Saturday, 21 January 2017

Resistance is futile

I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many. I am the Borg.

"Don't be tempted by flesh."
At least I am in one parallel universe. And how deliciously ironic that it should be the lure of assimilation that should reacquaint me with something so organic and vital. Something I'd sadly forgotten: the pleasure of writing just for fun, for its own sake.

I was raised by Trekkies so I never stood a chance, really. My brother and I grew up with the original series and it was our geeky family tradition (once we had the entire series on VHS - oh, those were the days!) to take turns choosing an episode to watch during dinner. There was no prize for winning, but there was kind of a competition to see who could guess the episode first. Some of them ("Devil in the Dark" springs to mind) could be guessed from the opening shot.

There were conventions, costumes, memorabilia, gushy fangirl encounters and all the books, movies, games and fanzines. I still have the commemorative 3D chess set and the original phaser and communicator (out of the packages, of course - no WAY was I not going to play with those!), but alas, my uniforms are lost in the mists of time. As is the Bajoran earring I made and later sold on eBay.

"I always thought Starfleet had a lot to learn
from ME, Captain."

But hey, back to the writing.

I'm completely hooked on the Star Trek Timelines game, and I have my brother to thank for finding some like-minded people to form a fleet with. I've been roleplaying with them for nearly a year and together we've written a fairly epic saga. It's more than just RP or fanfic. It's like a living, breathing world and we treat it like a TV series we're all simultaneously writing, starring in and living as our characters. And those of you who know me know that my head can hold a lot of identities!

Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own.

It's been so much fun to collaborate with others (incredibly, something I've never really done before) and it's become my Chinese New Year resolution: to collaborate on a story with someone. John and I already have a quirky horror novel planned together, as well as a steampunk trilogy (oh yes, just you wait), but I want to write some horror (and/or SF) with my other writer friends also.

The RP continues to be a real joy and some of the things I've written in character are things that never would have come otherwise. I usually have so many projects on the go that the very idea of writing something just for fun would be unthinkable. Even (gasp) self-indulgent! But if you only focus on the "job" aspect of it, it can start to BECOME a job. And I confess that sometimes I've fallen a little out of love with the process.

Humans. Flawed. Weak. Organic. But we evolved to include the synthetic.

A whole SF story grew out of one little RP vignette I wrote and I've had ideas for many more. But that isn't the goal, and that's what makes all the difference. There's nothing at stake, you see. And that nagging voice in the back of my head, the one that tells me (and all writers) that I have no talent, that what I'm writing is crap, that no one will want to publish it, let alone read it, is silent when I'm just having fun. I can truly let go. It's made writing the stories I'm actually supposed to be writing so much easier and enjoyable.

My RP character is a Vulcan, but an unconventional one. She's a thrill-seeker who rejects the philosophy of logic and suppression of emotion. She's also a bit mad.

"Dif-tor heh smusma."
It's incredibly liberating to inhabit a headspace like hers and recently she's taken me somewhere I've always fantasised about going: she got assimilated by the Borg. For ages I've been wanting to write about the fusion of man (well, woman) with machine, but kept getting stuck. Now I know exactly how I want to do it.

Of course, I do have several horror projects on the go as well, but I'm finding it less of a struggle these days. I don't sit there staring at the blinking cursor for ages, paralysed because I can't think of the perfect word or phrase. Now I'm too eager to write the next thing to waste time torturing myself with my usual neurotic insecurities.

So for those of you who, like me, sometimes lose sight of why we do this mad thing, why we make stuff up and spend hours obsessing over every word and then spend more hours fretting about how we're frauds and no one will like what we wrote...

"One to beam up, Captain."

Cast your mind back to all the fanfic you've written, all the fantasies you ever put into words, all the people you pretended to be. You can't begin to imagine the life you're denying yourself if you don't.

Lower your shields and surrender. Resistance is futile. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy 2017!

Wishing everyone a HOWLINGLY good 2017!

It's become a tradition. (3 times makes a tradition, right?) Every year John and I do a film tribute to end the year.

Last year we wished you a very HANNIBAL New Year...

And the year before that, we wished you a SHINING New Year.

So now here's hoping for a happy and healthy 2017!

All the best to you!

Friday, 2 December 2016

"The Curtain" rises in The Dark

I'm darkly delighted to be one of those crows on the cover of The Dark this month, edited by Sean Wallace. That's me under the letter R, soaring headlong into the unknown. Perhaps I'm heading for the ocean, to dive into the gloomy depths. Or maybe that's only in my story, "The Curtain", which is featured alongside stories by Steve Rasnic Tem, Cate Gardner and Priya Sharma.

"The Curtain" is possibly my favourite of all the stories I've ever written. It made its debut in my collection From Hell to Eternity and was later reprinted in Best New Horror 24 and Far Voyager (PS Postscripts 32/33). So it delights me no end that others like it too!

Now it's here for all to read in issue 19 of the glorious magazine The Dark.

So go on. Follow the sound of our fluttering wings. If you dare.

Monday, 24 October 2016

spiders, swans and somnambulists

It's almost Halloween. So what better time to experiment with makeup and costumes? Especially since the postman is bound to turn up just when you've finally perfected a look!

I did a few looks in the run-up to FrightFest but I didn't immortalise them here. I shall do that now.

"Awaken from your dark night..."
"I just want to be perfect."
"Satan! Come to us! We are ready!"
"And so he committed his first act of murder."

(Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Black Swan, Lords of Salem, Tenebrae)

I also made a little tribute to one of my favourite movies:

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Seaside signings!

This time next week I'll be in Scarborough, at my first Fantasycon in years. John and I are both in a few books that are launching, so I hope you'll come along to ALL the signings and buy ALL the books!

If you want to stalk me, here's where I'll be:


8 - 9 pm in the cocktail bar, I'll be signing copies of Ghost Highways at the Midnight Street launch, along with Ray Cluley, Paul Finch, Gary Couzens, Simon Clark, Terry Grimwood, Neil Williamson and Andrew Hook. Come have a drink with us, cast off your inhibitions and treat yourself to a great book! (The first of many, since we all know we're going to buy way more books than we have room for anyway.)  ;-)


12 - 1 pm in the main ballroom, I'll be at the Alchemy Press launch of Something Remains, the tribute anthology to Joel Lane. Many of us who loved and miss Joel will be there. All proceeds go to charity.

I'll also be at the PS Publishing launch on Friday from 5 - 7 pm and at the Snow Books launch on Saturday from 2 - 3 pm, supporting John, who will be signing copies of his Vincent Price-related oeuvre. Hooray!

That's all I can think of for now. I'm sure I've forgotten something, so if you know where I'm supposed to be, please tell me! And even if I don't see you at a signing, please come say hi. It's been a slow couple of years publication-wise, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. There's a horror novel floating out there in search of a home, an SF novel in the works and a second horror collection waiting to be pitched (once I finish the title story). If you were kind enough to have bought From Hell to Eternity, thank you so much.  :-)

Thursday, 1 September 2016

FrightFest 16 post-mortem

Wow, what a week! What a festival, what a great time and what a great bunch of people! Ian, Paul, Alan and Greg deserve all the thanks and praise for putting together yet another amazing event. This time we all moved to the Vue in Shepherd’s Bush, which was bigger, cheaper, more comfortable and superior in almost every way to the overpriced, tourist-clogged Leicester Square. Apparently some of the “talent” were a bit snobby about it not being in the West End, and if so, that’s a real shame because FrightFest isn’t about that – it’s about horror and the love for it, and it’s for us, the fans, the people who are paying to be subjected to hour upon hour of ghosts and zombies and were-frogs. And except for the near-glacial temperatures reached in the screens at times, this was by far the most comfortable venue of any FrightFest ever.

But on to the films…

We were in the Horror Channel screen (whiplash seats D5 and 6) and Thursday got off to a rocky start with MY FATHER DIE, an opening film that many loved, but we found a bit too grim, miserable and melodramatic for our tastes. Also rather inexplicable at times. How hard can it be to find a man wearing a wolf carcass in a small backwoods town? And it’s a bit dodgy to showcase your abusive rapist murderer villain as some kind of cool baddie on his motorbike.

After that was the much-reviled CELL, which couldn’t help but be better than the terrible advance reviews had led us to believe. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, but it had some very effective moments, particularly the opening scene of chaos in the airport. And you can never go wrong with Samuel L Jackson. It was also a delight to see Daniele Serra’s artwork adorning the walls of John Cusack’s apartment. Well done, Dani!

LET HER OUT was the final film of the day, and another disappointment. A great idea with slightly ropey execution and some very confused character motivation.

After a discouraging first day, we decided to skip the first film of Day 2 in favour of a nice meal, knowing how hard it is to get proper food during the festival. So we’ll have to catch up with FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET when it comes out on disk.

THROUGH THE SHADOW was our first film of Friday – an excellent Brazilian retelling of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. This one had superb performances, eerie photography and some great moments. I was endlessly fascinated by the shot of the drive leading up to the house, flanked by impossibly tall palm trees. Hauntingly beautiful.

Next came ENCLOSURE, which I absolutely loved. A three-hander set in the woods and starring Fiona Dourif, this was one of two films that channelled Arthur Machen superbly. I’m a sucker for anything that pits man (or woman) against nature, and ENCLOSURE put a great spin on the idea. Smart, scary, female-driven American folkloric horror and one of the standouts of the festival for me!

LOST SOLACE was another disappointment. A great idea, garbled by too many subplots, less than believable supporting characters and quite a lot of unnecessary melodrama at the end. A shame.

But then there was PET! A beautifully done psychothriller that isn’t at all what it seems. Dominic Monaghan and Ksenia Solo are both excellent and the film is a masterclass in subverting expectations. Don’t read anything about it – just see it!

The night ended with THE SIMILARS, a Mexican tribute to The Twilight Zone and a truly mind-blowing slice of weirdness. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this before. The OTT Bernard Herrmann-esque score was the icing on the cake and it will soon be in our soundtrack collection.

Saturday’s opener was THE REZORT, described as “JURASSIC PARK with zombies”. My eyes tend to glaze over at the mention of zombies (hasn’t it all been done already?), so our plan was to give it 30 minutes and if we weren’t grabbed, we’d have another nice meal instead. However, this was a surprise hit. There’s more to it than the gimmick of the concept and it’s well made, well written and well acted, with some wonderfully biting social commentary. What appear at first glance to be stock cliche characters reveal more depth as we go on and the chaos that ensues is entertaining and satisfying. Great fun!

Alas, we probably should have skipped ABATTOIR, an adaptation from a graphic novel that sounded good on paper but didn’t translate well to the screen. We were confused throughout, and bored of all the CGI ghosts by the end. I’m a fan of Darren Lynn Bousman’s SAW sequels and REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA, so I had high expectations for this one. Oh well. Maybe next time, Darren.

But THE MASTER CLEANSE was good! A quirky little gem of a creature feature – poignant and original. I’m still thinking about the ambiguous ending days later.

Next up was THE CREATURE BELOW, another one we weren’t sure of going in, and another we were prepared to leave after half an hour if it didn’t grab us. And this is the reason we didn’t eat all day! Made on what can’t even be called a shoestring at the staggeringly low cost of £12,000, and by the filmmakers’ own admission that it was overly ambitious, this is truly a “labour of Lovecraft”. HPL is alive and well and living in the suburban north of England. A valentine to tentacled beasties and a tribute to those black seas of infinity, this one is deserving of all your love.

And speaking of love, there was a lot of it for THE LOVE WITCH, a gorgeously shot Technicolor dream. The lead actress wouldn’t be at all out of place in a giallo. I adored the visuals (the sets, costumes, makeup and photography were all sublime), but I did feel it went on a bit too long. Still, the whole thing was written, directed, produced, edited, designed, costumed and scored by Anna Biller, so she gets major points for that. It’s quite an achievement. The film belongs in a lavish frame in a museum of moving images. Just gorgeous.

The remake of BLOOD FEAST was the final film of the day and it recalled the disastrous showing of TULPA a few years back, when the audience was in stitches over the unintentionally hilarious bad dubbing. And there were howls of laughter for this one too. Robert Rusler was excellent, despite some bewilderingly dodgy dialogue (“my helpful bipeds”), and there were so many moments of comedy gold that weren’t meant to be funny at all. Oh dear.

Sunday morning opened with DOWNHILL, a Chilean flick by the man who gave us the unwatchable screamy, rapey HIDDEN IN THE WOODS a few years ago. I hated that film. And when DOWNHILL hinted at veering in a similar direction (boyfriend’s camera leering at the leading actress’s bottom while menacing locals do the same, then grab her arse), we decided we’d had enough and went to get some food. A wise choice, it seems, since very few people had anything nice to say about it afterwards. Why was this clogging up the main screen when there were far more deserving films in the Discovery screens?

Up next was LET’S BE EVIL, a POV piece using AR glasses, set in a futuristic facility for gifted children who aren’t what they seem. Entertaining if a little predictable.

BROKEN wasn’t our kind of film at all. Well made and well acted, but the third act went a bit off the rails and didn’t really fit with what had gone before.

It was time for more Machenian myth and magic with CROW, a film described by the director as a “Welsh WICKER MAN”. I bloody loved this one and it vied with ENCLOSURE for my top spot, knocking PET out of second place. It’s a beautifully photographed hybrid of Welsh and Native American mythology, a glimpse behind the veil. I can’t wait to see it again.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, BAD BLOOD: THE MOVIE ended the day on a high note, with a manic tale of were-frogs. The filmmakers originally wanted to do a werewolf film, but didn’t have the budget, so rewrote it for amphibians instead. A wise move, as they’re probably the only Google hit for “were-frogs”! Wildly entertaining, with great FX. Good fun!

Monday got off to a bang with THE WINDMILL MASSACRE, a great old-school horror film that feels like a lost 80s slasher done really well. There’s even an Agatha Christie vibe in the setup – a busload of tourists, each with a dark secret, fearing and mistrusting one another when they’re trapped in an old windmill. Wonderful stuff.

MAN UNDERGROUND was an unusual and accomplished character piece, with endearing performances and an eerie and ambiguous ending. Very subtle and well made, and proof that you don’t need loads of cash to make a solid film.

Next was DIRECTOR’S CUT, a hilarious satire on the modern crowd-funding filmmaking industry by Penn Jillette and Adam Rifkin. A true “meta” film and the first filmic equivalent to the story-in-the-footnotes style of Pale Fire and The Athenian Murders I’ve seen. Well worth a watch!

BLOOD HUNTERS was fairly entertaining, even if it couldn’t really live up to the promise of its strange premise, where a woman wakes up in a facility to find she’s 9 months pregnant. But showing your protagonist shooting up and then yelling at her kid early on is never going to endear her to me, so I’m afraid I wasn’t too invested in her fate and I felt sorry for the creatures.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the final film, TRAIN TO BUSAN. I didn’t imagine it could possibly live up to the hype. But OMG – believe the hype! This is what is meant by the term “movie magic”. I was completely disconnected from reality for the whole of its 2-hour running time. It’s outstanding – probably the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen. Scary, exhilarating, moving and never lets up for an instant. And yes, there were some tears at the end. Just stunning in every possible way. And our “whiplash” seats made it even more intense, almost like seeing it in 3D. It was actually weird going home on the train to Bristol the next day. I kept expecting to see those terrifying, raging zombies. And I kind of missed them.

But not as much as I missed the festival in general. And our friends. It was impossible to say goodbye to everyone at the end, but fortunately we have Facebook and Twitter! It’s always fun reading other people’s accounts. Especially as we now have so many screens and you can’t see everything, it’s possible for different people to have entirely different FrightFest experiences, with no crossover at all.

My Top Films:


Special Thana Niveau FrightFest Awards:

Best Actress: Fiona Dourif (ENCLOSURE)
Best Actor: Dominic Monaghan (PET) 
Best Supporting Actress: Soo-An Kim (TRAIN TO BUSAN)
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Rhys Harries (CROW)
Best Creatures: ENCLOSURE
Best Overall Horror Moment: Hordes of zombies spilling through broken windows in TRAIN TO BUSAN
Best Score: Edy Lan (THE SIMILARS)
Best Line: “This isn’t hell – it’s Holland.” (THE WINDMILL MASSACRE)
Best Tagline: “If you love something, never let it go.” (PET)
Best Poster: For sheer retro creepy nostalgia – THE SIMILARS

And if you want to read John’s more in-depth reviews (with bonus alternate titles!), head over to the House of Mortal Cinema!

Friday, 3 June 2016

Marked to Die

If you like your horror weird and uncanny and rather mind-warping, then you're probably already a fan of Mark Samuels, a writer as deserving of a tribute anthology as any of the greats. And who better to publish a tribute to this master of the weird than Snuggly Books and editor Justin Isis?

It's called Marked To Die
: a Tribute to Mark Samuels

From the website:

It's available in two formats - a royal octavo paperback and a limited edition hardcover. The hardcover is case laminated (i.e. no dustjacket) and has a completely different cover than the paperback—that is a nightblack cover with, in snow white gothic lettering, the word “MARKITTY” written up top. Only 100 copies of the hardcover will be printed, and of these only 75 offered for sale to the public.

Mark Samuels—“the contemporary British master of visionary weirdness”, as Ramsey Campbell has called him—stands at the forefront of 21st century Horror, combining an unparalleled understanding of the Weird Fiction tradition with his own modern take on cosmic dread. An acknowledged influence on numerous writers in the field, his stories depict the isolation and despair of urban life giving way to vistas of universal alienation and, on occasion, spiritual transcendence.

Now, in this collection of original works inspired by Samuels’ writing, his characteristic themes are extended into previously undreamt-of settings: the hull of a Russian nuclear submarine headed to the heart of Chaos; the compound of a Japanese death cult with designs on the human race; a hospital run by the Men with Paper Faces; the Crying Rooms of London’s secret Reverse; the far reaches of the collapsed future and even the private thoughts of St. John of the Cross. Fed by the “strange tales” of the 19th and 20th centuries but firmly rooted in the present, Marked to Die is a digest of urban terror shot through with intimations of a monstrous Sublime.

Table of Contents:

The Shadowy Companion, foreword by Mark Valentine
Rapture, Reggie Oliver
The Golden Dustmen, Colin Insole
Canticle, Daniel Mills
White Light, White Heat, Adam Nevill
The Black Mass, Justin Isis
The Big-Headed People, DF Lewis
Attraction, John Mundy
The Early Signs of Blight, Kristine Ong Muslim
Chaoskampf, James Champagne
A Bad Un to Beat vs. The High Gate Waterman:
It’s All About the Benjamins, Brendan Connell and Quentin S. Crisp
The Language of the City, Thana Niveau
The Singular Quiddity of Merlin’s Ear, Simon Clark
The Carnivore of Monsters, Stuart Young
The Men With Paper Faces, John L. Probert
Empty Houses, Ralph C. Doege
Reinformation Theory, Yarrow Paisley
Prison Inquieta, Jon Paul Rai
Slag Glass Lachrimæ, David Rix