Monday 25 January 2016

Interview with Dean M Drinkel

I can’t remember now just how Dean M Drinkel and I connected in the first place, though I do know it was on social media.  We were probably friends of friends, saw comments and started talking - Facebook’s like that and so, in my experience is Dean.  Friendly and chatty, we met face-to-face at WFC in Brighton, 2013 and I remember standing outside the hotel with him (as a friend of his was having a smoke) chatting about this and that.  He’d already asked me to write a story for him, which I was thrilled to do and it’s been a pleasure to meet up with him again as the years and conventions have gone by.  We’ve worked together quite a few times now and it’s thanks to him asking for new tales that led to me creating my recurring character, Mike Decker.  He asked me for a grimoire story and I racked my brains trying to think of something, got waylaid by my heart attack and then it all came to me.  Dean loved the story and the character and now, when he asks for a story, he usually ends his missives with “this could be nice for another Decker”.
A bit of a renaissance man, Dean is a published poet, short story writer and editor, with several anthologies to his name.  He’s also an award-winning scriptwriter and has directed several short films and theatre productions.

MW:  Can you give us a little background on yourself Dean?

DD:  Sure, I was born in Farnham, Surrey but I don’t remember much about that. In the main I’ve been brought up in the south of England (my parents moved around quite a bit) but I was lucky enough to spend some of my childhood in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). I also spent time at Towson University in Maryland, USA. After graduation I moved to London but I’m just about to start the next chapter of my life as I move to Cannes, France to work on a feature film script.

MW:  How did you get into writing?  And how did you get into the horror genre?

DD:  Talking to my mother about this very subject not so long ago she said that I’ve always been writing (I used to write a number of short Sherlock Holmes stories) - for me though, it didn’t really begin until I went to university. I was lucky enough to have quite a few stories published in the college magazine which then went on to form my first collection by a publisher who is now no longer with us. Hopefully (time allowing anyway) we might do a small re-release either later this year or early next. In 2014 I did a rewrite of one of the stories (‘Weird’) which was selected for the Horror Society’s Best Of collection.

My mother was very much into Stephen King – I wasn’t particularly (except for a select few) but through King I discovered James Herbert (I wrote my A –Level thesis about The Magic Cottage) but it wasn’t until I saw Hellraiser a few years after it came out that suddenly everything made sense to me and I knew horror was the genre I wanted to work in. I couldn’t get enough of Clive Barker - I simply love his stories and to be honest I quite liked The Scarlet Gospels too.

MW:  How did you get into film and theatre?

DD:  Film had always been a passion. Whilst at university a friend of mine called me up one day saying that he had managed to get hold of some equipment (a camera, lights etc etc) and did I fancy directing him in something. Another friend of ours wrote a script, I did some editing on it and we proceeded to spend what budget we had down the local pub. Sobering up in the morning and then realising that all my house-mates were away for the weekend – we started shooting the script there and then. We also roped in an old girlfriend of mine – she didn’t know what the hell was going on and to be honest we probably didn’t either. We were still shooting on the Sunday when one of the girls who lived in the house came back early and promptly decided to sit in the middle of our set and watch television whilst we filmed around her. I think we had just had a champagne breakfast and so carried on regardless – it was all a bit Warhol/Lynch if memory serves – anyway, my friend entered it as part of his degree thesis and passed, so it couldn’t have been all that bad…avant-garde is probably the best description of that film.

From a production point of view I didn’t really direct anything else for a while but continued to knock-out scripts, sticking them in a drawer ready for a rainy-day – you know the kind of thing I’m sure. As the years passed by I’d dust them down, have a scan through – convinced myself they were bloody brilliant then go to the pub with my friends, pontificate about how great they were and the prospective Oscar speeches I would give and then, once sober, promptly forget all about them – though, I did go on to win three film awards and was runner up for the Sir Peter Ustinov Award (part of the International Emmys) so I must have done something right and all going well 2016 will see me back directing again.

From a theatre perspective, I guess I did always have an interest but I just couldn’t stand all those ‘theatre-folk’ (sorry) there was just too much of that “darling” and “luvvie” speak for me. I couldn’t connect with that world. Oddly though I managed to get selected to write a short piece which was staged in a theatre in Kent and not long after a London theatre contacted me as they were staging monthly nights of new writing and they wondered whether I fancied getting involved.

I gave it some thought and said why not, what did I have to lose? The first few pieces were mainly monologues which then grew into bigger/longer pieces. Within a very short space of time we were hiring theatres and I was writing/directing/producing some quite dark work (with a little sprinkling of humour where possible.) I was lucky enough to have a troupe of actors that would literally do anything I asked of them and agreed to come with me from production to production.

Looking back, it was a great time – we worked in some great fringe theatres in London and the south east of England though on reflection, I often wonder how we managed to actually get anything done – especially with all that drinking – we were all quite a social bunch!

Chatting with Clive Barker
Also looking back I can’t believe I didn’t have a breakdown, it was such an intense period of creativity. I would be writing new material during the day then directing at night – then one production finished then we would quickly move onto the next. Don’t get me wrong, it was very exciting but it wasn’t always easy – some of the older actors were ‘difficult’ (ha ha) and didn’t always understand what us ‘young’uns’ were on about and let’s not even talk about the actual people managing the theatres. There was one particular one in south London who was often more drunk then we were…and that’s saying something!

Referencing Clive Barker again, the only play I directed which wasn’t my own was Clive’s Frankenstein In Love – that was a total blast once we actually got it on the stage. We had walk-outs and complaints (due to the violence and special effects) and it was quite successful – twice the theatre asked us to extend our run though we couldn’t do it the third time as one of the actors had commitments elsewhere and I didn’t have time to re-cast. I also took a handful of the actors to do a rehearsed reading at one of the Fantasycons – which also went down quite well. I met up with Clive around that time when he was over here doing a book tour and he really dug what I/we were trying to do. I promised him that somewhere along the way when I could get a bigger budget then I’d like to revisit the play in some form – let’s see how the next year or so pans out.

During this time, I also started shooting some short films with some of the actors that had been in the plays. We made a couple of lo-budgets that were then screened at Cannes. One of these (Ruby) I’m trying to do a re-dux version because the original that we screened only contained about a third of the story. It is a very atmospheric film (based on one of my plays as it happens) so I’m hoping to get some spare time this year where I can finish that off and get it out there on the festival circuit.

MW:  Since you work in a variety of areas, how does your writing routine differ between short stories, screenplays and editing?  And do you find your writing style shifts, depending on what you’re working on?

DD:  I’m not really sure it does for me. I think I just hit each project or commission with the idea that the deadline is looming and I’d better get on with it quickly. I do go through periods where I write everything long-hand, and then probably do two or three drafts (in different colour pens!) before transferring it to the laptop and then do a few more revisions before I’m really happy with it. Other times I’ll just start typing ideas on the screen and take it from there.

From a personal point of view I know there was a shift in my writing style once I started spending more and more time in France (particularly Paris) which I think has been reflected in the successes that I’ve been having these past five years or so. It’s hard to put a finger on how this happened but (and as pretentious as it may sound) as soon as I stepped off that Eurostar that first time and walked out the station I remember thinking – yep, I’m home. I find it very hard now to write something which isn’t based in France…I know my earlier stories (and film scripts) were US-centric but I seem to have moved on from that for now.

MW:  In horror, do you prefer gore or more subtle, psychological thrills?

DD:  For me I’ve actually been more of a subtle kind of guy- which is quite ironic when you read a lot of work as it can be actually quite…extreme. I did get into the ‘torture porn’ films of a few years back and I’m a total fan of French horror (particularly the New French Extremity genre of films) – interestingly I did recently go to see Crimson Peak with my friend Romain in Cannes and whilst I really wanted to love the film, afterwards when he asked me what I thought all I could come up with was: “Oh, it looked nice.”

MW:  Where do you find your inspiration, is it more visual cues for the screenplay work?

DD:  I’ve been lucky in my life that I can find inspiration literally anywhere. I can see a newspaper headline, read a passage in a book, an article in a magazine, listen to a conversation in the café/pub, perhaps even a photograph – it all gets stored in my brain and then, when it’s ready it’ll come flowing out – all connected somehow.  Sometimes I’m not ready when it does come so I’ve always got a notebook with me somewhere about my person so I can jot down the ideas etc. I’m not a drugs person (they scare me) but if I have a nice glass of red wine I find that when they do flow, they flow nicely.

MW:  What writing conditions do you prefer - silence or music or a mixture of both?

DD:  I do have a particular writing regime and that is: whenever I’m going to start a new project, the first thing I do is head into town (I’m not a fan of downloading) and buy a load of new cds. I find that listening to new music can really inspire me and it’s strange that if I now look back at things I’ve written then I’m able to almost transport myself back to that time and can hear those particular songs/artists playing in my head. Now and again I will write with the TV on in the background but I can be easily distracted…I’m not a great fan of silence either and where I currently live in London, it’s on a high street and it can get very noisy!

MW:  I understand you’re a fellow fan of the Alfred Hitchcock And The Three Investigators series.  When did you get into them?

DD:  Oh my Lord yes, I love them!

When I was a kid I had a couple of books already then when I went to live in Saudi, we had a bit of a wait for visas etc and as my parents had sold our house we ended up living with my mother’s parents for a few months in Hampshire. One of my cousins lived opposite and whilst he was out at school (my brother and I were taught at home) I was allowed to take the pick of any of his books. I saw that he had a load of Three Investigators and boy, I couldn’t get enough. I think I was reading two or three a day and once I’d read all that he had then it was a trip to the local library to read those too. They are really popular aren’t they – all around the world and I remember at one of the Cannes Film Festival’s I was taking a walk around the Marche and found a poster for an Austrian film version! It would be good though to make a proper film series based on the books – if done correctly I’m sure they could be very successful.

MW:  They certainly are.  So what kind of material do you like to read for relaxation?

DD:  Do I relax? I’m not sure if I actually have time for relaxation but IF I did: I’m a fan of French philosopher Michel Onfray. I also enjoy reading Umberto Eco and a lot of French literature. Also – for those that know me well, I read a lot about Napoleon and I mean a lot. Recently as I was packing up my flat I couldn’t believe how many books about him/that period that I actually own – I could open up my own library that’s for sure. Sometimes I also enjoy a book I can just ‘zone out’ too and I’m a great fan of Steve Berry and Dan Brown. I’ve always fancied writing something like that…perhaps next year.

MW:  Okay, quick fire, let’s do favourites: writer, book, film, theatre show?

DD:  Okay...
Writer: Clive Barker
Book: The Magus – John Fowles
Film: Hellraiser / Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Theatre Show: Les Miserables (which is ironic because the first time I saw this I
wanted to walk out as I found it too boring – but as the years have gone by my opinion has changed).

Accepting the award for Best Short Thriller
(Stella Maris) at theAngel Film Awards,
Monaco International Film Festival 
MW:  Do you find it easy to let projects go?

DD:  The way I’ve looked at it over the years is that I don’t actually let go of anything completely as there could be opportunities to pick them up at a later stage. For instance, I have won three awards for scripts I have written – I didn’t actively pursue getting those films made at the time as my order book was full with all my other writing commitments, but then an opportunity has come along these past couple of months where we are now up and running with the first script Bright Yellow Gun. It is a Paris based film and as I write this we have been talking budgets and then once that’s agreed I’ll be talking to some actors I know to see if they can get on-board. It is early days for sure but it is quite exciting - Dave Jeffery/James Hart’s production company VLM are involved too so there already is a lot of pedigree attached.

I believe 100% in everything I do but appreciate that sometimes the time might not be right. If that’s the case then into the drawer it goes until a rainy day – saying that, as I’ve been packing up I’ve found a feature script that I wrote a few years ago called Echo – it’s at Draft Four stage so in a couple of months once I’ve got myself sorted, I’ll give it another polish and get it out there…it did read quite well and perhaps someone might want it. I also found a pilot script for a proposed sit-com called The Fill-In Station set in a recruitment agency – thinking about it perhaps that could do with a quick rewrite too and we might be able to sell it.

MW:  So what’s next for Dean M Drinkel?

Wow, 2016 is going to be a manic year. There are a number of anthologies that I’ve compiled/edited; a collection of my own short stories; a novella (which is a follow up to my previous Within A Forest Dark); several of my short stories will be appearing in some other anthologies throughout the year – as well as being associate editor on FEAR magazine!

But as I said above, I’m about to move to France to work on a historical film script – this is going to be something major so I’ll give you as much info as I’m allowed too ha ha.

I’ve had this idea for a little while now about a “Napoleonic era” story but other than sketching a few ideas down, I didn’t really do anything seriously about it. Then at last year’s Cannes Film Festival I met a young French writer Romain Collier – at a pub, singing Karaoke of all things! Anyway, we just clicked and I started talking to him about the proposed project and he really got what I was trying to do with it and thus the ‘journey’ began. Since May last year I’ve been over to Cannes a few times and we met up also in Paris and quite early on I decided that it would be better for me to be over there full-time if we are going to make a success of this (we will be co-writers and then I will direct) – so that’s what I’m doing. Six months initially to see where we can go with it but the idea is: finish the script in time for this year’s Film Festival, shop it around, get some funding in and then get the film made. We have a Belgian actor in mind to play the main role (and he’s very very interested in doing it) and again, if all goes well I’ll be able to bring in some of my Paris actor friends in as well. I said above that Bright Yellow Gun was exciting – well, this one definitely is! I’ll let you know how I get on…

MW:  Well good luck with it mate and thanks for answering my questions.

DD:  No problem, thank you.
At World Fantasy in Brighton, 2nd November 2013
from left - Dean M Drinkel, Phil Sloman, Lisa Jenkins, Paul Woodward, Martin Roberts, me

Monday 18 January 2016

Interview with Nicola Valentine

I first met Nicola Valentine at the memorial service for the wonderful Graham Joyce in Leicester.  We were introduced by Adele Wearing and had a brief chat, connected as Facebook friends and all was well.  A little while later, quite by accident, I put two-and-two together and realised that Nicola was also Nicola Monaghan, the novelist.  I picked up a copy of her second novel, “Starfishing”, published by Chatto and Windus in March 2008.  I loved it - a dark drama set in the City Of London in the late 80s - and when I met her, a few weeks later, at FantasyCon in Nottingham, I got to chat with her briefly about it.  When I mentioned the (very dark) ending, she smiled and said she’d had that planned right from the start of the book, which really intrigued me.  So I decided to ask her some more questions and, thankfully, she agreed to an interview.
photo by Chad Valentine
MW:  Hello, thanks for speaking to me.  Can you tell us a little about yourself?

NV: So, I’m from Nottingham and have been a published writer for about ten years now. Before that, I lived in London and worked in finance, but I moved back to my home town to do a MA in Creative Writing in 2002, which was where I met Graham, who ended up having a huge influence on my work. I write books as Nicola Monaghan but also as Niki Valentine, which is my married name. I write gritty, literary fiction as Monaghan but the Valentine books are thrillers with a supernatural edge to them. I chose the different names so people could distinguish. I think it’s important to be clear for readers about genre so that they know what to expect from a book and the different identities felt like the best way to do this.

MW:  What led you into writing?

NV:  It was a passion for books and reading that led me down this route. I absolutely loved reading as a child and that’s never really changed. When I was younger, I used to spend my money on the local high street on books and stationery. I bought a whole bunch of Silvine exercise books and decided I was writing a novel. I don’t remember much about that book except that I tried to avoid writing any dialogue. I’d love to unearth it somewhere and read it again but I think it is long gone in a landmass somewhere, and that’s probably for the best. I’ve written stories on and off all my life since then but got much more serious about it in the late 90’s, after a bad breakup. Some of the scenes in "Starfishing" came from around that time and were some of the first stuff I’d written since I’d begun to take it more seriously. Well, I’ve edited it and developed it a lot since then but that was the origin of some of it. In 2001, I was working in Chicago and planning my exit strategy, already knowing that I wanted to leave and do an MA and researching the possibilities. Then there were the terrorist attacks in New York, where my employers had an office and I’d spent some time working. It was very frightening but also woke me up. Life is short, and you just don’t know what might happen. I got my act together, came back to the UK and finished the year off in a teaching job, and applied for those MA courses probably a year or two before I might have otherwise.

Me: How would you define your work, in terms of genre?  “The Killing Jar” and “Starfishing” are both very dark

NV: When I first started writing "The Killing Jar", I saw it as a kind of crime/literary fiction hybrid. I know this for sure, because it was my MA dissertation; I had to do a presentation about it, and I still have the powerpoint. I pitched it to my agent, though, as a crime novel because I thought that made it a more commercially viable proposition. He got in touch to say he’d loved the writing and wanted to represent me but didn’t agree that it was crime, and felt that it was literary fiction with possible cult appeal. I think we were both right, ultimately. It was published as a literary novel by Chatto and Windus, and won prizes, like he’d hoped, but I was also invited to speak at the Harrogate Crime Festival. For a while, the book was stocked in both the crime and general fiction sections at Waterstone’s. I am a difficult one to pin down, genre wise, even putting aside the Valentine ghost stories. A couple of reviewers even suggested that "Starfishing" was some kind of dark chick lit, although I think they’re well off the mark with that. There might be many large glasses of chardonnay in the story but no one could ever confuse Frankie with Bridget Jones. There is always at least one crime in my stories, which I believe is the only stipulation for crime fiction.  They usually have a thriller-like pace and structure, but I’m a huge fantasy fan, so tropes and ideas from that genre infuse my work. Frankie’s nickname is Frankie Stein, and all sorts of themes from Shelley’s novel come into the narrative. My protagonist in "The Killing Jar" talks about floating above her housing estate when she’s high, a drug induced fantasy, maybe, or something more? And "The Troll" books are infused with fairy tales and myths that are metaphors for modern life, social media and the internet. So, in all honesty, my books are a bit of a mash up of all the genres that I love. I’m writing the kinds of books I’d want to read, which is all you can do in the end.

MW:  I don't think "Starfishing" is dark chick-lit either but to focus on that novel for a while, because I loved it so much (you can read my review here).  Can you elaborate on working in that environment (though later than the novels timeline) and at the World Trader Center, as you mention above?

NV:  Yes, I worked for a big investment bank in London in the late 90’s, and then I moved on to work for tech companies that made software for trading derivatives. I saw what I write about in the book in action. I knew a lot of LIFFE traders and people from that scene and I was there when the exchange moved from live, open outcry trading to the computerised version, which we see beginning to happen towards the end of "Starfishing". The City was a pretty wild, crazy place back then. It was a fabulous place to see out my twenties and an unforgettable experience. I wouldn’t want to do it again but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I always knew I wanted to write about that time and place but I think I needed a good few years to find the objectivity to write about it properly.

I was never permanently based at the World Trade Center but I did spend time there during 2001, when I was mostly living and working in Chicago. Our New York office was in the first tower hit, on the 86th floor. No one inside would have stood a chance. I was working for quite a small tech company at the time, and by sheer good luck, none of my colleagues were in the building at the time. But it affected me deeply, and I think that comes across in certain scenes in "Starfishing". I won’t say which, because spoilers, but I think you can probably work that out.

MW:  You mentioned to me that you had the ending in mind when you started writing.  What led you to writing it so the trajectory got ever darker?  And how much was research (in terms of the exchange) and how much was your memory of that late 90s environment?

NV:  Yes, that’s true. I’m quite a visual person and one of the first things I do when writing is try to picture my ending as a scene in a film. I have to know where I’m going quite early on. I don’t need to know everything about how I’m going to get there but that end image is a little like the Fixed Point in Space Time that they use in "Doctor Who" stories. It needs to be there and it doesn’t change, so it’s important to get it right first time.

With this book, it did turn out darker than I’d imagined when I started writing. I think the ending led me down that path with poor old Frankie, basically. There had to be a chain of events that took her to that point, so that could never be trivial. I won’t say anymore in case I give too much away!

On the set of "Starcross"
MW:  When did you make the move into films?

NV:  This happened almost accidentally. As I mentioned, I am a very visual person, so this does make sense from that perspective. I wanted to adapt my first novel for the screen and met a director, Deborah Haywood, who wanted to make the film. That project has come to a bit of a disappointing standstill. However, Deborah and I did make some very short films together in the process. This led to another director, Ash Morris, getting in touch and asking if I’d like to do some work together. We’re now on our second short film and working with some household names, which is very exciting. So, yes, it was a very organic thing and not something I did particularly deliberately. I’m very happy that it happened, though.

MW:  A lot of your work seems very centred in Nottingham and your surroundings - is that deliberate, do you find the location feeds into the work?

NV:  Yes, Nottingham is very important to me as a writer. There’s an energy here which I think suits my work, and an attitude of rebellion which tends to be very typical of my characters. Setting generally is important to me, too. I think it tends to be where I start. Then I inhabit the place with characters. The plot comes last, really, and yet I think story is very important. It’s interesting how these things are all related. It’s like they are attached to each other with strings, so that pulling one stretches another.

MW:  Where did "The Troll"'s come from?

NV:  "The Troll" books were inspired by settings too but, this time, several places; the woods behind my old secondary school, an inaccessible area of woodland in Wollaton Park in Nottingham that looks enchanted, and the internet. I think that human beings in the 21st century spend their lives engaged in a number of places at once. We’re rarely totally there, in the moment and place where we’re physically present, but we’re usually involved with people and places outside ourselves through the devices we carry around. I wanted to write stories that reflected that. I’ve been a user of the internet since it was JANET, so basically most of my adult life. I’m very interested with the way it’s evolving and the power it gives people to express themselves. Internet trolling fitted so perfectly with the kind of thriller I wanted to write, and with the imagery I wanted to use. As I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of fantasy, and of fairy tales, so connecting the trolls from these stories with those from the internet was something I couldn’t help but do. There are so many surprising parallels. The more research and digging I did into the deep dark web and the deep dark woods, the more coincidences and parallels I found. It was one of those gifts you sometimes get as a writer.  I’ve even read fairy tale theory relating to the passing on of memes from one person to another over great distances. So, by this theory, our old oral traditions did exactly what the internet does for us now. How cool is that? I think our engagement with the net is absolutely revolutionary. It will change our species forever. Fiction has only just started engaging with this really, and I was determined to be one of the first.

MW:  That's incredible.  So what are you working on now?

NV:  I’m working on another thriller novella. I love the novella format and think it suits my writing brilliantly. It’s great that ebooks and notable successes, like the Wool books by Hugh Howey, have made the novella more commercially viable. This book is dark (quelle surprise), gothic and set in Paris. It’s called "Helene" and, in tribute to Daphne Du Maurier (one of my favourite ever writers), I’m trying to avoid ever giving away the name of the protagonist. So I’m focusing her world and character through the mirror of her obsession with her friend Helene. Helene is not the ghostly figure of Du Maurier’s "Rebecca", but she is just as wild and dangerous. I lived in Paris too, for a while back in the 90’s, and I’ve set other stories there. It’s quite a strange city. Not really the romantic dream that people think and quite hostile and disturbing in many ways, so that’s always at the heart of stories I set there.

MW:  What are your plans for the future?

NV: This coming September, I’m starting the part time MA in Crime Writing at UEA. I’m so excited! I’m planning a big crime series set in the Midlands. Probably a broader canvas than just Nottingham, encompassing Coventry and Birmingham too, where I have family connections. I want the stories to span decades, from just post war until the present day. It’s by far the most ambitious project I’ve ever planned. I guess that, if I really had to pin it down, I’d like to be a slightly more literary version of Martina Cole with this series. I want to tell stories the way she does, but use language more like George RR Martin. Never one to shy away from a challenge, me.

MW:  Both "Helene" and the crime series sound great, very much looking forward to both of them.  Thanks for your time, Niki.

NV:  Thank you.
Meeting at FantasyCon in Nottingham, 24th October 2015,
with (from left) Sue Moorcroft, Niki, me, Steve Bacon, Richard Farren Barber
Niki can be found online at, on Facebook and also on Twitter as @nikival71

Monday 11 January 2016

The Sealed Window

I'm pleased to announce that "The Hyde Hotel", a new anthology edited by James Everington & Dan Howarth, has just been published by Black Shuck Books.  The book is available in print and digital editions and amongst others, it features my story "The Sealed Window".  Looking at that ToC, I'm chuffed to be included.

The Hyde Hotel Welcomes You…

The Hyde Hotel looks almost exactly as you’d expect it to: a faceless, budget hotel in a grey city you are just passing through. A hotel aimed at people travelling alone, a hotel where you know so little about your fellow guests that they could be anyone… and where, perhaps, so could you. But sometimes things are hiding in plain sight, and not everyone who stays at The Hyde gets a good night’s sleep…

Enjoy your stay.

Table of Contents

CHECKING IN  by James Everington

THE VIEW FROM THE BASEMENT  by Alison Littlewood

NIGHT PORTERS  by Iain Rowan

TICK BOX  by Dan Howarth

THE EDIFICE OF DUST  by Amelia Mangan

LOST AND FOUND  by S P Miskowski




WRATH OF THE DEEP  by Simon Bestwick


THE BLUE ROOM  by V H Leslie

CHECKING OUT  by James Everington

The book is available in print and digital editions from Amazon

Amazon UK 

Amazon US

I wrote "The Sealed Window" around the period of my heart attack in August 2014 - first draft before, all revisions afterwards - and I was glad to have it there, to pull me back into writing.  James & I had developed a nice friendship over the past year or so, stemming from a mutual respect of each others writing and sealed when we hung out together at the Andromeda One Con and he emailed me, asking for a story “about guests staying in the Hyde Hotel; stories should be dark and weird although they don’t have to be traditional horror.”  My starting point was something I remember Alison, my wife, telling me - she had to go to London on a course and was put into the tiniest single room she'd ever seen.  It happened to be a particularly hot summers day and she quickly discovered the window had been painted closed, which I would have found too claustrophobic to stay in.  The very thought of that has stayed with me for years and this was the ideal place to use it.

My story concerns Hoffman who hates the city he has to visit, to go on a course.  Booked into the Hyde Hotel where everything seems just that little bit off, he discovers that the window in his very small and very warm room won't open, making it oppressively claustrophobic.  As the evening wears on and he is forced to listen to his amorous neighbours (as well as finding odd, sleazy programmes on the TV), things begin to unravel...

It was after nine by the time Hoffman got back.  The foyer of the hotel was deserted - no doorman to greet him, no receptionist behind the desk - and he trudged up to the third floor feeling hot and annoyed.  The streets had been heaving with people, all of them locked into their phone screens and not caring where they walked or who they walked into.  The couple on the next table in the lovely little Italian restaurant he found spent their entire meal engrossed not in each other, but in their phones, pausing only to fork in fresh mouthfuls or photograph their food when the orders arrived.

He walked along the corridor, the carpet swallowing the sound of his progress.  The fancy work on the ceiling looked different now but he couldn’t tell why.  He paused at door 39 and debated going back out, to avoid spending too much time in the hot little room but, then, maybe the window was fixed.

Hoffman quickly opened the door and went in.  The first thing he noticed was a heavy bleach smell, the second was that the window hadn’t been opened.  He walked over and tried the handle but, if anything, it moved less now than it did before.

His anger simmering, he flopped onto the bed and reached for the phone.  He dialled reception and the phone rang for two minutes and forty two seconds but nobody answered it.  The ambient heat in the room, combined with the heat his own anger was generating, made him feel even worse and with a growl he stalked into the bathroom.

There was no smell of bleach in there, which surprised him.  The partly opened window let in a little fresh air and he glanced at the bath, which looked spotlessly clean.  He went back into the room, got his toilet pack from the overnight bag and had a long, cool shower.

Monday 4 January 2016

The King For A Year project

This is what happened.
Stephen King, “The Mist”

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 navigate myself around the horror genre, in print and film and went on to read everything King put out through to “Needful Things” in 1991 (I was getting a bit tired of him by then and the combination of “Insomnia” and “Rose Madder” finished me off).  I really enjoyed “Bag Of Bones”, was switched off by “From A Buick 8” and didn’t go back after that until “Joyland” (which I loved) in 2013.  When Matthew Craig was discussing on Twitter his proposed #CarrieAt40 project, I jumped at the chance to get involved and review it (since I’d never read that particular novel) and really enjoyed it.

A little while after my review was published, in April 2014, I was having a Facebook discussion with Alison Littlewood, Ross Warren, Anthony Cowin and Andrew Murray and we began talking 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 was wondering whether or not 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 with people who'd asked to be involved.

Ross 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 haven’t read in years, certainly not since becoming a father) but chickened out, which was lucky for the blog because I then got two reviews for it - from a male and female viewpoint.

Over the course of the year, we’ve 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 a review of “Finders Keepers” from an ARC edition he had, which 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’ve thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing (in fact, I’ve put books onto my TBR pile based on some of the reviews) and it pleases me that people have had a good time re-reading their favourites and writing about them.

It’s all finished now - but the blog will stay live - even though certain titles never got picked up.  But for now, I’d like to thank all the reviewers, all the visitors (I hope, if you’re a Constant Reader, that you’ve had as much fun with the blog as I have), 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