Monday 17 May 2021

Wings in the Darkness


This Friday, (21st May) sees the release of Wings in the Darkness, a novella set in the world of The Damocles Files; a series of novels created by Benedict J Jones and myself which are a mixture of military action and supernatural horror set during World War Two featuring the exploits of the eponymous organisation.

The novella is actually an expansion of one of the stories featured in Ragnarok Rising, the first novel in the series which will be released in the summer. It was written by way of an introduction to Damocles and features many of the characters who populate the world we created and, whilst it works perfectly as a standalone read, also drops a few teasers and hints to events in the novel.

Wings in the Darkness tells of the search, by Damocles, for a vitally important artefact and a such involved a humongous amount of research in order to create a realistic scenario for where, and how, it was hidden in the first place. We both knew where it was of course, but the trick lay in getting our characters to do their own research in order that they could track it down, laying down a trail of clues for them to follow. Enter some warring Iron Age tribes, ancient Norse kings, an expert on the Icelandic sagas and a folklorist with a specialised interest in the “hidden people” and the scene was set.

As with writing the novel itself, I hugely enjoyed co-writing Wings in the Darkness. I can’t wait to invite people into the world we’ve created and the novella is the fist step in that process. It will be available as an ebook for Kindle only and is the bargain price of only 99p. It can be pre-ordered here.

Thursday 6 May 2021

The Damocles Files Volume One: Ragnarok Rising.

 Just over three years ago, my very good friend Benedict J Jones approached me with an offer to co-write some stories with him based on the exploits of a secret government organisation during World War Two whose remit was to investigate and combat the occult machinations of the Axis powers. I, of course, leapt at the chance. We’d already collaborated on the Dark Frontiers series of horror western novellas and know each other’s writing inside out, it was a real no-brainer for me.

So we began writing. As usual, Ben already had a huge array of characters ready formed to throw into action along with tons of background information on the organisation he had called Damocles. Using that as my starting point I launched myself into the writing, creating my own characters (and appropriating one I’d already used in some short stories).

It was soon after we’d started writing that the idea came to create an overarching storyline and present the stories as a novel with a fractured narrative rather than a straightforward collection. Which only made the project more exciting as far as I was concerned. And more of a challenge, it has to be said. There was a degree of retro-fitting going on once the stories were finished and one story in particular was re-written four times to adapt to the evolving narrative.

I loved every moment of it. I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed a writing process as much as I have creating The Damocles Files. The solitary nature of writing appeals to my hermit-in-training lifestyle and outlook on life but the whole process of co-authoring was amazing, with ideas sparking back and forth between us and, I have to admit, generating a sense of competition - seeing who could come up with the next plot twist or development in the narrative.

On the whole, we would write the individual stories on our own but on a couple of occasions we co-wrote a story. Most notably we did this for the novella that concludes the novel which has four different timelines running simultaneously. From what began as an idea for a collection of shorts, a 110,000 word epic has emerged and I couldn’t be prouder of the final product. I think it contains some of Ben’s best writing (and one of his darkest, most compelling characters), and I’m really pleased with what I contributed too.

The history has been meticulously researched and a number of real life events (and people) are featured in the storyline. It’s an unabashedly pulp novel full of derring-do, grand heroic gestures and noble sacrifice. It also has werewolves, undead Vikings, ancient mariners and ghost ships. There are twenty two stories in total, plus an epilogue, which range in length from a few hundred words to the aforementioned novella and cover the entirety (almost) of the war.

The artwork which graces the cover of the book is provided by Peter Frain of 77Studios, the creative genius responsible for (amongst many others) the covers of the Dark Minds novellas. His idea knocked the hugely unimaginative ones I’d had into a cocked hat and what he’s come up with is a perfect encapsulation of the feel of the book. The nods towards the design of a famous comic are done with love and respect as well as a huge amount of skill.

The novel will be available this summer. By way of whetting people’s appetites, and introducing Damocles and some of its employees, we decided to write a short story which we’d make available prior to release. As these things do, the short story became an 18,000 word novella… Wings in the Darkness is an expansion of one of the stories in the novel and will be released on May 21st. It’s available for pre-order now at the bargain price of 99p.

I loved working on The Damocles Files and hope the end product is as enjoyable to read as it was to write. And yes, this is Volume One – we’re 80,000 words into Volume Two which follows the same format but focuses on an entirely different theatre of the war. There'll be standalone short stories and novellas to come too. Exciting times!

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Under A Raven's Wing.


Under A Raven’s Wing
is a new collection of stories by Stephen Volk and is published by PS Publishing. The seven stories contained within this beautifully produced book describe the exploits of a young Sherlock Holmes and his tutelage, in the Paris of the 1870s, by another famous fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin. It’s a marvellous concept bringing together the two men - the veteran and the rookie - with the old master passing on his knowledge and wisdom to the young man at the beginning of his career, and something Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would heartily approve of I’m sure, having acknowledged his own debt to Poe’s detective when creating the character of Holmes.

All of the stories bar one are presented as letters from Holmes himself to Inspector Lestrade, written as the master detective nears the end of his own life; a neat inversion from the original stories in which the narrator was Holmes’ partner in crime(busting) Dr Watson. The final story, the incredibly poignant The Mercy of the Night, is the only one not to follow this format – except it sort of does. The bulk of the narrative is a letter from Dupin to Holmes – which finds its way to Lestrade nonetheless, courtesy of Holmes himself who adds his own correspondence as a coda, giving the whole thing the feeling of a story within a story, a dream within a dream.

I confess, the last sentence of that paragraph was a desperate attempt on my behalf to shoehorn a Poe reference in. And pretty awful it was – unlike those that are distributed about the book itself. There’s much joy to be had at spotting them – some are more obvious than others – and they’re an indication of just how much work has gone into producing these stories. The level of detail is astounding, in particular the recreation of the voices of the two fictional detectives both of which ring absolutely true.

With his wonderful Dark Masters Trilogy, Stephen showed himself a master at placing real people in fictional situations to produce compelling stories and insightful character studies. In Under A Raven’s Wing, he’s flipped that around, placing two fictional creations in real historical settings, populated by real people – including Jules Verne – and set against real events such as the dedication of the Statue of Liberty (a scene in which I believe I spotted an uncharacteristic lapse in the accuracy of Holmes’ recollections…) Jack the Ripper flits through one of the stories but there are nods to famous fictional characters too; the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame also get honourable mentions.

There’s great skill employed then in the creation of this fictional/real world but the key to the success of any crime fiction – which is what this is after all – is in the plots themselves, the crimes which have to be solved. Once again, the author has come up trumps; the mysteries here are ones Poe and Conan Doyle would have been proud of creating themselves – seemingly impossible crimes which are solved by the characteristic application of logic and rationality. Whilst Holmes might be the main subject of the book, the nature of the mysteries he and Dupin solve owe more to the latter’s creator, most strikingly in Father of the Man which involves the plot device of a premature burial (and which is my favourite of the collection).

In truth, the book is an origins story, telling as it does of the apprenticeship of Holmes. As such, it does a marvellous job of inhabiting the character and even provides explanations for, and origins of, many of the great detective’s trademarks; the magnifying glass, the violin – even his drug addiction.

I really can’t express how impressed I was with Under A Raven’s Wing. The stories in here are some of the best to feature the character of Sherlock Holmes that I’ve read – and bear favourable comparison to the originals. It’s proof yet again that Stephen Volk is one of the most creative writers currently plying their trade and also one of the most skilled at his craft. It’s a book I recommend highly.