An author of Speculative Fiction, speculates about fiction.


Not Before Bed…the return

Oh yes, it has been a long time in the making but it’s finally here. The short story collection which I put together and self published before Greaveburn was accepted by Inspired Quill has finally come home. IQ have graciously accepted to reprint the old warhorse of nightmaresthat is Not Before Bed. With new editing, amazing new cover and even some re-hashings and new endings for some of my old work, the beast is definitely back.

The inimitable Charley Hall has produced a creepy cover, and there is even an internal illustration inspired by NBB by Chloe Lisa. It looks pretty great, I have to admit. I’m very chuffed with it. Check out the Tour Deets page for where me and the new books (The Adventures of Alan Shaw is still doing the preliminary rounds), or follow my Facebook page to stay up to date.

Other than that, feast your eyes on this juicy cover art and await the release date on 15.12.14 (Just in time to darken your Christmas, Horror-fans).

NBB ebook cover


Thanks for reading!

NanNoWriMo will never die with Webucator!

I was recently contacted by Webucator who are performing the excellent task of stretching NaNoWriMo a little further this year but getting authors to talk about what motivates them and to give out tips to any fresh-faced writer-types out there.

Of course, I’m all for that!

You can read the posts of others who have come before me here:

And now, for my own post. Hope you enjoy it!

It seems so long ago that I often wonder if I’m remembering it right, or whether nostalgia has warped my memory. But the moment I see clearest is being in my local branch of WH Smiths at age 11, and spotting the insane cover artwork of Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic. I’d always been an avid reader, but something about those books just grabbed me and haven’t let go since. I was obsessed by them, reading one after the other as soon as my Mum could afford to buy me the next one.

Sir Terry was where my flirtations with writing began, too. I think the first story I tried to write was about a jester called Malcolm who had a talking puppet, and was pitted against a monster which was attacking a small seaside town. I never finished it. But I was only 14 at the time so cut me some slack.

The idea of writing stayed with me, though. I read every book I had offered, and always loved the creative writing sections of any school syllabus. All I ever wanted was to have my own book on a shelf, just like Sir Terry; just to have someone browse past my work was the dream and remained the dream for a long time.

It was years later when, having finished my Nursing degree and I was working as a full time neurological rehabilitation Nurse, the writing came back. An odd and remarkably vivid dream sparked to idea for a novel which simply wouldn’t let me go until it was on paper. That was Greaveburn, my first novel, which I predominantly wrote and then finished while working the night shift. Night time is the best for writing gothic fantasy. It’s either being surrounded by darkness or the fact that your brain in half asleep, but it conjures such beautifully dark images.

And so, the journey into authordom began. To cut a long story short, I passed the time while trawling agents and publishers by writing short horror stories and sending them to magazines, some of which made it into print, but Greaveburn was eventually accepted by Inspired Quill publishing and the rest is a fantastic blur of signings and conventions.

So I had reached my goal; book on shelf. I could rest on my laurels and sip brandy like a Sir. But no. Never one to be satisfied with anything I do, I had to write another one. A better one. And so writing the best book I could became my next goal. I’ve read, made notes, and even completed a second degree, this time in English Literature (focussing on creative writing, of course) with the Open University. All in the name of being the best writer I can be. And here we are, up to present, with my second novel released and a collection of my old horror stories on the way. And I’m still typing furiously, the next goal just keeps on coming. This time it’s “write a sequel that is better than the first”, for both Greaveburn and The Adventures of Alan Shaw.

That, I think, is my new motivation. I’ve had so much support and feedback from family and readers that I don’t want to let them down; make them proud, make their £7.99 purchase worth their time and effort; give the incredible people I’ve met over the course of those signings and conventions something worth having.

And keep writing. If only to get the pestering, gnawing little stories out of my head so I can concentrate on buying that bottle of milk or listening to a family member without drifting off into my fantasies.

For any new writer out there, striving to finish the book, to find a publisher, to make themselves better, I can give a few tidbits of advice which have done me well. First, read. Read everything. And read with your writing in mind. You can only be innovative and ground-breaking if you know what’s come before you. Secondly, write. Write all the time. In your head, in your notebook, on a beer mat or a toilet wall. Write like your life depends on it. Third (this is my personal favourite), work hard. Stop making excuses about not having time. I was working full time as a nurse, completing a degree course, organising a wedding, doing signings for my first book and still found time to write the second one. If I can do it, as King of the Procrastinators, then you can too. Sometimes you have to give something up; your favourite tv show or (in my case) sleep, so give it. If you want to reach your goal badly enough, swap your excuses for allowances.

And finally, remember that there is no magic ticket to the land of the publisher, and no set rules anymore. I don’t have an agent. I found my publisher on Twitter. If that’s not an example of how the old publishing rules don’t apply any more, I don’t know what is. So get out there, spread the word, collect readers like chocolate frog cards and love every one of them because readers are your best friends.

Good luck, Author-in-the-making. You can do it.

Anime has eaten my life

I think I might have mentioned before how I love anime. But lately it’s really taken over my soul.

I’ve always been envious of the Japanese way of story-telling. They’re fearless in the way they develop stories, characters, and aren’t afraid to have their endings leaving feeling emotionally drained and ecstatic at the same time. They’re basically the anti-Hollywood and every cookie cutter movie ever made there.


I think it started with watching Akira, laid on the floor of a friend’s living room, late at night, when I was about 12 years old. And I was hooked. But I’ve slacked off since then, always having my love a distant, unrequited thing. Until I recently found sites like Animesetsu and even Netflix. And now the game is on!

In the last year I’ve inhaled as much as I physically can from Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online, to older classics which I missed out on such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Neon Genesis Evangelion. That’s just the tv series, of course. I’ve had the pleasure of Steamboy (which has to be a personal favourite, speaking directly to my Steampunk soul) and the Studio Ghibli classics.

But what effect has this had on my writing?


I think a lot of my WIPs now have a less Hollywood feel to them, and more of an anime slant. This, of course, means that I may never get my Greaveburn movie (like that was ever going to happen anyway! hahaha). But it does mean that I’m satisfied my readers will be getting something a little different from my books. At least, I hope so. There’s nothing worse than an ending that is too neat, too happy, too clean. If your hero comes out the other end without some scars, what have they sacrificed in order to win?

Anime characters often have everything taken from them, and still emerge with something they never knew they needed. Stronger and better despite the scars. That’s what I like in the stories that I read, anyway.

Like the Dresden Files novels. HUGE FAN! And even through Harry Dresden may win the battle, you get the idea that each round takes more out of him than he can spare. He’s a little darker, a little more damaged, and he has to push his personal limits to make the tough decisions. That’s a hero! Dresden is very much an anime character. And I want my creations to be anime characters, too.

Here’s a thought…Greaveburn, the anime.

I know I’m biased because I wrote it, but even if not, I would watch the HELL out of that!😀

In summary, readers and writers out there, if you want to refresh your storytelling and get some inspiration from a different source with entirely new ideas and outlooks, try anime for a change. If you’re anything like me, your notebooks will brimeth over with new ideas.


Embrace the weird, my friends!

Selling books ain’t easy – How to get your books noticed at events

Well, The Adventures of Alan Shaw is out there in the universe now. I’ve had my first couple of signings and everything seems to be going well. Lots of folks who read Greaveburn came along to both Waterstones in Doncaster and Leeds Steampunk Market to pick up their copies of the new book, which is very nice of them indeed.

What I noticed, however, is that new readers were leaning toward Greaveburn rather than Alan Shaw. Despite the logic which would suggest that the next book would be better. After all, I’ve had a lot more practice at this thing I do, so I certainly hope I’ve learnt something (Jury’s still out, though). And I think I know why. Greaveburn is shorter!

Why would you start reading a new author, not knowing if you’re going to like it, and pay a pound extra for the larger book? Of course you wouldn’t! You read the shorter, cheaper book and, if you like it, you read more. I also noticed that as the pile of Greaveburn copies went down, people picked it up more. That would suggest readers believe the sales of books to be indicative of quality. So, the sales of Greaveburn perpetuated themselves.


Just when I thought no one would be interested in the older novel, it kicks serious ass at Leeds Steampunk Market.

Of course, for the author, you want people to read and review your new work, so it can feel disappointing. But once Greaveburn had sold out, people headed over to the Alan Shaw pile and they disappeared, too. That pretty much proves my point about reader psychology and the books they buy.

Also, everyone wanted to know if the books were part of a series. People want to read epic stories nowadays. Everyone is looking for their next 50 Shades of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series. For the love of God, if someone asks you if your book is part of a series, even if you’re still working on the other books and it’s just a possibility, tell them about it!

Another thing I noticed, which seems odd but is true, most people, on stepping through a door, will turn right. Don’t ask me why. They just do. Unless there is something staggeringly brilliant to their left that they just can’t pass up, they will go right. So, if you’re at a market, try to shift your stall over that side. You don’t want to be next to the door, though. People browse before they buy. Be the third or fourth stall. By then, readers/buyers will have got a feel for the room and be ready to hang around.

Another thing I’ve observed is how sellers present themselves. Over the course of any event weekend, you can observe people floating on by stalls. Why is that? There seems to be a correlation with how the stall holders were coming across. If you sit behind a phone/tablet/book, and look disinterested, why should the reader/buyer be interested in you? Also, if your stall is surrounded completely, new people won’t come over. If you’re lucky enough to have some lovely person come and have a conversation with you, then ask them politely to move over so that people can still get in. They really won’t mind. Then carry on chatting.

A similar point is to not have too many people behind your stall. On occasions where I’ve had myself, my shop girl (either my wife, or a friend who helps me out) and my publishers all behind the table, people feel overwhelmed. It’s like they’re having a job interview. So they don’t visit. I get more casual visitors when it’s just me, or me and my shop girl, than at any other time.

This post is turning into a thesis! Sorry.

On the subject of shop-girls…and don’t take this the wrong way…but a pretty face next to you is hardly a bad thing. Unless you have pretty face of our own. But I don’t. I’m more of a keep-the-kids-away-from-the-fire kind of face. And so a friendly, pleasant young lady with me helps to even me out. It also helps if that assistant knows their stuff. Make sure they’ve read the book! Let them listen to you sell your own material. My friend, Fran, helps me out regularly, and I’ve noticed that she pretty much directly quotes me when explaining the book to others. And it works! She’s read the book herself so she can comment on whether people will like it or not, and she explains the premise just as well as I do. Perfect!

A tip I got from a very nice fellow author, Sam Smith, was to use The Rule of Three to explain your book to other people. This rule is based on the magic number that makes everyone’s brain go wahoooHOOOO! But also on something I’ve mentioned before; that everyone is looking for the next book to read which they will enjoy just as much as their last one!

So, described your books by comparing them to three other things. Let’s use Greaveburn as an example to make it easier to explain:

It’s like Frankenstein meets Les Miserables with a hint of The Hunchback of Notre Dame where every character is a villain.”

See the three elements? That gives a really good idea of what the story is about, the feel of it, and then finished off with something unique to the book.

Let’s try to do it with The Adventures of Alan Shaw:

“It’s like Indiana Jones is thrown into an H.G Wells novel and travels the world having Pulp-style adventures, where you get to see how the Steampunk era develops as the character grows up.”

An easy sentence to memorise, and it lays it all out for the potential reader. Then, once they’re hooked, you can tell them a little more.

Try it out, it really helps to explain a complex idea such a novel to someone, and can help maintain your focus when writing a sequel too.

And last but not least… a tip on setting up your table. People seem to think that if they touch a book, they have to buy it. I once jokingly suggested to a potential reader that the cover didn’t have glue on it and I wouldn’t be offended if he put it back down after reading the blurb. He did NOT find this funny. So, now I have two cheap book stands to make my stall look a little more three dimensional and interesting and I always lay one book blurb-up on the table to people can read without having to pick it up. I’ve had more people doing the bent-over-scan than I can remember. It really works!

I hope that’s been helpful.

Embrace the weird, my friends.

An Ode to H.P. Lovecraft

With it being H.P’s birthday today, I thought I’d share an old short story of mine which I did in answer to reading a lot of Lovecraft. This is by no means supposed to be part of the Cthulhu mythos, but my own take on madness and the darkness of the British coastline.

I hope you enjoy it (don’t have nightmares).





I’d quickly learnt not to chase his mind, instead waiting for it to loop back around to reality. He mumbled and gesticulated, sometimes wildly as if conducting an orchestra, sometimes wistfully, tired.

There was a howl of human anguish in an adjoining room. Feet passed the door in a hurry. Albert didn’t seem to register the sounds. Against green linoleum and whitewash he sat like an eerie exhibit; head in knees, hairy toes and forearms exposed. A white bracelet displayed his name and a barcode. The movements of his breathing could have been a trick of the eye.

The scream beyond the wall reached its height, was joined by muffled grunts of the staff, and then died away as if the patient were falling into the distance.

The silence allowed me to continue.

“Are you alright, Albert?” I asked in my best calming voice. The smell of pine-smothered urine dried my mouth. “Do you want a drink of water?”

Albert recoiled, knocking the glass from my hand with a flailing foot. To the sound of shattering glass, he scampered away. With his head buried in the corner, only a roll of humped shoulder and one pale foot were on show.

Rubbing at my stunned fingers, I understood why I was here.

Ringed eyes gave him the look of a petrified raccoon; he winced when his dry lips smacked together. Beneath the thin standard-issue pyjamas his chest expanded like a bird cage beneath a tarpaulin.

Somewhere along some distant corridor the cleaner’s buffer whirred. I blotted my damp sleeve against my jeans.

I had little time here. The orderlies would come soon, all sweat and brute force. They would restrain him, tranquilise him if need be, and try to pump fluid into his tired veins. I could already see bruises where the needle had been, spreading like shadows beneath his skin. This man’s delusions were killing him. Sitting in the Asylum’s therapy room, I was certain that they already had.

His hydrophobia was an extension of some delusion. That was simple. How that delusion fit with the Cormouth case was beyond me. The police called for me infrequently; this time to speak with their only witness. But it wasn’t my job to understand the larger picture.

I could still feel where the pillow had ruffled my hair to a cowlick. Waiting for Albert’s next contribution, I absently tried to stroke it flat. I had a feeling that it would be morning before I was reacquainted with my bed. The thought of it growing cold without me seemed horrible.

“I’m sorry, Albert,” I said. “Are you alright to talk?”

“Talk, no. I don’t need to talk,” he said, his voice muffled by the whitewashed surface he pressed himself against.

That was progress, a brief moment of lucidity. The first I’d seen.

“If we don’t talk, how can I help you?”

“I already know,” he rasped.

I made a note of that on my pad.

What does he know? Could I have found an opening so early on?

Following the thoughts of a mad man can be straining for the sane. Constantly fighting against our predisposition to logic; trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Over the years my frustration had gotten the better of me. In years gone-by, I would have been taking a break before my own sanity went the way of the dodo. But I wasn’t ready for that yet. Experience had taught me to enjoy this verbal jousting.

“Shouldn’t you tell me then? So that I can know too?”

“No. No, I won’t. I wa’ worthy. He didn’t take me. I ‘ad to figure it out for myself. You should too,” he said, and fell silent.

Outside, thunderclouds skidded across the sky, the colour of Albert’s bruises. I understood that he must be restrained for his own good, to keep him alive. I understood that his old frame would mark easily with so little water in it. Still, some of the bruises were obviously finger-shaped. I cringed.

“Albert?” It had been a long while since he’d spoken, or moved. I felt my time running short. I repeated, without allowing urgency to enter my voice, “Albert?”

He made a small sound of confirmation but stayed still.

“Can we talk again? I’d really like to know what it is you saw.”

“Can’t ask anyone else can you?” he mumbled.

“No, no I can’t,” I replied. “How come you were left behind, Albert? What made you special?” I thought aloud. Maybe I could draw the conversation around via the how and onto the what.

The room had darkened despite the fluorescent light above, as if the storm were leaking through the window frame.

“I went mad,” Albert stated.

My pen froze half way through a word.

He’d turned to face me, eyebrows raised, a tired smile revealing the man Albert had once been. I’m always ready for the conviction with which mad men speak and I’m unshaken by it. In their minds, what they see is real and true. But when the fisherman’s brushed-steel gaze met mine, I saw nothing but reluctant sanity.

“I went barkin’ loony crazy,” Albert continued without a hint of humour. He shuffled around but stayed hidden behind his knees. “That’s what saved me. When they ran, I stayed. When they screamed, I wa’ quiet. When they fell, I wa’ already on my knees. When they-”

The wrinkles on his brow realigned into a pattern of torture. There was something buried there, I could see it on his haggard face as plain as the suspect stains on his pyjamas. He began to weep in dry sobs, his body not able to spare the fluid.

Was Albert somehow responsible for Cormouth? Surely that was impossible.

His sobs died away. Now he shivered, shook his head as if dismissing reality. I let my fingers caress the file on the table beside me. Images taken by the police; transcripts of Albert’s first incomprehensible statements; reports on what they’d found in Cormouth, or rather what they hadn’t found.

Pinned to the inside cover were photographs of Albert himself. The first policeman on the scene had the foresight to make a record before an ambulance arrived.

In the first picture, Albert lay a little way off, crumpled on a wind-beaten beach. Wet sand piled against his body as if he were melting into the dunes.

Albert’s form in the sand, discarded, a broken marionette.

A close-up of Albert’s unconscious face, and the first time you can make out the sigils on his sand-powdered forehead.

A picture from inside the hospital. The police hadn’t let the nurses remove the markings on his forehead and palms until they could fathom their origin. When archives gave nothing resembling them, it was assumed that they were of Albert’s own design. The blood he’d used to draw them was his own, from a slash in his forefinger.

Albert’s eyes in that photograph haunt me. Standing out from the darkness like a cat’s; every shadow in the room collecting around his eyes and manic mouth, seeming to pour into his wrinkles like a viscous fluid. The deep scarlet design on his forehead. Crouched like a beast in his hospital gown, Albert was a man turned demon. Hard to believe that it was the same sorry figure I saw before me now, head buried in his arms.

I reached inside the manila folder and slid out the only picture without Albert in it. Aerial shots of the beach. Immense trenches had been scored into the wet sand. The lines were irregular, serpentine, leading down to the water’s edge. The spot where Albert had been laid marked by a glowing yellow flag.

A realisation hit me with such force that I caught my breath.

“Albert-” I began, but stopped when I realised that my voice was shaking. I tried again, forcing resolve into every syllable. “Albert, who came out of the sea?”

He wouldn’t raise his head or answer my questions.

My mouth ran dry.

The steady whomp whomp whomp of blood rose in my ears.

My shoes squeaked across the linoleum, the photograph dangling from my fingers. My shadow fell across Albert’s foetal form. Against my better judgement, I crouched. With a gentle touch to his vibrating knee, I implored in a whisper, thirsty for answers but afraid of the fountain.

“Who came out of the sea, Albert?”

His head jerked upward. I fell back, landing heavily.

I hadn’t heard it, but Albert had.

His face contorted; eyes widening, jaw dropped into a skull-like mask. A high-pitched keening came from his throat, like an animal trapped in pain.

With hands pressed to my ears, I still couldn’t hear what Albert had heard. I scrambled for the door. Three burly orderlies shoved me back inside as they made for the crazed fisherman. Taking handfuls of his pyjamas, they lifted him bodily.

The last time I saw Albert he passed by me moving horizontally through the air, his body rigid with fear, whining and wailing like a banshee with a broken heart.

As the echoes of the bestial lament died away down the corridor, I took my seat to steady myself. The quivering in my heart slowly rested, my ears lost their ring, but the tremors in my hands wouldn’t die. I wished that my glass of water didn’t lay in a puddle on the floor. The photograph had fallen there in my panic, its corners beginning to curl in the fluid.

The room had a small sink backed by green tiles and dirty grout. I used it to splash my face, to drink from my hands. The water tasted like chalk. Between my pallid complexion and the tile’s green glow, I looked ill.

I made to leave. The room seemed crowded, and my desire to escape back to the outside world grew stronger. Shuffling my notes into the file any-which-way, I finally heard what Albert had.

It was on the very edge of perception but must have sounded like Death’s drum beat to Albert. It pounded on his fragile psyche until he could only take solace in his own head. I heard this softest sound and never have the hairs on my neck risen so high so fast.

Against the asylum’s high windows, the storm’s rain had begun to patter.




I span around, heckles raised.

Pebbles. Just pebbles scuttling in the wind.

My raised collar did nothing to stop the gale, so harsh it seemed to blister my skin. On the greyest stretch of English coastline in existence, Cormouth clung like a barnacle; pressed into the bedrock by a constant rolling thundercloud, hemmed by an unforgiving sea. The nearest town was over twenty miles inland. Except for this beach, anyone wanting access to land would need to scale sheer cliffs that crumbled like biscuit.

Cormouth was a museum to itself. No signs of a mass exodus could be found by the professionals, and who was I to contest their conclusions? Still, I’d come to Cormouth seeking answers on the word of a madman. I had a strong suspicion that I might just be “barking loony crazy” myself.

Cormouth made the national newspapers, the networks, and even international news to a certain degree. And that’s what bothered me. With so many crazed enthusiasts of religion or cults, why hadn’t someone come to Cormouth? There were no visitors, no candles or shrines to the lost; there had been no looting, nothing vandalised. The latter was my greatest surprise.

Every home was as it had been left. Belongings, clothes, food on tables. Every door was unlocked, and I’d already wandered through many of the rooms. I’d call it a ghost town, but I had a feeling that even ghosts would have left this place alone.

If all that could be believed, then why not the faint flare of Albert’s sanity?

That look of his. It had convinced me that something happened here, on the very spot where I now stood on Cormouth beach; something that made Albert so afraid of water that he dehydrated himself to death. He’d done all that without telling me a single thing. All I needed was his eyes and the sound of his wail.

A gale whipped at the sand, occasionally lifting a cyclone of dancing grains. They peppered my matted hair and damp coat. There was nothing left to be seen of the enormous, serpentine trenches which had been here when Albert was found. The sea had taken them.

I’ve been to Auschwitz. I’ve stood in those long grey chambers. I’ve felt pressed on every side by the weight of the suffering which has lost none of its potency despite the years. Some people are moved to tears by it. Even someone naïve of the atrocities would feel it; an aura of anguish.

Similar could be said of Cormouth beach.

I didn’t know what had happened there, what had happened to Albert. But by every primal instinct that linked us as human beings, I shared his fear. A sense of imminent finality, of ending, settled on me. It stripped away my civility, leaving me on the edge of what was left of my prehistoric nerves. I was a monkey, wary for the sound of predators I couldn’t see.


A part of me wanted to stay away from Cormouth overnight, even though the sullen skies meant that sunlight never truly came. But another made me stay; Albert’s part. I’d found his cabin, unpleasantly close to the sea, and decided to stay there. If I was ever going to find a solution to Cormouth’s mystery, I’d need to stay as close to Albert’s movements as possible. The constant duality in my mind screamed and argued that I should be away from this place, far away. I’m not sure if it was stupidity or resolve that made me take up bunk on Albert’s living room floor.

The scent of wet rope and salt was everywhere.

There was little in the way of ornaments in the old fisherman’s home. One of everything could be found. One plate, one cup, one fork. The opposite of the Seven Dwarves’ cottage. No photographs, no trinkets, no letters from a bygone age. It was a vulgar place to exist. I felt like modern man stepping into the cave of a Neanderthal. There seemed little that could link me to Albert other than the inexplicable dread he’d infected me with.

I explored. Or rather I pried and snooped. That was the only reason I found the cellar door hidden beneath a rug made of sacking. I suppose stereotypes have to come from somewhere.

Where steps led down to a dank space beneath the house, I discovered why Albert’s life above seemed so drab.

First, I found something that I didn’t expect to be there. A light switch.

The wind hooted between double doors at one end of the room, setting the single bulb swinging. Shadows flowed and broke like waves on Albert’s small fishing craft. A pair of wooden runners beneath the boat’s hull would make it easy to slide out of the doors at high tide.

I wondered how close the water came to the other side of those doors.

Netting hung from the ceiling filled with all manner of nautical paraphernalia; none of which I understood the use of. To a man born and bred on dry land, this was a trove of unusual artefacts. The same might be said of Albert if I’d taken him to my office filled with books of psychiatric theory. As I pondered how a man enamoured by the sea could become so afraid of its primary ingredient, I shuffled around the room.

Between tins of Gelcoat, spools of line, and a host of floats that filled every inch of surface was an old ledger. Cardboard-bound and cover-stained, the book sat alone on Albert’s makeshift workbench. Any other objects stood at a respectful distance. That I should find a book here seemed a miracle. I had to read it.

Taking the stool by Albert’s workbench, I began to swipe aside tools and objects to make room.


The workbench, fashioned from a pair of old planks, struck out at me with a splinter. The wooden needle was wide and the force of my own hand drove it deep. I yanked, just wanting it to be out and swore under my breath. A healthy bloom of blood rose to the surface.

Outside, the wind had risen further, the doors now emitting an eerie howl that seemed endless. The temperature had dropped another few degrees, surely past freezing.

I sucked at my finger as I opened the scrapbook.

Not a single date or word was inscribed anywhere. Drawings filled the pages, crammed into tight rows. The diagrams were stylised as in ancient Incan depictions; detailed but simplified. Beasts like nothing I could ever conceive merged with wailing and thrashing men and women. Tentacles or tails; masses of teeth and eyes seemed to make up the bodies of the creatures.

Thumbing through the ledger, I made sure I only touched the edges so as not to wake the beasts that squirmed on the paper. Still, the blood from my pricked finger spilled more than once. I tried not to think about it but I was never comfortable leaving behind my life’s fluid pressed between those hungry pages.

Albert must have been mad for a long time before the end of Cormouth. I wondered if he was ridiculed by the townsfolk, called names by the children, or seen as the town’s charge and humoured. These small communities tended to stick together. I certainly hoped that was the case for Albert. Still, how could a man create such a story in only pictures? The imagination it took, despite his madness, must have been exquisite. I would have liked to meet him before the twist of his mind.

The tale in the scrapbook rolled on. The humans stopped being eaten, at least so often. Many of them were depicted prostrate before the creatures. The thought struck me that Albert may have been illiterate. Was this the man’s attempt at a novel of some fantasy? Lord of the Rings for those who couldn’t read? The thought amused me, and I found myself comforted by it. If this was a work of fiction, there was nothing to fear. Nothing except the creeping sense that I was fooling myself.

The story seemed to come to an end abruptly with no real reason. There were simply no more pictures. I was compelled to find out what happened. The story had gripped me more than any literary work ever could. They say that humans thrive on material that scares them, for fear is just another type of excitement. Rollercoasters, horror movies, a scary book. My body was thrumming with fearful energy as if I’d done all three simultaneously.

At the back of the scrapbook, beyond the pages that Albert had never used, was a lump that told me something was hidden there. Another drawing, folded in four. It was, for the most part, blank. A single line writhed its way across the page. One word was inscribed above a swift circle.


It was Albert’s drawing of the Cormouth coast, the circle marking home. Further along the coastline, around a bend in the crumbling cliffs, was another word.


Who was Alice? Could Albert have had a wife? And if so, what became of her?




Overnight, the wind had dropped to a chill breeze; the sea steadied to a tentative undulation. Storm clouds still blocked the sun’s warmth and light. From my position on the cliff top I could see Cormouth to my right and the drop of the cliff in front and to my left.

My gloves worked the knot out of my neck. Albert’s floorboards weren’t the most comfortable place to sleep.

Fumbling at Albert’s map with woollen fingers, I managed to open it up. Alice was here, somewhere here. I risked a stroll to the cliff edge, looking for some marker of burial. There was none.

The sea had receded, exposing dragon-spine rocks that footed the cliffs. The wind knocked loose boulders to be swallowed by the surf. The resounding crack of stone on stone and harsh battering of the sea assaulted the ears. I had no clue about tides or when they should rise and fall, but as I walked from Cormouth I had noticed the sea slowly being dragged away from land.

It seemed that luck was on my side. With the sea pulled back from the rocks, I could see where Alice lay.

I should have done more research before stepping out; I should have searched again through the few photos I’d found in Albert’s home. I should have tried to find documents with Alice’s name on them. But I hadn’t. With thoughts of the scrapbook and the images it contained, of Albert and the blood-sigils decorating his body, I was swamped with a desire to find Alice wherever she may be. I’d rushed out, unprepared.

Wedged between the rocks with sea foam slipping down her broken sides, Alice lay beaten.

I ran. Seeking a way down to the beach, I scuttled along a worn path and down to the sand. Cormouth disappeared from sight beyond the cliff.

I stopped. As my feet met the beach, a sweat took me. My mouth flooded with saliva as if I were about to vomit. I pawed at my clothes in an effort to release them, almost dropping to my knees. Finally my scarf fell away and the toggles on my jacket released. I let the sea spray prickle my skin as I gulped down great lungfuls of air.

My throat dried to a crisp by the ambient salt, I coughed and coughed until I could do nothing but hold my aching ribs and ignore the line of drool that came from my mouth.

I’ve never felt so ill. My face seemed swollen; baking hot.

But it passed. Slowly I regained my constitution and felt the cold once more. I remained doubled over but fastened my jacket. My scarf had blown away and I took a slow stroll to retrieve it. It rolled and slid along the ground at the breeze’s will, drawing me away from the cliffs. Finally I snatched it from the ground and shook loose the sand.


Wet sand sucked at my shoes as I hugged the cliff, making toward the rocks where I clambered with hands and feet, never once finding a flat place to rest.

A grinding crack.

Shards of stone peppered me.

My shoes sent me slithering down into a foaming mouth between the rocks. Seaweed grasped my jacket and water soaked into my trouser bottoms. Another piece of the cliff had fallen from above to be pulverised not fifteen feet from where I crouched. Plastered to my face like the seaweed on my shoes, I brushed my hair aside for the hundredth time. With the sound of battering waves, brine blinded me. I spat out a mouth full of salt.

This was ridiculous. What was I doing out there, alone? This was how people died. There would be no coastguard or lucky coincidence to send a heroic dog walker my way. I should have gone back. And I would have gone back if I hadn’t seen Alice.

An errant wave draped her body with foamy lace. Water leaked out through a gaping wound in her side. She’d collected a shroud of seaweed and a starfish clung to her slender frame. Pieces of her hull were scattered around her like dropped firewood.

Although she’d been driven across the stone spines to her death, there was still too much precarious ground to cover if I wanted to touch her. I turned away, wondering why I’d let myself be drawn here for a glimpse of another man’s wreck.

I checked the cliff face for falling rocks, and made back toward dry land. I must have walked past the cave on my way to Alice, but I hadn’t seen it. Unless you stood where I did then, facing as if returning to the beach from the wrecked boat, a crease in the cliff’s side hid the dark entrance entirely.

I saw it as Albert must have, and followed in footsteps once again.




I’ve never been the type of person to seek out a gym; I’ve certainly never been a gymnast. Crouching and twisting to enter the cave’s entrance, every part of me complained. At first I wondered how Albert had managed this same entrance and realised with horror that he probably did it better.

Night comes fast and unexpectedly in Cormouth. Fogs rise like dough at the slightest whim of the weather. That’s why I already had the torch in my jacket.

The ground inside the cave’s entrance sloped upward, and I had to stay crouched to move along the passage. Wet grit, deposited as the tide infiltrated the cliff each day, crunched beneath my feet. I probably didn’t have long here. If I found myself trapped by the tide, it was doubtful there was another exit.

As I climbed, the silt slowly gave way to a smooth stone floor and I could stand upright. Looking back toward the entrance, it became obvious that the passageway had been crafted. The walls were too smooth, the slope too regular.

I must have climbed steadily for a good fifteen minutes before the cave opened up. Even then the weak light of my torch didn’t reach the other side. Taking three steps forward, searching the ground for chasms or footfalls, my torch touched water. A pool occupied at least a little of the chamber floor.

I didn’t step to the edge, but returned to the wall instead.

My hand trailed along the stone and I slowly allowed myself to believe the room had been made as the passage had. The surface was too even, too perfectly shaped for it to be otherwise. Still, I wouldn’t let myself think about who would carve such a place deep in a seaward cliff.

I almost fell.

I’d been staring into the dark, my mind wandering so far that I’d stopped checking the ground for obstacles. In my puddle of torch light was a gift from Albert.

A cable.

I dared to follow it away from the wall, risking losing my bearings. My curiosity was making me a risk-taker. If this had been a day only a week ago, I would never have to come to Cormouth to begin with, never mind clamouring out onto the rocks or exploring some long-forgotten cave. Long forgotten except for Albert, of course.

The wire snaked upwards through the air for a few inches as if floating, and there was the plug, and the generator. I don’t think I hesitated a second. In this place, lost in time, such a modern thing as electricity melted any qualms I’d normally have.

After only one false start, the generator reacted to my prodding and fired into life.

All around the room, lamps flickered alight.




The chamber was circular and far more vast than I could have imagined in the dark. The pool took up the entire centre of the room. It couldn’t have been as deep as it appeared. It looked as if water had been lifted from the depths of the ocean and planted here, bringing an impenetrable darkness with it. Thoughts of what might lay below made trickles of sweat run down my collar.

I turned, instead, to the walls.

All along the smooth surface, faded and peeling in places, were row upon row of paintings. It took no genius to recognise them. I walked around the room, maybe ten times or more, reading the story without words. Where Albert’s ledger had ended, the walls continued. Men and women farmed crops, built homes and even fished from rafts in great teams.

A small group of men appeared, all wearing white robes. Whenever the creatures of tentacle and teeth emerged, so did they. The men in white presided over the sacrifices of women and children.

I found myself checking over my shoulder.

The pool sat defiantly still.

Despite the generator’s steady chug, I could hear the gentle lapping of the pool’s shores.

Trying desperately to ignore it I stayed engrossed in the wall paintings. Such a vibrant depiction of life for these people and the Gods they worshipped. I thought of Albert, a man of the sea, finding this place. Coupled with his seaside superstitions and old tales of beasts beneath the waves (maybe some latent schizophrenia) Albert had started to believe. He copied the paintings, studied them, but had never spoken of them to others. If he had, Cormouth would have become an archaeological Mecca over night. Albert had managed to find something unheard of in the scientific world. An ancient civilisation that thrived on the coasts of England.

The story changed again.

A woman appeared. A woman in red clothing.

With the woman at their head, masses of men and women were shown marching to the sea with spears and shields. The creatures were set upon; the men in white cast into the sea. At some point in their history, this ancient people had stopped believing in their Gods.

With the Red Lady at their head once more, the people were shown with carts, children and horses all headed in the same direction. In the distance, on the final picture, a row of trees.

The generator popped and chugged, setting the lights flickering for a moment. Its dial told me it was nearly out of fuel. I’d waited too long. If it was possible, the pool seemed to have crept further into the chamber. Ink-black water now licked the generator’s feet where there had been none before. I panicked. The tide must be rising and I had to reach the exit before I was trapped entirely.


Far too late.

The sea poured into the cave in pulses. Water flooded toward my feet as I watched. I retreated back into the chamber. The generator was giving some disconcerting chugs now. I debated briefly whether to turn it off and save what was left of its power, but decided against it. If it shut down now, it might never come back on.

I checked my pocket. The torch was still there. I’d need it soon, no doubt, and I swore at myself for not bringing spare batteries. Still, if I’d had the forethought necessary for this entire trip, a laden donkey would have had to carry the equipment. I searched the walls once more, while there was still light.

Though the pool slithered further into the room, it never met the walls. I could see from the line of deposited sand on the ground and a lack of water marks on the walls. Priding myself on my Holmes-esque ingenuity, I set myself down to wait out the night.


I woke in such darkness that it laid heavy on my chest. I sucked in one thick breath, fumbling for the torch beside me. It was gone. I was left in the darkness with only the lapping of water for company. I winced as nothing touched my outstretched foot.

The torch. It had to be somewhere!

In my panic, I almost sent the torch skidding out into the darkness. It had rolled only a few inches from where I’d left it, but enough to cause panic. I tore off my gloves to click on the switch.

At the edge of the thin beam, water ebbed and flowed not inches from where my feet had been. As the tide rose outside, so did the chamber’s pool.

Somewhere in that pool stood the generator, now empty, silent. I would have poured my life’s blood into it for the sake of a little light. I checked my watch. It was early in the morning, just after midnight. I tried to remember what I knew of the moon and tides. How long would it take for the tide to retreat? Could I be here for hours? I was certain the torch wouldn’t hold out that long. And when the time came to leave, could I find my way to the exit in the dark?

Reluctantly, I turned off the torch. I would need the battery for my escape.


Somewhere in the darkness, a sound woke me. My head jerked upward, slamming into the stone and setting my ears ringing.

Outside, sea battered rock. The chamber was filled with echo upon echo of booming and cracking noise.


In a space between the crashing waves, I heard it. The sound of wet movement.

Boom after boom deafened me. I tried to strain my ears past the din.

It came again.

A small sound like the thrash of an eel on stone.

I wriggled away, forcing my shoulder blades into the wall, trying to remove myself from the pool’s edge. My feet slid on grit. In a momentary break from the racket outside, the minute crunch was enhanced to an avalanche by the darkness.

There was the scrape of sand from across the chamber.

I sat perfectly still, holding my breath, clutching the blind torch to my chest.

I held my breath as long as I could, letting out only a shuddering breath when my body screamed for it, and prayed that the sounds of high tide would drown it out.

There was only the smell of salt.

No sound. No movement.

Something touched my shoe.

I almost screamed. Biting down on my lip, I tried not to move. Adrenalin pounded until I was senseless. Writhing tentacles filled my skull.

The beat of the sea was my heart; the rocks my crumbling mind.

The cave’s freezing air seemed to such at my breath, making me pant.

Nothing grasped for me out of the darkness.

Every time a wave met the cliff, I flinched, covering my ears. Soon I was curled against the chamber’s wall, arms over my head.

I made a shaky pact with myself that imagination was the key. I had obviously been woken from a dream, the movement of the pool seeming louder than it was. This darkness, this chamber; they rendered me a child. But I didn’t call for mother. I didn’t light the torch.

A small part of me was happy not to see what might be searching the darkness with cold limbs.




I must have fallen asleep again. There was something about the salty air, how it tightened my skin, that made me so tired. Or maybe it was the fresh air. I’d been thinking of my mother without realising it. She always told me that fresh air made you tired.

I don’t know where the courage came from, but I lit the torch.

The pool had pulled away from me; the tide was low.

I moved as quickly as the dark would allow. With one hand on the wall, torch searching the ground, I circumvented the room.

I stopped.

There, in my path, in the sand, serpentine lines scored into the sediment.

My torch followed them, down to the pool’s edge.

My god, I ran; stumbling over myself in the gloom, torch flashing across the ground, the walls, striking the pool in flares.

When the wall disappeared, I almost fell.

The passage took me down and down.

And, eventually, daylight peeked in through the cave’s entrance.

As the light grew, I think I ran harder. I can’t really remember, but I was soon scrambling out over the rocks.


I only stopped running once free of the beach. My throat was dry, my mouth tasted like tin. Scurrying up the cliff’s slope, distancing myself from the sea, I let myself rest for a while.

Wind deafened me, making noises in my ears that weren’t there, but had me searching over my shoulder time and time again. I sat on the grassy cliff top, letting the dew soak into me. I shivered but didn’t care.

I wanted rid of that place; I’d had enough.

Nothing of the night would come back to me. Nothing of paintings, markings on the ground or the midnight sounds would replay. I sat dumb to the world.

Clouds fought each other for dominion of the sky. Below, waves tested the cliffs for weakness as if seeking to eradicate the land.


By the time I reached town, the sun had found a gap between clouds and horizon, spearing light across the sea and painting thundercloud underbellies with red. Cormouth was bathed in flame-light. Walking down the main street’s gentle slope, I had to shield my eyes.

Every doorway and window glared; cracks in stone and mortar made grins and gaping mouths until every house in Cormouth seemed to be tasting, laughing, sneering. There was no doubt that I had to leave. My car was parked on the outskirts of town and I intended to drive it as fast I could; to play deafening music until that sea, that wind and that god-forsaken place were far behind. I just had to collect my things from Albert’s cabin.

I don’t know what I’d expected to find there, what answers, what reasons for Albert’s madness. There was nothing but ghosts and paranoia. Empty homes that would never see life again, waiting for the wind to break their windows and open doors until inside was the outside. Roofs would let the moon and rain into halls and bathrooms. Grass would replace carpets, sand would pile in living room corners. Beds and chairs would stand like the skeletons of ships.

I shouldered Albert’s door and swept through the living room collecting my few belongings, wandering in circles so that I never had to stand still. With my duffle bag full, I checked my pocket for car keys and finally stopped with my hand on the door.

What was the point of this? Not the leaving; I knew deep down and high up why I was leaving, but to leave with nothing would be pointless. Dropping my bag at the door, I made for the cellar. I never wanted to see Cormouth again, or even speak of it if it could be helped, but someone might. What Albert had found in those caves was nothing short of incredible. At the very least I should take his book to show someone.

The stairs creaked as I descended; the wind hooted. Sunset bled in through the ill-fitting seaward doors. If I wanted to be out by nightfall, I’d have to hurry.

I sat at Albert’s workbench, taking in the taste of the air, and couldn’t help but open the book. I thumbed the pages like a child’s flick book cartoon. Pictures of people fluttered along, giving them movement.

Something pounded the cellar’s doors with such force that I let the book fall from the bench as I span around.

The room had gone momentarily dark but sunset slowly faded back through the cracks.

I couldn’t move; had no idea what was happening.

The doors rattled again, the light blocked out.

It came again. The doors strained on their hinges and settled back; the light obstructed by some great bulk. A chain hung across the doors clanked and shivered.

Again. Again.

The last red light of day dying and flaring like a beacon as I crawled back until the workstation dug painfully into my spine.

The sound was incredible, like the sea was screaming somewhere beyond those doors. I clasped arms over ears. Light pulsed with every strike that shook the cellar. Nets above swung and jostled, water leaked in under the doors and sea wind danced around the room.

The book lay open on the ground, thrashing limbs and writhing beasts coursed across the pages. Screams seemed just beyond hearing; the roar of battle. Above them all, the voice of a woman in red calling out words I didn’t understand. If the pounding would only stop, I was sure I could hear them.

The doors were buckling, the chain straining its rusted links.

I must have screamed, but the sound of sea and wind, the hammering of wood, drowned it out. I fell to my knees, folding myself until my forehead touched the ground. The din never stopped long enough for my ears to recover.

I couldn’t hear, couldn’t think.

I screamed silently.

To the sound of splintering wood and a final blast of scarlet sunset, I passed out.




I woke, sprawled on the workshop floor. Shreds of the seaward doors hung from their hinges; shards of wood peppered the room.

My extremities were blue and salt crystallised on my stubble. I hugged myself, willing body heat to return.

My legs forced me up in jerks. Most of the workshop’s oddments were strewn on the floor. Upturned pots left sticky puddles that had collected fishing lures like flies in treacle. I fumbled my way along, holding on to the wall. The workbench had been torn from the wall, and now lay upturned against an opposing wall. Touching my head, I found a tacky mass where it had hit me.

There was no way I was getting out by the stairs. Something had smashed them, snapping each sturdy beam in half.  The doors to the beach were the only option.

Stepping over the threshold, I came down to the wet sand.

Albert’s little boat littered the sand, its hull torn to toothpicks.

Trenches scored in the shore, decorated with seaweed bunting, led up from the water’s edge. Looking out across the mess of flayed sand, slick green and splintered wood, I felt sick. My legs threatened to fail me. But the algae-slick wall of Albert’s home held me up. Where Cormouth’s road met the sand I hurried upward, away from the beach, the sea. Past destitute homes, a darkened village shop, a town hall. Up and out of Cormouth.

My car was still there, leaning where I’d bumped it onto a grass verge.

I managed to turn the key, and crank the heat.


Exhaust fumes, turned to smoke signals by the cold, attracted attention.

As the engine sputtered on the last drop of petrol, a police officer on her way past Cormouth found me slumped across the passenger seat.

For a week I endured hospital rations and psychological probes. I told them nothing about sounds in the dark, of slithering trails or pounding doors. I was exhausted, they said, dehydrated and hypothermic. They said I was lucky to have been found on such a remote road. They said I shouldn’t have gone alone.

I nodded, thanked them, and ate the largest portion of Humble Pie I could stomach. I was just fascinated by the case, I said. I had to know.

They smiled, and nodded as if I’d said the right thing, and told me my dedication was honourable.

Albert’s book has been found, and taken away. Archaeologists probe the cave chamber by day, but never stay beyond high tide. Ruins have been uncovered where Cormouth used to be, all along the cliff top and to the beach below. They say a significant discovery has been made; enough to make the world forget about an abandoned fishing village that once stood there.

I suggested they credit Albert.




Embrace the weird, my friends

Thanks for reading.

The Adventures of Alan Shaw: e-release!


Hi everyone.

It is with great pleasure that I have come to inform you that my new novel, The Adventures of Alan Shaw, is available as an ebook.

The print copy will be along shortly, but for now you can get ahead of the curve by downloading from Amazon to your Kindle, Kobo, phone, tablet or even computer (using the free kindle app on

Reviews are already coming in and I’m getting very excited to see what you guys think, too.


Embrace the weird, my friends.

Thanks for reading.

Alan Shaw and the Brass Monkeys: Cover reveal!

The final installment of The Adventures of Alan Shaw Volume 1!

Alan takes his first letter of marque as a Privateer with the crew of Le Custance, an airship bound for India. Once there, Alan and the crew, an American by the name of Roy Ferris and the engineer Estelle Budreau, are thrown into the middle of the Indian Revolution where a series of garbled reports of mechanical beasts is confounding the British Army. But is Alan on the right side? And who is the beautiful Indian rebel that is stalking them?



And there you have it! The final cover in The Adventures of Alan Shaw Volume 1, the book will be on general release from the start of September. Hopefully see you then!


Embrace the weird


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