Monday, 13 January 2020

Nostalgic For My Childhood - A Formative Read

I’ve written on the blog before about books that had a major impact on my formative reading years (from The Restless Bones, which I wrote about here to my enduring love for The Three Investigators series) and one of them, which I hadn’t seen in ages, was re-published last year.
 This book is for anyone who has shivered at shadowy figures in the dark, heard strange sounds in the night, or felt the presence of a mysterious ‘something’ from the unknown. 

You will meet haunting spirits, screaming skulls, phantom ships, demon dogs, white ladies, gallows ghosts and many more. This book also explains the techniques and equipment of ghost hunting and tells how lots of ‘ghosts’ have been exposed as fakes or explained away as natural events. 

I loved spooky things as a kid and this slim paperback, originally published by Usborne in 1977 and written by Christopher Maynard, was the perfect book for ghost-mad kids like me back in the day.  At that time, as with The Three Investigators, I was the only person I knew who read the book (taking it out of the library, time after time) but through the wonder of social media, I now realise I wasn’t alone.
The book is well illustrated and covers everything from explaining what a ghost is and how they’ve appeared in history, where they’re likely to gather and how literature has presented them, through to a helpful map of a haunted village.  Everything, in fact, for a would-be ghost hunter and this includes a helpful guide for the equipment you’d need to do that too!  There’s a healthy scepticism (it debunks several myths) but it also presents the photographs that terrified me as a child, including the old lady in the back seat of a car (and you can tell me a million times her scarf is over part of the car frame, I still won’t believe you).

The re-print (which is identical to the original, other than the foreword from Reece Shearsmith, another fan) came about when people started discussing the book online.  Anna Howarth, who works for Usborne and was a fan, tells the company website she’d been “banging on” about bringing it back into print for most of the fifteen years she’d worked for the company.  When Shearsmith tweeted his love for the book, she wrote to him and he agreed to write the foreword for any reprints.
Buoyed by public reaction, Anna set up an online petition that quickly sailed past the target of 1,000 signatures and the book was reprinted in time for Halloween 2019, going to number one on Amazon when it was put up for pre-order.

To those of us who remember it from the first time around, it’s a wonderful blast of nostalgia that reads as well as you would hope.  For everyone else with even the vaguest interest in the supernatural, I’d say it’s essential reading.
Enjoy - and beware the things that go bump in the night…

Monday, 6 January 2020

The King For A Year Project, 5 Years On...

It's now five years since I started what I thought was going to be a little project.  It didn't end up quite like that, of course but as Stephen King says in The Mist, "this is what happened..."

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since my Dad took me into a second hand bookshop in Wellingborough in the early 80s and I picked up a battered copy of Salem’s Lot, which still sits proudly on my shelf.  I used his fantastic non-fiction book Danse Macabre to help navigate my first steps around the horror genre, in print and film and went on to read everything he put out through to Needful Things in 1991 (and dipped back in and out again over the years, falling in love with his work again when I read Joyland in 2013).  When Matthew Craig was discussing on Twitter his proposed #CarrieAt40 project, I jumped at the chance to get involved and reviewed it (since I’d never read that particular novel) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A little while after my review was published, in April 2014, I had a Facebook discussion with Alison Littlewood, Ross Warren, Anthony Cowin and Andrew Murray and we talked about our personal top 10 favourite King books.  Always keen to make lists, I then posted this...

Here's an idea - Ross, Anthony, Andrew, Alison - how about next year, we declare it a Stephen King year. Twelve of us, we each pick one book and then blog a review/essay on it and link back to each others blog.  What do you think?

As it happened, they all thought it was a very good idea whilst I wondered if I could find seven other people interested enough in the project to take part.  Turns out, that wasn't something I should have worried about at all as within an hour of mentioning it on Twitter, I'd filled all twelve spots.

Ross then suggested we have a dedicated blog for the reviews, so I set one up and Willie Meikle gave it the perfect title with King For A Year.  I asked a few more people if they’d like to take part, yet more came forward of their own volition and by the end of that day, I’d filled 24 spots.  By the end of the next day, I had 36 volunteer reviewers.  I asked a couple more people, a few more put their names forward and very soon, we had over 50 interested parties.

It seemed an unlikely (nay, mammoth) undertaking but suddenly, “King For A Year” meant exactly that, 52 people reviewing 52 books over the course of 12 months.  What had started life, mere days before, as a book-a-month blog was now a book-a-week blog.

As Alison said in a later tweet, “from little acorns…”

As curator, I decided on a fairly simple set of rules - each person would pick their own book to write about and the review could be laid out as they wanted (I would only edit for grammar) so we got a good mix.  Some reviews are thorough, bordering on the academic (Ray Cluley’s especially), whilst some are little slices of autobiography where the King book in question reminds the reviewer of happenings in their lives.  I was originally going to look at Pet Sematary (which I hadn’t read in years, certainly not since becoming a father and didn't revisit for a couple of years - see here) but chickened out, which was lucky for the blog because I then got two reviews for it - from a male and female viewpoint.

By the end of 2015 we'd reviewed 64 individual works (a few more than once) over 64 blog posts, contributed by 56 writers and received over 29,000 views in return, which is great.  We had a bit of a coup (noted King scholar Bev Vincent contributed his review of Finders Keepers from an ARC edition, so it published on the same day as the book), featured some first-time reviewers and hopefully included some people who aren’t particularly known for their love of horror (such as best-selling romance novelists Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen).

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing (and put books onto my TBR pile based on some of the reviews) and it pleased me immensely that people had a good time re-reading their favourites and writing about them.

The blog was nominated for Best Non-Fiction in the British Fantasy Society Awards in 2016 (it didn't win, unfortunately) and closed once the year was up (even though certain titles never got picked up), though it's still live.  Once again, I'd like to thank all the reviewers, all the visitors (I hope, if you’re a Constant Reader, you had as much fun with the blog as I did), the original gang who helped shape the idea in the first place and, of course, Stephen King without whom…

The Contributors (in alphabetical order):
Stephen Bacon, Jenny Barber, Liz Barnsley, Simon Bestwick, Charlotte Bond, Donna Bond, Kevin Bufton, J. G. Clay, Chad Clark, Charlene Cochrane, Julie Cohen, Rowan Coleman, Anthony Cowin, Matthew Craig, Dean M. Drinkel ,Jay Eales, James Everington, Jay Faulkner, Paul M. Feeney, Gef Fox, David T Griffith, Shaun Hamilton, Kim Talbot Hoelzli, Nadine Holmes, Dave Jeffery, Carole Johnstone, Frazer Lee, Alison Littlewood, Selina Lock, Edward Lorn, Marc Lyth, Johnny Mains, Robert Mammone, Maura McHugh, Jim Mcleod, Gary McMahon, William Meikle, Andrew Murray, Thana Niveau, Wayne Parkin, Kit Power, John Llewellyn Probert, Sharon Ring, Lynda E. Rucker, Christian Saunders, Steve Shaw, Phil Sloman, Robert Spalding, Bev Vincent, Ren Warom, Ross Warren, Anthony Watson, Adele Wearing, Sheri White, David T. Wilbanks, Neil Williams

The blog can be found here

The complete run-down of reviews...

The Shining, reviewed by Anthony Cowin
Night Shift, reviewed by Stephen Bacon
The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower vol. VII), reviewed by Jenny Barber
Dr Sleep, reviewed by Wayne Parkin

Danse Macabre, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
'Salem's Lot, reviewed by Matthew Craig
From A Buick 8, reviewed by Neil Williams
Thinner, reviewed by Donna Bond

IT, reviewed by James Everington
Lisey's Story, reviewed by Dean M. Drinkel
Cell, reviewed by Maura McHugh
The Dead Zone, reviewed by Willie Meikle
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, reviewed by Alison Littlewood

Three novellas ("Ur", "Blockade Billy", "Mile 81"), reviewed by Kevin Bufton
On Writing, reviewed by Kit Power
Under The Dome, reviewed by Selina Lock
Rose Madder, reviewed by Rowan Coleman

Four Past Midnight, reviewed by John Llewellyn Probert
Christine, reviewed by Adele Wearing
The Regulators, reviewed by Shaun Hamilton
Carrie, reviewed by Lynda E. Rucker

Finders Keepers, reviewed by Bev Vincent
Dreamcatcher, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Revival, reviewed by David T. Wilbanks
Misery, reviewed by Jay Eales
Cycle Of The Werewolf, reviewed by Nadine Holmes

Joyland, reviewed by Gary McMahon
CUJO, reviewed by Thana Niveau
Skeleton Crew, reviewed by Phil Sloman
Different Seasons, reviewed by Dave Jeffery

Mr Mercedes, reviewed by Steven Savile
Gerald's Game, reviewed by Ray Cluley
The Colorado Kid, reviewed by Jim Mcleod
Needful Things, reviewed by Sharon Ring
Duma Key, reviewed by Liz Barnsley

Blaze, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
Nightmare & Dreamscapes, reviewed by Christian Saunders
The Gunslinger, reviewed by Anthony Watson
Full Dark, No Stars, reviewed by Frazer Lee

Dolores Claiborne, reviewed by Carole Johnstone
The Dark Half, reviewed by Andrew Murray
A Face In The Crowd, Throttle and In The Tall Grass, reviewed by Kevin Bufton
The Drawing Of The Three, reviewed by Julie Cohen

Hearts In Atlantis, reviewed by Robert Mammone
Rage, reviewed by Johnny Mains
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Marc Lyth
Desperation, reviewed by J. G. Clay
Desperation, reviewed by Kit Power
11.22.63, reviewed by Chad Clark
11.22.63, reviewed by Kim Talbot Hoelzli
Insomnia, reviewed by Ross Warren

Duma Key, reviewed by Ren Warom
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole, reviewed by Gef Fox
Just After Sunset, reviewed by Edward Lorn
Pet Sematary, reviewed by Charlotte Bond
Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, reviewed by David T Griffith
The Green Mile, reviewed by Simon Bestwick
Bag Of Bones, reviewed by Charlene Cocrane
The Eyes Of The Dragon, reviewed by Jay Faulkner
Firestarter, reviewed by Paul M. Feeney
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, reviewed by Steve Shaw
Black House, reviewed by Robert Spalding
Everything's Eventual, reviewed by J. G. Clay
The Stand, reviewed by Sheri White

Monday, 23 December 2019

My Creative Year 2019

Continuing a tradition (the seventh occasion!), here's my annual look back at the year from a creative standpoint.
During the year I wrote two short stories (one of which Phil Sloman was kind enough to ask me for, see below for details) and a lot of essays for this blog (which is always enjoyable).  Most of my creative time was focussed on novels and all the attendant work to do with the admin of submitting them.  The second thriller novel, with the working title Hunted, went out to a lot of agencies and got some decent feedback but no bites.  I revised my first novel Hangman and re-sent that out too.  In the meantime, I started work on Novel 3 (I'm calling it Death At The Seaside but that won't stick) and, once again, hugely enjoyed the plotting process while out walking with David Roberts and Pippa.

* * *
I had one short story published.

Compass Wood appeared in The Woods, a Hersham Horror Books PentAnth anthology edited by Phil Sloman.  It was launched at Edge-Lit 8.
At the launch of The Woods, on stage at Edge-Lit 8 with, from left - James, Penny Jones, me, Cate Gardner, Simon B and Duncan Bradshaw (pic courtesy of Laura Mauro)

* * *
Ellen Datlow, as part of her Best Horror Of The Year anthology, included my short story Brooks Pond (which I wrote about here) in her Recommended Reading/Honorable Mentions List.  I was amazed and even more chuffed to see I got a mention in her round-up too and you can see more of her recommendations here.

* * *
My short story Mr Stix, originally published in For The Night Is Dark (edited by Ross Warren) and reprinted in my 2017 collection Things We Leave Behind, has been republished by PenMan Press as an e-chapbook available on Kindle.
When Sam Murphy's seven-year-old daughter Janey starts to suffer night terrors, he does his best to assure her that Mr Stix - a voice from the shadows who says "mean things" to her - can't hurt her.

Sam later finds the grotesque Mr Stix in the family bathroom and then his terrified wife tells him the story of her own childhood night-time fears.

If you're not in the UK, you can use this link -

* * *
Jim Mcleod, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror, included The Woods in his Picks Of Year, calling Compass Wood a "fast-paced and action-filled tale".  You can read his full listing here.

Drive was reviewed by Andrew Hook at Goodreads who wrote: "If there's a definition of a page-turner, then this novella is it."  You can read the full review here.

Brooks Pond from The Black Room Manuscripts 4 was reviewed by Chris Hall at DLS Reviews who wrote: "the sort of story that keeps you on your toes, thinking you know where it’s going, only for it to unexpectedly shift course.  And the ending.  What an ending!  It’s dark, twisted and executed to absolute perfection." You can read the full review here.

Compass Wood was reviewed by Ben Walker at Kendall Reviews, who wrote: "delivers some decent frights [and] the image of the lunatic in pursuit of the story’s lead character stuck in my head for a while after the punchy ending."  You can read the full review here.

* * *
The Crusty Exterior - or constituent parts - managed two gatherings.

The first, which Phil Sloman unfortunately couldn't get to, was a meet-up in Leicester for my 50th birthday and I wrote about it here.

The second, organised by James but without Steve Harris, saw a gang of us meet up in Nottingham to sample bookshops, the Paupers' graves and a fine curry house.  I wrote about it here.
Crusties in Leicester, 2nd February 2019
 from left: John Travis, Sue Moorcroft, me, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle, David Roberts, James Everington & Steve Bacon
Birthday meal at Carluccio's Leicester with me, Sue, Linda, Steve, John, Steve, James & David

Crusties in Nottingham, 15th April 2019
from left - Wayne Parkin, me, Simon Jones, Penny Jones, Selina Lock, Richard Farren Barber, James Everingon, Phil Sloman and Jay Eales
* * *
To help celebrate the publication of her 15th novel, Let It Snow, I interviewed Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library in November.  A hugely enjoyable evening, we had a good turnout, a lively Q&A session and Sue did a reading - it also helped benefit the library, which I was really pleased about.  You can read my report on the event here.
Me and Sue Moorcroft, Rothwell Library, 13th November 2019
* * *
I only attended the one Con this year, Edge-Lit 8, held at The Quad in Derby on 13th July (see my report here).  Sledge-Lit was postponed for the year and FantasyCon was held in Glasgow, but the time-off requirements to travel proved sadly beyond me.
from left - me, Sue Moorcroft, Ross Warren, Peter Mark May, James Everington

from left - Simon Clark, John Travis, Steve Harris, Linda Nagle and me
* * *
I'm feeling confident for 2020 too, as I crack on with the thriller novel and, whatever happens, I'll keep you updated as to how things go.

As always, thank you so much, dear readers of this blog, for all your support in 2019, especially those who bought, read and liked my work - I really do appreciate it.

Monday, 16 December 2019

The Eleventh Annual Westies - review of the year 2019

Well, here we are again (seriously, where does the time go, eh?), gearing up for Christmas and all things festive, which means it's time to indulge in the annual blog custom and remember the good books of 2019.

Once again, it's been a great reading year for me with a nice mixture of brand new novels, a few books that have languished on my TBR pile for too long, some good second-hand finds (which jumped straight to the top of the pile) along with some welcome re-reads.

As always, the top 20 places were hard fought and, I think, show a nice variety in genre and tone - if I've blogged about a book before, I've linked to it on the list.

Without further ado, I present the Eleventh Annual Westies Award - “My Best Fiction Reads Of The Year” - and the top 20 looks like this:

1:   Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Read
2:   The Whisper Man, by Alex North
3:   Summer On A Small Island *, by Sue Moorcroft
4:   Let It Snow, by Sue Moorcroft
5:   Closer Still, by Richard Farren Barber
6:   Mistletoe, by Alison Littlewood
7:   The A-Team: When You Comin' Back, Range Rider?, by Charles Heath
8:   The Family, by Louise Jensen
9:   The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley
10:  The Devil's Dice, by Roz Watkins
11: Grave Descend, by Michael Crichton
12: The Puppet Show, by M. W. Craven
13: Elevator Pitch, by Linwood Barclay
14: My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix
15: Clean Break, by Tammy Cohen
16: Something In The Water, by Catherine Steadman
17: The Professionals 4: Hunter Hunted, by Ken Blake
18: The Banker's Wife, by Cristina Alger
19: Final Girls, by Riley Sager
20: Sleep, by C. L. Taylor

* This is Sue's Avon book for next summer, which I read to critique and will be published in May 2020.

The Top 10 in non-fiction are:

1:   The Killers: Days & Ages, by Mark Beaumont
2:   Till The Cows Come Home, by Sara Cox
3:   With Nails, by Richard E. Grant
4:   INXS - Band On The Road, by INXS and Ed St John
5:   Game Over, by Dan Whitehead
6:   Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, by Eric Idle
7:   Cinefex 36, by Don Shay et al
8:   Making Movie Magic, by John Richardson
9:   Making A Monster, by Al Cummings & Sue Roy
10: Bohemian Rhapsody, by Lesley-Ann Jones

Stats wise, I’ve read 76 books - 42 fiction, 18 non-fiction, 9 comics/nostalgia/kids and 7 Three Investigator mysteries.

Of the 69 books, the breakdown is thus:

9 biography
12 horror
8 film-related
3 drama (includes romance)
25 crime/mystery
3 sci-fi
3 nostalgia
6 humour

All of my reviews are posted up at Goodreads here

Just in case you’re interested, the previous awards are linked to from here:

Monday, 9 December 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Christmas Annuals (part 3)

"Christmas is coming!"
Me, Christmas 1981.  The book I'm writing in was the first diary I received and kept up with (I still write a daily diary) and the uppermost annual, by my right arm, is the 2000AD 1982 edition
As I've written about over the past two years (you can see 2017 here and 2018 here), one of the Christmas highlights when I was a kid (beyond the catalogues I wrote about in 2016) was seeing which annual I got that particular year.  If you don't remember them, annuals were (and still are) large size hardback books, designed for children and based on existing properties, generally comics and popular TV shows, as well as the occasional film and sport and pop round-ups.

The ones based on comics featured the same cast as the weekly editions, while the TV and film ones had comic strips, the occasional short story, fact files and interviews and - brilliantly - in the case of The Fall Guy, behind the scenes information on stunts and how they were filmed.

Generally published towards the end of the year, annuals are cover-dated as the following year to ensure shops don't take them off the shelves immediately after the new year (though, by then, unsold copies are often heavily reduced).  Still as popular now, the only difference (apart from the fact kids today don't have the choice of comics we did) seems to be that they're skinnier (and that's not just me being all nostalgically misty about it - my ones from the late 70s and early 80s are substantially chunkier than the ones I’ve bought for Dude over the past few years).

Here, then, is another selection of old favourites, ones I received and ones I remember my sister Tracy having.  I hope some of them inspire a warm, nostalgic trip down memory lane for you...
Follyfoot was a firm favourite for Tracy (who loved horses), my memory of it is very hazy.
A Christmas staple, the on-going adventures of Dennis The Menace, Roger The Dodger and the Bash Street Kids!
"...everyone knows his name..."
I enjoyed Dr Who as a kid but it scared the crap out of me!
War comics (and their subsequent annuals) were a big part of my childhood because, when this was published, the Second World War was still a clear memory for most adults.
Getting to stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Starsky & Hutch was a real treat!
Monster related mayhem, another Christmas staple...
I remember reading my friend Claire's Jackie comics and annuals and not quite understanding why they didn't have war strips in them...

It took me a long, long time to realise that the dinosaur (bottom left)'s name - Posh Paws - was an anagram of Swap Shop...
My hero and a marked improvement on the previous years annual (which I still feel suffers with poor artwork).  Alas, this would be the last Steve Austin annual for me, I didn't even realise there was a 1980 edition until fairly recently.
Starlord was a favourite comic of mine (I wrote about it here) though it only actually lasted for 22 issues during 1978.  This, the first annual, came out a year after it had been absorbed into 2000AD and further annuals appeared in 1981 and 1982.
  The Junior TV Times, Look-In was a big favourite of mine (as I wrote about here).
Everyone of a certain age, seeing this, has just performed the theme tune riff.  Another favourite TV show of mine (which I wrote about here).
 With one original Angel left (Jaclyn Smith, just in case you're too young to remember this...)
Thrill Power overload (and another fantastic Brian Bolland cover), as seen in the picture of me at the top of the blog!
Happy Christmas!

scans from my collection, aside from the girls titles (thanks to comicvine for those)

You can read more of my nostalgia posts here

Monday, 2 December 2019

Live Baby Live: INXS on the big screen!

Last week, Alison & I were lucky enough to revisit the excellent INXS concert film Live Baby Live at the cinema, when it showed ‘for one night only’.
Live Baby Live is the film of the iconic 1991 Wembley Concert (the gig itself was called Summer XS and I wrote extensively about it here).  As Tim Peacock on udiscovermusic put it, “Six years to the day after Live Aid, London’s famous Wembley Stadium played host to a second concert [that] would go down in history. On 13 July 1991, Aussie superstars INXS delivered the show of their lives at Wembley, with their career-defining gig captured in all its widescreen glory by a spin-off concert film and live album – both of which were titled Live Baby Live.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed the concert - I became a firm fan of the band before we were halfway through the gig - I snapped up the album when it was released in November 1991.  David Mallet’s film version, shot with sixteen 35mm cameras (including one in a helicopter), was released the same day and I duly picked up the VHS, watching it over and over again.  When a special edition DVD was released in 2003, I bought that and Alison & I have watched it at least once a year since (it includes an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary, if you’re interested).  Both the VHS and DVD editions were cropped to 1.33:1 aspect ratio to fit the then TV standard 4:3 size (because, of course, back then TV screens were almost square) and I never thought anything about it.
For the cinema release, Chris Murphy - the band’s long-time manager - spent a decade looking for the original 35mm elements, according to Andrew Trendell of the nme and managed to find most of it in Australia.

When you’re working on a project for so long, there’s the fear ‘What’s everyone going to think?’ That turns into astonishment,” said Murphy. “Watching it back, Michael is better than even I thought he was - how he managed the stage. His voice became more powerful as the gig went along. It was extraordinary to watch - the crowd and band were as one.

The concert has been fully restored from the original print with a new widescreen 4K Ultra HD version created in 1.78:1 ratio (which’ll fit nicely on 16:9 televisions!).  It also includes the full version of Lately - a previously unseen ‘lost’ track, included as an audio-only extra on the DVD - marking the first time the concert has been released with the full original setlist.

A brand new Dolby Atmos audio mix was prepared by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios and released as a triple vinyl album (which sounds fantastic, I bought it the day it came out) and double CD.

The UK showing was set for Wednesday 27th November.  We saw it at the Northampton Filmhouse and Alison & I turned up in our INXS t-shirts (I wore the one I got from Wembley back in 1991), having listened to the CD on the drive there.  From the opening, as the band rushes the stage to Jon Farriss’ drum beat to Michael Hutchence doing his victory salute at the end, the experience was incredible.  The film quality is superb, the image pin sharp for the stage scenes (not so clear for the helicopter shots), to the extent you can read the guitar plectrums easily and the widescreen presentation adds in a lot of detail.  The sound, also, was thunderous and that was just what it needed.
left - in 1991 with my then girlfriend Liz, who I attended the gig with and - right - at home in 2019
The whole band was on fire that night”, writes Garry Gary Beers in the liner notes.  “Michael was so good, he sang his heart out and gave every person in the crowd a night to remember for all time. He truly had that amazing ability to make the biggest shows as intimate as the pubs we grew up in musically.

We were just six blokes from Australia that treated Wembley Stadium like just another pub gig,” Tim Farriss wrote in the liner notes.  “We went in with a PA and a few lights and played our asses off. No ego ramps, no back-up singers, no props, no grand pianos, just the six of us – and the audience went nuts! That’s all we needed!

Music producer Giles Martin said of the gig that the crowd had just witnessed “one of the biggest global sensations at the height of their powers” and on the strength of this and my memories, he’s absolutely spot on.

This is a definite Blu ray purchase.  Thanks for the memory, INXS!

Monday, 25 November 2019

Mr Stix returns...

I'm pleased to announce that my short story, Mr Stix, has now been published in standalone ebook form by PenMan Press.
When Sam Murphy's seven-year-old daughter Janey starts to suffer night terrors, he does his best to assure her that Mr Stix - a voice from the shadows who says "mean things" to her - can't hurt her.

Sam later finds the grotesque Mr Stix in the family bathroom and then his terrified wife tells him the story of her own childhood night-time fears.

I wrote Mr Stix in January 2013 at the request of Ross Warren, who asked me to contribute to his anthology For The Night Is Dark.  The brief, basically, involved being scared of the dark and I spent ages trying to come up with something, getting slightly panicked as the deadline approached.  Then, one night, I woke up to find Dude standing beside our bed and that was it - a kid, waking up and getting into the parents bed and the dad hearing/seeing something.

Whenever I wrote horror stories about fathers and children, it was usually me and Dude but since I didn’t have a firm idea of who was going to walk away from this, I made it father-daughter.  I used our house layout for the story (except the bathroom is, in reality, our study/spare room) and didn't quite know who or what Mr Stix would be until I wrote him/it.

The story was published in the anthology and seemed to go down very well, so much so that I included it in the line-up for my second collection, Things We Leave Behind.

"Went straight to Mark West's MR STIX to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss is warranted, it's a very good, creepy story. Maybe his best yet."
- Johnny Mains, author, editor and horror aficionado

I hope, if you decide to take a chance on it, that Mr Stix scares you too...

Sam Murphy opened his eyes.  The figure in white was standing in front of him, arms outstretched and he was so surprised he yelled out.  Emily, his wife, murmured sleepily.
Sam rubbed his eyes and looked at his seven-year-old daughter, wearing her white Disney Princess nightie, with Apple the brown bear clutched tight in her hand.  “Janey?  What’s wrong?”
“Mr Stix is saying horrible things, Daddy, I want you to make him stop.”
“Mr Stix?”  Sam sat up, blinking away the sleep.  “Who’s…  I don’t know who Mr Stix is, love.”
“He’s the man that came to live with us today, he’s in my bedroom and he’s been talking all night and now he’s saying mean things.”
“Today?  Are you alright?”
“Yes, can you come?”
Sam got out of bed and followed his daughter along the landing.  His and Emily’s bedroom covered the width of the house at the front and the landing led to the back, where the bathroom stood at the top of the stairs.  Janey’s room ran parallel to the landing, with her door at the end.  The bathroom light was on, as it always was, since both Janey and Emily were afraid of the dark.
At the doorway to her room, Janey waited and Sam stood next to her.  “Close your eyes,” he said, “I’ll turn on the light.”
He squinted against the glare and looked around the room.  Nothing seemed to be out of place.  A desk, covered with papers, a drawer unit, a wardrobe and a bookcase filled to overflowing with books and comics and the cuddly toys that didn’t fit in the treasure chest under the window.  Her bed, with its pink princess duvet cover, was against the far wall away from the door and the pillow still showed the slightest indentation from her head.
“Looks okay,” said Sam.  “So where’s Mr Stix?”
“On the drawers,” Janey said.
Sam looked at them.  A few things were on the top of the unit - a clock, a calendar, a tub of Lego, some toys that had been positioned to watch over her during the night and various treasures that only she understood the importance of - but nothing out of the ordinary.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for, love, can you show me?”
Janey walked over but didn’t stand in front of her drawers, preferring to stop slightly behind Sam as if he was her shield.  She looked at the top of the drawers and frowned.  “He’s not there.”
Sam stroked the back of her head.  “Problem solved then, kitten, come on, back to bed with you.”
“Can I sleep with you and Mummy tonight?”
Sam glanced at her clock, it was a little after four.  “No, you stay here, Apple and the rest of the gang will look after you.”
“But what if Mr Stix comes back?”
“He won’t.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do, I’m a dad, it’s what I do, you know.”
“You’re silly.”
“And you’re a munchkin, now get back to sleep.”
She snuggled down and smiled as Sam adjusted the duvet under her chin.  He kissed her forehead gently.  “Sleep tight love,” he said.
“You too.”
Sam walked out of her room, switching the light off as he went.  He could hear Emily’s heavy breathing from the bedroom and the faintest of drips from the bathroom but nothing else.  He got into bed and laid on his side, staring at the clock.  The glowing red numbers glared at him and he watched it mark off five minutes.
He rolled onto his back.  Emily turned, made a snuffling noise and cuddled into him.  Her added body heat made him feel drowsy.  He looked at the ceiling and heard the lightest of clicks, as if someone was tapping a ruler on the edge of a desk and then he was asleep.

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Monday, 18 November 2019

An Evening With Sue Moorcroft

Last week, I got to interview my fine friend Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library, on the eve of the paperback publication of her 15th novel, Let It Snow.
The event was organised by the Friends Of Rothwell Library, a group I’ve been involved with for some time.  Angry and frustrated by the decision of Northamptonshire County Council that libraries in small towns weren’t necessary, I joined the team to save Rothwell Library and we’ve pretty much succeeded - NCC have washed their hands of it but it’s still open (run by volunteers) and still providing a much needed service for all aspects of the community.  When the team were coming up with ideas, my team colleague Vickie (also an old school friend) remembered I knew Sue and suggested the evening and thankfully Sue was very receptive to the idea (but then, she’s a real star!).
On the night, I got to the library early with my Dad (who thoroughly enjoys Sue’s books) and we helped the volunteers, led by Maureen Hill, set everything up.  When Sue arrived, closely followed by my friend (and co-conspirator on the thriller novels) David Roberts, we set up the book table and the audience began arriving then - including friends Darren Paterson, Jane Isaac and Louise Jensen, the latter two excellent novelists in their own rights.  Louise and Dad know and like each other, so they sat together on the front row.
Once our audience had gathered, we set off.  Sue & I have known one another for twenty years (this year) and have an easy rapport, so although I had a list of questions (that I mostly stuck to) there were lots of opportunities to go off at a tangent and tell some amusing anecdotes (if you get the chance, ask Sue to tell you her helicopter story).  After an hour or so, she did a brief reading from Let It Snow and then we broke for the interval.  While the Friends valiantly served tea, sweets and savouries, Sue sold and personalised books.
Probably smiling along with the helicopter anecdote - picture by Jane Isaac
The second half of the evening was the Q&A and, to get the ball rolling, I called on my ever-game Dad to lead the charge.  The alloted thirty minutes quickly came and went, with plenty of questions and some involved answers.
The audience, with Louise Jensen and my Dad far left on the front row
The evening finished up at a little after nine and, judging by people’s compliments as they left and, later, on social media, it was a success.  I’m so pleased we had such a good turn-out (and that people enjoyed it so much), not just for me and Sue, obviously, but because it means this kind of event is viable for the future.

Many thanks to Sue and the Friends and also the team I’m proud to be part of, who saved Rothwell Library.

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