Friday, 30 October 2015

The Ghost Writer: Out Now!

Albert Brownlow is a collector of ghost stories, although he has never found one that has rung true. Until now.

In the village of Amblesford lies a house, known for miles around as a place of ill omen, where the stench of death hangs in the air and the shadow of the hanging tree can be seen by the light of the full moon. Into this fell place comes the ghost writer, an antiquarian and writer of tall tales, whose curiosity leads him to darker places than even his imagination can conjure…

This is a story of hubris, loneliness, and friendship. It is a story of dark deeds and darker souls that can haunt a place beyond all reason.

It is a story of death.

Earlier this year, I wrote a ghost story.

This wasn’t for any particular reason, other than the fact that I wanted to write something a bit scary, and short-form, for my own enjoyment rather than on-commission, as so many short stories are. There was an element of an academic exercise to it, too, because I really wanted to write something in the style of my horror hero, M. R. James. For that reason, the story is set in days gone by (I plumped for the 1920s), and features an antiquarian getting himself into a spot of supernatural bother.

As I wrote, the story took on a life of its own. It went through seven iterations, eventually becoming rather long—too long, in fact, to be considered a short story any more. And so my novelette was born. I call it The Ghost Writer.

The Ghost Writer is an English ghost story in the classic style, albeit with a hard edge that might be more impactful to the modern reader. I’ve gone for atmosphere rather than blood and guts, suggestion rather than reveal, and a dash of ambiguity that I hope will have people discussing the truth of the protagonist’s tale long after Halloween is passed.

Indeed, as Halloween is now upon us, and the season for reading ghost stories is nigh, I’ve formatted and uploaded The Ghost Writer to various online booksellers (links to follow). It’s at this time of the year that I always dig out my copy of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary or Walter de la Mare’s Short Stories, and I’d encourage all of my readers to do the same, because those gents really are the masters of an art form that has many imitators but no true rivals. If The Ghost Writer were to appear on your winter reading list alongside one of those greats, I would be honoured indeed!

You can buy The Ghost Writer from Amazon here, or Smashwords here, in various digital formats.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Farewell to Fantasy Con

Well, Fantasy Con 2015 has come and gone. It was my first ever convention, and it was an absolute blast. I had no idea what to expect, but it’s fair to say that I did not expect to be hanging out at the bar with the likes of Joe Hill and Sarah Pinborough within half an hour of stepping through the door (they were both lovely, and ignored the fact that I was a bit shell-shocked I think)!

Less than two hours later I was very nervously speaking on a panel about writing within franchises. More nervous because, where I’d expected a small-ish room with a table at one end, we were actually on a stage in a rather large lecture theatre. I was up there with Mark Morris, Paul Kane, Rebecca Levene, and one of the con’s heavy hitters, Wheel of Time author Brandon Sanderson.

I was later to be cursing Brandon (light-heartedly of course), as his signing clashed with my reading, which meant I almost had to read to three people, all of whom I knew! Thankfully, you can always rely on your friends to whip up an audience at the last minute, and when those friends include agent Jamie Cowen, and Black Library favourites Gav Thorpe and GuyHaley, you’re a fortunate chap indeed!

The launch of The Lazarus Gate went well (apart from being interrupted by a fire alarm!), with a fair gathering of industry professionals, and a publicist on hand to ply me with wine so that my hands would stop shaking as I signed books. It helped that Mark Morris was beside me once again, and he proved quite a draw – he’s a real pro, that chap!

Pre-signing smiles!
The Dark Lord, Adam Nevill
(aka The Nicest Man in Horror).
Totally goobering;
fan selfie with S G Volk!
A con is a strange affair for a newbie. So many industry professionals, so many famous writers, and dozens upon dozens of not-so-famous ones like me, all rubbing shoulders together. I learned an awful lot just by chatting to fellow authors, and from attending panels on a variety of subjects, such as ‘the future of genre publishing’ and ‘writing short fiction’. I had dinner with the fabulous Titan crew (editors Cath Trechman and Natalie Laverick, publicist Lydia Gittins, and writers Marc Turner, Mark Morris, Dan Godfrey, Tim Lebbon and Nina Allan), hung out with Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane (the latter of whom provided the highlight of my weekend with his brilliant play on Saturday night), and also got to meet my two horror heroes: Adam Nevill and Stephen Volk, who really did make me lose my cool and go all fanboy… oh dear!

Big shout out to the Redcloaks for making the event go so smoothly.

There are less Latham-centric reviews of the event around, such as here. In all, a fantastic time was had, I came away with some new friends (and a sore head), and I’m already looking into my accommodation for next year’s event, this time in sunny(ish) Scarborough!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Darker Side of (Alt) History

An obligatory promo post today. My second book for Osprey Dark, Bug Hunts, is out now, so it seems a fitting time to take a look at both titles that are currently on the shelves.

Osprey Dark is an alt-history imprint of the famous military history publisher. Along with their Osprey Adventures range, each title delves into a fictionalized version of historical (or mythological and even future) events, presenting fun-packed ride into the realms of the fantastical.

The first of the two books is The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. This narrative looks at a version of events where the famous Washington Irving story was fact instead of fiction, and the writer was actually a hunter of headless revenants, taking his battle against the supernatural around the globe. The artwork by Alan Lathwell is just lush. It’s a great read for Halloween – but don’t just take my word for it, check out this review

The second book is Bug Hunts: Surviving and Combating the Alien Menace. This was great fun to write – at its heart, it’s a 23rd century tactical handbook for the intrepid STAR Industries Marine Corps, battling against alien ‘bugs’ inspired by a variety of cinematic tropes. It’s a homage to the SF horror that I’ve loved forever, although of particular fun was the chance to write an original future timeline, galactic history, and devise a technical weapons manual for my marines. There’s a review for that one, too!


Want to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy of Sleepy Hollow for Halloween? Check out my Facebook and Twitter pages for details.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Fantasy Con 2015

Where does the time go, eh? Just a few weeks ago I was celebrating the launch of The Lazarus Gate and frantically writing posts for my promotional blog tour, and now suddenly we're in con season and Fantasy Con 2015 is upon us!

This will be the first time I've ever attended a literary convention as a guest, and it's fair to say I have no idea what to expect (I have, however, received several offers of drunken tomfoolery from editors, publicists, my agent and fellow writers, so I can guess what I'll be doing 5:30-midnight each day...)
For the more serious business, however, I'll be part of a panel on Friday 23rd, at 5:00pm in the conference theatre, moderated by David Thomas Moore, and featuring Paul Kane, Rebecca Levene, Mark Morris, and Brandon Sanderson. Called ‘Someone Else’s World: Writing in a Franchise’, this is essentially about earning a living working inside already established parameters. I'll be sharing a bit about my experience working on Sherlock Holmes fiction, and writing within the gaming industry for properties as varied as Batman, The Lord of the Rings, Warhammer 40,000, and Android: Netrunner.

On the Saturday, there are two helpings of yours truly – first, I’ll be officially launching The Lazarus Gate at 2:00pm with the Titan Books crew, alongside Mark Morris, who’ll be launching The Society of Blood. And if that’s not enough, I’m doing a reading (in genuine Stoke accent) from the book at 3:20 in the Reading Room, straight after Jo Fletcher’s Kaffeeklatsch! (Nope, not nervous about that at all. Not me. No sir).

The rest of the time I’ll be wandering around either hung over, getting excited about books in the Dealers room, or kicking back in panels (excited to see Adam Neville, Joe Hill, and Ramsey Campbell are all there launching new books)! So, if you see me around, or make the effort to come to one of my little gigs, please do say hi. But be gentle, it’s my first time!

Full events list here.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Authenticity Conundrum

A few very kind souls who’ve said nice things about The Lazarus Gate have referenced its ‘authenticity’. That’s a peculiar word when talking about a 21st century book set in the 19th century, but it’s rather gratifying to know that the book feels authentic, as I put an inordinate amount of work into making it that way.

Victorian Google. AKA, about 1/4
of my collection of reference books.
I need help...
I’ve blogged previously on my love of Victorian reference material, and my collection of history, topographical, sociological and political books, not to mention maps, has grown considerably since then. I also found it really important to visit many of the locations I wrote about, particularly those parts of London that have remained largely unchanged for the last couple of centuries, such as Pall Mall.

But knowing the difference between a growler and a hansom, or a bowler and a homburg, isn’t quite enough to make a Victorian tale convincing. For the two years I spent writing the first draft of The Lazarus Gate, I read Victorian literature almost exclusively – novelists such as Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, as well as a host of short ghost stories – all in an attempt to capture the Victorian literary ‘voice’. In fact, when asked by both my agent and editor about certain word choices and archaic language, I replied that the book is as close to Victorian language as possible without alienating the modern reader. (Seriously, I learned to love the semi-colon during the writing of this book, although I just can’t summon a run-on sentence quite like Dickens). In the end, there was a fair bit of compromise on the subject, and I hope the balance we’ve struck is to the liking of my gentle readers. (Incidentally, there are a few literary ‘easter eggs’ in the prose, some of which are obscure, some just truly nerdy – I’ll do a blog on those in the future for anyone interested. See what you can spot in the meantime).

The Lazarus Gate is by no stretch a historical novel, but it’s close – I wanted to conjure the idea that, if you removed the supernatural and sci-fi elements, you’d end up with a fairly authentic-feeling Victorian thriller. To this end I set aside specific stages of the editing process to remove anachronistic language, and to check for Americanisms and idioms that have changed meaning between then and now.

Lastly, one thing that didn’t quite make the final edit was the glossary of terms that I’d originally intended for the back of the book. This might be of some use to my readers, or at least of academic interest, so I figured I’d make it available here.

Victorian Vernacular: A Glossary of Terms

Afflictions: Black mourning clothes.
Air one’s heels, to: To loiter/ dawdle about.
Apothecary: A chemist. In Victorian times, apothecaries often carried out unofficial, rudimentary medical care to those who could not afford to visit a physician or surgeon.
Back-to-backs: Rows of terraced houses, literally built back-to-back. Originally built for industrial workers, and found mainly in impoverished areas.
Black-coach: A hearse.
Black Maria: A police coach, used either to transport police constables to a crime scene, or to transport prisoners to the police station.
Bobby: a police constable.
Bog-trotter: Disrespectful/vulgar slang for an Irishman.
Chiv: slang – a blade. Also used as a verb ‘to stab’.
Chive: slang – to stab.
Clubmen: Paid-up members of a gentlemen’s club.
Coffee Houses: Popular meeting places for men of various social levels to drink exotic coffee and exchange ideas.
Collar: Police slang for arrest.
Costermonger: A street seller, usually specialising in fruit and vegetables.
Dilettante: A person of independent means pursuing a specialist interest for leisure rather than occupation; usually a patron of the arts.
Down-at-heel: an unfortunate man, lacking funds; scruffy. Often applied to destitute gamblers.
Fence: receiver of stolen goods.
Fenian(s): Common name of members of the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believed that Ireland had a right to independence from British rule, and that right should be secured by means of an armed revolution.
Frowst: A smoky or ‘concentrated’ atmosphere, as in a smoking room or thick smog.
Gentlemen’s Clubs: Social meeting places for gentlemen of means, usually exclusive in their membership and restricted to particular careers, political affiliations or interests.
Gig: A two-wheeled, one-horse cart, usually for two passengers.
Growler: Colloquial term for a Clarence or Brougham carriage; a four-wheeled, two-horse carriage seating up to four passengers.
Hansom Cab: A light, single-horse carriage seating two passengers.
Ha’penny: Half a penny, or two farthings.
Ha’penny Bumper: Slang for a two-farthing omnibus ride.
Home Rule: The idea of Irish independence through a self-governing body within the greater organisation of the British government.
Illustrateds, the: One of the many illustrated newspapers available in Victorian Britain, such as the Illustrated Daily News, the Police Gazette and the Pictorial Times.
Jack-tar: a sailor.
Jigger-gin: a potent alcoholic drink; quite lethal in large quantities. Jigger is also used to describe a measure of gin.
Lamplighters/Lampmen: Men whose job is light the gaslights of the city at dusk, and put out the lights at dawn.
Long Peace, the: ‘Pax Britannica’ – referring to Britain’s peaceful relations with Europe 1815-1914. A misnomer, as Britain was engaged in many wars against non-European powers at this time.
Muckworm: Vulgar slang for a miser.
Mudlark: A scavenger, particularly of the mud-banks of the Thames.
Neck or Nothing: slang – a desperate gambit; also used to mean 'swift'. Possibly has origins in steeplechase.
Neddy: slang – blackjack; cosh.
Omnibus: A horse-drawn bus or wagonette – affordable and somewhat crowded public transportation.
Penny Dreadful: A novella of dubious quality, usually containing sensational or unsavoury content. Purchased for the cover price of one penny, hence the name.
Penny-a-liners: Derogative term for a jobbing journalist, paid pittance for his work on the gossip columns.
Pinch of the game, the: Crucial moment, the crux of the matter. Colonial slang.
Punch: A popular satirical magazine, formerly ‘Punchinello’.
Quod: slang – prison.
Rag-and-famish: The Army & Navy Club. Coined by Captain Willliam Higginson Duff when offered the infamously Spartan food at the club.
Rum/ a ‘rum do’: slang – an unsavoury or suspicious turn of events.
Sharpish: slang – quickly. also Quick-sharpish: Make haste.
Smug: slang – to arrest a crook.
Table-rapper: A medium who conducts a séance by means of ‘table-tipping’ or ‘table-rapping’, whereby the legs of the table lift from the floor and bang out a yes-or-no answer to a question.
Tokay: A sweet, Hungarian wine, often consumed in the evenings after dinner by gentlemen.