Author and Scriptwriter

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

Thursday 23 June 2011

Pick Up Your Pens 2011

Well, last weekend saw me at the Pick Up Your Pens young writer's festival in Sheffield, which also meant getting to see my friend, the utterly brilliant Vicky Morris, once again.

It was a real blast, and a great deal of fun. I ran a workshop- on making monsters, naturally- and got do a one on one session with an incredibly talented young writer who'd come all the way from North Wales, as well as meeting some great writers- hi there Julia Bell and Adam Lowe- hearing some great spoken word work and working with some ace young people. Followed by chilling with a nice South Indian meal (must get that recipe for chili tilapia) and a brisk walk around the Peak District with Vic the next day

Big thanks to Matt Black and Maire McCarthy for inviting me along, and special thanks to Vicky- not just for asking me, but for the truly massive amount of hard work she put in to helping make the festival happen. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes of these events, often seriously underappreciated. Big thanks to all, and let's do this again sometime!

Monday 20 June 2011

Ginger Nuts

Whew! The last week's been a somewhat hectic affair. I'll tell you all about it another time. For the moment, though, let me draw your attention to Jim McLeod's rather excellent Ginger Nuts Of Horror blog, where I'm being interviewed about various writerly things... go and have a look, you know you want to. There's even a sneak preview of the cover for The Faceless.

Friday 10 June 2011


Apropos of nothing, I love airships.

They just have a grace and beauty that aeroplanes, for me, simply lack. And, I suppose, a certain kind of old-world charm.

Britain's airship industry ended with the crash of the R101 at Beauvais, France. R101 was a magnificent sight but a sadly flawed design. According to one anecdote, the crew spent the night before the final flight saying goodbye to their friends and telling their sons to look after their families, because they knew the R101 was too flawed to reach its intended destination of Karachi.

R101 was one of two competing airship designs- the other being the R100, built by the Vickers corporation and designed by Sir Barnes Wallis. The engineering team also included Nevil Shute Norway, better known as the novelist Nevil Shute. R101 was built by the Air Ministry at Cardington, Bedford. This was at the time of Ramsay MacDonald's second Labour government, and so it became a political issue- state enterprise versus private.

Shute was very critical of the R101 and its designers, but later admitted many of his criticisms were unfair: the R100 was planned as a safe, conservative design, while the R101's brief was to push the limits of the existing technology. But the ship's designers were working effectively in a goldfish bowl, which created its own pressures- when the R100 team discovered that petrol engines would be more effective than diesel (less power, but also less weight) they were quietly replaced. The R101 team couldn't because of the outcry over wasting public money.

Political pressures meant the flight to Karachi had to go ahead, come what may. The R101 was granted a Certificate of Airworthiness despite the Inspector's misgivings, and the final flight took place. The R101 left Cardington at 6.24pm on 4th October, 1930, but struggled to maintain altitude throughout the flight. Just past Beauvais the airship went into a dive, briefly recovered, then dived again, crashing headlong into a hillside at Allonne on the morning of 5th October.

The flammable hydrogen gas used for buoyancy ignited, and of the R101's 55 passengers and crew only seven men escaped: Engineer Arthur Bell, Engineer Joseph Binks, Engineer Alf Cook, Wireless Operator Arthur Disley, Foreman Engineer Harry Leech, Engineer Victor Savory and Rigger Samuel Church. Sadly Samuel Church later died in hospital from his injuries, only hours before the arrival of his parents and fiancee.

Britain cancelled its airship programme shortly thereafter, with the R100 eventually broken up for scrap.

Maybe airships will make a comeback. They're still around in one form or another, and the emergence of the new hybrid air vehicles are a blend of airship, plane and hovercraft. You never know.

Anyway, here's the R101 on its final flight. The music is called 'Final Flight', by Ian Hubball, aka Marbury. If anyone knows where the track can be downloaded, please let me know because I love it!

Sunday 5 June 2011

Short and Sweet

The last week's seen me writing a couple of short stories. This is interesting, because I've struggled with producing short fiction in the last couple of years.

The main thing has been the novels. As in the factor that's changed my working method, not just the projects that've taken up most of my time. I still love the short form for the intensity it offers, the focus, not to mention that it's a lot easier to take chances in a story- if you try something experimental in a short piece and it doesn't work, it's a waste of far less time, energy and work than if you do it in a novel. Much of what's best in horror is in the short form; one of the key things that pulled me back into working in the field was Nick Royle's anthology Darklands, a collation of short stories that showed the range and variety horror- good horror- could actually compass. The other, funnily enough, was Shaun Hutson, but we won't go into that...

When I started writing properly- i.e. producing work on a regular basis and sending it out- I wrote short fiction, at a rate of one story a week. Not writing every day, but mulling over the various story ideas I had and picking which one seemed ripe, then sitting down at a computer and writing it in a single sitting. Two or three if it was a long story.

Now of course you can't write a novel that way, not unless you're Philip K. Dick and off your dingers on benzedrine (not for me, thanks- as Chef once said, there's a time and place for everything, and it's called college.) That's a whole different ballgame, one that's about dailiness (to use Julia Cameron's phrase) and putting in a regular, sustainable measure of work each day. Difficult to mesh that with short-story writing, because by the time I write a novel, enough notes and a rough outline have been written that the writing can start straight away. Short stories were more intuitive, inspired, a place where I could still work on inspiration and fly blind. And I'd never written outlines for shorter work.

In the past couple of years, I've written a handful of short stories, usually for specific markets. It was difficult each time, and I was having to deal with the idea that maybe the short story part of me was running down.

But I have a deadline here- as well as The Faceless, I have to write a couple of stories involving some of the novel's characters, plus another for an anthology. And so...

I've started outlining. Just an A4 page of scribbled notes, mostly bullet-points, and then to work. And boy, has it made a difference.

One new story called The Sight was started on the 1st of June, and finished the next day. The same day I wrote the start of a new story, The Children Of Moloch, which is now just over half-finished. The outline is not your enemy if you're a writer; it's one of your best friends. You can even start writing without it and rough one out as you get a grip on what you're doing. But it reminds you roughly what you have to do, and it takes off the pressure to hold all then details in your head. Or to try and get everything done in one go.

I'll have to get back to the novel in the next week or so- there is a lot to do if I'm to to get The Faceless delivered for its September deadline- but it's just a very, very good feeling to be writing short fiction again, and to know the machine's not broken.

One last thing: music always serves as a good accompaniment to writing, but I couldn't find anything on my laptop that suited Children Of Moloch. And then I dug out a CD that I'd bought a couple of years ago and completely forgotten about: Two Suns by Bat For Lashes. It's a rich and beautiful album that I heartily recommend to you, good reader. Plus the music fits Children like a glove.

This track, particularly, seems to click with the story, so what better tune to play us out with? Till next time...

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Interview at Read Horror with Jonathan Oliver

That nice Mr Jonathan Oliver, Commissioning Editor of Abaddon and Solaris Books, is being interviewed here at Read Horror, where he says much that is true and worthy, not to mention nice. Tide of Souls gets a mention, as does The Faceless. So do please check it out.