Category Archives: fiction

The Huntsman

CYGNUS CYGNUSToday I have a brand new 75-word story appearing at Paragraph Planet.

The Huntsman is based on those old northern European ‘swan maiden’ fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson and the like, but with a hefty and macabre twist.

I just hope it doesn’t put you off your lunch!

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Friday Five: time-shift novels

P1030049I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of different time lines, or time that moves in different ways in different places. So it’s hardly a surprise that some of my favourite books share this subject:

The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe: C S Lewis

I loved this book as a kid – the adventure, the talking animals, but most of all the concept that people could grow into adults in another world, then come back home and have only aged by seconds. The later book The Magician’s Nephew examines the whole subject in more detail but this was the one I read first and it remains a favourite.

Tom’s Midnight Garden: Philippa Pearce

Another classic, this time using the device of a beautiful garden as a kind of ‘time portal’ for a young lad to go back into the grand Victorian past of the house he’s staying in. I loved it as a kid and I still love it now – the descriptions of the past are vivid and magical and the explanation comes as a complete – but satisfying – surprise.

The House on the Strand: Daphne du Maurier

Not one of du Maurier’s better known works but it should be in my opinion! This time it’s an experimental drug which appears to send the book’s narrator into the past, based around the (real) village of Tywardreath in Cornwall. The medieval landscape and characters are brought to life so strongly it’s as though we’re walking the same paths and streets as Dick. Quite possibly my favourite book of all time, with a terrific knock-out punch of a twist.

The Time Traveller’s Wife: Audrey Niffenegger

A much more recent book that plays wonderfully with the concept of time, by having it passing in different directions for two characters who meet and fall in love, at totally different stages of their lives. For me, the violent ending spoiled the poignancy of the rest of the book, but I still loved the sheer originality and the deeply unusual romance.

Roses in December: Fiona Glass

*cough* One of mine included on the list. But given how much I loved most of the above, it’s hardly surprising I’d try my hand at a similar theme myself. Like Tom’s Midnight Garden, in Roses it’s a garden which acts as a portal for characters to slip between past and present, with shocking but ultimately heart-warming results. It’s currently out of print but I’m hopeful of getting it re-published at some point.

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Best of 3 horror

Halloween-Horrors-4-768x576If you had to choose your three (and only three!) favourite horror books of all time, what would be on the list?

Thanks to fellow author and friend Lucy V Hay, I had just this opportunity, and let me tell you it’s harder than it looks.

My first thought was that I didn’t actually read any horror. I’m not keen on splatter, gore or Stephen King and I don’t like things that involve suffering. But then I realised that there’s more to the horror genre than smears of blood and clowns. There’s also vampires, ghosts, paranormal, supernatural, and Gothic horror in general. And I like some of that very much indeed.

So I managed to pick my three books without too much difficulty, and you can see the results over at Lucy’s blog today.

I hope you enjoy the list – and the reasons why I chose those books – and feel free to drop a comment if you like them too, or even if you don’t!

 

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Verbalising at Verbalise

Last night I took my courage in both hands and went along to Verbalise, an open-mic night at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. It seemed daft not to. One, they encourage new people to attend and read; two, this one had a Halloween theme; and three, it was only 4 days after I’d had a ghost book published!

I was incredibly nervous, because although I’ve done open-mic stuff before, it’s mostly been to a room full of friends. This was the first time I was doing it in front of a bunch of complete strangers. The only people I knew were Dave, who came along for the moral support, and my writers’ group friend Julie, who turns out to be a regular. Other than that, I didn’t know a soul.

I needn’t have worried, though, because the organiser/compere was incredibly welcoming, the rest of the audience were friendly and open to newcomers, and I managed to read a brief excerpt from Got Ghosts? (“I’m an Important Television Producer, remember? I don’t do floors.”) with barely a hiccup… apart from juggling one too many pairs of spectacles.

In fact I could have done to read a bit more. Everything I’d seen about the event suggested that performers got a limited time-frame of exactly three minutes, after which someone blew a whistle and that was that. But it didn’t happen like that at all. The official time-frame was four minutes (which at least gave me an extra few seconds to introduce myself) but in reality people spoke for longer than that. I’ll know for next time. At least the snippet I read went down well and raised a few laughs in the right places; even if one chap did snore his way right through!

Pic here. The small dot on the horizon is me.

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The standard of performance was really, really high. There was everything from avant-garde poetry to stand-up comedy, with a smattering of ghoulish tales and comedy verse in between. And after all the open-mic slots had been filled the microphone was cleared away and the headline event came on. This month, in a tribute to Halloween, it was an act called Tallow Tales, who told tall tales of candlelight about local places and events. And boy, were they good. Between the Director and the Grey Lady, they held the entire room spellbound with tales of the Screaming Skulls of Calthorpe Hall, and the strange fates of the Windermere ferrymen. I’ve seen less entertaining turns at expensive murder mystery nights. It was all great fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will definitely be going back for more. If anyone is interested, Verbalise is on the last Saturday of the month, and has a different guest speaker/performer every time. It only costs £5. And it’s worth every penny of that.

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Got Ghosts? You have now!

got ghosts frontI’m dashing in with the fantastic news that my new book Got Ghosts? is released today, just in time for Halloween. Considering the number of ghosts in the book, that’s just about perfect! Huge thanks to Adele, Vincent, Daz and all the others at Fox Spirit Books for making this happen.

The book, which features ghosts, a TV film crew, missing paintings, happy (and unhappy) mediums, and yet more ghosts, is a fun-filled romp which is very loosely based on the real-life TV show Most Haunted, with further inspiration from some of the old and haunted country houses I’ve visited over the years and a few of Georgette Heyer’s sillier crime titles.

The end result is, I hope, a quirky, breathless dash through the haunted halls, attics and cellars of Greystones Hall in the company of its young artist owner Emily, the Got Ghosts? production company, and a swathe of resident ghosts.

You can find out much more about the book, including the full blurb, an excerpt, and those all important details on where to buy it, at my website. I’ll be adding more information soon, including a handful of guest (ghost?!) blog posts and a contest, so keep checking back.

If you buy the book (Amazon UK), thank you! And I hope you enjoy hunting the ghosts.

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Friday Five: favourite first lines

A fistful of Fs for today’s title, and a fistful of first lines that have caught my attention, one way or another, over the years. In sort of reverse order, they are:

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Not the most descriptive or earth-shattering opening to a book ever, but I love it for the sheer simplicity, and the way it draws you in, wanting to know what a hobbit is and why it would live in a hole. The next line, involving the “ends of worms and an oozy smell”, adds a touch of the dry humour that permeates the book, and marks it out as much more of a children’s read than the sequel Lord of the Rings.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” I like this one because it seems to sum up pretty much the whole of a very thick novel in that one first line, but without giving away the sheer detail of the main character Cal’s life story. It also sounds impossible, which is a great hook!

Gleams of a Remoter World by, er, me

“‘It was a dark and stormy night’? Pull the other one, Chris, we are not starting a report like that…” I’m totally cheating with this one since it’s my own, but I’ve always liked the idea of playing around with clichés and putting them to better, if slightly evil, use. When I read out the opening paragraph at a writers’ convention a few years ago it got a resounding cheer, and recently a friend told me it was still one of her favourites, so it must have made a good impression on someone!

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

I’m not going to quote the whole first line here because it’s colossal, but it’s also really clever because it sets up a world that seems familiar yet oddly out-of-kilter at the same time, and draws you along with the book’s hero Dick deep into that world without you quite realising how different it is. I won’t reveal more in case it spoils the story, but it’s one of my favourite books ever and well worth trying if you’re not familiar with it.

The Crow Road by Iain M Banks

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Definitely the most original, engaging first line of any book I’ve ever read. It’s got drama, it’s got black humour, it’s got a massive punch of a hook… It’s just a shame that for me, the rest of the book failed to live up to this wonderful opening – although I realise I’m in a minority on that one. One of these days I’ll have to give it another go. The exploding grandma deserves a second chance!

So go on, what are some of your favourites? Are there any obvious ones I’ve missed? Feel free to add them in the comments – I’d love to hear.

 

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Being Me available for pre order

BeingMeA few weeks back I mentioned that I’d had a story, The Visitor, accepted in a charity anthology called Being Me.

The anthology includes a total of sixteen stories about people suffering isolation or discrimination as a result of being different, and proceeds will be going to the Being Me charity.

And the good news is that the book is now available to pre order on both Amazon and Smashwords. (Delivery due on 1st November, which is when it becomes fully available to buy.)

So don’t risk missing out – head over to Amazon now to register your interest. And I’ll be back in the next few days with an excerpt from The Visitor and a few more details about both the story, and the book.

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