Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Monday, 24 February 2020

Women In Horror: Keris McDonald

I’m Keris McDonald, horror/fantasy writer. And I’m Janine Ashbless, writer of erotica — both
hardcore and romantic. In fact until recently all my social media presence was under the “Janine” name and I’ve only Come Out on Facebook in the last few weeks, after I got a gig writing for the Chaosium games company.

So I've been thinking about Erotica v. Horror. Two separate genres, though clearly there is a potential overlap, as there is between all forms of genre fiction. I actually started out my career writing horror, then switched to erotica for many years (thus, incidentally, working my way down the literary pecking order. Some big name horror writers do write the smutty stuff, or have done in the past. But they like to keep that a secret). Nowadays I seem to be veering back toward horror somewhat.
The two genres actually have a whole lot in common, I believe:
  1. People outside your genre assume you’re some dodgy weirdo who can’t separate their fiction from real life and probably shouldn’t be left alone with small children or pets. Yet when you meet fellow authors it turns out that pretty much everyone inside the genre is unassuming, shy and rather kind.
  2. The plot structure is often similar for both genres. They both work really well (best, many might say) as short stories. In both Horror and Erotica the ideal is to end at the dramatic (or literal) climax, with no cooling off period. In longer fiction the aim is to create an ascending ladder of excitement in the reader's mind, based on set-piece scenes interspersed with tension-ratcheting lulls.
  3. The author above all aims to evoke a visceral reaction - whether fear or arousal. The best horror or erotica stories bypass the rational brain and go straight to the body. They make the heart race (in both cases) and they make the skin crawl or the genitals swell. These are primaeval responses designed to cope with crisis real-life stimuli, and to be able to evoke these reactions by the written word alone takes a surprising amount of skill. You are wresting control from the reader - and that thrill is exactly what fans like.
  4. Because this is a stimulus-response reaction, even the most keen readers in both genres can become jaded. This may lead authors toward a dangerous trap of making the stimulus stronger (MORE BLOOD AND GUTS! / BIGGER ORGIES! HUGE STRAP-ONS!), but this is not a game the writer can win in the long run. Far better, in my opinion, to sneak up on the reader with something they hadn't anticipated, and reveal to them the depths of their vulnerability. If you can convince readers of the devastating allure of a hole in a woollen stocking (like in The Piano) or the terror inherent in a closed door (like in The Monkey's Paw), then you are doing it right as a writer.
  5. Both genres are inherently subversive. They aim to convince you to suspend your faith in the laws of society, in the normal tropes of interaction between people, and to accept - temporarily - that there might be other, often more powerful and dangerous, possibilities. They both say "What if the world didn't work the way people tell you it does?" Both genres draw their power from overturning social consensus and restrictions.
Keris McDonald’s short stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, All Hallows and Weird Tales magazines, and in the anthologies At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Hauntings, Impossible Spaces, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, Genius Loci, Dark Voices, Terror Tales of Yorkshire, The Scent of Tears, Legends vol. 3, and The Forgotten and the Fantastical Vol.5. Her story “The Coat Off His back” was picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #7. She is one-third of Lovecraftian collection The Private Life of Elder Things.
Keris lives in Yorkshire with her husband, dogs and library. She’s a keen table-top-roleplayer and LARPer and has just worked out she’s been playing Dungeons and Dragons for forty years now. Her mother has given up expecting better of her.

If you are interested in reading examples of Keris’ erotica that she’d class as horror too, try:
Lord Montague's Last Ride in Cruel Enchantment
Cold Hands, Warm Heart in Dark Enchantment
At Usher's Well in Fierce Enchantments





Friday, 21 February 2020

Women In Horror: Catherine Cavendish on Playing The Devil's Games

Earlier this month, I extended an open invite to any women working in the horror genre to contribute a guest blog. One respondent was Catherine Cavendish, who features today with a piece about her new novel, The Garden Of Bewitchment. Read on...


The Garden of Bewitchment is a demonic toy in my new novel of the same name and those who encounter it have some unpleasant and scary experiences. They get caught up in its devilish devices until nothing is as it appears to be and sanity comes at a premium.
They didn’t have a choice. YOU, on the other hand, do. It’s up to you whether you decide to draw the curtains and curl up on a winter’s evening, with a nice cosy book or movie – or take a walk on the wilder side and go on a supernatural adventure of your own. As I said, it is entirely YOUR choice…
Ah, I see you’re still here, that must mean you have decided to play. Proceed by all means, but remember, the devil extracts a price and he isn’t too particular who pays…or how…and he changes the rules to suit himself.
Red Book
Here’s a nice little fortune telling game from South America. For this you will need a quiet room, a group of trusted friends, and the following equipment:
A red hardback book containing all text – no pictures or images of any kind
One or more red candles
Matches or lighter
A question
Off you all go into your quiet room and draw the curtains. Light your candle(s) and turn off all other sources of light.
Sit in a circle and set the candle(s) in the centre
As leader, you start the proceedings. Your friends will copy your actions, one by one.
Close your eyes and place the palm of one hand on the book’s cover, ask out loud, “Red Book, may I enter your game?”
Keeping your eyes tight shut, open the book at a random page and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes and read out loud the sentence your finger has landed on. You now have your answer. Interpret it carefully before proceeding.
If the answer is negative or you cannot make any sense of it at all, contact has not been made and you must start over. If the answer is positive, you may proceed by passing the book to the next person who will follow the same instructions. Keep going until each player has asked for and received permission to enter the game.
Now you can ask your question. Close your eyes, place your palm on the book’s cover and ask it out loud.
Keep your eyes closed. Open the book randomly as before and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes, read the sentence your finger has landed on and do your best to interpret it. Each player will repeat this until all have asked their question and received the answer (whatever they have made of it).
When all questions have been asked/answered, close your eyes and place your palm on the book cover once again. Ask aloud, “Red Book, may I leave the game?”
Repeat the sequence as before, with eyes closed, open the book at a random page and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes, read the sentence out loud and, if positive, you may leave the game. If negative or nonsensical, you may not leave the game and must repeat the sequence again until your answer indicates that you may depart. Each person in the group then repeats the sequence until each has successfully left the game.
When all have departed, close the book. Blow out the candles and, lastly open the curtains and turn on the lights.
There. Nice and innocent isn’t it? Unless you break any of the rules of course. No, I’m not telling you. You really don’t want to know what happens then.
Ready for another one? Then let’s play…
Candyman

Yes, I know there’s a film of the same name. But did you know it was based on a real incident? The murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy was carried out by someone entering her apartment through the bathroom cabinet, in the Abbott Homes high rises in the Chicago Projects. It would have been entirely possible for a person to gain access this way as the adjoining apartment also had its bathroom cabinet in the same position. You can read more about this fascinating case online, but for now, let’s play the game. It’s really very simple. You’ll need to be alone. In your bathroom. In front of the mirror. Shut the door, switch off the lights, face the mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times.
The Candyman will appear – and kill you with his hook. Er – right. Well, goodbye then!
Assuming you survived (somehow), let’s play one last game:
11 Mile Road

If you have an all-consuming desire to get something, you may choose this game but you have to have nerves of steel and/or be a complete idiot to try it. You’ll need a car or motorbike of some kind – and you can’t take anyone with you. You’re well and truly on your own, mate.
To find 11 Mile Road, you need to wait until the streets round and about you are deserted, very late at night and drive to a back road inside a forest or dense wood (no, not outside it. Inside.)
Drive around the empty roads or lanes until you know you’ve found 11 Mile Road. Don’t ask me. You’ll just know. Your instinct will tell you. Just keep alert.
Now you’ve found it, think carefully. This is your last chance to turn around and get the hell out of there. Still want to continue? Right:
Don’t listen to music or turn the radio on, don’t open your windows or doors or stop the car - whatever you see or whatever happens - and keep your speed below 30 m.p.h.
You’re now on your eleven mile drive and each mile is significant. Remember, whatever happens, keep driving.
Miles one and two – you may feel a little cold and, if so, you can switch your heater on.
Mile three – movement will begin all around you. Ignore it and don’t take your eyes off the road.
Mile four – voices. Ignore them.
Mile five – the countryside may start to change and become beautiful – a lake with moonlight shimmering on the crystal waters, the forest becoming less dense. It’s so tempting to stop and look. DON’T.
Mile six – the trees become denser once more, any stars will disappear. Your headlights might flicker, the radio may start up, and appear to talk directly to you. Ignore anything and everything and don’t turn off the radio. Remember, you didn’t switch it on.
Mile seven – the voices may seem to be coming from your own back seat. Ignore them. Don’t turn around.
Mile eight – whatever happens, keep driving. If your headlights dim, slow down but never, ever stop.
Mile nine – this is when your car may stall. If it does, do nothing except close your eyes and keep them shut as you wait for the car to start again. When it does, foot down, open your eyes and drive.
Mile ten – don’t look in your mirrors and don’t turn around. This is critical.
Mile eleven – Your vehicle will stall again. This time in front of a red light. Close your eyes. Do not look at the red light. Ignore the voices. Ignore anything that grabs hold of you. Ignore everything, no matter what and keep those eyes shut. Your vehicle will restart and when it does, open your eyes, drive on a little further until you reach a dead end. Stop.
Make your wish. But don’t just wish it, see it, feel it, imagine you already have it. If it is a small item, check your pocket. You can open your eyes so, if it is a larger item, check your back seat or the trunk of your car. If your wish is for something bigger than that or something that isn’t material, drive back home and it will come to you very soon.
And that’s all there is to it. Of course, there is always a price. The flashbacks you keep having for the rest of your life and the demonic presence that comes home with you are quite a hefty price to pay. If you’re happy with that, I wish you good fortune.
Don’t play the game.
In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed. Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women. Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out. 









About Catherine Cavendish

Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter – an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, Damned by the Ancients - The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Haunted Are These Houses and Midnight in the Graveyard.

She lives in Southport with her long-suffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice should not continue).

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney. 


Friday, 14 February 2020

Things of the Week 14th February 2020: Sean Hogan, Sarah Pinborough, Graveyard Shift, World Fantasy Awards

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody, for those celebrating it (and Happy Friday whether you are or not!)

Just over nine years ago today, my novella Angels Of The Silences saw print for the first time, as a chapbook from Pendragon Press. It sold out at some speed, and was unavailable until those lovely people at Omnium Gatherum reissued it in 2016. Last year it came out for a third time, as part of my collection And Cannot Come Again, from ChiZine Press.

Readers of this blog will be only too aware of what happened with ChiZine, but for anyone who missed out on getting a copy of the collection, there are only two months to go until the new edition of And Cannot Come Again (the ebook of which is available for preorder) from Horrific Tales gets launched at StokerCon in Scarborough in April.

Good and/or interesting things are happening in respect of a couple of friends of mine:

Sarah Pinborough's new novel Dead To Her has just been released in the US. If past books like 13 Minutes, Behind Her Eyes and Cross Her Heart are any indicator, we're in for a treat.

Sean Hogan is the man responsible for the excellent supernatural thriller The Devil's Business and the documentary Future Shock! The Story Of 2000AD (not to mention the co-writer of the superb The Borderlands.) You can also avail yourself of his services as a script doctor/reader/editor, should you wish. And if you're after a free sample of what the man can do, check out his short films The Thing: 27,000 Hours and the cracking little ghost story We Always Find Ourselves In The Sea, both starring his 'good luck charm', the Northern Irish actor Billy Clarke, whom I've admired ever since watching his performance in Outpost 11.

A couple of developments on the home front have made me smile: Nancy Baker at ChiZine has informed me that And Cannot Come Again has been entered for the World Fantasy Awards. I doubt it'll stand any chance at all given the breadth and quality of work out there, but it's nice to be even slightly in the running.

And Catherine Cavendish, in a guest blog for Kendall Reviews, has listed eight favourite horror novels: alongside works by Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Hand, Ronald Malfi, J.H. Moncrieff and Hunter Shea, she lists The Feast Of All Souls. That's pretty damn good company to find myself in - so thank you, Catherine!

Well, that's all the news fit to print for now. Have a good weekend!

Monday, 10 February 2020

Things Of Last Week: Another Year Older, And Cannot Come Again Cover Reveal, Locus Recommended Reading List, Cate Gardner Collection

Well.

I'm another year older, which has long since passed the point of feeling like any sort of improvement, but as someone once said, it's preferable to the alternative. And things could be a lot worse. There are some health issues, but I'm loved and in love, with a wonderful spouse and wonderful friends, and I'm writing. That's not too bad.

Locus Magazine has published its recommended reading list of work published in 2019, which you can read here. Shout-out to the wonderful Priya Poppins, Practically Perfect In Every Way Sharma (private joke!), whose superb novella Ormeshadow is namechecked there. There are many other names I recognise, many other friends, but if I even attempt a comprehensive list I'll end up missing people out.

Also on the list is the title novella from my collection And Cannot Come Again.

On the subject of which...

As readers of my blog will know, I ended up in the not-very-fun position of having to ask people not to buy And Cannot Come Again when a host of unsavoury revelations about the publisher, ChiZine, emerged.

Luckily, the collection quickly found a great new home with Graeme Reynolds' Horrific Tales, and a new edition, containing an additional two previously unpublished stories, will be launched at StokerCon in Scarborough this April. You can preorder the ebook here.

The new edition also features a stunning cover by Ben Baldwin, which I'm delighted to present here. Huge thanks to both Graeme and Ben for their work.

Another - and particularly excellent - collection of stories is also due out soon: the ever-reigning Cate Gardner's These Foolish And Harmful Delights, which is released by Fox Spirit Books this coming weekend.

Cate is (in my admittedly biased opinion) an amazing writer (but don't take my word for it, read this interview with Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro and Georgina Bruce instead, where they all agree on this point! Also, you know, read it because Priya, Laura and George are all brilliant writers and lovely people too) and this is a fantastic collection, including some of Cate's best work. It's built around four novella-length works, interspersed with shorter fiction. The stories include Cate's BFA-nominated meditation on love and grief, When The Moon Man Knocks, the Mr Punch-themed This Foolish and Harmful Delight, and Cate's own favourite novella, Barbed Wire Hearts. And much more. She's a unique writer, and you should take the chance to acquaint yourself with your work if you haven't already.

And if the fiction wasn't reason enough, it also boasts this ravishing cover art by Daniele Serra.

That's about all the news that's fit to print on this cold and windy Monday morning, anyway. Wrap up warm, folks, and have a good week.


Friday, 7 February 2020

The Lowdown with... Kit Power

Kit Power lives in Milton Keynes and writes genre fiction that leans towards the dark side. These facts may or may not be connected. He also writes non-fiction, mainly for Gingernuts of Horror, and podcasts on various topics, including the movie Robocop. He has a Patreon, which provides early access to his fiction, non-fiction and podcasting on a weekly basis, for as little as $1 a month. He believes sleep is for the weak, and he is so very, very tired.





1.Tell us three things about yourself.I am double jointed, I was once made king of a fictional LARP land called Conovii, and I can prove that Robocop is, objectively, the greatest movie ever made.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
It was a novelette backed up by a long short story. The novelette was called The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife, and was a first-person piece exploring - or attempting to - a space where the narrator would be convinced of one thing, and the reader another. I fell short of fully pulling that off, but did end up with a satisfying ambiguity, where many readers told me confidently what was really going on, and none of them agreed on what that was. Which was pleasing. The backup story, The Debt, was a gritty low-end crime drama that I’m still very fond of. The stories were published by a small press, and have since been reissued as part of Breaking Point, which is still in print with the Sinister Horror Company.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? I’m still pretty proud of my first novel, GodBomb! I bit off way more than I could chew with that one, but I think it landed pretty well. My all-time favourite of my short pieces is a tale called The Bar at the Edge of the Desert. It’s an odd story, and told in a very oblique way, which is not my normal approach, but it has an atmosphere that (and I know you’re not supposed to say this about your own work, but) I find curiously moving.

For my non-fiction, it’s obviously got to be the book I wrote on Tommy for Electric Dreamhouse
Press - that was a dream project for me, and I’m so proud of how that book came out. Though if I had to pick a single short-form essay, it would have to be the one where I prove, beyond doubt, that Robocop is the greatest movie ever made.

4. …and which makes you cringe? Juvenilia. Luckily lost to either the mists of time or my attic. Either way, safely out of reach :)

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
Hmm. Could do with more of them, to be honest, as the day job keeps me away from the keyboard more than I’d like. I guess a good day involves 30 - 45 minutes grabbed over lunch, then an hour at the laptop once the sprog is safely tucked away. I’ll normally get some more extended time over the weekend.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? Actually, I think Breaking Point is a pretty good kick off point - it covers a range of styles, gives you a good sense of what to expect from me as a writer. And the last story in there, called Genesis, doubles as an introduction to Godbomb!, so if you enjoy it, it’ll lead to the novel nicely. It’s a good mix of splatterpunk, psychological horror and crime.

7. What are you working on now? Oh, only about a million things. I’m agonisingly close to finishing the first draft of my second novel, which I have co-authored with a friend. It’s a big departure for me, a kind of urban fantasy/science fiction novel set in the modern day, and I’m ridiculously excited about it…

But I can’t get it finished, because I am neck-deep in the first round of edits from the publisher for a novella that I am launching at Stokercon 2020 with Horrific Tales, about a very, very unusual apocalypse - but we’ll only be launching it if I get these damn edits done, and I will…

But I am also running a crowdfunding campaign for my first full-length non-fiction book - My Life In
Horror Volume One! This book will pull together the first three years work from my regular Gingernuts of Horror column, alongside some essays written for other blog projects. Every essay has been revised and expanded, and the campaign features limited edition versions of the book that will never be for sale anywhere else, alongside signed paperbacks, discounted ebooks, and a few other fun perks.

The text is assembled and ready to go to the editors and formatters. A few people have read it through and have had some very nice things to say about it. And I’m proud of it. What I hadn’t reckoned with was, when the essays are assembled, as I have done for the book, not in order of publication but in the order I first experienced the subjects as a child or young man, what emerges is an autobiography of sorts, told through the lens of pop culture artefacts. That’s not something it would even have occurred to me to sit down and write, and yet here it is, emergent from the essays. It’s spooky, but a good kind of spooky, I think. Anyway, I’m really happy with it, the advance notices have been amazing, and hopefully, enough people will get behind the project to make it happen.