Today’s Art (30th September 2019)

Well, since I was in a little bit of a rush, today’s artwork is a digitally-edited monochrome “film noir” drawing. To my surprise, it turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Boathouse” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – September 2019

Well, since it’s the end of the month, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles about writing etc.. that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Unfortunately, due to being very busy at the time of writing many of this month’s articles (in addition to suffering from a fairly heavy cold for a few days), the quality varied somewhat. But, on the bright side, there are more articles about the horror genre than usual, mostly thanks to the fact that I was reading a few horror novels and was also preparing last year’s Halloween stories at the time too.

In terms of book reviews, I ended up reviewing fourteen novels this month and my favourites were probably: “The Skin Palace” by Jack O’Connell, “Day Four” by Sarah Lotz, “The Deep” by Nick Cutter, “Universal Harvester” by John Darnielle and “And The Rest Is History” by Jodi Taylor.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – September 2019:

– “Three Possible Reasons Why ‘Shock Value’ Was A Major Part Of British Horror Fiction During The 1980s
– “Three Basic Ways To Make Your Horror Story More Or Less Scary
– “Three Reasons Why Modern Creative Works Use Nostalgic Elements
– “Three Reasons Why Horror And Comedy Go Well Together
– “Three Reasons Why Paperback Books Are Awesome
– “Three Differences Between 2010s and 1980s Horror Fiction
– “Should You Use First Or Third Person Perspective Narration In Your Story?
– “Three Possible Reasons Why Paperback Cover Art Was Better In The 1980s
– “Three Basic Tips For Including Character Backstories In Your Story
– “Three Basic Tips For Writing Epic Large-Scale Battle Scenes

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming
– “Three Quick Tips For Adding Dark Comedy To Horror Stories

Three Possible Reasons Why “Shock Value” Was A Major Part Of British Horror Fiction During The 1980s

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s horror fiction today. This is mostly because, with Halloween only about a month away, I decided to start re-reading Shaun Hutson’s 1986 horror novel “Relics”. To my surprise, there were even more “shock value” elements to the story than I remembered (eg: grisly deaths, obscene rituals, vicious cruelty etc..).

Of course, as 1980s horror novels (at least in Britain) go, “Relics” is hardly an outlier. After all, this was the decade of splatterpunk fiction. So, why was 1980s British horror fiction a lot more “shocking” than it’s more psychological and ominous modern counterpart?

Here are a few of my speculations and theories:

1) Film censorship: Simply put, the 1980s was a decade of stifling censorship in Britain. It was a decade where grisly VHS horror films sparked a massive moral panic that led to video censorship legislation that is unfortunately still with us, pretty much unchanged, to this day.

Of course, thanks to the Lady Chatterley trial in the early 1960s, literature was protected from censorship. So, in an era when horror films were getting grislier (but being censored more heavily in the UK), horror fiction had something of a unique selling point. It could be more gruesome than the horror films that were available to the public. And, of course, astute horror authors took full advantage of this fact.

So, 1980s horror novels were grislier and more shocking than modern ones for the simple reason that they could bypass the strict censorship of the time. Of course, with film censorship being slightly less over-zealous in modern Britain, there is less of an incentive for horror authors to make their stories as extreme as possible.

2) Audience and context: One interesting thing about “shocking” 1980s horror novels is that they seem to have been reasonably popular amongst teenagers and it isn’t difficult to see why.

Even though the heyday of paperback horror fiction was already in it’s later stages when I was born, I belatedly discovered my first second-hand ’80s horror novel at about the age of thirteen and it absolutely astonished me. Needless to say, I read a lot more 1980s horror fiction during the next few years. And, from what I can remember of reviews/articles I’ve seen about older horror fiction over the years, this type of experience was something that also happened in the generation before mine too.

It’s a rebellious genre of fiction – I mean, it’s called “Splatterpunk“for a reason. It was the type of “shocking” fiction that made reading books seem like a “cool” thing to do. Add to this the fact that, at the time these novels were originally published (and a decade or two afterwards as well), the younger generations were pretty much expected to rebel. And what better way to rebel than reading an ultra-gruesome horror novel that would probably be banned if it was ever turned into a film?

Of course, these days, we live in an age where YA fiction is a more popular genre. We live in an age where, thanks to smartphones etc…, fewer people from all age groups read books. Likewise, these days, there isn’t really the expectation that the younger generation should “rebel” that there was in the past.

In other words, 1980s horror novels included a lot more shock value because they had a slightly different audience and a different historical context to modern horror fiction.

3) Popularity: Simply put, the horror genre was a lot more popular during the 1980s. In those halcyon days, horror fiction was apparently widely available in newsagents and all bookshops.

After all, slasher movies were a major genre in the cinema. Not to mention that, as portable entertainment options went, books were also pretty much the only choice. Add to this the fact that books were a lot cheaper than VHS tapes/VCRs and you can see why horror fiction was also an attractive choice for home entertainment too.

So, horror novels were mass entertainment. And, whilst the more cynical among you might think that this means that the “shock value” elements were there to appeal to the lowest common denominator, I’d argue that it is a little bit more sophisticated than this.

Simply put, “shock value” horror isn’t actually about shocking the audience, it is about giving them the illusion of bravery. Yes, the first “shock value” horror novel you read will probably shock you. But, once you’ve read a couple, you’ll know what to expect and it won’t shock you. As such, you’ll be able to read “horrifying” novels without so much as a scintilla of fear – which makes you feel courageous and tough. So, these novels are more about evoking this feeling than about actually frightening the audience.

And, given that people enjoy this feeling of toughness (eg: just look at all of the superhero movies these days), it was probably part of the mass appeal of “shock value” horror novels in 1980s Britain. Of course, with horror fiction being less popular these days, modern horror authors have to focus more on actually frightening the audience with things like psychological horror, bleak horror, suspense etc…


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “And The Rest Is History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to read this book a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the eighth novel in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series today. If you’ve never heard of this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, a late-night BBC3 sitcom, Terry Pratchett, “St. Trinians” and a punk comic.

Anyway, this novel – “And The Rest Is History” (2016) – was part of a birthday present that I got a couple of months earlier and am carefully rationing, since there are only a couple of other “St. Mary’s” books left to go.

However, although this novel does contain some recaps, you need to read the previous seven novels before reading this one. A lot of the novel’s drama will only really have the emotional impact that it deserves if you’re already familiar with the characters and backstory. Likewise, this story picks up where the previous book left off. So, read the previous seven books before this one. You won’t regret it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “And The Rest Is History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “And The Rest Is History” that I read.

The novel begins shortly after the events of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. At the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or Max for short) is still getting to grips with the fact that she now has a baby son called Matthew. Surprisingly, there have been no major disasters either.

However, during a jog around the grounds of St. Mary’s, Max runs into her old enemy Clive Ronan. To her surprise, he hasn’t travelled to St. Mary’s to kill her. In fact, he has grown tired of life as a fugitive and wants to work out some kind of peace agreement with St. Mary’s. As such, he gives Max a set of temporal co-ordinates and requests a more formal meeting.

After some discussion, Max agrees to go – with her husband Leon staying behind to look after Matthew. And, after jumping to a remote part of the Ancient Egyptian desert, the meeting starts out well. Even a freak sandstorm that engulfed an entire army doesn’t get in the way and, if anything, engenders a grudging respect between Max and Ronan as they help each other to survive it.

Then, completely out of the blue, the Time Police show up. Needless to say, Ronan thinks that Max has betrayed him. Fleeing the desert, he swears cruel vengeance against both Max and everyone that she loves…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really solid “St. Mary’s” novel 🙂 There’s a really good mixture of comedy, action/adventure, time travel, historical horror, sci-fi and sombre emotional drama. Plus, if you’re a fan of the mythos of the series, then this novel has all of the classics 🙂 Ronan, the Time Police etc… You name it, it’s there 🙂 Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this novel that I haven’t said before. If you’re a fan of “St. Mary’s”, then you’ll love it 🙂

With every novel in the series, everything gets a little bit more refined and this one is no exception. This is a novel that will both make you laugh out loud and feel numb with shock (especially when you see a new twist on a familiar catchphrase). This is a novel that can be hilariously funny sometimes and grimly bleak sometimes and, somehow, both of these things fit together absolutely perfectly.

It is also a novel that is as much about what isn’t shown as what is, with the most dramatic sub-plot (eg: Leon chasing Ronan through time and space) taking place almost entirely “off screen” and, yet, it still works perfectly.

It is a novel that is able to make you feel nervous and uneasy when nothing goes wrong for the characters. Seriously, it’s a testament to how well-written this series is and how much Taylor knows her fanbase that the absence of chaos and catastrophe can be an extremely notable and suspenseful part of one of these novels.

Seriously, I absolutely loved how this novel was structured 🙂 Although I don’t want to spoil too much, there are some stunningly dramatic twists and turns here and, even if you can predict how some of them might turn out, they remain very dramatic nonetheless 🙂

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between thrilling adventure, dramatic suspense, fascinating sci-fi, grisly history, hilarious comedy (including a sneaky hat-tip to Terry Pratchett too. You’ll know it when you see it) and poignant, bleak emotional drama absolutely right. This is a novel that is like an excellent season of a TV show, but three times better 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are the heart of this story and they are as brilliant as ever. Not only is Max’s relationship with Leon and the fact that she now has a son a huge part of the story, but there is a lot of drama involving the other characters too. In the traditional fashion, this is a novel where the characters feel like old friends and you’ll really care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, it is also as brilliant as ever. Like with the other novels in the series, this one is narrated by Max and the incredibly readable, informal “matter of fact” punk narration allows for thrillingly fast-paced scenes, bleak moments of tragic drama and some absolutely brilliant comedy too 🙂 Seriously, like all of the other books in the series, this one has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a little different. At a whopping 426 pages, it is longer than previous novels in the series. In fact, the increased length was why it took me a couple of weeks to work up the enthusiasm to read it. Even so, the novel is just as compelling and well-paced as you would expect 🙂 There’s a well-handled mixture of suspense, thrills, emotional drama, time travel and hilariously random comedy too.

All in all, if you’re a fan of this series, then you’ll absolutely love this novel 🙂 This is a novel for “St. Mary’s” fans and it absolutely excels 🙂 If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” novel before, then start with the first one and work your way towards this one. Seriously, it is even better if you’ve read the other books first 🙂

If I had to go through the formality of giving this novel a rating out of five, it would get the usual five.

Three Reasons Why Creative Works That Are Never Made Seem So Good

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to find a really cool video on Youtube where, by editing together various audience recordings, someone was able to reconstruct what a live concert video for Iron Maiden’s 1986/7 world tour would have possibly looked like. This was a tour that was apparently never officially filmed and, were it not for the fans, would have been lost to the mists of time.

Although the tour was from before my time, I was astonished by how awesome this fan reconstruction was. Everything from the “Blade Runner”-themed introduction, to the costumes to the performance of songs that the band rarely plays live were really amazing. The blurry camcorder footage also made me wonder how much more awesome a proper official live video would have looked like if it had ever been made.

And this, of course, made me think about the topic of creative works that were never made. In particular, why they can sometimes seem better than things that were actually made.

1) Imagination: This is the most obvious one. If something is never made, then people will have to use whatever clues they can find in order to imagine what it looks like.

First of all, everyone’s imagination is at least slightly different. So, your idea of what a cool-sounding unreleased computer game/film/album/novel etc… would look like will probably be at least slightly different to that of the people who would have made it.

In addition to this, our imaginations also have very little in the way of limitations. In other words, we don’t have to worry about things like budgets, practical concerns or anything like that when we imagine what an unreleased film, game etc… might look like. So, it is probably going to look better in our imaginations than it ever would in real life.

2) Fandom: Following on from this, if you’re imagining something that was never made, then you are probably a fan of whoever would have made it. In other words, you’re probably judging it by the high standards of everything else that they have made. At the very least, you will probably expect it to be similar to these things.

The thing to remember here is that things that aren’t made sometimes aren’t made for a good reason. Maybe the underlying idea had a flaw of some kind? Maybe it was something that sounded cooler in principle than it actually did in practice? Maybe it would have required the person creating it to change something in a way that would alienate fans? etc…

A good videogame-based example of this is probably “Duke Nukem Forever”. For many years, this was a legendary unreleased game from the makers of the 1996 FPS classic “Duke Nukem 3D”. Everyone expected it to be like an enhanced version of “Duke Nukem 3D”. Of course, when it was eventually released in 2011, it was widely criticised for including all of the worst elements of modern FPS games (eg: linear levels, two-weapon limits etc..).

So, yes, “lost” creative works can seem better for the simple reason that you expect them to be like things that have already been released.

3) Context: Another reason why “lost” creative works can seem so amazing is because of the historical context surrounding them. In short, they evoke nostalgia. When we think about them, we think about the time period that they could have been made in.

We think about the earlier days of our favourite musicians, writers, game companies etc… and find ourselves wishing that we lived in that time period. And, whilst released creative works can evoke this nostalgia, unreleased ones tend to evoke it a lot more powerfully for the simple reason that we aren’t familiar with them (since they were never actually made).

As such, even a few vague clues about these things can seem like something “new” from the glory days of our favourite creative people.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Alan Wake” By Rick Burroughs (Novel)

Although the “Alan Wake” videogame was very slightly too modern to run on any tech that I owned at the time of preparing this review, everything I’d heard about it intrigued me (Edit: Although I got a more modern PC several months after preparing the first draft of this review, I still haven’t got round to buying or playing “Alan Wake” yet).

So, when I happened to find an online list of novels based on videogames, I was pleased to notice that “Alan Wake” was on there. And, a while later, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of Rick Burroughs’ 2010 novelisation of “Alan Wake”.

So, let’s take a look at “Alan Wake”. Needless to say this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Tor (US) paperback edition of “Alan Wake” that I read.

The novel begins with famous horror writer Alan Wake having a nightmare. When he wakes up, he is travelling to a rural town called Bright Falls with his wife Alice. Alan has had writer’s block for the past two years and Alice thinks that a holiday in a cabin in the woods might help him out.

After meeting several of the eccentric locals and being given the key to a house in the middle of the local lake called Bird Leg Cabin by a mysterious woman that Alan meets in a diner bathroom, they settle into the cabin for the night.

However, much to Alan’s dismay, Alice has brought his old typewriter along with them. After an argument, Alan storms out of the cabin – only for the lights to suddenly go out. When Alan rushes back to the cabin, something pulls Alice into the lake. Alan has a mysterious vision and then wakes up in a crashed car a week later…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling horror thriller novel. It’s kind of like a mixture of Twin Peaks, a Stephen King novel/film and a zombie movie. And, although this novel is a little bit mysterious/confusing at first (especially if, like me, you haven’t played the game it’s based on), it gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. There’s a fairly decent mixture of paranormal horror, psychological horror, ominous locations, mythological horror, gory horror and suspense. There’s also a really good mixture between fast-paced zombie movie style action scenes and slightly weirder psychological horror scenes too. Even so, this novel feels a lot like a horror videogame at times – with dramatic set pieces, mysterious visions etc.. and stuff that probably works slightly better on the screen than on the page.

The novel’s thriller elements are fairly interesting too. In addition to quite a few fast-paced action scenes, this novel also makes good use of mystery and suspense throughout the story too. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of those stories that doesn’t entirely make sense at the beginning, but gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.

Although I haven’t played the game this book is based on, it’s not hard to imagine what it is like. Not only does Alan find a glowing tutorial message at one point, but the novel also includes things like a videogame-like weapon progression, a level-like progression from location to location, consistent game-like rules when Alan fights the zombie-like monsters (eg: they are invincible, except when exposed to light) and game-like pacing.

Even so, the story’s meta-fictional elements work really well on the page. Since this is a story about writers and the power of stories, this works excellently in novel form. For example, throughout the story, Alan finds mysterious manuscript pages and several of these are included at the end of various chapters. Not only do they provide intriguing fragments of backstory, but they also occasionally describe later scenes in the story in an intriguingly incomplete way.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about what happens to the characters. In essence, the characterisation in this novel is like a slightly deeper version of the characterisation you’d find in a movie or a well-written videogame.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly good too. It’s a little bit like the kind of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration that you’d expect to see in a thriller novel and it works really well here. Likewise, thanks to the horror elements, the narration also includes a few descriptive elements too that help to add atmosphere to the story.

As for length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 305 pages in length, it never really feels bloated. Likewise, the story is reasonably fast-paced too. However, the pacing is very videogame-like in many parts of the story. In other words, there are lots of mysterious and/or dramatic set-pieces that almost feel like in-game cutscenes. Likewise, there is a level-like progression between different locations. Even so, when you get used to seeing stuff like this in a novel, it works fairly well.

All in all, this is a compelling horror thriller novel. Yes, it feels like you’re reading a videogame at times, but it’s a fairly good one (not to mention that, unlike an actual game, this novel doesn’t have system requirements 🙂 ). It’s also a good mixture of Stephen King-inspired horror fiction, “Twin Peaks”-style small town weirdness and thrilling zombie-movie style monster action too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.