Tag Archives: ghost stories

Losing the Losers’ Club – Why ‘IT’ just didn’t work for me.

Fair warning; if you have not seen the film or read the book, you may wish to leave now because I will spoilify you.

 

The new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic 1986 novel IT is likely to be the highest grossing film adaptation of King’s work to date. Directed by Argentine film director Andy Muschietti, who is best known for the 2013 horror flick ‘Mama’, the film has been divided into two parts. The child’s perspective and the adult’s.

Anyone who has read the original novel will recognise this as an unusual choice because the two are very much woven together in the book. So much so that you’d be forgiven for questioning whether the structural integrity of the narrative didn’t come crashing down when the film makers’ chose to divide those two strands. It didn’t fall apart, however, at the same time, it betrayed one of the most important underlying themes of the book.

IT is a book with many themes and all are worthy of exploration but perhaps the most fundamental of these is the classic Good vs Evil battle showcasing the weak defeating the all powerful. From that perspective, I’m not surprised there have been rave reviews. Speculative Fiction went through a recent boom in GrimDark fantasy and sci-fi, as jaded generation X-ers and Millennials grappled with the far from perfect reality the Baby Boomer generation have left them. And then of course we have current politics, which surely I don’t need to go into in detail for the intelligent reader to be able to draw parallels as to why a straight forward Good vs Evil fight might be both refreshing and desirable. In a way – in my opinion, in a very shallow way – the film does deliver that. But overall the film just didn’t work for me so here are my five reasons why.

 

 

One: The Great Divide.

Everyone remember being a child? The sheer scope and possibility of life? Okay so magic probably wasn’t real and aliens probably wouldn’t land a flying saucer in your back garden but it was possible. As children, ‘impossible’ and even ‘implausible’ are not fully fixed concepts. This is important because we are at the stage of increasing our store of knowledge about how the world and social interactions work. The frameworks on which we hang our trial and error juvenile hypotheses need to be correspondingly flexible.  As adults our definition of what is possible becomes far narrower out of necessity. There are many folktales which deal with the base concept that you do not fully become an adult until you have learned to master fear. There’s some truth in that. If as adults we went through life with the same sense of possibility as children, we would never have mastered fear enough to function. I am conflicted about shutting parts of ourselves down in order to achieve this mastery but I don’t think anyone has achieved a better method yet. (If you have then please message me.) The point is that adults are often utterly incomprehensible to children. And if the adults in question have not retained at least a little of their child selves – and many do not – children are an equal mystery.

The adults in IT have learned not to see what’s going on in Derry. Despite the fact that the evil killer clown/ manatou/ shapeshifter/ space arachnid comes back roughly every twenty seven years – so at least once in every generation – they have learned to cite ‘adult’ reasons for the terrible things that happen in Derry, ‘adult’ logic for any hint of the inexplicable. They have taught themselves to forget. Some of that might be down to Pennywise (Mr Bob Grey) himself (or really that should be herself because *spoiler alert* IT is female) who has the power to get inside your head and make use of what IT finds there. IT is the ultimate gaslighter, no question. IT is also the ultimate predator. All of Derry is IT’s hunting ground, or rather it’s farrowing crate. In the book there’s strong hints that IT encourages the growth and success of the town, keeping it from prying eyes who might register that these twenty seven year cyclical killing sprees are happening, that the rates of murder and violence go well beyond what might be expected of another town of comparable size.

The children, on the other hand, with their natural credulity, can see what is really happening. There is a monster in the dark sewers and it preys on children. Or rather, it preys on fear, violence and most especially the unbounded creative force of a child’s imagination. (Hold that thought – that creative stuff is important.)

And this is the problem with dividing the child from the adult perspective in the films. Those two perspectives are stronger in the book for being presented simultaneously, even if each perspective is utterly alien and incomprehensible to the other. So strike one for me was sucking all the power out of the child-adult gulf of understanding.

 

 

Two: The Losers Club

I was an oddball child. I was weird. I didn’t fit in. And both adults and other children were uncomfortable around me – in fairness I was no more comfortable around them. Play time at primary school, for several years, was rather like that scene in Jurassic World where Chris Pratt’s character realises that the Veloceraptors are responding to a new alpha and it ain’t him. Those were my choices at school – being alone or being literally thrown like a basketball between a group of much older and larger kids. Before anyone gets out their violin, let me state this is not a sympathy play. I am laughing as I write this (I always do try to enjoy the last laugh) and my experience is not unique. Everyone gets bullied at school. Everyone. The only degrees of difference are severity and by whom. This is why stories about rag tag groups of morally aligned misfits saving the day despite the unlikeliness are so enduring. I mean, think about what your favourite fantasy films were when you were a kid. Did anything speak to you the way Star Wars spoke to me? My guess is yes. And for good reason. A group of ‘goodies’ band together and defeat the ‘baddies’. The weak overcame the strong despite seemingly insurmountable odds. This is why the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Last Unicorn, Krull, Labyrinth and everything ever produced by studio Ghibli captures imaginations. Star Wars is the answer to the silent, internal cry of every bullied child everywhere.

In IT the seven who make up the Losers Club are all misfits from different backgrounds. Stanley Uris is Jewish and unlike many eleven year old boys, likes to stay neat and tidy. Eddie Kaspbrak is very small for his age and appears to have crippling asthma. Richie Tozier is too clever for his own good, wears thick lensed glasses and cannot keep his mouth shut. (I actually really feel for Richie because that was always my problem too.) Ben Hanscombe is fat. No really in most schools and times in the West that would be enough to have your life made a living hell. To cap it off though, Ben is liked by teachers because he likes school, works hard and is polite. That’s like having a target painted on you in neon. Bill Denborough stutters. Mike Hanlon is black – the only black child in Derry at the time the book is set. (Ok so the film sets it in 1989 not 1959 but there was still enough endemic racism for this to be a reason bullies would go after you.) Beverley Marsh is poor – which in America certainly and in other parts of the world definitely, is tantamount to being criminal. It’s certainly shameful. And Beverley is beautiful, which carries its own special shit stew of bullying tactics if you don’t have the wealth and status that are supposed to go with good looks.

But what’s remarkable about the seven children is less what sets them apart as outsiders and more what draws them together in a group. Each one of them has a sense of right and wrong independent of their at best neglectful or at worst downright abusive parents. Each of them has kindness and courage beyond the usual for most people. All of them are incredibly imaginative, creative individuals. And, importantly, all of them escape a lone encounter with IT before they form a group.

And that’s what bugs me about the new film. In some ways it was good to see the losers club reformed with new youngsters since the hit and miss 1990 TV mini series aired. However the film made it look like a matter of chance that each of the seven escaped IT whilst alone, removing agency from the characters.

In the book for example, Stanley Uris is lured up to the Standpipe where he is trapped in the tower with IT. The creature is posing as the dead children who drowned in the Standpipe. Stan survives by holding out his bird book (he is a budding ornithologist) and shouting the names of different species of bird at IT. Mike Hanlon uses ingenuity and a blood minded desire to die fighting to escape Rodan, the shape IT uses to attack him. Bill Denborough’s love for his brother overcomes his fear. Beverley outsmarts her father (Al Marsh is a favourite puppet of IT because he is brittle and wed to his own narrow world view)  and escapes what might have turned into being beaten to death, she uses her grit to survive. Eddie Kaspbrak flees from the ‘leper’ at the house on Neibolt street, overcoming a lifetime of conditioning by his mother which says he is physically weak and cannot run. Richie thinks he hasn’t had an encounter with it when in fact he was attacked by the Paul Bunyon statue, he gets away and outsmarts town bully Henry Bowers and co – he uses his brain. Ben Hanscombe escapes the Mummy on the Kendeskeig river by choosing to embrace unlogic – logically the Mummy cannot be there. By trusting himself and choosing to believe it is there he escapes. All seven use something within themselves to get away. The film shows them saved at the last minute by luck or interruption and in my opinion this takes away from the characters.

Another factor in regard to the film version is that it just doesn’t capture the depth of love and friendship between the seven children. At a critical moment the group fractures and we’re treated to a montage of them all getting on with their own lives. This just doesn’t happen in the book. I appreciate that King is incredibly difficult to translate to screen because his themes scratch areas that other horror writers just don’t reach. That said, introducing conflict of that kind within the group detracted from the conflict outside of it. You could argue by the time Eddie breaks his arm in the book that the seven children are no longer entirely just children but are being used by something else, just as IT uses people in the town. They are very close to being ‘other directed’. However it is always clear that choice is an important factor. Which brings me on to:

 

 

Three: The Parents and other Adults.

The adults in IT are a very mixed bag and most are ineffectual at best.

Bill Denborough’s parents are so consumed with grief for the death of his six-year-old brother, George, they have forgotten they have a living son. Eddie Kaspbrak’s mother genuinely loves him, to the point where she will gaslight him into believing he has a serious, debilitating and chronic illness. It’s basically Munchausen via proxy syndrome and how she loves it when he needs to be cared for.

Stanley Uris’ parents are actually alright, we don’t hear much about them but they appear to fall into the ‘average’ category.

Ben Hanscombe’s mother is a good mother but suffers from not really having much in the way of skills except the desire to work. She’s tough and has kept them both fed and sheltered after being widowed early, but part of that love for Ben has been translated in over feeding him. She works such long hours as well that she often doesn’t know what’s going on in his life. Her lack of vigilance isn’t deliberate neglect, but it’s the sort of thing that a non supernatural predator who preys on children looks for in a victim.

Richie Tozier has genuinely good parents. He is not what his mother wanted, frankly she doesn’t understand him and is a little spooked by the way his mind works (another reason for me to identify with Richie) but her love and care is undisputed. As is his father’s. His father goes even further, enjoying outwitting Richie on occasion, something which secretly delights Richie whose biggest social problem is that he is bored because he is cleverer than most of his peers.

Beverly Marsh’s parents are another story. Her father is a strict, rigidly upright man with a very fragile sense of self. A self he props up by controlling his daughter and wife. In the book he regularly hits Beverly, leaving her with a black eye more than once, for very minor infractions. (In the film they’ve chosen to go another route but I’ll get to that.) Her mother is once again ineffectual. Beverly’s parents do love her but it is delivered in a twisted fashion that damages her sense of her own worth.

Which leaves Mike Hanlon who has one of the most wonderful fictional fathers ever written. His mother is a good parent too but Mike is especially close to his dad. Mike’s father plans and saves for his future, insists on Mike working hard at school so he can go to college – something which William Halon, coming from his own dirt poor roots, never had the chance to do. He also insists on Mike taking time to do what he refers to as ‘going fishing’ which translates to ‘go and have an adventure, explore, be curious about the world around you and then come back and tell me about it’. Unlike most parents fictional and otherwise, William Hanlon doesn’t lie to his son. He doesn’t send him out believing the world is fair but he doesn’t poison him into thinking it’s out to get him either.

My biggest problem with the adults in the film version of IT is that there is no nuance. They are all presented as being ineffectual or abusive. It was an absolute travesty to remove Mike Hanlon’s father. Aside from the fact that there are still too few good and decent black fathers depicted in fiction, the film makers took out one of the few examples of truly good adulthood in the story. Because that’s the thing with IT. IT is Derry. IT looks out from every pair of eyes. IT nudges people to obey their worst inclinations and then feasts on the results in an all you can eat buffet of fear and violence. The choice however is never removed from the people IT uses.

If you have ever been a child who needed an adult to intervene on your behalf and instead said adult looked the other way – or in IT literally drove away and left you to have your gut carved up by the local bully – then you will understand the special sense of betrayal such an occurrence yields. The adults we become are heavily influenced by at what point as children we learn that no one is coming to save us and it’s different for everyone. While the film does a good job of showing IT as it lives inside the people of Derry, there is no counterweight. The adults are indifferent and all indifferent alike. You need your coterie of well-meaning but misdirected adults here too or the whole adult child dynamic becomes senseless.

 

 

Four: The Problem of Beverly and Mike

 

Firstly, Sophia Lillis, who plays the child version of Beverly Marsh in IT, was sensational. It was a good casting choice. But there are issues in the screen writing of the character that ruined the film for me. First of all in the book, the children are all around eleven-years-old. This is important. They are hovering on that cusp between being truly children and incipient adolescence. This plays into the child-adult gulf I mentioned before. In the film the children have been aged to about thirteen. There is the world of difference in development and maturity between eleven and thirteen. They are no longer approaching the tipping point, they’re in adolescence. The gulf between being a child and being an adult has begun to be crossed. Add to that the difference between thirteen year old boys and thirteen year old girls and you really have a different story. So that didn’t work for me in terms of the narrative and the themes.

Where it became a problem for me with Beverley was that the character was over sexualised. I don’t mean in terms of how she acted but in terms of how other characters saw her – from the girls at school to the other seven to her father and Mr Keane the chemist – she was presented as this young coquette. The Male Gaze was in full operation with the camera angles, which sexualised the teenaged actress in a way that was pretty gross. The screen writers also made the choice to change the physical abuse the character suffers at the hands of her father, to sexual abuse or at least the very heavily implied threat of it.  Nice trick that, give the more squeamish members of your audience an out so they can choose to believe it never happened. I’m not saying that this was added to be titillating but I do have to ask that if the character was eleven rather than thirteen would they have been so willing to make the exchange? (King after all does not pull punches when it comes to child sex abuse occurring in his books so I assume there was a reason he chose not to go that route himself.)

This father daughter dynamic is shown as creepy in the same way that other aspects of horror are creepy. Rather than being shown as rightfully horrific. By contrast Al Marsh punching his daughter in the face and body as he does in the book would have created a more visceral negative reaction than the implication of something which we as the audience can’t be sure actually took place. So to summarise, the screen writers took the one main female character and made her the object of her father’s lust. And that’s part of the problem, when one example is all you have it must stand for all similar examples. In this case, whether intentionally or not, Beverly stands for all the female protagonists – because she is the only one. This robs her of a lot of her power, whereas in the book she is smart, capable, brave and loyal. None of which saves her in the film. It taps into the mindset that a good female character can only be sexual if she doesn’t really want it. While not quite of a calibre of rape for titillation purposes, why did it have to be there at all? It doesn’t challenge an occurrence that’s all too common (one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused, people) instead it puts it on a par with other horror movie tropes.

And for me that’s the crux because if you mythologise something like child sex abuse, then you make it easier for the truth of it to be denied. In the film, Beverly then kills her father after he attempts to rape her. Unfortunately this doesn’t redress the balance of power because in the context of the narrative it’s nonsensical. The fact that Pennywise then shows up and abducts Beverly as a warning / lure to the six boys merely adds insult to injury. You can see they have tried to mitigate turning the one female character with any agency into a damsel in distress by having her not succumb fully to the ‘Deadlights’ but considering she is revived with a kiss and effectively rescued by the boys, this attempt is a failure. Yes Beverly does some cool stuff in the film but since the upshot is that this is balanced by equal or greater amounts of her being forced to be a victim, I’m not buying it.

As a side note, in the book, the physical abuse from her father starts to take on a sexual charge on the day she and the others are driven into the barrens. He asks her if she is running around with boys and then tells her to take her pants down so he can check she’s ‘intact’. There is no attempted rape. While managing not to rape your daughter is hardly worthy of a commendation and doesn’t make book Al Marsh any better than film Al Marsh, once again the situation is more nuanced. Further side note, the actor playing Al Marsh in the film certainly played the character completely unsympathetically. Everything from the way he glanced up to how he moved was repulsive – as it should be!

And then there’s Mike Hanlon who if possible had even more power robbed from him. After removing his excellent father and putting him with an unsympathetic uncle who wants him to toughen up in the film, Mike gets comparatively little screen time. If you’ve read the book you’ll recall that Mike is the one who stays behind in Derry becoming the ‘light house keeper’. He narrates several passages of the book and sections of Derry’s history in first person and he is the reason the Losers’ Club reconvenes for the second battle. So why is he barely used in this film? Because if the film makers follow the book, he won’t be in the final battle down in IT’s lair. He’ll be fighting for his life in a hospital bed. He turns up when the seven went to fight IT, packing a bolt gun – easily the most powerful weapon they had between them. The last down into the well shaft, Mike is attacked by bully boy Henry Bowers, disarmed and nearly has the bolt gun used on himself. He does fight off Bowers but loses the reloads for the bolt gun. At the final battle, it’s quite telling that its Bill, not Mike, who finally uses the bolt gun on IT. This smacks a bit of the black character once again playing sidekick when in reality in the book he has as much agency as any of them.

 

 

Five: The Supernatural has its own Logic

 

Do you know why fantasy or sci-fi or horror works? How you can have paranormal creatures and magic and yet the reader or audience willingly suspends its sense of disbelief? In part this comes from making sure that the mundane aspects of the narrative are as ordinary and accurate as you can make them. But a larger part of it comes from the unspoken agreement that all things otherworldly follow a system of logic. It doesn’t have to resemble our earth logic but the writer shall tell us the reader the rules and lo he or she shall adhere to those rules only breaking them once the audience is properly prepared if absolutely necessary. The film adaptation of IT does not do this in my opinion. The set-up of said supernatural logic is a bit shoddy which when coupled with  the floating children and lack of explanation of the ‘Deadlights’ at the end of the film shreds much of that suspension of disbelief. Instead it turns King’s work into a bog standard and even slightly dull horror flick just like all the others. Cue senseless act of violence. Cue overblown special effects. Cue children sepulchrally singing a Victorian nursery rhyme in a minor key. (Although points for the choice of Oranges and Lemons since it denoted the route through London from the prison to the executioner.) This really could have been so much more.

 

I’ll admit that IT is one of my favourite books – not just by King but at all – so despite trying not to be overly invested in my own head canon I can’t promise I wasn’t influenced by my own preconceptions. That said, I don’t expect a film to stick to the book. The most I ever expect is for a film to be true to the themes of the book. I feel in this case IT was not. I may well watch the film again and enjoy it more as a piece of horror cinema the second time. I will watch part two and I’ll try to go in with an open mind. Overall though, this was more hit that miss for me.

Anyone else seen it? What did you think? Leave me a comment below.

I Hold the Tide (Unveiled book 3) Sneaklet

Okay so earlier this week, I said that if I got a certain number of likes, I would post a sneak preview of my third Unveiled book – I Hold the Tide – which is due out on 20th October 2017. So here you go, this is an excerpt from Chapter Two, which doesn’t give too much away. Amy and Emlynn are staying at a guesthouse in Cornwall and there’s strange doings afoot. Enjoy 😉 

 

My eyes snapped open. I was curled up on the broad windowsill, the first golden fingers of morning stroking my face. I felt vile. As if I’d been out drinking all night. My head ached, my eyes were scratchy-hot and my upper left arm near the shoulder throbbed. Pain deep in the bone. I groaned and sat upright, fingers seeking for the small hole left by a lead ball in my upper arm. They met only smooth unblemished flash. No injury. Nothing there. No reason to think there would be – except that I knew I’d been dreaming some long dead person’s memories.

I didn’t want any of this again. I wanted to be left alone. But a deeper part of me still craved the excitement and mystery. Craved danger? Never had a dream where what I experienced as somebody else left me in physical pain, though. I tried to close my left hand, but I couldn’t get all my fingers to meet. As soon as I bent my thumb inwards pain screeched up my arm into my shoulder socket. I bit back a cry. Could you accidentally break your own arm in your sleep? Ridiculous, but the pain was real even if the cause wasn’t. Eyes watering, I rubbed my upper arm. Gradually the pain faded, lingering only in a slight numbness of my left hand. Eventually that disappeared too.

When I tried to make a fist again, my fingers obeyed with only a slight stiffness. I swung my shoulder in a full circle. No phantom pain. Which left me with only one question. What the hell was going on?

Are you alright, Em? 

That’s what Amy should be saying about now. It was a weird thought to have but Amy’s version of the Touch nearly always meant she knew when something was wrong. Which meant she turned up. Was she okay? In sudden panic, I stumbled to the connecting door and threw it open.

Amy was sitting cross-legged on her bed, typing away on her laptop with her headphones firmly plugged into her ears. I stopped, deflated. Whatever Amy was doing, it was engaging enough that she’d been able to ignore the Touch. I tried to smother the little voice that said Amy had moved on. That I mattered less. I tried to drown it with logic. Amy’s gift worked differently. It was less strong – and less of an affliction – than mine, so I couldn’t expect her to react to every bad night I had.

Yes but I was shot. 

No, the person you were in the dream was shot. Get a grip. Amy probably didn’t even know anything was wrong. Were you going to tell her anyway?

No, but

But nothing. It was a dream not the end of the world.

No, it’s just meant that pretty much every time in the past so far…

Do you want your little sister always on call in case you decide to let her in on your paranormal shenanigans? Do you? Doesn’t Amy get to have her own life, her own friends?

Her own boyfriend?

The guilt was hot, acidic and immediate. Everything I kept expecting to feel when I thought about what had happened to Rhys, but that had never come. I felt it now. And I’d named the evil. Amy has a boyfriend. Why should that feel like the world was dropping out from beneath my feet?

“Em? Are you coming in or is there something magical about the doorway?” Amy pulled out one earbud and cocked her head to the side. She looked impatient. The sinking feeling in my gut grew worse. I relaxed my grip on the doorframe.

“Yeah,” I said illogically. I meant ‘I’m coming in’ but I didn’t feel welcome and the word turned to ash in my throat.

“Could you whack the kettle on then?” Amy turned back to her laptop. She left the ear bud out but it was clear she wasn’t paying attention to me.

I mechanically went through the motions of filling the kettle and laying out the complimentary tea and coffee. A tight band of pain circled my head. A sidelong glance showed Amy reading something on her screen, her mouth curving in a smile so unconsciously tender, I felt as if I was spying on her. She looked up when I shoved a cup of tea under her nose, her smile more open and less intimate now it was aimed at me. I couldn’t help noticing that she rested one hand on the lid of her laptop, ready to slam it shut the moment I tried to take a peek. If Amy was aware of the cords of tension strung across the room she gave no sign of it. Feeling childish but unable to stop myself, I ostentatiously stirred sugar into my own tea. It was stupid, attention seeking behaviour. But Amy knew I only took sugar when I was particularly shaken after a bad psychic storm. If she was going to notice anything…

Amy typed one further sentence, then started shutting the computer down. She was oblivious to both my battle to keep my mouth shut and my shakiness. I sipped the sweetened tea, torn between wanting to know what Amy was up to and a thin, constricting pride that tightened around me, forcing the words back in my throat. If she wasn’t going to notice that there was a problem, I wasn’t going to tell her.

“Good job we’re at the top of this house,” Amy remarked. “The wifi is dreadful. I bet you can’t get any signal at all on street level.”

“Y-yeah well that’s C-Cornwall for you,” I muttered, still trying not to sulk. But Amy had given me an opening. “What were you up to anyway? You c-can’t have sk-school work already.” My attempt at teasing came out flat. Amy gave me a sharp look but didn’t comment on my tone.

“Just chatting to someone,” she said lightly.

“Muh-must have been some chat.” It was there again. The coldness in my voice. I couldn’t stop myself.

“You know how I get when I start talking ‘science nerd’,” Amy said but there was an edge to her tone. Leave it alone, the edge said. I couldn’t.

“D-don’t think you’ve t-told me anything about Geneva.”

“Really.” Amy’s expression shut me out.

I hated it. I hated this distancing. Was this a new thing? How had I not noticed? Anxious frustration laced even more tightly around me.

“Are y-you actually g-going t-t-to?” I demanded. The tenser I became, the worse my stutter grew. I didn’t mean to sound like I was interrogating her but something had snapped inside me. I was desperately trying to claw down the walls between us that I’d only just realised were there.

Amy shot me a look that was so cold and disappointed, I sucked in a breath. For a moment she wasn’t my little sister but a formidable woman I didn’t even know. “For your information I’ve told you pretty much everything about Geneva. If I’ve kept anything back it’s because it’s private. Can’t I have anything that’s mine? Or do you have to approve all my friends and everyone I talk to?”

“Amy…I…I–”

“I haven’t finished,” Amy said. “You of all people know how horrible it is to be talked over!”

I stared at her, mortified. If anything she was only getting angrier, which meant this had been building for a while. I shook my head but not in denial.

“Have you told me everything? Or even anything? No. You’ve been stuck in your own little world like always.” Amy’s frostiness cracked. A pleading note crept into her tone. “What happened in Dorset, Em? Why won’t you talk about it?”

“Nuh-nothing happened! I t-told you everything.” Everything I can tell you anyway.

Amy’s face was closed and cold. “No,” she said very calmly. “No you didn’t. There’s something going on with you. Why won’t you let me in?”

“There’s nuh-nothing going on!”

“Oh really,” she flared. “Then what happened with Ciarán? What’s going on there? He came back and you’ve spent the last two weeks acting like you wish he hadn’t!”

“That’s n-not f-fair!” I said, stung. “And h-how is that your b-business anyway?” My own temper was rising now, molten lava through the ice.

“It’s my business because I like Ciarán. And I hate watching you hurt him by dangling him and stringing him along when you’re supposed to be together. I don’t know what happened with that Lucas bloke, but he’s not someone you ditch Ciarán for.”

“H-how is th-this about my love life?” I snarled. “I’m n-not with either of them. Wh-when d-d-d-did you become the kind of girl wh-who thinks someone is f-f-failing unless they’ve got a sodding b-boyfriend?” How dare she say I was dangling him! I had reasons – good reasons – for not getting involved with Ciarán again. I don’t deserve him I squashed the thought under a layer of fury. Who did Amy think she was? After everything I’d been through, I was selfish?

“H-has it occurred to you that m-maybe there’s m-more to it? That we’re n-not supposed to be t-together? Or were you so b-busy with your great n-new life you n-never th-thought?!” I snapped in a tone I would never in a million years have thought I’d ever use on Amy.

Instead of recoiling, Amy leaned into blast. “I know that you’re frigging everything up for some stupid reason you won’t explain! I know you’re so busy playing the martyr you don’t care you’re hurting anyone else!”

“Shut. Up.” The words whipped out of me on an electrical charge that left a burnt taste in my mouth. I saw them hit my sister. I saw them work. Her scowl went from anger – and a certain reckless enjoyment that we were airing the things that bothered her at last – to surprise and consternation when she opened her mouth and no words came out. Amy shook her head as if to clear it and tried again. Mouth open. Mouth closed. No words. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so awful.

Two weeks ago, I’d told someone else not to speak and they never had again. Admittedly Rhys had died soon after. Maybe it would have worn off. But what if I’d robbed Amy of her voice forever?

Amy looked up at me, mouth still working. Her anger had collapsed and she seemed to be trying to laugh but there was a hint of panic in her eyes.

“Amy? Oh shit. Amy sp-speak to me,” I half-reached for her and then let my hands drop. “Speak.” The word sizzled on my tongue. I closed my eyes in shame.

“Okay. That was weird,” Amy said, sounding freaked out.

“Um…” Relief mingled with the horror in my twisting gut.

“You know when you have something you want to say on the tip of your tongue and you just can’t get the words out?” Amy said, disturbingly calm.

I raised an eyebrow at her, feeling sick. My hands were shaking.

“Of course you do,” Amy went on conversationally. “Well that was nothing like that.”

I forced myself to meet her gaze. “W-what do you m-mean?”

“I mean it was like someone was actively stopping me from talking.” She gave me an odd look and I wilted under her scrutiny.

Now. Tell her. Now is the time. Explain about Rhys and his ability which is now yours. Tell her what you did and why you can never be with Ciarán. Make her understand…

“Wuh-weird,” I murmured.

Amy looked disappointed for a moment, then set her shoulders as if steeling herself. “Did you… you didn’t…do that? …did you?”

“What?” I vacillated between coming clean, explaining about the unwanted extra ability – that using it had been an accident – and saying nothing because I wanted Amy’s good opinion. I was horrified at the evidence of Rhys’ evil ability within me. But there was something else stopping me. That same stiff pride that quelled my horror, which told me I had made my decisions and did not need to explain myself to anyone. That I knew what was best and since I was the one who had to live with everything I’d done, it was my business, no one else’s.

Amy’s composure was being overtaken by bewilderment. I was sure she knew it was my fault, but she couldn’t see how it could be and doubted herself. Before she could reason her way through it, I leapt on that doubt. Encouraged it.

“S-sometimes I g-get so angry I l-l-literally can’t speak,” I offered. Maybe that’s what happened to you.

“Yeah but…” She shook her head again. We both heard the unspoken words. Yeah but you have speech problems.

“I’m suh-sorry,” I said miserably. Sorry I can’t tell you. Sorry about Ciarán. Sorry I just silenced you. Sorry I was angry and scared and possessive. Let her take it anyway she liked.

“Me too. I’m sorry I yelled at you. If you want to tell me anything…” She shrugged. “I’m here, is what I’m saying. When you’re ready.”

“Th-thanks.” I tried not to sound sour. “Th-think I’m going to go for a walk. Clear my h-head. It’s hurting today.” Maybe if I made it sound like one of the headaches I got on a fairly regular basis, Amy would put my bad mood and the resulting argument down to that.

“Do you want me to come?” Amy said.

“I’m n-not good company r-right now.”

Amy looked at me properly for the first time. “You’re mega pale, Em. And your eyes… Did you sleep alright? You don’t look well. Are you sure you should be going anywhere?”

“M’fine,” I murmured. “R-really. J-just need some fr-fresh air.”

“O-kay,” Amy said doubtfully but I was already returning to my room.

Launch Day – And a Free Book!

Ok, it’s finally here. Launch day for the second novel in the Unveiled series. I have been a bit rubbish about promoting ‘I am the Silence‘ here  – possibly giving in to my natural urge as a writer to hide whenever a book I’ve written is released.

Anyway, the usual anxieties around book releases aside, I am really excited that Book 2 is now available. I feel that I’ve really found my voice with this book and that it’s even better than ‘I Belong to the Earth‘ – and it appears there is a growing consensus of opinion to that end, so it’s nice to know that I am not entirely delusional 😉

Released 19th January 2017 ebook and paperback

“Have you found your inner darkness, Emily Lynette?”

A year after breaking the Pattern, Emlynn no longer fights her gift. She’s become adept at sending the Dead on to rest. Perhaps a little too good…

Sent to investigate reports of a haunting, Emlynn finds herself facing a crushing embarrassment, and worse, a deep betrayal. Deciding it’s time to leave the supernatural alone for a while, she travels to Dorset to stay with her childhood best friend, Beth. The Milton Abbey festival of music should take her mind off everything; Ghosts, betrayals and disappointments. Except Beth has changed. She’s definitely running with a new crowd – a cooler, dangerous group whose leader, Rhys, has an unhealthy interest in Emlynn.

As if that isn’t enough, Emlynn’s violin tutor turns out to be a young man she used to know. Lucas has definitely changed – hostile, volatile and rude, but also intense and disturbingly compelling. That’s one mystery Emlynn can’t leave alone. Torn between her connection with Beth’s troubled younger sister and the terrifying black beast that stalks Emlynn in her dreams, there’s no rest for the weary psychic. Facing the reality of what Beth is mixed up in, Emlynn may have finally picked a fight she cannot win…

I’ve mentioned in the acknowledgements that this was a really hard book to write and it’s no exaggeration, so I am also strangely relieved that it’s now available for general consumption. I am looking forward to hearing what you all think.

Also available for those who enjoy the Unveiled series – two novellas and a short story. You don’t have to read these before you read ‘I am the Silence’ – or at all for that matter, but there are easter eggs and snippets of back story that give a richer reading experience if you decide you want to. (Only available in ebook at present.)

 

 

 

Free Book – Ciaran’s Chance

Anyone been wondering what Ciaran has been up too since he exited stage right at the end of ‘I Belong to the Earth’? This companion novella to ‘I am the Silence’ will tell you all.

There are things we do in life that we can’t ever take back. Bad things that follow us, no matter how we wish we could change them. So I needed to find him. See the man. And the monster.’

A year after the events in Arncliffe and Ciarán is giving up hope of ever being able to return. Marked by what he did that night, he is no longer the person he thought he was. Surly, directionless and irritable, he reconnects with an old friend whilst staying with his sister. Somewhere between friendship and hatred, he starts to pick apart the strands of whatever darkness hides inside him.

A trip to find his father and confront his past turns into a nightmare that dates back centuries. Because something hunts the men of Ciarán’s family. Something ancient that cannot be reasoned with or bribed. Amongst the O’Connors, the sins of the father really are visited on the sons. If Ciarán ever wants to be able to see Emlynn again, he must succeed where all his ancestors have failed and stop the creatures that have stalked his family for generations.

This book is ONLY available through my website BUT I am giving it away FREE.

All you need to do to claim your copy is join my Readers’ Group . 

(I send newsletters around once a month or less, no spam – promise. And if you don’t like the content then you can always unsubscribe. You’ll still have the free book 😉  )

That’s it for now but there will be more updates in the days to come. I’ve been silent but extremely industrious – there are many more books on the way. Thank you for reading and to everyone who’s been part of the journey so far, and to everyone who has contacted me to ask about writing or for book recommendations or just because they liked something I’ve written. I love hearing from you – you all rock.

An especially big thank you to everyone who has reviewed my books. Seriously, authors live and die by word of mouth so every time you recommend one of my books or write me a short review (or a long one!) you are making a difference and ensuring I can write more books for you.

Ok so back to finishing book three it is then…

 

 

Back in Print and Better than Ever!

Just a quick update post to say that I Belong to the Earth is now once again available as an ebook (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). The shiny new print version will be available around mid October 2016 – I’ll keep you posted. This second edition has been tidied up, given a new and improved formatting and interior design, any errors eradicated (hopefully!) and includes the FREE and exclusive short story ‘Friendly Fire’.

All for the special introductory price of £0.99 or $0.99 -depending on where you live.

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In addition, Unveiled #1.2 – Girls’ Night In (a short story) is also available for the princely sum of £0.99/ $0.99. (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)

girls-night-in-requiem-cropped

 

Happy reading 🙂

(And if you can spare the time – whether you love it or hate it – I really appreciate an honest review – just a line or two would be great! 😉  )

P.S. Look out for this week’s episode of Dissecting Dragons on Friday 29th September 2016 – I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind the books in the Unveiled series and just why I wrote such an unusual and in many ways, disadvantaged, MC – all with my fabulous co-host, M.E.Vaughan.

Cover Reveal – I Belong to the Earth

ebook-cover-1-with-glow-png-with-catchphrase

 

Artwork copyright – J.A.Ironside

Cover Design copyright – M.E. Vaughan

From the back cover:

“There.” Grace pointed towards the moor and I saw it: there was a shape in the dark. A tall, masculine shape. No, not a man; a piece of darker darkness in the shape of a man. We were being watched.

Seventeen-year-old Emlynn knows all about grief and guilt, not to mention secrets. Being able to sense the Dead wasn’t so bad before the accident which killed her mother. Now it’s taking over her life. Broken and shut off from the world, Emlynn is horrified when her father moves the family to a remote Yorkshire vicarage: a house that stands at the centre of a centuries-old curse born of betrayal, jealousy and poisoned love. A curse that feeds on the lives of young girls. A pattern about to repeat itself once more… When her older sister, Grace, gets involved with local bad boy, Haze, Emlynn knows she has to act fast. Somehow Haze is connected to the curse. Is Grace his next intended victim? Hurtling towards another family tragedy, Emlynn must find the strength to stop running from her gift, or risk losing the rest of her family for good. Only the dead have the answers she needs. If she can bring herself to speak to them…

 

Available from Amazon on 25th September 2016 (Paperback to follow October 2017)

 

I BELONG TO THE EARTH – SECOND EDITION COVER REVEAL!

WINTER

 

I am so excited about releasing the new cover for I Belong to the Earth, that I just had to write a sort post about it.

The new cover for Book one of the Unveiled series will be released tomorrow at 6.00pm GMT.

 

If you haven’t read it yet, I Belong to the Earth is a YA paranormal fantasy about a young girl named Emlynn, who has an affinity with the Dead. After surviving a horrific car accident leaves her with brain-trauma and a strained relationship her family, Emlynn finds herself further adrift when her father moves the family to a lonely vicarage on the North Yorkshire Moors. Withdrawn and wary of trusting anyone, Emlynn wants nothing to do with her strange ability, let alone with a centuries old repeating Pattern of rage, jealousy and poisoned love. But when her hostile older sister gets involved with the local bad boy, Emlynn has to confront her power or lose the rest of her family for good. Only the Dead have the answers she needs. Rushing towards another tragedy, can she bring herself to ask them?

 

This  second edition of I Belong to the Earth will be available from Amazon on 25th September 2016. (Paperback to follow in October, release date TBC). If you happen to have read the first edition, the story has not materially changed. Instead, as a more experienced writer, I have tightened up the prose a bit and removed a few continuity errors (I’m actually surprised I didn’t get called out on those!) So the second edition is not a new book but a cleaner, better, tidier version. I promise I have not gone George Lucas on it 😉 In addition there is also a brand new, never seen before Unveiled short story included because hey, if you’re a fan, you’ve had to wait ages and that is no way to treat your readers. A gift to you from me.

 

A bit about writing the book; I Belong to the Earth is my debut novel. I’ve written more books since then but I can honestly say that I have yet to feel compelled to share a story in the same way.

I was strongly influenced by three things. Classic literature, folk lore and genuinely wondering what it must be like not to be able to read or articulate your thoughts? I mean, being able to read and to communicate is a real gift – one I had sort of been taking for granted. At this point in her half-timid, half-take-no-prisoners way, Emlynn charged in and demanded the story be told.

I also wanted to look at the relationships and power dynamics between sisters. It was something I felt I hadn’t seen enough of in books and Emlynn, together with her older sister, Grace, and younger sister, Amy, were perfect for telling that side of the story too. Some people leave you better for having known them. I can now swear to the fact that some characters do the exact same thing – and Emlynn isn’t done with me yet.

Goodies and extras; Whilst going through my files when I re-edited this book, I discovered all sorts of snippets, extras, sneaklets and short stories. The pick of the bunch will soon be available to read FREE here on my website. Look out for the ‘extras’ button on the main menu.

See the new cover tomorrow at 6.00pm  GMT on my tumblr, facebook, webpage and goodreads.

 

 

I’m temporarily out of print but…

WINTER

I decided after much soul searching that it just wasn’t working out with my old publishers, so we have amicably parted ways. (Since then, they have shut down. Pretty sure it wasn’t anything to do with me – more in a future blog post maybe?) So I have my rights back but I Belong to the Earth is temporarily out of print. I say temporarily because I will be releasing all of the Unveiled books, short stories and novellas under my own imprint. This means that those of you waiting patiently for book 2 – I am the Silence have just had the release date brought forward by 18 months. Can I get a whoop whoop?

Anyway, for those of you interested, I thought I’d provide a release schedule of dates to keep an eye out for:

 

Unveiled Book 1- I Belong to the Earth (second edition, new content, new artwork) release in ebook – 20th September 2016, in paper back – 10th October 2016 (roughly).

Unveiled short story – Girls’ Night In ebook release – 27th September  2016

Unveiled Novella #1.5 – Amazing Grace ebook release – 1st October 2016

Unveiled Novella #1.9 – Amy’s Academicals ebook release – 30th October 2016

Unveiled Book 2 – I am the Silence – ebook & paperback release – 19th January 2017

Unveiled short story – The Black Dog of Lyme – ebook release – 25th January 2017

Unveiled Novella #2.1 – Ciaran’s Chance – ebook release 2017 … or is it 😉 (Check back, you won’t hear Ciaran’s story anywhere else!)

Unveiled Book 3 – I Hold the Tide – ebook and paperback release June 2017 (approx)

Unveiled Novella #3.5 – untitled – ebook release July 2017

Unveiled Book 4 – I Rule the Night – ebook and paperback release December 2017

There will be regular cover reveals, short stories, other novellas and freebies coming up so keep your eyes peeled!

Hopefully I’ve given you all something to look forward too. However, if you’ve read book one and you just cannot wait until January, I will be giving away an e-sampler of the first five chapters of I am the Silence free, here on my website. (If the ‘Get your free Sneaklet’ button isn’t up on the main menu yet, please check back later. Otherwise, click away and find out what is in store for Emlynn in book 2.)

Finally, in the next couple of weeks Emlynn will be visiting haunted houses and other spooky areas all over Britain. Check back for more details or follow #EmlynnsTrail on twitter, instagram and tumblr.

 

Throw back Thursday: Announcing the First Novel

(Originally posted on my old blog 29th July 2014 – how time flies. I can now look back on this with nostalgia and affection rather than terror 😉  )

3D-IBttEedited

Since the good folks at illusio and baqer have given the signal, I can now talk about my debut novel, I Belong to the Earth, which is due in early 2015.
Here is the announcement. 
What to say about my book? Having spoken to a lot of other writers now, I can safely say that when you’re starting out, talking about your writing is very difficult. There is a first 15mins, half an hour when all you seem to be doing is making ‘gluh’ type sounds as you attempt to unglue your tongue from your soft palate. At the same time this is absolutely your favorite subject. This is your passion. You care about this in a way that is unique. All wrapped up – it’s like having visited the country on the other side of the wardrobe only to be forbidden to talk about it. Magic is real…but don’t upset the world’s equilibrium by telling anyone.
It’s maddening to say the least.
That aside there are a few things I can tell you. I did manage to stumble through a few questions when asked them by a non-writer friend.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Three places. Firstly, although my earliest memories go back to when I was eight months old (reliably), I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. I know I learned but I could read before I went to primary school, to an extent, before I went to nursery school. The thought came to me one day ‘what if I couldn’t read?’ closely followed by ‘what if my ability to read, my ability to articulate, was taken away from me?’ This forms one of the early plot points of the book.
Secondly, while I haven’t re-written Wuthering Heights, I am heartily sick of it being described as a love story – especially in YA fiction. It’s so much cleverer and more multi-layered than that. I’m also a bit fed up of love triangles as a trope in YA fiction. What if there was real jeopardy involved? What if the MC is not trying to chose between two boys, what if she is choosing between her boyfriend and her sister? What if she is the lowest point of the triangle? I wanted to take both ideas and turn them on their head, or in the case of Wuthering Heights, put it right way up again.
Thirdly and finally, the dynamic between sisters. It’s a complicated relationship, especially growing up. Take three utterly diverse personalities that spark and clash, each one trying to take up the mantle of ‘lady of the house’ without being fully aware of the fact, and force them to live in close proximity. Worse still, they all love each other but so much has happened to the three sisters in the story, that they’ve lost sight of that. Add a few other pressures in and… BANG. No one can get under your skin like a sibling. You can have a dirty, no-holds barred fight with them in a way you couldn’t with anyone else, even a spouse. And the closer you are to each other, the more you really hate each other at times too. Looking at that, I can’t imagine why I wanted to explore that relationship but I did.
Why write an urban fantasy or a ghost story?
Why not? Seriously though, 98% of what I write comes out with a speculative twist, even when I don’t intend it too. In a practical sense, a  tale ‘of ghosts and goblins’ reinforced the inability of Emlynn, the main character, to talk about the problems or seek help. It forced her to dig deep and try to communicate with people when all she had been doing after the ‘accident’ was hiding; closing herself off from the world.
Besides, everyone needs a good scare 😉
Did the story turn out exactly as you expected?
Er no… I knew roughly how it would end. I always do when I start writing. But I had no idea how I would get there. In this case, since it’s a paranormal mystery as well, I had no idea who dunnit until I wrote through it – which I did in 14 hrs straight for the last quarter of the book – I just had to know how it all tied up. It was a bit of an eye opener! Not going to say more here 😉
There were other questions but I think that’s probably enough for now. Maybe you’ll get to meet Emlynn in another blog.
Just pray you don’t meet Haze…

 

Unquiet – Why do we Write and Read Ghost Stories?

On the nature of fear in literature and the role disquiet plays in a story. Please note, the original blog was first published on Blog Z.
 
Why do tales of terror appeal to the human mind?
I never set out to write a ghost story. I didn’t consider when I started writing I Belong to the Earth that it would contain scenes that were genuinely scary. I don’t find typical “scary” stories frightening myself, so if I’d thought about it, I would have felt that I was unqualified to write something that induced fear in other people.
And yet. 
J.A. Ironside's upcoming book: I Belong to the Earth
 
I’ve had a lot of feedback to say that much of the paranormal stuff I write is in fact quite frightening, or at least disturbing or unsettling. It’s led me to question why exactly we need (not just want) to tell stories, one of the aims of which is to scare others. It’s hardly a new trend. There are ghost stories, vampire stories, tales of demons and possession, and tales of lycanthropy and witches that date back to ancient Egypt, appear in the Bible, or can be found in classical literature from ancient Rome or Greece. The Aborigines have their own culture of ghost stories. So do the Chinese, the Japanese, and pretty much all of the remaining tribal cultures in Africa.  When you consider their existence, across cultures where there has been little contact until relatively recently, it’s clear that “scary” stories are a deeply ingrained part of the human psyche.
My theory is that the safe introduction and management of fear, with mastery of fear as its ultimate goal, evolved right along with the earliest method of storytelling. We humans are hard-wired to learn better via story—think of the vast bodies of myth, fairy tales (especially the non-sanitized versions), and lore that extend back through time behind us. While stories (books) are now largely about entertainment, once they were primarily about teaching. Learning from one another’s experiences. And fear is useful. It engages the fight or flight system as adrenaline spikes the blood stream and the heart beats faster. A story told by one Cro-Magnon to another about escaping an animal attack is a learning experience tagged with fear. That’s a powerful combination and not one that’s likely to be forgotten.
What about modern ghost stories? What purpose do they serve? The point of them, after all, is to frighten you with something intangible, inexplicable. Something that cannot be held off with physical force or that you can run away from. This is beyond the scope of a simple learning tale and still we keep coming back for a dose of fear. There is an argument that suggests there is an endorphin-based, feel-good factor at the relief of a “scary” story ending. Whether the monster is defeated or triumphs, you experience a delicious, almost forbidden chill without really risking anything because it’s “just a story.” There may be some truth to this. Personally, I think the truth is something a bit more complicated.
Humans are reason makers. Our brains are basically modelling systems; we take input from our five senses and create a mental image of what stimulated that input. Usually it’s something we recognise. Everything is safe. Shields down. But what about when we can’t make sense of what our senses are telling us? Do we people the world with half-glimpsed, supernatural creatures, possibly stalking us with ill intent? Actually it would make sense to do that. Once upon a time, when we were still prey, the rustling of the grass might have been the wind or it might have indicated the presence of a predator. Our ancestors would have lost nothing in believing that there was a tiger crouching in wait when there wasn’t. The assumption that every strange noise was just imagination or the wind would have been deadly!
Modern scary stories, modern ghosts and ghouls, allow us to confront a different set of predators. Intangible, without strict physical form, but no less real than the stalking tiger. In a ghost story, the ghost often represents part of the protagonist’s nature that has been repressed—Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger is an excellent—and truly chilling—example of this. The ghost may also represent another stage in the protagonist’s life as opposed to the present: perhaps what and who a protagonist will turn into if they don’t make an effort to change their current trajectory. Perhaps it’s a tragic, nostalgic visitation representing a time the protagonist wants to get back—there’s an element of this in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. And then there are ghosts that live out repeated patterns of behaviour until the protagonist succeeds or fails in righting the wrong that set that pattern. In ghost stories we face, and ideally defeat, the id: the parts of ourselves that are destructive and dangerous.
All of these mental chimeras can also represent those external things we are truly afraid will consume us today. In their simplest form, ghost stories allow us to tackle the subject of death from a cosy armchair. In the West, it is very unusual nowadays to have any regular contact with dead bodies, unless you work in healthcare, the police force or the military. Where it was once usual for a family member to die at home, now we’re removed from the process. It’s deepened our sense of the unknown, which in turn has deepened our fear of death.
Scary stories may also represent our fear of being swallowed by “the system,” of disease, of loss of personal freedom, of current world events…the list is a long one. Ultimately, ghost stories allow us to confront fear, helplessness, and the unknown in a safe way. By empathising and striving with the protagonist towards a resolution, perhaps we are able to step out of ourselves, are able to look at the formless fears that haunt us, and see a way of combating and triumphing against them.
Whether you read them for entertainment, for that illicit rush of fear, or as analysis of the human mind, ghost stories are here to stay.
I think that’s a good thing.