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.