An author of Speculative Fiction, speculates about fiction.

horror

At the movies

Hi readers!

Again, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. The Down Days blog has been eating up most of my time and I’ve found it such a refreshing writing experience that I just can’t help myself. Still, I’ve been up to some other things, too…

After taking a little break from the signings/events circuit last year to get Alan Shaw 2 finished and off to Inspired Quill, I’ve done a few more events. Some lovely Steampunk events, and planning for more in the future. That’s gotten me bitten by the bug again, as it always does. So many lovely people are asking for the Alan Shaw sequel now, that it’s quite a boost for my confidence which was waning, to be honest.

I’ve started work on a new novel, as well as the obvious sequel work and finishing off Emi (which is pretty much the bane of my life. I just can’t seem to get in a flow with the damn thing). The new book is in the cyberpunk genre, all synthetic humans and media overcrowding. It’s lovely and shiny and new in my head and that’s always an amazing feeling for an author. I’m hoping you’ll be reading it as soon as I can get my finger out and finish it.

What else?

Oh yeah, I’ve finished my first script! I’ve been asked by a small production company to send my ideas for them doing short films based on the Not Before Bed short stories. Of course, I started with the titular story. It’s a total of three pages long (inadequacy issues, eh?) but it was really fun to do. Let’s hope that they can do something with it. I’d love to see some of my short stories on a screen at some point. How cool would that be?

That’s all from me right now. I hope you’re all doing well and that your own projects are steaming along. Oh, and since I’m rubbish and haven’t done this yet… Happy New Year!

(Hey, it’s still January, so it totally counts)

 

Thanks for reading.


Post-Christmas Post

Hi everyone. Hope you all had a good festive period. Mine was quiet as I was working the night shift and sleeping the rest of the time, but for an old Scrooge like me, that’s no big deal.

In writing news…

With the first draft of The Adventures of Alan Shaw in the bag, I’m going to let it simmer a while, which means I’m at a loose end. And so, a few little side projects have sprung up for me to tinker with. Firstly, I’ve decided to try something completely new and out of my realms of experience in writing a graphic novel script. The basic premise can only be described as a cross between Evil Dead and Hellraiser, and who knows what means, right? I had the idea originally as a horror movie screenplay, but I just can’t make the jump to the writing style and all that formatting etc. Not yet, anyway. I’m afraid the project doesn’t have a title yet (Let’s just call it “the comic” for now) but I’m enjoying it. Thinking of how to move the action along in snapshots instead of in prose is proving a challenge and it’s keeping me entertained. Also fitting the story to the set boundaries of what would fit into a single issue of a comic, and then the story arc into a graphic novel’s length is a tough one. I’m jut winging it so far. We’ll see how it goes.

Also, I’m working on my non-fiction a little more. Some of you may know that I’ve written movie reviews for a long time now, for all kinds of different websites, and that recently ishitonyouraocalypse.com has taken me in to do exclusively horror-based reviews. Since I’m a huge horror fan, this is pretty much an invitation to disaster since I’ll just end up watching even more films than ever before. I’ve also taken a complete tangent away from that and started to use my nursing experience to write opinion articles. Coming up with ideas is really challenging, and I doubt they’ll ever get published because they’re a tad…unusual. But they’re great fun to write. I think I might be pitching the concepts a bit high, though, since my first one was about nurses having an existential crisis in the current NHS climate. I might want to break that one down a tad.

I’ve also been editing, as I may have mentioned before, someone else’s novel. And THAT’S an interesting experience. It’s so hard to edit your own work, to see it objectively rather than as your little paper baby, but editing other people’s is pretty fun. I’m mostly sticking to grammar and punctuation at the minute, but keep branching out to suggestions on how to enhance theme, character, dialogue and all those other lovely little nuggets that make a good story. I think I could do this full-time. Definitely. In fact, I’ve been looking into it. What do you guys think? Would anyone be interested in my opinion on their work? Or am I getting ahead of myself? With one published novel and a flurry of short stories, I’m hardly Stephen King. But even if I haven’t won the Booker Prize, I do know a hell of a lot about writing. I think I might even know more about that than nursing, which is potentially quite scary…

And so, as you can see, I’ve been busy. I’ve also been reading for my uni course, a load of T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf at the minute, which is kind of interesting and it’s leading me toward reading things that are more up my alley. I’ll leave it there, because I feel a subsequent blog post coming on.

Thanks for reading.


My favourite literary snippets

As we all know, sometimes you pick up a book/kindle/newspaper or whatever, and those words on the page just hit you. They soak into your blood, firing neurons of imagination and hooking you like literary crack. Sometimes it can be just a little snippet. The first line or a little description, perfectly written. Here are some of the snippets, quotes and excerpts that get my brain making that happy little noise inside my cranium. Enjoy!

Picture by Elle Ward

 William Hughes Mearnes – Antigonish (1889)

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

There is just something about this poem that reaches down into the animal part of my psyche and tells me to be utterly afraid. The first and last stanzas are often used in isolation and they’re the most evocative, but I think the whole poem really needs to be read with the lights on. And with this one in mind, there’s a quote from the eminent Stephen King which I think sums up that animal compulsion which gives the unfounded fear of the dark which we all have:

The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.

We’ve all been there right? We’d like to think that it was back when we were kids, with the covers over our head, trying to breath quieter so the thing wont get us. But you and I both know it was far more recent than that…

 

Anyways, on the back of Stephen’s awesome quote, I’d like to share one of my favourite lines from a book. The opening of The Gunslinger, which I think is a brilliant piece of understated genius:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

They always say that you should try to intrigue your readers in the first few pages of any book. With this opening line, Stephen (I like to pretend we’re on first name terms. It’s creepier) managed to make me think “Shit, who is he and what’s he done?”. Good work, King, good work.

Picture by Elle Ward

I know I seem to be obsessed with Dark Towers (and I am, no doubt about it) this description from one of my favourite books, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, may have been one of the most influential sections of literature to ever grace my brain:

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

Yowza. Creep-tastic! I want to go and read it all again now. It’s officially back on The List.

But I’ve been a bit dark so far so I want to share some Pratchett with you. However, as it turns out, everything he’s ever written (particularly in the Discworld series) is absolutely hilarious and I’m struggling to not only hold my stomach while reading, but to pick from the plethora of geniosity that is Pratchett. So here’s just a couple to tide you over. Hope you haven’t had recent abdominal surgery, because you’re about to burst your stitches:

“Sodomy non sapiens,” said Albert under his breath.
“What does that mean?”
“Means I’m buggered if I know.”

                                                                             (Mort)

“I’m not going to ride on a magic carpet!” he hissed. “I’m afraid of grounds.”

“You mean heights,” said Conina. “And stop being silly.”

“I know what I mean! It’s the grounds that kill you!”

                                                          Rincewind and his unquestionable logic (Sourcery)

Well, that’s it for now, folks. I hope that’s given you a little insight into what has made my brain tick over the years.

 

Thanks for reading.


Listen to “Lovecraft”

Hi everyone. This is a first for me, the blog and the world at large. This is my attempt to go all multimedia on you and so I hope it works. As some of you may know if you saw the Midweek Announcement post earlier this week, I have had the very unexpected honour of having one of my short stories from Not Before Bed read out on my local Doncaster radio station Sine FM. The Book It show have been good to me of late. Not only will they be airing an interview with myself about the release of Greaveburn on their next show, but they jumped in early to ask me if I minded them reading one of my short stories out on air. Of course, I snatched their proverbial hand off. Of course I didn’t mind! Now, I think you should hit the earlier link to listen to the whole show. Sheila North, who does most of it, has a lovely American accent with a very calming influence. But, for the sake of the blog I’ve cut to the juicy bit and just edited the story for the file below. Have a listen if you have a few minutes to kill.

(EDIT: The link has now been fixed!)

Click the pic to listen in!


Research is your friend

It strikes me that I don’t talk about my writing process very much and, contrary to popular belief, I do have one. While I do most of my plotting in my head, only setting it down in notes when it’s exceptionally vivid to me, the rest of the idea-to-page process is pretty normal. One of the things I think are incredibly important, possibly beyond all others and especially for writers of Speculative Fiction in all its glorious forms, is research.

If you’re going to make your story/novel/flash fiction/novella as realistic as it can be (and by realistic, I mean believable despite the wierdness) then research is where it’s at. As an example let’s use my current WIP, The Adventures of Alan Shaw. This is a very different beast to Greaveburn. Alan Shaw is an Alternate History/Steampunk novel based in the very real Victorian era of England, albeit with some technological flights of fancy. But in order to make my Neo-Victorian elements work, I had to understand what the victorian era was really like. If I had a motto, it’d be:

Learn the rules before you break them.

And so I do research. A lot. Of course, the internet is your friend. There are sites or wikis on every subject known to humankind somewhere in the unending virtual vaults. But call me old fashioned, I still like my books now and again.

Here's what I used for Alan Shaw so far.

As you can see, there’s quite a mix in there. Let’s break down what I think is important about researchas the groundwork for your writing:

1. Know your genre

When writing Greavburn, I had no idea that I was actually working on a Steampunk novel. I was aware of the Gothic literature sub-genre and loved its aesthetic. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is one of my favourite books, and that was the kind of grand darkness I wanted to instill in Greaveburn. But Steampunk wasn’t even on my radar. And so, when I discovered that it existed, and that Greaveburn fit the bill, I panicked. What if someone had already done what I had? How restrictive to Greaveburn’s reception would that be?

I learnt my lesson for working on Alan Shaw. I’ve read James Blaylock’s Homunculus, J.W. Jeter’s Infenal Devices and pretty much memorised The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and co. And now I can confidently say that I know what to do and what not to do, what’s old hat and what’s relatively new (hey, that rhymes. I should write that down). Knowing your genre makes sure that you hit your demographic while avoiding any “it’s all been done” style comments.

2. Go simple

Finding reference books that are quick to read, while still being representative of the subject you’re researching, can be a real struggle. People love to bash on about their expert subject to the point of mind-numbing boredom. But you dont need a huge tome, reaching 3000 pages across four volumes about Victorian London by Lord Cyril Fanthorpe the 3rd esp. to know your stuff. In order to make your story realistic, all you need are the little touches. Those little details make the difference between just some woman in a dress and a young governess wearing a crinoline pinofore. You never have to mention it again, but that’s the kind of period detail that shows you’ve put the effort in.

But as I was saying, there’s an easy way to find those things out. Go for children’s books. They’re brilliant! They have pictures to help get the right feel in your prose, they hit only the important topics and give you great overview of any subject. The Eyewitness series is brilliant for historical stuff, if you’re interested in that stuff.

3. Get your facts right

If you’re writing about a certain place, be it a city or town or foreign country, get your facts right. Never forget that your readers know their stuff. Don’t think you can flim-flam them with sweeping references to places. With Alan Shaw, I have to evoke an image of Victorian London that rings true to someone who’s never been to London and someone who walks its streets every day. Google Maps can take you anywhere you need to go, and even tell you the quickest way for your character to walk/drive around their environment. You dont have to give an itemised list of corners turned between your Detective’s home and the mortuary, but it helps if you know how long it would take and what’s in between so you can describe it if need be.

While Google Maps is great for the present day, historical settings pose a little more of a problem. And so I got myself some maps:

Victorian London, imprisoned in plastic.

They came in four pieces, originally, but with a little industrious folding and one of those frameless plastic frames (contradictory, I know) I now have an easily accessible map of Victorian London. What’s better than that, with the plastic covering, if you get some dry-wipe markers, you can plot routes, circle areas or points of interest to your heart’s content without ruining the source material for later use! (This is an Art Attack!)

My doodles marking Covent Garden Market, and routes for Alan to take around London.

 4. The Counter-argument

 

Just remember: There’s another side to research. Don’t get too bogged down with it. Learn what you need and move on. It’s a tool to help you write, it’s not words on the page.

Well, folks, that’s it for now. I hope this post has been as useful to you as my researching endeavours have been to me. If you have any researching tips of your own, then feel free to share. I’m always looking for new ways to do what we do.

 

Thanks for reading!


Not Before Bed update!

Thanks to the very kind H. Conrad Miller, Not Before Bed has had another great review! Take a look:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great collection of horror short stories ranging from Lovecraftian to werewolves to that thing that goes bump under your bed. Each story is finely crafted by Craig Hallam in an enjoyable and easy to read way while still having each story have it’s own voice and feel. I think that is one of the most remarkable things about this collection. While it is easy to see how all of the stories came from one author, each story was told with a voice all it’s own that was perfect for that specific sub-genre of horror.

Craig out did himself with his variety of stories. The dark sci-fi in Mandy in the Jar-O have an alien abductee’s horrific realization that her wildest dreams of being wanted are not so wonderful. The Lovercraftian tale of Albert that has little dialogue but such gripping description that every pool of water larger than the size of a drop suspect from harboring tentacled elder gods. These stories have the ability to catch and hold a reader’s attention. After every story I was left asking “When can I read a full story about this?”

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves horror. But I especially recommend it to anyone who wants to look into horror for the first time. It will give you a great primer for the genre and help you find a niche inside of it you will like.

 

Good job Craig
Cheers!

Well, I could hardly have asked for a better review than that! Let’s hope that it hitting Goodreads and the web in general gives Not Before Bed another little jolt of downloads. I think this is probably the appropriate time for me to give you some updates on the collection itself, too.

Since moving the collection from Smashwords to Kindle Direct Publishing, I’ve forced myself to NOT constantly check how many downloads I’ve been getting every month. And, because of that, I actually forgot to check altogether. Until today. And so, I can now inform you all that in the last year Not Before Bed, Amazon and Smashwords combined, has had a staggering…

13,426 downloads!

I have no idea how this happened, but July last year showed a massive surge which then frittered out to just a few a month. And since I’ve only been looking at the last few months, I almost missed the huge 12,000ish downloads from middle of last year.

While it may be like this...

 

...it feels more like this.

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think this causes for a huge thank you to everyone, whether they’re reading this or not, who has taken the time to download Not Before Bed. I never thought my shoddy little short story collection would be such a (relative) hit. I have no idea WHY this happened, but I’m not going to argue. If I can get but a portion of those downloads for Greaveburn, I’ll be a very happy camper. Special thanks, of course, go to those who went the extra mile to review it, too; you’ve all been extremely supportive and helpful in your feedback.

And with that, I think it’s time to put Not Before Bed to….well, to bed. It’ll still be out there to download for all those people who still manage to stumble onto it. But for me, it’s been a great experience that’s over now. I’m going home to concentrate on the next project. From here on in, it’s all about Greaveburn’s release later this year. And so, I’d like to bid a final thank you to everyone who made Not Before Bed a huge personal success. Stick around, there’s more writing to come!

Thanks for reading.


100th post!

It seems that the planets are aligning, the Ley Lines are pulsing with mystic energy and Druids all over the Britain are capering around naked to the sound of a flute.

Yes, it’s my 100th post. And, as if by divine intervention, I have good news.

A submission to Misanthrope Press’ Werewolf anthology Children of the Moon has been accepted! Hunting Grounds is a werewolf tale with a difference. Stephen is a werewolf who works in a coffee shop, because the smell of roasting beans drowns out the stench of humans that usually assaults his senses. We find him on a regular day at work, tryign to keep his wolfishness under control while wooing a regular customer. And all seems to be going well, unti after the coffee house is closed and the smell is gone. That’s when Stephen comes across a powerful scent lingering around one of the tables; a scent that sets his inner wolf growling.

And this gives me an excuse to post one of my favourite screen Werewolves...George from Being Human

Based in my home town of Doncaster, people from around here should recognise the landmarks and routes taken throughout the story (I hope). This story was used for my final assignment on the OU’s Advanced Creative Writing course and I’m really glad it got to see new life in an anthology.

The deets? All I know thus far is that Children of the Moon is due for release in September this year. Although it’s published in America ( My first overseas publication), you’ll be able to order print copies for delivery (as I’ll be doing). As I hear more, and see covers etc. I’ll keep you updated.

 

Thanks for reading!