Tuesday, 13 September 2022

"Have You Always Written Horror?"

People ask me if I have always written horror – or dark fiction if you prefer. The simple answer is ‘no’. In fact, over the years, I have written stories for children (the still unpublished The Adventures of Henry the Toad and All His Friends springs to mind) and light romantic fiction (until I got so fed up with the wimpy heroine that I left her stuck in a lift/elevator from where she hasn’t emerged in thirty-six years. That’ll teach her!). I have written historical fiction and crime, poetry, a comedy-drama about Neolithic henge builders (ah yes, The Beaker Folk. I remember them well. An agent told me the play would be good for radio. I’m still waiting to hear back from the BBC. It’s been around thirty-five years. Do you think it’s too soon to chase them up?)

Years passed, life happened and, having no luck in enticing a publisher or agent to take me on, despite some really encouraging feedback, I stepped back to take a long hard look at what I was doing and what I most enjoyed writing and it came down to…

Horror.

I had always adored scary, ghostly stories, frequently set sometime back in history, in Gothic houses with creepy corridors where shadows moved and you were never ever truly alone…even though you were the only living thing for miles around.

Readers, I did it. I switched genres yet again and entered a competition with an American publisher of repute called Samhain. The prize was to be one of four authors whose novellas would be combined into an anthology of Gothic horror stories.

When I opened an email some weeks later from Samhain’s Horror editor in chief, Don D’Auria I expected the usual ‘thanks but no thanks’. I had to read it twice, then another twice to be sure I hadn’t misunderstood. Here’s the section that had me leaping around the room making rather odd ‘whooping’ noises:

‘Welcome to the Samhain family!

‘I've read through all the (many) submissions to the Samhain Gothic horror anthology, and I'm happy to say that Linden Manor was one of the very best. Congratulations! You beat out some pretty stiff competition. Linden Manor is a truly fine piece of work. And so I'm pleased to offer you a contract for the novella…’

Since then, I have never looked back. Linden Manor joined fabulously creepy stories, Blood Red Roses by Russell James, Castle by the Sea by J.G. Faherty and Bootleg Cove by Devin Govaere in an anthology (now, sadly out of print) called What Waits in the Shadows. Samhain became my publisher and, following their demise, the books I released with them were reprinted by Crossroad Publishing, including Linden Manor which is now available in ebook and audio versions here.


These days, I love writing Gothic, haunted house, historical horror stories and have also dabbled in a little folk horror. I am published by Flame Tree Press which means I am lucky enough to still be able to call the great Don D’Auria my editor.

As for my latest novel – Dark Observation is out in hardback, ebook and paperback.

“a dark, disturbing thrill ride” – Publishers’ Weekly

"An engaging, multigenerational tale of dark magic and occult" - Booklist

Here’s what you can expect to find:

Eligos is waiting…fulfil your destiny

1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill's subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet.

Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past... Something or someone - is targeting her.

Dark Observation is available here:





Bookshop.org (where you can support your favourite local bookshop)

and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)

Images:

Shutterstock

Crossroad Press

Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Press Studio




Saturday, 30 July 2022

The Cult of the Vril

 

In my latest novel, Dark Observation, my character Heather learns of a secret organisation that thrived in Nazi Germany. Known as the Vril Society, this all-too-real, strange, and sinister group had its foundations in, of all things, a novel called The Coming Race penned by British author, Edward Bulwer Lytton and published in 1871. In his story, Lytton writes of a race of super-beings who lived in caverns deep below the earth’s surface. They were possessed of a special force of energy known as ‘vril’ and called themselves ‘Vril-ya’. They possessed the ability to communicate with humans by connecting with them through various portals in the earth.

That supposedly intelligent adults would believe in this may seem incredible to us today, but we need to put these beliefs into the context of the time and circumstances in which such conviction could take root.

Germany and Austria suffered bitter humiliation and defeat at the end of the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up and the two countries who had fought on the losing side were crippled by impossible reparations extracted by the triumphant Allies. Everything was done to crush the spirit and any form of national pride in Germany and all that was left of Austria. The problem is that history teaches us that when a nation’s spirit is suppressed, it tends to retaliate with whatever means are available to it. Among the most common manifestation of this is that extremist factions are formed.

A certain Captain Adolf Hitler joined one of them. He was briefly a member of the violent ‘Soviet Bavaria’ group. In amongst the familiar communist, conservative, liberal and socialist groupings, the atmosphere was ripe for the emergence of such extreme and eccentric groups, offering apparently new and radical ideas to help restore German pride and see the proud nation rise again to take its place on the world stage.

By 1919, German playwright, Dietrich Eckart was a radical thinker. Like many of his compatriots, he came from the wealthy middle-class and he met Hitler in 1919 when the latter attended a talk at the German Workers’ Party on 12 September. Along with Gottfried Feder and Alfred Rosenberg, Eckart was impressed when Hitler stood up to speak. None of his ideas was especially new. He talked of the need to build a Greater Germany, incorporating Austria, Danzig and all German-speaking people. Essentially, he spoke of the German nation as one, superior race. At this time though, his ideas of a superior race, and anti-semitism were somewhat vague and a ‘work in progress’. Soon though, he would meet men who would provide the foundations of his future destiny.

Leader of the German Workers’ Party at the time, Anton Drexler, made sure he obtained Hitler’s address before he left that 12th September meeting and, the following day, Adolf Hitler became the fifty-fifth card-carrying member of the party.

Eckart knew that the German Workers’ Party in its present form could not become a mass movement without a charismatic leader - one with the gift of oratory. In Adolf Hitler he saw that man and became his mentor, grooming him carefully for future leadership. He incorporated a number of occult ideas and practices into his eager student’s curriculum and introduced Hitler to three magical orders: The Thule Society, The Armanen order, and The Vril Society. These groups – and others – provided the genesis of Nazi ideology and the emergence of the vision of an Aryan Super-Race. Of these three, it was the Thule Group (who believed in the old Norse myths of Hyperborea and Thule the descendants of whom were, according to Thule Group members, ancestors of the Aryan race) and the Vril Society.

The true origins of the Vril Society are disputed but it seems to have started its life outside Germany, possibly borne out of the Green Dragon Society in Tibet which believed it was possible to control all the forces within the human body and become time lords. Karl Haushofer was one of the main leaders of the Vril Society, along with Eckart. Both these men wanted to use vril power for political purposes.

At the age of 30, Eckart persuaded Hitler to join the Vril Society and, from then on, there was no turning back. The Vril Society had found its man, and now it could begin to construct a New World Order. Hitler began to emerge as a confident and powerful speaker, with unshakeable belief in his ability to direct the entire force of his personality (by harnessing vril power) in order to influence events

Mein Kampf illustrates just how closely he adhered to the beliefs and principles of the Vril Society. Over the next few years, other members came to include those in his closest circle, people such as Hess, Himmler and Goering.

 The Vril Society and its heinous adherents and offspring was founded on a bedrock of myth and legend and shows us how much devastation can be wrought when people are hungry, demoralized, desperate and searching for a leader to inspire them out of their sense of hopelessness.

All these many years later, radical organisations, owing much to the Vril Society and Nazi dogma, continue to thrive.

 Edward Bulwer Lytton died in 1873, so was spared the unedifying sight of his work of fiction adopted and appropriated as a kind of textbook for one of the darkest times in world history. However, even at the time, groups such as the Theosophists seriously mooted as to whether his science-fiction was actually fact. Had Lytton been contacted by the Vril-ya?

As a little aside to ponder on, Lytton originated a number of phrases we still stumble across today. gems such as; ‘the great unwashed’, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, oh and lest we forget, ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’

 

Eligos is waiting…fulfil your destiny

1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill's subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet.

Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past... Something or someone - is targeting her.

Dark Observation is available here:






Bookshop.org (where you can support your favourite bookstore)

and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)


Images:

Nik Keevil and Flame Tree Studio

Shutterstock

Author’s own

Monday, 11 July 2022

The Woman Who Inspired Me To Write

Doris Buttery

 When I was a little girl and, okay, I'll say it first, that was a long time ago, one of my enduring memories is of my mother sitting at the dining room table, her pencil sharpened and busy as she transcribed memories of her childhood onto sheets of lined foolscap paper. 

These were her happy years, spent simply, living in a small rural village called Elford, in Staffordshire. Tamworth was the nearest town and Lichfield the nearest city. Birmingham, lying some twenty miles away, was rarely visited for pleasure. Besides, why would you want to go there when you had everything you needed in the village? Well, until you reached your teens of course, and became hungry for the bright lights and faster pace of life.

Doris with her parents 1930
While Mum wrote, I would play with my dolls or my cat, Penny. I would make up stories, read, let my imagination run free...

And day after day, Mum would write. She took a creative writing course and dabbled in short stories. They were fiction but always, somewhere, there lurked a grain of truth. Invariably set in the 1920s or 1930s - she was born in 1920 - there would be a character I would later come to identify in her memoirs. Sometimes she would write about a scandal that I would later discover had actually taken place - although the names and some identifying details had all been changed.

Doris with her parents and two brothers 1930
I can't remember exactly when she stopped writing. But for years, maybe a decade or more, the pencils and foolscap were put aside only for her to return one day and pick up where she left off. This became a pattern. Days and weeks of daily writing followed by months and years of none.

Meanwhile, I had caught the writing bug. Watching her may have been the catalyst, or perhaps it was simply because she enjoyed it. Whatever the start of it, I was the geeky kid at school who relished writing essays while my schoolfriends groaned at the prospect. Some of those essays grew into short stories, one eventually morphed into a novel. Mum encouraged me while my father considered my desire - at around eight or nine years old - to purchase a portable typewriter as a complete waste of time and money. I bought my typewriter, selling a number of toys in order to do so.

extract from the original handwritten foolscap
Fast forward to 2018. To March of that year to be precise. At the age of 97, my lovely and inspirational Mum passed away peacefully in hospital. I was by her side and she simply slipped away as she always wanted. At her funeral, we celebrated her long life. She wanted no tears.

I found those sheets of foolscap. She had added to them over the years and, reading them through, I knew I had to get them published, The result is An Elford Childhood by Doris Buttery. It is subtitled, Growing up in a Staffordshire Village 1920-1933

Minimal editing was required - to eliminate repetition, group certain events and locations together and a bit of tidying up. Apart from that, these are her words as she wrote them and show what a great storyteller she was - with a fine memory. As with her fiction, she had changed many names (almost all in fact) and, while she had created a sheet showing some of the main name changes for identification purposes, she had not extended this to all of them. Luckily, Elford resident and historian Greg Watkins was on hand to help decipher the mystery. Mum was a lifelong lover of crime novels and would have been highly amused at the detective work he and I undertook. I am indebted to him for all the fact-checking and general rooting and digging in archives, the 1921 census and Elford Parish records. I am also indebted to Umbria Press for doing such a fine job - especially with some ancient, faded photographs into which they breathed fresh life.

Most of all though, I am indebted to the author herself. Doris Buttery undoubtedly passed on a lot of gifts to me; her love of writing, reading, and cats being at the forefront. She also enjoyed a ghost story as well as her beloved crime fiction. So do I. Would I have got into writing if I hadn't inherited the love of it from her? We'll never know, but I somehow doubt it.

Doris on her 90th birthday
Doris's story, An Elford Childhood, is published by Umbria Press, available in paperback online and from retail bookshops either on the shelf or to order.

When Doris Buttery was born in the small village of Elford, King George V was on the throne. The First World War had ended less than two years earlier, and women had yet to achieve the vote on equal terms with men.

Growing up with her parents and two older brothers, worldly possessions were few and money was tight for most people in the village, but life was far from dull. With an array of colourful characters, scandals, long-held secrets and the changing seasons, there was plenty to keep an active, inquisitive young girl entertained.

Decades later, Doris picked up her pencil, grabbed some sheets of lined foolscap and began to write down her memories. Then she put them away. Only her daughter knew they existed.

After Doris’s death in 2018, her daughter found the neat folder, opened it and began to read. The years rolled back and the world of a rural community in the 1920s and early ‘30s emerged, fresh from those carefully written pages. It was a world far distant from our own and now it is here, as that young girl remembered it.

An Elford Childhood provides a tantalizing trip back in time to a life lived in a place where the milk came in churns, water had to be pumped and collected, few cars troubled the narrow lanes, and electricity had still to be installed in the house where Doris lived.

Available from:

Amazon

Waterstones 

Bookshop.org (where you can support your favourite local bookshop)

Tamworth Heritage Trust

Foyles

Write Blend

and other High Street bookstores





Monday, 9 May 2022

Dark Observation

 Eligos is waiting… fulfil your destiny

1941. Typist Vi Harrington works in the subterranean, top-secret Cabinet War Rooms, where Prime Minister Winston Churchill makes the key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war. Above, the people of London go about their daily business, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet.

Night after night the bombs rain down, yet, in that fateful spring, Vi has far more to fear than air raids.

She and her friend Tilly share a house with the strange and distant Sandrine Maupas di Santiago - a woman who doesn’t belong there; a woman who is hiding something. Where does she go at night – and what secrets lay behind that too-perfect exterior? But when they decide to dig a little deeper, Vi soon discovers some secrets are best left alone.

At home, and in her place of work, she cannot escape from the menace closing in on her. Increasingly isolated by events she cannot control, every day brings fresh fears. A mysterious man and a room that only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past... Something is targeting her.

Tragedy strikes and little by little the web is unraveled, but the truth is more extraordinary than Vi could ever have imagined...

Dark Observation is out on September 13th 2022 and can be pre-ordered here:

Amazon

Flame Tree Press