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Writing on Walls again

May 10, 2013 Leave a comment

horror cover 3Relaunched. New cover art. Updated link to the video of the first story. Lower price (99 cents or 77 pence, I believe, but don’t hold me to it – the UK price will fluctuate with exchange rates). Now you can ignore it all over again. Or maybe just for the first time?

Eight short tales of horror and dark fantasy based on the understanding that one characteristic of being human is the ability to use one’s imagination, that imagination constructs reality, and that we construct our own worst fears and horrors.

It’s on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. And if you want to view the video, which is an abridged version of the first story, shot in an amazingly low-tech way using the embers of a fire and an oil lamp for lighting, I just uploaded it to Vimeo.

A taster? This is from a bit you won’t see on the ‘Look Inside’ function, the story MacGuffin. And yes, the narrator is the MacGuffin of the story. I take it you know the meaning of the term – Hitchcock popularised it in film to refer to a ‘plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, protect or control, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so important. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place or person’ (I’m quoting this from Wikipedia).

The story opens this way:

It’s more difficult than you’d think to dig up a buried box in the woods at night. I have explicit instructions, a spade and a torch. But I have company; there are more people out here at two in the morning than there are in the town centre. Couples use a small clearing for alfresco exchanges of DNA. Illegal immigrants are camped a hundred metres away. Some kind of deal is going down near to where I left my car.

Thank fuck I’d done a recon when it was still light. Go to this point on the path, head for that forked tree, see that rock outcrop, dig one metre directly in front of the fault line on the rock. It’s probably an SSSI, digging prohibited on account of rare species. I’m in favour of environmental protection but right now there’s something more important at stake.

Clearing away leaf litter makes a hell of a noise, but no one seems to care. I shield my flashlight, and find a slightly sunken square of earth. At some point in the past it has been dug and loosely refilled.

Do I know for sure there’s a box under here? I swear at Giles for his cloak-and-dagger temperament, his love of practical jokes. I could get to the end of this and find some whimsical object with a sarcastic note.

I know you have severe reservations about my work. Perhaps you think I’ve had a breakdown and went insane. Perhaps you’ll find the world has had a breakdown and gone insane. It doesn’t matter. I’m just relying on you to have the same sense of honour you had when we were postgrads. You said on a particularly drunken evening that whatever our differences, I could always count on you as a friend.

You’re reading this because something has happened to me. My fail-safe was that this email would be sent automatically in such circumstances. I hope can still depend on your drunken promise, because the fact that you’re reading this means there is an important task I need you to undertake on my behalf.

You must recover some information and evidence, and make it public in a way that will attract the attention of the public – not the authorities, who will no doubt label me a deluded fool and deny everything, but capable, right-thinking people who are able to determine their own best interests and act on them.

The email was dated a year ago but arrived last week. Outlook has a function to delay sending selected messages, and my guess was that Giles just kept putting the date back until, one day, something had happened to stop him doing it. The countdown clicked to zero, the message was sent. With instructions: this path, that tree, this rock, one metre in front of, about half a metre down. There was more: reference to a housing estate he was ‘investigating’. The roads show on Google Maps but there are no street views. I’m guessing it’s a scummy little place, low priority on every local authority agenda.

I curse Giles for a drama queen, an overweight and pouty prima donna of melodrama. Had he come out here at this time of night to bury the thing? It would have appealed to his twisted sensibilities. But he was never one for physical effort, which makes the fact of his actually digging a hole – if it was him that dug it – significant.

Thank you for reading this. To ensure it remains secret, now please set fire to the device you have been reading it on…

Writing on Walls – the stick!

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment
The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story - photo credit Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story – photo credit Chris Cafferkey

A few years ago I went to a local science fiction society meeting – probably Starbase Leicester – to attend a talk by an SF/fantasy novelist. I’m afraid my memory is poor about who the writer actually was, though someone may be able to remind me from the details I’m about to give. The key thing I took away from the talk was the idea that in order to get inside the head of his characters, he made puppets of them. Properly carved wooden puppets, about two feet tall, the kind on strings that you can use in a puppet theatre.

My memory says he’d learned the art of woodcarving from a family member (father? grandfather? uncle? I don’t know) and got into puppetry as a hobby from an early age. So when he started writing, it was a natural strategy for him to get a sense of his characters’ physique, looks and characters by carving and constructing them as puppets.

That is, I think, dedication – because I’d imagine it takes quite a time to get a puppet looking exactly the way you think it should.

The pics in this blog represent almost the reverse process, however. Because my Writing on Walls collection has a story in it titled ‘Mabon Whores’. Mabon is the pagan (some say primarily Wiccan, but there you go) name for the autumnal equinox and the story has references to various magical items made by dirt-poor people in a small rural community. One of those items is a magical stick.

In writing the story I  tried to imagine what such an item would look like. There are of course a range of possible variations – staffs, wands, etc. but I wanted it just to be a stick, the kind of thing you could pick up from a hedgerow or as fallen wood in a copse. And I didn’t want it to be well-constructed, made with craft and finesse. Not because the makers wouldn’t have had the resources to do that, because they’d be able to whittle and make home-made varnish and suchlike, but because they understood that the point and power of such an object lies in the intent with which it’s made. It’s the kind of WI Thomas logic at work here: if I pick up a random stick or twig and tell you it has powerful magic in it, and I’m convincing and you believe me, then for all practical purposes it does have powerful magic in it. If I tell you it can send out a force like a hurricane and wave it at you, you’d probably fall over (and think it was the stick that did it, not the power of suggestion).

The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

So to cut to the chase, after I wrote the story I made the stick out of curiosity. And that’s what the pics are.

It came from the back garden, was painted with old spray paints from the shed, and decorated with random things lying about the house – some ribbon and beads, a plastic dragonfly (I said it was random, it’s that kind of household), an old keyring, the printing from the inside of a cigarette packet that looks almost-but-not-quite like buttons on a TV remote control.

If you read the story, the stick probably won’t knock you over. But the eviscerator might make you cross your legs…

Oh, and the pics were taken by Chris Cafferkey, who normally shoots far more elegant and beautiful things like flowers.

Writing on Walls in the UK

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Collection now also available from Amazon.co.uk. The current price is a very reasonable £1.96 (but will go up or down by a few pence from time to time as it’s tagged to the dollar exchange rate).

Writing on Walls

August 28, 2012 2 comments

Writing on Walls ebook cover

This is the culmination of, believe it or not, over two years of work. OK, so some of that was procrastination and diversion and moving house and urgent (as in fee-paying) projects. And some of it was learning how to format and edit PDFs, epub files, audio files, movies and so on, and working out the best programmes to use for different purposes. Some of it was just investigating the general market for self-published work. But it’s done, and I’ve proved to myself I can do it so I’ll do it again, soon.

Writing on Walls, and Other Horrors is a 24,000-word collection of eight horror and dark fantasy stories ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 words apiece. The stories draw on WI James’ statement to the effect that if if you think something is true, it is true in its consequences. One characteristic of being human is the ability to use one’s imagination. Imagination constructs reality, and it can bring into being the hopes, fears, magics and horrors it creates.

The stories offer a spread across psychological horror, vampires, the occult and the plain weird. Some had, actually, been accepted by small magazines that went under before they reached the publication date for the pieces – though one had been rejected by several mags that specialise in weirdness for being too weird. The contents are:

Writing on Walls: is it possible for someone to write their own future? Can their scribbling change what happens to them, and to others? What happens when they’re washed up, suffering from too much past history and a psychiatric condition?

Defining the Situation: if you define a situation as real, it is real in its consequences. The philosopher WI Thomas said that, a hundred years ago. It’s still true. So if you think a typewriter is inhabited by a manipulative evil spirit, then it is. And you have to live with the consequences.

MacGuffin: technically speaking, a MacGuffin is the name for a film device that starts the action but isn’t important in itself. For example, a box buried in the woods by a man who died. It doesn’t matter what’s in the box, it’s just a thing that some people will fight and kill to get their hands on. But can a person be a MacGuffin, too?

UXB: some people have heads like unexploded bombs. The question is, what can trigger them? Trying to cross the road, maybe? Trying to cross the road to go to the doctor to get their head defused?

The Writing of Evil: forensic psychiatrists have tried to profile and categorise murderers. But writers can be worse that murderers, because they invent distorted narratives that confuse our grip on reality and can lead to massive social injury. This article presents a heirarchy and classification of authorial depravity and deviance.

Mabon Whores: a ‘craft fair’ is normally about scented soaps and home-made jam. But the word ‘craft’ can have darker meanings, with darker consequences.

John Undescribe (1952-2012) – The Best Writer You Never Read: an obituary for a writer, following his unexplained death. His influence on other writers was legendary – but what of his own work?

Spiritalk 23: The User Experience: do you want to talk to the dead? Really? Are you ready to handle the consequences?

Yes, if you buy it, it will cost you a little over $3 (or sterling equivalent when it turns up on Amazon.co.uk) and you can get all of HP Lovecraft’s fiction on Kindle for 77 cents. But that’s largely a function of Amazon’s minimum pricing for 70% royalties, the fact that out-of-copyright works don’t qualify for the higher royalty rate, and the fact that as far as I know I’m alive and need the money while Lovecraft isn’t and doesn’t. Though he did, as you may know, die in penury; and even at the higher price, I’m not anticipating my collection will do a whole lot for my pension fund. That will be, I hope, I function of my next few publications.

About me: in the interludes between writing social science educational materials and management training materials, I’ve published occasional pieces of fiction. You’ll find them in places such as Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Ignavia, Ballista and online in Dark Fire.

Shot from promo video

Shot from promo video

Oh yeah. There’s also a promo video I made with a few friends. You can see it on Youtube. It’s a much shortened version of the ‘Writing on Walls’ story. I had an email yesterday from someone who thought it was interview footage relating to a real event, which I suppose is praise of a kind…

Those involved (or alternatively, the guilty parties other than me) were Ric Sharples (that’s him on the left, he can act as well as do equality and diversity training), Richard Gray and Chris Cafferkey, who took a break from photography to shoot some video footage.

I hope you buy the collection. I hope you like it, and/or that it both engages and scares you. In a pleasant way, of course. And I hope you’ll buy the follow-up collection when it appears.

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