Bits and bobs

Just a quick round-up of various bits of writing news today:

The Being Me charity anthology is now fully available to buy on Amazon. With 16 stories from 15 authors (including my own time travel tale The Visitor) this is a great way of supporting a great cause. Do go and check it out!

Paragraph Planet have listed The Summons in their October archive. This ultra-short story with a creepy feel is based on a real Cumbrian legend of the church bells ringing under Thirlmere. Head for the archive page and choose 9th October from the drop-down list.

And my new book Got Ghosts? is already gathering some lovely reviews. You can find a selection over at Amazon – and why not treat yourself to a copy while you’re there? It’s the perfect size for an early Christmas stocking-filler!

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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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Friday Five: ghost movies

ghost-demi-moore-patrick-swayze-today-150709-tease_bfa3bec7e169bf80c0bc49e0ef09c98b.today-inline-largeEeek, I’m a day late with this – but you can blame the fact that yesterday I spent half the morning stuck in a traffic jam and half the afternoon having lunch with my writers’ group, one of whom is moving away. So I’m only just catching up!

I’ve watched a few ghost films over the years and some have stuck in my memory better than others – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes less so! Here’s my selection of five. If you like the sound of any of them, they might be good to curl up in front of for Halloween…

Ghost

Not one of my favourites – the story line is quite sweet but it feels very dated nowadays (more so than many of its contemporaries) and it’s a bit too saccharine for my taste. Some of my friends rave over the famous pottery scene (above), but I was squirming so much I could barely watch!

Truly Madly Deeply

Another one that’s a bit overly melodramatic and emotional, but rescued by excellent performances from Juliet Stevenson, Michael Maloney, and of course, the late, much-missed Alan Rickman as her newly-dead-but-still-very-much-around husband.

Haunted

In my opinion this never gets the ratings it deserves. It’s a genuinely spooky and surprising film, with Aidan Quinn playing a professor visiting a haunted house and finding all kinds of skeletons in the closet. Nice performances too from Kate Beckinsale and Anthony Andrews as brother and sister with some very unusual preferences…

Backtrack

I watched this a week or two ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another troubled psychologist, another bunch of ghosts, but this has a terrific performance from Adrien Brody, and a nice line in logical solutions that could so easily explain away the odd happenings in his home town, except that they never quite seem to!

Poltergeist

One of the classics, with child-eating televisions, a family in peril, and the obligatory ancient burial ground. It’s exceptionally well done, but closer to horror than supernatural, and I found the swimming pool scene so overdone I got the giggles.

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Historical, not hysterical!

Friend and fellow Westmorland Writer member Deborah Swift has been kind enough to run a guest (ghost?) blog post of mine on the background to Got Ghosts?

Since Deborah writes historical novels (including The Gilded Lily and Pleasing Mr Pepys), I wanted something that would be vaguely interesting to her readers, so rather than concentrating on the ghosts, I looked back over some of the historical influences on the book. These include stately homes, artworks, priest holes, and Lord Byron – but to find out more, why not head over to Deborah’s blog and check out the details? Hopefully they’re more historical than hysterical, as the title suggests.

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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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