Monday 30 May 2016

Trying To Be So Quiet.

Trying To Be So Quiet is the new novelette from James Everington and is published by Boo Books. I’ve been a fan of James’ subtle, understated writing since reading his collection Falling Over back in 2013. When I reviewed it at the time, I called it intelligent and thought-provoking, an analysis I stand by and characteristics which have been on display in all of his writing since. No more so, I’m pleased to say, than in this new offering.

The story is told in third person with an unnamed protagonist, a highly effective technique which serves to distance the reader from him – effective in that this is entirely in keeping with the character James has created here, a man who is attempting to do the same with people around him following the death of his wife Lizzie. This is not simply a case of wanting privacy, and time to grieve alone however, more a case of being unable to grieve – such an intense emotional response is beyond the protagonist, much easier for him to compartmentalise, to hide his emotions behind walls, his – as the text describes them – “precious barriers and screens”.

The narrative jumps around from present to past, filling in the back story of the romance. There’s much skilful character building to be enjoyed here – some subtle foreshadowing too, with a passing nod to Eliot’s The Wasteland – painting the protagonist as pragmatic rather than emotional, realist rather than romantic. He takes photographs that lack style and finds it difficult to comprehend why the architects of the grand buildings in Oxford would design such massive buildings knowing that they would be long dead before they were completed. He studies accountancy, Lizzie anthropology – the “study of everything.”

Little wonder then, that Lizzie’s death has such profound implications. How can a man who works so hard to hide his emotions accept – and even embrace – one of the most powerful of all?

Not easily. Work, and his work colleagues become even more of an irritation and his nihilistic world view intensifies. Then the blackouts begin, and this is where the supernatural elements of the story begin to ramp up. Glimpses of a figure in a mirror, shadowy at first but then coalescing into an all too familiar face and cracks appearing in plasterwork, the latter (along with the fractured nature of the narrative itself) a potent metaphor for the apparent breakdown of the protagonist. Special mention has to be given here to Helen-Marie Kelly whose Heavy Duty Illustration have provided a distinctive look to the interior of the book with an ever expanding crack moving its way down the page as the book progresses, enhancing the reading experience beautifully.

Events finally lead to a return to Oxford, where he and Lizzie first met as students. Here it is that the story finds resolution. And a very fine resolution it is too, skilfully and satisfyingly tying up all the ideas and narrative threads – what is actually breaking down may not be the character himself, but the walls he has built around himself. Trying To Be So Quiet is a book about death and grief for sure, but it’s also a book about life and love and the significance of moments, however fleeting. It’s about what may come after but, more importantly, it’s about the here and now.

I literally had goosebumps when I finished reading Trying To Be So Quiet. I strongly recommend that you see whether it will have the same effect on you.

Friday 27 May 2016

Darker Battlefields.

It’s with an immense feeling of pride that I can announce that DARKER BATTLEFIELDS an anthology of war/horror novellas will soon be available from The Exaggerated Press. Pride because my own story, Winter Storm is one of the six contained within.

I still can’t quite believe that this is all happening but it is – and my heartfelt thanks go to Frank Duffy for drawing me into the fold in the first place. I massively appreciated the offer at the time and even more so now that the book will soon be a reality.

Thanks also to my good friends who read the early drafts of the novella – Ross Warren and Ben Jones – whose feedback was invaluable, and which made the story so much better than my first attempt. Ben is a walking encyclopaedia of all things war related and many of our conversations tended to veer off course and become flurries of ideas, many of which will hopefully see the light of day in future publications.

As befitting a collection of war stories, a camaraderie sprung up between the authors during the process of pulling the book together with shared feedback and support flying across the virtual ether so thanks again to Mark West, Paul Edwards, Richard Farren Barber, Dean M Drinkel and Adrian Chamberlin for their encouragement and enthusiasm. I have to say I still feel a bit like the new kid in class here but am honoured to be sharing a TOC with writers whose work I’ve long admired. I'm pretty certain Terry Grimwood's initial reaction to my inclusion would have been "Who?" but I'm again deeply appreciative that he was willing to take a gamble. A special nod goes to Adrian, who took on editing duties – not just for managing to coordinate the whole process but for finding even more ways to improve the fifth draft of Winter Storm. I salute you my brothers in arms!

The story of Winter Storm straddles both world wars, with a demonic encounter on a mountain in Turkey during World War One having repercussions in the snow filled ruins of Stalingrad in the Second World War. Whilst the Great War is my burning obsession, I’ve long been fascinated by the battle of Stalingrad, a siege which lasted over five months and which killed hundreds of thousands. The imagery from photos of the battle have long lurked in the depths of my subconscious so it was great to have an opportunity to use them in a story at last. I’m humbled that that imagery has been used by Ben Baldwin to produce the absolutely stunning artwork for the cover.

Having read the other stories, and seen the quality on display, I can only reiterate how proud I am to be part of this book.  All of the authors have provided their own unique take on the subject of war and the conflicts used range from biblical times, through the Napoleonic Wars via the world wars right up to recent events in Libya. I can’t wait to see it in the flesh.

The stories are:

ODETTE by Richard Farren Barber

THE SEARING by Paul Edwards

WINTER STORM by Anthony Watson

THIS ENVIOUS SEIGE by Adrian Chamberlin




Monday 16 May 2016


Mongrels is the new novel from Stephen Graham Jones. Since my introduction to his writing with The Elvis Room (which was one of my favourite reads of 2014) I’ve been tracking down his work so it was with much delight that I heard about the new novel. That delight, I’m very pleased to say, intensified during the reading of the book which turned out to be everything I was hoping it would be – and more.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for werewolves. It’s on the back of my thigh where one of them bit me. Ok, not true. But only the last bit – I do enjoy a good werewolf yarn, have done since watching An American Werewolf in London (when it was first released) and, not long after, The Howling (which contains one of the best one-liners ever). Mongrels is a werewolf novel. It’s also a lot of other things but at heart it’s definitely a werewolf novel. Which is great.

So, does Mongrels bring anything new to the sub-genre? Well, yes it does – although I have to say that this isn’t a pre-requisite for my enjoyment of any book. Yes, innovation and tweaking of tropes is a good thing but sometimes a good old languish in accepted traditions can be a joy in itself.  Mongrels doesn’t re-imagine or re-invent werewolf mythology, rather it builds upon it, adding in little nuggets of information which are a joy to read, evidence of great imagination at work. (In this regard, I found similarities with Ralph Robert Moore’s Ghosters, another favourite read of mine which did pretty much the same thing for ghosts).

Herein you’ll find (amongst other things) the real reason for dewclaws on dogs, the danger of wearing tights if you’re a werewolf and the importance of peeing before a transformation. There’s no mention of where a werewolf should put its tongue prior to changing but the author’s is clearly firmly lodged in his cheek. These are just some examples of the lovely, dry wit which runs through the book – something which acts as an effective counterpoint to some of the more grisly scenes, of which there are many. Yes, this really is a werewolf novel.

It’s a coming of age story, told in first person by an un-named narrator, a teenager living with his aunt and uncle, werewolves both and awaiting his own, first transformation. It’s a fractured narrative, the present day storyline interrupted by flashbacks which serve to create the protagonist’s history – as well as introducing the aforementioned tweaks to the mythology. The effectiveness of any first person narrative relies greatly on the voice created for the narrator and sterling work has been done in this regard – our narrator is unsure of whether or not he will ever transform and that angst comes across clearly in a prose style to die for, it’s written so well that it really feels as if the reader is a confidante of the narrator.

Allegory abounds of course. The werewolves are outsiders, cast aside by society, literally living on its fringes. The three main protagonists of the novel live in a trailer, constantly moving from state to state to avoid the law. There are points during the narrative when the thought might cross your mind that the whole thing is one huge metaphor, that this is the most unreliable of narrators. Such contemplations only add to the joy of reading it…

I enjoyed the hell out of Mongrels, a wonderful example of great horror writing, literary in style with much to say about society, family and a sense of belonging hidden within the gore and transformations. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry – you’ll probably feel a little bit sick in places. You should definitely read it though.