Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New Liz Shaw tale proves a winner so far

A pleasing review has appeared for SENTINELS OF THE NEW DAWN, the 'Companion Chronicle' Dr Who audio drama I recently penned for Big Finish.

The author of said review is Stephen Theaker, writing on his blog:


The story concerns Liz Shaw, the Third Doctor's first companion, so admirably played by the cool and sexy Caroline John (pictured, in her heyday), and goes into a little bit of detail about why, back in the early 1970s, she left UNIT and the Doctor's side after a relatively short stint. Caroline performs this story as well, alongside Duncan Wisbey, and does another very smart job. The tale itself is a prequel to LEVIATHAN, a full-cast audio drama Sixth Doctor adventure, which I wrote in 2009, having adapted it from an original but never-screened TV script written by my late-father, Brian Finch, in 1984.

New Dawn are an organisation of political and cultural idealists, whose philosophy is based on a strange combination of modern environmentalism and medieval feudalism, but they are so ruthless that they seek to impose their new order by non-democratic means and think nothing about enforcing it with an array of biomechanical monstrosities.

Anyway, here are some details from Mr. Theaker's review:

It’s a brave writer who asks an English actress with a plummy accent to perform the dialogue of an African dictator (this one plays a crucial role in the plans of the New Dawn), and a braver actress who accepts the challenge, but if that’s all this adventure is remembered for it would be a shame. Caroline John’s Pertwee isn’t perfect either, but there’s never any doubt that we are listening to Elizabeth Shaw. There are interesting reflections from Liz on why things didn’t work out for her at U.N.I.T. – the Doctor’s life is simply too intense for an ordinary human – and we realise how little she got to know him – she doesn’t really know which way he’ll jump with regard to the New Dawn.

The two-episode structure of the Companion Chronicles once again proves a triumph, these two episodes squeezing in so much more than was usual for Liz’s period on the show. The Doctor is for once allowed to be as clever as he really is – there isn’t a lot he can’t sort out in an hour-long adventure when he puts his mind to it!

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet too much, these kind words sit rather nicely with other positive comments recently posted about SENTINELS on the excellent Dr Who forum, GALLIFREY BASE:

A very solid story from anera that's often overlooked. It's good that BF remains true to this earth bound era, and whilst parallels can be drawn with Inferno in moving the story on, this is a story that could easily have appeared on TV. Perhaps of some most recent Companion Chronicles this remains truest to it's television counterpart.

Listened to this whilst shoping in Sainsburys, and loved it, (it really transported me away from the screaming brats and chavy mothers that shop in my local branch!!) Wonderful to hear Caroline John again on these companion Chronicles, and agree with coastalbloke that this era is a little overlooked by the range, maybe because of the non-availablity of artists, I would love to hear one with Liz and Jo together, (but maybe if I want one like that I should write it!) 9 out of 10 for me, should be lower I fogot half my shopping and picked up stuff I didnt need too!

I quite enjoyed this, it was very evocative of the era, and combined with the present-day narration, just felt right.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Power of Three - 26th Installment

Yep, it's Friday morning and it's coffee break time again. So here are my thoughts on three more of the best horror stories ever written. Once again, I assure you there are no hidden themes or shared subtexts here, even though there does appear to be a 'life after death' thing going on with at least two of them.

As always, these three names came out of the hat entirely by lot. People who read this column regularly are actually stopping believing this, as they say that if I was genuinely picking stories from my 'best ever' list at random, then I would surely have doubled up on several authors by now. It surprises me a little that I haven't, as certain weird wordsmiths figure on my list many times over, but no doubt at some point this discrepancy will be rectified.

For the moment, you'll just have to be patient with these three. Hope they stir some dark memories for you all, and if not, hope they inspire you go out and seek these dark deliberations so that you can find out what all the fuss was about.

The Harrowing Stone by Ben Leech

A selfish academic dreads the forthcoming death of his wife from cancer, as he fears being left alone. Then he hears about a mysterious monolith in a Scottish glen, which has the power to heal. There is one problem – life can only be saved if another life has first been given.

Not just a harrowing stone but a harrowing tale, as we witness a juxtaposition of two nightmarish possibilities. The slow, agonising and all-too-real wasting to death of a loved one in the grip of terminal cancer, or the devil’s bargain of using pagan magic to restore health even though you know a demonic price will be exacted. It almost seems tasteless in some ways, contrasting tragic realism with high-faluting fantasy, but the deed is done with such skill in this tale – the real and the fantastical blended together like two halves of a single, very real whole – that you can’t help but be mesmerised as developments unfold. At no stage does it feel like we’re in a fairy tale here. Okay, we’re dealing with spells, and highland mist, and enigmatic standing stones, but it is all so powerfully portrayed that the dark force of fatal illness is easily given a run for its money by the even darker force of the netherworld. This story also poses some fairly serious questions: how far would you go?; who would you be prepared to sacrifice? And in the time-honoured tradition of great horror fiction, it offers no easy answers.

First published in SCAREMONGERS, 1997.

The Bird by Thomas Burke

Captain Chudder, a brutal seaman, leads a vile existence. Constantly drunk and violent, he is particularly abusive to a young Chinese boy whom he keeps locked in his cabin. The boy escapes and vows revenge. But he hasn’t allowed for Chudder’s pet – a large white parrot possessed of a devilish intellect.

Even disregarding the issue of child-molestation, this was a shocking story when first published. Chudder is utterly odious as a character, not just because he lacks any redeeming features but because he also lacks any of the romance normally associated with villains in Gothic fiction: he is neither handsome nor cunning nor independently wealthy. He is simply a boorish lout of the sort to be found in any real-life dockland slum. Burke often located his tales in London’s depressed Limehouse district, rarely depicting it in a positive light, though often he half-concealed its grime behind a mirage of Oriental mysticism. Not so in this case. Here, Limehouse is a river-side sewer filled with taverns, brothels, opium dens, and human garbage of every sort. It is a picture of Hell on Earth long before the reader even has a chance to absorb the interwoven subtexts of sexual abuse and of course racism (the interracial relationship between Chudder and the Chinese boy caused as much of a scandal as the obvious implication of homosexuality, never mind the under-age abuse). Of course, the story is written with Burke’s usual eloquence, though not to the point where it detracts from the squalor, or the steadily more sinister presence of the story’s main ‘pulp’ element – the bird!

First published in LIMEHOUSE NIGHTS (pictured), 1916.

Watchers At The Strait Gate by Russell Kirk

It is midnight when Father O’Malley, a tired old priest, is disturbed in his isolated presbytery by a hulking tramp who wants to make a confession. The priest is afraid but knows he has a duty to all wretched souls. The tramp then confesses to murdering six men and announces that he will now show O’Malley the way to salvation.

Russell Kirk reveals his strong religious faith in this powerful dissertation on love, hate, fear and redemption. Simply because of who the author is, we’re in no doubt from the outset that there will be a supernatural twist here, but the growing sense of dread as the veteran clergyman marches through the darkened church to the confessional, a gigantic brutish shadow behind him, is literally palpable. Needless to say, there is far more to this story than mystery and suspense. Kirk’s elegant language perfectly enshrines his complex ideas about morality and responsibility and ultimately the price we may all have to pay for a lack thereof, and is filled with classical and theological allusions and references. The hard-edge of reality is never far away of course. We are also immersed in the misery of the underclass, especially as seen from that uniquely American perspective, where life is a void filled with flophouses, prisons and cheap bars, and where ‘the Watchers’, the dark wraiths of human failure, are never far away. All in all an exquisite ghost story, beautifully written and deeply affecting.

First published in NEW TERRORS 2, 1980.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

UK release dates for THE DEVIL'S ROCK

I'm delighted to announce that we at last have the UK release dates for my new horror movie, THE DEVIL'S ROCK.

There is to be a limited cinema release on July 8th, alongside a simultaneous VOD release.

Don't ask me exactly what 'limited' means, but suffice to say that it won't be screening all over the country. Which theatres will actually pick the movie up, I don't yet know, but I'll inform everyone as and when.

However, there is no need for tantrums. Those who don't get to catch the movie at the flicks will only have to wait a couple of days. Because the movie will be issued on DVD all over the UK on July 11th.

A nerve-wracking time now follows for me. I've had one movie cinematically released in the past - that was SPIRIT TRAP back in 2005 (that only got a limited release too, but mainly did its business on DVD) - so it's a familiar sensation, this sense of powerlessness as you wait for the movie-going public to get their mits on what you hope will be seen as a masterpiece. But it's an exciting time as well. Believe it or not, I haven't yet seen a finished cut of the film, so I'm more than a little bit curious myself.

In case anyone missed it the first time round, here's a link to the movie website and the trailer:


Pictured above is another scene from the film. Kiwi commandos Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) enter the enmey compound under cover of darkness, unaware just how terrible a foe awaits them there.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Gina shows a nice face and a scary face

You folks may be interested in a nice little TV interview with Kiwi acrress and star of THE DEVIL'S ROCK, Gina Varela (pictured here cooling off, but still looking hot). The interview comes to us courtesy of New Zealand television, one of whose news crew caught up with the film crew, and Gina in particular, at Cannes during the festival.


For my own part, it's a strange twist of fate that I came to write a New Zealand horror movie when I was born in the UK and still live here. I've sold a few books in the Southern Hemisphere, and have appeared in several Australian anthologies, but I never thought I'd end up working for a film company located down there.

I can trace it back to my very first contact with director Paul Campion (who has dual British/New Zealand citizenship), when he was looking to make a low-budget horror movie set in London. But the way things have developed since then is quite startling.

THE DEVIL'S ROCK is actually the third movie Paul Campion and I have worked on together, and more may now follow as, in the inimmitable style of the Cannes Film Festival, much business was done and more projects plotted, at least a couple of which have already attracted strong interest from the powers-that-be in New Zealand.

I know it's an oft-quoted phrase, but with regard to this particular matter I can only say 'watch this space'.

With regard to THE DEVIL'S ROCK meanwhile, the good news is that we now have a release schedule for Britain, which will be some time in early July. No firm dates as yet (again, 'watch this space'). As to how many cinemas will take the movie, that's a question I can't yet answer, but keep checking back in - it could well be at a cinema near you.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Power of Three - 25th Installment

Here’s another trio of terror with which to disturb your Friday morning coffee break routine. Possibly you’ll remember all these three from tremulous times past, but if you don’t I’ve hopefully whetted your appetites to go out and look them up.

Again, all three of these classic chillers were chosen entirely at random. I assure you it’s completely coincidental that this week’s selections include two authors who were also famous for their children’s writing. That was not intentional in any shape of form (Do you think I’m playing games here?) Not that there is much that is child-friendly about the tales I’ve chosen today.

Happy recollections …

Sardonicus by Ray Russell

A London neurosurgeon travels to a castle in Bohemia, where his former sweetheart is married to the local count, a one-time pauper who found wealth by digging his father’s rotting corpse from the grave to retrieve a winning lottery ticket, but in the process so shocked himself that he now wears a perpetual demented grin.

Possibly the most gothic of all gothic stories, not least because it introduces to us one of horror fiction’s most memorable madmen, and also because it literally puts Grand Guignol on the printed page. The condition Risus Sardonicus is actually real, so no matter how horrible this story becomes it’s based on a kernel of truth. Yet the real monstrousness of the character Sardonicus stems not from his gargoyle appearance but from his sheer wickedness. Compared to Cargrave, the morally upright hero, he is the epitome of malevolence. The relish he expresses as he lists the sexual depravities to which his wife will be subjected (and which she will deserve, in his opinion), if Cargrave fails to cure his affliction, is delightfully ghoulish but also plumbs the depths of conscience-free insanity. The environment matches S’s personality to a tee. No grimmer castle has featured in dark literature since Dracula; the surrounding landscape is appropriately bleak, empty and soulless. And the sting in the story’s tail is one of those great twists of well-earned fate, but at the same time it reinforces the story’s key message – no matter how rich the trappings of the supernatural, the worst malignancies in this world are strictly of human origin.

First published in PLAYBOY, 1961.

The Swan Child by Joan Aiken

Two confident kids seeking sponsorship money make cheery rounds of their village. They are advised to avoid a bungalow on the outskirts, but decide they won’t, and here meet a nice lady who agrees to contribute, though she suggests they don’t return for their money after dark. Of course, you can’t tell these youngsters anything.

Okay, it’s a little bit on the nose, this one. Like most of Joan Aiken’s work, it was aimed at a younger readership, but it’s beautifully written and very evocative of long summer days in rural England. It’s also as spooky as Hell. The meeting with the occupant of the bungalow is a masterly scene as our intrepid heroes only slowly begin to notice eerie details: her dirty feet; the scars on her wrists. Once they’ve got away without anything unpleasant happening, it’s quite a relief, though you just know that these two – typical Aiken youngsters, in that they are mannerly but also independent and assertive – are going to drift back there, and indeed there’s a real air of impending doom as they commence the long return journey from their charity walk, the target of which was an ominous figure – the titular swan Child – cut into the hillside by Iron Age mystics. They’re now on their own, they follow endless dusty paths between endless hedgerows, around endless ploughed fields, never meeting anybody, drawing ever closer to the mysterious bungalow as dusk approaches. To say more would be too much of a spoiler, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a startling turn-around at the finale which, just in case you’d already decided what this was all about, puts everything into an even more uncanny context.

First published in A WHISPER IN THE NIGHT, 1981.

William And Mary by Roald Dahl

A widow is shocked to learn that her controlling husband has arranged for his life to be extended by having his brain preserved in a basin of cerebrospinal fluid, with one eye attached so that he can still watch the world. It isn’t long, however, before she realises that she can turn this to her advantage.

Another of Dhal’s cunning black jokes developed into a full-blooded if somewhat rib-tickling horror story. We are in vintage Dahl territory from the outset, with distinctly non-sentimental characters on all sides – the hospital’s matter-of-fact preparations for William’s death would be quite outrageous, were he not so selfish a person himself. Even Mary – innocent, abused Mary – turns out to be somewhat sly and devious, and maybe even, were we to hang around long enough, a little ‘wanton’. At the same time, fantastical (some would argue ‘nonsensical’) science is never far away. I certainly don’t know if all it takes to keep a disembodied brain alive is to pump it regularly with oxygenated blood, but you get the impression it would work from the scholarly exposition we get here. Of course, we know that the plan is never going to succeed as it was intended, but as always with Dahl’s work, we accept everything at face value and wait eagerly to see villains get their just deserts. Though it’s not perhaps quite as unexpected an ending as we’ve come to anticipate from the master of that sub-genre, the denouement is still very clever and great fun when it arrives. Of course, as so often, the real subtext investigates the latent vindictiveness that lurks within us all, even those of us who on the surface lead such civil and restrained lives.

First published in KISS KISS, 1960.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Devil's Rock appears to be on a roll

I’ve just returned from the annual Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth to the extraordinarily good news that we have now sold the US rights for The Devil's Rock.

Entertainment One have taken the plunge, and the deal they’ve struck with NZ Film covers not just the United States, but Canada as well.

This adds two new major territories to the three others where we’ve already managed to sell the movie – the UK, New Zealand and the Middle East. Apparently offers were also received during the Cannes Festival for other key territories, though no details can be revealed about those just yet.

There’s a bit more info about this big development HERE, though it's only a snippet.

Obviously these are exciting times. On Monday morning, I was interviewed by the delightful Heather Stott on BBC Radio Manchester. I was a bit nervous, but in the 15 minutes I was allocated – which was a pretty generous slot, given that I was primarily there to promote my own movie – we covered quite a lot of stuff; the background to the film, not to mention my own personal history, (much of it as a copper around Manchester), and so on.

If anyone’s interested, there’s an edited transcript of the interview HERE.

Be quick though. I’m not sure how long that one will stay up.

Pictured above: director of The Devil's Rock, Paul Campion, and one of its stars, Gina Varela. You've seen enough pictures of me, so I'll not bother sticking another one on. Besides, compared to those two handsome devils, I'd probably crack your computer screen.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

"Hellgirl" or "Saw with swastikas"? Nice.

"Overwhelmingly positive!"

That's what I'm hearing from Cannes at the moment in terms of audience response to THE DEVIL'S ROCK, which had its first screening on Friday evening, and goes in front of another eager crowd of festival-goers later today.

Apparently the Friday screening was so popular that the theatre doors had to be locked with a significant number of disappointed attendees still outside.

It all sounds excellent, but of course you've got to keep your feet on the ground with regard to these things. As Caesar said to Mark Anthony, "Tha ne'er knows when'th mob can turn against you, lad!"

That said, the first official review of the film is also very encouraging. It comes from Alan Jones writing on http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/topnews.php?id=19165

Alan coined the two phrases "Hellgirl" and "Saw with swastikas". I don't agree entirely with the latter, but he's generally pretty complimentary to the movie, which puts him firmly in my book of cool.

For those who were expecting to hear me gabbling away about the film on BBC Radio Manchester on Friday morning, humblest apologies. The interview has been moved to 10 am on the Heather Stott Show tomorrow (Monday).

Above, for your delectation, I have another (admittedly small) still from the movie. Matthew Sunderland demonstrates the standard Gestapo interrogation technique at the expense of Craig Hall.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Demons and devilry in the Channel Isles

Sorry about this but there can be no POWER OF THREE today. There are two reasons for this – the blog has been down for 24 hours or so, and though I could still upload the latest installment, it would now interfere with my other main event of the day, which is the world premier of my horror movie, THE DEVIL’S ROCK, which will be screening in Cannes in about one hour’s time.

So you chaps and chapesses will have to wait until next week for POT 25, while this week we concentrate on the new movie. For those who still interested, you can see the brand new trailer for the film here:


Don't be jealous. That’s as much as I’ve seen as well, and as much as I’ll be seeing for the next few days at least, because for various reasons I couldn’t make the fun and frolics down in the south of France. I’m reliably assured I’ll be kept informed of events via up-to-the-minute bulletins, but I'm certainly now wishing I was there.

Anway, a quick recap for those new to this site.

THE DEVIL’S ROCK was first written up here in the north of England some two years ago. The story was initially thrashed out by myself and the director, Paul Campion (one of the best blokes in the business), over bangers and mash in a Wigan hostelry. I then penned the script over the following Christmas, mainly dictating into my hand-recorder while walking the dog through ice, snow and temperatures touching -20. (We artistic types suffer so much for our craft). Those lonely sojourns seem a very long time ago now. I never thought it would happen back then, but the finished product is now here - courtesy of the New Zealand Film Commission and various others - to be seen and judged.

In a nutshell, it concerns an Allied commando raid in May 1944, on the eve of D-Day. The target is a German range-finder post out in the Channel Islands, but the troopers uncover something there that is far more important, and far, far more terrifying …

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Lifetime's ambition fulfilled at long last

Here I am, posing with the evidence of a lifetime's achievement.

I've finally got a book on sale in Asda!

Can you believe that? All these long years of misery spent wandering the aisles of our local store, wondering why one of my titles couldn't be up there with all those others, and hey presto - yesterday, completely out of the blue, I spy a bunch of copies of HUNTER'S MOON. Sitting there, pristine, glimmering under the arclights.

Who says dreams don't come true?

On a slightly less humorous but equally pleasing note, I had a great tip off from BBC Books last week. It sounds as if HUNTER'S MOON has got off to a good start in terms of sales. Early Bookscan fitures put it at number 13 on the list for hardback fiction, and that was after it had only been on sale for three days. There's even a possibilty that some time this week it may crack the top ten.

Hope so, at least.

HUNTER'S MOON also seems to be doing well in the critical stakes. No reviews that I've read are disparaging thus far. Here's a nice quote, which I've extracted (without permission, I hasten to add) from a review posted by FRANK on cathoderaytube.blogspot:

Finch's novel shifts from contemporary, austerity struck UK, and a very grounded reality, to something akin to Blake's 7 with a multi-million pound budget. Indeed, I was happy to recall a particularly fine Robert Holmes episode Gambit while reading this, especially the early chapters when Amy and Rory explore the casinos of LP9.

The plot is straight-forward action adventure using the well-heeled, run-down dirty futurism of Blade Runner and its ilk but it's a high-octane tale, very descriptively written by Finch who clearly relishes in the colour and detail of the worlds and characters he has created. The result is a book that you can absorb yourself in, where the surface and dereliction of Gorgoror becomes a very tangible place, full of danger from disused installations and a variety of nasties. As soon as all the characters reach this desolate place, the novel becomes an exhausting chase, almost like the various levels of a well detailed and immersive video game environment.

I hope that makes it sound enticing to those who haven't yet dipped into it.

In other news this week, non-Who related on this occasion, I've got a 15-minute slot on the Heather Stott show on BBC Radio Manchester this Friday morning, in which to talk about THE DEVIL'S ROCK.

I'm not one to read anything into unnerving dates like Friday 13th (this is actually the same day TDR opens in Cannes, so that's quite cool), but 15 minutes!

I have to talk for 15 minutes?

Is such a thing possible? I guess we'll see on Friday. Those of you who live in the region, please tune in and give me moral support. I haven't got the actual times yet - it'll be mid-morning sometime. Watch this space for further details.

A final word now regarding my MEDI-EVIL trilogy, which prides itself on telling blood-curdling supernatural tales from times thankfully past. A few folks have already picked it up via Kindle. But the entire series is also now available on Smashwords. If you're interested, you can grab it here:


Saturday, 7 May 2011

Fond memory of London's dark underbelly

Here's something slightly different, which nevertheless may be of interest.

I've had my attention drawn to one of my episodes of The Bill, which I wrote way back in 2000.

Some devoted fan (LOL – there must be some of them out there) has put the whole thing up on Youtube, divided into five viewable segments. I'm not sure whether it's legal or not, but while it's there I'm more than happy to let folks check it out.

It was an episode called Protect And Survive, and those interested can find it here:


It's not totally inappropriate to mention it on this blog as this particular installment of the long-running cop show concerned a deranged killer, Craig Ronson, who escapes from a high security prison and spends the next night targeting police officers around his native Sun Hill.

We deliberately went for as dark and menacing an atmosphere as we could, having made a conscious decision that this story should be an out-and-out thriller rather than a police procedural case-file. It involved a prolonged night shoot, and made use of some very eerie and rundown locations in and around south London.

The press reaction was generally pretty good. All seemed unanimous in their belief that this was a particularly brooding and scary episode. One red-top – I can’t remember exactly which one – reckoned that it was too violent to be screened before the nine o’clock watershed, but personally I thought that an exaggeration. It opened a lot of doors for me professionally, that's for sure.

It’s seems a long time ago, of course – and it would be more tightly written and edited now, but in my opinion it’s the best of my Bill episodes, and I’m quite chuffed that someone else liked it enough to seek to immortalise it in this way.

Pictured is Craig Ronson, the cop-hating mass murderer who was at the heart of the tale. Mark Lewis was the actor, and what a chilling performance he gave.

For those interested in trivia, this was also the debut episode of DC Mickey Webb (played by Chris Simmons), who became one of the show’s most popular characters. If I remember rightly, Mickey was initially going to be called Harry Webb, and we were well into pre-production for this episode when someone thankfully remembered that this was Cliff Richard’s real name – so we had to change it quickly

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Power of Three - 24th Installment

It’s hard to believe that a whole week has passed since I last wrote one of these. Time is definitely not standing still at the moment, especially as there is barely a minute to spare between jobs.

However, the spring Bank Holiday season is now firmly behind us and we’re back into that familiar desert of all work and no play making life dull. I therefore consider it even more imperative that I keep on souring your Friday morning coffee breaks with these recollections of some of the greatest horror stories every written.

Here are three more to remind you that life can be a whole lot more torturous than merely embracing us with its nine-til-five drudgery. Enjoy …

The Curse by Ed Gorman

A washed-up lawyer counterattacks the callous boss who stole his girl, by tricking him into offending a homeless man who has the power to cast hexes. A fearsome sentence is duly passed, but messing with voodoo is never a straightforward business.

The harsh reality of corporate life meets head-on with the supernatural in a very cool tale, which, typically for Ed Gorman, proves that there is more to fear from humanity than from the dark forces of the netherworld. The magical element, though it underpins this whole story, takes a backseat for much of the narrative. Instead, it is the hateful actions of worthless individuals that keep us turning the pages. Can people so irredeemably unpleasant really reach such positions of power? Of course they can. In the modern age it’s precisely this unpleasantness that has made these monsters so successful. The yes-men (or in this case yes-women) who follow them are no less malign in their own way, while those who can’t match them and therefore resort to drunkenness, drug-taking and morose self-pity only add fuel to the bonfire of moralities. Against such a backdrop, paranormal entities seem almost inconsequential. But they’re not. We may believe that we’ve degenerated to such a level that we no longer need the Devil because we can do his work for him. But after this story, it’s pretty clear that we’re still no more than his eager trainees.

First published in BLUE MOTEL, 1994.

The Beautiful Ones by Mary Williams

A retired couple move to the Cornish countryside and open a guesthouse. Husband Arthur never really wanted this, and now feels neglected by his shrewish wife. But then a weird old woman gives him a seedling. When he plants it, a mysterious plant starts to grow – with the dimensions of a curvaceous lady.

Another macabre tale from England’s most mysterious county, and in the hands of a skilled author like Mary Williams, one of the most gorgeously written you’ll ever encounter. Of course it’s an outrageous and even perverse concept, no matter how poetic the language; it’s earthy and sensual, and magical through and through, but it has a really dark and frightening undertone, especially in the finale when it becomes clear that the cost of one indiscretion may be felt for generations to come. The basic message is simple: don’t seek for something you’ve no right to possess (especially not in an ancient, myth-ridden landscape like Cornwall), because you may suddenly find that you get it, and then there’ll be no end to the bizarre forces you might unleash. This of course is where Mary Williams is at her strongest. She handles jaded middle-class relationships well, but it’s in the perils of faerie lore where she excels. No-one is going to be offended by this tale, despite its racy concept, but they’ll never regard the phrase ‘green-fingered’ in the same way again.

First published in CHILL COMPANY, 1976

Extinctions In Paradise by Brian Hodge

A bereaved journalist tries to lose himself in the chaos of a South American city, and makes friends with the local street-kids. But when a series of grisly murders commences, he wonders if there’s truth in the rumour that packs of young wolves are responsible.

Brian Hodge is one of the most thoughtful authors working in the genre today, and has here crafted a moving, heartfelt tale about life and death on society’s margins. He captures the exotic but faded atmosphere of Rio perfectly (though the city is never actually named), but also paints a grim picture of desperate slums, starving scavengers and rampant government forces prowling after them. It’s hot, it’s sordid – you can almost smell the fear and decay. But there are deep tracts below this riotous surface. Even the mutilation-killings, which mostly occur ‘off-camera’, are little more than an extra dash of colour in the mix. It’s the fate of neglected children everywhere which reverberates from these pages like a mournful howl. What a depraved world this story portrays. With a stratum of society so utterly abhorred that its members start transforming into monsters to defend themselves, the reactions range from stoic indifference, to sad approval, to “what does it matter? – let’s just keep killing them”. No-one is horrified or amazed except our journalist friend. But neither his bewilderment, nor ours, lasts for too long. Beautiful and grotesque in equal measure.

First published in WEREWOLVES (pictured), 1995.

Haigh hall horror night captured in pics

Here's a very nice little descriptive piece by CRAIG PAY regarding the Haigh Hall horror night I presented on April 26.

Craig runs the Manchester Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and attended the horror night as part of the audience. As well as giving a detailed account of the event on his blog - from the positon of being completely neutral (Craig and I had never met until then), he also produced a rather neat photo-record, and has graciously allowed me to include some of his pictures here.

I won't say too much more because I've rabbited on plenty about this night already. But suffice to say that Craig's account, linked above, is well worth checking out.

Pictured: above, dusk descends on the eerie entrance to Haigh Hall, one of the most haunted houses in the whole of northern England. Below, in descending order: one of the Hall's many medieval tapestries, this one depicting the bloody duel between lord of the manor, William Bradshaigh and his bigamous rival, Henry Teuthor, around 1330, which resulted in the latter's death; yours truly during the reading of my new novella, The Upper Tier; and the real upper tier - the desolate and most haunted part of the building (a place where staff genuinely fear to go), as the guests tentatively shuffle their way into it.