2016: Looking back, then forward

So, that was 2016. It’s been a bit of a year all told, hasn’t it? Remember that old curse; “May you live in interesting times”? I think a lot of us have gained a new appreciation for that one over the last twelve months.

But anyway, the Christmas trees are up, the cards posted, and the final gifts are being wrapped, so as the year draws to a close let’s have a look back on everything that’s been happening here.

2016, and things that have been

The big news this year has been, of course, the publication of The Æther Collection, a themed collection of horror short stories. (If you’ve not picked up your copy yet, you can do so now in paperback or ebook now).

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My original reason for deciding to do a collection of short stories rather than a single full-length novel was that it would allow me to post them up as and when they were completed. After finishing The Serpent’s Eye I didn’t want to have another two years pass by without having anything new to release, so I thought rather than intersperse a longer project with breaks for short stories I would just do a full collection I could just release as I went.

It was an interesting experiment, but I’m glad I did it. It’s taught me a lot about structure and theme, as well as giving me very useful experience working in a non-linear fashion. I’ve always been someone who revises their book in a linear order and finds it hard to jump about their manuscript while being able to keep the overall picture in my head. Hopefully, I’ll now be a little better at focusing on small sections in isolation, working on the weakest points in a narrative without having to work through parts that don’t need work as urgently.

With this being a short story collection, I honestly wasn’t expecting any attention from agents. I’ve been told directly that authors aren’t picked up based on short stories. So the fact that I had three personal, positive responses has really picked me up. While – as I predicted – none of them wanted to sign me up this time around, each of them said they really liked my writing and asked me to send them a working version of my next full novel as soon as I think it’s ready. So that’s one step closer.

The decision to focus my time on The Æther Collection has meant that I’ve not been able to get much in the way of stand-alone short stories done this year. I have been working on a couple, as and when I could but, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any placed. I do have a couple nearly ready to go out, and a few submissions I’ve not heard back from yet, so fingers crossed for better luck next year.

I have, however, had a couple of articles published on the Huffington Post. The first was a defence of the NHS on the anniversary of my wife’s transplant, and the second was a few thoughts on the state of the UK Labour Party. I enjoy doing these more serious works every so often, but they tend to only get written when Inspiration and Having Time coincide.

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The Festival of Writing in York was again one of the highlights of my year. Getting to visit York is always worth it, and getting to spend the weekend hanging out with other writers is even better. I got to catch up with a couple of friends from 2015 and make a couple of new ones. I’d really love to go to more events like this. There are plenty of conferences and lectures around the country each year. I know it’s partly laziness that keeps me from properly researching, but I know that time and money constraints will always be an issue. Maybe in 2017 I’ll be able to put a little more effort into this side of things and I’ll get to a few more.

And the other new thing I tried this year was my Halloween Countdown. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I think I’d like to make it an annual thing. Next year I hope to try and make it from films released during the previous year, rather than from the last few years. Not only would this mean I was helping share the work of hard working, aspiring filmmakers, it means I have an excuse and reasons to spend my time watching horror shorts online.

So hopefully this October I’ll be able to do a countdown of my favourite shorts released in 2017. Maybe I’ll even get the countdown right this time.

Oh, and thanks to my sister – who is also my designer – I was able to attend the memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t seem much in the grand scheme of things, but being able to attend such a celebration, surrounded by other fans, was a really wonderful experience and helped me say goodbye to the man who really got me into reading, and therefore writing.

 

2017, and things that are to come

So, what do I have coming up next year?

My big project for 2017 is a novel, provisionally titled New Perceptions. (This is a very provisional title, mainly picked so I had something to name the Scrivener file when I started and so almost certain to change.) I’m not going to say much about it, as I don’t even have the first draft completed yet and there are likely to be many changes. Right now, I’m wrestling to get the third act together. I’m currently hoping to have something ready to get out to alpha-readers in the summer. Then, in an ideal world, I’d have something ready for agents by the end of the year, but I know full well it always takes longer than I’m hoping.

However, I can say that it will be a coming-of-age haunted house story and a full-length, single story novel. After a novella and a short story collection, I feel that my new project needed to be a full-length novel, both for creative and commercial reasons. Creative, because it’s the next logical step in my growth as a writer to show I’m able to grow and develop character and plot across 70,000 words. And commercial, as I’ve been told multiple times that agents and publishers will only pick up new authors with a full-length novel to sell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve already had agents ask to see a working draft so I’m telling myself I’m starting this one already a couple of steps ahead. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a couple of side projects – stories or articles, and of course blog posts – in between drafts, but we’ll see. I really want to focus on getting this complete over the next year, so may really need to focus.

So, here’s wishing you a great Christmas and an amazing 2017! Here’s hoping this one’s a little less “interesting”. Or at least only exciting in good ways.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now on Amazon, iBooks and other online stores. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.

 

 

 

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Yes, it’s finally here. Whether you were out partying all costumed and made up, or curled up at home with a scary movie I hope you all have a great weekend.

And so what have I picked for this, the final day of my Halloween Countdown. It’s a little different to the other entries. It’s also not new. The first episodes of this series have to be at least a decade old now. But if you’re looking for something to creep and unsettle you this Halloween, to get under your skin and truly leave an impression of dread, then you’re not going to find anything better than David Firth’s Salad Fingers.

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I know a lot of you will have seen these videos before. Like I said, they’ve been out some time now. Firth’s animations are pretty famous, or at least cult, in the social groups in which I count myself as a member. Whether, like me, you absolutely love them, or if you watched them once and swore never again, if you were around the internet ten years ago you would have run into David Firth.

So why pick Salad Fingers? Because horror isn’t all about jump scares, and it’s not all about being situations you can picture yourself in. Horror can creep under your skin and make you physically uncomfortable. Images and sounds crawling from the twisted nightmares of childhood. This is what David Firth creates. I’ve never found anyone who’s been able to get under my skin quite so well. He use of sound and images gives his work such texture that you can almost feel the videos as much as see them.

So get over to his channel, take an hour and watch your way through all 10 episodes. You can do it in one sitting if you like – I would – or you can also find the individual episodes as well if you feel the need to space them out.

Enjoy. And Happy Halloween!

 

Also, if you’re interested, the Film Theorist did a very interesting couple of videos (here and here) looking into the meanings behind this series that I never considered where there. Once you’ve watched the originals, I recommend giving these a watch as well.)

Halloween Countdown: 1 Day

Okay, we have a slight discrepancy in the countdown. I’m sure some of you have noticed – though no one mentioned it, so maybe not – that I’ve had my numbers a little off. You may have thought at this point we had 2 whole days left. But we were wrong. We only have today and then the big day is here!

Today I thought we’d look to the future, and the next big holiday season. So with that in mind, I have one more entry from Liam Banks; Season’s Greetings.

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The corruption of childhood ideals and beliefs lends itself strongly to horror. The fairytale fantasy that is Christmas gives such a strong vein for horror to tap into.From a modern, adult sensibility, the idea of a someone keeping a watch on you all year round and then slipping into your bedroom while you sleep is a rather unsettling one. I’m always surprised there isn’t more of it out there.

And don’t forget to download your free copy of The Serpent’s Eye from Amazon while you still can. The offer only lasts until tomorrow night.

Halloween Countdown: 3 Days

It’s 3 days to go in the Halloween Countdown. It’s also a Saturday, so you should really settle in and devote ten minutes of your day to watching the absolutely beautiful Geist from Giant Animation Studios.

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This is the first fully animated short on this list, but just a couple of minutes into it and I knew it had to be included. Aside from the animation being beautiful, the tragic story it tells is just so well sculpted. Washed up on the shore in a storm after barely surviving the wreck of his ship, a fisherman seeks refuge in a nearby house. While at first, it appears to be deserted, quickly he finds that something appears to be there with him.

The thing about this film is its atmosphere. The use of light and sound is pitch perfect, selling the entire thing with almost no dialogue at all. While there are scares, in Geist these are merely part of the entire thing rather than the punchline or only mechanic.

Oh, but don’t expect a happy ending…

And don’t forget, if you’ve not done so already head over to Amazon to download your free ebook of The Serpent’s Eye. This offer’s only open until Halloween, get make sure you get yours soon.

Halloween Countdown: 4 Days

Can there only be 4 days left to go? 4 days until Halloween is upon us once again?

And as we’re so close I think it’s time to move away from jump scares and quick shocks and share with you something a little more… creepy. A tad more Twilight Zone-eque, if you will.

I present to you Closet Space.

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It’s also the final entry on this list from David S. Sandberg. Yes, I know, I’ve talked about how much I love his work already, but I think I haven’t yet mentioned his actress/collaborator/wife Lotta Losten. One thing that researching for this list has shown me is that acting in horror shorts is apparently hard to do convincingly. There are a lot of videos out there where the main actor comes across as not scared or far too scared than the situation warrants. Losten always comes across naturally, in a way you would expect in these situations. And she gets more do in this film, with more agency than just being simply cornered and scared.

 

And don’t forget, from now until Halloween night you can get your hands on a free copy of The Serpent’s Eye  over at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Grab this Halloween Special Offer while you can!

Halloween Countdown: 5 Days

We’re getting close now. Just 5 more days to go.

Or possibly less, if you happen to run into Mr. Creek.

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While there’s nothing particularly ground breaking about this film, it’s a solid example of the fundamentals of a horror short film done exactly right. Every aspect is used perfectly. Music, sound effect, creepy nursery rhyme, acting, briefest glimpses of the monster? Check, check and check.

It kind of feels like this should come in the middle of a longer piece. It has the feel of part of a larger story. Possibly the end of the prologue or the first act. It very much has a Babadook vibe going for it, which is definitely a good thing.

A genuinely creepy video, it’ll make you jump even if you’re expecting it.

 

But that’s not all I have for you today. Oh no. To coincide with the Halloween Countdown 2016, the e-book of The Serpent’s Eye is available free from Amazon from now until midnight on Halloween. If you haven’t got your copy already, head over there now to download a tale of creeping madness and incomprehensible fears.

And of course, if you prefer, the paperback version is available for purchase as well.

All I ask in return is a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I always like to hear what you all think, and it honestly helps me no end.

Halloween Countdown: 6 Days

With just 6 days to go in our Halloween Countdown, let’s have a look at dangers of everyday technology.

Erdal Ceylan’s Selfie from Hell shows that you should always be careful because no matter how much you trust the person you’re sending the picture to, there might be something else out there you need to be careful of.

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I’m a big fan of everyday technology being used like this in horror. There’s something about the mundane items of our lives turning against us that will always be a staple of horror. Taking something as simple as a selfie, something that’s become such a part of the background of our lives we don’t even think about it anymore, something everyone does without thinking, and turning it against you.

And keep your eyes open for a special Halloween offer coming soon, as well as more from the Halloween Countdown…

Halloween Countdown: 7 Days

Just 7 days to go. One week until Halloween’s upon us. And we’ve got through five horror shorts now I thought we’d have a little break and pick something a little lighter.

It’s time for Amazing Hearse.

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This one might not make as much sense to some people, as it’s a video referencing and past video by the same guy – Amazing Horse. (I just checked and it came out 7 years ago. I now feel older than I did a moment ago). But if you’ve not discovered MrWeebl, you really should. He’s one of the earliest internet stars and was around back before YouTube was even a thing, spending his own money to host animated shorts on his own website. He was a staple of my life at university, as his style of surreal short films was perfect for a group of students happy to spend entire evenings sitting around watching stupid videos on a loop.

So watch the video, it’s Halloween themed, at least. Then go watch the original, then watch the rest. There’s plenty to get through, with over ten years of video output. It’s worth it.

Halloween Countdown: 8 Days

With just 8 days left on the Halloween Countdown, I bring you another short from the annoyingly talented David F. Sandberg; Attic Panic.

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Sandberg’s work just stands out for me of all the short films I’m seeing. He has a pitch-perfect sense of exactly where sound and effects need to be placed to create an atmospheric haunt. He doesn’t fall for the all too common trap of believing music cues can replace craftsmanship, or using generic horror imagery. (It’s amazing how many people still think a girl with long tangle hair hanging in front of her face is scary). He simply comes up with a simple idea and puts together a quick, slick, eerie film.

I mean, he actually manages to make the traditional person-with-a-sheet-over-their-head ghost costume genuinely creepy.

My only issue with this film is that the setting doesn’t look anything like an attic to me. But that’s not enough to put me off. It might well be his attic. Maybe attics in Sweden have cages. Who am I to judge?

Halloween Countdown: 9 days

We have 9 days left in our Halloween Countdown, and as it’s a Sunday and we all hopefully have a little more free time today I thought I’d suggest something a little longer; Vicious by Oliver Park.

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There’s so much going on in these 13 minutes, but without any superfluous padding or spelling out of the story. A girl comes home one night to find her front door open. After a search of the house turns up nothing she settles down to sleep, only to be woken first by nightmares, and then something more.

I was surprised by this one. I usually find that the ideal length of short horror films is between 3 and 6 minutes or so. Once they go over that length they tend to lose the tension. Either the core idea gets flabby and the audience loses interest, or it just feels like there is too much going on and they need more time to set every up.

A lot of this goes to Rachel Winters, who manages to pull off the exact balance of terror and proactivity needed to keep us. Another cardinal sin I’ve noticed over and over again researching this list is characters acting scared because they are supposed to, but when there is no reason for them to. (Note to directors, a call coming in with a blocked number at night isn’t scary in itself. Stop thinking it is). Here, the protagonist acts far more like someone might actually react in the situation, rather than acting scared because the film requires it.

So make yourself a cup of tea, turn out the lights and give it a watch.