Thursday, 30 August 2012

'Do Not Hold The Wrong End Of A Chainsaw' And Other Unnecessary Warnings

We've all seen this one, haven't we? You would hope that it was merely an isolated example of 'elf and safety gone mad, but, sadly, no.

Out there, in the big wide world are all too many instances of manufacturers and various quangos thinking we are so simple we need to be warned against ourselves. Indeed, you could be forgiven for wondering just how much they are paid to come up with such a fascinating array of uses for some of our most common appliances. They're certainly imaginative.

Let's take your ipod shuffle. You play music on it, right? But there is so much more you might be tempted to do with it. In the instructions, they warn you, 'Do not eat iPod shuffle'. And there you were, just preparing to slap it between two slices of bread with a nice bit of Emmental.

A brand of table salt contained the warning 'high in sodium'. Er - yes, isn't that the point?

A can of air freshener declared that it must be used 'by trained personnel only'. Can I get an NVQ in that then?

A bottle of dog shampoo warned,'Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish' while a hairdryer wisely counselled, 'Do not use while sleeping' and a box of rat poison proclaimed, 'Warning: has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.'

Then there is another breed of  label. The one that simply defies logic:

Bizarrely, a bathroom heater stated, 'This product must not be used in bathrooms'. Uh?

Finally, beware when you are visiting your local zoo. You may just come across this one:

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Diavolino Arrives at Waterstones!

Steve Emmett, Julia Kavan, Catherine Cavendish

August Bank Holiday with its usual mix of sunshine and showers, coupled with one of the biggest weekends in the city's (horse) racing calendar, saw Waterstones welcome horror writer Steve Emmett to its York store yesterday (Saturday).

Steve was there to sign copies of his novel, Diavolino, which, following on the heels of a highly successful ebook, is now available in print. In case you haven't caught up with it yet, here's the blurb:

 "The chance to build a dream home on a private island in Italy's most beautiful lake offers architect Tom Lupton the fresh start he's been yearning for. But when he arrives with his family on Diavolino, he finds the terrified locals dead set against his arrival. The island, whose very existence has been shrouded in secrecy for half a millennium, has a dark history that no one cares to remember, and as their opposition to Tom grows, so grows a brooding evil that will lead them to the very doors of hell..."

Author,Julia Kavan and I came along to add our support and were soon joined by Louise Cole from Firedance Books. It was the first time the four of us had met up (having enjoyed a 'virtual' friendship for over three years), so we had a great time. Even better, customers came along and bought the book! By the end of the day, with most of the stock sold, Steve pronounced the event a resounding success.

If you missed him there, you can still catch Steve in person at Booqfest
in Northampton on Sunday 16th September, where he will be delivering a talk on horror writing and reading extracts from his novel.

You'll find Diavolino related links here: Diavolino

Ghostly Goings-On At The Golden Fleece


Julia and I, along with my longsuffering other half, Colin, met up at the multi-haunted Golden Fleece pub on the evening before Steve's booksigning. Typical of two writers, Julia and I were soon engaged in animated conversation while Colin - himself a published author (Accountancy in Banking)- amused himself with the pub's various eccentricities. Suddenly, he drew our attention to something a little odd.

Behind the bar, coffee mugs were suspended on inidividual hooks and, while the others remained static, one was swaying and continued to do so, never varying its rhythmical swing. Normally if you set a mug (or anything for that matter) swinging on a hook, it will slow down after a relatively short time and then stop. Not this mug. It just kept on...and on... and on. But nobody was touching it.

Then, to cap it all, a glass on an unattended table next to us suddenly crashed to the floor and smashed. We were the nearest people to it and were sitting about four feet away. It was, by now, fairly quiet in the bar and nobody had gone past for some time. OK, this is an ancient pub with uneven floors, so you might think it simply slid off the table. That makes sense, doesn't it? So, if we were to place another glass on the table, it too should slide, shouldn't it?  Except another customer, who had witnessed the whole thing, tried that repeatedly with a similar glass. It never moved...

Unable to get a word in edgeways, Colin makes a friend in the Golden Fleece
Don't you just love a haunted pub that lives up to its hype?

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A Walk On The Dark Side - with Steve Emmett

 Today, I am delighted to have Steve Emmett as my guest. Here he talks about his early influences, horror and the darker side of things...
When Catherine asked me to follow Aleister Crowley I took it as something of a compliment. Yes, he was pretty unsavoury and surely gave the expression ‘neighbour from hell’ an original meaning, but he is still a big name in the World of Darkness, and it is in that world that I have chosen to spend my career as a writer. But have I ever been tempted to dabble in the occult myself? 
One of my early influences was the British author Dennis Wheatley. He wasn’t exactly a pillar of the community by all accounts. He picked up women in Richmond Park and was a terrible racist and right-winger (traits which sometimes deflect the reader from his stories). He also associated with rather iffy characters like Eric Gordon Tombe, a fraudster with whom Wheatley enjoyed the playboy life, quaffing champagne and, um, picking up women (there is a lovely line, I digress by the way, in Don Giovanni where the eponymous MC puts on his finery, climbs aboard his barge and sings ‘what a wonderful night for going out looking for girls’). Tombe eventually disappeared in suspicious circumstances, leaving Wheatley to draw on his exploits when the latter began his writing career.
One of Wheatley’s other acquaintances was the Egyptian occult scholar, Rollo Ahmed. His book, The Black Art (ISBN 1 85958 048 3) was first published in 1936 by Wheatley’s own publisher as result of Wheatley’s introduction. The book indeed carries an introduction by Wheatley. The Black Art is a wonderful source of information for authors like me. It can be, sadly, hard to find and I cherish my copy. In his summing up, Ahmed says this:
‘No one should ever yield to a temptation to dabble in sorcery, even if only from curiosity or the search for a new thrill. It is impossible to involve oneself in black magic in any shape or form without becoming contaminated; it is impossible to approach it and not risk losing judgment and reason. I have personally investigated it and, speaking from experience, strongly advise no one to do likewise. There is nothing of true value to gain, and everything to lose. It does not matter how light-heartedly it may be entered into as an intriguing pastime, with a tempting spice of the forbidden, the penalty is the same.’

It is well-known that Wheatley continually gave the same warning, stressing that his own works were based on information gained from people such as Ahmed rather than his own personal experiences. And that has always been my position, drilled into me from an early age. I was sent to a Catholic school where talk of the supernatural was a sin (um, so what’s a virgin birth and rising from the dead?) and this is where my obsession – for I do think it is that – with horror and the dark side comes.
Witchcraft and devilry are the necessary and natural complements to organized religion. It has been so for over two thousand years. Organised religion is weakened, it may even cease to exist, without its dark cousin. Good and evil. The contrast of all contrasts. So when people ask how a nice person like me (you’ll have to take my word on that) can write about such bad things, that is the answer I give them. Good guys can write bad things because we experience the contrast. Hitler wrote horror, but it wasn’t fiction; neither did he see it as bad or horrific. Could he have written a decent horror novel? I doubt it.
When I wrote Diavolino I wanted to work with all these ingredients. Most of all I wanted to use the contrast between the beauty of the setting and the ugliness of the growing xenophobia to build the horror story. Naturally, Italy leaves the door wide open for the occult to raise its head alongside The Vatican. If you read Diavolino you will find goodness and beauty is everywhere, always on the surface to be seen. But evil lurks everywhere, ready to grab you when you least expect it.
Diavolino was my first novel (I have just completed my second and have two others part-complete). 
Waterstones, York. Meet Steve here in person Sat. Aug 25th
If you live anywhere near York you might like to come along to Waterstones in that city on 25th August where I will be to sign copies purchased on the day.  A big ‘thank you’ to Kirstie Lount for making the event possible! If you’d like to hear me read from Diavolino and talk about my kind of horror, I’m appearing at the Northampton booQfest on 16th September. More details on my website.

Not long ago an older friend of mine revealed that his even older brother once struck up a friendship with the ageing Wheatley. My friend’s brother maintained that despite his warnings and claims of innocence, Wheatley had, in the name of ‘research’, got rather too close to the Black Art and ‘paid the penalty’. But I’m puzzled by one thing, and I will leave you with this thought. We all agree, do we not, that dabbling in the occult is dangerous? Even the master Rollo Ahmed warned us. So does this mean that the devil, demons, ghosts, supernatural evil are all real? Because if not, if they are purely fiction and superstition, how on earth could it possibly harm us if we did give in to curiosity – just once?
Sleep well!
(If you want to know more about Dennis Wheatley there is an excellent book by Phil Baker called The Devil is a Gentleman: ISBN 978-1907650321 published by Dedalus)

You can find Steve online here:

Here are some places to buy Diavolino:

If you are interested in the Northampton booQfest, here’s the website:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Aleister Crowley - the Beast and the Golden Dawn

'Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law'

The man dubbed the 'Wickedest man in England' was born Edward Alexander Crowley in the genteel spa town of Royal Leamington Spa on 12th October 1875. His wealthy family belonged to a strict faction of the Plymouth Brethren, known as the Exclusive Brethren, of whom his father was a particularly enthusiastic evangelical member. When Crowley was just eleven years old, his father died - an event which had a profound effect on the young Aleister, who proceeded to work his way through a number of expensive schools, leaving (or being expelled) after relatively short stays.

There followed two years at Cambridge University (1895-1897) studying successively philosophy and English Literature, although quite how much studying he left time for is questionable. He spent much of his time pursuing his hobbies: writing (he was a prolific, if not necessarily accomplished, poet), mountaineering, playing chess and, on a winter holiday in Sweden in 1896, he had his first 'mystical' experience.

His interest in the occult and alchemy led him (in 1898) to be initiated in the recently established Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
 Disagreements and feuds soon developed within the organisation and, between 1900 and 1903, Crowley (by now having changed his name to Aleister), travelled around Mexico, India and Paris.

He married Rose Kelly in 1903 and the following year they took off to Egypt where Rose began to experience visions, which she alleged to emanate from the Egyptian god Horus and his messenger. Then Crowley himself began to hear a voice, allegedly from an entity known as Aiwass - messenger of Horus - and, over the next few days, wrote down everything it told him. This became The Book of the Law . Apparently a new 'Aeon' had begun and Aleister Crowley was its prophet. The supreme moral law, 'Do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law', was central to this new belief. People were to live in accordance with their 'True Will' - and this led Aleister to develop his philosophy of Thelema which he would continue to develop and promote for the rest of his life.

Over the next few years, Crowley wrote and published more of his poetry, travelled back to India to attempt more mountaineering and underwent a number of spiritual expriences which led him to believe he had now achieved the the highest level of spiritual awareness and ability, causing him to form his own magical society - the Argenteum Astrum (Silver Star).

For Crowley, life was never a simple or straightforward matter. Even by today's standards, his licentiousness would leave many a wayward premier league footballer shaking his head, while persistent rumours that he was a lifelong agent for British Intelligence remain to this day. 

He even faked his own death, enjoying the newspaper reports of his demise before emerging three weeks later at an exhibition in Berlin. Then, following an unsuccessful court case, Crowley was declared bankrupt in 1934 and on 1st December 1947, he died in a Hastings boarding house from a respiratory infection.

Even in death he remained controversial, with newspapers referring to his funeral as a 'Black Mass' and the coincidence of his last doctor dying within twenty-four hours of him. Rumours circulated that Crowley had put a curse on him for refusing to continue to prescribe opiates (he was, by then, addicted to heroin).
He was called the Antichrist and the Great Beast (even by his mother!). He claimed to be a Freemason (although not, apparently, of the regular order accepted by the United Grand Lodge of England). He revelled in his notoriety and seems to have deliberately set out to shock in his writings by his choice of language, as well as his stated beliefs. He was pansexual and, in addition to heroin, worked his way through a comprehensive catalogue of substances from cannabis to mescaline (omitting precious little in between).

Years after his death, he became the subject of a song by Ozzy Osbourne (Mr Crowley), featured on the Sgt Pepper album cover and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page bought his former home (Boleskine House) in the 1970s.
Abhorrent, evil, devil-incarnate, visionary, prophet, witch, occultist. Whatever you think of him, Aleister Crowley remains today a fascinating subject for any writer interested in the paranormal, magic and the occult. His influence persists in his writings and philosophies and there are many hundreds of books and pages on the web devoted to him.

Love him or hate him as you will - just don't take him home to meet your Great Aunt Maude. She won't like him...

Monday, 6 August 2012

I've Won A Booker Award!

OK, not the Booker Award

This one has been awarded to me by my good friend, fellow author and blogger, Susan Roebuck.

For this award, I need to name which five books are, in my opinion, the best novels of all time. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. So, in no particular order, here is my best effort:

 The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
I stumbled across this book quite by accident one day and, from the first page, I was hooked. Since then, I have become an avid collector of Martin Millar's stories. They defy genre, spanning supernatural, paranormal, literary, dark fiction and always with his unique blend of wit, dark plot and black comedy. He also manages to make a social commentary on people who do not fit the accepted 'norms' without adopting any kind of attitude. His quirky characters and style of writing are addictive. After all the books of his I have now read, The Good Fairies is still my favourite. The tale of two naughty and rebellious Scottish fairies who find themselves in New York, causing mayhem wherever they go, is no traditional fairy story. But then nothing about Martin Millar's books is like anything you've read before. As Neil Gaiman says, 'Martin Millar writes like Kurt Vonnegut might have written, if he'd been born fifty years later, in a different country, and hung around with entirely the wrong sort of people.' As a fellow Millar-rite, I couldn't have put it better myself.

 Tales of The City by Armistead Maupin
Quirkiness of an entirely different nature now. I could have picked anything by this unique author, but the 'Tales of the City' series is probably what he is still best known for. This opening story begins with the prim and proper Mary Ann Singleton (now there's a name that matches the character) who rebels against her parents and turns her holiday in 1970s San Francisco into a lifestyle choice. She moves into an apartment house run by the mysterious Anna Madrigal, whose idea of a housewarming present is a nice toke of homegrown weed. Mary Ann grows up fast - with hilarious, tragic, scary and moving consequences. Intertwined with her story, Maupin develops a cast of characters who simply demand sequels. He is currently continuing to fulfil this need, most recently by 'Michael Tolliver Lives' and 'Mary Ann in Autumn'. But don't miss his other wonderful stories either. 'Maybe The Moon' and the sinister 'The Night Listener' are totally diffferent - but also 'must reads' in my opinion'.

 11:22:63 by Stephen King 
Here's another author - (in my opinion) the master of my preferred writing genre - who can do precious little wrong for me. I picked this one simply because I think it represents so much of what he is about as a writer. Stephen King could just sit back on his millions and do very little, but he is always challenging himself to produce something different to his last book. Again he is an author who pays little heed to genre. He is regarded as a 'horror' writer but that doesn't do him justice. He crosses all boundaries and shows us how it's done. This book isn't horror at all, for me. It is a timeslip and he hasn't attempted that before. Drat! He does it so well. I loved this book. The world could go by in a handcart while I was reading it. Just couldn't put it down. 

Heathcliff - brooding, dark, mysterious and dangerous. For me, in my angst ridden teenage years, he was always far more Jim Morrison than Laurence Olivier (if you can imagine Jim Morrison with a Yorkshire accent!). What more can be said about this classic than has already been said. Except - how did such a sheltered, virginal daughter of a Victorian parson come up with such a dark, Gothic and arousing story? Ah yes, probably because she was a sheltered, virginal daughter of a Victorian parson. And, maybe because she had two similarly raised sisters. All those raging hormones...

This was the first book that attracted me to Anne Rice. I read it at one lengthy sitting on a cold winter afternoon many years ago and it stayed with me for weeks afterwards. This was the first time I discovered sensuous horror. Prior to this, mummies, werewolves, vampires and witches had all been of the Dennis Wheatley, Bram Stoker, Hammer Horror variety. The idea that an ancient Egyptian mummified pharaoh could actually be sexy and wickedly desirable was a first for me. From here I went on to discover the Vampire Lestat and the Mayfair Witches, but this tale of Ramses the Damned is still my first love from this talented and versatile author's pen .

So, there are my five. In listing these, I have missed out other authors I adore who are far to numerous to mention.

Now, my last job is to nominate five other recipients of the {Booker} Award. These are:

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Two Nations Divided By A Common Language

 It may have been George Bernard Shaw or it may have been Winston Churchill. Oscar Wilde said, 'The Americans and the British are identical in all respects except, of course, their language'.Whoever first voiced these sentiments, there is no disputing it - when it comes to our common language, the two sides of the pond go about communicating in markedly different ways.This can lead to often hilarious misunderstandings.

A former colleague of mine - a fellow Brit - went to work in an office in New York some years ago. One day, she asked a young male colleague if she could borrow his 'rubber'.
The poor man dropped his pen, turned an interesting shade of puce, and stuttered, 'P-p-pardon?'

He was much relieved when she explained she only wanted to borrow an 'eraser'.

 Of course, sometimes, the misunderstandings are not so amusing. In the US, if you reply to a request by saying 'I don't care,' all you mean is that you don't mind. Say that in Britain and you are likely to find people think you offhand or churlish.

As a British writer with an American publisher, I have blithely gone ahead with an everyday British term, only to find it losing something in the translation.
 In a recent novella of mine, I described the walls of a room as being painted 'magnolia'. This was interpreted by my editor as 'pale peach'. In Britain magnolia is one of the most common decorating colours - it is a pale cream. So even colours (colors) can change in the journey across the Atlantic. Mind you, I suppose it depends on the colo(u)r of your magnolia trees!

Then there are everyday misunderstandings. When we go to the supermarket, we put the shopping in a trolley, take it out to the car park and stick it all in the boot. In the States, I would need a shopping cart which I would take into the parking lot and then offload into the trunk of my car. If I had a puncture on the way home in Liverpool, I would need to get my wheel wrench out, but if such a thing happened in Phoenix, Arizona, I would most definitely need my lug wrench. When there's a problem with the engine, the mechanic looks under the bonnet here - but he'd need to look under the hood over there. And, of course, I cook with gas but fill my car up with petrol.
In Britain we walk on pavements - Americans drive on them. We have motorways where the US has freeways (which aren't necessarily - free that is). We don't 'Yield', we 'Give Way'. We don't 'pass' other drivers, we 'overtake' them. And of course, we drive on the opposite side of the road (but that's another story).

The two countries can't even agree on which sport to borrow from. In the US it's baseball (I believe). There you 'step up to the plate', describe a person who stands in during an emergency as a 'pinch hitter'. You could 'drop the ball', be 'out in left field' or 'still in the ballgame'. In Britain, it's cricket that provides a wealth of everyday idioms. Here, we 'run up' to elections, find ourselves on 'a sticky wicket' and, if the situation is insupportable it 'just isn't cricket'!
Enough already! OK, I'll end now. Oh - just one point. It's not just the Americans and British that can't understand each other. A good friend of mine grew up in Australia. When she came to Britain, she worked in a hotel in Leeds. This was back in the 1970s. One day, she needed to stick something together and asked a middle-aged, rather prim and proper colleague to hand her the Durex. The woman nearly fainted. My friend couldn't understand why. You see,at that time in Australia, Durex was the most common brand of adhesive tape. Just like Sellotape in Britain!

 That really is it for today. Full stop. Er, I mean period.