cell and so avoids the noose. The body is turned over to Cadman. When safely inside Cadman’s abbey home, Ramsey is revived. Cadman explains that he needs Ramsey’s talents to help him revive his wife, who is in a coma due to a deep-seated brain tumour.

They get to work on examining the brain of a corpse.  Ramsey learns that the “corpse” they had experimented on was alive and was now being kept in a basement dungeon where more living victims of Dr Cadman’s experiments were being kept, including Curry; the very man Ramsey had been accused of murdering.

Curry is played by Tor Johnson who you might recognise as the big guy from the infamous Ed Wood movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Mungo, who walks with a dragging leg and torments Laurie Monroe (played by Patricia Blair). It turns out that Mungo is her father, Dr Monroe. He was a lecturer at the medical college who suffered a brain disease that Cadman said he could cure. Instead, his experiments turn him into a mindless leg-dragging monster.

The Black sleep was Bela Lugosi’s last movie (unless you count Plan 9 from Outer Space, which he was in but died before the film went into production. They used test footage of Lugosi in the finished film).

Lugosi plays Casimir, a mute servant. I loved him in this film. He has so much presence in every film he’s in and I’m always pleased when he pops up.

During production Lugosi was unhappy that his character didn’t have any lines so, to pacify him, the director, Reginald Le Borg, filmed some dialogue scenes with the actor and then just didn’t put them in the movie.

The film is great. They really put the effort in to make it creepy and atmospheric. They even got a real neurosurgeon in for the close-ups of the brain surgery to make it more believable.

I’m working on a screenplay that will be a homage to the old b-movies of the 40s and 50s. I love these old films and I think more people should go out there and rediscover them. The Black Sleep is available to watch on Amazon Prime and so are many other classics (including The Quatermass Xperiment, which is also great).

Great Writing Advice Great Writers Ignore

Transcript

If you are looking for tips to improve your writing you will find them here. But you will also discover that doing whatever the hell you want can work just as well too.

Gertrude Stein, the famous American novelist, poet, and playwright said –

Punctuation is necessary only for the feeble minded.

Before we venture into the spiralling madness of authors who go against the rules, I just discovered that the word “playwright” is written P L A Y W R I G H T . I assumed it would be spelled P L A Y W R I T E . Like someone who writes plays. Playwrite. This might be because I am a fool. It might also be because the English language is endlessly surprising. Etymologically speaking Playwright is similar to wheelwright. A wheelwright was someone who wrought wheels out of wood and iron. And so a playwright is someone who has wrought words into a dramatic form. Like the words have been hammered and bent into submission.

But this isn’t about playwrights. This is about rules god damn it, so let’s get to it.

There are hundreds of books about the rules of writing correctly. As authors we walk a tightrope of good grammar. At any moment we could fall into a pit of dangling participles, passive sentences, repetition, the much feared adverb that reveals the writers inability to show instead of tell, repetition, a misplaced comma, and god forbid; a rogue semi colon. And worst of all, repetition.

But how important are these rules and how much are they going to actually hinder your success?

Rule one

Only ever use he said or she said, and never follow it up with an adverb.

You don’t even need to use he asked, or she replied. He said is a tag to notify the reader who has spoken. They become invisible to the reader. We scan over them as we read.
Of course you can say, said Graham, or Susan said, but be warned; only do that if you have characters named Graham or Susan. If not, I would recommend using the names of your own characters. The key here is economy of words, and clarity. The reader wants to know who is speaking but nothing more. All the dramatic work should be done in the dialogue or the surrounding prose.

You might have a character at the breakfast table. His wife has prepared breakfast for him. And we get the following piece of dialogue. “I wanted my eggs runny, not raw,” said Graham, angrily.

Instead of using the word angrily, you would write something like, “I wanted my eggs runny, not raw,” said Graham, picking up his plate and throwing it at Susan.

You see, we have a vivid image, instead of “angrily”. There is no doubt that replacing the adverb is better.

Unless of course, you are one of the bestselling authors of all time.

Stephen King said about J. K. Rowling –

Ms Rowling seems to have never met an adverb she didn’t like.

It’s true. Her prose is littered with them.

I’m a sucker for this rule and I try to never use adverbs. But maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of throwing a few in every now and then. It hasn’t exactly hindered the success of Harry Potter.

Exclamation marks!

Avoid them. If you have more than three exclamation marks in your entire novel you have too many. It is lazy. It doing work that should be self-evident in the words being spoken, or the events that are unfolding. If you need to add a nudge at the end of sentence to let the reader know that THIS BIT IS REALLY SURPRISING then something is wrong.

Your words should speak for themselves without the fanfare to highlight how loud someone is shouting or that an explosion is really big. And just on an aesthetic level it makes the page look cluttered and messy.

Having said that, in Joe Hill’s hugely successful book, NOS4A2, there is an exclamation mark every time Charlie Manx, the bad guy in the story, speaks.

You will also find an excessive use of exclamation marks in the books of Tom Wolfe, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austin, and of course the biggest offender of all, James Joyce.

Some people think of those authors as being amongst the best literary writers in history. So maybe using more than three in a book won’t be so bad.

Speech Marks

Here’s a curious one; when writing dialogue should you use the double quotation mark or the single one? That has a straightforward answer.

The publishing standard in the UK is to use a single quotation mark. And in the US, they use the double quotation mark.

Unless of course you’re the bestselling author Roddy Doyle, who uses neither. He just starts each piece of dialogue with a dash.

Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men, and The Road, didn’t believe in speech marks either, saying –

I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.

On the subject of basic punctuation, in the last twenty-four thousand words of James Joyce’s Ulysses there are only two full stops and one comma.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, simply, there is no right or wrong way to write well. You can do whatever the hell you like. The books that break through and become huge bestsellers are littered with broken rules. Nobody in the publishing industry can predict what makes a book become a bestseller. Writers have tried to hone their craft with best practices but, ultimately it’s for nothing.

My advice is that you should learn and understand all these things and then use them at your discretion. Be free to write the way you want to write.

Maybe you don’t need to polish your prose into a smooth perfectly formed generic thriller. Let it be a bit rugged around the edges. Let a bit of your voice come through.
Writing is like music. You can release a highly produced pop song that does well in the charts, and you will do well. For me, those songs are polished so smooth I bounce right off.

Or you can be like Bob Dylan. Sometimes he would screw up a word while singing and just say the word again. He didn’t even go back and rerecord it. It’s right there in the song. He might screw up twenty seconds in and just start eh song again, and it’s right there in the album. It’s those cracks in the perfection that let us in. It’s true for all art, and it’s especially true for writing.

That’s all from me!

To get notifications for new videos from me click subscribe and ring that notification bell. New videos come out every Wednesday.

If you are an author and you have a mailing list why not pop a link to my channel in your next newsletter. And if you do please let me know and I will plug your book in a future episode.

The Manic Race to the Deadline! First draft done!

Last night was a bit mental. I had made a public declaration on here and on the Bestseller Experiment podcast group on Facebook, that I would complete a novella by midnight on the 31st Jan. On the 1st Jan I only had one chapter. Yesterday morning I still had six chapters to write.

I decided to document my race to the end with short videos on TikTok and shared them on Twitter and Instagram. I needed to give myself the added pressure of other people’s expectations.

Midnight came and I still had three chapters to go. I finally finished at 1:44 this morning, feeling frazzled and slightly nuts.

It’s done!!

Much polishing to do now. A cover is in the works which I will reveal soon.

The story is called Gnome. It’s a homage to creature feature movies from the 80s. Critters, Gremlins, The Gate, and Ghoulies. And the basic idea behind the story was inspired by a Brothers Grimm story of the same name.

This was only the first part of my public declaration. The second part is to complete a story called The Projectionist and The Wall People by 30th April. And then to finish a movie screenplay called Price of Life by the last day in June.

It’s going to be a busy year. I can’t wait!

Here’s the last video I posted at 1:44 this morning-