Tuesday, 15 December 2015

2015 - A Rollercoaster Year

It’s that time of the year again when you reflect back on the past twelve months and, after saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s Christmas already’, you start to compartmentalise the good, the bad and the ugly events that have happened to you. For me, this year - more than any I can remember since 1995 - it has been a real rollercoaster.

There certainly have been some highs. In February, my novel The Pendle Curse was published while in August, my novella, Dark Avenging Angel came out. I also signed two more contracts for up and coming horror novels – The Devil’s Serenade, which Samhain will publish in April and Wrath of the Ancients, scheduled for December.

 Also this year I met one of my writing heroes for the first time – Ramsey Campbell. He did a booksigning, highly entertaining talk, and Q and A at my local bookshop, Write Blend in Waterloo, north of Liverpool. I then ran into him again (by design, not accident!) at the Liverpool Horror Festival in August – a thoroughly enjoyable event.

So, yes, there have been some ‘highs’ but, sadly, on the whole, I shall not be sorry to see the back of 2015. It has been a year which came in with serious health issues and is going out the same way. This year, I found out I had an extremely rare form of cancer. It eluded discovery for some time but at least it was still at the microscopic (as opposed to macroscopic) stage and was therefore removed – along with a number of internal bits and pieces I would rather have retained. But there have been complications. 2016 will arrive with another major operation on January 12th, followed by Radiotherapy. With any luck, I may make our planned holiday to Orkney in early June. I certainly hope so as it is a special one. My husband’s grandfather was on the HMS Hampshire in 1916 when it was sunk. Only 12 crewmen survived. 737 lives were lost. Lord Kitchener was one of the casualties, along with my husband’s grandfather. A special 100 year commemoration is to be held, together with the unveiling of a memorial wall and restored Kitchener Memorial, and that is where we are headed.

I must pause for a moment now to pay tribute and give thanks to the amazing team at the Liverpool Women's Hospital. This is truly an example of Britain’s National Health Service working at its best. From the incredibly talented surgeons (and three of them operated on me!), through to the hardworking, friendly and professional nurses and support staff, I was treated with understanding, dignity and the best of care. For some reason which completely baffles me, this hospital is under threat of closure. It’s all to do with money of course. Such high levels of care come at a price, but surely we – the patients – are worth it? Thank you LWH. Long may you continue to provide your excellent service.

Of course, I’m not the only one who has been hospitalized this year. So many people I know have had a traumatic time over the past twelve months, with serious health issues affecting them or someone close to them. In fact, as I write this, I am struggling to think of one person I know who has had a straightforward year! Is it something in the stars? Has a curse been put on us? Not that I would attempt to compare our problems with those in the wider world. Globally, this has been a terrible year for many thousands of displaced people. I’m sure all our hearts go out to them, along with our profound hopes that 2016 will see at least some kind of improvement – whether it be a cessation of hostilities, or some kind of workable solution to the crises that are causing so much misery, hardship and death.

So now my thoughts turn to the impending new year. What will 2016 bring for us all? This time next year, will we be looking back with happiness and reflecting on some brilliant highlights? I don’t make New Year resolutions but, if I did, I would resolve to beat my health issues into submission once and for all and get on with my life. I’d resolve to return to writing scary stories instead of living one!

My thanks and best wishes to you all. May you enjoy the festive season in whichever way appeals to you and may 2016 bring you all you wish for yourself and those you love.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Krampus Night - Introducing an Old Tradition to Refugee Families

 While fathers, pretty much across the globe, are dusting off their Santa suits in preparation for the fast-approaching festivities, another - much darker - figure makes his annual, scary, appearance to act as a warning to badly behaved children in Germany, Austria and other parts of eastern Europe.

His name is Krampus and December 5th is his day.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the tradition of Krampus, the festivities that form Krampus Nacht (Krampus Night) can be extremely scary - frightening even.

 So who is this beast who has the power to frighten children? Krampus is a horned, cloven-hoofed monster who, in pre-Christian European culture, serves as the dark companion to Saint Nicholas, America’s Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas rewards good children and leaves bad ones to Krampus, who kidnaps and tortures kids unless they repent.

 In a small Austrian town in the Tyrolean district of Lienz, residents were concerned that the annual Krampus parade might be misunderstood and prove frightening to their newest inhabitants – dozens of families of Syrian and Afghan refugees. 
www.thelocal.at photo: ORF screenshot

To ensure this didn’t happen, they invited eleven of the children to join in a presentation of the props and costumes that would be used in the event, known locally as the Perchtenlauf or Klaubaufe.

They were shown the traditional grotesque masks (known as Larven) which were inspired by legends of evil mountain spirits who bring disaster during the winter months. Then they were introduced to the full costumes. These are pretty full-on and caused some shrieks and frightened faces, but the flavour of what they can expect on December 5th appears to have gone down well, especially as it ended with Saint Nicholas distributing nuts and mandarins to the children.

 Krampus is a natural subject for a horror writer and my Samhain stablemate, Matt Manochio, wrote a brilliant novel called The Dark Servant which is available from the publisher – Samhain – along with Amazon and all good online bookstores (print and ebook).  

 This week, Samhain has also published Twelfth Krampus Night – a dark and deliciously scary novella which you can find by clicking these links for Samhain and Amazon. It is also available at all good online book retailers. 

Now – ask yourself, have you been good this year? Will Saint Nicholas bring you goodies at Christmas? Or will he turn you over to Krampus?

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Devil's Serenade - Revealed

 The Devil's Serenade

 Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

When Maddie Chambers inherits her Aunt Charlotte’s Gothic mansion, old memories stir of the long-forgotten summer she turned sixteen. She has barely moved in before a series of bizarre events drives her to question her sanity.

The strains of her aunt’s favorite song echo through the house, the roots of a faraway willow creep through the cellar, a child who cannot exist skips from room to room, and Maddie discovers Charlotte kept many deadly secrets.

Gradually, the barriers in her mind fall away, and Maddie begins to recall that summer when she looked into the face of evil. Now, the long dead builder of the house has unfinished business and an ancient demon is hungry. Soon it is not only Maddie’s life that is in danger, but her soul itself, as the ghosts of her past shed their cover of darkness.

 My new novel will be released by Samhain in April and sees me return to the theme of a sinister Gothic house. Here, the evil owner - Nathaniel Hargest - has left a vile and deadly legacy, involving a seemingly innocuous wartime melody, and an impossible tree. Why is it impossible? Well, here's an extract (as yet unedited):

Its gnarled bark looked knotted in parts and, in others, wrinkled and even stripped away. The center of the massive trunk was half hollowed out, scorched and withered from the lightning strike that no one could remember even when I was a child. Thick branches curved downward, interweaving with each other, some striking upward, others merely inches off the ground; one or two lay almost flat. It was a miracle tree in some ways. With such awful damage, it really should have died, but its will to live had proved too strong for that.”

It had spawned its own branches which grew horizontally, entwined with each other and disappeared into the lush undergrowth behind the tree. Indian mallow and clinging ivy grew here in profusion.”

 The above photograph shows the inspiration for this tree - albeit, as any writer would, I have played fast and loose with it for the purposes of telling a scary story. A good friend of mine told me willows are unique. They have a heart. Maybe that is why, whenever I sit on that long branch, I can feel some kind of power surging through it.

On a warm summer day last year, I was sitting on that very branch, musing, listening to the excited babble of the river when it shuddered beneath me - a strange kind of rippling - even though there was nothing to cause it. Certainly no strong gust of wind. At that moment, an idea formed in my mind...and from nowhere, I seemed to hear the strains of Glenn Miller and his Orchestra playing Serenade in Blue...

  The rest? You will have to read it for yourself! Next spring. When the birds are chirruping... bees are buzzing...butterflies dance from flower to flower, and all seems right with the world. Unless you dig below the surface and find the evil that lurks beneath.

The Devil's Serenade will be available in the usual ebook formats and also print.

Huge thanks to the amazing cover artist, Scott Carpenter for - once again - reading my mind, interpreting my ideas and getting it spot on. Take a bow, Scott!