‘The Shade Clan’ Halloween Giveaway

Win a free paperback of my latest supernatural horror novel The Shade Clan.

The Shade Clan

Anything could be happening in that post-industrial wilderness reclaimed by nature, the place they know as The Shade. When Tom and his friends discover the vast, overgrown quarry, they know it’s the perfect location to learn to survive in the wild. But something else has been drawn there. Something nightmarish, unspeakable. Through a chance discovery, they step into a world where great darkness dwells behind the brightest of lights. 

This giveaway is now closed and a winner drawn at random.

Congratulations Theresa Jeffries – a paperback copy of The Shade Clan will be on its way to you soon!

HOW TO WRITE HORROR #1 – Eight ways you can encourage inspiration

Inspiration: an elusive creature, glimpsed often fleetingly, usually when you least expect it.

Needless to say, inspiration is not something that can be forced. But there are things you can do to increase your chances of seeing this mysterious beast. And they will work for all kinds of fiction, not just horror.

It’s probably quite an individual thing – most writers will have their own methods and habits they use to prompt ideas. Here are some of mine, in no particular order – I hope they prove useful.

1. Go walking

I’m a great believer in walking in the landscape as an essential human function. As hunter gatherers, it’s what we’ve evolved to do. For me, walking puts my brain into a productive mode and creates head-space.

You don’t need to have amazing countryside available – very little horror fiction is set in pleasant surroundings anyway! The places that inspired my latest novel, The Shade Clan, were abandoned industrial sites. And there’s plenty of horror set in very ordinary, suburban locations.

If there are atmospheric places that get your juices flowing, all well and good. If not, just walk anywhere! I think the action of walking is as important as the setting. Eliminate distractions – turn your ‘phone off, leave your tech devices at home and go on your own (but stay safe!).

'flooding'

Take time to walk somewhere away from distractions

2. Be a people watcher

Generally speaking, horror fiction is plot-driven rather than character-driven, but human stories and interactions are still at the heart of what really engages readers (just look at the characters created by greats like Stephen King). It’s vital to observe people at every opportunity if your characters are to have depth and credibility.

So much inspiration can come from an overheard conversation or an incident you witness. Watch, listen, absorb; in cafes, on trains, in the street, everywhere. Become a casual student of human behaviour. And it’s not just about intriguing passers-by – the people in your life will say and do things that spark ideas. Don’t be afraid to take a somewhat detached approach in gathering this material; writers often adopt the role of observers rather than participants.

3. Daydream

It may be easier said than done, but making time to let your mind free-wheel is important. If your head is full of work and other responsibilities during every waking minute, ideas are less likely to surface.

Indeed, the period just after waking, or while lying in bed before sleep, can be excellent times to let your mind wander – use that limbo between sleep and full consciousness, when your brain is in an altered state.

Spend 15 minutes sitting somewhere peaceful, or take the train instead of driving and do some good old-fashioned staring out of the window. Don’t force it – just get into the habit of letting your mind drift. The role of the subconscious is more important in horror writing than perhaps any other genre.

4. Embrace the new

Routine is the enemy of inspiration. New places and experiences, keeping your everyday life as fresh as possible, will help to energise your writer’s mind.

Of course, the reality of most people’s lives necessitates some routine, but you’ll be surprised how much difference something as simple as driving a different route home or visiting somewhere new on your day off can make.

It’s not about expensive trips to exotic locations: I would put money on there being interesting places, parks, historic sites, whole towns, within 30 miles of your house that you’ve never been to. And neither is it about ‘bucket list’ style experiences – just say yes to new people and things, however ordinary. Maybe they will never feature in your writing, but the new input will fuel ideas.

5. Read

It sounds obvious but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of reading. Other writers’ work is one of the most important sources of inspiration there is – it’s the reason most of us started writing in the first place!

And don’t just read within the horror genre, read around it and well outside it. Develop broad tastes. Read the classics – up your game by consuming the best literature mankind has produced! It has so much to teach you about plot development, suspense, character and use of language.

castle of otranto

Read the classics of the genre and of others

6. Consume media and culture

As well as reading fiction, I like to take in other media as I go about my day. Unlike reading, this is not a focused activity – I dip into things, flick through a newspaper, surf TV channels, listen to news radio in the car, look at stuff via links on social media. Often I just make a note of what interests me and forget about it. I can always look into it further later.

When doing this, I think it’s vital to put your prejudices to one side. I often pick up on a degree of intellectual snobbery when I hear writers talking about their inspirations and I despair at it. You can’t afford to dismiss anything as invalid! Low-brow, high-brow – no-one says you have to like it, but it’s all potential material.

7. Explore the edges

This one is sort of an add-on to all of the above, and one of the most important things to consider when writing horror.

It’s about stepping outside the ordinary and the safe, exploring people, places and subjects at the edges of society and what it accepts. Horror, by definition, explores what is uncomfortable, unsettling, what is hidden and denied.

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with this famous quote – Orson Welles as Harry Lime at the end of The Third Man:

 “…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

8. Record it

Finally, you need to make sure that not a single idea, no matter how ill-formed and unconnected to anything it may seem, gets away from you. Write it down!! You may think you’ll remember it but, if you’re anything like me, you won’t!

Carry a notebook, and if you don’t have it with you, use any means – a scrap of paper, a text to yourself, whatever – to capture that thought. Make sure you have a pad and pen next to your bed for those dropping-off-to-sleep ideas.

Just the habit of writing things down can spark more ideas and make your brain more fertile. When you’ve half-filled a notebook with scribbled fragments and bits of old envelope, the chances are you will have the seeds of a story in there. Which brings us to the topic we’ll explore next time – story development.

 

Through the edgelands of north Wirral: ‘complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard’

Unmentioned landscapes like this have been the inspiration for my recent writing…

That's How The Light Gets In

Edgelands 1b

‘A place as difficult to pin down and define as poetry, but like poetry you’d know it when you saw it. … Decay and stasis, but … also dynamic and mysterious’.

Who in their right mind would want to spend a wet and windy Saturday tramping the edgelands along the fringes of Birkenhead’s north end? Who would go, past the empty dock and the derelict grease manufacturing plant, over abandoned railway tracks, skirting the  waste recycling plant circled by flocks of rapacious seagulls? Who might follow the tracks over the landscaped landfill site and down beneath the graffitied piers of the motorway flyover?

Well, we did: twenty-odd of us in search of the authentic edgelands experience.  Led by Colin Dilnot, local writer and expert on many things (from soul music to Malcolm Lowry), the walk was organised by Liverpool’s Bluecoat Arts Centre as part of their current edgelands-themed season that…

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THE SHADE CLAN – available on Amazon Kindle

Buy The Shade Clan for £0.99p now

Buy The Shade Clan for $1.54 now

shadeclancover


 

 

 

 

 


Man dug the quarry. Nature reclaimed it. Then something else moved in…

Anything could be happening in that place, in that post-industrial wilderness reclaimed by nature; the place they know as The Shade.

When Tom and his friends discover the vast, overgrown quarry, they know it’s the perfect location to learn to survive in the wild. But something else has been drawn there. Something nightmarish, unspeakable.

Through a chance discovery, they step into a world existing alongside the world they know, where great darkness dwells behind the brightest of lights.

What is living in that forgotten hole in the ground, and how is Aleksander, the charismatic stranger who comes into their lives, connected to what they’ve encountered?

Enthralled and afraid, Tom, Katya, Cal and Annabelle are soon asking themselves if anyone can be trusted, if anything is at it seems.

Read a taster

THE SHADE CLAN – coming soon

Anything could be happening in that place. In that post-industrial wilderness reclaimed by nature; the place they know as The Shade.

When Tom and his friends discover the vast, overgrown quarry, they know it’s the perfect location for them to set up their camp and learn to survive in the wild. But something else has been drawn there. Something nightmarish, unspeakable.

culand pit panorama tint 2

Through a chance discovery, they step into a world existing alongside the world they know, where great darkness dwells behind the brightest of lights.

What is living in that forgotten hole in the ground, and how is Aleksander, the charismatic stranger who comes into their lives, connected to what they’ve encountered?

Enthralled and afraid, Tom, Cal, Annabelle and Katya are soon asking themselves if anyone can be trusted, if anything is at it seems.

‘Rose Madder’ by Stephen King – REVIEW

Let’s crank out a football cliche: ‘Rose Madder’ is a game of two halves.

The set up and first 200 pages of this novel are as good as anything in the King repertoire. As housewife Rosie McClendon walks out of her abusive marriage on the spur of the moment, you could not be more on her side, more engaged with her story.

You know, with horrible inevitability, that her violent, ‘bad cop’ husband is going to track her down – that’s not the problem. And you’re also pretty sure the mysterious figure in the painting she finds a pawn shop is going to protect her when he does – that’s not the problem either.

The problem is that at the half way point of the novel, Rosie wakes up in the night and steps into that painting. And I just didn’t want her to do that!

Is it too soon? Does it break the tension? Yes, a little of both. What is for sure is that there is a massive drop in pace at that point. The whole ‘through the looking glass’ sequence seems tremendously laboured and a little hackneyed.

For me, the novel never quite recovers after that. Although the ending does deliver on some levels, I would love there to have been some clever twist, but none came.

There just isn’t quite the impact here one expects from Mr King. Come on Steve, sort it out!

IN THE FLOOD’S AFTERMATH

wals hothfield pic

Photo by Robert Stevens

In the course of doing some research on the recent flooding on the Somerset levels and elsewhere, I came across some old newspaper reports and snippets in books, relating to a disturbing incident during the severe floods of 1947.

They concerned a rather out of the way area of the Medway Valley in Kent, and in particular a large isolated body of water called Monk’s Mead Lake. Monk’s Mead was an ox-bow lake – a river backwater that had become silted up and cut off from the main flow.

The lake was very old, shown on the earliest maps I could find. A 19th century book about the Medway Valley by D.S. Hewitt described the lake as:

“…a large, long-forgotten and stagnant crescent of water, deceptively deep, [which was] once a meander of the Medway itself, but has been long-since cut-off by natural sedimentation and has been that way for generations.”

He also described the difficulty in reaching it:

“… surrounded by a tract of the most treacherous mire, a wet bogland even in the keenest drought, and will remain as such since it is beyond even the skills of the most determined and experienced of Dutch poldermen.”

Despite its inaccessibility (perhaps because of it) the lake had become the subject of a number of local stories and superstitions. Hewitt, a typically pragmatic Victorian, dismissed them as old wives tales. But other, earlier writers recorded them. They revealed that local people believed something was living in the still waters of Monk’s Mead, something monstrous.

Thomas Bridgewater in his 1799 work ‘Kent Folklore and Fable’ documents how some of the older residents of Hambridge, the nearest village to the lake, were absolutely convinced that a ‘serpent’ or ‘leviathan’ was living in its waters, and that was why the wetland around it had never been reclaimed – to keep people away.

A local newspaper clipping I saw from a decade later, reports on a local boy, George Moor, who had gone fishing in Monk’s Mead Lake and come home “in a fit of hysteria”, swearing that he had seen “a dragon lookin’ right at me”. The tone of the article is one of quiet mocking – ‘look at these simple rural folk with their quaint superstitions!’ But it seems that scepticism may have been misplaced.

Whether what happened in 1947 was just a re-emergence of those old, old stories, I can’t say. Perhaps they had been passed down the generations, or resided in the darker corners of the unconscious minds of some locals. And perhaps, when the anxiety and stress of being subjected to such severe and sudden flooding was added into the equation, those old superstitions took on a new life of their own.

What we do know for certain is that in March of that year, the River Medway burst its banks, completely flooding Hambridge, the marshes surrounding Monk’s Mead Lake and, crucially, all the land in-between.

'flooding'

Recent flooding in the Medway area

The flood waters were deep. In the lower-lying parts of the village, the entire lower storeys of many houses were under water, and people took refuge in upstairs rooms and lofts. The most vulnerable were rescued by boat. Villagers on higher ground had perhaps just a few inches of water to contend with, or escaped completely, and many of them went to assist their less fortunate neighbours; this was a close-knit community.

It’s in the words of one of these kind parishioners that we gain our clearest insight into what happened next. Jack Drayton, the village baker, spoke to a reporter from the Chatham Gazette on March 20th, 1947. The report concerned a tragic incident, where a seven-year-old boy called Keith Somerton had been swept away by floodwaters. Earlier eyewitness reports had described how a large wave had washed him off a bridge. But Jack Drayton had seen something else.

He confirmed that there had been a wave, but said that it “came out of nowhere” in floodwaters that were “like a millpond” and over a mile from the river. Jack had been closer to the bridge than any of the other witnesses at the time of the incident and thought he could explain what had caused this freak swell in the water that had overwhelmed the boy. The Gazette reporter quoted him word for word:

“As I looked across at where the boy was standing, I could see the wave rolling towards him. It was only a few feet high but it was moving fast. Then, as it got closer, I could see something large, moving in the wave – a long, dark shape, like a snake, but huge! I could see it clear as day – it was moving through the water, like a side-winder, and making the wave with its body. I shouted to the boy and he turned to look but it was too late. And as the wave hit him, that dreadful thing pulled him under in its jaws.”

The report goes on to say that all other eyewitnesses to this event insisted they saw nothing but a large wave. Could they have been saying this to prevent panic? The last thing the community needed on top of this natural disaster was an outbreak of hysteria. We will probably never know, but what is for certain is that little Keith Somerton’s body was never recovered.

Hambridge today

Following the publication of Drayton’s account in the Gazette, a number of other local people came forward to say they thought they had also seen inexplicable things since the floodwaters had risen – shadows moving through the depths, a glimpse of a large form slithering over the distant river embankment. But the accounts were fragmentary. It was still very difficult for local reporters to get into the area, and the eyes of the national press were on the Thames Valley, where many thousands of people had been affected.

Hysteria didn’t take hold. Drayton’s account was dismissed, and it seems rumours then circulated that he was still suffering the psychological after-effects of being a POW during World War Two. Within a fortnight the floodwaters had subsided and life began to return to normal in this quiet little village.

And there the story ends. But I’m tempted to dig a bit further, go to Hambridge, try to track down some of the villagers who were there during the floods – there must be some who are still alive.

What I won’t be able to do is visit the lake. In the early 1950s, as part of the post-war drive to maximise agricultural production, the marshes around it were finally drained. The lake was used as a landfill and the area was later landscaped and turned into a riverside park. So those mysterious waters are gone forever. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved about that.

‘Lost Boy, Lost Girl’ by Peter Straub – REVIEW

Gripped by the intense opening of this novel, I was anticipating something like a reprise of Straub’s uber-eerie classic, ‘Ghost Story’.

‘Lost Boy, Lost Girl’ turned out not to be that – either in theme or in quality. It’s not a great Peter Straub novel, but it is a good one – and, as his fans will know, that’s enough to set it head and shoulders above most novels in this genre.

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Long-standing Straub fans will also be intrigued by the appearance in this book of Tom Pasmore, a character from Straub’s ‘Mystery’, and by the author’s wholesale relocation of streets and places from the island of Mill Walk, that is the setting for ‘Mystery’, to the town of Millhaven in this novel. What is he up to? And what is this obsession with place names that start with Mill, anyway?

But to the story…It centres on Tim Underhill, a writer, and his teenage nephew, Mark, who has become obsessed with the house of a serial killer following the mysterious suicide of his mother. Events unfold through parallel narratives (one in the first person, from the point of view of Tim, the other written in the third person, focusing on Mark.) These threads interweave cleverly, although there is a drop in pace whenever the action switches to the misadventures of Mark and his best friend, Jimbo.

These twin points of view reveal the emotional complexities and deeply buried secrets revolving around the abandoned house with great detail and intensity, but one is left feeling that perhaps it has taken a lot of pages to account for relatively few actual events.

However, there is no doubting this Straub fella has a way with words, and there are some very creepy moments – like the reveal of why the rooms in the killer’s house look smaller than they should…

Good work from one of modern horror’s undoubted greats!