Freebie Time

Until the end of the day on Monday 20th September, you can get my novella The Fen Witch of Goosefeather Split on Kindle for absolutely nothing.

What’s it about?

The Fen Witch of Goosefeather Split is a novella about confronting the past. It tells the story of Charlie who is called back to the place of his childhood when the man who was as good as a father to him goes missing.

The trouble with going back, is that his real father is there too. As Charlie searches for clues that will lead to to understand what happened to Mick, he realises that he’ll have to confront his father and deal with the abuse from the past. And worse, he might have to come face to face with the Fen Witch once more, who has haunted his dreams ever since challenged to enter her domain as a teenager.

What have people said about it?

This is the story of how Charlie, the protagonist, learns to stop running away from his fear of the past, of the fens and the secrets it holds, and to confront the truth about the death of his mother and his best friend. A gripping and beautifully told tale.

This is a tale with a visceral, claustrophobic feel to it. I will certainly be following this read with more from Benjamin Langley – on this showing he is a talent to watch.

A gripping story of a necessary return to a small village full of painful memories, shot through with grim & muddy English folklore made real. Incredibly tense & effective.

Benjamin Langley is at it again. This work is both chilling and melancholy, dealing with trauma and a haunted past. It’s a short, very personal story that’ll leave you breathless.

So why is it free?

Why give away something I’ve spent time crafting, and something I’m proud of? Well, a couple of reasons. I made it free upon release for a short period, and have only really promoted when I’m able ot offer a free promotion because I want some of my work out there for people to be able to access without having to make a financial commitment. Hopefully if peopl elike what I write, they might be willing to give something else a go, or at least tell their friends about it, and maybe even leave a review.

Secondly, it’s nice to be able to give something back to the community. I sent some physical copies to people who have supported and promoted my work in the past as a way of saying I appreciate what they’ve done for me.

Thirdlt and finally, it’s my birthday on Monday, and I felt like giving you a gift.

Link

Trigger/Content Warnings

August 2021 Reads

What a great month August was. It seemed to last for bloody ages too, which is fantastic when you’re a teacher…

The Company of Words – J.R. Park

J. R. Park weaves another fab tale combining a creeping and sinister dread with a tale full of action, gore and fear.
Park combines two stories in The Company of Words, that of Andrew, a nervous security guard on duty for the first time over night while a storm rages.
Here, he takes solace in fiction (hence the title, The Company of Words) where we learn of Bonehead and his brothers Wilf and Gaz in the aftermath of breaking another brother, Tommy, from a prison transport.
Throughout the novella we jump from Andrew’s narrative which is a tale of creeping dread as he deals with various strange sounds and other disturbances, and the more actin packed novel in which we discover that Tommy was kept at a facility in which the prisoners were given a rather revolutionary treatment.
The links between the fiction and the fiction within the fiction are done well – a noise is described in the fictional book, and Andrew thinks he hears something similar and has to investigate. It really captures the way a book can get into your head.
Things start to get strange with Andrew as the story of Bonehead and his brothers becomes more intense. He’s worried about screwing up and letting his family down and his competence is called into question several times times, and it’s clear the book is unsettling him further, and yet he persists.
It’s a great structure, and kept me reading, finishing it in one sitting. We are somewhat left with a few unresolved threads, so I could have done with one final chapter, though there is satisfaction in the manner in which it is left regardless.
Like with Mad Dog, Park is inventive when it comes to how to tell the story, which makes it all the more enjoyable. A new Park book is becoming something to get very excited about, and I’ll be at the front of the queue for the next one.

The Army of Lost Souls – Jo Kutya

I loved The Curse of Odin, the first of Jo Kutya’s Blink and Abernathy adventures, and The Army of Lost Souls continues to develop those character is a fast-paced and action-packed adventure. This one starts at top speed, and barely lifts its foot from the accelerator. We start mid-chase, and it doesn’t take long at all to fall back into the Steampunk setting, or to get to grips with the characters again.
Like the first book, the stakes are incredibly high again, but this one feels a little darker. A killer, inspired by the Spring-Heeled Jack myths and Jack the Ripper terrorises the streets. A letter promises more bodies, and Blink and Abernathy are hired to investigate. When their investigations leads to them becoming suspects we end up in a situation where they’re trying to catch a killer, while th epolice are chasing them.
The threat has definitely been raised here, with seemingly unstoppable villains and a relentless police force. The unrest in the city means it all takes place with an air of unease. Once more, Kutya bring in a range of interesting characters and we get to spend more time in some of London’d hidden locations.
Kutya continues to plant seeds for the bigger mysteries in the series too, with more information coming about Blink’s and Abernathy’s pasts.
This book would appeal to anyone from teenager upwards who likes an adventure with lots of action, fantastic characters, and great dialogue.

Witchcraft and Black Magic – Montague Summers

This book was absolutely crackers. The 1946 handbook on the supernatural is meticulously researched with sources going back hundreds of years to describe different beliefs and practices in witchcraft.

The whole thing is written entirely in earnest. It is written as if Montague Summers not only believed in witches and black magic, but feared it. Knowledge is power, and this is a book with which we can arm ourselves with the knowledge to identify those who practicce the dark arts.

Inside you’ll find information on familiars and grimoires, accounts of witchcraft taking place in the corridors in power and in the country’s oldest education establishments. You’ll discover the truth about Anne Boleyn. You’ll find out why demons like to float.

I primarily read it for research purposes, wanting to know what some of the believes were in the late 16th century, and I got that from this, as well as a whole lot more. I’m a little shocked to believe that in 1946, 75 years ago, someone could be writing academically about witchcraft from the position on staunch believer.

Dune – Frank Herbert

I set myself a low target with the number of books I was going to read this year, simply so I could take some time to enjoy some longer books without that pressure of having to reach a goal. My goodreads target has long since been passed, and I could read this at my leisure.

My knowledge of Dune was limited before I started. There was sand, spice, and worms. It was a sci-fi. The 80s film was a flop and had a load of production issues. I knew nothing else. It was a little slow going at first. Lots of interplanetary diplomacy and lots of characters to meet. Paul’s our protagonist, the son of a Duke, relocated to the desert planet Arrakis. He has to undergo a trial early on. We understand that he has a gift for foresight through dreams. This tells us things are going to go wrong on the planet, and from the second they do, it all picks up pace.

The narrative continues to be surprising, because Herbert’s not afraid to build up characters, and then kill them off (or leave them to die in the wilds). That’s one of the novel’s strengths. The world-building is incredible. I really enjoyed the level of detail that went into it, particulalry the way the people of Arrakis, the Fremen, copes in a world with so little water. The sand worms are a great element too, and an early scene in which one consumes a spice factory shows how powerful they are.

It shows its age a little with its conventional prophesied hero/revenge narrative, with Paul almost being too powerful to be realistic (though I found that easier to accept if I imagined he was Kyle Maclachlan) and while the writing is often great while there is action, the in-scene head-jumping is rather distracting. While I enjoyed the narrative as a whole, I was gutted that some really important events took placce off the page. We’d skip forward until after the action and have the meeting that came after instead of the key event that led us to it, for example.

I’m glad I read it (though I skipped the appendices). It’s easy to see the influence it had in the genre. I might read more in the series in years to come. I’ll give the 80s movie a watch soon, and see how in compares to the forthcoming movie.

A Tale of Two Sequels

I left the image on the right janky as some kind of statement, or something.

On Friday night, I watched the new Candyman, this afternoon, The Craft: Legacy. In both cases, the original films appeared in the 1990s, and now they pick up a generation or so later.

These films are not remakes, reboots or reimaginings. Both have been advertised as sequels, and while one gets it very right, the other gets it so very wrong.

Let’s talk Candyman first.

Candyman' 2021 Ending, Explained: Movie Brings Back a Familiar Face -  Thrillist

Both Candyman films are set in the same place: Cabrini Green, though the Cabrini Green of today is very different to that of the 1990s. Early on, a visitor to an apartment there tells the story of Helen from the original Candyman, but it’s done in the way the press reported on the story – basically what the police thought happened in the original. While this is being told (using a cool puppetry effect), it uses the original iconic theme.

It knows we know about Candyman. It knows we know the truth. But it also sets up an important theme about myths and legends, truth and lies, and how different agendas can mean one takes prevalence over the other.

As the film continues our protagonist starts to learn more about the story of the Candyman, and about what happened to Helen in 1992. The two stories come together in an interesting way. The new is wrapped in the old, and yet still stands on its own two feet. To be honest, I’ll probably go see it again, as there’s so much more to take from it, but I was really impressed with how well it’s constructed.

Now let’s talk The Craft: Legacy.

The Craft: Legacy Is a Direct-to-Digital Sequel to the 1996 Original - IGN

This film gets straight down to business. Three young girls playing witches. They need a fourth. Cut to road, and mother and daughter moving down that road. Yes, this is our fourth that will make the coven. The first hour or so of this movie seems like it’s going to just retread the story of the original. But after a quick start, damn does it slow down. Then David Duchovny gets all weird. Then there’s an utterly pointless link to a character from the original.

There were some ideas in here, some points that had potential, but it felt like an unnecessary tacked on appendage. There are some similar ideas used as we approach the finale so it feels like the rules of magic are similar, but the antagonist makes no sense at all. It doesn’t even feel like it belongs in this movie, let alone part of the whole movie world.

Another reason that Candyman works is the way in which facts and interpretations of the original movie are weaved into the new one. The protagonist, Anthony, hears the story of Helen, and he goes to investigate, which develops the story. Throughout, connections are made. In The Craft: Legacy connections are limited at best, and when the big one comes it’s right at the end of the movie and has not affect on the plot whatsoever.

So while Candyman 2021 adds to the lore of the original, The Craft: Legacy draws from the same well as the original before taking a giant dump in the bucket.  

5 Books I’m Looking Forward To

There was a thing on twitter recently about how you shouldn’t be one of those people who says you can’t wait to read someone’s book, and then not reading it right away. Missing the point of the ‘debate’ if that’s what you can call half of the shit-posting that goes down on Twitter, here are 5 books that have either recently been released or will be out before the end of the year that I can’t wait to read. And by that I mean I’ll buy them when I’ve got the money to do so, and read them when I’m in the mood to do so. But I’m interested in them, and with infinite time I’d read them all right away if I could.

Revival Road – Chris DiLeo

Revival Road by [Chris DiLeo]

Revival Road by Chris DiLeo came out earlier this month. Alas, so did mountain of bills, so I’m waiting for payday before I can add this to my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to this due to the inventive plot, and the confidence I have in the face that DiLeo can pull off interesting ideas after reading The Devil Virus. In Revivial Road, a child dies on this street in a tragoc accident, only to wake in the morgue later that day. He’s only the fist to die on that road for whom death is not final. We’ve seen the dead rise in plenty of zombie novels before, but this one offers something different. While John Ajvide Lindqvist took the undead in an interesting direction in Handline the Undead, this threatens to be all the more sinister.

Congratulations! You’ve Accidentally Summoned a World-Ending Monster. What Now? – Duncan P. Bradshaw

Congratulations! You've Accidentally Summoned A World-Ending Monster. What Now? by [Duncan P. Bradshaw]

For some of you, the title alone, ‘Congratulations! You’ve Accidentally Summoned a World-Ending Monster. What Now?‘ will have piqued your interest. Others might need a little more convincing. If you’ve not read Duncan P Bradshaw before, you really should. His work is sure to bring a smile to your face as well leave you in a world of bewilderment as one crazy series of events leads onto the next improbably scenario. And yet, as random as it all seems, when you reach the end you realise there’s some kind of order to the chaos. With this book, though (and I’m not typing that title again) it’s down to you to find that order. He’s only gone and bloody wrote a choose-your-own-adventure-style gamebook. I’m looking forward to getting lost among the pages of this one.

Six Rooms – Gemma Amor

I was a big fan of Dear Laura, and this haunting story has me intrigued. The excerpt below put this one on my radar.

Cunning Folk – Adam L.G. Nevill

A new novel my Adam Nevill is always something to get excited about. The recent cover reveal of Cunning Folk has me even more excited for this one. The premise sounds very much like Nevill at his best – something that sounds relatively ordinary turned into something full of folk horror. Here, a couple more into a new home in the country that needs a little work. They have trouble with the elderly neighbours. What could be an every day neighbourly dispute takes a turn when it seems those neighbours are drawing on dark powers…

Malevolent Nevers – Tom Rimer

No cover for this one yet, and not a lot of information about it either. Tom has been dropping hints online for a long time. After seeing what he did with his YA sci-fi trilogy The Glowing, and how creeping that was in places, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do when he has his horror head firmly on his shoulders.

Now obviously, these aren’t the only books I’m looking ofrward to for the rest of the year, or the only ones I’ll buy or read. Some might end up shifting to next year, but either way, right now, I’m excited by them, and you should be too.

Sunshine Revisited

Sunshine is a 2007 sci-fi, thriller from Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland. It has a beautifully simply premise. The sun is dying, and a small crew are sent out on a space craft, the Icarus 2 to give it a reignite it with a massive bomb.

From here. Garland adopts a simple writing principle which can be really effective: put characters in a situation, and then force them to make difficult decisions that have severe consequences. The difficult decision they need to make here is whether to change course to investigate the Icarus, the first vessel sent to reboot the sun. The benefits of this are that if it’s operational it will give then a second opportunity to launch their bomb into the sun. The risk is that the course to the sun has been carefully calculated, and any change is not without risk.

The decision falls upon Capa (Cillian Murphy) as the one best qualified to make the decision, and everything that follows is as a direct result of that decision, with one problem escalating into the next, which each of the character’s on board the ship affected in different ways. Trey (Benedict Wong) has to recalculate the path, but mistakes are made meaning members of the crew have to carry out repairs to the outside of the vessel. When oxygen supplies are depleted they realise they may not be able to reach their destination… unless lives are lost. It’s a well-constructed plot… until the last half an hour. While I don’t dislike the way it turns out, there’s almost a genre shift as we race towards the conclusion. I’m not giving anything away, but as well as being in the Sci-Fi section on Disney+, it’s also in the horror section.

This decision is an interesting one for many reasons, not least because of the stark differences between science fiction and horror. Science fiction is all about possibility, logic and some degree of explanation. You expect a degree of feasibility in the future technology and science. What we have in the last section is an abandonment of the rational, with spiritual beliefs being a driving factor in the actions of a character who is very much the antagonist at the end.

It’s definitely one to seek out if you’ve not seen it. The cast is great: in addition to those already mention we have Chris Evans (between Fantastic Four films), Michelle Youh, Cliff Curtis, Rose Bryne and Hiroyuki Sanada. The pace is quick. We very quickly get up to speed with the story and things escalate very fast. The whole thing is a little over 100 minutes. The score, though, that’s what’s most impressive. John Murphy (who previously worked with Boyle on 28 Days Later, and the score on that it outstanding too) absolutely nails the mood. Check out Adagio in D Minor.

Most of those who disliked it tend to be those that felt the final act didn’t sit with the rest. Should a fim stay very much in one genre? Can you get away with sending it spiralling in another direction? Have you seen Sunshine? Let me know your thoughts on it.

M. Night Shyamalan’s Old: Some Questions

Old is the latest film from M. Knight Shyamalan, and once more I’m left with questions.

M. Night Shyamalan, the master of the twist ending?

Every time I make a decision to go see a movie by M. Knight Shyamalan, I know I’m making a poor choice. I know there are going to be problems. I know there’s going to be some kind of twist at the end. I know he’s going to cast himself in the movie at some point. And yet, I still go, so I guess I get what I deserve.

This time, I got a film more on par with The Happening, than The Sixth Sense which, while derided a little now because everyone bloody knows what was going on, still seemed pretty fresh upon release. I found myself chuckling all the way through it, in disbelief largely at the inexplicable actions of the characters and the terrible script and I was left with the following questions:

1) Who keeps giving M. Night Shyamalan the money to make films?

2) Does nobody check the scripts? Do the actors not ever suggest that a line might be better worded in a certain way, or may be completely redundant?

3) Was that ending in the original graphic novel? I sought the answer for this one, and no, it wasn’t. That was our man M. Knight doing his twist thing. We can’t just have a film about a mysterious beach on which people age (and perhaps some kind of comment about the futility to stop tie slipping by), no we have to turn it on its head at the end.

4) Did he really call a character Midsize Sedan? Yes he did. That name didn’t come from the graphic novel.

5) Seriously, no script editor? No second pass by at least one person who has had a conversation with another human before? Do those that have put money into this not insist that someone just gives it a quick once over?

6) Why are the only characters who speak like functioning adults the 6 and the 11 year old when in adult bodies? They don’t have the lifetime of experience and learning to act in that way.

7) Is “It was alive a minute ago,” one of the worst lines ever filmed? I don’t know, it probably wasn’t even the worst in this film, but it stood out to me.

8) Why did characters keep telling us their names all of the time? It would be more understandable if it was the children who grow old quickly so their appearance changes quite dramatically (using a number of different actors) but Jarin told us his name about 5 times, and he was played by Ken Leung throughout.

9) Why are normally competent actors turned into blustering buffoons when Shyamalan’s behind the camera? Does he ask them to act as if they’ve never encountered a human before?

10) Seriously, did no one else look over that script?

And you know what the crazy thing is? The next time he releases a film I’ll go back and put myself through it all again.

July 2021 Reads

Here they are, not quite in the order I read them.

A Quiet Apocalypse – Dave Jeffery

A Quiet Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery

This novella has an extraordinary premise: what if a pandemic killed a large chunk of the population and left the majority of those that remained deaf, and those that retained their hearing hunted?

We enter this world several years later. I like that we don’t see the virus, the downfall, but are instead placed into the aftermath where society has taken on a new structure. The action takes place in the rural area surrounding Cathedral, which is occupied by the deaf. A group called the Samaritans spend their days seeking out survivors outside the city to bring in those victims of the virus. For those that retained their hearing, they are hunted and enslaved. It’s only worse for those that were death before the pandemic, seen as harbingers of this doom.

The story tells of Chris who retained his hearing. However, he has been captured by a brute named Crowley who keeps him captive to make use of his hearing so that he too can stay out of the Samaritan’s grasp.

When Chris finds a radio, though, he hears a transmission from a place called The Refuge, and he begins to dream of a better life. When he meets another who retains their hearing he thinks he might finally have a chance of a better life.

That begins a journey which grows ever bleaker for Chris as he discovers other survivors and encounters the enemy, before we reach a shocking conclusion.

Jeffery has done a great job bringing this world to life, including enough backstory to understand the plot without ever getting bogged down in it. When we visit the past, it is to understand the characters better. The plot moves at a fast pace and is full of surprises, but as each character is so well developed and has their own motivations, they are always logical. When the pace picks up, Jeffery really ramps up the tension, and even though there are some bleak scenes, Chris’s hope of something better carries us through to the conclusion.

If you’re into post-apocalyptic stories, but what something that takes it in a different direction, check this out. It’s highly recommended.

Trench Mouth – Christine Morgan

Trench Mouth

I was a big fan of White Death by Christine Morgan when I read it a couple of years back, so I jumped at the chance to read Trench Mouth where Morgan takes us miles beneath the waves to encounter so truly gargantuan sea monsters.

Coupled with that, we have a group of volunteers taking part in a programme to alter their DNA to enable then to function better beneath the waves.

This is the creature feature, turned up to eleven, however, some of its greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. Morgan develops her characters well, she offers multiple threats, and multiple threads. Normally the typical creature feature tends to be rather short, but this is really developed. Sometimes, there was too much going on, and some elements of the story had to go on the back burner. It wasn’t until the second half of the novel, for example, that we really got to the bit with the mutant humans, and that was the bit I enjoyed the most.

If you like your creature features with more meat on their bones, you’ll enjoy this.

Slattery Falls – Brennan LaFaro

Slattery Falls

Slattery Falls is a ghost story, featuring a trio of young ghost hunters: Josh, Travis and Elsie.
It starts when Travis is at college. He meets Josh, and late one night they break into a museum with a reputation for being haunted. Later, they’re joined by Josh’s cousin, Elsie. Together they explore another haunted house and barely escape with their lives. The word Weeks is crved on the wall, but that remains a mystery for a decade.

Now, Travis and Elsie are married. They’re still in touch with Josh, but when he calls one night, he tells them he’s finally figured out what Weeks refers to, the Weeks House in Slattery Falls, and if they’re ever to put the horror of that night behind them, they’ll have to confront whatever hides in Weeks House.

I thought this was a really solid debut novella. The characters are well-written and genuine and serve more than just the plot. The scenes within the haunted houses are tense and well described. The pace is quick, and the plot engaging. I finished it over the course of one day, never leaving it long before picking it back up and delving in once more.

The house in Slattery Falls is given sufficient build up as we hear of the horrors that befell the town, and when we get inside it only gets more mysterious.

There’s a great deal to like here. There’s the odd occasion where I felt the tension could have been ramped up a little further, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending (though it is logical), but it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, and Brennan LaFaro could be a name to look out for in the future.

Semen – C.C. Adams

Semen

I mean, a title like that is going to grab the attention, isn’t it? You might not be surprised to find that it’s a story that starts with a one-night stand, and from there, things get messy…

Wait, no, not like that. Well, a little bit like that…

So Vicki and Luke spend the night together, and Vicki gets more than she bargained for in this psychological horror in which the fallout from that night threatens Vicki’s friendships, and her sanity. The character are all well developed and Adams’ version of London feels authentic. I can see why people say he’s got a knack for creating urban horror landscapes.

I perhaps would have liked to see a little more from the ending to really hammer that scene home, but it’s a small gripe about an enjoyable novella.

The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde

The Constant Rabbit

Satire at full volume with a self-aware streak. An event has anthropomorphised a chunk of the rabbit population, making them human sized, and with the ability to speak human and do human jobs, but do they have the rights of humans?  

If I tell you that the Prime Minister in this word is called Nigel, I think you might get an idea about just how well things are going between the humans and the rabbits. We see small-minded village logic at play when rabbits move into the community. We have fears of terrorist activity. We have plans to send all of the rabbits away, rehomed in their own colony. But we also have a world in which rabbits do all of the low paid jobs, when rabbits are more understanding and tolerant.

It’s a fun story, even if it is a little blatant at times. When it’s ridiculous it made me smile, but every now and then there were moments of pure horror which were really shocking.

Surprisingly, this novel features one of the greatest court scenes I’ve ever read. That said, I don’t read much stuff featuring courts of law.

Cathedral – Dave Jeffery

Cathedral by Dave Jeffery

At the end of the month I returned to the world of A Quiet Apocalypse to read its sequel/companion novella. I was expecting it to pick up where AQA left off, but it doesn’t. Instead, we are taken to the city of Cathedral where we see the story of Sarah unfold. Sarah is an obedient citizen of Cathedral, so it was fascinating to see how it was perceived from the inside. Jeffrey showed us its structure and its laws which, while difficult, had their own logic. I could understand why some would be indoctrinated into this life.

Sarah’s life changes, however, when a survivor named Paul is brought in from the outside. Cathedral has elements of a love story about it, and a forbidden love story at that. Jeffery handles the emotional moments well and quickly makes you invested in their romance. The way the story unfolds leaves you wondering if Sarah will be drawn to rebel against the community she is a part of. As such, I struggled to put it down until I reached the end, when once more Jeffery left me flabbergasted. It won’t be long before I’m pulled back into this world once more to read the third in the series, Samaritan.  

You don’t have to have read A Quiet Apocalypse to enjoy this, though you’ll get more out of it when you see the links between the two.

June 2021 Reads

Yeah this is late.

In June Euro 2020(1) was on, plus we were approaching the end of a very challenging school year. I didn’t read that much. I mean, I did also get a chunk into another novel, but that’s a story for another month.

The Last House on Needless Street

Catriona Ward’s novel came with a ton of expectation. I’d read so much about this without knowing much about it at all. Most of the reviews are full of praise but add that knowing too much can ruin the experience. I understand this, so I’ll give you the basics. Ted is our main character. Ted’s a recluse. He lives with his daughter, Lauren, and his cat, Olivia. We also have Dee who has spent years trying to work out what happened to her missing sister, Lulu. Her suspicion falls on Ted…

…only it’s not that simple. Catriona Ward has a lot of fun giving us an unreliable narrator in Ted (and we also have some great chapters from the perspective of the cat, Olivia who’s unreliable due to her very different perspective). The trouble is we keep having the ug pulled from under our feet which feels much less clever when you crash to the ground for the third, fourth, fifth time.

It is a really interesting read though, just be aware that all is not what you expect.

Trying to Be So Quiet

I really enjoyed James Everington’s trio of hauntings. They’re all very different approaches to grief, and the hauntings that go with that. We have the loss of partners in the first and last stories, and of parents in the second. Each is done in a different way, whether that be in coming to terms with the loss, being forced to face it, or just letting yourself go wild, all are really thoughtful pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Woman in Black

Now that’s what I call an adaptation

Awesome view from the Rylands Box because I’m fancy.

On Saturday night, I was at Cambridge Arts Theatre for a production of The Woman in Black, as adapted by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 from Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, and I can tell you, movie producers could learn a hell of a lot about adaptation from this.

The play begins with the very same words as the novel: “It was nine thirty on Christmas Eve” but from there it finds a new way to tell the same tale. Just as the novel contains a meta element, with a first chapter which details Arthur Kipps need to write down his ghost story, the play too has its meta elements. It imagines that Arthur Kipps did write down that ghost story, but sought the help of a young actor to help his tell the tale, and it is their work on bringing this story to life as a performance that becomes our play. So our novel in a novel becomes a play within a play.

While the book only has the initial framing device, the play comes in and out of the story of The Woman in Black as a series of different rehearsals over a number of days. The young actor plays the part of Arthur Kipps, while the older Arthur Kipps plays (almost) everyone else in the story. It sounds like it could be a little janky and awkward, but it works perfectly.

They talk about the limits of the stage, and how it can be augmented by a sound engineer – and then recording are used to bring us London, a train, and time and again the pony and trap. They discuss how to make the audience believe there’s a dog on stage when they can’t use a real one, and when it’s necessary, it works perfectly.

With this additional level of the play comes another secret, announced by the older Kipps character early on, and only revealed at the end. It’s one hell of a powerful extra element. Having seen the play for a second time, it’s amazing how well this holds up. Watching it with knowledge is a real eye-opener in terms of how well this tale is crafted.

One thing that makes Susan Hill’s novel so great is the fabulous language, and her beautiful gothic descriptions are not lost, but used in the narration, and once more they provide what the stage cannot.

As I wrote earlier, movie producers could learn so much from this adaptation. It’s not about putting every element from the book on the screen. It’s not about sticking entirely to the originally. It’s about finding the heart of the piece and making it tick in a way that’s unique to that medium, and that’s what The Woman in Black does perfectly.

Dead Branches: A Reading

It’s time to bring the Dead Branches birthday celebrations to a close. The book was released back in June 2019, but I suppose it’s actual birth goes back so much further. One of the pivotal scenes exists in the form of a short story, though it was never published anywhere, and it’s nine years since the first words of the novel were put on the page during a writers’ retreat in France. It’s been through plenty of changes since then, seen plenty of rejections, but also great feedback from a number of agents and publishers.

I was chuffed when it found a home at Bloodshot Books, because they not only produce great looking books, but they’re put out some great authors. To be among them is truly an honour.

I’ve not had the easist time getting reviews for the novel or in promoting it, but it did force me to get myself out there at events, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the front cover. As I’m a bit of an introvert, I find putting myself out there like that incredibly difficult, but in doing so throughout 2019 I met some great people. It’s such a shame the world came to a halt as it did, as I’d like to catch up with those folks again, and attend more events. Our time will come.

Anyway, here’s a reading from early on in the novel. It features Top Trumps and Fighting Fantasy gets a mention, and hopefully it captures the runaway imagination of the protagonist which drives the narrative.