Highs of Horror

In the local newspaper yesterday, my horror writing journey so far:

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/culture/books/15400690.Highs_of_horror/

Me & Ravens

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Bird Box – Josh Malerman

Bird_Box_2014_book_coverI read this book because of the hype associated with it, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Malerman takes the fear of going blind and runs wild with it. The main character, Malorie, faces the challenge of being pregnant and then raising her child more often than not blindly, because there’s something outside that if seen makes a person go mad, driving them to suicide.

I must say that for me Malorie wasn’t a particularly likeable character. That is, I never felt that I was rooting for her all that much (I preferred some of her housemates). But she was pretty grounded, given the situation, and kick-ass enough to succeed as being the protagonist nonetheless. She satisfyingly carried the story from beginning to end.

I did worry how an entire novel could be written about blindfolded people, but it works surprisingly well. The storyline jumps from past to present, so it never loses pace.

I kept thinking while reading that I wouldn’t have made it far in the developing situation, because curiosity would have got the better of me. I’d have definitely peaked out the window to see what was out there!

Malerman creates a tense atmosphere for a dynamic group of people who are all sheltering in the same house. It’s a highly claustrophobic piece and I like that he leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination.

Overall it was a quick, easy read which effectively tapped into some fundamental fears of mine, so Bird Box gets a solid 4.5* from me.

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Stallo – Stefan Spjut

22841.books.origjpgAs soon as I read the description for this book I just had to read it. I love trolls and have always felt drawn to Scandinavian countries, so it promised to be a winner. The opening chapter was fantastic, it really set the scene and I could tell straight away that I was going to get along famously with Spjut’s writing style. He has a way of slipping very normal, trivial observations into the prose to wonderful effect. By doing this he masterfully injects a dose of believability in a tale that’s filled with magical creatures. Hat’s off to him, he totally nailed it. The storytelling was so successfully grounded, I had no problem believing in trolls.

I particularly enjoyed that Spjut doesn’t glamorise the characters. They’re fairly ordinary folk. Nothing outstanding or heroic about any of them. He doesn’t shy away from giving us trivial, yet impacting scene-setting details either – like when the characters have snot on their faces because it’s so damn cold. I guess what I’m trying to say is that he tells it how it is. And I like that.

I also enjoyed discovering things about Swedish culture that I wasn’t otherwise familiar with. I find reading stories which transport me to non-English settings are hugely intriguing and appealing. This was certainly the case with Stallo.

Spjut uses an interesting mix of third person POV and first person POV. This worked well. It was never confusing because the first person POV sections were only ever told from Gudrun’s point of view. It was a refreshing mix which kept the story moving.

Overall I’d give Stallo 4.5*. The only reason it doesn’t get 5* is because I’d have liked more scares. The story was more magical/fantasy-like thriller than straight-up horror.

On a side note, John Ajvide Lindqvist is one of my favourite authors, and now having read Spjut’s work, I feel like I need to read more Swedish horror!

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Before I Wake

MV5BMjM5NDAzNjgzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA0MTUzMDI@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_A couple who have lost their son in a domestic incident decide to foster a boy, to take the edge off their bereavement and to focus their energy on something positive.

I went into this film thinking there’d be an introduction to some devil child, or similar, and that he would stab his new foster parents in the back with his craft scissors as soon as their backs were turned. But this wasn’t so. Cody was a pretty cute kid who was never anything but polite and caring.

So how does this work as a horror film if the bereaved couple fostered a well-adapted, smart kid?

Well I’ll tell you. Whenever Cody goes to sleep he dreams, and his dreams become a reality for whoever is within close range. This might not sound like such a bad thing if he dreams about nice things, but there’s something bad that lurks in his dreams and this bad thing always tends to surface. Which the new foster parents soon find out!

Cody is aware of the scary consequences his dreams can have on others, and he’s so conscientious and thoughtful enough to try to prevent it from happening – he has a stash of stimulants under his bed (Red Bull and Pro Plus type stuff). But obviously when you’re so tired, as the teens in Nightmare On Elm Street will tell you, you’ve got to sleep eventually.

I particularly liked the way the foster parents reacted to Cody’s dreams. I could understand the mother’s desperate hope of seeing her own son again by trying to get Cody to dream about him. And I could sympathise with the father’s sense of trepidation, that what was happening was very wrong.

All in all, the storyline was actually pretty good. It was like taking the idea of Freddie Krueger and doing something new with it.

Unfortunately, however, I can only give the film 2.5 stars.

So, what didn’t I like so much?

Despite me fully understanding the motives and emotions of the characters, I never felt totally drawn into them. I dunno, something fell flat. I wasn’t wholly convinced.

My biggest issue, however, was with the antagonist itself: The Canker Man. This is the ghoul who haunts Cody’s nightmares. When it fully revealed itself in a visual sense, that’s when I began to lose interest. I guess horror is subjective and all that, but The Canker Man just made me just roll my eyes. It was too CGI’d for me to care. More often than not, less is more in horror as far as I’m concerned. I get the best chills from fleeting flashes of something moving within a shadow, the grainy outline of a figure that I can’t quite make out. Someone else’s monster, in this case The Canker Man, will often fail to scare me as much as the suggestion of it would.

I did like the story concept, which is why it gets a 2.5*. Just not the execution, unfortunately.

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American Horror Story – Season 5 – Hotel

Since I’m on a bit of a reviewing streak, I felt it only right to review AHS Hotel. I finished watching the final episode last night. Now I’m gutted because it’s over and I have to wait till late in the year for Season 6 to be added to Netflix. Oh well, it seems like life is all about waiting. Like the yearly wait for Game of Thrones and, way back when, the yearly wait for the next in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I must admit, when I watched the first episode of Hotel I wasn’t convinced. That is, I just couldn’t see where the storyline would go and had a momentary lapse of faith that AHS could put on another great show. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Hotel ended up sharing joint place for my favourite AHS, alongside Asylum. It’s dark, deeply disturbing, intriguing, funny, sad, kinky and addictive as hell. There are lots of threads running throughout involving vampires, murderers, ghosts, junkies, film stars, a bunch of kids who look like the set from The Children of the Corn and a homicide detective.

I was gutted to learn that Jessica Lange wouldn’t be in this series. Instead we got Lady Gaga. But wow, she totally rocked the roll of The Countess. Hers was one of my favourite characters in fact – and dare I say, sometimes for her fashion sense alone.

My other favourite characters were Liz Taylor (Denis O’ Hare), the transvestite who helps run the Hotel Cortez with manager Kathy Bates’ character Iris (who was also a treat), and James Patrick March the owner. James Patrick March was played by Evan Peters, who is undoubtedly my favourite cast member of AHS (alongside Jessica Lange usually). In this season he donned a pencil moustache and totally owned the vintage film star voice he managed to pull off. He was wonderfully sadistic in this role – perhaps his best yet!

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Season 5 is ultimately about acceptance and belonging. It’s about finding your place in a fucked up world that’s filled with human cruelty and evilness. Having a one true love was mentioned throughout, it was key to the whole series. For the lucky ones it was about finding or realising their one true love. For the unlucky ones it was about accepting that they’d lost it or never had it, and to move on in a way that wouldn’t destroy them in their desire to be loved. The lasting message was one of hope.

All in all, the converging threads of all the characters tied up well, making for a satisfying ending.

It’s maybe worth mentioning that there’s lots of sex and nudity throughout, so definitely not one for the straitlaced. In fact, there were more nudey scenes of Lady Gaga than I had glasses of wine last weekend (take from that what you will).

AHS Hotel gets a great big 5 stars from me!

 

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Patient Seven

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I went into this film with low expectations. That is, I didn’t quite know what to expect after having watched the trailer. And let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

While the overall storyline was a little predictable, I did enjoy the interviews with all the patients. Their backstories were revealed in flashback snippets, which made the film a varied anthology of creepy tales: a possessed little girl who murders her family; a murdered corpse who can still hear and feel; a vampire hunter who is trying to save humanity; a hot Scandinavian bloke who is managing to survive a zombie apocalypse while harbouring some dreadful secret.

Patient Seven has a darkly humoured vibe throughout, especially the story which features Game of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). I especially loved the fact that the film’s flashback settings aren’t all in the US. In fact, I was actually quite excited that one of the patients was Icelandic.

All in all, I’d definitely recommend giving Patient Seven a whirl if you’re at a loose end on Netflix. It’s a collage of messed up human psyche with a whole load of supernatural thrown in the mix just to make you wonder. And although it’s not exactly piss-your-pants scary, it’s certainly fun and varied.

I’d give Patient Seven a respectable 3*

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Needful Things – Stephen King

I must admit, even though I’m a horror fiend, I haven’t got through all of Mr King’s books yet. It’s probably worth pointing out that his books don’t always gel with me, but when they do they DO. Up until now my favourites have been Misery (one of the best books I’ve ever read), IT and The Shining. And now I’ll be adding Needful Things to my list of King favourites.

So, what’s it about and why should you read it?

When a new shop called Needful Things opens in the small town of Castle Rock, everything in the community goes to shit. The shop’s owner, sinister Mr Gaunt, is very persuasive at encouraging people to buy things for more than a monetary fee, and soon people find they are paying far more than they’d expected.

In King’s typical style of adding dark humour to any situation, Needful Things is a whole lot of fun. He expertly fleshes out a cast of village residents then goes on to create a whole spate of neighbourly rifts between them. So much so, it gets a little tense at times.

The character I ended up rooting for most was Sheriff Alan Pangbourn – as well as his girlfriend Polly. Compared to the rest of Castle Rock’s petty, conniving and generally messed up residents, Alan and Polly seem to be pretty decent people with their own sets of issues, which makes you warm to them even more.

Needful Things is a bit of a whopper at 800 pages, but it’s a fast-paced read and doesn’t lose momentum, not for a moment. Overall I’d give it five stars, because there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it.

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Launch Day: A Storytelling of Ravens

Finally, it’s launch day! Ravens spread its demon-black wings this morning and emerged from Whispering Woods to bring you a new installation of horror.

Inverted Raven Final Cover

Four people. Three secrets. One cabin. No way out.

British actress Callie Crossley is kidnapped and dumped outside a cabin at the edge of Whispering Woods. All she has is a scrawled message: DEAD TO ME; and two unexpected housemates: a former sitcom star (who looks like hell) and a girl in a wheelchair (who is full of hell).

When film producer Torbin Thurston, a man Callie knows personally, turns up at the cabin, Callie has no idea who she can trust anymore. She seems to be the only one who can hear strange whispering and it’s not long till she realises that there’s something dangerous lurking outside in the woods.

But are the rumours about Whispering Woods true? Do the trees really talk? And, for those listening, does what they say lead to blood-lust and madness?

One way or another, Callie must find a way out before she is consumed by the darkness of Whispering Woods.

Love a creepy, cabin in the woods story? Here’s where you can get a copy: AMAZON * KOBO * ALL OTHER E-BOOK SELLERS * PAPERBACK * HARDBACK

 

 

 

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The Story Behind ‘Ravens’…

There’s just 6 weeks to go till A Storytelling of Ravens makes its deranged self known.

Bizarrely, it all began with a clutch bag and a night out with friends in the winter of 2015. That is, the clutch bag gave me the title idea and I was very much drawn to a painting on the wall above the table in the Italian restaurant we were in – not only because coincidentally (or not) it also featured ravens, but because it was, well, rather odd. And I love odd.

The painting (by an unknown artist).

 

My insanely cool clutch bag.

 

Following that particular night in Martino’s – having drunk lots of Rioja and pondered quite deeply why someone had painted a little girl in a boat surrounded by ravens, which coincided too freakily with my bag – I knew I had to write a story that had ravens in it, but aside from the title and picture prompt I wasn’t sure what would happen or who would be in it – apart from the red-headed girl, of course. She had to feature.

Fast forward about three months (while I was still finalising Emergence), the story in its entirety came to me one night in a trippy, sleepless fug of prednisone-wired mayhem during a bout of sudden illness. After which point Ravens sort of wrote itself. Well, no it didn’t. I very specifically remember typing it with hands that wouldn’t have known the difference between the core of Hell’s fiery coal-pit and the icy casing around Cruella Deville’s heart. But the story did knit itself together and the characters revealed themselves with explosive clarity: four key players seemingly trapped in an unpleasant environment, each claiming they had no idea why. From that point on Ravens was set to be a dark tale of obsession, largely playing on negativities such as hurt and paranoia, while exploring the uncomfortable confines of claustrophobia to its fullest extent.

Overall I’d say Ravens turned out to be a huge positive taken from something negative, and it kept me sane during long dark months. Now I’m very excited that it’s almost time for it to spread its demon-black wings and fly.
 
 
 

Currently Ravens is available for pre-order from these e-book outlets: AMAZON AMAZON UK * KOBO * ALL OTHER E-BOOK RETAILERS

Paperbacks and hardbacks will be available from 14th June onwards. I’ll post links on here as soon as I have them.

R x

 

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6 Weeks To Go!

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