Tag Archives: Horror

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.

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)

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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.

Throw back Thursday: Wearing the Editor’s Hat

(Originally posted on my old blog 29th July 2014)
So what have I been working on recently? Well it’s a bit of a step away from my forthcoming book and its sequels, but I’m really proud of the result. Here is a bit about this anthology of reflected tales, which will be available from amazon, kobo, barnes & noble, apple, nook, smashwords etc and from createspace as a paperback from 7th August 2014.
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‘How can I read the futures if I cannot see your skin?’

Six mysterious swans glide on a holographic pond in a totalitarian capital city.  A terrified girl awaits her part in a ritual that could change the future… and the past. A dancer in ancient Jerusalem mourns her maimed sister and prepares for the performance of her life.  A sword of legend sends its wielder back through the fiercest battles in history. A freshly qualified vampire hunter experiences the practical side of his vocation. Fourteen intriguing, dramatic, humorous and unsettling tales,  inspired by existing stories and reflecting the breadth of storytelling from Greek myth to Hammer Horror, via fairy tales and Arthurian legend.

It’s good stuff…and yeah, maybe I am a little biased, but that doesn’t stop it being 260 pages of quality writing 😉

Wearing the Editor’s Hat

This was a completely new experience for me and to say that it was a little scary would be an understatement. Exhilerating, exciting, fascinating – but definitely a little scary.

My friend and co-editor, Matthew Willis, (author of the fab age of sail historical fantasy,Daedalus and the Deep) came up with the idea, when he noticed how many of our writing group RASSSA) had written stories that were re-tellings of old tales and myths. No sooner had the words ‘we should pull together an anthology’ tripped off his keyboard and onto the group wall and I was all over that like white on rice.

Incidently there is a similarity in how I embrace a project and how I make friends. If you have ever read AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – think Tigger…

Luckily Matt was happy or at least resigned to having me on board as co-editor and it’s been quite a learning curve!

Firstly we set a date – approx three months away – when we would want submissions for the anthology in by. We then allowed ourselves two weeks to sift through and decide what to include. Luckily we had fellow author, Shell Bromley, to help or we might just have become hypnotised by the flow of words!

In some ways I think the selection process was the hardest part. I had had short stories published in the past and, while I’d never said anything aloud, had wondered why it took such a long time to get a yay or a nay. The reason is quality. If you have a large proportion of stories that are badly written, unimaginative, poorly spelled, grammatically incorrect or just plain lazy, it’s easy to cut those out. Our problem was that none of the stories were poor. The standard was universally high. In the end the three of us had an online meeting courtesy of google+ chatrooms and picked out the 14 stories that made it into the anthology.

The authors who’d made it in were notified and so were the authors who didn’t. We all agreed on this last as a courtesy – it’s very annoying when you never hear anything back about a submission. We went further and offered feedback and suggestions on where the rejected stories might find a home. In all honesty, if this had been open to more than just The Randoms, we might not have been able to do this. It does allow you to see things through an editor’s eyes – when you get a bog standard form rejection, it really isn’t personal: they’re just really busy. On the other hand a line or two of feedback means you genuinely wowed someone – so be pleased, it’s a partial success.

From there it was a fiddly, complicated process of copyditing the stories and returning the proofs for approval to each author. (Legally no one can make changes to your work without your permission). Formatting the returned proofs into a book – this took a while as it had to be done individually for four different formats (I think I now have the hang of it and can do it a lot quicker though ), proof-reading – by two proof-readers (and thank you so much for all those reverse apostrophes by the way…yes you know who you are lol) and finally getting it all uploaded on various platforms ready for distribution.

Yes, you can find companies that will do all of this for you from £800+ or individuals who will do specific parts for significantly less but we decided from the beginning that we wanted full creative control and moreover, we wanted to out lay as little as possible. This worked fine for us since between us all we had the necessary skills in the group. It did pique my sympathy for go-it-alone authors who can’t afford professional level copyediting, proof-reading, cover design etc – it has to be really tough on your own.

The cover was mostly designed by Matt. He’ll generously say it was a joint effort but really he did the donkey work and I looked at fonts and paint samples. A good cover is deceptive – it looks simple but actually a huge amount of work has gone into it – google ‘the golden mean’ if you don’t believe me.

Anyway we pulled it together and I still get a little choked up looking at it all – the way everyone’s stories enhance the whole, rather than one strong story pulling away or detracting from the others. There’s no jumble here: the standard is universally high. So I’m honoured to be a part of this and really proud of The Random Writers. They rock, one and all.

As a final sidebar, we didn’t just leave our stories there. If you check out the Random Writers website, you’ll find weekly blog posts on being part of the group, individual’s writing processes  and a piece of FREE flash fiction to complement the worlds the stories from the anthology encompasses. Take a peek – just to whet your appetite.

And in short, that’s what it’s like being an editor: a tough business.

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…

 

Dark and Whimsical: An Author Interview with C.J. Waller

(Originally posted on my other blog 14th April 2015. It is to be noted that    C J later got her own back by interviewing me. You can see the rematch here.)
11088235_773195542788332_5153059586168623674_nI am delighted to be able to introduce fellow author and Mistress of Madness, C J Waller, who has kindly agreed to grace my blog with an author interview.  C J is the author of the Lovecraftian novella ‘Black Smokers’ and the bestselling novel ‘Predator X’. Her most recent release ‘Nine Eyes’, has more than a few of us readers wondering just how her mind works … and if we can possibly have a slice of her brain to duplicate and ingest in the hopes of gaining some of her powers. Since she is clearly in with the dark gods, it probably isn’t a good idea to make this last request, so without further ado – C J Waller everyone!
 Describe yourself in seven words:
Short, round, ginger, neurotic, curious, artistic, emotional.
Who is your favourite character in literature and why?
Jeeeeesus (no, not him!), you like to start with all the hard questions. Ironically, none of Lovecraft’s. Lovecraft’s strength was in his ideas about reality, not his characterisation. I find I am more drawn to ideas than characters, if I am honest. Mark Z. Danielewski’s The House of Leaves sums this up perfectly – the characters were all assholes of the first order, but the house, and what was going on in the house, is what absolutely captivated me. But since this is about characters: off the top of my head and without going upstairs to look at my bookcase… it’s a toss up between Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld. Both immensely strong characters, written with tact and finesse. Also, the Monster from Frankenstein, who manages to sum up perfectly what it is to be human without actually being human. His infinite love and infinite cruelty is something we see every single day around us. Even though that book was written about 8 million years ago, it is still relevant today.
In comparison, who is your favourite character that you’ve written and why?
In my published works, probably Mags. She’s the electrician in Nine Eyes, and she was the first character to turn up in my head after Paul and Decker. She felt a very honest character to write. It was fun to torture her, too.
In Predator X, it has to be Yuri. To explore that far down the rabbit hole and write someone who’s gone completely and unreservedly nuts… that was a hell of a lot of fun.
In my unpublished works, Kailas.  He’s the quintessential tall, dark and screwed-up warrior.  He’s also pretty much my ideal man. I like going back to him.
My husband doesn’t know this.
I know you write other genres as well but in this instance why inexplicable monsters? What draws you personally to the elder gods/ lovecraftian creatures/ primordial deities?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to this idea that reality is but a thin veil, and what’s actually out there is far more complex and terrifying than we could ever comprehend. I remember squishing my eyes shut against the palms of my hands and watching the pretty lights behind them (come on, we’ve all done it… and if you haven’t, give it a go! It’s a trip!) – and once, I was absolutely positive I saw a map. I think I was about 9 or so. Then I read stuff like Erich Von Daniken, and my mind was blown… THERE IS STUFF GOING ON THAT NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN!! I loved that – the whole ‘World Of The Strange’ stuff. I remember trailing around after my Mum in the garden, boring the hell out of her with my childish ideas about God being an astronaut and how there were definitely aliens out there. Lovecraft followed soon after, and then I branched out to other stuff like Shaver (just don’t do what I did in my single minded desire to know everything about all things weird – please, for the love of everything dark and unholy, don’t google Dick Shaver. Just don’t. I did. It didn’t go well). Then I discovered stuff like Chaos Magick and even some aspects of Physics (the idea of dimonsions and interdimensionality, that what we perceive is only a very small part of the actual universe and that it is stranger than anything we ever imagined etc), which is kind of funny since I can’t count – but the ideas fascinate me. When there’s stuff like that going on around us, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to explore everyday, mundane things. I am Sadie Decker (the antagonist from Nine Eyes). I want to know. And if I can’t know, then I am going to imagine it, to the best of my ability.
Authors often get asked ‘where do you get your ideas?’ when really the better question is ‘how do you make the ideas give you five minutes peace?’ So My question is how do you go about translating your ideas from your imagination to the page?
I always handwrite my first draft. I’m very lucky that a friend of mine is a touch typist with time on her hands (hello, Jane!), and she types up my scrawl as I go along. I find thinking and typing hard – I much prefer the feel of a pen and the ability to scribble all over the page. I have whole notebooks of random ideas (“Yes! Poisonous cats!”), and big A3 pages covered in brainstorms. As for my ideas giving me peace… they don’t. I am that woman who mutters to herself as she walks down the road. I haven’t had a day in my life in which I haven’t explored at least one made-up scene in my head.
Which aspect of the writing process do you find most painful or difficult?
That moment, usually around chapter 4, when the initial steam has worn off and you’ve yet to hit your stride is hard. And that moment of utter helplessness when you look at your mess of a first draft and think ‘Oh, God… how am I supposed to deal with this? It’s hopeless!’
Which aspect is the easiest or most fun?
I love that point when you’re immersed in a story, and you know exactly where you’re going with it, and you’re finding out about your characters and they are totally playing ball with you… that’s when a story is at its most pure, at its most raw and honest. It belongs to you, and you alone, and it’s a wonderful, intimate moment. Yes, it’s messy, and yes, the writing is functionally crap, but that relationship… once your book is out there, it’s gone. You will never get that back. It belongs to other people (for good or for bad); they own it now. You have to step back graciously and let them form relationships with those characters. They aren’t yours any more.
What do you think ‘monsters’, your monsters in particular, say about the human psyche? (If anything!)
What is it with all the hard questions, eh?! I find that most ‘mainstream’ monsters actually define humans (they tend to triumph over them in some way, or in the case of vampires, break them completely and turn them into boyfiriends), which is why I think I’m drawn to ones humanity simply can’t beat. I like bleak. Humans are pretty much up themselves most of the time, thinking we’re the bee’s knees and the very pinnacle of evolution, but we’re not – and I think having these huge, unfeeling beings (monsters, if you will) that basically treat us the same way we treat gnats is very important – and very scary. It’s one of the central ideas in Cosmic Horror. We are not All That. We are very far from All That. Now, it might not be a tentacled monster from beyond time that breaks us, but it will happen – it’s inevitable.
Which I don’t think answers the question, but uh, yeah. Sorry!
Which writer(s) do you admire most and what influence do you think they have had on your writing?
Without a doubt, the late (sob!) great Terry Pratchett. That man was amazing. The worlds he created, the humour in which he presented them and the unforgiving mirror he held up to our own world… the man was/is a legend. Also, Clive Barker. He taught me that the grotesque can also be beautiful. If you haven’t already, read Weaveworld. Immacolata is both terrifying and completely seductive, but also vulnerable – a great character. Lovecraft introduced me to the wonderful world of adjectives (and the Word Cloud cured me of the dire case of adjectivitis I caught from him). And Robert Rankin to the complete absurd. Plus, Neil Gaiman. I met him just before Black Smokers was released (my novella), and I told him about my dreams to be a writer. He said to follow them, but to be honest about it. Then I told him I had a novella coming out and a 3 book indie deal, and he just smiled and said ‘it sounds to me as if you’ve already made it’. Then he wrote ‘Keep making wonderful mistakes’ in my copy of ‘Make Good Art’. I look at that when it all gets a bit much. Keep making wonderful mistakes. What a great piece of advice.
Tell us one random fact about yourself;
I have no idea what I am doing half the time, and I live my entire life in fear of Being Asked Questions Later and people finding out that I am just crossing my fingers and winging it.
What makes you really laugh?
Anything silly, filthy or sarcastic. Our Friday night roleplaying sessions. Seriously, they are the best fun ever – 6 people round a table, taking the mick out of each other for 5 hours whilst pretending to be elves and dwarves (or, in our case, half orcs and tieflings. Elves get a lot of flak in our sessions. Everyone starts off playing elves because they are pretty and noble, but you soon learn it is much more fun to play a stupid half orc, or a crusty dwarf – or, in my case, a tiefling rogue with a charisma of 8. She ain’t pretty, and she swears like a docker. I like that). Oh, and Kevin Eldon’s clone in the BBC comedy ‘Hyperdrive’. “I punched a snail once”. Classic.
What annoys you most?
The usual stuff: ignorant people hating on things because they don’t understand them; the inherent bigotry present in our political classes; people who can’t leave their phones alone for 5 minutes. Seriously, you’re not that important. No one is that important. Put the damn thing down and enjoy yourself for a change. Enjoy the moment for what it is and not for the bragging rights you get on social media afterwards.
You have to save one mythical creature from extinction; which creature and why?
That’s like asking me to choose one chocolate from the tin! Okay, the pliosaurs. Why? LOOK AT THEM! Seriously, go google Liopleurodon. Who would not want to see that in the flesh? Simply awesome. And they were real! Imagine that swimming around in our oceans. Forget whale watching – I’d be pliosaur watching (if I wasn’t terrified it would probably just eat the boat).
What is your ‘desert island’ book?
Probably my Necromomicon: The Collective Works of HP Lovecraft, with a copy of Good Omens by Pratchett / Gaiman hidden in the back cover. Unless I can shove everything Terry Pratchett wrote into one big compendium and haul it around on a trailer behind me (but I think that might be cheating).
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m planning a sequel to Predator X whilst finishing up a rewrite for a contemporary YA reimagining of The Island of Dr Moreau called (tentatively, because I change the titles of my books more often than I change my knickers) Chimera. Which makes me sound all arty-farty and like I know what I’m doing. (I don’t.)
What are your writing plans for the future?
To keep on writing? Is that an answer? I have so many stories rattling around up there – some horror, some fantasy, even a Cyberpunk one – I wish someone would invent an ideas-scoop so I could get them all out easily and splatter them across the page (I envision said scoop would look like a pimped-up ice cream scoop that you totally jam into your head and have a good wiggle around, collecting up all the ideas before you literally chuck them at a blank canvas). I also want to get Dragonsoul, my fantasy novel, published at some point. Mainly because I’ve devoted 6 bloody years of my life to it, but also because everyone deserves Kailas in their life. Obviously, I’d like the usual stuff, too – to secure an agent and have a crack at the Big 5 – but writing genre fiction in the UK kind of restricts you in that – more agents actively say ‘no SFF/Horror’ that specifically say they represent it, which is a bit demoralising. But that’s where independent presses come in.
What’s your one piece of advice for hopeful writers?
If I can do it, anyone can. I’m serious. I’m nothing special. Most writers aren’t – most of them were just in the right place at the right time. And all that bollocks about thick skins and not giving a crap about what anyone says? I’m not sure that’s helpful. We writers tend to be a bit fragile by nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I felt a failure for ages because I couldn’t develop that ‘I don’t care what you think’ attitude. I have a famously thin skin and am horribly neurotic about everything (to this day, I avoid Goodreads, because that place terrifies me. It’s just so *huge*…), but it hasn’t stopped me. Let the criticism hurt – but never, ever dismiss it. Yes, you have to learn to filter, otherwise you’ll end up writing for others and not for yourself, but keep an open mind at all times. Keep working, keep honing, keep polishing. And never surrender. Never give up. Ever.
Tell us a sneaky bit about Nine Eyes that isn’t in the blurb? Anything we should watch out for?
It was a risk, given I knew it might divide audiences, but the two main protagonists are in a gay relationship. The concept wasn’t conceived that way, and I didn’t do it to be hip or up my Right On quota, but was simply a matter of the two main characters, Paul and Decker, arriving in my head, hand in hand, telling me they were a couple. I literally couldn’t have written that central relationship any other way – for me, the dynamic just worked. I know there will be people who have an issue with that, but that’s their problem. Life is a broad canvas, and books, no matter what their genre, should represent that.
It’s also a story about family. There’s tragedy in there. What happened to Decker, and to his father – coming up with that stuff (and being a mother of two young kids) was sometimes hard. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried when I wrote some of it. It’s not all interdimensional beasties from beyond time and space.
So there you have it. A sneak peek at C J Waller’s pictureque but probably quite scary inner landscape. Thank you C J!
nine eyes
Nine Eyes  is available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com – grab your copy today; you’re in for a dark treat. If you haven’t already, why not try Predator X while you’re at it? 😉
You can follow C J on twitter  @ADarkWhimsy
Or check out her Blog
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For more from Severed Press click here.