The Joy Of….”Middle Brow” Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of fiction – “middle brow” fiction. This is the type of fiction that includes all of the thrills, creativity and cool stuff you’ll find in “low brow” fiction, but with the level of characterisation, linguistic skill, thematic complexity, descriptive depth etc.. that you’ll find in more “high brow” fiction.

It is quite literally the best of both worlds and it is utterly awesome. Yet, it is annoyingly difficult to define. Ok, I could probably list examples of it that I’ve read (like “Box Nine” by Jack O’Connell, “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson or, the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Weaveworld” by Clive Barker), but it’s really difficult to spot it at a glance.

I mean, it’s easy enough to see whether a novel is a fun “low brow” thriller/horror/detective/sci-fi novel or a prestigious, intellectual and realistic “literary” novel just by looking at the cover. One has excitingly dramatic cover art and the other usually has trendily boring cover art that is filled with adoring critic quotes. But, things that fall in between these categories are usually a little bit more difficult to spot at a glance.

But, I guess that this is part of the charm of “middle brow” fiction – that brilliant sense of surprise when you sit down to read what you think will be an ordinary thriller, horror, sci-fi or detective novel only to find that it’s a lot more atmospheric, deep, intelligent, unique or vivid than you had expected 🙂 Or, when you think “I should read something intellectual“, only to find that the book you’ve pushed yourself to read is a lot more gripping than you’d expected 🙂

Yet, this type of fiction is really difficult to define. Is it genre fiction with extra depth and complexity? Is it literary fiction with an actual plot, some imagination and a proper narrative drive? Is it both of these things?

Surprisingly, it’s actually easier to think of non-book metaphors for it. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a more prestigious popular TV show like “Game Of Thrones”, “Twin Peaks” or “Boardwalk Empire” – which contains enough depth and complexity to be more than mindless Hollywood entertainment, whilst also still being entertaining enough to make you want to binge-watch entire seasons of it.

Another interesting thing about “middle brow” fiction is that it also reminds us of what popular fiction used to be like. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for more fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” modern narration – it keeps the story wonderfully gripping and it also means that modern books can compete with smartphones, the internet, videogames etc.. for people’s attentions. But, at the same time, it can also lack a certain depth and atmosphere that even the most “low brow” of older novels often used to have.

To give you an example, take a look at “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson (1984). This is a fast-paced, ultra-gruesome horror novel about zombie vampires that I first discovered when I was a young teenager during the early-mid 2000s. It just seemed like a really cool, fun and rebellious novel back then. But, when I re-read it as an adult, I was surprised by how complex the writing sometimes was when compared to some of the more contemporary novels I’d read in the meantime.

Here’s a quote from “Erebus” to show you what I mean: “Elsewhere in the office things were at various stages of organized pandemonium as other reporters rushed to complete their assignments, hampered by the fact that their typewriting dexterity had not yet extended to more than one finger“.

This was “low brow” popular entertainment in 1984! A mere 35 years ago, a novel containing complex sentences like this was seen as a mindless “everyday” way to pass the time (like videogames, Facebook or Youtube would be these days). Just think about that for a second.

Another cool thing about reading “middle brow” fiction is that it’s kind of like a reward for having to read more dull “high brow” fiction in the past (eg: the set texts at school/college/university). Thanks to your prior experience, not only can you read it with relative ease – which feels like playing a videogame you’re really good at- but you also actually have fun at the same time. It’ll make you see the wisdom of having to slog through the works of writers like Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, Austen, Fowles, Woolf etc.. when you were younger.

Of course, as a side note, one amusing irony is that Shakespeare and Dickens were, at the time they were originally writing, “low brow” popular entertainment. I mean, just do some research into 16th century theatre audiences (eg: wild, rowdy, chaotic etc..) or into how many of Dickens’ novels were originally published (eg: popular serials in newspapers/magazines).

Anyway, “middle brow” fiction shows you that reading all of those boring books means that you can breeze through much more interesting books with a sense of ease and skill that may very well catch you by surprise and make you feel like some kind of expert or intellectual.

In short, “middle brow” fiction is totally and utterly amazing. Yes, it was probably more popular in the past than it is now (I mean, all of the examples I listed earlier in the article come from the 1980s/90s) but – in a landscape where popular modern novels often seem to be sharply divided between grim detective thrillers/ Fifty Shades Of Twilight and pretentious plot-less “literary” novels, there has never been more of a need for intelligent, well-written novels with a good gripping plot 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Four Thoughts About When (And How) To Abandon A Book You’re Reading

A few days before I wrote the first draft of this article, I happened to read an absolutely fascinating online article about “book block”. This is where you start reading a book, but can’t bring yourself to finish it for some reason. And, yes, it can be debilitating in literary terms.

I mean, one of the reasons why I read so little after early-mid 2014 (and only returned to reading regularly a few months ago) was because of guilt over leaving a couple of books unfinished. In those years, I probably read less than ten novels. Since I got back into reading regularly again, I’ve read about fifty or so. So, yes, guilt about not being able to finish a book can really disrupt your reading.

But, my thoughts on the topic have evolved slightly and – since I got back into reading regularly- I’ve abandoned at least three books without the heavy sense of guilt or obligation that can sometimes put you off of reading again for years.

So, here are some thoughts about when and how to abandon a book:

1) You can always come back to it later: If it helps, remember that you can always come back to an abandoned book later. In fact, the reason why you just can’t seem to go any further with a book may well be because you just aren’t ready for it yet. And this isn’t a question of skill or intelligence, it’s a question of things like mood, imagination, circumstances and interests more than anything else.

For example, one of the books I abandoned in 2014 was a 1990s-style sci-fi/fantasy thriller called “Heart Of Desire” by Kate Robinson. I felt really terrible about leaving this book unfinished, especially since I know the author. Yet, in the years afterwards, I became fascinated by the 1990s and I spent quite a while watching films, watching TV shows, playing computer games etc.. from that decade in order to understand it better.

So, when I eventually returned to “Heart Of Desire” 4-5 years later, the book suddenly made a lot more sense to me. I could spot (and enjoy) all of the 1990s-style elements, and appreciate the book on a whole new level. In other words, I was ready for this book and I enjoyed it (and finished it) because of this.

So, don’t feel bad about abandoning a book – it might just be because you need to return to it at some point in the future when you are ready.

2) The test: One of the best ways to avoid guilt about abandoning a book is to test it out first. The less of a book you read, the less guilty you’ll feel about abandoning it. So, test the waters before plunging deep into a book.

The exact number of pages varies from person to person. Some people will say that if you aren’t gripped by the first page, then you should ditch the book. Others suggest giving a book 50-100 pages before deciding whether to continue. Personally, I think that you shouldn’t set hard limits – just go into a book cautiously and, if you start to feel that heavy, gloomy sense of “oh god, do I have to read all of this?” drop it and read something else instead.

Still, the first few pages are the most critical. They will tell you the most. For example, a week or two before I wrote this article, I didn’t start reading a really interesting-looking thriller novella because of the rather harsh vigilante-like tone of the first couple of pages. Yes, it was written in a gripping way but it seemed like the kind of earnestly grim thriller that I probably wouldn’t enjoy.

So, I guess that the real lesson here is to know yourself. Understand what makes a book “work” for you and what doesn’t, and pay attention to how you feel when you start reading a book.

3) It can be a good thing: One book I abandoned in late 2010/early 2011 was Clive Barker’s “Abarat: Absolute Midnight”. I didn’t feel guilty about this. Was it because it was a terrible book? No! It was the literal opposite of a terrible book.

In short, I binge-read the first half of the novel in a single evening and was so amazed by it that I just didn’t want the story to end. So, I left it. I meant to get round to reading the rest of it but, at the same time, I just didn’t want the story to end. So, I still haven’t read the rest of it.

So, yes, abandoning a book doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Sometimes a book can be so good that you just don’t want the story to end.

4) Focus on enjoyment, not prestige: Ask yourself whether you’re reading something because you enjoy it or because you just want the prestige of having read it.

Yes, prestige can be a good motivator (in addition to setting myself a deadline, it’s probably one of the reasons why I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall) and some books do require perseverance before they really get good (eg: Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” etc..). But, you should only keep pushing yourself to read a “difficult” book if you genuinely feel that it will be worth your time.

And, yes, this may lead to you leaving some classics unfinished. For example, when I was about sixteen or seventeen, I really wanted to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” but, after about 100-200 pages into the first book I realised that it was just too slow-paced when compared to the exciting film adaptations I’d seen. When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I tried to read Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” (since I’d seen the film on TV) but gave up after about 100 pages due to grappling with the narrative style. I could go on…

The point I’m trying to make here is that you should ask yourself whether you’re stuck with a book because you want the prestige of having finished it or because it’s good enough that you want to keep reading, even if you find it “difficult”. If it’s because of prestige, then abandon the book. The thing to remember here is that even the most “well-read” person in the world probably hasn’t read everything. There are too many books, even prestigious books, out there for someone to read literally all of them. So, don’t feel bad about it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random (But Realistic) Tips For Writing 1990s-Style Fiction

Before I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I wrote a few articles about films, videogames and TV shows from the 1990s and what made them so distinctive when compared to their more modern counterparts. Well, for today, I thought that I’d do the same for books.

But, before I start this list, I should point out that I’ve decided to take a bit more of a “realistic” approach to this topic. In other words, rather than looking at stylised nostalgia, I’ll be looking at what actual books from the 1990s were like. And, if your impressions of what the 1990s were like mostly come from film and TV, then this list might surprise you.

1) Aim for the 2000s/2010s: One of the cool things about prose fiction is that it can often be surprisingly ahead of it’s time. This is especially true in more fantastical genres of fiction (eg: sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc..), where novels in these genres can often be years ahead of what film, games and TV will be doing.

For example, the general atmosphere and style of many parts of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash” wouldn’t be out of place in something from the late 1990s/early 2000s, like “The Matrix” or “Deus Ex“.

Likewise, aside from a few things like the brief mention of a pager and the use of the phrase “peachy keen”, the horror/thriller/detective novel I’m reading at the moment (Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures”) could easily have come from the mid-late 2000s in terms of the general atmosphere and style. Seriously, at some points, it was really easy to forget that this book is actually from 1993.

Then there’s S.D. Perry’s 1996 sci-fi/horror novel “Aliens: The Labyrinth“. This novel, inspired by the “Aliens” films, is set in the distant future and it still seems like a modern sci-fi novel when read these days. Whilst it probably isn’t timeless, if it had been published for the first time this year, it would still seem modern. By contrast, try to think of a sci-fi film from 1996 that still seems modern these days.

But, of course, the most famous example of this is probably George R. R. Martin’s 1996 fantasy novel “A Game Of Thrones”. Yes, the first season of one of the most popular “modern” TV series is actually based on a book from 23 years ago. Let that sink in for a second….

So, if you’re writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy etc.. fiction and want to give it a 1990s-style atmosphere, then try to take inspiration from TV shows, films and games from the 2000s/10s. Or, just write a more general story in these genres that doesn’t include anything that is obviously from the 2010s.

2) Flowing writing: One cool thing that I’ve noticed in some American novels (particularly from the southern US) from the early-mid 1990s is a very specific type of writing style. It’s a little bit difficult to describe, but it is lush, vivid, flowing and descriptive.

It is a style that I’ve encountered in books like “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite (1992) and “Turtle Moon” by Alice Hoffman (1992) and it is absolutely amazing to read. It’s a style of narration that is very distinctively “90s” in the best way possible.

To give you an example of it, here’s a brief passage from the first page of Brite’s “Lost Souls”: ‘In the French Quarter the liquor flows like milk. Strings of bright cheap beads hang from wrought-iron balconies and adorn sweaty necks. After parades the beads lie scattered in the streets, the royalty of gutter trash, gaudy among the cigarette butts and cans and plastic Hurricane glasses.

The best way to learn how to write in this style is simply to read plenty of examples of it. Although, ironically, the novel that probably influenced this style the most actually comes from 1962 (again, books are often ahead of their time). I am, of course, talking about Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“.

Yes, this 1990s writing style probably has other influences too (eg: noir fiction from the 1930s-50s, beat literature etc..) but “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is probably one of the more important texts in the history of this writing style.

3) Brevity: One of the cool things about the 1990s was that it was one of the last decades where books could be short if they needed to be.

Yes, there are plenty of tome-size novels from the 1990s but they were still just about the exception rather than the norm. It’s kind of like, with cinema, how the 1990s was one of the last decades where 90-100 minutes (rather than two hours or more) was the “standard” length for a film.

In other words, if you’re writing a 1990s-style story, then try to aim for 200-300 pages if possible. Edit a little bit more ruthlessly. Try not to let your story become too bloated. And, if you do need to write something long, then make sure that the length is justified.

I mean, if there’s one thing to be said for longer novels from the 1990s, it is that they will often, say, cram 600+ pages of storytelling (by modern standards) into 400-500 pages. For example, Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel “The Diamond Age” is about 500 pages long (in the edition I read). Yet, if it was written by a modern writer, it would probably take 700+ pages to tell the same story.

Or to give a more “low brow” example, Raymond Benson’s 1997 novelisation of the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” is an efficient 213 pages long. 213 pages! Seriously, even by the 2000s, film novelisations were often 300 pages long or more.

So, yes, brevity is important when writing 1990s-style fiction. In fact, it’s important for writing any kind of fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Differences Between Modern And Older Novels

Ever since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, one of the things that has surprised me so much are the differences between older and modern fiction. For the purposes of this article, I’ll define “modern fiction” as stories first published in the 21st century and “older fiction” as anything published before then (with a focus on the 20th century).

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to read a mixture of older and more modern fiction. This is mostly to give modern fiction a chance. After all, during previous times when I’ve read regularly for enjoyment (eg: during most of the 2000s and the early-mid 2010s), I’ve often tended to focus slightly more on older 20th century novels than on 21st century ones.

So, let’s look two of the most basic differences between older and modern fiction. However, I should point out that these are generalisations and there will be exceptions to everything I mention here. Likewise, I’ve probably mentioned all of these things before too, but they’re always interesting to look at.

1) Complexity: At the time of writing this article, I’m reading a novel from 1962 called “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. One of the surprising things about this novel is that, technically speaking, it would probably fit into the modern “young adult” (YA) category if it was published today.

It bears all of the hallmarks of this genre – the protagonists are teenagers, it is a novel about being a teenager and it seems to be a fairly “PG-13” kind of story (to use an American phrase). Yet, it contains something that the modern novels (in a variety of genres) I’ve read over the past decade or so often don’t contain – linguistic complexity.

To give you an example, here’s a spectacular sentence from “Something Wicked This Way Comes”: ‘Then the calliope gave a particularly violent cry of foul murder which made dogs howl in far countries, and Mr Cooger, spinning, ran and leaped on the back-whirling universe of animals who, tail first, head last, pursued an endless circling night towards unfound and never to be discovered destinations.

This is a long, complex, formal, poetic and descriptive sentence. It has been carefully designed to make the reader feel like they’re watching the endless spinning of a merry-go-round in a mysterious old circus. It is meant to be vivid and disorientating. Yet, unless you’ve had a fair amount of practice reading older novels, it may confuse you. In a modern novel ( whether general fiction or YA), the language would probably be less formal and it would be broken up into several shorter sentences in order to achieve the same effect.

So, older novels are often written in a more complex and formal way. Yes, there are exceptions to this but, even if you look at that most high-brow of genres – paperback action-thriller novels – you’ll also notice that examples from the 1970s-90s often tend to be written in a slightly slower paced and more descriptive way than modern action-thriller novels are. The sentences are often longer and there are more descriptions.

This is kind of a double-edged sword though. Since, although all of this extra complexity really helps to give older novels a sense of uniqueness, personality, depth and atmosphere that modern novels sometimes lack, modern novels can often be a lot more gripping and readable. Because they have to compete with videogames, boxsets, smartphones and the internet, modern novels are often a lot more streamlined, efficient and readable than older novels.

2) Length: Whilst longer novels are nothing new (just look at the Victorians!), one of the really interesting differences between 20th and 21st century fiction is how longer novels have gone from being the exception to being the rule.

When you look at paperback books from the 20th century, the average length often tends to be somewhere in the region of 200-300 pages. This is a length that helps to keep the story focused and helps to ensure that the reader can finish the book without getting bored by it.

In contrast, modern 21st century novels will often be about 300-400 pages in length at the least. Yes, I have found shorter modern novels (in fact, I usually try to seek them out), but they tend to be less common than they used to be.

As with all of these things, there are advantages and…. Oh, who am I kidding? Older fiction has all of the advantages here. Because shorter novels were more acceptable in the 20th century, these stories tend to cram more storytelling into a shorter length – which resulted in better fiction. When an older 20th century novel is long, it usually has to justify this length by telling a story that cannot be crammed into a smaller number of pages.

Still, I find it ironic that, for all of the moaning about how people’s attention spans are getting shorter – books keep getting longer. Still, this increase in novel length seems to be part of a more general trend these days. I mean, just look at films. Back in the 1980s/90s, a film usually tended to be a fairly efficient 90-110 minutes in length. These days, even superhero movies can easily pass the two-hour mark.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Film And TV

Although I’m sure that I’ve written these types of articles before, I felt like writing another one.

This was mostly because, ever since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I’ve sometimes found myself missing all of the films and TV shows that I used to watch back when I didn’t read regularly (but don’t really have time for these days, due to reading books).

So, I thought that I’d list three of the many reasons why books are better than film and TV.

1) More freedom: One of the great things about novels is that they have more creative freedom than films and TV shows do. In other words, they’re usually only written by one person, they only use words and they don’t have to pass a censor before they are published. This lends novels a sense of individuality and creativity that films and TV shows can often lack.

Only having one author means that a novel isn’t really “designed by committee” in the way that many TV shows and films are. In other words, a novel is usually the creative vision of one person – they get to shape the story’s world, how the reader “sees” the world etc… in a way that isn’t really practical in film and television. Likewise, because novels don’t cost millions to make, there’s less of a need to appeal to the most mainstream audience possible for financial reasons (which, for example, can lead to films becoming more generic).

Plus, since novels only use words, they aren’t constrained by the practical problems that films/TV shows have. In other words, if a writer wants to write about somewhere spectacular or something spectacular, they can just write about it. They don’t have to build elaborate sets or worry about the special effects budget. As such, there’s a sense that literally anything can happen in a novel. That even the most “low budget” of novels can do things that even mid-budget films or TV shows could only dream of.

Not only that, unlike film and television, novels don’t have to pass a censor. For example, although film/TV censorship in the UK is less strict than it used to be, the censors have been known to enforce bizarre or over-protective rules in the past (eg: they pretty much banned the depiction of various martial arts weapons in films between about 1979-1999).

Likewise, many US TV shows sometimes have to follow absurdly strict censorship rules (eg: even in a “gritty” TV show like “24”, the main character cannot utter any profanity stronger than “damn”).

But, thanks to both the Lady Chatterley trial in the UK and the American first amendment, readers and writers do not have to suffer any of these patronising restrictions. In other words, books are one of the few artforms that respects both the author and the audience enough to let them make up their own mind about everything – free from the controlling influence of a censor.

2) It’s like a boxset, but better: One interesting thing I noticed about the ancient Egypt-themed novel I’m reading at the moment (“Nefertiti” by Michelle Moran) is that, even though it started rather slowly, it eventually started to remind me of when I’d watched a DVD boxset of HBO’s “Rome” TV series about five years ago. It had the same vivid historical immersion, depth and gripping drama.

But, I don’t have to read it in fixed one-hour instalments. The story moves as fast as I can read it. I have the freedom to allow my imagination to work out what all of the interesting locations look like. I can quite literally see what the main character is thinking and feeling. The characters are characters, rather than famous actors. I don’t have to sit through an annoying unskippable copyright warning every time I open the book. I can experience the author’s unique narrative voice. I could probably go on for a while….

I also suddenly realised that one of the reasons why I watched so many DVD boxsets during the 3-4 years that I didn’t read regularly was because they offered an experience that is a little bit like reading a book. However, it comes with all sorts of limitations that books don’t have. So, yes, books are like boxsets – but better. Plus, of course, even second-hand, books are often cheaper than DVD boxsets too 🙂

3) They stand the test of time: One of the cool things I noticed when I got back into reading regularly is that I could occasionally read books (like “The Maltese Falcon) that were written when film was still a developing medium and television was a lot less popular. And the stories are just as vivid as a modern novel. Now, compare this to, say, a grainy old B&W film that could only use whatever limited effects etc.. were available at the time.

Plus, when I’ve bought old second-hand copies of horror novels that were printed during the 1970s/80s, they’re still just as readable today as they were when they were first published.

On the other hand, if I found an old VHS tape that was from the 1980s, I’d have nothing to play it on (so, I’d have to see if it was available on DVD) and, even if my VCR still worked, then the tape would have degraded over time. Whereas, an old book is still just as readable now as it was when it was first printed. And it’s kind of cool to enjoy something that was entertaining people 30-40 years ago and not only still exists but still functions perfectly too!

In other words, books have a timelessness about them that film and television really don’t have. They have more of a sense of history. They run on very reliable technology (eg: paper) that can easily withstand years of use or disuse. Plus, of course, the underlying “mechanics” of books (eg: letters, words, sentences etc..) have remained relatively unchanged for years – compared to the constant changes in technology surrounding film, TV etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool

Well, although my next book review will be of a more modern horror novel (“Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse), one of the cool things that I’ve re-discovered after getting back into reading regularly are 1970s/80s horror novels (like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” etc..).

Back when I was a teenager during the 2000s, I absolutely loved reading second-hand copies of novels like these and I considered them to be the coolest genre of fiction in the world. And, even as a slightly more jaded and cynical adult, I still think that these novels are pretty cool. But, why are they so cool? Here are a few reasons:

1) The cover art: One of the awesome things about old 1970s/80s horror novels is that you can always tell when you’ve found one. Why? Because they have some of the coolest and most distinctive cover art that I’ve ever seen. They look like this:

And, yes, the Shaun Hutson cover is a 2000s reprint. And I haven’t reviewed “Cabal” yet – mostly since I already read it twice when I was younger [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in mid-August].

Not only do these novel covers understand the value of good visual storytelling (seriously, something dramatic is happening in each of them!) but they also use lighting in a really cool way too.

If you’ve done any reading into art history, you’ve probably heard of Tenebrism before – this is a historical style of art (used by artists like Caravaggio and Joseph Wright Of Derby), milder forms of this style also are often called “chiaroscuro”.

Anyway, this is where an artist deliberately adds lots of darkness and shadows to their art in order to make the light/lighting stand out much more boldly by contrast. You can also see this technique on some old heavy metal album covers too. And it looks amazing 🙂

As a side note, although I’m painting realistic landscapes at the moment [Edit: Expect ordinary paintings to start returning more regularly from mid-June onwards], if you ever want to know where I learnt my approach to lighting in most of the art I’ve posted here during the past couple of years, then one of the major influences has been old horror novel covers. So, yes, the cover art from these awesome books can be very inspirational:

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

“Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

2) Splatterpunk: I’ve talked a lot about the splatterpunk genre recently and it never gets old. If you’ve never heard about splatterpunk before, it is a term for a trend within horror fiction during the 1970s-90s that involved moving away from leaving stuff to the reader’s imaginations and towards describing all of the gory details instead.

And, yes, these 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels are gruesome. Seriously, some of them make the “Saw” movies look like Disney films by comparison. But, why is splatterpunk fiction so cool?

There are a few reasons. The first is that it was a brilliantly rebellious reaction to the stricter film censorship of the 1980s (eg: the “Video Nasties” moral panic in the UK). The second reason is because this emphasis on gruesome horror often lends the stories a surprisingly timeless quality (again, modern horror movies seem fairly tame in comparison to some splatterpunk novels).

The third reason is because splatterpunk fiction had an influence on the horror genre as a whole. The fourth reason is because they often had a rather rebellious/subversive attitude towards authority. Finally, they combine the atmospheric narration of traditional horror fiction with the slightly more fast-paced storytelling of an old-school thriller novel.

3) Their popularity: If you’ve done any online reading into the history of horror fiction, you’ll have probably heard of the “horror boom” of the 1970s-90s. This was a time when horror fiction was actually a popular genre of fiction.

And, if you ever saw the woefully slender “horror” shelf of a major UK bookshop during the 2000s/early 2010s (or the way it is sometimes lumped in with “sci-fi & fantasy” – both of which should also get their own dedicated shelves- these days, if it even appears at all), then this history will fill you with both sorrow at the current state of the genre and the hope that one day it will return to it’s former popularity, like a zombie rising from the grave.

Plus, it’s just cool to read horror novels from a time when they were almost mainstream literature 🙂 Seriously, I still can’t get over how cool this is 🙂

4) They’re still very readable: Although some 1970s/80s horror novels haven’t aged well, most of them have aged surprisingly well. One of the really interesting things about a lot of old horror novels is that they rarely seem that “retro”. They often read like more modern stories that just don’t include modern technology.

Although a few of them seem either wonderfully retro or horribly dated when read these days, most of them stand the test of time surprisingly well. This is because, at their core, they are often timeless tales of human drama and/or survival. Likewise, they are often structured in a vaguely similar way to an old-style thriller novel (albeit with a few different narrative techniques) which really helps to keep these stories compelling.

In addition to this, the writing style used in many of these older horror novels is descriptive enough to be atmospheric but “matter of fact” enough to be read at a reasonable pace. Although this writing style is probably a little bit “formal” when compared to modern horror/thriller novels, it is still astonishingly readable even to this day.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting

Five Things I’ve Learnt From Getting Back Into Reading Regularly

As regular readers of this site probably know, I got back into reading regularly about a month and a half before writing this article. This followed a 2-3 year period where I only read infrequently at most (seriously, I’ve read more novels in the past two months than I have in the past two years).

So, I thought that I’d write about some of the things that I’ve learnt from getting back into reading regularly. I’ll also try to avoid repeating anything that I’ve written in previous reading-related articles too.

1) Modern books are actually good: When I was a teenager during the ’00s, I considered it a point of pride that I mostly read old novels from the 1960s-90s. Ok, this was mostly because these were easy (and cheap) to find second-hand. But, I liked to think that there was something inherently better about older books. Kind of like how older computer and video games are faster, cheaper, more challenging/enjoyable and more honest (eg: no micro-transactions etc..) than modern “AAA” games are.

Yes, of course, I also read a few modern books and I also read some modern novels during my twenties too. So, it isn’t like I haven’t read anything modern but, for quite a while, I thought that old books were better than new ones.

Yet, when I recently got back into reading regularly, I’ve actually found myself reading more modern (21st century) books than older books. Yes, I still try to read a mixture of old and new, but I’ve found myself drawn more towards books from the past two decades or so. This really caught me by surprise. And there are a few unexpected reasons for this.

These include things like the fact that the narration in modern books is a lot more streamlined and readable (albeit at the cost of some distinctiveness/descriptive depth), the fact that modern stories will often be a lot more gripping (since they have to compete with games, boxsets, the internet etc.. for people’s attention), the fact that modern stories tend to contain fewer dated elements, the fact that modern paperbacks (eg: from the 2000s and early 2010s) can now be found cheaply second-hand etc…

In short, modern books are actually good. Ok, old books can also be really good too. But, modern books are better than you might think if you’ve mostly read older books.

2) Don’t get too used to one author:
When I first got back into reading regularly, I literally just read Clive Cussler novels. But, after reading about eight of them within a couple of weeks, I suddenly found myself setting a rule that I wouldn’t read two books by the same author in a row. Yes, I’ll still read multiple novels by the same author, but I try to read other books in between each one. But, why?

There are several reasons for this. The first is that even the best writers can get tiresome if you read too many of their books in a relatively short space of time. After binge-reading eight Clive Cussler novels, I haven’t read a single one since. Every time I’ve thought about it, I’ve just thought “oh god, more of the same…“. So, variety is the spice of life. If you want one of your favourite authors to remain interesting, then read other authors too.

Secondly, it makes you better at reading. Although it can be tempting to find an author you love and settle into reading lots of their books, the relaxing ease that comes from getting too used to one writer’s narrative style can really come back to bite you when you run out of books by that author and have to read something different. Reading different authors regularly means that you have to constantly adapt to different narrative styles, which means that – after a bit of practice- you’ll find reading different books easier than you might do if you just stick to one or two authors.

Thirdly, reading lots of different authors means that you get to see one of the strengths of the written word. In other words, seeing how lots of different people tell stories shows you how much of a “personality” books have when compared to films, TV shows, videogames etc… It shows you that books are one of the most human forms of creativity out there.

3) Let books win you back: Although reading is often seen as some kind of “sophisticated” activity that is better than watching films, playing games etc.., you’ve got to actually find this out for yourself. Seriously, don’t just treat it as received wisdom. You won’t really know whether it is true until you put it to the test.

In other words, have a basis for comparison. One of the good side-effects of watching lots of TV shows/films, playing lots of games etc.. during the 2-3 years when I didn’t read many novels was that – when I returned to reading regularly – I could quite literally feel the difference. Books not only had that immersive feeling that I’d sought so hard in games and TV shows, but they were also cheaper and more gripping too. Likewise, I was delighted when I found that an old book like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” could be just as atmospheric as a brilliant film like “Blade Runner“.

Yes, I’ll still play games (in fact, there will probably be a “Doom II” level review posted here tomorrow) and watch TV shows, because these are fun things too. But, after getting back into reading regularly, I’ve found myself feeling less drawn to these things than I was a couple of years ago. Seriously, after reading a few novels, I watched an episode of a familiar detective TV show and found the story, characters etc… to be a lot more “shallow” than I expected. So, the lesson here is to let books win you back. Read books that you enjoy and you’ll find that they’re as good as, or better than, other forms of entertainment.

4) Books are less “edgy” these days: One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about the more modern books that I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly is that they’re often a bit less “edgy” than older books from the 1970s-90s can often be.

For example, a 2010s horror thriller novel like Jocyelnn Drake’s amazing “Wait For Dusk” might still be noticeably steamier and more gruesome than the average Hollywood horror movie but, compared to an old 1980s horror thriller novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” or a 1990s horror novel like Poppy Z. Brite’s “Exquisite Corpse”, it’s relatively tame.

Yet, this isn’t quite the bad thing that I’d feared that it might be. The slight decline in edginess in modern books usually just means that writers have to rely on more sophisticated things than “shock value” to hold the reader’s interest. This usually results in deeper and more gripping stories.

Likewise, the fact that film/TV censorship has thankfully become more relaxed during the past couple of decades means that modern books don’t have to be edgy in order to set themselves apart from film/TV. Whilst this may sound like it’s a bad thing for books, it just means that the “edgy” elements of modern books carry more dramatic weight because they stand out more when compared to their more frequent/intensive use in older novels.

5) Don’t judge a book by it’s cover:
Ok, this is a really obvious one, but I have been reminded of the wisdom of this old saying at least once or twice since I got back into reading regularly.

For example, the novel that I mentioned earlier – “Wait For Dusk” by Jocelynn Drake – has some mildly salacious cover art that makes it look like the kind of novel that is best read in private. Yet, aside from about 5-10 pages, the cover art doesn’t reflect the actual story. For the most part, the novel is this brilliantly gripping and complex horror thriller story that is kind of like a mixture of “Underworld” and “Game Of Thrones”, but way better! Yet, if you just glanced at the cover art, you’d probably mistakenly think “it’s an *ahem*… adult… novel” and miss out on a brilliant story.

So, yes, choose your books based on the genre, the blurb, the author, multiple reviews etc… rather than the cover art. Because, even during the 2010s, cover art can sometimes tell a very different story to the book that it’s attached to.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂