Review: “Cabal” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d revisit an old favourite today 🙂 Ever since I got back into reading regularly again several months ago, I’ve meant to re-read this book again, but have always got distracted by other books. I am, of course talking about Clive Barker’s 1988 horror masterpiece “Cabal” 🙂

This book and I have a rather strange history. I first found this cool-looking book in a charity shop in Waterlooville when I was about fourteen or fifteen. However, shortly after I bought it, I found that the inside cover illustration terrified me so much that I didn’t dare to open the book again.

About three or four years later, I discovered Cradle Of Filth’s “Midian” album and learnt that it was inspired by “Cabal”. I then read the novel twice in about as many years. Not to mention that the tagline from the cover also appeared in a nightmare that I had about a decade ago too. So, I’m honestly surprised it has taken me this long to re-read it for a third time.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Cabal”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1989 Fontana (UK) paperback edition of “Cabal” that I read.

The novel begins in Canada, with a mentally ill man called Boone meeting his psychiatrist, Decker. To Boone’s shock, Decker tells him that – under hypnosis – he has confessed to a series of grisly murders. Although Boone cannot remember the crimes, Decker seems to have evidence of them and inisists on talking more with Boone about them before he goes to the police.

Racked with guilt, Boone throws himself in front of a truck. However, he survives and wakes up in hospital. There is another man in the room with him, a strange man called Narcisse who has metal hooks attached to his thumbs. Narcisse tells Boone about a place called Midian, a fabled sanctuary for the strange and monstrous. Then, as Boone watches in horror, Narcisse removes own his face.

In the chaos and panic that follows, Boone slips out of the hospital and decides to search for Midian….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was even better than I remembered 🙂 If you like atmospheric, intelligent, well-written, subversive, timeless and fantastical horror fiction, then you need to read this book. Seriously, it’s the kind of book that lingers in your imagination and improves with every reading of it. It is the kind of book where, even if you know what is going to happen, you’ll still want to read it again and again.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and what a feast of fear it is 🙂 This novel contains an exquisitely dark mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, suspenseful horror, gothic horror, paranormal horror, dark fantasy, body horror, slasher movie-style horror, psychological horror, social horror and character-based horror. But, interestingly, this is one of those novels that comforts as much as it horrifies.

In essence, it is a gleefully subversive story about misfits and mainstream society. Unlike more traditional horror stories, this is a story about a group of strange creatures trying to protect themselves from the cold evil of mainstream society and all of it’s authority figures. Although some of the creatures in this novel may be monstrous in appearance and/or deeds, the true monsters of this novel are all too human. In other words, this novel is a bit like “Blade Runner” (thematically, at least. It isn’t a sci-fi story) , but from the replicants’ perspective. And it is awesome 🙂

Like with Barker’s “Weaveworld“, this novel is a giant middle finger to the mundane and the mainstream. It is a furious critique of a narrow-minded mainstream society that hypocritically condemns what it considers to be “strange” without ever glancing inwards.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the novel’s main villain, Decker. Although he appears to be a respectable psychiatrist, it is revealed surprisingly early in the story that he is actually a serial killer (who is trying to frame Boone for his crimes). Not only is Decker an incredibly chilling character, but one of the most horrifying elements of the story is how easily he is able to blend into mainstream society and enlist the help of policemen etc.. to do his bidding.

This novel is also an incredibly well-written and atmospheric story too, with so many wonderfully evocative descriptions and intriguing locations that you’ll probably want to visit Midian again and again.

Seriously, although the novel’s third-person narration may appear a little bit formal or elaborate when read today, it flows really well and is an absolutely beautiful mixture of formal descriptions, impish irreverence and fast-paced matter-of-factness. Seriously, Clive Barker has an absolutely amazing narrative voice 🙂

Another cool thing about the older edition of “Cabal” that I read is that it also contains some illustrations by Barker himself. Although the front and inside cover art is by a different artist, the illustrations within the novel itself are these eerily symmetrical and surreal Rorschach ink blot type drawings in Barker’s unique art style. They’re illustrative enough to add atmosphere and personality to the book, but infrequent and mysterious enough to allow the reader to picture the story in their own way.

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant 🙂 This is one of those novels where the main characters (eg: Boone, his girlfriend Lori, Narcisse and the inhabitants of Midian) are intriguing, flawed, sympathetic, complicated characters who really feel real when you read about them.

They’re characters with histories, emotions, libidos, introspection and all of these wonderfully human qualities. This contrasts really well with the novel’s incredibly creepy villains, who are motivated by things like authority, sadism, conformity etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. Usually, I praise books for being short. This novel is a very rare exception. At a slender 253 pages in length and with an intriguing open ending, this novel feels like a mere fragment of a much longer story.

It’s the kind of compelling, gripping story that will make you want to read more (and, despite the formal narration, this novel is a surprisingly quick read). So, you will probably feel a little bit disappointed that it ends when it does. Even so, by leaving the reader wanting more, “Cabal” is the kind of book that you’ll return to again and again.

In terms of how this thirty-one year old novel had aged, it has aged astonishingly well. Thanks to the novel’s fantastical elements, themes and character-based drama, it is pretty much timeless. Yes, it is written in a slightly formal (but beautiful) way, there are a couple of mildly dated moments and the story has a slightly “80s” atmosphere to it. But, the story, characters, atmosphere etc… are wonderfully timeless 🙂

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece 🙂 Seriously, the only real criticism I can make of it is that it is too short. If you love intelligent, atmospheric, beautifully-written and imaginative horror fiction, then you need to read this book 🙂 Or re-read it again.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂


Review: “The Scarlet Gospels” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Back in 2015, I was delighted when I heard that a new horror novel by Clive Barker had been released 🙂 Not only that, it was also a sequel to Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” – the novella he used as a basis for the film “Hellraiser“.

Unfortunately, I heard this awesome news during the 3-4 year period when I didn’t read much. But, I added “The Scarlet Gospels” to my list of books that I meant to read sometime.

Yet, when I got back into reading regularly again, it took me more than fifty novels before I eventually got round to reading another Clive Barker novel (one from the 1980s called “Weaveworld). It was then that I remembered “The Scarlet Gospels” and, to my delight, I was able to find a cheap second-hand hardback copy of it online 🙂 So, this review has been a long time coming 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “The Scarlet Gospels”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Macmillan (UK) hardback edition of “The Scarlet Gospels” that I read.

The novel begins in a gloomy, candlelit crypt. Five magicians have gathered around the grave of their fallen friend, Joseph Ragowski, in order to raise him from the dead. When – much to his annoyance – Ragowski returns to the realm of the living, the news isn’t good. The five magicians who raised him are the only magicians who are still alive. Something has been systematically killing the world’s magicians and stealing their knowledge. Something that has just found the crypt…….

Meanwhile, hard-boiled paranormal detective Harry D’Amour is drinking in a bar in New Orleans and reminiscing about his past. He has been sent to the city by his old friend Norma, a blind medium who has been contacted by the ghost of a recently-deceased lawyer who wants someone to get rid of his secret occult love nest before his family find out about it.

When Harry finds the house, everything seems relatively normal. But, after a bit of searching, Harry finds a secret chamber filled with magical grimoires. And, whilst searching this hidden room, he finds a mysterious puzzle box that starts to solve itself…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is Wow! Oh my god, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it might lack some of the sophistication of Barker’s earlier works, but it more than makes up for this by being this utterly badass combination of an old-school splatterpunk horror novel, a hardboiled noir detective story, a heavy metal action thriller that could give the original “Doom” a run for it’s money, an epic dark fantasy story, a cheesy late-night horror movie and so much more 🙂 This novel is one of the coolest novels I’ve read in a long time.

I guess that I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. First of all, imagine the movie “Hellraiser”. Compared to this novel, “Hellraiser” is a Disney movie. In addition to some intriguing paranormal horror and some delightfully grotesque body horror, this novel is the kind of gloriously over-the-top ultra-gruesome splatterpunk novel that could easily have come from the 1980s 🙂 Seriously, imagine all of the grisly horrors of the original “Hellraiser” movie, but turned up to eleven, and you might begin to come close to the macabre majesty of this novel! Seriously, this is a Clive Barker novel 🙂

But, although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it is a joy for any fan of the horror genre to behold 🙂 The novel is saturated in gothic darkness, “film noir” gloom, cackling malevolence and diabolical delights. It is the kind of novel where, like in any good 1980s/90s horror movie, you can practically feel the ominously gloomy lighting. It is the kind of gloriously uncensored, over-the-top, darkly imaginative medley of the macabre that will probably cause you to grin with immature, rebellious delight for at least an hour or two after reading the first half of the story.

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it’s a thriller novel. Yes, it slows down a little bit in some of the later parts, but it is about a million miles away from the slightly slower and more contemplative fiction that Barker is famous for.

The first half of the book is a little bit like one of those awesome noir-influenced gothic horror thriller movies from the 1980s/1990s like “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Angel Heart” or something like that. The second half of the book is kind of like a cheesy heavy metal-influenced 1980s dark fantasy epic 🙂 Seriously, this story is a lot more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are kind of interesting too. Although the novel starts out like a really cool urban fantasy novel, it eventually turns into more of a dark fantasy/high fantasy story.

Even though the scenes set in hell initially seem to be pulled straight from a heavy metal music video or a level of the original “Doom” (which certainly isn’t a bad thing), the novel’s mythos gradually becomes a bit more interesting and a fair number of the hellish locations and creatures display some of Barker’s uniquely twisted imagination 🙂 Likewise, the novel also includes a rather interesting take on the topic of Lucifer too, and some truly epic scenes later in the story too 🙂

Yes, compared to the sophisticated imagination of some other Clive Barker novels like “Weaveworld”, “Abarat” etc.. this novel isn’t as unique or imaginative. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t matter. It’s a badass, fast-paced horror thriller novel that is almost like heavy metal music in book form. Yes, some aspects of the location design might be a little bit cheesy or cliched (eg: a building covered in lots of spikes, which are also covered in spikes etc..) but this is half of the fun of a story like this 🙂

Another cool thing about this novel is that, like any good Clive Barker novel, it isn’t for the prudish or narrow-minded either 🙂 In addition to taking a glorious delight in frequent descriptions of the male anatomy, this novel is the kind of story that is both gleefully anti-conservative and “politically incorrect” as hell. Seriously, this novel is a rebellious delight 🙂

As for the characters, they’re something of a mixed bag. Whilst many of the supporting characters (eg: a muscular tattooist, a cute guy from New Orleans, a medium etc..) don’t really get that much characterisation, this kind of lends the story a wonderful “cheesy B-movie”-like quality. Plus, it leaves more room for the stars of the story to really shine. Whilst Harry D’Amour is a typical hard-boiled detective, the real star of this story is the Hell Priest. Or, as he hates to be called, Pinhead.

And, yes, if you’ve seen Doug Bradley’s performance as this character in “Hellraiser”, then this novel will be such a delight to read 🙂 In addition to having lots of wonderfully malevolent lines of dialogue, the Hell Priest also has a really interesting story arc which really helps to explore and define this mysterious monster. In a story that mirrors Lucifer’s fall from heaven, he is a chillingly tragic figure whose ruthless ambition proves to be his undoing.

As for the writing in this novel, it works surprisingly well. Whilst some parts of the novel’s third-person narration have the kind of rich, descriptive style that you’d expect to see in a Clive Barker novel, other parts of the story are written in a more unsophisticated and “matter of fact” kind of way. This helps to keep the story reasonably fast-paced and, although some of the story’s dialogue is corny (even by B-movie standards), the less sophisticated parts of the narration really help to add some fun to the story. Seriously, as long as you don’t go into this novel expecting to read a work of literary fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy the narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 From what I’ve read about the long history of this novel, it was originally going to be a giant tome at one point. Fortunately, the hardback edition I read had been edited down to a much more efficient 361 pages 🙂 Not only does this help to keep the story streamlined and gripping, but it also means that the pacing is really good too. Yes, it slows down a little in some of the later parts, but for the most part, this is very much a thriller novel 🙂

All in all, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it isn’t as sophisticated as some of Barker’s older stuff. But, this is like comparing an elaborate classical symphony to a modern album by a 1980s heavy metal band. Yes, one might be more complex and sophisticated, but the other is a lot more fun to listen to. And, yes, this what I love about this novel. It is fun. It is a gloriously over-the-top heavy metal horror movie of a novel 🙂 And it is just so much fun to read 🙂

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

Review: “Weaveworld” By Clive Barker (Novel)

It has been way too long since I last read a Clive Barker novel! I think that the last time was in late 2010/early 2011 when I started reading the third “Abarat” novel one evening, only to leave it half-finished because I couldn’t bear the idea of the story ending. I moved on to other books for a couple of years, but that was the last Clive Barker novel I read for quite a while.

Then, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, it took me something like fifty-four books before I finally read another Clive Barker novel. Sure, I’d thought about re-reading “Cabal” a few times but, since I’ve already read it twice, I felt like reading something else instead [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in August 🙂 ]. Then, a week or two before I wrote this review, I found my old copy of Barker’s 1987 dark fantasy novel “Weaveworld”.

This was a book I’d found in a charity shop or a second-hand shop during my late teens/early twenties. I’d probably meant to read it at the time, but I held back because I’d heard that it wasn’t a horror novel (unlike the other Barker novels I’d read). Over time, I forgot about it. It became one book amongst the piles of books. Then I found it again. So, yes, this review has been a long time coming.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Weaveworld”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1988 Fontana (UK) paperback edition of “Weaveworld” that I read.

The story begins in Liverpool, where a man called Cal Mooney is tending to his elderly father’s pigeons. One of them escapes and Cal gives chase. Soon, it becomes clear that the pigeon has joined a giant flock of birds who are converging on an abandoned house that is being gutted by removal men. The pigeon perches on a windowsill outside the house.

Since Cal can’t open the window from inside, he tries to climb up the wall of the house to get the pigeon. As he gets close, the removal men take a carpet out of the house and inspect it. At that moment, Cal falls. As he descends, the carpet seems to come alive and he glimpses an entire world within it before he hits the ground. Although he is mostly unharmed, he cannot shake the memory of what he saw when he was falling…..

Whilst all of this is going on, two ominously mysterious people called Immacolata and Shadwell have an intriguingly cryptic conversation and, in London, a woman called Suzanna Parrish recieves an urgent letter from her grandmother in Liverpool…

One of the first things that I will say about “Weaveworld” is that it is the quintessential Clive Barker novel. Everything from the beautifully grotesque horror of “The Hellbound Heart”, the themes of “Cabal”, the metafiction of “Mister B. Gone”, the bewitching seduction of “Coldheart Canyon” and the magical wonderment of “Abarat” can be found inside this one novel.

It’s a beautiful, profound, intelligent, libidinous, subversive and awe-inspiringly fantastical saga that is expertly melded with twisted, grotesque horror and gripping suspense. This novel is Clive Barker. No other imagination could have produced it. Yes, it isn’t quite a horror novel – but it isn’t exactly a typical “swords and sorcery” fantasy novel either. It is a Clive Barker novel. And I’d almost forgotten how awesome they are.

You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned forgetting stuff quite a lot in this review. This is because it is one of the novel’s most intriguing themes. Unlike pretty much every story I’ve ever read, this novel focuses on how easy it can be to forget magical, wonderous and astonishing things as the mundane march of everyday life continues. And I absolutely love the way that this timelessly universal theme is handled in this novel (seriously, it’s a pretty central part of the story). But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I should probably start by talking about the story’s genre elements. This novel is a beautifully seamless blend of a fantasy, horror and thriller novel. Even though the novel’s horror elements take a little bit of a back seat most of the time, they include a really interesting blend of gory horror, grotesque horror, body horror, sexual horror, gothic horror, authoritarian horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and paranormal horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, these exquisitely disturbing horror elements certainly help to add some dark drama to the story.

The novel’s fantasy elements are absolutely amazing. If your idea of fantasy is the traditional “swords and sorcery” stuff or more modern urban fantasy, then you’re in for a joyous surprise here 🙂 Although it would take far too long to explain the novel’s complex (but well-explained and well-developed) mythos here, it is both very different and very similar to everything that has come before or since.

This novel is partially inspired by traditional things like fairytales, “Alice In Wonderland” etc.. but it also has a maturity, complexity, imagination and depth to it that far surpasses these things. In other words, this is a truly unique and imaginative dark fantasy story. If you love computer games like “American McGee’s Alice” and “The Longest Journey” or graphic novels like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman“, then you’ll be well and truly at home here 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements are really good too. Despite the more literary narration, the intellectual depth and the breathtakingly beautiful imagined worlds, this is a thriller novel. And a really gripping one too! For example, a lot of the earlier parts of the novel focus on two groups of people trying to find and take control of the carpet before the other one does. In addition to this, there’s also plenty of gripping suspense, thrilling drama, dramatic confrontations, shorter chapters etc.. too. Seriously, despite the “slow” writing style in some parts, this is a much faster-paced novel than you might expect!

As for the characters, they’re absolutely brilliant – with all of the story’s characters having unique personalities and realistic motivations. It would take too long to talk about all of the characters here, but this is the kind of story where you’ll find yourself really caring about what happens to all of the characters. Even the villains.

Another interesting thing about this novel is how much all of the characters develop and change as the story progresses. Not only do the main characters (Cal and Suzanna) emerge from the story as very different people to who they were at the beginning, but even the story’s villains have complex, poignant character arcs too.

For example, Shadwell gradually goes from being a sleazier and more pathetic version of Mr.Dark from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to being a chilling dictator/demagogue to being a vengeful sociopath to eventually being a weak, pitiable and impotent figure.

Likewise, a character called Hobart starts off as a mercilessly satirical portrayal of a 1980s policeman (he’s authoritarian, violent, mean-spirited, racist etc..), before we slowly start to see more tragic elements of his character which eventually make him more of a figure of pity by the end of the story.

Plus, Immacolata goes from being a fairly clear-cut “villain” character at the beginning of the story to a more complex, and even vaguely sympathetic, character as the story progresses. And, even the giant fearsome monster at the end of the story has an utterly beautiful character arc which will probably make you cry.

In terms of the writing, it is absolutely brilliant. This novel’s third-person is written in Barker’s uniquely playful way, which can quickly alternate between awe-inspiringly beautiful formal descriptions, thrillingly fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and gleefully impish informality in the blink of an eye. This novel is beautifully written. It remains grippingly readable and wonderfully atmospheric at all times, whilst also not being afraid to be irreverently funny, fearlessly crude, deeply profound or intelligently mature whenever the situation calls for it.

This novel also has a lot of thematic depth too. I’ve already talked about the theme of forgetting, but there are so many other themes here too. Not only is this a novel about the magic of stories and imagination, but it’s also a brilliantly subversive and satirical novel about how authority corrupts people (or, more accurately, how authority allows evil people to become even more evil). It’s a novel about myth and religion. It’s a novel about gender. It’s a novel about desires. It’s the kind of novel which starts in summer and ends in winter. I could go on for quite a while…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ridiculously long (722 pages!!!) – but it remains compelling and gripping throughout. It also crams a lot of storytelling into those 722 pages. Seriously, reading this novel is kind of like binge-watching several seasons of a really good TV show. Likewise, although the narration can get rather complex and formal at times, the story is surprisingly fast-paced for such a sophisticated story. Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a quick read.

In terms of how this thirty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Yes, some rather dated words/descriptions appear infrequently, and the whole novel has a rather understated “1980s” atmosphere to it – but, for the most part, this novel is timeless.

Not only does this novel focus on timeless human drama and timeless themes, but the novel’s fantastical elements are also brilliantly timeless too. Not only are they as ageless as a fairytale, but the novel’s moments of wonder and magic are still more impressive than the average CGI-filled modern movie. In addition to this, the novel’s plot is still incredibly gripping to this day and the narration is still very readable and very beautiful.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. It is also, as I mentioned earlier, the quintessential Clive Barker novel. If you want a novel that is like a “best of” compilation of what makes Barker such a brilliant, unique and awe-inspiring author, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want intelligent, atmospheric, subversive, unique and imaginative fantasy fiction, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want a quirky, gripping tale, then read “Weaveworld”. Yes, it’s a really long novel, but it is well worth reading nonetheless.

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

Three Reasons Why Physical Media Is Awesome

Although there are certainly a lot of things to be said for digital media (for starters, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I actually had to publish it as a physical magazine), I thought that I’d talk about physical media today.

This is mostly because, I definately prefer certain things on physical media (eg: paperback novels, DVD boxsets etc..). Physical media is absolutely awesome for a whole host of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) Discovering random signed things: One of the cool things about physical media is that writers, musicians etc.. can actually sign it. What this means is that sometimes you can end up inadvertently buying a signed copy of something new or second-hand. Yes, it doesn’t happen that often, but it can certainly happen.

My most recent experience of this happened the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. This was mostly because I ended up finding my CD copy of Cradle Of Filth’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” after feeling slightly nostalgic about the album.

I’d bought it in Aberystwyth during the late ’00s and I wanted to relive my memories of that time. Since the album was new at the time (and I was a little wealthier then), I ended up getting the special edition version.

Whilst the discs were still fine, my present-day self was annoyed that the special edition has some rather flimsy cardboard packaging. However, I soon stopped being annoyed when I tilted the back of the sleeve slightly and noticed a small signature in black ink against the dark brown cardboard. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before! Ok, I couldn’t work out if it was an actual signed copy or whether the signature had just been printed on the sleeve, but it was a really cool surprise nonetheless.

Here’s a close-up, featuring the signature in question. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a “proper” signature or whether it was just printed onto the CD cover.

But, my coolest memory of accidentally finding a signed copy was when I bought an old second-hand copy of Shaun Hutson‘s “Victims” from a market stall in Truro during a holiday in Cornwall when I was a teenager. When I opened it a while later, the first thing that greeted me was none other than the signature of my favourite author at the time! Needless to say, I was amazed!

Seriously, seeing THIS for the first time was such a cool moment! Although, annoyingly, it seemed like such a cool thing that I didn’t dare to sully this precious object by actually reading the novel. Still, this is something you can’t experience with e-books.

Amusingly, a few years later, I later found several signed hardback copies of one of Hutson’s books (“Twisted Souls”, I think) in the bargain bin of a sadly-defunct bookshop in Aberystwyth called Galloways. At first, I’d just bought one copy but, as soon as I learnt that it was signed, I made the decision to trudge back into town the next day to buy the other copies of it in the bargain bin (I can’t remember if I followed through with this or not, but I bought at least one extra copy of it. Alas, it is lost amongst my piles of books though).

But, yes, this is an experience which you can only really have with physical media.

2) Second-hand stuff (is awesome for so many reasons!): This is a fairly obvious one, but you can actually buy second-hand copies of physical media. Yes, sites that sell digital goods will occasionally reduce the prices of older things and occasionally have sales, but it isn’t really quite the same.

For starters, there’s something wonderfully democratic about second-hand copies of things. Yes, you can’t keep up to date with everything if you mostly buy second-hand copies, but the fact that you can buy decent quantities of books, DVDs etc… at sensible prices is absolutely brilliant if you are on a budget. It’s what has allowed me to build up a fairly decent DVD library these days and to build up a decent collection of novels when I was younger.

Secondly, although I mostly order second-hand things online these days, one cool thing about second-hand stuff was the experience of actually visiting the shops that sell it – whether that was dedicated second-hand shops or just charity shops. These places are awesome for so many reasons. Not only do second-hand bookshops have really cool “old”/ “non-corporate” atmosphere to them, but they are also places where serendipity can happen.

What I mean by this is that you have no way of knowing what they do or don’t stock. And, in the pre-smartphone age (or the present day if you avoid these irritating gadgets like the plague), if you found a book that you’d never heard of before then you had to judge whether it would be any good by looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. And, since the prices were fairly sensible, there was more of an incentive to take a chance on unknown authors. Yes, sometimes this didn’t work out, but sometimes it did. Of course, on the internet (where you have to actively search for specific things), it is a lot more difficult to have an experience like this.

Thirdly, there’s the historical element of it. Even though I only really “discovered” second-hand books during my teenage years during the 2000s, I got quite the education in 1980s-90s horror novels, 1950s-60s science fiction novels etc… for the simple reason that these cool historical relics were cheaply available in second-hand and charity shops.

Finally, second-hand copies (and physical media in general) are awesome because they put the consumer in control! To give you an example, it isn’t exactly unheard of for companies to remotely delete e-books from people’s e-readers (yes, the news report is almost a decade old and this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still creepy that they can do it in the first place). So, physical media ensures that the consumer is in control, as they should be!

3) Cover Art: Although I only really even began to get serious about being an artist in 2012, I’d already had much more of an art education than I knew. This was, of course, all thanks to physical media. Or, more specifically, cover art.

Yes, digital media will sometimes try to include “cover art” by including digital image files. But, having physical copies is also kind of like owning a collection of art prints too. Seriously, cover art is one of the most under-appreciated types of art out there!

Not only that, thanks to my preference for second-hand and/or slightly older things, I got to see a lot of cover art from the 1980s and 1990s. And, wow, people certainly knew how to make good cover art back then! To give you an example, here’s the cover art for the 1989 UK paperback edition of Clive Barker’s “Cabal“:

Seriously, the cover art for this paperback edition of “Cabal” could almost be a movie poster! Not only does this cover art make effective use of high-contrast lighting, but it also uses a complementary orange/blue colour scheme too.

In fact, one of the major parts of my art style can be directly attributed to cover art. Virtually all of my art uses high-contrast lighting (my rule is that 30-50% of the total surface area of each of my paintings has to be covered with black paint), and it looks a bit like this:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

And this is a direct result of seeing numerous horror novel covers, heavy metal album covers, VHS/DVD covers etc… over the years. Although I couldn’t name that many famous artists when I was younger, my artistic tastes and sensibilites were already being unknowingly moulded and shaped by physical media.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Writing Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

2014 Artwork Writing splatterpunk sketch

I can’t believe that this blog has been going for over a year and a half and I still haven’t written a proper article about writing splatterpunk horror fiction.

(Note: before I go any further, I should point out that whilst I’ll try to keep disturbing descriptions to a minimum in this article, this is an article about gruesome horror fiction – so reader discretion is advised.)

Although I don’t seem to have written much in the way of horror fiction over the past few years, my first writing-based ambition was to be a splatterpunk writer. In fact, if it wasn’t for rebelliously reading lots of second-hand splatterpunk novels when I was a young teenager, I’d have probably never really become interested in writing.

So, what is splatterpunk? Put simply, splatterpunk is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was at it’s most popular in the 80s and 90s. In general, splatterpunk fiction is horror fiction that focuses on being as gory, shocking and grotesque as possible.

Seriously, if your idea of a “shocking” horror novel is something by Stephen King, then splatterpunk isn’t for you. Likewise, if you were one of the people who fainted during a screening of “Saw III”, then it isn’t for you either.

Yes, because (in the UK and the US at least) there is thankfully little to no censorship of literature, a good splatterpunk novel from the 80s or 90s can easily be far more gruesome than most modern “extreme” horror movies are.

Seriously, a faithful film adaptation of the very first splatterpunk novel I ever read – Shaun Hutson’s “Assassin” – would probably still be banned even today.

If you’re totally new to splatterpunk fiction, here are a few other books which are worth checking out: “The Books Of Blood” by Clive Barker, “The Rats” by James Herbert, “Exquisite Corpse” by Poppy Z. Brite, “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig and “Slicer” by Garth Marenghi.

So, how do you write it?

Well, first of all, you need to read enough of it in order to get a good sense of which description style that you like. Although splatterpunk novels thankfully aren’t literary fiction, the gory parts of these novels are usually described in a way that would put most literary novelists to shame.

Yes, writing splatterpunk is an art form – but with blood instead of paint. And, like any art form, different writers have slightly different descriptive “styles” when it comes to describing these scenes.

For example, Shaun Hutson tends to go for a slightly more “matter-of-fact” and “medical” descriptive style and he’ll sometimes use the Latin names for various parts of the body. The scapula bone and vitreous humour are his favourite parts of the body to describe, if I remember rightly.

Whereas, Clive Barker uses a slightly more metaphorical style in the gruesome parts of his splatterpunk stories, like this (fairly tame) example from volume one of “The Books Of Blood”: ‘Mahogany felt the blade in his neck as a choking sensation, almost as though he had caught a chicken bone in the throat. He made a ridiculous half-hearted coughing sound. Blood issued from his lips, painting them, like lipstick on a woman’s mouth‘.

So, read a lot of splatterpunk novels to get a sense of which descriptive style (or which combination of styles) seems best to you and then use it.

Secondly, you need to have a good understanding of pacing. Although the main feature of splatterpunk fiction is the gory descriptions, you can’t just fill literally every page of your story with blood and guts and say that you’ve written a good splatterpunk novel.

Like with using profanity in fiction, every time you show something gruesome in your story, subsequent gruesome scenes will lose a little bit of their dramatic impact. So, place the gruesome scenes in your story carefully.

If you want a great example of masterful splatterpunk pacing, then check out a novel called “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami. It only contains one gory scene – which is probably slightly tame by splatterpunk standards.

But it feels about ten times more shocking than similar scenes in other splatterpunk novels because Murakami spends almost the entire novel building up to this one scene.

Finally, you need to have a good imagination. Or rather, you need to have a fairly twisted imagination that can create new horrors that will shock even the most cynical and jaded splatterpunk fans.

Yes, splatterpunk fiction might not seem like a hotbed of originality and creative thought, but it takes more effort than you might think to shock fans of the genre. And, yes, these will be the people who will be reading your splatterpunk story.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂