Tag Archives: houdini

A Box Full Of Ashes – The Trouble With Vampires

A lot of writers talk about process, and mine goes like this – SHUT UP AND WRITE. I seldom talk about what I’m working on as I find it kills my desire to get the thing finished; it’s like I’ve already got my storytelling jollies by telling it and then there’s no more satisfaction to be had in writing it out.

This also explains why I am not really very good at blogging.

I only feel really safe talking about things when they are very, very nearly done, and even then I feel slightly guilty about it, like when someone tells you that you can open your present before Christmas or your birthday and you do it, but it doesn’t feel right. Not really.

Anyway, remember a few years ago when absolutely everything was vampires and there were vampires on TV and vampires in the bookshops and some of them sparkled and others just had abs and were Alexander Skarsgard and Lindsay Lohan took selfies wearing fangs and everyone got really, really sick of vampires?

Well, shortly after that my brain decided it might be a good time to write a vampire novel.

There were a couple of problems with this. One was that everyone was so tired of vampires that it wasn’t even funny, and the other was that I don’t even like vampires. I enjoyed Anne Rice books when I was a teenager, but I’ve never managed to get through one as an adult. I like Dracula and I think Salem’s Lot is one of the best things Stephen King has ever written, but I have no patience for a bunch of undead mopes whining around the place talking about how hard it is to be beautiful, irresistible, basically immortal and (on more than one infamous occasion) sparkly.

Good fictional characters should change and develop, which is why vampires are at a disadvantage from the start; they’re basically frozen. They never age and never really need to fear death all that much. In fact some of the worst ones just sit about moaning about the fact that they’re never going to die (yes, you at the back with the widescreen forehead) and don’t even have the decency to try and off themselves properly. Seriously, just order some garlic bread and hop on a tanning bed for half an hour. Do the world a favour.

Anne Rice did a groundbreaking thing when she turned the vampire – the monster – into the point of view character. The trouble these days is that it’s been done to death and back, and I thought maybe it was time to take the vampires back to what they used to be; straight up monsters who want to eat you.

The other thing I knew I didn’t want was the kind of urban fantasy where there are vampires wandering around just because.  I wanted something where vampires – impossible, mythical, storybook things – invade the real world. Dracula does this very well, with newspaper clippings and diaries. Salem’s Lot – which uses Dracula as a jumping off point – probably does this even better, with Stephen King effortlessly folding horror into realism as only he can. Another inspiration was Ultraviolet, the sadly short-lived Channel 4 vampire series starring Idris Elba, Jack Davenport and Vampire Beeehl back before his True Blood days. I liked the hard science edge of Ultraviolet and I thought I could do something similar with some characters who have been knocking around in my head in various forms for over twenty years now.

So that’s kind of how I ended up with a mental patient, a slacker magician and an underemployed pathologist up to their eyeballs in a series of extraordinary events that start when a goth spontaneously combusts in a quiet Devon churchyard. Now, I don’t know how far you can be said to be writing ‘urban fantasy’ when part of the action takes place in Sidmouth, but if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s giving myself marketing headaches.

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Read beneath the tag for a first nibble. This takes place when the main characters meet for the first time in the graveyard where a goth named Deborah Messinger goes up in flames. What Francis doesn’t know at this point is that Deborah’s partially cooked corpse is missing, having seemingly walked out of the morgue on her own steam the night before her autopsy. Continue reading

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Summerland: A 1920’s Mystery – Now free in the Kindle Store

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Stay tuned for freebies this weekend, kids. I am about to give the Shameless Self-Promotion tag a good, hard workout. It stands to reason that since I spend so much time writing these books, it would be quite nice for people to read them.

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 “Well, people often think the magician’s assistant doesn’t do much. She stands around in a skimpy costume and men look at her and she twirls and vanishes, but the assistant is really the one doing most of the tricks. The magician is often just there to present the routine, to add the flourishes and patter, but the nitty gritty, the tripwires and levers and mirrors and drapes that go in to pulling off the perfect illusion – that’s the province of the skinny little girl in the spangles.”

Magician’s assistant Poppy has always been an outsider, dragged from one town to another, spat on for being a carny, for being the wrong sex, the wrong race. Then one rainy night in the Midwest, she finds herself performing card tricks in front of the great Harry Houdini. Fresh from his well-publicised investigation of the medium Mina Crandon, Houdini makes Poppy a proposal; she is offered the opportunity to join his private secret service of sceptics, debunkers and magicians. Her job is to infiltrate spiritualist circles and expose fraudulent mediums, a quest that takes her across the Atlantic and into the lives of two very different young Englishmen, who are about to learn that in spiritualist circles secrets are much more than just common currency.

Due to sexually explicit material Summerland is not recommended for readers under 18.

Amazon.com

Paris Green – A Tale of 1920’s New York. Free E-Book!

My newest novel Paris Green is now at the low low price of Absolutely Free on Amazon.com. Go grab yourself a copy. Go on. Off you go.

Amazon.com

New book release: Paris Green – A Tale of 1920’s New York

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my brand new historical novel, Paris Green.

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Available now at Amazon.com

Heiress Caroline Reid had everything – money, looks, popularity, love. Once at the vibrant heart of New York’s social scene, she now lives as a recluse, measuring her meals in ounces, counting the hours until Andrew comes.
Medium Andrew Blakemoor came from nowhere, a soft-voiced, scarecrow country boy with a questionable past. Playing down claims that he exorcised the restless spirit of Tutankamun, Blakemoor comes to New York to evangelise about Spiritualism, and to seek new patronage. While society is divided on the truth of his psychic gifts, in him Caroline sees a new realm of possibilities, a life different from the inevitabilities of marriage, trust funds and the hope of male children.
When Caroline places herself in Andrew’s hands, seeking ‘development’ as a psychic medium, she opens herself up to a world of dark seances and strange, night-time whisperings, of affinities and apports. While her friends drop away and her parents worry, Caroline immerses herself in the search for her own ‘control’ – a spirit who will protect her and guide her in this world and the next.
But on the night when her serenity is shattered by a gunshot, Caroline realises too late that no dream of a smiling ghost can offer protection against the horrors of life and death, against duplicity and hollow promises, and worst of all, herself.
This short companion novel to Summerland can be read as a prequel or as a standalone.

Continue reading

Adventures In Research – Diet Books, King Tut and the Girl From The Magic Shop

I’m very nearly done with my new historical novel, which is so full of lies, duplicity and sheer bloody cruelty that I cannot wait to write the sequel to Fifty Shades of Neigh and spend the next few months wallowing happily in a big bunch of dick jokes.

I love writing historical fiction, but the main problem with it that all that research you did? All those lovely, carefully catalogued period details? All that time you spend immersing yourself in the popular culture of the era, absorbing the contemporary fads, fashion and slang?

Yeah – shut up about that.

In a good historical novel the characters will use enough contemporary slang to lend a flavour without making it incomprehensible to the modern ear. In a bad historical novel everyone will antiquey-speakey most verily even though yea, it sucketh great donkey balls, and in a really bad historical novel everyone will not only yabber on like they’re at a Renaissance Faire but also discuss the etymology of their gibberish. A really good historical novel will slip you a history lesson without you even knowing it. A bad one will beat you over the head with lumps of Wikipedia a la Dan Brown or go full on Downton and have people say things like “Well, indeed – after the War to end all wars we’re all in need of a little gaiety, and why shouldn’t Lady Ethel get her hair cut like the popular contemporary actress Louise Brooks in this year of our Lord 1926?”

This is not to say you can skimp on the research – you’d better damn well do it. I once came across a vampire novel that was utterly spoiled by the fact that not only was I supposed to believe that the vampire hero had trained as a Catholic priest in late 16th Century England but in the 1650’s had been quite the sexy young thing at the theatres and operas of old London town. You do research so that things like this don’t happen. Then you shut up about it. Research is essential but should remain invisible – sort of like Spanx.

So this is where blogs come in handy. Here’s just a taste of the fascinating stuff that either got a one line mention or kept an urgent playdate with the DELETE key. Continue reading

How To See Ghosts

Ghosts – what are they? Where do they come from? We may never know.

What we do know is that ghosts are a cheap and interesting source of entertainment and a good way of livening up any slumber party. The main problem with ghosts is that they tend to be shy. It’s like they just don’t want to be photographed, documented or fiddled about with in any way shape or form.

You have to be bold with ghosts – they’re timid. Bigfoot timid. If they were any more timid they’d be hanging out in Loch Ness, pretending to be an extinct marine reptile with an astounding gift for avoiding sonar.

Loch Ness monster

Hello.

So, allow me to present my simple five step guide to persuading the ghosts in your life to abandon their natural reticence and start doing proper ghost stuff, like banging on walls, setting fire to ouija boards, levitating the kids and killing your sleazy stockbroker boyfriend. (Okay, they might not do the last one – I can’t promise results on any of the below, so you might have to just dump him.) Continue reading

The Further Madness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have always loved The Hound of the Baskervilles. I can take or leave most of Sherlock Holmes, but to me The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most perfect mystery stories ever told. The ghostly bogs and quicksands of bleakly beautiful Dartmoor are used to great dramatic effect. There are escaped prisoners and hatchet faced housekeepers and an old, old house, complete with family curse. The ghost story tone here is flawless, worthy of Henry James, and the shudders are well provided in the shape of a vicious, glowing spectral dog, feeding into folkish fears of padfoots and barghests.

And it’s all a red herring. All of it. The whole carefully constructed spooky atmosphere is a smokescreen for the real evil at the heart of the story. There are no ghosts, just a cleverly plotted supernatural scam, the reveal of which is as lip-biting as a well judged striptease.

It’s a great story. Read it if you haven’t. Read it if you have. It’s one of those ones you can read again and again, best enjoyed on long winter nights with a reading lamp and all the curtains drawn, the better to shit yourself up good and proper. The Hound of the Baskervilles is far more scary than it has any right to be, especially since it doesn’t (spoiler!) contain any actual ghosts. It’s an astonishing illustration of how fear, legend, atmosphere and the desire to believe can feed into our delusions and cause us to ascribe paranormal explanations to mundane events.

Even more astonishing is that Sir Arthur fell for his own trick. And not just the once.  Continue reading