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