I Recently Did A Somewhat Insane Thing 😳

Many of you will already know that on my birthday this year, the 12th May 2022, I attempted to write an entire novel in a single day. I succeeded. The novel is called The Mask Collector. At 7:30am on the 13th May, tired and weird, I wrote the Author’s Note that will appear at the beginning of that novel. I would like to share it with you here.

The Mask Collector

Author’s Note

This novel is the product of a single frantic day at the keyboard. I sat down at my desk at 9am on the 12th of May 2022 and I was still there at 9am on the 13th May (I’m actually writing this with an hour and a half still to go, but I know now that I will make it to 9am and my brain needs a break from the fictional).

I had a goal that I didn’t achieve. I thought I could write fifty thousand words in a single sitting (an idea born from The Bestseller Experiment podcast.) I was wrong. I managed half of that.

I mean, I didn’t really think I would be able to do it. I just wanted to try. 50,000 words. It’s an absurd number. It’s short for a novel, which average around seventy thousand, but the average novel takes a year to write. I was trying to do it in a day.

I both failed and succeeded. I told the whole story. It was complete when I finished. It was just much shorter than I had hoped. I ran out of road.

If I were to attempt it again (very unlikely—though it wasn’t an unpleasant experience), I would probably not adapt a screenplay. I thought doing that was a clever trick to save on having to think about what happens next.

I wrote the screenplay of The Mask Collector during the first Covid lockdown. A complete feature-length film. And a good one too. In the words of Mark Stay, it had blockbuster potential.

When the idea came to me to attempt this feat, adapting it seemed like the obvious thing to do. A screenplay is basically a very detailed outline. The problem is, it’s too detailed. I was caged in. I couldn’t let go and fly. It was a machine job of mechanically re-describing scenes that already existed with little scope for improvement, as it had already been worked and reworked in its original format.

If I had come up with a completely new idea and given myself a far looser outline, I might have been able to get in the zone and lose myself in rapid fire prose.

But I’ll be honest. The goal of reaching a big word count is a shallow one. Story is king. That’s the most important thing. Authors often forget that. We get carried away with what is expected and don’t let the story tell itself at its own pace. I didn’t succeed in writing a novel, but I did succeed in writing a novella. A lot of my favourite books are novellas (The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis, The Heart of Darkness, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Body, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Langoliers, The Mist, The Rats, The Hellbound Heart, War of the Worlds—should I go on?) and I’ve been writing a lot of them recently.

Under the penname, Elwood Flynn, I’ve been intentionally writing thirty-five-thousand-word pulp westerns. I love reading them and I love writing them. I like the leanness of the prose. The challenge of pairing the language back to its most raw form. It’s no wonder this ended short.

One of the great things that came from this was that I got to rediscover The Mask Collector as a reader. I had forgotten a lot of the script. I hadn’t realised how much of it I had forgotten until I started this experiment. It surprised me. What surprised me more was how entertained by it I was. I felt the suspense of the intended viewer/reader as I adapted it. I fell in love with the characters all over again.

A lot of the people reading this were there with me the day I wrote this. So many fellow authors and readers rallied around me and tweeted all day and night cheering me on and offering support (you got it to number ten in the horror charts between Stephen King and Stephen King, and it hadn’t even been written yet). It was a great day. An excellent way to spend a birthday. I was doing what I loved with the people that I love. The teenager was at her mother’s studying for her GCSEs, which start next week, but Rachel and the cat were here, cracking the whip (and making me coffee).

When things got desperate, at about 3am when the story was done and I didn’t know what to do to make the book fatter, I had a radical idea. The main character in the book is Pat Caine. He is a famous retired bank robber who wrote a very successful book about his life of crime. That was it! I could write chapters from his book, from his point of view, and place them randomly throughout the book! Problem solved.

I wrote two chapters. Told two stories from his early life. In one, Caine is fourteen and getting up to some thieving hijinks involving a milk float. In the other, he is twenty-four and planning his first bank robbery.

When it came to placing them in the story, all it did was slow down the pace. They were jarring. I have included them at the end of the main story for your amusement. They were written by an exhausted mind at an ungodly hour.

So, without further ado, I present to you, The Mask Collector. It was written with passion and sleep deprivation. I think it shows. I hope you enjoy it. Be kind with your reviews.

I think you will like DCI Conrad. I’m sorry there’s not more of her. Another book maybe. Another time.

Andrew Chapman – 7:45am, 13th May 2022, Bournemouth

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.