Review: “Dying Words” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Shortly after I’d finished reading Shaun Hutson’s “Last Rites“, I wanted to read some more of Hutson’s novels from the 2000s. And, after looking online, I found a cheap second-hand copy of Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words”.

I wasn’t sure if I’d already read this novel back in the day (I probably did), but it intrigued me enough to buy a copy…. which then promptly languished on my “to read” pile for about three months. But, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies“, I wanted to read something a bit more fast-paced. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

So, let’s take a look at “Dying Words”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Dying Words” that I read.

The novel begins in London with a high-speed car chase. Detective Inspector David Birch is in pursuit of a serial killer and he’s damned if he’s going to let him go. After leaving a trail of destruction, the killer gets out of his car, draws a knife and flees – cutting down anyone who gets in his way. Birch gives chase. Finally, there is a tense stand-off in an underground station – which ends with Birch gleefully throwing the disarmed killer onto the electrified rails.

Meanwhile, a biographer called Megan Hunter is discussing her latest historical book about a little-known Renaissance thinker called Giacomo Cassano with her editor Frank. Compared to Dante and Caravaggio, no-one has heard of Cassano, and Megan hopes that her book will change this.

Back at the police station, Birch is called to the Commissioner’s office to account for his actions. After giving Birch a scare, the Commissioner eventually decides to turn a blind eye to the serial killer’s suspicious death.

A while later, Birch is called out to investigate a new case. Frank has been brutally murdered, yet there is no evidence of anyone else leaving or entering the locked room that he died in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant, but intriguingly different, Shaun Hutson novel. Although it still contains the horror and thriller elements you’d expect from a Shaun Hutson novel, this novel is actually more of a detective novel most of the time. And this works surprisingly well. Likewise, this novel is also an intriguing piece of metafiction, an awesome heavy metal novel and a wonderfully evocative piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. Apart from the beginning and the ending, this novel mostly takes a fairly “realistic” attitude towards detection, with large parts of the story involving Birch interviewing people, examining crime scenes, talking to other detectives and following up on leads. In a lot of ways, this novel is kind of like a cross between a drama and a gritty police procedural. And, surprisingly, this works really well – with the “locked room mystery” elements also helping to add some intrigue to the story too.

Likewise, this novel is also a really good horror novel too. Although it isn’t really that scary, there’s a really brilliant mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, creepy implied horror, suspenseful horror, atmospheric horror, criminal horror, medical horror and some paranormal horror … all of which gradually engulf what initially appears to be a fairly “ordinary” detective story 🙂 Seriously, this is one of the best blendings of the detective and horror genres that I’ve seen in a while.

As mentioned earlier, “Dying Words” is also a work of metafiction too – and it works really brilliantly. Although it initially appears to be a rather cynical satire about the publishing business and about critics (of which I now seem to be one), the novel also covers topics like the power of books, the power of authors and the nature of creativity itself too.

In addition to this, one fun element of the story is that one of the characters is a horror author called Paxton. Although I initially thought that this was an author insert, it’s probably more of a self-parody and/or a parody of the popular image of horror authors. Plus, there’s an absolutely brilliant description of one of Paxton’s books being launched, which is wonderfully evocative of the genre’s heyday in the 1970s-90s (which, sadly, I only discovered belatedly via second-hand books during the ’00s).

This novel is also a brilliant piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂 Everything from the cynical description of a “misery memoir”, to some of the fashions (eg: Megan’s boho chic outfit in one scene), to the general atmosphere of the story, to the vaguely “Silent Hill 3“-style settings in one part of the novel, to the mentions of CDs/DVDs, to the blissful absence of smartphones etc… is gloriously reminiscent of an era of history that popular nostalgia hasn’t quite reached yet.

So, if you miss the mid-2000s (and, back then, I never thought that I’d say those words… Wow, the present day sucks!), then this novel is well worth reading for nostalgia alone.

This novel is also a heavy metal novel too 🙂 In addition to some utterly brilliant Iron Maiden references (especially to this song) that are integrated into the story in a really cool way, there are also possible references to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” too 🙂 Seriously, it’s always brilliant to read a novel by an author with such good taste in music \m/ 🙂 \m/

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good and they all come across as fairly realistic – if somewhat stylised – people. Although, like in Hutson’s “Last Rites”, many of the characters have tragic backstories – this element isn’t emphasised quite as much in this novel, which helps to stop the story’s emotional tone from becoming too bleak or depressing (still, don’t expect a cheerful tale. This is a Shaun Hutson novel, after all).

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is a really interesting mixture of the more descriptive (and slightly formal) style that Hutson used in his classic 1980s horror novels and the faster, grittier and more “matter of fact” style that he used in his 1990s/2000s thriller novels. Still, this novel mostly tends be more like a classic-style Hutson novel in terms of the writing.

Interestingly, this novel only partially includes some of Hutson’s trademark phrases though (eg: the word “cleft” appears, but I didn’t notice the word “liquescent” anywhere). Still, it includes the brilliant description “mucoid snorting” at one point.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 357 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel that much longer than Hutson’s classic 1980s fiction. The novel’s pacing is handled in a really interesting way too. Both the beginning and ending are as fast-paced as a good thriller novel, whereas the pacing of the rest of the novel is much closer to that of a horror or detective novel. This contrast works really well, since it helps to build suspense and make the thrilling segments of the novel even more fast-paced by comparison 🙂

All in all, this is a brilliantly enjoyable novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit different to pretty much every other Shaun Hutson novel, but at the same time it is also very much a Hutson novel. If you want a really interesting mixture of the detective, thriller and horror genres, if you want some intriguing metafiction or if you’re just feeling nostalgic for the mid-2000s, then this novel is definitely worth reading 🙂

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

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Narrative Styles And Emotional Tone – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at how the narrative style of your fiction can affect your story’s emotional tone. This is mostly because I’ve seen some really interesting examples of this in some of the novels that I’ve been reading recently.

The most striking example is probably in the novel I’m reading at the time of writing this article. This is an Alice Hoffman novel from 1992 called “Turtle Moon” and, on paper at least, it should be an incredibly bleak and depressing story.

Literally none of the characters seem to have cheerful backstories and virtually nothing good or happy has happened within the first hundred pages or so. Yet, despite this, I’ve kept reading it eagerly and thankfully haven’t been overwhelmed by misery and sadness. But, why?

Simply put, the writing in this novel is beautiful. All of the story’s grimness, sorrow and bleakness is expertly contrasted with a lush, poetic, magical and hyper-vivid writing style that is an absolutely joy to read. Seriously, the sheer beauty of the writing means that the depressing elements of the story are kept at a slightly safe distance from the reader. We still see all of these bleak, gut-wrenching, depressing things happening, but it’s like looking at a beautiful painting rather than at a grim photograph.

On the other hand, Shaun Hutson’s 2009 horror novel “Last Rites” contains a lot of similar themes to “Turtle Moon” (eg: broken relationships, bereavement, delinquent youth etc…) and also contains lots of characters with miserable backstories too. Yet, this horror novel feels about ten times more grim and depressing than “Turtle Moon”. But, why?

Ok, there are reasons like temporal and geographic distance (eg: early 1990s America vs. late 2000s Britain) too. But, the most important reason is the different writing styles that these authors use in the two novels.

Whilst Hoffman is able to give the reader a safe level of emotional distance through beautiful, magical, poetic writing – Hutson takes the opposite approach. Hutson’s writing style is a lot more “matter of fact”. This makes the story seem a lot more realistic, which emphasises the grim and bleak elements of the story a lot more. If reading Hoffman’s narration is like looking at a beautiful painting, reading Hutson’s narration is like looking at stark CCTV footage.

This, incidentally, is why traditional 1980s splatterpunk horror novels are so morbidly fascinating. When writers like Clive Barker or Shaun Hutson were telling horror stories during the 1980s, their narration would become (or, in Barker’s case, remain) very beautiful, vivid, detailed and poetic whenever they described something grisly, grotesque or disgusting. This contrast between the beautiful and the grotesque lends these scenes a unique quality which is both intensely horrific and intensely fascinating at the same time. It’s a really weird emotional tone that is difficult to describe (and has to be read in order to be understood properly).

Of course, writers can use the narrative style to affect the emotional tone of their stories in lots of other interesting ways too. A great example of this is a time travel-themed sci-fi novel from 2013 called “Just One Damned Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor that I read recently. This novel uses informal, punk-like first-person narration which is fairly “matter of fact”, whilst also emphasising the narrator’s irreverent, eccentric and practical personality.

This style is really interesting because it makes the novel’s many comedic moments even funnier by, for example, showing the narrator’s irreverent attitude towards serious things (eg: rules, history etc..) and also showing how different her perspective is to a typical sci-fi thriller protagonist. It also lends the story’s comedic scenes a jaunty and chaotic punk-like atmosphere too.

Yet, at the same time, this “matter of fact” narration also means that when bleak, nasty and depressing things happen to the main character, they’re considerably more intense and depressing. The same “down to earth” narration that makes things like the narrator getting wasted the night before a crucial research mission so hilarious also makes the novel’s grim moments about ten times bleaker, more intense, more “realistic” and/or more shocking too.

So, yes, your choice of narrative style can have a huge effect on the emotional tone of a story. A vivid, poetic, artistic narrative style that can lend beauty to joyous things will also moderate the effect of grimmer or more depressing things. By contrast, a more “matter of fact” style will add intensity to anything from comedy to bleak sorrow.

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Anyway, I hope that this is useful 🙂

Review: “Last Rites” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for reading horror novels and, a day or two before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered that I had a copy of “Last Rites” by Shaun Hutson.

Back in 2009, I’d been out shopping when I had noticed that there was a new Shaun Hutson novel in the bookshop. Needless to say, I bought a new hardback copy of it there and then (something I’ve only done with maybe four or five books before). And then, for some completely unknown reason, I never got round to reading it. For almost a decade. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

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

This is the 2009 Orbit (UK) hardback edition of “Last Rites” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious description of a man walking through a tunnel. Then, the story moves to North London where a teacher called Peter Mason is being brutally beaten in the street by a group of five young hooligans. They flee, leaving him for dead, but he is taken to hospital and, after being comatose for several days, he finds that he luckily has no serious lasting physical injuries from his ordeal.

Whilst all of this is going on, creepy things are happening in the Buckinghamshire town of Walston. The local church has been desecrated, several animals have been killed in bizarre ways and there is a spate of mysterious suicides amongst the town’s youth.

Suffering from panic attacks after he has been discharged from hospital, Peter Mason realises that he can’t stay in London any longer. So, he applies for several teaching jobs outside the city. To his delight, he is offered an interview at a prestigious private boarding school in the quiet, bucolic rural town of Walston…

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a Shaun Hutson novel. It has all of the grittiness, compelling storytelling and intense horror that you would expect, although it is a considerably bleaker and more depressing novel than I’d expected.

Yes, it could be because it’s been a while since I read a more contemporary Hutson novel (the only other Hutson novel I’ve read within the past few years was from the 1980s) and I’d forgotten just how bleak and cynical they can be, but it really caught me by surprise. It probably didn’t help that I binge-read most of the book in a single evening.

I should probably start by talking about the horror elements in this novel. After all, it is a horror novel and it is a very effective one at that! But, surprisingly, there is relatively little of the over-the-top splatterpunk horror that you would traditionally expect from a Shaun Hutson novel. Yes, the novel certainly has a few grisly moments but, by Shaun Hutson standards, they’re very tame. Seriously, I’ve seen horror movies that are gorier than this novel!

Yet, whilst this novel contains relatively little gory horror, it contains pretty much every other type of horror under the sun. Amongst other things, there is suspenseful horror, bleak horror, medical horror, sexual horror, crime horror, psychological horror, implied horror, realistic horror, atmospheric horror, bullying horror, claustrophobic horror, social horror, bereavement horror, tragic horror, occult horror etc… And all of these different types of horror are considerably creepier and more disturbing than the gallons of gore you’d traditionally expect to see in a Shaun Hutson novel.

So, yes, this is a grim, disturbing horror novel that does it’s job perhaps too well. Literally the only relief from the horror (and perhaps my only criticism of the novel’s horror elements) is the slightly ludicrous twist ending. Yes, some parts of it are brilliantly foreshadowed and the final chapter has a chilling sting in it’s tail. But, as a payoff for the nail-bitingly gripping and chillingly disturbing suspense throughout the novel, the ending comes up a little short. The mystery is far scarier than the answer to it.

However, the ending seems more like a formality than anything else. The rest of the novel is this incredibly gripping thing that just begs you to binge-read it. This novel is written and structured much more like a thriller novel than anything else (probably a side-effect of all of the brilliantly intense action thriller novels that Hutson wrote during the 1990s and early-mid 2000s) and this works really well.

Whilst the third-person narration includes some traditional Hutson flourishes (eg: the words “cleft” and “liquescent” appear, albeit separately), the story’s thriller-style elements include short chapters (that keep you wanting to read “just one more”), a very compelling mystery and a grittier and more matter-of-fact style narration that really helps to make the story more intense and fast-paced. Even though this novel is about 338 pages long, it’ll probably take you as long to read as a 200-250 page book would.

All in all, “Last Rites” is an incredibly chilling – and gripping – horror novel. Yes, it’s depressing as hell and it probably isn’t for the prudish. Yes, the ending is a little anticlimactic too. But, it is the kind of book that will pretty much make you binge-read the whole thing out of grim fascination. It is intense, it is disturbing, it is gripping. It is a Shaun Hutson novel.

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

Review: “Erebus” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a very extended break from Clive Cussler novels and read books by other authors. As such, I felt like re-visiting an old favourite that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about a splatterpunk horror novel from 1984 called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson.

I first read this novel at some point during the early-mid ’00s. Although I’d read at least two other Shaun Hutson novels before I read “Erebus”, this novel really knocked my socks off! It was quite simply the coolest book in the world. The only other books I read during my teenage years that even seemed to come close to the thrilling, fast-paced ultra-gory horror of “Erebus” were S.D.Perry’s excellent novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames (which, again, I really must re-read sometime).

But, about a decade and a half later (and after a failed attempt at re-reading it during a time when I’d gone off the horror genre), I wondered if I’d still enjoy “Erebus” as much as I’d done when I was younger. Needless to say, I did.

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

This is the the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” that I read.

“Erebus” begins in a farm near the rural town of Wakely, where local aristocrats Terence and Laura Bristow are returning home to check on their new racehorse. However, when they enter their farm, the horse flies into a homicidal rage. Meanwhile, Nick Daley is starting work at the local abbatoir. New to the job, he’s somewhat nervous. Something not helped by the fact that the bull that is due to be slaughtered suddenly becomes very, very angry…

Some time afterwards, we join a character called Vic Tyler. Following a bereavement, he returned to Wakely to run the family farm. Things are going surprisingly well since his farmhands tell him that the farm is producing more than usual thanks to some new multi-purpose feed from a local chemical company….

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring town of Arkham, journalist Jo Ward gets a frantic phone call from a nervous scientist at Vanderburg Chemicals who urgently wants to meet her to share information…..

One of the first things that I will say about “Erebus” is that there’s nothing else quite like it. It is an absolutely brilliant fusion of the vampire, zombie and thriller genres that manages to become more than the sum of it’s parts. Yes, other stories (“Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig, “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson etc…) have blended the vampire and zombie genres, but none have done it in quite the same way as “Erebus”.

In short, this novel is “Resident Evilfrom before “Resident Evil” was even a thing. But, instead of mindless shambling zombies, the “infected” are semi-intelligent vampires…. who happen to look and act a lot like zombies. Likewise, the main characters aren’t highly-trained soldiers, but a farmer and a journalist. And the story takes place in a rural part of 1980s Britain. And it is amazing!

In terms of horror, this novel isn’t outright scary – but it still uses different types of horror very effectively.

The most prominent form of horror in “Erebus” is the gory horror that the splatterpunk genre is famous for. Seriously, the average horror movie looks like a Disney movie in comparison to this novel. By bombarding the reader with frequent scenes of ultra-grisly horror, Hutson achieves something more than mere shock value. After a while, the grisly parts of the story become an atmospheric background element. So, even when the shock value wears off, these scenes still allow the story to maintain a menacing, macabre tone that really helps to set the mood.

This isn’t to say that even more experienced splatterpunk readers won’t be shocked occasionally though. Seriously, Shaun Hutson is an artist when it comes to writing about death, decay and other disgusting things. I won’t spoil any of the novel’s more shocking moments, but let’s just say that – if this was a film – it’d probably get banned. Or, at the very least, provoke a few amusing Daily Mail headlines.

The novel’s gallons of gore are also complemented by several other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is good old-fashioned suspense. At first, this includes some wonderful gothic horror tropes such as mysterious figures moving in the shadows, the townspeople slowly taking on a deathly pallor and the town centre gradually becoming more and more deserted. But, as the novel progresses, this is replaced with the kind of fast-paced pulse-pounding action-packed suspense that you’d normally expect to see in a particularly gripping thriller novel. Seriously, it is an absolute delight to see something that is able to blend both types of suspense so expertly 🙂

In terms of characters, this novel is surprisingly good. Good horror relies on good characterisation, and “Erebus” certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Both Vic Tyler and Jo Ward come across as reasonably realistic characters, both of whom have interesting backstories that have shaped the course of their lives. Likewise, literally every other character in the story receives at least a small amount of highly-concentrated characterisation.

Hutson’s narration is also really interesting too. In short, he sometimes uses the type of descriptive and eloquent narration that, these days, would be considered more fitting for a literary novel than a “low budget” horror novel. This works astonishingly well, since the rather flowery and sophisticated narration is contrasted perfectly with the grim events and drearily mundane settings of the story. It’s a perfect parody of the type of idealised, bucolic, “literary” storytelling that you’d expect to read in a more aristocratic novel.

Thematically, this novel is really interesting too. One of the major themes in “Erebus” is the contrast between Britain and America – with both being presented in a gleefully cynical manner.

Rural Britain (England in particular) is shown to be reassuringly cosy, but also the type of dreary, mundane, dilapidated, old-fashioned place that you would expect. On the other hand, America is depicted like something from a dramatic Hollywood movie… albeit a gangster movie. This is shown in Jo’s character arc – she flees New York in order to escape the Mafia, but ends up in a dreary English village that soon becomes just as dangerous…. thanks to an American corporation and an ex-Mafia hit-man, who are in hock with the British government.

This is also reflected in the novel’s politics too. Whilst the novel contains some brilliantly anti-establishment moments that put the “punk” in splatterpunk (such as the ominous government conspiracy later in the story, or Wakely’s comically incompetent police force etc..), it also realistically reflects the conservatism of rural England too. For example, during Jo and Vic’s first date, their conversation briefly includes a conservative rant that could almost have come straight from the pages of the Daily Mail or Daily Express.

For the most part, this 34 year old novel has aged fairly well. Not only are the suspenseful parts of this story timelessly thrilling, but the gory moments are also timelessly grotesque too. Likewise, the total lack of modern mobile phones just adds to the suspense too. Even the more obviously 1980s elements of the story (like Hutson referring to a computer monitor as a “V.D.U.”) just add to the cosy retro charm of this story.

Even so, there are a couple of brief moments that have aged badly. For example, the fact that one of the novel’s villains is something of a racist is relayed to the reader in a third-person narrative segment that would probably be written slightly differently today. Likewise, the conservative rant mentioned earlier also uses some descriptions/terms that haven’t aged well at all.

In terms of length, this novel is absolutely perfect. At 309 pages, this story never really outstays it’s welcome or contains much in the way of padding. Seriously, I miss the days when novels actually had editors who cared about length. This is the kind of book that can easily be binge-read in a couple of satisfying two-hour sessions. Seriously, it’s refreshing to see a novel that isn’t a 400+ page tome 🙂

All in all, if you love gruesome horror fiction, if you’re a fan of the classic “Resident Evil” games and/or if you aren’t easily shocked, then you owe it to yourself to read this novel 🙂 It’s thrilling, ominous, grotesque and unlike anything you’ve read before. It’s both gloriously retro and (mostly) timeless. It’s both really good and “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a novel that amazed me when I was a teenager and it still kept me absolutely gripped when I re-read it at the age of… well, older than that. So, wait until after midnight, put some heavy metal music on in the background and start reading “Erebus”.

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

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Splatterpunk Ain’t What It Used To Be – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Splatterpunk Ain't What It Used To Be

[Note (26th November 2018): This article was written during a time when I wasn’t reading much and, for various reasons, had gone off splatterpunk horror fiction slightly. It doesn’t reflect my current views about the genre or about Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” either.]

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The night before writing this article, I was binge-reading a really cool blog about old horror fiction that I’d found a few days earlier. Naturally, I skipped to the parts about my favourite horror authors and my favourite sub-genres of horror fiction – and I’d never felt geekier (in a good way) in my life.

To see actual serious articles (and lots of them) about the genre that I used to read regularly when I was a teenager was absolutely amazing. I mean, the splatterpunk genre was already kind of old hat by the time that I found my first second-hand 1980s/90s splatterpunk novel in a market stall at about the age of thirteen but, to me, it was the coolest genre ever.

There are lots of reasons why splatterpunk no longer exists as a genre and I’m sure that I’ve talked about them before (eg: the most prominent reason is probably that everything that made splatterpunk splatterpunk has now been absorbed into mainstream horror fiction), but one of the annoying things about splatterpunk fiction is that it was too recent and too obscure to really be of historic interest to magazine journalists etc…

Literally, the only splatterpunk fiction-related thing I saw in the surrounding culture when I was younger was ( when I was an older teenager) this excellent parody of 80s/90s splatterpunk authors on TV.

Although there was an abundance of actual splatterpunk novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops for my teenage self to read, there was no real surrounding fan culture to go with them.

So, finding a blog with lots of articles about the genre – filled with both critical commentary and nostalgic pictures of wonderfully lurid splatterpunk cover art was amazing. Even though the creator of the site isn’t a fan of one of my old favourite splatterpunk authors or the type of splatterpunk I liked when I was a teenager, it was still really cool to see a retrospective of this writer’s works and to hear someone else talking knowledgeably about him.

Not only that, the site also contains wonderfully cynical comments about both Guy N.Smith and Richard Laymon’s horror novels. Finally! Someone else who thought the same way about those two authors as I did when I was a teenager! Unfortunately, I didn’t find any cynical comments about how Stephen King used to almost monopolise bookshop horror shelves in the 00s though.

Naturally, after reading this site for a while, I decided to dig up some of my old splatterpunk novels to see if I could get myself back into the genre again. Although I don’t really read anywhere near as much fiction as I used to, the few horror novels I’ve read this decade have all been modern splatterpunk-influenced horror novels. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get back into the genre again.

After a little bit of searching, I turned up a 1990s reprint of “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. This was one of the old splatterpunk novels that still stuck in my memory and it was one of the cooler ones that I’d read when I was a teenager.

I remembered the story’s dramatic ending and I remembered how the novel was pretty much almost like a Romero-style zombie movie in all but name. Since gory zombie novels were hard to find when I was a teenager, this was an awesome and memorable surprise.

So, naturally, I decided that I’d take a quick look at it again and read the first couple of chapters. My reactions were very different as an adult.

I found the first scene of the story (where a horse on a farm suddenly turns evil and starts violently attacking everything and everyone near it, seemingly without reason) to be laughably melodramatic, rather than compellingly and rebelliously macabre. From the way that it was written, it seemed more like dark comedy than shocking horror.

Even in the second chapter, when Shaun Hutson describes the setting of the novel, I couldn’t quite take all of it seriously because one line of the description (where he describes the local farms producing “full bounty”) sounded exactly like something that Garth Marenghi could say. I stopped reading after this point.

Maybe I’d just grown up? Maybe now that I’m more than old enough to buy proper horror movies, I no longer need splatterpunk novels to tell me luridly gruesome horror stories? Maybe it’s like the old saying that “you can’t go home again”?

As strange as it is to say, my memories of splatterpunk novels are probably a lot cooler than the actual novels probably were. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, I guess.

It’s strange that the genre which got me interested in writing fiction and which has also had a subtle influence on my art too, is actually cooler in my imagination than it is in reality.

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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.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂