Saturday, 30 April 2011

Get your final dose of MEDI-EVIL mania

Here, at last, is the final piece in the Medi-Evil jigsaw, the third volume, which again contains stories and novellas of historical horror and fantasy (not just medieval, I hasten to add, but drawn from all periods of the past).

The first two volumes appear to be selling reasonably well, but the nice thing about ebooks is that you never run out of stock. Please don’t let that delay you guys getting your orders in though (LOL).

Medi-Evil 3 can be purchased (or checked out) HERE.

It contains, the following five adventures:

The Gaff

It seemed that every bone in his body must be hinged or jointed. One very curious thing about him was the greyish tinge of his skin. And his bland expression. Didn’t he feel anything from his twisting and warping?

When Bobber and Ketch, two vicious Victorian criminals, opt to rob the London ‘gaff’ of the weird Professor Feltencaft, they encounter more horror than they could ever have imagined.

To Walk On Thorny Paths

By the light of a lantern, he examined the victims’ throats, and noted that, though the outer flesh and the oesophagus tissue beneath had been sliced from one side to the other, the wounds were ragged-edged and zigzagging.

On the eve of the ‘Bloodless Revolution’, political rivals are marooned together in a snowbound mansion. Soon they are dying one by one, as a nameless, non-human assailant begins to stalk them.

A Plague On Both Your Houses

Some of his jumps have allegedly been prodigious. Heights of 35ft have supposedly been achieved, and talk that he has a supernatural, if not Satanic, power is finally circulating.

Colonel Thorpe is the deadliest shot in the British Empire. There isn’t an animal alive he hasn’t hunted. But even Thorpe is bemused when a young officer recruits him to track down Victorian London’s infamous leaping madman, ‘Spring-Heeled Jack’.

The Destroyers

… this time he could see it in all its grisly glory: manlike, yes, almost, but with dark and gleaming skin and a face of fantastic malevolence. Crocodile teeth gleamed between lips curved in a manic grin; oriental eyes flashed cruelty beneath a heavy brocade of blue Moorish shadow …

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 1099, a band of crusaders crosses the desert in search of the Garden of Eden. Vengeance-seeking Saracens pursue them, along with something else – an indestructible monstrosity formed from the very elements of the Earth.


It would not be killed, he realised; it could not be killed. It was now more horrible than at any time since he’d first seen it: fragments of flesh still adhered to it; its front was mangled, bashed-in, riddled with broken iron. But still it came on, sword in hand.

When their cannonball tears into a grassy mound, a Napoleonic gun-crew realise they have opened an ancient barrow. A wealth of treasure and artworks await them inside, but so does a mysterious guardian, who will stop at nothing to protect the secret hoard.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the plan is to publish these collections in printed form as well, hopefully sometime in the next couple of months. So those of you who aren’t too keen on the electronic medium, will also be able to indulge yourselves. Watch this space for further developments on that front.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Power of Three - 23rd Installment

Well … weeks of turmoil have now passed in terms of what can only be described as a supercharged workload, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to spoil another of your Friday morning coffee breaks. Not that most of you will be having one today, of course, because yet again we’re on the Bank Holiday trail. But I’ve already missed one ‘Power of Three’ this month, and certainly can’t be allowed to do it again.

So here, for your delectation – whether you recollect them over desk-side coffee, or while sitting with a laptop on your knee, watching the Royal Wedding on the goggle box in the corner - are three more of the world’s greatest scary stories.

Remember them and shriek.

The Long-Term Residents by Kit Pedler

A stressed scientist takes a break in a charming seaside hotel, but the attractive landlady is someone he thinks he remembers committing suicide, and why are his fellow guests content to remain in the hotel lounge, rarely conversing? Only when it’s too late does he realise why he’s been lured here.

An ingenious but thoroughly unpleasant little chiller from Kit Pedler, famous for his work on Doctor Who but also in his capacity as a medical scientist. In fact, Pedler’s scientific training comes through strongly here. He doesn’t just write with an economy of words that would do justice to any lab report, but he also presents us with complex chemical and biological issues, though rather helpfully it’s all expressed in language a layman can understand. We’re also dealing with a significant philosophical argument. It’s been done before – particularly in vampire stories, though this is not a vampire story by any means – but just how generous is a person being when they extend your life indefinitely but for their own purposes? The hero, Riker, has a reached a stage where he doesn’t know if he wants to go on. His love life’s a mess, his career dissatisfactory. He’s mentally and emotionally exhausted, and how will prolonging things improve that, especially when it looks as if the next century at least will be spent in this pokey little hotel lounge, which like any good greenhouse, is stultifyingly hot and humid? Understated sci-fi horror at its finest.

First published in THE SEVENTH GHOST BOOK, 1971.

The Man Who Drew Cats by Michael Marshall Smith

A peaceful atmosphere in a small town is spoiled by the presence of a drunken bully, who frequently beats his wife and step-son. Then a mysterious artist gets involved; a laconic guy who one day starts work on the image of a terrifying tiger.

When first published, this masterwork of sumptuous Bradbury-esque prose was seen as Mike Marshall Smith’s signature story. But he’s gone on to produce so many visionary tales since then, all so different from each other in terms of tone, style and subtext, that it’s now regarded as just one of his many milestones in strange fiction. However, I suppose the big question must be – can you class this as horror? Well what else? At the end of the day you’re dealing with extreme offences, which can only be countered by extreme measures. You’re talking horrific parental and spousal cruelty, but an even more horrific reckoning for those responsible. You’re also of course dealing with the paranormal, the supernatural, the demonic, the angelic – call it what you will. Just because it has a happy ending, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a horror story. It’s not exactly gore-free, either. By the same token, Tom, the brooding street-artist who almost by virtue of his own dark will is able to create monsters with chalk and paint, rapidly emerges as one of those iconic figures of weird literature. Michael Moorcock would have been proud.

First published in DARK VOICES 2 (pictured), 1990.

The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens

A traveller visits a lonely signal box in a deep railway cutting, only to meet a disturbed signal-man, who insists that whenever he sees a mysterious hooded figure at the entrance to the nearby tunnel, disaster soon strikes. Unfortunately, he has seen the figure again that very week.

Probably one of the most famous and most popular ghost stories ever written, but neither the world’s familiarity with it nor its great age will lessen the impact if, by some remote chance, you have yet to experience it. Dickens was a lover of ghost stories, of course, but here he boxes clever, choosing to leave the matter open. Is there a genuine supernatural power at work? If there is, we are never told why it has chosen this spot or this particular individual to haunt. Or has the signal-man, a lonely character somewhat bereft at his isolated post, simply invented the spectral shape that always seems to precede a tragedy? The traveller is undecided, and by the end so is the reader. For all that, it’s a superbly eerie and atmospheric piece. Dickens utilises the misty moorland location and the bleak, echoing canyon to great effect. A survivor of a terrible railway accident himself, he also recalls with shattering clarity the horror and carnage of such incidents. One of the oldest tales we’ve featured on this blog, but still one of the best.

First published in ALL THE YEAR ROUND, 1866.

Next catapult-load of MEDI-EVIL mayhem

The latest edition in my historical horror ebook trilogy, MEDI-EVIL 2, is now available. As with MEDI-EVIL 1, these are not exclusively tales of the Middle Ages, but come from various periods of our history, primarily those eras when terror and turmoil lay close at hand.

Buy it (or check it out) HERE

Medi-Evil 3 will hopefully be out in the next week or so. I must admit, creating these ebooks proved a little more testing than we expected, but it's all still pretty new, I suppose. For those not yet sold on the electonic reading revolution, the plan is still to do print versions of these three collections in the next month or so.

Anyway, here's the slug ...


Three tales of historical mystery interwoven with horror, fantasy and adventure

Twilight In The Orm-Garth

Even as they gazed at it, the abhorrence clutched the bars with hands the size of shovels, each knotted finger surmounted with a dirt-encrusted dagger for a nail. An eye-watering stench poured off it …

When Norman baron Dagobert of Caux assembles his family to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, he faces the double-threat of a Saxon uprising and a Viking incursion. But a far greater menace is posed by the Korred, a blood-soaked monster from the mists of Britain’s pagan past.

The Amphibians

Often, when I was walking, I’d sink as deep as my knees, sometimes my thighs. Once or twice I went clean through … into brine as black and cold as swamp-water, only the luminous eyes of fish to light the chasms beneath.

A gunsmith’s apprentice leads a busy but mundane existence, until he joins forces with a roguish seaman who is being hunted by a murderous foe from the dark, weed-choked waters of the Sargasso Sea, the deadliest and most exotic ocean in the world.

For We Are Many

Another creak followed, another and another – and suddenly it was plainly obvious that they were footfalls. Somebody was moving about up there, padding stealthily. Flavia peered at the plaster ceiling, clutching the candle so hard that it squashed out of shape …

When a Roman officer learns that the new Christian god has power over disembodied spirits, he rescues Flavia, a condemned Christ follower, from the dismemberment block – but only on the condition that she will help him exorcise the violent and mysterious entity that haunts his country manse.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Fearful fun as dark secrets are revealed

Well … everyone survived.

Apart from someone fainting during the tour of the top floor, our Haigh Hall horror night passed without any unsavoury incidents. I’m glad to report that my rendition of The Upper Tier (pictured) also went without a hitch.

Various members of the audience assured me afterwards that it was a clear, well-paced presentation, and that they enjoyed the story immensely. I’m quite pleased by that as Wigan audiences are nothing if not honest. Two years ago, I performed a different reading at a library in Wigan, and one of the ladies who’d turned up told me afterwards, in a very frank tone, that she hadn’t enjoyed it at all, as it was “much too horrible for her”. So hopefully this time I hit all the right notes.

A couple of people have emailed to ask if, now the night is complete, I can explain the background to The Upper Tier, which is based very loosely on a disastrous ghost-hunting expedition to Haigh Hall in 1947. Basically I can’t, or rather I won’t – not yet. I’m hoping to publish The Upper Tier later this year as part of a new collection, and it wouldn’t be cool if I gave away too much detail at this early stage. Put it this way, the 1947 event had a very, very serious outcome for several of those involved, while the paranormal activity reported was apparently astonishing. (I’ll keep everyone informed regarding progress with this publication – it won’t be for a few months yet, I’m sorry to say).

Interestingly enough, I spent some of last night in company with a modern-day paranormal investigator, who is now very keen to get his team into Haigh Hall despite the embargo on this kind of activity that the local authority have imposed. Last night for example, though we got permission to tour the top floor, the legendary Noah’s Ark Room remained firmly closed. Nobody was allowed to enter, ostensibly because it isn’t safe, though I suspect the real reason is because there have been so many alleged incidents in there. Anyway, my ghost-hunting pal, who has held vigils in northwest ghostly locations as varied as Muncaster Castle, Chingle Hall and the Morecambe Winter Gardens, was very impressed by the look and feel of Wigan’s own version of Borley Rectory, and feels he may be able to pull enough strings to gain entry. If so, he will be the first for about 20 years. He’s already enquired if I’d be prepared to accompany him. Well … what kind of horror writer would I be if I refused?

As I said before, nothing seriously odd was reported from last night’s tour of the upper tier, apart from the brief fainting fit and a couple of folks complaining that they felt ill up there, though a former newspaper editor of mine, who was also present, said that there was definitely an atmosphere in that place. He was at the rear of the group, and told me afterwards that he constantly felt as if somebody was walking behind him. He reckons he won’t be going back up there in a hurry.

We did take some photographs during the course of the tour, but all the ones I’ve seen this morning are too dark. You can’t really see anything except shapes in the dimness, and the odd rotted doorway.

One final thing – it may be nothing, but it’s got to be worth mentioning. At the end of the night, one of the downstairs staff (only specially designated staff will go upstairs) asked me if everyone had now come down. I replied that I thought they had. She then asked me “whose is the child?” When I replied that no children had attended, she laughed as if she thought I was joking. I assured her that I wasn’t, and she said that it didn’t matter. I later found out that, as everyone had been leaving by the Hall’s main door, she’d heard what had sounded like a child whimpering in the dark recesses above. When I spoke to the lady again, she said that she’d probably just been mistaken.

Yeah, right ...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Tonight's the night - no turning back now!

In 1947, part of the parapsychology team made famous by their enquiries at Borley Rectory attempted to investigate Haigh Hall, a Regency Gothic built on the site of a medieval manor house on the outskirts of Wigan, Lancashire, reputedly one of the most haunted properties in the whole of the north of England. What happened to that team has become the stuff of ghost-hunting legend.

Without doubt, this is one of the most disturbing episodes in the entire history of paranormal enquiry. To call this investigation ‘a disaster’ would be underselling it in a big way, though the actual details are rarely leaked as the local authority, who now own Haigh Hall, have clamped down on it hard.

Subsequent vigils there have also had bizarre outcomes, with investigators hospitalised or frightened out of their wits – in one case, a very experienced chap had to be sectioned in an asylum. Though none of these events (most of which are detailed in earlier posts on this blog) can even compare with the truly terrible incident in 1947, Wigan Local Authority decided in the early 1990s that enough was enough and issued an order that no further paranormal enquiries could be held at Haigh Hall. Not only that, they closed the upper tier of the building to all but essential staff, as this was deemed to be the epicentre of very violent ghostly (though would also call it ‘demonic’) activity.

Since then, of course, there have been occasional reports about Haigh Hall, though as the public are only normally admitted to the downstairs area, which is still open for official functions, these have been few and far between. But nobody believes that the evil lurking upstairs has gone away, least of all the staff responsible for maintaining the venerable old mansion. They are the unwilling protectors of this ancient building’s secrets, though these secrets won’t remain secrets for much longer. Tonight, as part of the Wigan Literature Festival, and as dusk descends on the lush, overgrown woodland that surrounds Haigh Hall, I shall be hosting a special ghost story evening in its main ballroom, and reading my new novella, The Upper Tier, which draws directly on the ghastly horror that struck this place way back in 1947. (It’s a ticket-only event, of course, so unfortunately no-one can just turn up at the door, if they haven't already booked).

When I was initially approached to do this, I was obviously delighted but I also felt a little trepidation. So frightening are some of the stories concerning Haigh Hall that witnesses have supposedly never recovered from them. Others who’ve experienced things here have refused ever to return, even in daylight. It was always going to be a challenge, but in preparing for this night I’ve had the chance to look the Hall over thoroughly, including the upper tier, which I’ve now visited several times. It is achingly eerie up there: derelict, web-shrouded and groaning with disuse. It is also easy to imagine that you aren’t alone while traversing its gutted rooms and bleak corridors. Whether this owes to what people like me already know about this place, or to a genuine supernatural presence is a matter for debate. But there are so many tight corners, so many dark and narrow passages, so many curious markings on the mottled walls that the aura of brooding menace is all but tangible.

Perhaps because of this, it soon became plain to me that I couldn’t just reveal to our guests the mysteries of this uncanny place without allowing them to have a look for themselves. So tonight – for the first time in a long time – the general public, at least those members of the public who have tickets for my presentation, will not just hear the full, uncensored account of what happened there in 1947, but they will be admitted to the upper tier, where it all occurred.

It took all our powers of persuasion, but we finally got permission for this. And in case anyone thinks this is a joke, we then found that we had another problem to contend with – only one of the tour guides volunteered, and now that the day is upon us, he is far from comfortable about going up there.

It’s now lunchtime as I write this. The clock is ticking. I too am beginning to wonder if we maybe we’ve all made the biggest mistake of our lives …

For those who haven’t visited this blog before, the above pic, which comes to us courtesy of ‘Wigan Observer’ snapper, Nick Fairhurst, shows yours truly in the much-feared Noah’s Ark Room, regarded by many as the malevolent heart of Haigh Hall’s notorious upper tier.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Massacres and mayhem, MEDI-EVIL style

Here's a brutal scene of medieval mayhem, which will be repeated many times, occasionally even more graphically than is is here, in MEDI-EVIL, my new trilogy of ebooks exclusively packed with historically themed novellas and short stories.

They aren't just medieval stories; they come from all periods of Earth's history, but I liked the title, so there. However, I can guarantee that all are full-blooded horrors, chillers and suspensers. The first volume is now available HERE.

The above picture is nothing to do with it, I should add, but you must admit it's rather eye-catching. For further detail concerning the synopses in MEDI-EVIL 1, check the post below this one (and keep an eye out in the next week or so for MEDI-EVIL 1 & 2).

On a slightly different subject, I've just completed had a busy two days on the DOCTOR WHO scene. At Waterstone's in Wigan yesterday, I signed 30 copies of my new novel HUNTER'S MOON for the fans (pictured below), which was a very rewarding experience. Thanks to Kate and Cherryl for looking after me so well. All the kids who came into the shop also enjoyed playing with a transistorised Dalek, running it around a specially laid-out obstacle course (pictured at the bottom) - until some bloke came striding in and accidentally kicked it like a rugby ball, smashing it to bits while a couple of youngsters were actually in the process of ussing it. (I suppose it's just a good job he didn't kick one of them).

Today, meanwhile, I was down in leafy Chesham, at the 'Act III' (Dr Who again) Convention, signing copies of SENTINELS OF THE NEW DAWN, my latest audio drama from Big Finish. It was another enjoyable day, made all the more pleasant by the presence on my table and panel of top writer and all-round good egg, the indefatigable Rob Shearman, Big Finish producer David Richardson, writer and script-editor John Dorney, and actors John Banks and Beth Chalmers.

It was also a lot of fun to meet Katy Manning and Lousie Jameson, but that would be name-dropping, wouldn't it, heh heh heh ...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Tales of torment from a tumultuous past

It’s been more of a challenge than I expected, but I’m at last in a position to reveal the name and look of my new ebook trilogy.

This is the first volume of MEDI-EVIL, and it contains three horror/fantasy novellas all set in recognisable periods of Earth’s history (not just the Middle Ages, despite the title).

Those who know my work, will know that I pride myself on recreating moments of history as authentically and atmospherically as I can, but that I rarely dwell on the mundane.

Even if there isn't some supernatural horror for my protagonists to grapple with, you can be sure there's a battle to fight, a city to sack, or a king to cast down from his blood-stained throne. In short - and even if I say so myself - it's nearly always a fun ride.

In this first volume:

The Blood Month

It ripped back its hood with withered claws, and gazed upon him with luminous eyes fixed at different levels in a face divided into two halves: one side the sickly green-black of corrupted flesh; the other a livid, cadaverous white …

When Radnar and Ljot, two Christian Vikings, flee the vengeance of the pagan King of Denmark, they seek refuge with their uncle on his Greenland farmstead. But all is not well here. An ancient power is stirring in the icy vapour, and one by one their kinfolk are dying in unspeakable ways …


Little more than a twisted trunk swathed in tattered bandaging, his face shrivelled and wrinkled like a walnut, he was more a puppet than a real man …

Elizabethan master-spy Robert Urmston is weary of hunting for heretics whose religious beliefs will see them brutally executed. But when a nameless assailant starts ripping his way through the fallen women of Southwark, Urmston is put on the trail of a far deadlier and more elusive prey …

The Gods of Green And Grey

Bellowing frenziedly, she bore down upon the dying man with her full weight, squeezing his flesh until the bones within popped …

Ambitious Roman officer Livius doesn’t fancy the building detail he is given in the fens of eastern Britain. The memories of Boudicca’s bloody revolt still linger in this fog-shrouded region. But something else lurks out here too. Something far more terrible than the wild Britons or the bottomless bog-pools.

The finished book is now in the process of being proofed, and the moment it's up and available for download (which will be imminent), you folks on here will be the first to know. It will be available in this first instance via Kindle and Smashwords - I will post direct links - while for those not yet in synch with electronic literature, we will have a printed version available in about a month’s time.

Also, watch this space for MEDI-EVIL volumes 2 and 3, which will be published very soon.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Power of Three - 22nd Installment

So, having failed to deliver a ‘Power of Three’ last week, I’m now delivering this week’s a day early. Sorry about that, but with this Friday being Good Friday I thought it only proper to send this latest missive out on a day when most of you will still be in your place of employment and thus will have plenty time to mess aronud on the internet.

It seems we have a trio of relatively recently-written selections this week, but as always that’s happened completely by accident. For this reason, they’ll probably be more familiar to you than many I've promoted recently. But if I’ve done nothing more than put grim memories into your head just as you were sitting back to enjoy your first coffee break of the morning, then I’ll consider that my work here is done.

Apologies again for my lapse last Friday. It’s the first time I’ve missed ‘Power of Three’, but I was simply overwhelmed by work. Amazingly enough, that does happen to us authors from time to time. I shall obviously endeavour to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, but of course I can’t promise anything. In the meantime, enjoy this nerve-wracking threesome. I know I did.

The Curse Of Kali by Cherry Wilder

A bereaved lady author takes a room with a bullish middle class family, but is disquieted by the underhand tactics they use to take possession of the house next door after its owner, a lady with connections to India, suddenly dies.

A gently paced and ultra-skilful variation on the theme of vengeance from beyond the grave. There is no violence here, no ghoulishness, no ‘in-yer-face’ horror. Even the supernatural moments are brief and spaced far apart (and are all the more effective for it), but this is still one of the best stories of its kind. Despite its civilised tone, it builds slowly and inexorably towards a shocking outcome. All the way through it is enriched by those tantalising mysteries of the East, and yet we spend much of its running time in the company of jabbering, assertive English folk whose main purpose in life, it seems, is to make minor material gains. I’m not one of these readers, by the way, who believes that Ranji the cat – one of the key characters – is actually evil; he just happens to be resourceful enough to make the best of his ‘Calcutta street-child’ type existence. So forget the cat. There is a much darker entity at the heart of this charming but chilling little ditty.

First published in INTERZONE 103, 1996.

Two For Dinner by John Llewellyn Probert

A wealthy but vindictive man discovers that his wife is having an affair with his son’s piano teacher. He invites this gullible third party to dinner, drugs him and then ties him into a specially-made torture chair. A night of unparalleled horror follows.

The first thing I should say is that this story doesn’t go the way you expect it to. Okay, it’s not exactly pleasant. There’s no question that John Llewellyn Probert is a big fan of the ‘Pan Horror’ sub-genre and in fact this story makes several overt references to the more grisly extremes of certain tales within the Pan pantheon. In terms of style and execution, it’s clearly cut from the same distasteful cloth – it’s about a gruesome and protracted revenge, it’s about what happens if you’re foolish enough to try and steal from a maniac. Familiar territory of course, but in actual fact this joyously camp thriller is firmly tongue-in-cheek. It’s written with great wit and charm, and despite its squirm-inducing premise it isn’t particularly gory. But don’t be too fooled. Appearances can be deceptive. The mental anguish to which our increasingly unmanly hero is subjected knows no limits. And no horror story written in tribute to the great Pans of old would be complete without a thoroughly nasty (and of course darkly amusing) sting in the tail.

First published in THE FIFTH BLACK BOOK OF HORROR (pictured), 2009.

The Overseer by Albert E. Cowdrey

A southern farming family is impoverished by the events of the American Civil War. The eldest son survives and must make his fortune in a new world, a task made easier by the evil spirit of his father’s one-time slave overseer.

If there was ever such a thing as an epic ghost story, this is it. The sweeping backcloth of major historical events commences in the backwoods of the 1850s and finishes in New Orleans in the 1900s, visiting the battle of Shiloh and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan along the way. But this is also a human journey, charting the gradual but total breakdown of one man’s personal morality. Though there are strong supernatural elements here, most if not all of the horror stems from an atmosphere of malevolent self-interest, which inevitably leads us to look below the beautifully written surface detail and into the turmoil of a tortured soul. Our anti-hero Lerner is in no doubt that his wicked deeds are influenced by the demonic ghost of Monsieur Felix, the murdered overseer. But is he? Sure, we see Monsieur Felix too. But we see him through Lerner’s eyes. Isn’t it more likely that, as a result of his horrific experiences – his world and family laid waste before him – Lerner has created the overseer’s ghost as his brutal alter-ego? It’s a long story, this, but it bears more than one reading to fully appreciate it. An old-fashioned saga, but a modern masterwork.


On a completely unrelated subject, I'd just like to remind anyone who happens to be in the Wigan area this coming Saturday that I'll be in the town centre Waterstone's store for most of the day, signing copies of my brand new Doctor Who novel, HUNTER'S MOON. Maybe see you there.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Another quality day with you know WHO!

One of the great pleasures of writing Doctor Who for Big Finish, who specialise in producing original, full-cast audio dramas for download or release on CD, is getting invited down to the studio at Ladbroke Grove to sit in, and sometimes lend the odd word of advice, while the final touches are being made to the finished production.

I’ve had this joy a couple of times now, meeting such luminaries of the greatest show in the galaxy as Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. Last month saw another memorable occasion when I was allowed access to the high-tech inner sanctum for the recording of my Fifth Doctor adventure, HEXAGORA.

Fifth Doctor Peter Davison has long been a fixture in my family’s professional life as my late-father wrote many scripts for him in the 1980s for All Creatures Great And Small. I personally had never met him until now, though I still remembered my Dad’s fond reminiscences of Peter as one of the nicest guys in show-business. Happily, I can confirm that this is true, but after having a good chat with Peter, and watching him in action at close-hand, I was even more bowled over by his professionalism and also by the affection and commitment to Doctor Who that he still has, even though he is surely one of the most in-demand actors around.

I was equally chuffed to meet Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton, who as Tegan and Nyssa respectively provided the other members of that hugely popular and personable Tardis trio (all three of these personal heroes of mine are pictured above with yours truly, during a break in the recording). I felt as if I knew both ladies already, having seen so much of them on TV, but also given that their real life characters were a close match for their on-screen personas; Janet fiery and determined, Sarah gentle and laid-back.

I also had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Jacqueline Pearce, who has a star role in HEXAGORA, but who will be well remembered by fans of cult sci-fi as Servelan, the evil administrator who terrorised the space-trekking freedom fighters of Blake’s Seven back in the 1970s. She too was instantly recognisable to me, and nice as pie, and must have been a great coup for producer David Richardson when he was looking to cast.

HEXAGORA is another of Big Finish’s ‘Lost Stories’ series, and I developed and wrote it from a brief outline by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair. I can't say anything about it yet, except that it will be released in November. Watch this space for more news as I get it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ready to 'Rock'! But no 'Power' this week!

Well … THE DEVIL’S ROCK is at last finished!

Yep, all the grading work has now been completed at Peter Jackson’s Park Road post-production facility in Wellington (check out the classic plaque in the entrance hall, pictured above). The 16x9 pan and scan version for DVD release is also done and dusted. The final touches are being made to the EPK deliverables, and some cutting remains on the outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage for all the ‘making of’ items, but then we’re good to go.

One final thing – I’m being interviewed early next week, snippets of said footage to be included ‘somewhere’ on the eventual DVD/Blue-Ray etc. It sounds cool, but unfortunately means that I’m going to need to get my hair cut in the meantime, and all that after I was planning to let it get even shaggier and more unruly for at least another month.

Sadly, there are no official release dates available for THE DEVIL’S ROCK yet, but you chaps will be among the first to know when they’re out.

And now, on a slightly less upbeat note, there will unfortunately be no POWER OF THREE this week. My other life as a professional sports writer has been interfering to some tune over the last few days and will continue to do so at least until the weekend, so there’s simply no option – you folks are going to have to drink this Friday morning’s coffee while staring at a blank computer screen. Sorry about that, but normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.

Monday, 11 April 2011

BFS long list published and heads severed

I’m delighted and flattered to report that I have a number of my published works from last year on the official ‘long list’ for the British Fantasy Awards in 2011.

These will now be voted on by the membership of the British Fantasy Society, and a shortlist of final nominees will be drawn up in time for the award ceremony at FantasyCon in Brighton next September.

They are, in no particular order (and apologies if I’m repeating myself in these thumbnail synopses, but it’s for the newcomers, ya know - so please bear with me on that):

In the capacity of Best Novella …

Sparrowhawk – published as an independent title by Pendragon Press.

In the 1840s, an embittered Afghan War veteran is released from the debtor’s prison by a beautiful and mysterious woman, and hired to stand guard over a house in Bloomsbury for duration of the Christmas period. An unnatural cold then descends on London, and a deadly supernatural entity emerges from the frozen mist …

The Tatterfoal – published in One Monster Is Not Enough by Gray Friar Press

The son of a pop star who disappeared back in the 1980s is invited to a ‘Resurrection Party’ in the home of his estranged step-mother. He doesn’t want to go, not least because the house occupies a bleak fog-bound moor where legends persist that a weird and murderous man-horse stalks the night …

Walkers In The Dark – published in Walkers In The Dark by Ash-Tree Press

Students excavate for Viking gold in the bowels of a derelict monastery in a part of town now overrun by gangsters and drug-addicts. But the lowlives they inevitably meet in this dangerous urban jungle are nothing in comparison to the demonic forces they are about to unleash from the pagan past …

In the capacity of Best Short Fiction …

The Doom – published in The Black Book of Horror #6

A medieval mural depicting the horrors of Hell is uncovered in an old church, and soon starts to attract the wrong kind of interest …

Fathoms Green And Noisome – published in One Monster Is Not Enough

Cryptozoologists investigate a Welsh lake which is reputedly bottomless and the home of an indescribable creature. But a greater danger lies much closer to home …

The Green Bath – published in The Black Book of Horror #7

A sexually active couple hire a Cornish cottage for the week, but the husband soon finds himself besotted by the almost impossibly alluring lady next door …

In the capacity of Best Collection …

One Monster Is Not Enough – published by Gray Friar Press
Walkers In The Dark – published by Ash-Tree Press

I’m also proud to have had stories published in the following horror anthologies, which have been listed in the capacity of Best Anthology: The Black Book of Horror #6; The Black Book of Horror #7; Where The Heart Is; Zombie Apocalypse.

But of course it’s not just about me (which you could easily be forgiven for thinking with the way I sometimes go on). The full ‘long list’ contains many other works by friends and rivals of mine inside the genre. To check it out in its entirety, go to:

On a completely different subject, but as a treat, I’m illustrating this post with Paul Mudie's cover art for The Black Book of Horror #8, which will be published in the near future (alas, I can’t give you an exact date). It portrays a pile of severed heads, each one belonging to one of the contributing authors. Yours truly is located in the bottom right-hand corner. But I wonder how many other wordsmiths of woe you can spot?

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Power of Three - 21st Installment

Yes, it's THAT time of the week again. It's Friday morning and it's coffee time, but don't settle down. With luck you'll soon be writhing uncomfortably as this latest trio of offerings resurrects memories you'd thought thankfully buried.

Again, this threesome was chosen entirely at random. There are no conscious connections between these choices - please don't try to tell me that there's some kind of 'girl power' thing going on here, because there honestly isn't. Not deliberately, anyway. The only real link between these three is that they are all very fine horror stories indeed and occupy prominent positions among my personal list of 'the best ever'.

Madelein by Roger Johnson

An author’s secretary makes a research trip to the Eastern Europe on a quest for the truth about ‘Bloody Countess’ Elizabeth Bathory. Friends at home only learn about her progress through regular letters, though these become increasingly bizarre and scary.

You wouldn’t have thought it difficult to weave an atmosphere of menace around the true tale of Elizabeth Bathory, who tortured and murdered over 600 young women and bathed in their blood. Yet numerous authors have tried with mixed results. However, Roger Johnson here uses the grim reality of ‘Countess Dracula’ as the backdrop for a very special story indeed. The trick is that, rather than making it purely an essay in gore, he delves deeply into the mysterious. His ill-fated heroine, Valerie, is a dreamer from the start, an idealistic lesbian who has never found true love in England. However, once she’s left the orderly, buttoned up society of pre-war London, the real world quickly seems to fall away from her. Her letters, the device through which Johnson allows us to monitor her progress, are a touch of genius, keeping us guessing every inch of the way, but constantly hinting that Valerie – increasingly starry-eyed, we imagine – is falling in with the wrong crowd and getting ever deeper into truly terrible danger. The final turn of this supernatural screw is as ghastly as they come.

First published in THE GIANT BOOK OF GHOST STORIES, 1991.

Spring-Fingered Jack by Susan Casper

A businessman makes nightly visits to a tawdry arcade, where he plays the ‘Jack the Ripper’ game but constantly fails to kill enough prostitutes or mutilate them in the correct fashion within the time allowed. Frustrated, he decides that only practise will make perfect.

You have a bad feeling where this one is going to lead right from the start, but that doesn’t make it any the less a horribly perceptive comment on the low forms of entertainment that folk will sometimes seek – maybe even folk like us, who read gruesome stories – and the potential this has for creating even more mindless carnage in our society. The interesting thing is that this story was written way back in 1983, long before almost every teenage boy in the western world had developed an unhealthy obsession with the screen in the corner of his bedroom, where fantasy lifestyles filled with limitless amounts of violence and profanity, and of course lacking any consequences, moral or otherwise, could be lived out as if they were actually real. In that respect, Ripper expert Susan Casper was making a very eerie prediction. The worrying irony is, she thought that she was writing a horror story about an improbable game that no-one would ever be irresponsible enough to invent, let alone play – she probably had no idea that all of this, and worse, would soon come true.

First published in FEARS (pictured), 1983.

Grauer Hans by Helen Grant

In a rural town in western Germany, a little girl is troubled by the regular appearance of a mythical night-goblin at her bedroom window. Is he real or is he a dream? The terror only ends when she moves to Britain. However, in later life, when she has her own daughter to look after, she moves back to the same old house.

This is a simple tale, but it is nonetheless evocative and chilling. In essence it concerns the relationship between an innocent child and a character from fairy tale, who, as the child grows older and more angst-written, slowly transforms into something malevolent. There is a masterly progression of thought in this piece. When we’re very young, we feel perfectly safe in the bosom of our family. The horrors of the real world, even though they may only just be outside our bedroom window, are no threat to us. But when we become parents ourselves it’s a different ballgame. We try to keep unpleasant reality from our young, but it often takes everything we’ve got, and if we fail the cost may be catastrophic. But there are other potent forces at work here: hints of vampires, not to mention the Brothers Grimm and their fables, which deep down were also grim metaphors for real life. Further proof, if it were needed, that dark truths and even darker fears live on in the guise of fairy tales.

First published in SHADES OF DARKNESS, 2008

Thursday, 7 April 2011

I'm about to get MEDI-EVIL on your ass!

It’s difficult not to be impressed by some of the sales figures being reported from the ebook market – I say ‘some’ of course, because I know that isn’t the story across the board – but I’ve now made the decision to test the water myself.

In the next few weeks I’ll be releasing three volumes of my historical stories and novellas in ebook format (with a possible print-on-demand facility for those who still aren’t so sure about the electronic medium). The series will be called Medi-Evil, though it won’t be set exclusively in the Middle Ages. Over the years I’ve written in and about almost every period of history, so I’ll be including tales from as far apart in the past as the Romans and the Victorians.

As usual, there will be a strong emphasis on fantasy and horror, but those who know me will also know that I pride myself on getting details right and creating an authentic atmosphere. For example, I like my medieval streets to be narrow and crowded, and strewn with festering offal. I like my medieval castles to be dark, smoky and filled with drunken knights and cackling prostitutes. I like my battles to be explosively violent and drenched with blood.

(If you have any doubt about that latter detail, check out the amazing artwork above, which was provided by Bob Covington to accompany my novella of the crusades, The Destroyers, when it was first published in F20 #1 back in 2000).

As I say, I hope these books will be available for purchase within the next couple of weeks. Obviously there is the possibility of delay – ebook is still a relatively new medium for us all. But I’ll keep you posted on progress. So watch this space.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Gods or demons - who haunts Haigh Hall?

This Friday sees my first rehearsal at the menacing mansion that is Haigh Hall (the ‘Borley Rectory of the North’, as it is locally known).

For those who are just tuning into this blog, I’ll be holding a special ghost story night there on April 26th and reading my new novella, THE UPPER TIER, which is based on real events that once occurred in this deceptively innocent looking country house on the outskirts of Wigan, Lancashire.

Haigh Hall has a reputation for being haunted by particularly grisly and frightening spirits. There has been very violent poltergeist activity in the past, particularly on the top floor (aka ‘the Upper Tier’), which has subsequently been sealed off for decades. Injuries and nervous breakdowns have been reported by visitors, particularly among paranormal investigators. The last of these enquiries had such a disastrous outcome that one member was sectioned in a mental hospital. After this upsetting event, a ruling was made, declaring Haigh Hall’s top floor a no-go zone for amateur ghost-hunters.

Attempts have also been made to keep news of these incidents out of the public domain. Haigh Hall’s ornate downstairs area is still used for official functions, and its local authority owners did not want it to become famous for the wrong reasons. However, ghoulish stories have continued to leak out.

The hauntings at the Hall have taken a variety of forms. Many physical manifestations have been reported – from nightmarish hooded figures to the recognisable spirits of witnesses’ own deceased family members (though there is evidence to suggest that these are not those persons at all, but malevolent dopplegangers seeking to cause mischief). Shrieks, cries and insane laugher have been heard, while brief terrible smells have been noted – “like the stench of a pit filled with dead animals,” one former caretaker told me – with no earthly source ever traceable. (For more detailed accounts of these individual events, look to earlier postings on this blog).

Spirits are also believed to roam the woods around the building. One in particular is Lady Mabel, a faceless medieval-era spectre who spent her final days of life serving a torturous barefoot penance for the crime of bigamy. More recently, evidence has come to light than an underground passage may lead from the Hall – a priest’s hole connecting with old mining tunnels (of which Wigan borough is riddled), finally linking to an subterranean excavation beneath Wigan Parish Church, where archaeologists in the 1930s uncovered the remains of an altar to the Roman god Mithras.

If this sounds like something from one of my novels or short stories, I assure you it isn’t. By origin, Wigan was a medieval market town, but it was built on the site of a Roman military camp called Coccium. The camp itself occupied the part of the town where the Parish Church now stands. (Wigan Parish Church itself had a strange history – local folklore told how, in 1485, Richard III’s infamous boar-headed banner was taken from the battlefield at Bosworth by Lancastrian soldiers, and hung bloodstained over the Wigan church altar – though no physical trace of it has ever been found).

Mithras (pictured above, slaughtering a sacrificial bull) was not viewed as an evil deity. In fact, quite the opposite. But he was strongly associated with animal sacrifices. Could this go some way to explaining the curious sounds and smells that are heard at the other end of that underground tunnel – in other words at Haigh Hall?

There are more questions than answers, though I hope to at least gain some insight over the next few weeks. As I said at the start of this missive, I’ll be holding my first official rehearsal this coming Friday, so it’s fingers crossed that we aren’t too spooked to do a professional job. When I was last up at the Hall it was the middle of winter. There was deep snow and a gnawing chill. The Hall was a gloomy, fog-enshrouded edifice, which bade no one enter. Things are somewhat different now. The trees are in bud, the grass and flowers growing, and the sun shining. It looks far more welcoming, but I for one am not fooled. It surely owes to more than mere superstition that at the heart of this house there is utter darkness.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Power of Three - 20th Installment

Well, it’s Friday morning again, and before you get too cheerful about that, here’s another trio of classic chillers with which to darken your first coffee break of the day.

I had an interesting email the other day from a pal who acknowledged that these stories are always drawn from a hat, but said that it might be more fun to try and find connecting threads between them each week. They’re there, he insisted – even if I don’t notice them.

I still didn’t think we could play that game. But just out of interest – and working on the basis that, if nothing else, the three stories I chose last week all came from the 1980s – I looked more closely at this week’s selections. And lo and behold, the first two stories dated from the 1970s. I almost got excited. But then the third one was first published in the 1990s. Ah well, maybe next time …

The Viaduct by Brian Lumley

Two boys dare each other to cross the old viaduct near their home by swinging hand over hand across the iron bars that run alongside it. Half way over they decide that it’s tougher than they expected. And there’s another problem. A local mentally ill man, who they tormented earlier on, is up there waiting for them.

If you offered this story today it would be seen as the embodiment of political incorrectness. But that doesn’t make it any the less an effective chiller, mainly because it’s so believable. Brian Lumley is often associated with cosmic horror concepts, usually in the Lovecraftian vein. By comparison this one is almost ‘kitchen sink’ in its simplicity. There are no supernatural elements here; there isn’t even anyone you could really call evil. It’s just a series of unfortunate events. But the air of authenticity is tangible. The story is set in Lumley’s native northeast England. You get the feeling he might even have known the central characters. Is it conceivable this thing actually happened? You certainly imagine that it could have back in the 1970s, when relics of the industrial past still scarred the landscape and youngsters could explore them unsupervised. This is one grim and ugly tale, and if it doesn’t scare you to death, nothing will.

First published in SUPERHORROR, 1976.

Disturb Not My Slumbering Fair by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo

Diedrie is a ghoul, working her way through the California graveyard system. With fresh food increasingly hard to get, she one day she applies for the job of morgue attendant. Unfortunately, another ghoul is already employed at the same facility, and he doesn’t like competition.

This one will put a smile on your face, though we’re not exactly talking comic relief. If you think ghouls don’t exist in the modern world, think again. The only difference between now and the Middle Ages is that now they have to be a bit more ingenious, and boy, is Diedrie ingenious. There is plenty of dead flesh around for someone as smart as her. When it comes to it, there is quite a bit of living flesh as well. It’s not difficult to get hold of when you can emerge from cemeteries in the dead of night looking pretty and dishevelled, and are able to convince the first concerned citizen you meet that you’ve been attacked. But the best moments are saved for the story's finale. When you can’t be killed or even hurt by mortal hand, and when being buried six foot under isn’t really a problem, there’s no limit to the tricks you can play or the tables you can turn – even on your fellow ghouls. A gory but light-hearted classic.

First published in CAUTIONARY TALES, 1978.

Office Space by Richard Lee Byers

A white-collar worker finds himself trapped in a nightmarish office building, where he has to maintain a semblance of work during the day and sleep at his desk at night. He doesn’t know who brought him here or why, but an ogre-like guard prevents him leaving. Then a female prisoner turns up with a plan to escape.

A clever little slice of ‘Hell on Earth’ horror, with no beginning, no middle and, unfortunately for its hapless hero, no end. The torturous devices to which he is subjected daily will be familiar to many readers: reams of semi-meaningless data, which he must peruse; endless phone-calls from a mindless croaking voice; and a cruel, faceless management who have a wide range of means by which they can punish you. But this isn’t just a parody of nine-til-five existence; this is a horror story with a capital H. Has the increasingly desperate office guy been kidnapped as part of some devilish plot? Has he gone insane at work? Has he died and gone to Hell? Or is it something worse – have the dozens of empty office buildings in downtown Tampa developed a fiendish life of their own and are they now seeking to fulfill themselves? The most important question is does it really matter? The answer – not much. In the end, all that matters is getting out.

First published in DANTE’S DISCIPLES (pictured), 1995.