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October Update!

 

Hi everyone,

Hope you’re keeping well wherever you are in the world. Here’s a very brief update to let anyone who’s interested know what’s coming up book-wise over the next few months:

On October 31st (otherwise known as Halloween), I’ll release the second short story in the pulpy twisted horror madness that is GrimLog. Air Nosferatu is the title of story number two and if you like the idea of vampires on a plane then I think you’re going to like this one. Working hard to get it ready. The story will be 0.99 on Amazon or it’s free if you subscribe to my newsletter.

Then approximately halfway through November, I’ll release The Exterminators Trilogy Box Set. You might recall this is the post-apocalyptic horror series I penned earlier this year featuring Black Storm, Black Fever, and Black Earth. We’re working on a cover for the box set right now (when I say we, I mean my designer Vincent is). Look forward to sharing the artwork soon.

The final release of 2018 will be in mid-December and it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller called The Curse. I’m in the early draft stage right now. Won’t say too much because a lot will probably change between now and December. That’s the way it goes. This is the first book in a new trilogy – ‘After the End’.

Also, hoping to get back into The Future of London series early next year. Just going to revamp the covers before I put book number six out.

Lots of stuff happening.

That’s all for now. Take care everyone, thanks for the support and see you soon!

Mark.

GrimLog 2 – Air Nosferatu (October 31st)

 

The next story in the GrimLog (Tales of Terror) series of short horror fiction will be released on 31st October. You don’t want to miss out on Air Nosferatu – think vampires on a plane and a whole lot more.

Mark the date…

Apex Predators (Preview!)

 

Apex Predators

 

“What the hell’s wrong with that TV?”

Bill Bridges growled at the television screen that was flickering on and off like a strobe light in the living room. Damn thing wouldn’t stop. It was getting painful to look at but Bill had to suck it up – he was trying to watch the news.

And the news was pretty big.

Bill was standing at the kitchen sink of a beautiful two-story beach house in New Smyrna Beach, located on the central east coast of Florida.

His soap-drenched hands writhed furiously under the warm flowing water, working off the last of the filth that he’d acquired after a hard morning’s work doing various bits and pieces around the house.

But Bill’s mind wasn’t really on the clean up job at the sink. He was more focused on the news broadcast blaring out of the TV in between regular spurts of crackle and flashing light. A woman with a troubled expression was sitting behind the news desk. She was dressed in a conservative yet stylish blue suit; the make-up on her face had been applied flawlessly, the hair perfectly rigid, and yet there was something wrong – it was right there in her eyes. They were constantly on the move – jumping back and forth between the sheet of paper on the desk and someone behind the camera. Bill found this jerky habit to be distracting, almost dizzying, but he tried to block out the woman’s body language and listen to what she was saying.

Most of the details passed him by due to the constant electrical interruption, but he caught the essentials:

Outbreak.

 Beyond control.

 Spreading…

 …thousands moving across the south-eastern coast in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida…

 Military strikes…

 …advise people to stay in and lock their doors.

 Repeat…

 …lock your doors. They’re c…

The TV screen went blank.

Bill turned off the tap, grabbed a dishtowel and dried his hands.

He shook his head, thinking about how all the other big news stories of recent weeks had paled into insignificance in the wake of the outbreak. All those things that were such a big deal at the time – the growing tensions with North Korea, the inevitability of climate change, the guy who’d performed the highest tightrope walk ever in Melbourne Australia, the serial killer in Florida who liked to chop off the heads of his victims, the World Cup semi-finals and last but not least, the discovery of a horde of Nazi relics in Patagonia which led many people to believe that Adolf Hitler had survived the war and fled to South America.

None of it mattered anymore.

There was a scream outside.

Bill didn’t flinch. He knew it was nothing to worry about. He’d been hearing screaming like that outside on the beach all morning and fortunately those weren’t your regular high-pitched George Romero shrieks of terror. Those were happy screams, accompanied by raucous fits of laughter and frequent yelps of delight.

Loud music was blaring too – the good stuff from the 1980s like Prince and Michael Jackson.

It sounded like a helluva fun time.

From what Bill could gather, the people in one of the houses further down the beach were having a fancy dress party. The party had long since spilled out of the house and onto the beach and Bill had already spied a variety of impressive costumes through the kitchen window.

Fair play to them, he thought.

The zombie apocalypse wasn’t going to spoil their fun. Damn right. And now that Bill had finished his work for the morning, he planned to go out and join them.

A cold beer sounded very nice indeed.

He looked at his hands one more time, checking they were thoroughly clean. Then he walked over to the TV and gave it a hard slap on the back. A loud thud was all that happened – the TV was dead, the news report long gone.

Bill tilted his head.

Was it the TV? Or was the problem back in the news studio?

He tried some other channels. Nothing but a blank screen.

“Stupid,” he said.

Bill wasn’t so much bothered about the prospect of zombies on his doorstep as he was about missing the World Cup semi-final later that day.

Italy versus France.

That was must see TV for God’s sake. Bill was at least a quarter Italian.

Besides, they’d been talking about zombies for days. Or was it weeks already? Scaremongering sons of bitches on the TV, Internet and anywhere else that served up fake news on a daily basis. Everyone knew what the media was like. Hype machine. Zombies – that was a joke! It was probably a bunch of drunken rednecks in Alabama who’d strayed beyond the state line and who just happened to put the fear of God into a couple of hysterical, oversensitive old ladies in Georgia.

The next thing you know, Fox News are talking about zombies.

Bill laughed out loud.

Oh really? So why don’t they show any footage of the monsters? Because it would upset the kids?

Bullshit.

As far as Bill Bridges was concerned, if they weren’t on his doorstep then it wasn’t happening. The zombie apocalypse was nothing more than the media up to their old tricks again, trying to control the non-thinking population with fear tactics.

“And I ain’t gonna miss that soccer game,” Bill said, wagging a finger at the TV. “So you’d better start working mister. Got it?”

Outside the music came to a sudden stop.

Bill glanced towards the window. His face scrunched up in confusion. The immediate silence that followed that long run of breezy 1980s mega-hits that had been playing all day was unnerving.

He walked out of the living room towards the kitchen window. Before he got there, the sound of a woman’s scream forced Bill to clap his hands over his head.

Jesus.

That wasn’t a happy scream anymore.

Bill heard the muffled roar of somebody shouting. It was a wild, panicky noise. He took his hands off his ears, eager to catch the gist of what was going on out there.

“They’re coming!” somebody yelled.

“Not that way,” a woman shouted. “You can’t go that way. Stay away from the road!”

“To the water!” a man’s voice cried out. “Everybody. Get into the water! Now!”

Bill looked outside, his heart racing. The kitchen window offered a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean, usually so tranquil and sublime. Not today. A screaming stampede of people were fleeing down the beach towards the water, the majority of them wearing fancy dress costumes. Some small groups of five or six were carrying rubber dinghies between them. Most people however, were jumping into the water with nothing. They were charging towards the deeper water, swimming for their life.

Bill saw a lot of frightened faces looking back towards the shore as they hit the water. Their eyes bulged with terror, gawking at something behind the row of beach houses.

 

***

Want to keep reading?

Apex Predators is the first story in the GrimLog (Tales of Terror) series. It’s available to buy here for just 0.99. 

The Music of Writing: The Space in Between the Notes

 

What can music teach you about writing?

Translating the lessons learned from one craft and applying them to another. Is this possible?

Of course it is.

Before I wrote books, I was a musician. I’d been playing guitar since the age of fifteen and switched to bass in my early twenties.

It was fun.

I was a bit of a show off in the early days to be honest, especially on the bass. I took to the instrument quickly. I was a busy player. Playing too many notes. Playing to get noticed by the girls (it worked – I married one of them in the end!)

Compare that to when I started writing. Writing too much. Too many words. Telling, telling, telling. Trying to get noticed by the girls again? Eh, well no.

But there are similarities between the two types of busyness.

In music there was no space in between the notes. No room for the listener to insert something of themselves. Their thoughts and feelings and longings – all the things that a great piece of music can evoke in us. You need a little space for that. This is something that you learn to add in when you mature as a player and it applies to so many other aspects of life, including writing – what you don’t play or write is just as important as what you do play or write. Sometimes what you leave out is more important.

I am of course talking about the space in between the notes. Where the gold is.

Similarly, I left no room for magic in my stories. Too many words. Trying to cram too much in there and that meant I left no room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps. It was tell, tell, tell. Busy, busy, busy. It was all about me and not about you. I was that same little show off in the rehearsal room again, doing it all wrong and thinking that it was great.

Sometimes it sucks to get old.

Not all the time though. A mature author and a mature musician (mature, not old!) learn to go beyond the superficial, eye-catching stuff as they progress in their chosen art. They realise with some certainty that the old saying ‘less is more’ is more than just a good line.

It’s the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how does this translate to writing?

Black Storm (Chapter 1 – With Author Notes)

 

 

BLACK STORM

Chapter 1

(With Author Notes)

 

“We gotta run okay? We need to get out of here.”

(Yikes! This is me trying to go for a killer first line. They always say that – write a KILLER first line. So important, so they say! Personally I think the first ten pages are a lot more important than a single line, even if it is the first one. Who gives up on a book after one sentence? This one’s not bad, I don’t know if it’s KILLER though. At the very least, I want to make the reader curious or unsettled enough to read on.) 

Cody MacLeod kneeled in front of his daughter and squeezed her gently on the upper arms. She felt fragile, like a china doll. “Whatever happens, we can’t let the bad woman catch up with us,” he said. “She makes people do bad things. You know that don’t you?”

Silence.

“Do you understand Rachel?” Cody said.

Rachel nodded her head.

“We’ve got to stay one step ahead of her,” Cody said, pushing a few loose strands of blonde hair off Rachel’s face. “Two steps, three steps.” His voice was shaking and he took a deep breath before saying anything else. This wasn’t a good time to lose it and even if he was on the brink, he couldn’t let Rachel see.

(Bad woman. Her. No names given. Who is Cody talking about? This is me trying to be all mysterious and not give too much away. What do they call it – intrigue? Something like that? I’m still trying to reel you in. Thing is, if you’d read the blurb (and most readers would have before buying) you’ll know who/what is being referred to here but if not, great. I’m writing to you people!)

They were in the hallway of their house in Spring Branch, Texas. Cody turned towards the front door where two bulging backpacks were sitting. One of them was plain black and the other featured a rainbow colored sky with two silver ponies grazing in a field of green grass.

(Why Texas? Ehh, why not? It went like this – I had an idea about a burned out actor living a reclusive life far from the mad temptation of Hollywood/Celebrityville. I wanted somewhere that it would be easy to disappear. Texas is big and there’s a lot of room there. It could’ve been Alaska too – that would’ve been cool. Shit, it might have been better. Anyway, I googled for ages before I landed on Spring Branch. It felt right and yet not too far from San Antonio, which I also felt drawn to. Might have been the Alamo thing. By the way, Google Maps is incredible. A writer’s dream.)

“All we gotta do is walk out the door,” Cody said.

“Are we leaving for good?” Rachel said. Cody saw the confusion in his daughter’s indigo blue eyes – the same indigo blue eyes that he’d possessed as a child before the years had dulled them.

He nodded. “Yeah I think so.”

Cody heard the Black Storm blowing outside. The wind was howling and moaning – a crude B-movie sound effect that had escaped from the big screen into the real world. Still it was relatively calm, at least compared to the gale force winds that had been blowing the night before when Cody had made the decision to leave home. It was a decision that would either save their lives or seal their fate.

There was doubt in the little girl’s eyes. Cody could tell that she wasn’t sure he was making the right call and Jesus, who could blame her? He wasn’t sure about it either.

“Geez kid,” Cody said. “Don’t look at me like that. You’re looking at me the way other people used to look at me back in the eighties and nineties. That’s Grandma’s eyes I see in you right now. You don’t trust me? You don’t think we should go?”

Rachel managed a lazy shrug of the shoulders.

“I’m not on drugs honey,” Cody said. “I swear on your Mom’s soul.”

(A note on former child megastars. I chose the name Cody because it’s close to Corey. The character of Cody was conceived as a cross between Corey Haim, River Phoenix and Robert Downey Jnr. Troubled former child/teen stars, all of them. If Black Storm the movie ever gets made you’re up Downey Jnr. The role of Cody is all yours. Unfortunately the other two aren’t around to contest that anymore RIP Corey and River.) 

“I know Dad,” she said. I’m just scared.”

He pulled her closer. She was so beautiful and innocent – the only perfect thing in his life. And she’d remained perfect – thank God for that. Had Cody stayed in Hollywood to try and claw back his career, the industry would have noticed her. It would have sunk its teeth into Rachel and ruined her like it did for her mother, Kate. No chance – that was one of several reasons that Cody and Kate moved to Texas ten years ago. Cody would die before he gave those bigwig assholes in LA the chance to get their hands on his daughter.

He smiled at Rachel.

“I’m scared too,” Cody said. “But we have to go. You’ve watched the reports on TV. You’ve heard it on the radio. You know what people are doing to themselves, to each other out there. You know how dangerous it is and you know how dangerous she is.”

(Still haven’t said who she is…tension and all that. This chapter probably reads better if you haven’t read the blurb. It’s like going into a cinema and knowing nothing about the film you’re about to see.)

Rachel didn’t blink. Despite her saying she was scared, she looked calm –older than her ten years. Sometimes Cody thought, kids did adulthood better than most adults.

“Is it the woman in the long black dress?” she said.

“Yes honey. It’s the woman in the long black dress.”

Rachel nodded.

“I saw her in my room last night,” she said.

Cody’s hands fell off his daughter’s arms. His mouth hung open and the cold air that haunted the MacLeod residence slid down the back of his throat. He looked at Rachel, his eyes racing over her blue denim dungarees and the white long sleeved t-shirt that she was wearing underneath. He ran a finger down her blue and white basketball shoes, not sure what he was looking for. Damage – but what sort of damage?

With cupped hands, he touched her face.

“She was in your room?” Cody said. “Last night? Did she say anything? I mean, did she try and talk to you – to make you do anything? Did she tell you to hurt yourself?”

Rachel shook her head.

“She was just standing at the edge of the bed looking at me,” she said. “Her face is like a mannequin. That’s what they said on TV. She looks like a giant doll with silver lights instead of eyes.”

(Dolls scare the hell out of me. If ever you want to give me the creeps, just show me pictures of dolls. Please don’t ever bring one to my house though. Dolls are my evil clowns…)

“Weren’t you scared?” Cody said. His heart was pounding.

“No,” Rachel said. “Well, not really.”

Cody buried his face in the palm of his hand.

“Jesus Christ,” he said, almost losing his balance and toppling over onto the hardwood floor. “Tell me something kid,” he said. “This is really important. Is that the first time you’ve seen her?”

“Yes.”

“Well then it’s definitely time to go,” Cody said. “She’s starting to pay too much attention to this family for my liking.”

Rachel’s eyes were wide open. “You’ve seen her too?”

Cody nodded. “Yeah.” Several times.

“They’ve been talking about her on the radio Dad,” Rachel said. “People are seeing her everywhere. China, Europe, Australia, Brazil and lots of other places that I’ve never heard of.”

“Yeah I know,” Cody said. He was itching to leave. He wanted to grab Rachel and get her out of the house immediately.

“All the people who see her end up dead,” Rachel said. “That’s what they say, isn’t it?”

(Where did the Black Widow come from? It’s a vague memory to be honest. I read an article online somewhere about a woman in America who’d been spotted walking the streets dressed in old-fashioned mourning clothes. I can’t quite remember the context but the article made it sound like she was almost ghostly – or perhaps that was just my interpretation. It was weird and that’s why sometimes I think it was a dream. I can’t find anything about it on Google and yet it struck me as noteworthy. I can’t remember, honest! Whatever it was, it gave me the idea of this phantom woman walking not just across America, but across the world, dressed in black, punishing us for our wrongdoings. The Black Widow. It developed from there but that’s where this entire trilogy started – with an article that might not have even existed.)

Cody squeezed tight on her hand.

“Not everyone,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve seen her too.”

“In the house?”

“Yeah, in the house. That’s why we need to go.”

Rachel looked thoughtful. Her eyes darted around the living room before returning to him.

“Is she chasing the world? The whole world?”

Cody straightened the collar of his black cotton shirt.

“Yeah honey,” he said. “I think she’s chasing the world. And that includes us – you and me. We’ve got to get away from this house because I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Okay?”

Cody was glad to see that Rachel could still smile.

“Okay,” she said.

Outside the Black Storm grumbled. It sounded like it was an angry giant sitting on the roof of their house, waiting impatiently for them to come out.

Cody tugged gently on Rachel’s arms. She didn’t move.

“Where are we going?” she said.

It was a good question.

Cody nodded. “You remember my friend?” he said. “A big guy called Nick Norton?”

Rachel shook her head.

“Sure you do,” Cody said. “You met him once. He works on Alaska Airlines, flies out of San Antonio all the time. He’s an old school buddy of mine from LA. He was in the movies too when he was a kid, just like your old man.”

(I might have chosen Texas but I managed to get Alaska in there somewhere. On a side note, if I ever lived in America, I’d choose Alaska. Yes it’s cold but it’s so beautiful.)

“I don’t know,” Rachel said.

“Big black guy, all mouth and muscle. He was over here about four years ago. You must remember – it’s not like we have a ton of guests or anything like that.”

“What about him?”

Cody leaned in closer. He felt the need to whisper.

“He’s got a plane,” he said. “It’s a big plane – Boeing 737-800, fully fuelled and ready to go. He’s invited us along – some of the other pilots and their friends and family will be there too. I got a text from Nick about fifteen hours ago – the plane is at the airport right now, waiting for everyone to arrive. You understand? We’re going to drive down to the airport and get on Nick’s plane.”

(Airplane stuff! Having flashbacks to some seriously boring moments looking up info about Boeing 737-800 planes. Capacity, that kind of thing. Some research is fun. This wasn’t. Zzzzz…)

Cody’s face darkened.

“Only problem is I can’t get in touch with Nick anymore,” he said. “My phone keeps jamming up.”

Rachel’s eyes lit up – a mixture of fear and curiosity.

“Because of the Black Storm?”

“Maybe,” Cody said. “But it doesn’t matter, not as long as we get to the airport in good time. He’ll wait for us, I know he will.”

Rachel’s expression was grim.

“We’re going up into the black sky?” she said, pointing to the ceiling. “What’s up there?”

Cody followed her finger towards the ceiling. Kids and their questions, damn it. Who knew what was up there in that black shroud that had wrapped itself over the Earth? Something, maybe nothing. Everything was black these days – even the inside of the MacLeod residence. The curtains were pulled over all the windows, shielding them from the sight of the Black Storm, the mysterious force that had come out of nowhere and robbed the world of sunlight.

(Going back to names for a second, I chose MacLeod as the family surname because…wait for it…I watched Highlander for about the fortieth time just after starting the book. The characters even talk about the film at one point so I was definitely on a Highlander buzz.  What a film. That soundtrack! I miss the 80s so much.)

“It can’t all be bad up there,” Cody said. “We gotta try. Anything’s better than staying down here on the ground while people go mad and do bad things. I’ll bet you it’s safer up there. Yeah?”

Rachel looked down the hall towards her bedroom.

“I want to take Bootsy with me,” she said. “If we’re not coming back.”

(Sticking with names – Bootsy the bear was named after Bootsy Collins, the great funk and soul bass player who worked with James Brown and Parliament. Didn’t that teddy bear just get a little bit cooler?)

Cody sighed. He couldn’t hide his growing frustration any longer. They should have been gone already. He didn’t want to hang around the house one second longer than he had to. He tugged gently on her arm, with more urgency this time.

“You’re too big for that teddy bear,” he said. “You’re ten.”

The look on her face stopped him dead.

“Mom gave him to me,” she said. “Remember?”

Of course he did.

“I’ve packed a ton of photos of Mom in the bag,” he said. “Lots of photos. We’re not going to forget her.”

“I want Bootsy,” Rachel said. Cody almost smiled – it was like Kate all over again. If she wanted something, she was going to have it.

“Alright kid,” he said, letting go of her arm. “Get Bootsy but don’t stay in that bedroom one second longer than you have to. I’ll grab the bags.”

Cody watched her run down the hallway. He felt uneasy watching her go through the bedroom door knowing that the Black Widow had been in there last night. Cody had already seen the ghostly figure several times in the house but there had been no words spoken. That was something to be grateful for at least. And now the Black Widow was coming after Rachel? Any doubts Cody might have been having about leaving had shattered with that revelation.

A few seconds later, Rachel came running back down the hallway with the beat-up teddy bear swinging at her side. She looked content.

“All set?” Cody asked. “Can we go now?” He picked up the two backpacks and flung one over each shoulder.

She nodded. “Just one thing?”

“Oh c’mon Rachel. Let’s get out of here.”

“Who is she Dad?”

The two backpacks slid down Cody’s arm in slow motion. He squatted so that he was almost eye level with Rachel.

“She came out of the Black Storm,” he said. “At least that’s what people say but we don’t know for sure. Everything – the black sky, black rain and the Black Widow – they’re all connected. All these things are part of the Black Storm.”

“And it makes people do bad things?” Rachel said.

Cody nodded. “Very bad things.”

Rachel smiled. It was a great smile – sudden and unexpected.

“We’d better go,” she said.

“Right honey,” Cody said. “Now you’re talking.”

He opened the front door and they stepped outside.

It was dark. A permanent state of dusk hung over the world – a rotten, simmering blackness and it was everywhere. It was unending too. Blue skies and sunlight were a distant memory. The air was thick and muggy and scentless. A stiff wind was blowing and the trees that surrounded the remote two-storey house were swaying.

They walked towards the car in the driveway. Cody’s white 1970 Dodge Challenger was one of only a few references left to his Hollywood past. He was probably the only part-time freelance writer in the world who owned such a vintage car. It was a little much but Cody loved the Challenger with all his heart. It was a perfect replica of the car used in Vanishing Point, one of his top five all time movies. It wasn’t just an ornament either – he kept the Dodge in outstanding driving condition and a good thing too – he was going to need it firing on all cylinders if it was going to get them to the airport.

(I was so happy to finally have found an excuse to put a white 1970 Dodge Challenger in one of my books. It just felt right this time. Have you seen the original Vanishing Point? If I say Kowalski and Super Soul do you know what I’m talking about?)

The surface of the car was covered in a thin layer of dirt. Cody didn’t have time to worry about it – he opened up the trunk and threw the bags in, pushing them all the way to the back. As he did so, Rachel jumped into the back seat taking Bootsy with her.

“Take me somewhere nice!” she called out. She always said the same thing when she got in the car.

“Sure thing Miss Daisy,” he said.

(Hands up if you didn’t get this reference? I’m sorry for you.)

Cody opened up the driver’s door. Before he sat down, he reached a hand underneath the seat, checking that the Glock 19 he’d stashed earlier was still there.

It was. He gave the pistol a quick pat and hoped that he wouldn’t need it.

Cody climbed into the Dodge and turned the key in the ignition. He heard the 426 Hemi engine growling and hell yes it was a satisfying sound, even under the most trying of circumstances. Taking a deep breath, he gripped the wood grain steering wheel and allowed himself one last look at the house where his wife had died, knowing that he’d never see it again.

Move it mister. That’s what Kate would have said.

Cody backed the car down the driveway and onto Rittiman Road. It was a quiet area with houses spaced far apart, but it had never been so desolate as it was now. Was there anyone left around here?

Rachel was quiet in the back – perhaps thinking about her Mom, a woman that she’d barely known and yet someone who had cast a long shadow over her young life. Or maybe Rachel was thinking about the house – it was the only home she’d ever known after all. She was leaving her friends and school behind – but none of those things mattered now. Keeping her alive, that’s what mattered.

The Dodge set off, picking up speed.

Cody looked back at the house in the rear-view mirror. One last look.

That’s when he saw her.

The Black Widow was standing on the narrow road that stretched north behind them. Her porcelain doll-like skin glowed against the surrounding darkness; it was a nightmarish beacon that offered anything but hope to those who had the misfortune to see it. She was tall – at least seven feet and rake thin like a skeleton with a thin layer of flesh wrapped around her bones. Her bright red hair was styled in an old-fashioned Edwardian coiffure. It was a look that went well with the long black Victorian-style mourning dress that trailed behind her.

The Black Widow’s eyes – dazzling silver orbs, devoid of pupils watched them go. She didn’t try to stop them but Cody felt little in the way of relief, even as the phantom faded into the distance behind them.

She was letting them go. At least for now.

(Okay then. I think the first chapter does a decent job of setting up the rest of the story. It’s a race against time. We’ve met the two main characters, we have an idea that something terrible is happening in the world, and that this something terrible has set its sights on our main characters. It’s clear what it is though – it’s a chase thing. Most of all, it’s a post-apocalyptic family story. Father and daughter against the end of the world.)

 

Black Storm (Book 1) and Black Fever (Book 2) are now available to buy on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Book Cover Advice for Indie Authors (By an Artist!)

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Sorry, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.

Everybody judges a book by its cover and even more so in the realm of indie authors. Why? Because we’re shallow? No, it’s because a professional cover hints at professional quality content underneath. And that’s what we’re looking for right? I’m speaking as a reader here. A poor book cover is a warning sign and I heed those warnings well. You might have the greatest book in the world but if the cover sucks I’ll never get to find out.

A lot of stuff changes in the indie landscape – marketing trends come and go but a good cover will always matter. It’s arguably the most important tool in your marketing toolbox. With that in mind, this post is designed to give authors a little food for thought when it comes to working with your cover designer. You might find something new or you might get a much needed refresher on the fundamentals. The wisdom below does not come from me – it comes from Vincent Sammy, a most talented illustrator and cover designer that I started working with last year.

The questions, they come from me.

 

Who is Vincent Sammy?

Vincent Sammy is a South African freelance illustrator working in the fields of Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy and the Macabre.

His work has been featured in publications such as Interzone, Black Static, Beware the Dark, Something Wicked, and Pandemonium Books.

In 2016 he was the cover artist for Interzone.

He was the runner-up in the 2012 This is Horror – Artist of  the year awards  and was nominated again in 2013. He has also been nominated for a BSFA award in 2016.

 

Q&A

MARK: What should an indie author consider when approaching a designer?

VINCENT: Unlike mainstream authors who have publishers who usually deal with this sort of thing, indie authors need to source their own artwork. Publishers who have years of experience with books tend to know what the current trends are, what works and what doesn’t. Indie authors dedicate a huge amount of time to their written manuscripts, so to have to deal with cover art can be quite daunting in a sphere that they are not used to.

To make matters worse, they usually don’t have the finances to pay for a qualified book-cover illustrator and designer, both who are usually two separate entities. This is where the problem arises in that the indie author tries to find the least expensive quote to get their cover done, or do it themselves. Here’s where it gets tricky. Authors (indie and traditionally published) tend to think in terms of their whole story and would like the cover to have as much of everything on it. From the main protagonist and antagonist, to certain scenes, to the geographical setting. This makes for a rather cluttered cover.

My advice would be to leave it to the artist to decide what the most striking and evocative visual reference would be to convey the feel of the book. The best way to do this is to let the artist read the book. A synopsis is helpful if no completed manuscript is available, but it doesn’t convey the feel of the characters, so first prize is still a completed manuscript to read. The author is more than welcome to give input and ideas, but try not to force too many visual ideas onto a front cover. Leave that to bad movie posters. Have a look at the artist’s portfolio and be sure that their style is suitable for your work so that you don’t try and force them into trying to recreate the style of the artist that you couldn’t afford. Also remember that this is a collaboration and that both parties need to be happy with the end product. And please, do not grab some bad low-res stock images and get your niece to put it together in Photoshop just because they know how to work it. The results will be a poor visual representation of your written words.

 

Artwork by Vincent Sammy

MARK: The money thing, it can be a problem. But good designers/covers don’t have to cost the earth, right?

VINCENT: They don’t have to cost the earth but professional designers should also be respected as qualified practitioners of their craft. They’ve either studied art and design or put years of learning into mastering this discipline. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of artists out there who promote pre-designed covers to sell cheaply to indie authors, but this just leads to your book blending in with the rest of the crowd and not standing out as a unique product. Wouldn’t you rather pay a decent, agreed upon price for your cover than risk having all your hard work disappear amongst so many others?

 

MARK: Should indies strive for originality or should they be looking to stick within the boundaries of genre? Can the two be intertwined?

VINCENT: It depends on what the book is trying to convey and who wrote it. Originality is always something that I look for as it makes a book stand out. You don’t need that much originality if you’re a big name best selling author – your name on the cover will do the trick. But if you’re a new author and you’d like to be noticed, then the cover is your first port of call. So I would suggest a blend of originality within the framework of well received visual genre touchstones. Your audience should get a feel for what kind of book they are picking up by the look of the cover. Put a spin on what has gone before and let the illustrator’s style shine through.

 

Artwork by Vincent Sammy

MARK: What are the three most important elements of any book cover?

VINCENT:

1 – The emotional impact. It needs to resonate with potential readers within the first two seconds of seeing it. So it needs to have a simplicity that easily reaches out to the potential reader

2 – The title and author typeface. It’s as much a visual reference for what lies inside. It should either be plain and stand out against the visuals, or striking in its appearance against a plain background. The visuals and the text should never compete for attention.

3 – Consistency across a series of books. The visual style needs to remain the same for a book series so that a reader  can easily identify it as belonging to a specific set or series

 

Artwork by Vincent Sammy

MARK: I read somewhere that thumbnail sized book covers are the size most commonly viewed by online book shoppers. How important is the thumbnail in your opinion?

VINCENT: This is where simplicity plays a big part. At a small scale the artwork, title and author name needs to be as discernible as possible. The reality of the indie market is that it’s mostly an online market, so in a sea of thousands of tiny covers, your work needs to stand out. You’ll see this trend translate to other media as well such as music. In the past you had a whole record cover to play with at a large scale. That got shrunk to CD size and then to a visual representation for online purchases of music. The visual world is getting smaller with tired, strained eyes trying to pick something out from a forest of other tiny works. Make yours stand out.

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Keep up with Vincent and his work at the links down below:

karbonkay.wordpress.com

facebook.com/Karb0n.K

twitter.com/karbonK

instagram.com/karbon.k

karbonk.deviantart.com

Black Storm (Blurb World Premiere!)

 

To protect his child, he’s going to have to outrun the apocalypse.

These are the last days. The Black Storm – a permanent state of darkness has engulfed the Earth, plunging the world into eternal night and robbing humanity of both sunlight and hope.

Out of the Black Storm comes the Black Widow. A ghostly figure, she walks the Earth triggering an epidemic of despair – suicides, mass murders and arson attacks. Nobody knows why it’s happening. But it is happening.

Ex Hollywood actor, Cody MacLeod, is a burned out recluse living in Texas. He’s got one chance to protect his young daughter Rachel from the Black Storm.

A plane is taking off at San Antonio International Airport, piloted by Cody’s friend. To get there in time, they must drive through the darkness together. But the road is a dangerous place where desperate people are lurking in wait.

And so is the Black Widow.

Black Storm is a post-apocalyptic survival thriller about a father trying to save his child from the end of the world. If you enjoy apocalyptic, dystopian, horror and supernatural thrillers, don’t you dare miss out.

 

Black Storm: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller is out March 13th

Black Storm – Coming in 2018

 

About three and a half weeks ago I had a writing plan for 2018. It was almost set in stone. I knew exactly what I was going to write and when I was going to write it. Now, after a visit home to Scotland over the Christmas and New Year period that sure thing plan of mine has disintegrated into a thousand tiny pieces.

I changed my mind.

Here’s what I’ve decided – The Future of London, my dystopian series and something that I worked a lot on in 2017, is being put aside for a while. There are five books in that series and while I have an ugly rough draft of the sixth book in place, I’m holding off on that for now. I’m letting it breathe. I want to get more readers and more reviews for the books that are already out there. Having worked so intensely on FOL throughout 2016 and 2017, I’m taking a break from the adventures of Walker, Sumo Dave, Barboza, Kojiro etc…but it WILL be back.

What I’m going to be working on this year instead is a post-apocalyptic series called Black Storm. This has been brewing in my head for a while now. Perhaps post-apocalyptic horror would be a better description. That’s all I’ll say for now but I’m excited to work on these ideas.

I feel like the long break over the holidays has done me good. I leapt back into writing and I’ve also upped my work rate to see if I can be more productive in 2018. My word count goals have doubled. I’m trying to plot a little more and write cleaner first drafts in order to make the writing process more efficient. I know more than anyone how much I faff about during the editing process. It gets petty to say the least. In the later stages in particular, I’m just shifting words around and often it’s to little effect. I liken it to moving the furniture around but not changing the vibe of the room.

Distractions will be minimised. I plan to be a lot stricter about wasting time on social media and emails when I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve been pretty bad with this. With any luck, this’ll become a habit that sticks and it’ll show in the work.

I’m sure you writers out there are way ahead of me on these things 🙂

So that’s where I’m heading. With this in mind, I’m not entirely sure when the first Black Storm book will be available. I’m kind of winging it now. The plan is to work flat out and at the moment, I’d predict early March. But as with all things, that’s liable to change.

Hope 2018 is treating you all well so far.

All the best,

Mark

Five of the Greatest Siege Movies Ever Made

 

Who doesn’t love a good siege story? They feature an overwhelming underdog (whether that’s a group of people or a single person) trying to survive against insurmountable odds. We can identify with this – we’ve all been the underdog at some point in our lives and perhaps that’s why so many of us find these stories so appealing.

Here are (in my opinion) five of the best siege movies ever made.

 

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Napoleon Wilson: Still have the gun?

Leigh: Two shots. Should I save them for the two of us?

Napoleon Wilson: Save ’em for the first two assholes who come through that vent.

This was John Carpenter’s first professional full length feature film (His first movie Dark Star was originally a short student film that was expanded to feature length). Assault on Precinct 13 also signalled the start of Carpenter’s golden period – a span of ten years when pretty much everything he touched was electric (including Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China).

Assault on Precinct 13 is a gritty 1970s thriller about a soon-to-be defunct police precinct that comes under attack from a gang of vengeful street thugs. Defending the station are a handful of police officers, some staff, and a couple of prison inmates (including Napoleon ‘Got a smoke?’ Wilson and Duke from the Rocky movies).

The electronic score is one of Carpenter’s finest and most atmospheric. The dialogue is on point too. There’s so much to love about this film. With its merciless depiction of urban violence, Assault on Precinct 13 is a balls to the wall, fast-paced siege movie, and ninety minutes of non-stop thrills.

 

Zulu (1964)

‘Haven’t you had enough? Both of you! My god, can’t you see it’s all over! Your bloody egos don’t matter anymore. We’re dead!’

From Richard Burton’s opening narration to the exhausting (and entirely fictional) final salute of ‘fellow braves’, Zulu is a tense, exciting and emotional ride of a movie. It’s based on the real-life Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 where 150 British and colonial troops held off an attack on their garrison by approximately 4000 Zulus. This was a ten hour battle at the end of which, 15 soldiers lay dead, two more were mortally wounded, and 350 dead Zulus lay scattered around the garrison.

Zulu was Michael Caine’s first major film role. He plays against type here, cast as Bromhead, a blue-blooded army officer who along with Stanley Baker as Lieutenant John Chard, lead the British soldiers against the Zulu forces.

The film is wide open for interpretation about colonialism. In 1964, the British Empire was crumbling. At first the Brits refer to the Zulus as ‘fuzzies’ and even the Levies on their own side as ‘cowardly blacks’. By the end however, Chard is clearly ashamed at this ‘butcher’s yard’ that he himself has helped to create. Could this be a timely admittance of the horrors of Empire?

Colonial and racial interpretation aside, this is a fun movie. It’s so watchable that it’s a Bank Holiday staple on British television and even if I had other things to do I’d aways end up watching it. It’s also one of the greatest examples of the siege scenario – the underdog coming through against the odds. It’s that bit more poignant because several minor historical inaccuracies aside, it really happened.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

‘I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.’

Long quote I know, but well worth it!

There are many people who’ll tell you that The Two Towers was their favourite instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Battle of Helm’s Deep, which takes place in the latter half of the film, is a big reason for this. It’s an outstanding visual spectacle that never tires with repeat viewings. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, as well as 300 Helm’s Deep soldiers, 100 Rohan peasants, and about 500 Elves are defending the great stronghold of Rohan against the might of 10,000 Urak-hai.

It’s an epic siege and it blew me away when I first saw in on the big screen. And it’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest battles ever put on film, both in terms of visual spectacle and emotional engagement.

‘Look to my coming on first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.’

 

Aliens (1986)

‘They mostly come out at night, mostly.’

Sigourney Weaver was born to play Ellen Ripley. In this second instalment of the Alien movies, the acid-blooded xenomorphs lay siege to Ripley and a squad of cocky Marines who have been sent to exomoon Lv-426 to supposedly wipe the creatures out.

There’s a great supporting cast with the likes of Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, and a wonderful performance from Carrie Henn as Newt (Carrie’s a teacher in California now –  probably the coolest teacher ever!) And who can forget Paul Reiser’s excellent performance as slimeball Carter Burke.

There are all sorts of potential allegorical interpretations in the movie. I like this kind of thing so indulge me for a paragraph. Imperialism – the jingoistic, hot-headed Marines have been sent by the big corporation to fight the alien race of another planet and to do so for questionable reasons. It’s been suggested that James Cameron used the Vietnam War for inspiration. The Marines are technologically superior – they have the superior firepower but the aliens have a better knowledge of their landscape and know how to use it – not unlike the United States and North Vietnam. It’s interesting, no?

Aliens was made before CGI became as big as it is today. Remember this was 1986. The film was made using rear projection, puppets and miniatures, along with in-camera effects and clever editing tricks. They did a pretty damn good job too. When I see CGI on the big screen today I usually think ‘there’s CGI’. In Alien, I don’t think about special effects. I’m too absorbed in the film.

Aliens also set the bar high when it came to sequels. Unfortunately the Alien franchise has dipped ever since (although I think the third movie is good!) but  Cameron’s example of how to improve upon a great original is a timeless lesson for filmmakers.

 

Seven Samurai (1954)

‘This is the nature of war: By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.’

‘Who’s your daddy?’ Seven Samurai that’s who. Every other action movie that followed owes this classic a debt of gratitude. It’s in my personal top five films (maybe top three) of all time. It’s that good.

The premise is fairly simple. With marauding bandits set to raid their village and steal their crop, a bunch of farmers hire a small band of samurai to protect them. Simple concept yes, but the best thing about Akira Kurosawa was how he could turn simple concepts into fully-formed, satisfying cinematic experiences. He could make a film come alive and touch you.  Think about Ikiru. It’s such a basic idea – a dying man learns to live and yes that’s what the film is about and yet it’s about so much more.

Seven Samurai was remade several times, most notably by John Sturges as The Magnificent Seven in 1960. It’s hard to overstate its influence in terms of making use of action sequences and characterisation – each of the seven samurai have their own personality and skill-set. They’re clearly individuals. There’s also the key relationship between the samurai and the villagers, adding depth, that unique ingredient that elevates a decent action movie and turns it into something special.

And then there’s the rain in the final battle sequence. Has any other film made you touch your head to see if there’s a leak in the roof?

Seven Samurai is glorious. I understand that many people might balk at the idea of watching an old black and white Japanese film that comes in at a little over three hours. But if that’s you, seriously reconsider.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Mist

From Dusk till Dawn

Home Alone

Green Room

Dawn of the Dead

Dog Day Afternoon

 

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

Hope that post has got you in the mood! If you’re up for something different, Kojiro vs. The Vampire People is my ‘siege novella’ – as inspired by some of the films above. It’s a fast-paced dystopian/action-adventure/horror tale – a one man against the odds thrill ride set in an alternate London.

It can be read as a stand-alone story or as part of The Future of London series.

Amazon

Other retailers – Kobo, B&N, Apple etc

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

 

Hey everyone! Here is the blurb for a novella that I’m releasing on December 14th. Kojiro vs. The Vampire People can be read as a stand-alone story or as book 4.5 in The Future of London Series. It’s a dystopian/action-adventure/horror tale and I’m launching it at a festive price of 0.99, so grab it early if you’re looking for some escapism this Christmas.

All the best!

Mark

 

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People

Christmas Eve, 2020

A lone swordsman is transporting a precious cargo through the urban wasteland of London – a city that’s been cut off from civilisation for the past nine years.

Zander Kojiro is taking this cargo back to his childhood home, all the while doing his best to keep it hidden from the hungry eyes of the city.

But when he arrives in his old neighbourhood, Kojiro discovers that the territory has been taken over by the Vampire People, a ghoulish, ambitious street gang with a fetish for blood, destruction and loud music.

The Vampire People don’t take kindly to strangers. Even worse, they know what Kojiro’s secret cargo is.

And they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Kojiro vs. The Vampire People is a John Carpenter-inspired dystopian, action-adventure, horror novella. It can be read either as a stand-alone story or as book 4.5 in The Future of London Series.

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