Catching Up On What I’ve Missed

One of the best things about returning from holiday is catching up on what everyone has been up to in my absence. No, I’m not talking about Trump (though I’m sure we’ll be getting into him just as soon as the story changes), I’m talking about people with rather a lot more talent.

So, my first stop is listening to the film reviews by Tom Charles (of Sketchy Reviews). Join in by listening below:

After that, it’s a pop over to J M Hooker’s blog to enjoy some of his fine photography and musings on fire hydrants.

Photography by J M Hooker

And finally it is off to check in with the latest creation of Paul Hayes… although that’s a secret still in development. You’ll have to wait for that one.

Reviews

While I slowly tap away at the various short stories that are in the works (as well as the long slog that is my next novel), various reviews continue to roll in. The most notable being on the horror blog “The Mind Of Madness“, a link to which you can permanently find in the side bar. The author, Richard Langston, has also reviewed Zigglyumph & Seeker so I urge you to head on over and take a look.

So what’s been going on? Mostly I have been working on Tote projects – that’s the grim steampunk world that the Hayes brothers and myself have been developing for some time. Truth be told the task of capturing this alternate world has left me rather daunted, but the various tales chug along and I hope to have the first available soon.

I have also been listening to The History Of Rome podcast. This has quickly become one of my favourite pastimes and I highly recommend it. I am currently on episode 117 and am as gripped as ever.

So for now here’s something I stumbled upon whilst strolling in Kent. The setting was rather more idyllic that I would imagine a hill belonging to the Mariner to be.

Mariner’s Hill, Kent

Hail To The Chris

Forest Dragon 2 by Christopher Hayes

Steam Engineers, The Tote

Many have been praising the artwork within The Mariner of late, so I thought I’d draw your attention to the illustrator behind them: Christopher Hayes. Chris lives in the Yarra Valley, outside of Melbourne, though like myself can trace his scarred memory back to Croydon, England.

He is one of the three developers of the world of the “Tote”, a steampunk environment for which he is the principal artist. Whilst Paul Hayes and I thrash out the workings of the great city and those who live within, it is Chris who gives this world its visual style and flavour.

A long time horror fan, Chris was able to turn his skills to the darker arts, supplying all the artwork for The Mariner, both the front cover and the ink sketches within. Below is a scene from the book in which the Mariner observes an abandoned philosophy teacher adrift in the ocean. Those who have read the chapter will notice Chris’ amazing ability to take the flavour of the scene and then go in his own direction creating something that is more than just a representation of the events.

You will hopefully be seeing more of Chris’ artwork later this year with the release for the first Tote novel. Too see more of Chris’ work, please visit his deviantART page.

Rotten Philosophy by Christopher Hayes

The Origins Of Grace

The Mariner Giveaway is now over and I’d like to thank everyone who took part. We managed to get down to #28 in the UK Horror chart, and #4 in the US Sea Adventures. The Mariner is once again for sale on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Jemma the Vicious

I have recently been asked about the origins of Grace, the Tasmanian devil that features prominently in the The Mariner. It was suggested that she was an incarnation of Jemma, my late West Highland White Terrier. Like Grace tormenting the Mariner, Jemma would dominate those who got in her way; snapping, growling and berating any who opposed her. I suppose this curious mix of sadism and companionship did filter into the fictional Tasmanian devil, though it was entirely subconscious.

In actual fact the Tasmanian Grace was inspired by an actual Tasmanian devil. I witnessed this belligerent beast in the healesville sanctuary in Australia. Impatient and grumpy, little Grace would first “Arf!” and then bellow for her food, savage the boot of the handler and generally bully any male that shared her vicinity. As you can imagine, I was infatuated from the start.

Tasmanian devils are in terrible danger of extinction due to facial tumours and destruction of habitat. Action needs to be taken asap to protect this charming species. For more information please visit: http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf

Grace the Tasmanian Devil, photo by Christopher Hayes

Disaster in Dulverton, Part 2

Our small team eyed the manor house suspiciously.

“Where did that come from?” I asked, scratching my head till the scalp bled.

“Eeee I’ve got naa idea guv’nor!” cried Jules in an undecipherable accent.

“We have no choice,” chimed in the soon-to-be-dead Paul. “We’ll have to head into that valley and try to cross the river.”

At the mention of such a horrifying feat, James ran into the nearest wall. Paul grabbed him by the scruff of his neck.

“No time for dashing yourself against the rocks, my dear boy,” he growled. “There’ll be plenty of time for that when we’re neck-deep in rapids.”

“I know, I know,” insisted James. “It’s a compulsion of mine. I’m over it now.”

And so the four of us headed into the forest below, leaving the manor house behind. The going was tough, the flies even more furious at our intrusion than before. They must have sensed our weakness.

Harsh conditions and deady plants awaited our every step

Harsh conditions and deady plants awaited our every step

Finally we could hear the roar of the mighty river. It loomed into view like a piddle from Neptune himself. How on Earth would we cross? After following it for some time, it became clear we would have to wade.

At this point there was a split within the group that none of us would ever recover from: to wear shoes, or to go bare-footed? Paul and I striped off our footwear, whilst the other two chose to dampen their soles. Both pairs eyed the other with suspicion. For the first time in the day there was discord. If the river didn’t kill us, would we kill each other?

The rapids were freezing and teaming with pebbles, but the four adventurers plodded on, determined not to be sucked under and destroyed.

And then suddenly, I tumbled forward. “I’m done for!” I screamed above the din of the rushing waters. But by sheer luck I stuck out a hand and steadied myself. For a moment I was worried about Piranha fish, a fearsome predator found in such rivers as this, except in the Amazon.

After much crying we finally made it to the other side. We had crossed the mighty river and were in familiar territory once more. Just a short two hour trek home through the forest and we’d be home.

Three of the four share a final drink together, each aware of their fate, but too damn brave to mention it.

Three of the four share a final drink together, each aware of their fate, but too damn brave to mention it.

Rain sodden and demoralised we finally stumbled into the cottage that evening. A full seven long hours since we set off. Like all good gents, we settled down to a hearty meal, stiff drink, and a game of battlestar galactica the board game.

The following morning, out of curiosity, we decided to follow the road outside the cottage, to see where it might lead.

A few minutes along we saw it. The manor house! Oh woe! We had wasted several hours and risked life and limb for naught! All four broke down and wept.

“This world is too unjust!” screamed Paul as he placed a whole jacket potato in his mouth and bit down. The following explosion took his head clean off. James, unable to cope with the horror, threw himself against the nearest fence.

It was a dark time.

Later that afternoon we returned home. The journey was uneventful.

Disaster in Dulverton, Part 1

On Friday 13th a crack squad set out from Brighton. The Mission: to spend a weekend break in Exmoor. The team was comprised of the following-

James Hooker – Spy, Photo Journalist, Scout
Jules Ross – Assassin, Care Worker, Thief
Paul Hayes – Sapper, Programmer, Samurai
Ade Grant – Guide, Writer, Priest

The mission almost failed as it began, as James Hooker drove into Paul’s next door neighbour’s house. Quite what possessed the young journalist is unclear, but one thing’s for certain, upon approaching the home of Paul Hayes, terror overcame him and he took a suicidal acceleration in the direction of a brick wall. Fortunately no-one was hurt and James came to his senses soon after. Was this a herald of things to come? Did he sense our impending doom?

Every direction we turned, a barrier stood in our way

Every direction we turned, a barrier stood in our way

The destination of our stay was a small cottage just outside of Dulverton. The journey went well and we deliberately arrived under the cover of darkness. Well aware of a possible ambush, we used the black night and dimmed headlights to sneak in. We were safe. We had arrived.

The following day we decided to embark upon a mighty trek. We followed the river north, with the aim being Tarr Steps and a splendid drink. However the journey would be fraught with danger; a failed crossing of the river almost crippled Jules with a wet foot, clouds of flies tried to blind us, sheep glared, buzzards swooped, overall it was a terrifying experience.

Tarr Steps proved a haven from the storm. But we only had enough time to drink a large bourbon, and then we were back off, into the moors this time.

Ten seconds later, this man was dead

Ten seconds later, this man was dead

The moors proved even harsher. Rain lashed our faces and mud clutched our boots, yet still we pressed on. With every field crossed we were sure we’d see the cottage again, but every time we were proved wrong. Moral dropped. Tensions rose. Would we ever make it back alive?

All was about to fail, until suddenly civilization rose its grubby head. We dashed out, excited to find a road. But wait! No! It was not our cottage at all, it was a large manor house, one we’d never seen before. What now? We were truly lost…

To be continued….

A Tentative Return

It has been a long time since my last post. The world of politics has been ticking along, mostly with Labour trying to break up the coalition like a jealous spotty teenager without a partner to the prom. And that is all they’ve been doing – their leadership race is even duller than the last Lib Dem one, and that’s quite an achievement! It seems only the Tories can have a decent leadership battle, probably because their contenders always range from the mad to the outright deranged.

Still, better not speak ill of the new “allies”. A lot of Lib Dems are furious with their party for getting into bed with their arch-enemy. So much so that the party’s approval rating is dangerously low. But I’m not angry, not in the slightest. I’m actually very proud. This was the grown up thing to do. No, more than grown up, it was heroic. The Lib Dems threw themselves on the hand-grenade that was a Tory Government, shielding the rest of us from the worst of the blast. We may not realise it, but the Lib Dems have saved us from destruction, even if it means they’re blown to bits in the process.

If you scroll back through the history of this blog you’ll find a lot of bile about Cameron. I stand by those statements, the man was god-awful during the election campaign. But now that he’s been freed from his back-benchers and grass-root supporters by the liberal wing of the coalition, he’s doing quite well. It’s very odd, but I can feel the resentment ebbing away..

Perhaps this is all a cruel trick and in a couple of months I’ll be screaming blue murder, but for now all is pretty good. It will be better if the lib dems stop stuffing up and getting caught up in scandal (I’m looking at you David Laws and Chris Huhne) and instead got gutsy and started following the lead of California (more on that to follow in a couple of days).

Outside of politics I’ve been working on the next collection of short stories. It’s called “Doctor Tetrazzini and His Life Affirming Theory” and will contain follow up stories to both “Rotten Philosophy” and “The Frog’s Paw”. More information to be given shortly.

Lost Girls vs Twilight

In the run-up to Christmas I was searching for a present for a friend of mine. I knew he was a fan of Alan Moore, as am I; both Watchmen and V for Vendetta are excellent political commentaries. So when browsing a graphic novel store I saw two options of Alan Moore that I knew he did not own: “From Hell” and “Lost Girls”.

I asked the shop assistant which he’d recommend. I was familiar with “From Hell”, but not “Lost Girls”.

“Well, it depends upon what your friend is into,” the assistant remarked. “Does he enjoy violence or sex?”

A good question indeed! I am fairly certain my friend enjoys both (though I hope, not at the same time), but thought it best to play it safe. Violence is an acquired taste. Everyone enjoys smut.

So I bought him the notorious graphic novel dubbed by its own author as “pornography”. Much later, after he’d finished the book, he told me of its rather shocking qualities and I was intrigued. As a fan of anything that pushes boundaries (such as infamous video nasties, or books such as Naked Lunch) I was keen to read it. My friend kindly lent it to me.

That was several days ago and I have now finished Lost Girls. It is the sort of book I would like to own and put on the living room table. It’s perfect for guests to flick though. My girlfriend browsed through some pages and declared it pornography, to which I found myself suddenly leaping to the books defence. True, I often defend the concept of porn, but I felt that somehow this book was more than simple titillation. So I decided to compare it to a series of books she read recently: the Twilight Saga.

Twilights Edward Cullen

Twilight's Edward Cullen

The Twilight books, written by Stephenie Meyer, are set in the United States and revolve around an awkward teenage girl called Isabella Swan who falls in love with a vampire. The book became an instant hit and the film even more so. We are currently in the grip of Twilight mania, sandwiched between the release of the second and third film.

So why compare Lost Girls with this? One is pornography, the other is literature, surely?

Well, to backup this statement, lets examine the facts. Lost Girls is about three women who meet in a hotel in Austria during the run-up to the First World War. There they share tales of their sexual awakenings and experimentations. The book contains graphic scenes of heterosexual and homosexual copulation, orgies, bestiality, incest, role-reversals and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Twilight, on the other hand, is a tale of two youngsters (one is actually about a hundred years old, but he appears young enough to go to high school) who fall in love, but fate and difficulties keep pulling them apart. Quite unlike Lost Girls there is next to no sex in Twilight, although there is a lot of social foreplay.

Twilight can be found in almost every book shop in the country. You will be hard pressed to find Lost Girls anywhere.

Now here comes the crux of my argument: I think it should be the other way round.

Stephenie Meyer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; she does not smoke or drink and we can only assume that her views on sex are on the conservative side. Twilight has gone down so well in the states because the relationship depicted within is one of abstinence. The lead characters only sleep together once they are married. Until then the books are awash with frustration and lonely longing. Targeting teenage girls, the books present sex as something destructive that should be avoided. At an age of sexual insecurity this reinforces their fears and makes them feel safe.

Lost Girls, on the other hand, has no such agenda. It is an exploration of sexuality, not a dogma telling the reader what is good and what is bad. The characters within the book each have different desires and are willing to explore them, all the while keeping their right to choose their own path.

While the book appears pornographic, it is in fact full of empowering and healthy scenes. One such moment is the realisation by a character that although she fantasises about being raped, it does not mean she desires the actual act, or gives any right to a perpetrator to carry out the act. Does Stephenie Meyer tackle such deep and complex issues?

The Twilight books have taught a whole generation that abstinence and sexual frustration is something to be sought after. Ironically if that very generation had instead read Lost Girls, they might have learnt some truths about sexuality, or at least opened their eyes to the importance of understanding their own. Sexual repression is a dangerous thing, perhaps if more literature was pornographic the world would be a healthier place.

True Weirdness

The terrible weather has led to disaster for many over the past week, but for myself it prompted a rather bizarre experience. My partner and I were making our way to Camden (in the hope of reaching the disappointingly studentish Electric Ballroom) when we were caught in an apocalyptic deluge. Becoming drenched within a matter of seconds we jumped into what appeared to be a small quiet pub in the hopes of drying out and regrouping our spirits.

Upon entry we were greeted with a small but astonishingly eclectic group of individuals, all cavorting about to 80’s tracks, pumped out with much vim and vigour through an overeager sound system. Rather than allowing us to slip into the corner to dry out, we were immediately set upon, offered a change of clothes (which I refused) and as many drinks as I could drip at.

Despite the lack of a dance floor, these Londoners weren’t to be foiled;they danced up and down alongside the bar, and soon my girlfriend was dragged off by a large group of lesbians, of various ages, who insisted that she have a boogie too!

I thought I had made a lucky escape, being left alone at the bar, but this was not to be! As soon as I was by myself a deeply inebriated gentleman began babbling in my direction, eyes as wide as his grin. It turns out he was a devout Muslim taking part in a fast; but the fast only applied to food, not drink, and certainly not to ecstasy, a pill of which he tried to force into my hand.

“Take it, take it! My gift to you!” he muttered above the din. “If I have any more I won’t be able to complete my prayers correctly.”

My girlfriend fortunately came to my rescue, dragging me away from his spinning eyes.

“You must start accepting their drinks,” she hissed, chastising my lack of etiquette. “They’ll take offence otherwise!”

“I can’t! They’re trying to poison me with alcohol, ecstasy and even orange flavoured mousse. The rain seems to have eased for a moment, lets make a dash for it!”

And with that we made our escape, back into the wet London night. Later, we did end up in the Electric Ballroom, but despite all the glitter and colours, there were no freaks there, it’s all just for show. True weirdness is to be found in the local pubs.