Thursday, 15 October 2020

Wyrd and Other Derelictions


The theatre critic Vivian Mercier once described Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as a play in which “nothing happens. Twice.” In much the same way, Adam Nevill’s new collection Wyrd and Other Derelictions from his own Ritual Ltd could be described as a book in which nothing happens. Seven times.

Mercier’s quote wasn’t meant to be disparaging of course, (quite the opposite in fact), and neither is my appropriation and modification of it; the stories in Wyrd are what the author describes as “derelictions” and are all set in the aftermath of some terrible event, consisting of descriptive passages of the evidence left behind. Thus, nothing actually happens during the stories - but a lot has certainly happened just prior to them beginning. Hippocampus, the story which opens the collection is one of my favourite pieces of short fiction anyway, much of that admiration being for the style in which it was written so it’s wonderful that Adam has taken that concept and run with it, developing and expanding it to produce the six original stories which accompany it.

Given the nature of the stories there are of course no characters in which to invest your emotions and no dialogue. What we have instead are long passages of descriptive prose, a presentation of evidence and inferences from which the reader must discern what has happened. It’s a bold move and in order to work requires writing of the highest order.

Which, of course, it has. Whilst in essence the stories are lists of observations, the writing is so assured and skilful that they read like extended prose poems, composed in such a way that there is a momentum to the words, a rhythm and pace which pulls the reader in and carries them along. The imagery created is sublime and unsettling; symmetrically arranged stones, dimly lit rooms, buildings full of the dead… I’m often guilty of comparing Adam’s work to film technique - so once more can’t hurt: the stories in Wyrd put me in mind of long, single-take tracking shots, the camera moving fluidly through a scene. Such sequences can help build tension – especially if they are dialogue-free – the viewer waiting for something to happen, for something or someone to suddenly appear, and this is exactly the feeling that’s created by all of the stories in this book. The power of suggestion has rarely been so effectively deployed.

[As I write this part of the review, I’m struck by the thought that the sequence in Goodfellas sound-tracked by Layla and showing the discovery of the bodies is pretty much a filmic version of a dereliction: aftermath displayed in all its wordless glory: ]

Because the reader is an active participant in the discoveries made within the stories, they are written in present tense, something which only helps to increase the tension. Implied within the form of the stories is the presence of an unseen narrator – or more properly a guide, leading the reader from one gruesome discovery to the next. On the whole, the guide offers no explanation or rationale, simply points out what is to be seen, allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions. I say on the whole as in some of the later stories, the guide certainly becomes more conversational, even offering up some suggestions as to what might have happened. I saw this as an evolution of the form as the book progressed, the style and content changing ever so slightly – or perhaps as signs of a growing familiarity between guide and reader. This is most apparent in the story Monument which at some points even drifts into second person, describing directly how “you” feel and the narrator/guide referring to “we” on a couple of occasions. I started reading Wyrd late at night and (because I'm old) had to read it in two goes but my advice would be to read it all at one go if possible, (definitely achievable, the overall length is that of a novella), and enjoy the subtle changes in the relationship fully.

There’s a change in the timing of the point of entry into the stories too. Whilst the early stories show the aftermath of events only, later tales offer fleeting glimpses of the perpetrators and create a feeling that events are still unfolding. The horrifying prospect that what is being described is not just an aftermath but also a beginning is one which looms large in these later tales.

The dead litter the pages, often described in forensic detail that isn’t for the faint-hearted. The “who” of the whodunnit is most obvious in the title story of the collection even if the “why” is open to speculation but in the rest there are only hints as to who, or what, has perpetrated the foul deeds on display. Hints of supernatural interference abound, possibly even extra-terrestrial forces have been at work here. Notably, there’s a distinctly coastal theme to the locations described, a perfect choice, a place where two worlds intersect and most of the aftermaths described are in remote areas, their isolation adding to the atmosphere and feelings of abandonment – and yes, dereliction - wonderfully.

Wyrd is an incredible piece of work. As I stated earlier it’s a bold move on the author’s part to take it on and the stories will not be to everyone’s liking. In musical terms this is definitely a concept album but in my opinion the concept is a brilliant one and the experience of reading this collection is one I thoroughly enjoyed and one I’m looking forward to repeating very soon. As ever, the book itself is a work of art with the impeccable production qualities we’ve grown to expect from Ritual. Once again, a stunning piece of art from Samuel Araya graces the front cover.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Wyrd pushes the boundaries of short fiction writing. Adam Nevill has produced a work of stunning originality and may even have created a new sub-genre in horror fiction. I loved this collection and can’t recommend it highly enough.


Friday, 14 August 2020

The Fallen


My second novel The Fallen is being published in September by Demain Publishing. This will be my third collaboration with the press, and its head honcho the irrepressible Dean M Drinkel, with my novella The Lost featuring in their debut publication, the WW1 themed anthology The Darkest Battlefield and my short story Shattered taking the number 11 slot in the Short, Sharp Shocks series.

The Fallen tells the story of three different times mankind has come into contact with the same supernatural force – a fallen angel – those times being the present day, during World War Two and at the end of the sixteenth century. The protagonists are the scientists onboard an Arctic research vessel, the merchant seamen onboard an oil tanker which is part of an Arctic convoy and a group of mercenaries hunting down religious icons for Tzar Ivan the Terrible respectively.

The novel is presented in a nested format, with the present day section providing the first and last parts, wrapped around the World War Two section which is itself split around the Russian section which makes up the heart of the story. The plan was to show the interlinking nature of the three sections, and how actions in one would have consequences in the others and this seemed a more interesting way of doing it rather than just presenting them in chronological order. I did toy with the idea of presenting them in reverse order, which could have worked quite well, but decided in the end to stick with the more convoluted format.

Mt original idea was to write a novella set in an Arctic convoy and as I began plotting, I realised that it would need a prologue. When that prologue – the Russia section - turned out to be 25000 words or so, I realised that I had a novel on my hands… About halfway through writing the WW2 section, I had the feeling that the novel would need something more – which is how the present day section came about. The three sections were written in their entireties: Russia first, then WW2 and finally the present day section. Only after all were completed did I chop them up into the order they appear in the final version. That said, I’d made the decision to use the format whilst I was writing the WW2 section – which allowed me to arrive at a suitably cliff-hanging point at which to make a break both in this section and the present day one.

The Fallen is a creature-feature and is partly a homage to the books and films which I love and which have influenced the things I write about. The most obvious cinematic references are to The Thing (and The Thing from Another World) and Alien. It’s always tricky getting the balance right in situations like this but hopefully I’ve succeeded in paying homage rather than blatantly ripping off. There are enough references in the text – overt and subtle – to acknowledge the debt I owe to them.

I had a great time writing The Fallen and I hope the enthusiasm I felt has transferred onto the page. At heart I’m a frustrated film director and writing this novel has allowed me to present the epic blockbuster I’d have loved to direct. It has some of the biggest set-pieces I’ve ever written but hopefully enough human drama to make you care about the characters I’ve pitted against the demon.

My thanks again to Dean for taking this on and also to Adrian Baldwin for creating such a fine cover. The Fallen will be available first as an e-book then later as a paperback and you can pre-order it here.



Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Flower Power.

Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! Is the latest literary offering from the force of nature that is Duncan P Bradshaw. This is the man who in the past has brought us his own interpretations of the classic horror tropes of extra-terrestrial cannibal nuns and serial killer vacuum cleaners. For this book, the author has put aside the literary style and allegory of those earlier works and is definitely playing this one for laughs.
So, Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – where do I begin? The ending maybe? Blimey, I didn’t see that coming.
In all honesty, there was much of this book I didn’t see coming. (OK, all of it). Anyone searching Wikipedia to find useful bits of information to use in a review to make themselves look clever will discover that works of surrealism contain the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non—sequitur. All of these things are present in Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – so it definitely is surreal. For those who read the whole Wikipedia article rather than just finding interesting sound-bitey snippets, there’s the discovery to be made that surrealism is regarded by many as an expression of the author’s unconscious mind.
If this is true, then the picture Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! paints of Duncan P Bradshaw is a deeply disturbing one. Then again, it is only Wikipedia so it’s probably wrong.
So: Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! What’s it about then? It’s about a couple of hundred pages in total, each one of which contains images and ideas that will disturb or entertain you depending on your personal genetic makeup. The title’s a giveaway really so if you don’t want to spoil the story I’d recommend not looking at the cover or the first few pages.
In truth, it’s probably best not to dwell too much on the plot as , although it’s there, its main function is to provide a framework on which to hang a smorgasbord of surreal concepts, those concepts given flesh (and bones natch) by an array of eccentric characters. Among those characters is the narrator himself, a cunning, fourth-wall breaking malcontent who make this book more meta than meta-meta-man, meta-king of metaworld.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! bombards the reader with madness. Reading tip number two is to remove the idea that “that couldn’t possibly happen” from your repertoire of thoughts before you start. If you cling to a realistic, pragmatic approach to your enjoyment and evaluation of Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! then you’re going to be in real trouble. Go with the flow is my advice.
Those familiar with Mr Bradshaw’s oeuvre will be aware of his penchant for appropriating cultural references and twisting and corrupting them into something terrible (yet entertaining). There are the occasional nods within Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – most notably Jason and the Argonauts and Alien, but this is a book that relies less heavily on them, making it all the more worrying that the scenes and set-pieces which make up the book are based on original thoughts. I was actually impressed by this change in tack, saw it as evidence of an author growing and maturing, finding their real voice, coming into full bloom as it were. And then the narrator made exactly the same point and opened up a vortex into another dimension. (Possibly). In truth, that was my favourite meta-moment in a book full of them. Indeed, the book is so metafictional, it’s quite possible that it’s actually a reinterpretation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman – though one done in a more literary style.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! is the weirdest book I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the most entertaining. There’s always a risk that a book quite this bizarre can alienate a reader, of tipping over into self-indulgence. Luckily, that’s a trap Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! doesn’t fall into. (If it did, it wouldn’t be a real trap anyway, merely some kind of device for harvesting the nectar of wildebeest). Each random image and idea somehow fits into the overarching theme and narrative, and all are written with a finely judged sense of comedy timing. I will admit to laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Here you’ll find a Speedo-clad policeman with concealed trebuchets and mysterious gentlemen dispatching clues via the medium of biscuit. There’s some really silly stuff in here too.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! (copy and paste is such a useful tool) is less a novel, more an experience. It’s an experience I recommend you should definitely, err, experience. Bizarre, surreal but most of all hugely entertaining. As is the case with all of EyeCue's output, the production values are superb with as much care and attention lavished on the presentation as the madness of the narrative. I suggest you buy it. Now.

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Reddening.

The Reddening is the new novel from Adam Nevill. It’s the first to be published by the author’s own Ritual Limited (the company’s previous two books being collections of short fiction) and the author’s ninth novel, arriving some two and a half years after the last one, Under a Watchful Eye. Within that time, of course, the film version of Adam’s third novel, The Ritual, has been released to huge acclaim.
It’s little surprise that The Ritual was such an effective film as Adam’s writing has a true cinematic feel to it. This is not a case of damning with faint praise - cinema is an art form in itself and when done well can evoke the strongest of emotions - rather a huge compliment to the skill of the writing itself. That writing is so assured and precise that the images it seeks to convey are delivered straight into readers’ imaginations, the scenes playing out in their minds’ eyes as they follow the words on the page.
The cinematic feel to The Reddening is perhaps enhanced by its differences to Under a Watchful Eye. Whilst the latter was a slow burner of a novel, preying on psychological rather than visceral fears, The Reddening pelts along at a cracking pace, employing multiple points of view and short chapters both of which lend a real urgency to proceedings. A few of the chapters start with a startling image or piece of action – the literary equivalent, I guess, of a jump scare – and the author even manages to use sound effectively (again testament to the skill of the writing) to unsettle and terrify the reader. There’s a scene in Adam’s novel Last Days which really freaked me out at the time, and which still gives me a shiver to think about, involving strange sounds on a recording and that effect is recreated in a scene in The Reddening with equally impressive results. The power of suggestion created by “noises off” is not to be underestimated (think movie versions of The Exorcist or even The Ritual – the scene where Luke can hear whatever is happening to Dom in another room inside the cabin…) and it’s used to brilliant effect here again.
It’s the set-pieces in The Reddening that really stand out though; among them a dog attack, a desperate fight against drowning and, at almost the halfway point of the book, a scene of extreme horror that is one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in quite some time. I’m already regretting using the term “extreme horror” as that conjures up (in my mind anyway) lurid and gratuitous descriptions of violence designed to shock and disgust rather than create any real feelings of horror. The scene in question does involve extreme violence but the writing here is so good that the emotions it stirs in the reader are ones of horror in its purest sense; eschewing over the top descriptions, the spare and concise way in which it is written magnifies the terror of what’s happening. It’s a grim and relentless scene that will leave you shaken and stirred; a masterclass in how this type of thing should be written.
Set in Adam’s own stomping ground, The Reddening is a novel of folk horror. Its starting point is the discovery of a cave containing Neanderthal remains, among which is found evidence of ritualistic behaviour involving bizarre, dog-headed idols, mass slaughter and cannibalism. The novel opens with a series of vignettes, setting the scene and introducing some of the book’s characters. The always tricky job of providing information to the reader is handled very cleverly, the findings of the teams exploring the cave are presented retrospectively in a press conference, the reader discovering the horrors alongside Kat, one of the book’s main characters. It’s another brilliantly written scene with the dark revelations of the dig stirring feelings of horror and revulsion in Kat, her emotional responses magnifying and enhancing those of the reader experiencing them vicariously.
It soon becomes apparent that the horrors uncovered in the cave aren’t as ancient as they might seem. Enter Helene, the book’s second protagonist: sister to Lincoln who has disappeared after having made the aforementioned recordings near the site of the cave. It’s another clever move, introducing a character to play the role of the outsider – a standard in any tale of folk horror, a baseline of normality against which to measure the strangeness of the “locals”. This is done extremely effectively when she finds herself caught up in a procession, the inherent hostility of the residents – and the sense of unease and danger this creates - permeating the whole scene.
As both women pursue their investigations, so the dark secrets of this particular part of South Devon begin to reveal themselves. People, it seems, have been disappearing on a regular basis. A possible explanation for these disappearances is that of a drugs empire protecting itself, a nice sub-plot which injects some ambiguity into proceedings and also the allows the introduction of seventies’ folk singer Tony Willows who may or may not be involved in what’s going on. It also allows some nice cross-references to Adam’s other books, a feature of most of his novels; subtle enough that if you spot them you’ll feel the warm glow of familiarity and your own cleverness but if you don’t the narrative is in no way affected.
Whilst the drug runners may provide a rational explanation for the disappearances and general weirdness, there is another, supernatural, rationale to be considered. Something, or so it seems, lurks beneath the surface of the ground; something worshipped – and feared – since prehistoric times. As with Black Maggie in his novel No One Gets Out Alive, Adam has created an entirely plausible, and terrifying, mythology as the backdrop to The Reddening. Old Creel is a fine creation, a distant relative of The Ritual’s Moder but a traveller along a different evolutionary pathway. I do like a good monster, and there are none better at creating them than Adam Nevill. As with Moder in (the novel of) The Ritual, the descriptions of Old Creel are handled in such a way that the reader’s own imagination is engaged to paint their own picture of what the monster looks like. It’s another example of skilful writing and reinforces that in most cases, less really is more. Samuel Araya provides an incredible image for the book’s cover, perfectly capturing the imagery suggested by the prose within. The cover of the hardback is particularly effective, presenting the art work unencumbered by the book’s title - an artistic decision which works incredibly well. As with all of the Ritual Limited books it’s a quality product, the care and attention to detail apparent in every aspect.
The separate storylines eventually converge in a thrilling showdown at the book’s conclusion. The third act actually begins with a flashback – a bold move considering it could have interrupted the momentum which builds all through the novel. Could have, but doesn’t. Backstory is provided in order to give the reader information the protagonists lack and sets the scene for the final showdown. There may not be any wicker men involved but the horrors Adam conjures are just as effective.
The Reddening is described on the paperback edition’s cover as a Folk Horror Thriller and there can be no argument that this is exactly what it is. It’s the paciest book Adam has written, hurtling along, drawing the reader towards its horrifying climax. The writing throughout is of the highest quality, nothing is sacrificed to the momentum of the plot and the characters populating the story are perfectly drawn; real people facing an unreal situation. The use of location is particularly effective here, the eerie landscape of South Devon a character in itself. The Reddening is in essence a plot driven, literary novel. Now there’s a thing.
Although I’ve just used over thirteen hundred of them, words can’t adequately describe how much I enjoyed The Reddening. There are a few authors whose new books I await with great anticipation and Adam Nevill is most certainly one of them. The imagery and themes contained within The Reddening make this possibly the quintessential Nevill book but I don’t for one moment think that this is an author resting on his laurels. The change in tone, and style between this and Under a Watchful Eye shows how gifted and versatile a writer he is and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Apocalypse Then. And now...

Getting old has many advantages. To be fair, I’ve yet to experience any of them – the only changes I’ve noticed thus far are a musculo-skeletal system that seems to take a couple of hours longer to wake up than my brain (at which point it does nothing but complain anyway) and an increased desire to wave my fist and shout “gerroff my lawn!” at passers-by. Something else it’s brought however, is a wave of nostalgia which has manifest itself in a longing to revisit the books I read in my youth, to rekindle my love of the horror genre by reading the works that hooked me in the first place.
Joy then, greeted the news that PS Publishing have re-issued a book from one of my literary heroes, Stephen Laws, with a swanky new signed hardback and trade paperback edition of Chasm. First released in 1998, I not only read it then but attended a launch for it in Newcastle. The fact that Stephen hails from Newcastle, and set the majority of his novels in the North East played a big part in my admiration of him but not so much as the skill and imagination he employed in his writing did. Each of his novels – whilst grounded in the familiar tropes of the horror genre – always presented something original with new and entertaining ideas crammed into every intricately constructed plot.
Such is very much the case with Chasm, Stephen’s tenth novel, an epic (in every sense) tale of the aftermath of what appears to be an earthquake which strikes the town of Edmonville. Following the vividly described destruction, the town’s surviving residents find themselves marooned on isolated pillars of rock, the rest of the town having disappeared into what appears to be a huge crevasse.
The crevasse is, of course, the Chasm of the book’s title. And yes, I’ve used a capital C – exactly as the author does throughout the novel, and for good reason. This is no ordinary chasm, is in fact…
To say more would of course be a huge spoiler. Much of the joy of the novel comes from working out exactly what has happened alongside the book’s characters. Alongside the physical dangers faces by the protagonists, a host of supernatural threats are also thrown into the mix, most notably the Vorla, the darkness that dwells within the Chasm. The Vorla is a brilliant creation, a tour de force of imagination, a truly original monster.
The characters facing up to the horrors within Chasm are all skilfully drawn – real people thrown into an unreal situation and reacting in exactly the ways their characters dictate. The book’s protagonist is Jay O’Connor (whose initials – minus the O’ - may or may not be significant) whose journal entries provide a framing device for the novel. Jumping between these journal entries and the narrative itself (told in third person) lends a fragmented nature to the novel, something I loved as someone who appreciates form as much as content in a novel. This effect is further enhanced by introducing what appears to be a completely separate storyline in the early part of the book, the “Ordeal of Juliet Delore” before cleverly bringing the two strands together.
A feature of Stephen’s writing is the cinematic feel he brings to his stories. His prose is so precise and his powers of description so skilful that it really does feel as if you’re watching a film as you read the book. There are some who will throw their hands in the air at this, or possibly wring them theatrically as they cry out, protesting that books and films are different art forms but personally I greatly appreciate any author who has the skill to paint pictures with their words that put images directly into my head. Chasm is a prime example of this skill, with a whole host of brilliantly rendered set-pieces to enjoy.
Chasm is a long book, but so tightly written and with so much action contained within that you’ll fly through it. The fractured structure lends itself to plenty of cliff-hangers (including one thrilling literal example) which keep the reader hooked. The supernatural horrors are a joy to read – a mix of originality and new variations of established tropes – but it’s the introduction of some human monsters in the book’s third act that ushers the reader towards the conclusion.
I vaguely remember a feeling of disappointment when I first read Chasm that the horror had switched tone but on my re-read now see that it was in fact a master-stroke. Throughout, the book is beautifully constructed, edited to maintain pace wonderfully, storylines and characters interacting to brilliant effect and so it is that the introduction of the Caffney family provides the catalyst for the novel’s dénouement, disrupting the tenuous status-quo the narrative had fallen into.
There’s heroism, redemption and action galore in the conclusion of Chasm and, ultimately, the explanation both characters and readers have been searching for. If I have any criticism of the book it’s probably that the huge ideas the events described in the novel are based on are covered relatively quickly. It’s far from an info-dump but perhaps a little more time spent on the revelations may have been better.
I loved re-reading Chasm, enjoyed it more this time round. Given it was written in 1998, I had concerns that it may have felt a little dated given that this is the original text of the book. To be honest, this isn’t the case. True, there are no mentions of the internet or mobile phones – smart or otherwise – but, given the cataclysmic events which occur disable all means of contact with the outside world this isn’t really an issue. At one point a Ford Cortina appears but this only added to the nostalgic glow I was seeking anyway.
I’m so happy that Chasm has been given a new lease of life and is available again to a new generation of readers. It’s a thrilling, terrifying, thought-provoking read – pretty much everything I want from a horror novel.
You can – and should – buy it here.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Holy inappropriate.

Duncan Bradshaw prefers cats to dogs and tea to coffee. He doesn’t like gravy. Despite these bizarre – some might say borderline psychotic – tendencies, I still like him, as a person and as a writer. With such a warped outlook on the important things in life, it’s unsurprising that his writing oeuvre lies well ensconced within the weird end of the literary spectrum. This is a man whose last novel featured a psychopathic vacuum cleaner on a killing spree.
His latest release, a joint publication via his own Eye Cue Productions and the Sinister Horror Company, is a summer blockbuster of a novel: Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! (Or CNFOS for short – a name rejected by Lovecraft for one of his Great Old Ones because it was too easy to pronounce). It’s a book which the author claims is evidence he has finally found his voice. I wouldn’t disagree. I’m not entirely sure where he found it but wherever it was, I imagine there was a sign saying “enter at your own risk” on the door.
Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! – what’s it about then? Those looking for a profound meditation on melancholia in post-modern society will be disappointed. Mind you, if that’s the type of book they’re looking for, I should imagine disappointment is a big part of their lives anyway. There’s little melancholy to be found here although, come to think of it, there is some post-modernism – most notably in the frequent references and homages to classic films which are dotted throughout the narrative. These are all handled deftly, enhancing rather than distracting from the story.
Scattered too, are name drops of indie authors, something I occasionally do find distracting but here presented in such outlandish situations that the jokes are magnified. It could be the case that real character traits have been exploited for comic effect. If that is so, then there’s one Welsh author I’d be reluctant ever to share a bus journey with. (There’s also an early mention for an “Anthony the Lesser Peeved”, a statue that weeps blood – it’ll make more sense when you read it. I’m currently in communication with my lawyers regarding a potential defamation proceeding).
(Over the word “lesser”).
But I digress.
As the title subtly hints at, the story concerns the threat posed by a group of extra-terrestrial sisters of little mercy arrived on earth to harvest human flesh. Their arrival doesn’t take place until quite a way into the book which instead begins by introducing the novel’s protagonist, the foul-mouthed and slightly deranged Father Flynn, member of the Order of the Crimson Rosary, in the midst of performing an exorcism.
Things go as badly as might be expected, ultimately requiring the calling-in of reinforcements, neatly introducing the book’s other main characters, Flynn’s rival Father O’Malley and the demon itself. The whole opening sequence is a joy to read, with some excellent one liners and highly inventive use of names. Possibly aware of how unrealistic these scenes are, and with an eye to keeping fans of literary horror happy, the author cleverly introduces a beard-dwelling axolotl to help ground the whole thing in reality.
Flynn’s performance - and his subsequent handling of the aforementioned bleeding statue - culminate in his becoming surplice to requirements for the Order of the Crimson Rosary. A last chance is offered to him: rehabilitation at the St Judas Centre for Reaffirmation of Faith & Training Convent. It’s here, amid a plethora of cultural references, that he ultimately encounters the titular nuns, who have landed their spaceship nearby.
High jinks ensue.
Twice now I’ve mentioned the cultural references which litter the narrative, a feature of much of Duncan’s writing. He’s a proper magpie in this respect, finding a pleasing line of dialogue or action set-piece and pilfering them to reinvent in his own, slightly warped, way. I picture him sat atop a huge pile of shiny snippets, leaving only to find a fellow magpie to bring joy, or two more for a girl, three for a boy. Failing that, he’ll probably just shit on your car’s windscreen.
The nuns themselves are a fine creation. (SPOILER: They’re not real nuns). The reasons for their arrival on Earth are explained along with their history and there’s much graphic blood and guts-letting to be enjoyed as battle commences. Entrails and jokes fly thick and fast as the forces of good and evil, and evil duke it out head to head.
It’s a rare gift to combine comedy and horror successfully, it’s often the case that one suffers as a result of the other but that’s not the case here. Even if you don’t get the references, there’s still plenty of the author’s own deranged humour to make you laugh out loud and, more importantly, a strong narrative upon which the jokes and entrails are hung.
A word too about the presentation of the book. Much work has gone into the formatting and layout, with a variety of versions available, each unique in its own way. The version I read as an ARC will ultimately be the kindle release and, in keeping with the cinematic theme, contains “trailers” for other movies ahead of the main feature. Both of which, I have to say, I would go and see.
CNFOS is yet another triumph for Mr Bradshaw. If you can’t find anything to entertain you within its pages then your either dead or – worse – Jacob Rees Mogg. Whilst marking a natural progression from Mr Sucky, nicely developing what is a very distinctive style of writing, it also increases anticipation for whatever lunacy spills forth next from one of the weirdest brains in the writing community.

Monday, 17 December 2018

2018 in review

Right then, that’s another one done. As 2018 draws to a close it’s time for another ramble through the archives to pick out my personal highlights of the year. In a revelation even more shocking than last year’s announcement that I was leaving Dark Minds Press (the shock for most being that I was actually involved in the first place), I have to announce that there will be no Dark Muse awards this year…
The reason for this is that this year I’ve changed my reading habits. Whereas in previous years I’ve pretty much focused exclusively on new releases from small presses – with a view to a potential review – I decided to take the pressure off a little in 2018 and take my time over what I read, much of which involved re-reads of books from my past. Stephen King has featured much in this re-reading process and I began the year with The Stand and IT – both epics which rekindled my love of losing myself in long novels. This pretty much set the pattern for the year and I’ve read more novels than any other form this year, short stories have very much taken a back-seat.
As a result of this, I simply haven’t read enough of the shorter forms to compile a list long enough from which to select. Granted, all the awards I’ve given before have been limited by the pool from which I select but this year that problem was exacerbated and it didn’t seem fair to choose the best of such a small field.
As such, the list presented at the end is a top ten of my favourite reads of the year and combines novels, novellas and short stories.
The decision to leave Dark Minds was driven by a desire to spend more time on my own writing. I don’t take it personally that, since I departed, DM was nominated for two British Fantasy awards. It’s great news too to see that Ross is going to keep Dark Minds going and I look forward to experiencing a DM publication as a reader.
With regards freeing up more time to write, it’s slightly ironic that I’ve spent a big portion of my time in 2018 editing three novellas and formatting a PhD thesis. (Seriously, if you think formatting a novel or anthology is difficult, give one of those a go). I also had the joy of re-formatting my novel, Witnesses, which I’ve recently self-published after Crowded Quarantine Publications folded shortly after its initial release.
It was, I have to say, a labour of love. Witnesses is a book I’m extremely proud of so I was happy to go the extra mile with its re-release, putting a lot of work into the layout and formatting. I can now laugh in the face of section breaks, headers and footers in Word. I was lucky to have a great cover for the first printing and Neil Williams has produced another stunner for its re-release.

Counting Witnesses as one publication, my tally for 2018 is four – which meets the informal target I set myself a few years back. My second publication was a brace of short stories released for Kindle, Past Horrors. 25000 words for less than a quid was a tempting offer for a small number of people but it wasn’t until I ran an offer giving it away for nowt that people really took notice. It flew off the shelves, to linger on virtual TBR piles for years to come. Am I bitter? No. OK, the yacht and villa are still on hold but – given this is something I do to keep me sane, and not to earn a living – I’m more than happy that there are people out there actually reading my stories. It is, after all, what they’re for. To quote Neil Hannon, “a song is not a song until it’s listened to,” I feel much the same way about stories – so thanks to everyone who downloaded Past Horrors.
(Next time I'll feature a Golden retriever with psychic abilities. That number 8 spot will be mine...)

Third up was my short story Collateral Damage in the marvelous George A Romero tribute anthology Stories of the Dead which was edited by two very fine authors in their own right, Duncan Bradshaw and David Owain Hughes.

November brought the release of my novella The Lost in an anthology of World War One horror novellas, The Darkest Battlefield, which was published by Dean M Drinkel’s new venture Demain Publishing. I’m sharing the pages with writers whose work I’ve long admired and am flattered to be in their company. I also had the pleasure of working with them on the edits to the stories. It’s available now as an ebook with a paperback version due in the new year.

The writing continues. I’m currently 55000 words into a second novel which leaves around another 30000 words still to do. That should be complete next year as will, hopefully, the project I’m working on with my good friend Benedict J Jones; a series of interconnected stories featuring a WW2 Special Ops unit with supernatural overtones.
So then, to my top ten list. It is presented here in no particular order and features those pieces of writing which have given me that extra something above and beyond just being entertained. It’s fair to say that I wish that I could write stuff half as good as this – there are a couple which set the bar so high that I’m filled with despair that I could never achieve that level of skill (but in a good way…) – so massive thanks to all the authors here listed.
Here’s to more of the same in 2019.

Hell Ship by Benedict J Jones
Maniac Gods by Rich Hawkins
Shiloh by Philip Fracassi
I am the River by Ted E Grau
The Dark Masters Trilogy by Stephen Volk
Painted Wolves by Ray Cluley
Ningen by Laura Mauro
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Where the Wounded Trees Wait by Paul Edwards
The Pale Ones by Bartholomew Bennett