Monday, 13 March 2023

The Restless Bones - a bit of nostalgia

Back in the day, when I was at Junior school, we had a thing called The Bookworm Club.  It must have been a nationwide organisation (I vaguely remember a catalogue, though I can’t find any info about it on the Net) but what happened at Rothwell Juniors was that a stall was set up in the hall and you went in and bought any books that took your fancy (there was also something with collecting vouchers and saving them on a card).  I enjoyed it because it was aimed towards me (bookshops in those days weren’t, particularly, kid friendly), I could pick what I wanted and they had some great titles to choose from.

One of my first purchases was The Restless Bones, edited by the great Peter Haining.
cover scan of my copy
The Restless Bones & Other True Mysteries, edited by Peter Haining, is a slim Armada paperback that has no copyright/publishers information in it at all, though I believe it was published in 1978.  The cover was painted by Alun Hood, whilst the interior illustrations were the work of Ellis Nadler.

(left - "The Restless Bones" are discovered - right - "The Thing From Outer Space")

Peter Haining (1940-2007) was a journalist, author and anthologist from Suffolk, who was Editorial Director at New English Library before becoming a full-time writer in the early 70s.  He edited a large number of anthologies, predominantly of horror and fantasy short stories and wrote non-fiction books on a variety of topics, sometimes using the pen names ‘Ric Alexander’ and ‘Richard Peyton’ for crime anthologies.  He won the British Fantasy Society Karl Edward Wagner Award in 2001.

The Restless Bones contains ten stories:
The Restless Bones, The Winged Monster of the Desert, The Terror Of The Dragon, The Mystery of the Loup-Garou, Old Roger’s Vengeance, The Witch’s Familiars, The Call of Darke’s Drum, The Trail of the Devil’s Fooprints, The Thing From Outer Space and The Voice In The Graveyward.  “I have drawn on the large file of material I have collected over the years about events and experiences which are fantastic - but factual” is Haining’s comment on their origins, as he writes in his introduction.

The killer story for me was “The Voice in the Graveyard”, wherein teenaged Richard, in 1964 Wisconsin, accepts a challenge to spend the night in a graveyard, all on his own.  As I write this - a grown man far removed from the nine-year-old me reading it over the 1978 summer holidays, I can still remember the frisson of fear that ran through me when Richard hears a whispering voice plead, “…help us…

Well presented, with a good range of mysteries, this kept my attention well and steered me further into the path of horror and the supernatural (the devil's footprints being backed up by Arthur C. Clarke, of course).

I'm also proud to say that this book still stands on my bookshelf - it looks a little beaten up around the edges, but it's holdings its own.

Monday, 27 February 2023

If You Think Reading Is Boring...

Regular readers of the blog will know I've been writing my own stories since I was eight, but reading for longer than that.  I take reading seriously, I take book collecting seriously and I'm a real advocate for people losing themselves in a book.  And since it's World Book Day on Thursday, what better time to start than now?
I love the tactile nature of books (I've still not converted to Kindle yet), I love the smell of books, I love the delight of finding a new bookshop and losing myself amongst the shelves (especially 2nd hand ones).  In these current times, I'm really missing that.

I love the delight of finding a new author to enjoy, I love the thrill of starting a new book and falling in love with the style and the characters and the flow of the language and I love the sense of satisfaction - mixed with a certain sense of loss - when you close the book for the last time and put it on your lap and rub the cover and want to say "thanks, mate, I enjoyed that".
The book can be anything you want and you don't have to spend a lot of money on a glossy hardback, or read a certain title just because it's at the top of the charts.  Outside of lockdowns, go to the library (if you have any left near you) or buy a paperback, or download an ebook, or go into a second hand or charity shop (when you can) and pick up something for 20p.  It doesn't matter how you do it, it doesn't matter what you read, just pick something up and open the cover and start.
Dude, in 2014, reading his latest Coronet Snoopy collection and me, in a B&B in Bridlington in 1988, reading my latest horror anthology purchase
And here's an icon of our times, who enjoyed reading...

Monday, 20 February 2023

"Don't Go Back" - Happy Book Birthday!

Although it doesn't seem quite possible, my debut mainstream thriller Don't Go Back, published by those fine people The Book Folks, is a year old!

A captivating thriller about a woman whose past suddenly catches up with her

When Beth receives news that a once-close friend has died, after years away she reluctantly returns to the seaside town where she grew up.

Beth becomes increasingly unsettled as she attends the funeral, encounters people from her past, and visits her teenage haunts.

She is forced to take herself back to the awful summer when she left for good. Yet it is not just memories that are resurfacing, but simmering resentments.

Someone else hasn’t quite so readily put their past behind them, and unwittingly Beth will become the key to their catharsis.

As she puts two and two together, the question is: whatever possessed her to return?

DON’T GO BACK is a truly nail-biting read that will appeal to fans of Claire McGowan, Vanessa Garbin, Teresa Driscoll, Linwood Barclay and Anna Willett.

This is the best book you’ll read all year!

* * *

The book is set in Seagrave (a British seaside town that feels very much like Great Yarmouth and is, indeed, just down the coast from Lowestoft) and told in two timelines, which were great fun to write. My good friend David Roberts & I plotted it out on one of our Friday Night Walks and I wrote it during the lockdowns (which might explain why the first draft was twice as long as the second!). The novel took a few twists and turns in its progress from idea to finished tale and the novel features tension and suspense, some scary parts, some funny bits and a few sad moments too. 

Having come out of the UK horror small press I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but the reaction has been better than I could have imagined. People - some my friends from real life (Ross Warren deserves a mention for leading the charge) and Facebook, others I had never interacted with - were hugely helpful and supportive, sharing my posts and tolerating me talking about the book a lot and letting their friends and followers know that Don't Go Back was out there.
The book has acquitted itself well over the year and, as I write this, it's sitting with 1,025 ratings on Amazon and a 4.1/5 average. I'm grateful to everyone who's bought a copy and left a rating or review (Steve Bacon posted his to his blog here). People seem to have taken well to the dual timeline which is pleasing because the writing process for that and trying to get it all tied together seemed - at times - to be a never-ending headache.

Like most writers, I create the stories because they're in my head and I enjoy the process of getting them out onto paper but to know that someone else derives pleasure from it makes all those painful parts (why won't this character do what I want her to, why isn't this part working, why on earth did I think it was a good idea to have a dual timeline?) worthwhile.
And if there's anyone you think might like a dual timeline thriller novel set in an English seaside town with some funny bits, a few scary bits, a couple of sad bits and a whole lot of suspense, please tell them all about Don't Go Back. 

Tell all your friends!

Monday, 6 February 2023

The Shelter, by James Everington - Redux Reviews 2

Welcome to the second edition of the thread where I revisit reviews of books by friends and writers I admire, to highlight the works for readers who might have missed them the first time they appeared.

This time it's The Shelter, by James Everington, a novella I originally reviewed in 2013.

It’s a long, drowsy summer at the end of the 1980s, and Alan Dean and three of his friends cross the fields behind their village to look for a rumoured WW2 air raid shelter. Only half believing that it even exists beyond schoolboy gossip, the four boys nevertheless feel an odd tension and unease. 

And when they do find the shelter, and go down inside it, the strange and horrifying events that follow will test their adolescent friendships to breaking point, and affect the rest of their lives...

During the long summer of 1989, thirteen year-old Alan Dean hung around with three friends - Mark, Tom and Duncan.  Mark was a charismatic bully, a bad seed who was used to getting what he wanted and when he suggested the four of them explore an old shelter, they all agreed.  At the same time, a local boy called Martin had gone missing and the newspapers are asking if a killer’s on the loose but once Alan and his friends find the shelter, they experience something strange and horrifying that will change all their lives forever.

I love coming-of-age tales and I love eighties nostalgia and so, as my introduction to the writing of James Everington, this couldn’t have gone much better at all.  Although he’s at the opposite end of the decade to me (in terms of points of reference), he perfectly evokes a long boring summer to the extent that the reader can almost feel the prickly heat and hear the flies buzzing and there’s nothing that knocks this illusion at all.  The characters are well drawn, though Alan - who narrates - is probably the only one most people will identify with - Tom and Duncan are herd animals, not quite smart enough to strike out on their own and instead happy to be the muscle, whilst Mark is almost chilling in his relentness need to be in control, though Everington spotlights his vulnerability well as the story progresses.  The peer pressure too is well evoked, with the other boys being two years old than Alan, so he goes along them with because he’s too scared not to, plus he likes the increased social status their comradeship gives him.

The shelter itself is a superb invention, very real and with a claustrophobic atmosphere that is almost tangible.  When Alan sees what he sees, we’re there on the ladder with him and equally desperate for release.

With an afterword that explains where the story came from, which is interesting in itself, this is an excellent novella.  It has good pace, believable characters, a nice use of location and a sureness in the telling that pulls the reader through.  A wonderful exploration of powerful, quiet horror, this is well worth a read and highly recommended.

The novella is available from Amazon as a paperback here and as an ebook here.

James & I first met at Andromeda Con in Birmingham in 2013 (which I wrote about here), though we'd been chatting through social media for a while. We instantly hit it off and I quickly became a big fan of his excellent writing. When he told me about The Shelter, which originally appeared in 2011, it sounded right up my street and proved to absolutely be so.

Our friendship endures to this day and his writing just gets better and better (he's been reviewed in The Guardian, don't you know!).

Sledge-Lit in Derby, November 2017
James, me and Alison Littlewood

Monday, 23 January 2023

The Tooth Fairy, by Graham Joyce (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've just read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan. In this case, the book first came out in 1996 and was written by the late and much-missed Graham Joyce, so the chances are you might have already heard of it. I'd been putting off reading it for a long, long time and when I finally picked it up I was pleased to find it inscribed to me and I realised I bought it from him at a Terror Scribes gathering in Leicester in 2001 (which I wrote about here).

When seven-year-old Sam Southall loses a tooth, he’s visited by the Tooth Fairy, a demonic being (sometimes male, sometimes female) that apparently only he can see, but whose malignant influence spills over onto his family and friends. The Tooth Fairy hangs around as Sam grows up, teaching him to make mischief at school and influencing his actions. One day she insists Sam’s friend Terry sleeps over and that same night, Terry's father shoots his wife, his other children, and himself…

I am a huge Graham Joyce fan and I’d been holding this back (the book was published in 1996) because  - well, there aren't a lot of his I have yet to read - but I’m so glad I did. Filled with Joyce’s wonderous prose, mastery of character and dialogue and a brilliant evocation of a seventies childhood (the timespan is never properly specified), this was just glorious. The lives of Sam, Terry and Clive are imbued with a sense of love and melancholy and the introduction of Alice to the group works brilliantly - she’s just as vivid a character as them, even if her motives aren’t always clear. And while the boys navigate friendships, parents and the rigours of becoming teenagers, the Tooth Fairy is always there, an ever-present reminder that things don’t always go right, however much you try to make them. There are scenes of horror - Terry’s family, Tooley the scout, poor Linda in London - and they’re shocking but the book, ultimately, is about friendship and love and I found it by turns funny and sad and eminently readable. I cannot recommend this highly enough and I envy those who have yet to discover its sense of wonder.

* * *
Graham Joyce was born the mining village of Kerseley, near Coventry, on 22nd October 1954, where he grew up.  He obtained his bachelor’s degree in education at Bishop Lonsdale college, an MA in English and American Literature at the University of Leicester and in 2004 was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.

In 1988, he quit his job and went to live on the Greek island of Lesbos, to concentrate on writing.  His first novel, Dreamside, funded travel to the Middle East and he went on to write fourteen novels, five young adult novels, and an autobiographical book about his experiences as goalie for the England Writers' football team (which, by the way, is excellent).  He also wrote numerous short stories.

Over his career, he won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel five times, the World Fantasy Award , the French Grand Prix De L'Imaginaire twice and the prestigious O Henry award for his short story An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen. In 2008 he was awarded the Honorary degree of Master of Letters by the University of Derby.

He continued to write and teach creative writing at Nottingham Trent University until his death on 9th September 2014.

Biography from the Graham Joyce website

I was lucky to meet him on several occasions and we got to know each other well enough we'd chat and share a laugh whenever we were in the same place (usually at FantasyCon).  I saw him at WFC (he was heading downstairs, I was heading up, he said "Hello mate!" and changed direction so we could walk and talk for a while) in Brighton and got to tell him how much his novel The Year Of The Ladybird meant to me and he seemed genuinely moved when I told him it made me cry.  However, when I asked him if he was going to write a short story, detailing the love affair after the novels end, he told me to bugger off!  

I miss his presence and his writing.

Monday, 9 January 2023


I'm happy to report that my fourth mainstream thriller, Still Waters Run from The Book Folks is doing okay for itself and picking up some nice reviews.

In late summer, sixteen-year-old Dan and his recently divorced mother head to a Norfolk seaside town’s holiday park for a vacation.

Shy Dan soon strikes up a friendship with a girl of his age, quirky and pretty Charlie, and his mother is swept off her feet by a suave local property developer.

Yet a shadow is cast over their stay when one of the camp attendants, Mia, goes missing. And things go from bad to worse when her body turns up near the town’s derelict lido.

Charlie draws Dan into her efforts to discover the truth about Mia’s death. But as the locals close ranks, cracks begin to show in their new friendships, and he’ll soon find himself in deep water.

This could turn out to be a holiday that mother and son will remember for all the wrong reasons, if they survive.

* *
Stephen Bacon posted a review on his own blog and said he had "a real blast reading" it. As well as picking up on the nostalgia, he also made the perceptive comment that "there's an interesting romantic aspect for Jude here too, and one that has much to say about the desires and vulnerabilities of middle-aged characters, an angle that is often neglected in crime fiction."

I'm really pleased about that, because the Jude thread is as important as the Dan/Charlie teenaged one in the book and I came to really like Jude as a character - both in herself and also writing her.

You can check out the rest of Steve's review here and there's more to see at both Amazon and Goodreads (links below).

As we move into 2023 I'm hard at work on the first draft of Book 5, which features a married couple going on a guided hike in Northumberland and finding that someone in their party doesn't want everyone to come away alive.

In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and if you choose to read one of my books, don't forget to leave a rating/review!