Posts Tagged ‘horror’

IMG_20200619_125120By James Herbert

The unthinkable has happened. World War Three has broken out and nuclear missiles have exploded over London. Millions are killed, and pilot Steve Culver might have been one of them, except he fortuitously crosses paths with man from the ministry Alex Dealey, who’s on his way to a government shelter and, along with fellow survivor Kate, they battle through the underground to some semblance of safety, but for the survivors there’s more to worry about than radioactive fallout. Humanity thought they’d vanquished the mutant black rats, but they were merely hiding. Now they sense humanity is vulnerable, and claw their way out of the dark to claim London as their domain!

Given I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and given my predilection as a teenager for both James Herbert novels and apocalyptic fiction, it’s perhaps no great surprise that this 1984 novel was a firm favourite from my very first read, and I’ve read it many times since (as you can no doubt tell from the photo) though not for years.

The final, and in my opinion best, Rats novel (though there is a 1993 graphic novel) this sees Herbert go all out by killing millions in the opening chapters, and his evocation of nuclear annihilation and a ruined London is superbly done, playing on his usual trick of providing potted biographies for characters, just enough for us to empathise with them before killing them off. There’ll be rat related deaths aplenty later, but early doors the main causes of death aren’t teeth, it’s heat and the shockwaves burning up bodies and demolishing buildings.

He shifts to a second act focusing on the emotional impact of survival. Those in the shelter may be safe, but they’re still traumatised. Suicide is prevalent, and so is the risk of mutiny. Some don’t see why Dealey should be in charge just because he held a position of minor authority before the world ended.

There’s a grim recon mission to the surface featuring a wince inducing encounter with a rabid dog, but soon the survivors are faced with a triple whammy of threats; insurrection, flooding and rats!

This is a high concept novel. Bringing back the rats after a dull second outing and partnering them up with nuclear war, a subject on everyone’s minds in the 1980s. Herbert is disparaging towards authority in this, and the fate that befalls the main government shelter suitably ironic, yet much like his hero, he can’t quite bring himself to choose a side. Culver’s a standard Herbert stand-in; a loner in jeans and a leather jacket, a reluctant hero. A nonconformist who has little time for Dealey, yet seems equally sniffy about the potential mutineers. Dealey is a two-dimensional civil servant, a man who’s fallen back on bureaucracy because that’s all he has left. Herbert suggests Kate’s a strong female character, but really she’s just a damsel in distress for Culver to rescue and fall in love with. It’s a shame Herbert dispenses with a far more interesting female character early on.

A product of its time, women don’t far well, and whilst nowhere near as bad as I’d expected, persons of colour aren’t portrayed too glowingly either, aside from Jackson, who Herbert feels the need to constantly remind us is black which seems to be his only defining character trait, but he isn’t alone here and many people in the vignettes are more fleshed out that some of the recurring characters!

From a great concept the book goes downhill in the final third There’s the fairly predictable apocalyptic trope of the outlaw gang, and by the time we get to the finale there are just too few characters left to make for a final bloodbath, and it has to be said, there’s only so many rat attacks you can read before they all blur into one, and several of the grim interludes Herbert peppers the book with are a trifle samey. That said some other (non-rat related) interludes are nicely done.

He also annoys me by having characters use automatic weapons that appear to carry a ludicrous number of bullets!

A product of it’s time, this is still a very enjoyable read and definitely one of Hebert’s better books. It’s a trifle long and some of the underground scenes, especially late on, drag, but still a damn fine example of 80s’ post-apocalyptic fiction, and still a heck of a concept.

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The Treat

Posted: October 31, 2018 in Free fiction, horror
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As it’s Halloween, when spooks and ghouls go out to play, I thought it only fair to gift you a tiny tale of terror…enjoy, and when you open the door to Trick or Treaters tonight, well maybe you’ll wonder…

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I like Halloween, it’s the one night of the year I feel safe going out.

If I walk up to someone’s front door on Halloween night they don’t cringe or scream when they open the door, don’t shut it in my face and turn out all the lights. No, on Halloween they smile at me, they talk to me, complimenting me on my costume, asking how I create such a vivid effect. I talk about using my mum’s makeup, and charcoal, lots of charcoal. Does this convince them? I don’t know, there’s a flicker in their eyes sometimes, as if they understand but can’t consciously bring themselves to accept that understanding, so they joke and give me candy.

I can’t taste the candy of course, but the wrappers are pretty.

Usually the other children play with me. It seems a different group each year, though it’s hard to tell when they’re all dressed up as witches and vampires. They’re happy for me to tag along with their little gang, though I have to be careful, if they ask who I am then I stick to a first name only, never my own, and if they ask where I go to school I tell them I’m at boarding school far away.

I can’t very well tell them my school is St Michael’s, because St Michael’s burned down in 1976, the only casualty a nine year old girl who’d been playing with matches.

I stay with the other kids until they start to drift away, until they all head home. I used to stick it out to the last, until there’d be me and one other child left, but I don’t do that now. Somehow, once a kid is alone with me they recognize me for who I really am, as if there’s some group hypnosis at work that keeps us all safe and happy, but only so long as we’re together. It isn’t much fun seeing one of your new friends running away from you screaming, and it isn’t fair on them; Halloween isn’t a time for real scares, it’s a time for pretend terrors.

On Halloween night I skip and play and laugh. On Halloween night I have friends, I have fun, and I almost forget…

But then midnight comes and I trudge away from the bright lights and people. Midnight comes and I go back to the graveyard.

Until next year…

 

trainsJust a quick note to tell you I have a new book out! It’s available to buy from Amazon as a download now. Here are the UK and US links

UK: Buy for just £1.99

US: Buy for just $2.58

It’s an anthology of tales, each of which relates to time in some fashion. From countdowns and deadlines, to travelling through time itself, there’s something for everyone. Here’s more detail on each of the ten stories inside…

Do the Trains Run on Time?

An England that could be today, could be tomorrow, or could even be yesterday, has been invaded by a faceless, implacable enemy, and for a lucky few the only escape is via refugee train, but time is running out for one group of evacuees waiting at a lonely railway station when they find themselves menaced by a monstrous creature.

Irreconcilable Distances

Long distance relationships can be challenging, but as humanity heads for the stars things will only get harder!

The Delicate Art of Deep Space Negotiation

When a labour dispute on a far flung mining colony threatens to bankrupt a galaxy spanning corporation, one senior executive embarks on a desperate mission to resolve the issues, but time is of the essence.

Tempus Stultitia

When a student takes radical action to get a good grade, he imagines he’s thought of everything, but he may have made a very big mistake.

Folding Back the Years.

The place is London, the year is 1970, and Soviet backed forces are on the verge of taking the city. As the evacuation begins only one man knows that this isn’t how things were supposed to be…

Temp Agency

It’s the ultimate part time job, but is there a catch?

Mr Dweeb Comes to Town

The young man who wanders into a bar on a distant planet looks like an easy target for local thugs, but why does he keep checking his watch?

The Astronaut’s Son

Growing up is hard enough without your dad being an astronaut who’s aging slower than you are.

Habeas Corpus 

All new technologies get misused, and time travel is no different as some disreputable academics plan a very unique heist.

Ulrik Must Die!

It is another place, another time. Lady Maryam is far from home and heavily pregnant, with only her wits to rely on she must fight to ensure not only her own future, but the future of her unborn child. One thing is clear, for them to survive, Ulrik must die!

Ghost Stories

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Starring Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman.

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Phillip Goodman (Nyman) is a professor who specialises in debunking fraudulent mediums and explaining the unexplainable. He wants to prevent people’s lives being ruined by superstition, and was inspired by a 1970s paranormal investigator named Charles Cameron, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances decades ago, and is now believed dead.

When Goodman is contacted by the very much still alive Cameron he’s thrilled, but when he visits the old man in a ramshackle caravan, he is dismayed to learn that Cameron now believes in the supernatural. He passes three cases he could never debunk to Goodman, challenging him to explain them.

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The first involves a night watchman (Whitehouse) who encountered something unearthly in a disused sanatorium, the second is a teenager (Lawther) whose life has been turned upside down after he drove into something inhuman in the woods. Finally there is a rich financier (Freeman) who was plagued by a poltergeist on the eve of the birth of his child.

Goodman can explain each incident, but is he merely deluding himself? Is the supernatural actually real, and if so will Goodman survive his own encounter with the paranormal?

 

For those of us of a certain age, there are fond memories of kind of portmanteau horror stories that used to be on BBC2 late on a Friday or Saturday night. Best known producer of such films was Amicus productions, who churned out multiple such films in the 1960s and 70s, films like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Such films usually followed a familiar pattern, a series of stories linked by a framing story that would invariably contain a twist in the tale. Of course even before Amicus got in on the act there’d been the 1945 Ealing classic Dead of Night. There have been American takes on this too; Creepshow for example, but for me it’s those old British chillers I have affection for, and so on a purely nostalgic basis I was excited to see Ghost Stories.

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Adapted by Nyman and Dyson from their own stage play I can’t call Ghost Stories an unqualified success, but even beyond a nostalgic yearning for those old-fashioned portmanteaus, there’s enough here to make this a scarily enjoyably film, just not a perfect one.

As with any anthology, in film or print, some stories work better than others, and the first two tales on offer represent the highlights of the film. Once you get past expecting him to go all Fast Show on you, Whitehouse is actually very good as the night-watchman all alone yet not really alone. There’s a palpable sense of unease as he makes his rounds through the dilapidated building, and the directors really ratchet up the tension here. They almost take it too far, there’s a limit to how long you can conceivably stay on the edge of your seat waiting for the scare you know is coming, but they stay just the right side of it.

The second story is almost as creepy, especially once you factor in Goodman’s visit to the teenager’s house which is genuinely unsettling. Anyone who’s seen the Black Mirror episode Shut Up and Dance will know how well Lawther can do on the edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown levels of terror, and Nyman and Dyson make good use of it here, it’s a wonderfully fragile performance from Lawther and the lonely forest makes an equally scary counterpoint to the deserted sanatorium.

Sadly it’s kind of downhill from this point. Freeman is very good but the third tale feels limp in comparison to the first two (though there is one really effective jump scare as Goodman and Freeman’s character walk the moors) and from here on the film enters its final act and reveals the twist, and this is where the film falls down, because the ending has a bit too much going on, it feels baggy and in some respects unearned. There are elements that are utterly predictable (seriously if you don’t see one particular twist coming a mile away you need to go to Spec Savers) and others that aren’t nearly predictable enough, although there is a lot of foreshadowing and it’s possible that I might appreciate the final act more upon second viewing.

At times genuinely terrifying, with great performances, assured direction and a palpable sense of old school dread, there’s a lot to like here, I just wish the second half of the film had lived up to the opening segments, but that’s anthologies for you.

Anyway, I must go, it’s time for me to tell my story to Peter Cushing and my other fellow travellers on this old steam train. As for Ghost Stories, it’s flawed but recommended.

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“Who are you calling a hobbit?”

Lure of the Dead

Posted: January 14, 2016 in horror, Published fiction
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Zombies are so hot right now! They’re everywhere in films, on TV and in literature. Abaddon Books even have a specific imprint just for the walking dead. It’s called Tomes of the Dead and recently I was honoured to have my novella, The Lazarus Conundrum, published under this imprint.

But what is it about the living dead that’s so fascinating? What is it about zombies that has elevated them above so many other monsters in recent years? I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer to that, so my thoughts here are simply that, my thoughts.

I suppose in a way they enable us to confront our own mortality in a way that other undead creatures do not. Death is a universal constant, but it’s something that most of us shy away from thinking about. Even when loved ones die we rarely confront the icky nature of death and decomposition. If we see a loved one before their burial then that encounter will usually be stage managed, they will have been dressed and arranged to give the illusion of life, and thankfully most of us will never see an actual dead body out in the wild, as it were, unless we are very unfortunate.

People have differing views about why people like horror. I’ve always been of the opinion that horror, good horror done well, is about catharsis, it’s about facing our fears in a safe environment, and it’s about watching characters overcome terrifying obstacles, which gives us hope. If Rick Grimes can survive the zombie apocalypse then our dead end jobs or annoying families spats or ever spiralling credit card bills don’t seem quite so bad.

And there’s definitely something cathartic about being able to stare death in the face, especially if the monsters are secure behind the screen of a cinema or a TV, or safely locked away within the pages of a book.

You could make the argument that other monsters can fulfil the same purpose, but I’m not sure that’s true. Aside from the fact that they walk (and bite!) Zombies are us, or at least the meat portion of us, although whatever made us human is long gone. They’re not vampires, imitations of living people with human memories and with eternal youth, perfect death, and they’re not werewolves, there’s no animalistic metamorphosis going on here, only slow decomposition.

And the death we’re staring at when we look at zombies isn’t inert, death might be waiting for us further (hopefully a lot further!) down the line, but this isn’t a prelude of what’s to come; oh no, zombies are death not just staring us in the face but rushing (or lumbering) right at us, death hurrying to meet us.

And of course there’s a more visceral thrill to be enjoyed with zombies. Most often encountered in large groups they’re a natural disaster rather than an intelligent enemy, a tsunami of dead flesh, the unstoppable force against us, the living, who are far from being an immovable object. Even at their slowest there’s something relentless about the walking dead, like a glacier slowly encroaching. You can’t scare them off by waving a crucifix at them, and they’ll come for you whether its day or night. The only way to stop them is to destroy their brain (usually, there are exceptions) but when there are so many of them ammunition will only last so long. After this you need to get inventive, and this is where zombie fiction can actually be all kinds of gruesome fun: knives, clubs, swords, lawn mowers, garden gnomes…

Sometimes though all you can do is run, and isn’t that what most of us spend our lives doing? Trying to stay out of death’s reach for as long as we can?

Safe House

Posted: March 13, 2015 in Published fiction
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I’ve now published a new book! My novel Safe House is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon.com, in fact all the Amazons!

A story of spies and ghosts, or as I like to say Spooks vs Spooks, it’s available for the extremely bargainous price of £1.29/$1.95 so why not check it out, remember you don’t even need a Kindle to read it, just the free Kindle viewer app. Below are the cover and blurb. I’ll keep you up to date with sales figures 🙂

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John Tyrell was once a top MI5 agent, but illness has left him a broken man. Called out of retirement to aid in the debriefing of a defector, he reluctantly joins the enigmatic Chalice Knight and her team at White Wolf House.

It seems the perfect location; comfortable, remote, secure…but it’s a house built on blood-soaked ground, a place that reacts to traitors and murderers; and Chalice’s group contains both.

For them this house is anything but safe…

Use Enough Gun

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Published fiction
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I’ve recently had a story published in the anthology Use Enough Gun, which is available to buy in both paperback and Kindle format from Amazon via the following link.

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Monster hunting tales are as old as mankind, and the popular Legends of the Monster Hunter series has offered some of the best monster hunting tales ever told! Use Enough Gun is the third in this series and brings an exciting edge to the collection by exploring what happens when monster hunting goes wrong! Stalk vampires, werewolves and other creatures of legend…but do not expect the hunter to always triumph. Sometimes they miss their target, and sometimes their target gets them!

Featuring “Weapon of Choice” by Paul Starkey

Long before The Devils of Amber Street I published my first novel, City of Caves, via Lulu, where it remains for sale to this day and can be purchased in either electronic or more traditional book formats via the two links below.

http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/paul-starkey/city-of-caves/ebook/product-17401848.html

http://www.lulu.com/shop/paul-starkey/city-of-caves/paperback/product-4976945.html

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“Adam Kember’s life is finally starting to reach equilibrium. He might be living in a refugee camp, might be forced to work as a teacher, a farmer, a soldier, but at least he’s safe from the marauding hordes of bloodthirsty ferals that stalk the near future world he inhabits.

Except now a mysterious group of soldiers and scientists has arrived— they plan to enter the ruined city of Nottingham in search of the mythical patient zero, the original source of the vampire-like plague that has almost destroyed the world…and they want Adam Kember to go with them…”

I’ve just published a small anthology via Amazon/Kindle which can be purchased via the below link for a very reasonable price…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Devils-Amber-Street-ebook/dp/B00AY55WY0/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1357679042&sr=8-13#_

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When a young couple buy their first home they expect to have to do a bit of DIY, they don’t expect fiery demons in their spare room…

The Devils of Amber Street is a novella that defies expectations. Also included within this book are the following short stories

The Bonaventure Jane: In Elizabethan England self-styled detector of innocence George Tellant strives to clear a young man charged with murder…

Megg: On another Earth, in another time, a kingdom is threatened by dark forces, and a young girl seeks help from a mysterious old sorceress known only as Megg…

The Wolf: In 14th Century England wolves were a constant danger, but as two brothers go out one morning to hunt a particular white wolf, there may be something even more dangerous abroad…

 

 

Christmas with the family

Posted: December 25, 2012 in Free fiction
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Here’s a new short story, written especially. Wishing everyone a ghoulish Christmas 🙂

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Once upon a time there was a woman named Grace. She lived in a remote area of Scotland, in a house that was far too big for her, a family home though she no longer had a family.

Despite being almost sixty, she was a strong, sprightly woman, and as she did each Christmas Eve, she tidied and arranged the house, hung decorations and placed a dusty old angel atop the tree; preparing everything for the return of her family on Christmas morn.

Some might have seen this as a somewhat redundant task, for Grace’s two children had been taken from her when they were mere bairns, and her husband had left her shortly afterwards, when he realised that she would never be able to let their children go.

Grace of course realised that Christmas, more than any other time of the year, was a time of miracles, of hope, And, most importantly, a time of family. And so each year she followed the same routine, made everything ready for the return of her loved ones, set the table with the kind of precision only a woman who’d been a matron for many years could muster, and then she went to bed early, though like many during the hours when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, she did not sleep, so excited was she at the prospect of her family finally returning to her.

The snow had yet to fall this winter, but it was still a cold and blustery night, and her house was old and ramshackle. She shivered beneath many blankets, and tried not to hold her breath each time there came the creak of a floorboard, or the groan of a window frame from somewhere deep within the house.

Eventually, despite her excitement, despite the howling gale that swirled around her house as if God himself were trying to sweep her home away, she slept. And whilst she slept, she dreamed, of little Michael, and bonny Miranda, and of her husband, Brian, of the twinkle in his eye. When she awoke she awoke with a smile.

There was, of course, no stocking hung from the end of her bed filled with treats, the kind of stocking she’d got as a child, the kind she and Brian had snuck into the bairns’ rooms many a time to hang upon their bedposts. She did not take this as a bad omen, did not lose her hope. She dressed quickly, yet smartly, pinning her long white hair up with care as if she were still planning to conceal it beneath a nurse’s cap.

She crept slowly downstairs, her hand trembling against the worn wooden bannister. She could hear nothing from below, no voices, no carols echoing from the old television in the sitting room. There was no laughter as children opened their presents.

Still she did not despair, did not turn her back on the possibility that this year, this year the miracle would finally happen.

The door to the kitchen was firmly closed. She lifted the latch and, taking a deep breath, she opened the door. Bright December light streamed in through the windows, so the table was illuminated fully, and so were the members of her family seated around it.

Grace released her breath with an exhale that became a girlish, yet nervous, giggle. Like a wee child she skipped towards the table, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her son as she passed, wary of somehow spoiling the enchantment.

She took her seat at one end of the table. At the other end sat her husband, there was no twinkle in his eye yet, but she knew that would come. To her left sat Michael, her strong wee boy, and to her right was her most precious angel, Miranda. Her children looked at her, their expressions frozen in place as if they too feared that to speak, to acknowledge each other’s presence, might shatter the magic of Christmas morning.

In the end though, excitement, pure unbridled joy, meant Grace couldn’t wait any longer. “Merry Christmas!” she cried, tears of happiness wetting her old weathered cheeks like mountain streams coursing down the ancient, craggy mountains that surrounded her home.

None of her family responded. None of them moved. Not her husband, not her son, not even her wee angel. The three corpses sat rigidly, held in place by petrification and time. For a few seconds more, Grace continued to believe that they might still return to life, but then her tears of joy turned bitter.

She left the table and went into the sitting room. She did not turn the TV on; she didn’t even turn on the lights. She merely sat in her old armchair and wept. She wept for a long time, she wept most of the day until, just before dusk, she gently carried the bodies of her family back to their resting place in the cold, arid cellar.

After the last journey she paused at the top of the cellar stairs for a moment. Looking down at the three bodies sat in a circle on the dry stone floor she smiled sadly to herself, then turned the light out and closed the door.

Maybe next Christmas…