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Women in Horror Month!

WiHM2016Sickle-WhiteOnDark-medium

What lurks beneath the bed?

Hi folks, well apparently February is Women in Horror Month, a little something that’s now in its 7th year! I only discovered it this year, however, so I’m hoping to share the love a little further by telling you fine folks about it.

WiHM2016Girl-WhiteOnBlack-smallThere are events running all over the world for it. You can find out if there is anything happening near you here. You may find that some of your favourite authors are offering promotions this month, myself included. If you haven’t yet picked up your FREE copy of Seeds of Autumn you can do so here. And if you’ve devoured that and are hungry for more, then the second book in the series, Ghosts of Winter, is currently available from Amazon at just 99p (or 99 cents for the Americans).

I’ve always considered Echoes of the Past to be more in the thriller, or dark fantasy genres than horror, but there is no denying that there are some horror elements in my writing. I owe much of my desire to become a writer to role models such as Stephen King, whose work haunted my dreams when I was far too young to be reading The Stand, or It. I began reading horror with the Point Horror books as a pre-teen and after slashing my way through dozens of them (big thanks to my mum for always saying yes when we were in Waterstones!) I very quickly graduated to the “grown up” authors.

I remember many a girly sleepover involving films such as Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Interview with a Vampire. Films like The Exorcist and A Clockwork Orange, not to mention David Lynch’s seminal masterpiece, Twin Peaks, are what led me to study Film & TV for my degree. The thrill of being scared, those goosebumps, the shiver up the spine, the feeling of someone watching from the shadows, those sensations stay with you. For those of you who have already read my books, one of my favourite characters to write is The-Knight-of-Shadowed-Fear. All of those spine-tingling memories of watching or reading inappropriately frightening material late at night in the dark are called upon to write his scenes.

As this is WOMEN in horror month, I have to give a shout out to all of the scream queens; the young women who gave their lives in the slasher movies, but especially the survivors. The women strong enough to unmask the murderer, stave off the nightmares, and outrun the maniacs.

Oh and then there are the wonderful evil women in horror. Let’s face it, some of the scariest antagonists have been women. The mother, Margaret White, in Stephen King’s Carrie; another King classic: Misery (Kathy Bates still rocking it in horror to this day in the disturbing TV series, American Horror Story); and on that note, Jessica Lange’s characters in AHS have been stunning.

Gale Anne Hurd, Image by Gage Skidmore, via Creative Commons

Gale Anne Hurd, Image by Gage Skidmore, via Creative Commons

Coming up with female creators of horror is harder. I don’t know if it’s that there simply aren’t that many who are successful, or if I’ve been out of the horror loop for a while and missed some. There hasn’t been a female writer as prominent as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, well, since Mary Shelley! Where are the female writers and directors? To her credit, Gale Anne Hurd is freaking awesome. She’s a producer who has been behind some of my all time favourite horror (and cross genre action-thriller) productions, such as Aliens, Terminator, and of course, The Walking Dead. It wouldn’t be right for me to omit mention of what has to be the best contemporary offering on the horror table. The mid-season premier airs in the UK on Monday night and I am gripping the edge of my seat in anticipation already.

Please comment below with your favourite examples of women in horror!

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Star Trek Saw the Future, And It’s Here!

I’m a self confessed nerd. I love sci-fi, super heroes, zombies, and technology. Gimme all da stuffs. I’m currently lamenting the premature demise of my Blu-Ray player and researching a replacement. It has to have all the right toys. So I was thinking about technology and the way that popular sci-fi, such as Star Trek, has predicted, or could it be that it has inspired the development of new technologies.

So I decided to compile a list of some of the tech that Star Trek has depicted in the past that now exists.

Trek Door1. Sliding doors!

It’s THE classic example. When Star Trek first aired in 1966 the sliding doors of the Enterprise were manned by stage hands on set because automatic sliding doors didn’t exist yet. But the doors in Star Trek seem to also have some sort of telepathic link with people, as they never open when someone walks past in the corridor outside the room, or close on two people having a conversation across the threshold. A Japanese company has developed a more intelligent sliding door that responds the the size of party approaching, and even the speed at which someone approaches them! I look forward to seeing these intelligent sliding doors appearing in shopping centres worldwide!

Picard Data Pad Stack2. Tablets

Today we take for granted our iPads, Kindle Fires and so on. But they are a relatively new technology. Apple’s first serious attempt at a tablet computer was the Apple Newton in 1993. But the first touch screen tablets that we would recognise today only hit the market in 2010. Star Trek have been using data pads since The Next Generation began in 1987. The beautiful thing about this example is that we have already far surpassed the technology portrayed in Trek. TNG was set in the year 2364 and onwards (mostly, they time travelled a bit!), yet their data pads seemed to be quite limited in function, with separate pads required for different projects. It makes me wonder what the future of this technology might look like. Where will we really be in 2364? Will information be directly downloaded into a microchip inserted in our brains? Eek!

3. Communicators

samsung-s300-lI got so excited when I got my first “flippy phone” in about 2004! FINALLY I held in my hands some tech reminiscent of something from Star Trek. It was a glorious day for me. It was the Samsung S300, and I still think it’s the most beautiful phone I’ve ever owned. Sigh.

Anyway, where was I?

kirk communicatorStar Trek led the way with mobile communication devices and it took us over thirty years to really catch up. But now that we have we’re zooming ahead. We’re even perfectly used to the combined technology of comms devices and data pads, with smart phones being an every day item that millions of people already own. We also have Bluetooth. Remember Uhura’s earpiece? Not quite as widespread an application of the technology, but it exists.

We haven’t quite got to the com badges seen in TNG onwards, but we can’t be far off them. Our phones can be used to track our location, a common use of this kit seen in Trek. It’s also at the whim of the environment, as in Trek. “The away team’s lost on the planet, Captain, a severe weather system is interfering with the comms channel.” Yep, sounds familiar!

Another related technology is the good old video call. We all remember the crew of the Original Series seeing aliens and alien worlds on their enormous view screen. Throughout the evolution of the franchise, this technology has remained a staple means of communication. Today we think nothing of Skyping a friend on the other side of the planet, or conference calls that incorporate video communication with absent colleagues.

isolinear chips4. Portable Memory Devices

Probably not one that most people would think of, but way back in the Original Series the crew used disks that resembled 3.5 inch floppy disks. It’s already the case that an entire generation of young computer users will have no idea what I just said! My parents ran a shareware business from home when I was growing up, and I spent many an hour sat in front of (now very dated) desk top computers copying disks for them.

The Next Gen had their isolinear chips that were closer to USB sticks or SD cards. The Enterprise seemed to rely on a huge number of these devices for the smooth running of its systems. (Can I get an enraged “Wesley!”) Though it’s unclear exactly what they do, but they seem to contain information or software. Given that we can buy SD cards today that can hold 512GB of data, it’s easy to imagine similar storage devices in the future that would power vast star ships.

Star_Trek_Replicator5. Replicators

Yes, seriously. 3D printing is the beginning of replicator technology, as seen in TNG onwards. Go to a hole in the wall and order your favourite drink, and it materialises in front of you. It’s a technology in its infancy, we’re a far cry from being able to feed all the world’s hungry with this technology, but give it time. In Grey’s Anatomy they’ve shown 3D printing being used to create working body parts for transplants, and I honestly believe that’s where the development of this tech will flourish first.

6. Voice Activated Interactive Artificial Intelligence!!!

This is the one that struck me the other day and really prompted me to write this blog. Voice activation isn’t especially new, but it’s finally entering the mass market for everyday application. We now have hardware that we can talk to, and that talks back! And it’s widely commercially available in the form of the latest smart phones. Owners of iPhones can ask Siri to complete tasks for them and report back its findings, Microsoft phones now have the gorgeous Cortana, named after the AI in flagship Xbox game, Halo.

Majel BarrettOur computers are getting there too, with Google now supporting voice input for searches. But Star Trek saw it coming decades ago. The fabulous Majel Barrett voiced Star Fleet computers from the beginning until her death in 2008. The crews of later Enterprise models, Voyager and DS9 had the opportunity to ask the computer to perform complex tasks, such as programming the holodeck and analysing data. It won’t be long before we can do this in real life. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to discover some lab geeks somewhere in the world already doing just that.

Other sci-fi creations have predicted technological advancements too, some more advanced than others. Self-driving cars, as seen in Minority Report will very soon be commonplace, they can park themselves these days and we’ve had cruise control for ages. Getting us from A to B is the next logical step. I give the boffins a decade to get us there. Jules Verne first saw us launching ourselves into space and exploring the depths in submarines, long before we could do either. And I just discovered that a vehicle closely resembling the hoverbikes from Endor in Star Wars could be available to buy from as early as 2016!!!

So, my wish list for emerging technologies based on Star Trek includes: holodecks (of course!), transporters (duh), and interplanetary travel (obviously!).

I love to hear from you, so leave a comment if there’s a sci-fi technology you’d love to see realised, or your favourite from the many, many more out there already that I didn’t have time to cover here!

Don’t forget, you subscribe to my mailing list you will receive a free copy of my short story, The Storm Riders’ Vigil.


Plots and Plans

fireworksFirst of all, massive apologies for being so quiet. It’s been a crazy couple of months. I am thrilled to say that I have completed the first draft of book three in the Echoes of the Past series, Tides of Spring. Getting the last few chapters written was one of the hardest periods of my writing journey so far. They may never see the light of day, of course, as I have revisions to do, and who knows what will stay and what will go? It’s hard to say why I found it so hard to finish this draft. I had a really good run coming up towards the end, and I thought it would be a few days of productivity before I finished. But I stalled terribly, was crippled with writers’ block, and agonised over the details.

Part of what held me up may have been because of the actions of my heroes. I rarely use that word to describe the main characters in the series. Because to me they are not typical heroes. I usually call them protagonists, a useful word that covers the most flawed of central characters. Stalker-of-Night’s-Shadow is about as flawed as they come. She’s arrogant, reckless, and maddeningly impulsive. She keeps secrets, makes mistakes, and lets her heart rule her head. She neglects her responsibilities and her friends. But her heart is generally in the right place, she’s capable, independent and a fierce combatant. Stalker isn’t the only one with flaws. The rest of the pack have their issues too; from run of the mill pride, to post traumatic stress disorder.

Towards the end of Tides of Spring, having been through some pretty difficult events, they make some tough calls. I, as the writer, had to make them on their behalf. I parted with a character that I very much enjoyed writing too.

I wasn’t consciously aware of this while writing, but since finishing the draft, I realised that there is next to no hope of a film production company wanting the rights for Echoes of the Past (come on, all authors have that dream!), because the protagonists are too flawed, too complex, and at times, too dark. Sometimes it’s debatable whether they’re the good guys or the bad guys. I mean, it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? From the point of view of the Witches of Fenwick, the shifters of Caerton are breaking some of the most fundamental laws of their kind, and sitting on a throne they aren’t entitled to. They destroy nature too. Shock. Gasp.

funny-walking-dead-memes-15But, there is an alternative option for adaptation…. as I reblogged from Kristen Lamb earlier, the hottest drama can be found on the small screen, rather than the big one. Some of my favourite TV series of recent years are packed full of dark, complex protagonists. Take Dexter as the prime example. The central character is a serial killer, for crying out loud. But we root for him, we desperately hope for him not to get caught. Hell, in the last season I was desperate for him to get a happy ending with Hannah… I recently binged on House of Cards. It could well be argued that Kevin Spacey’s fantastic portrayal of Francis Underwood is one TV’s best depictions of a sociopath. The Walking Dead features a group who have crossed the line of morality a number of times in their quest to survive. Television is a fantastic medium to explore the darker sides of humanity. There is time. Time to build suspense, delve deeper into the characters and their motivations. Time to build a relationship between the viewer and the protagonist, so that we are with them on their journey into darkness.

Of course, books do that too. That’s where I want to take my readers, into the darkness. In Tides of Spring we travel to some of the most inspiring places, and then into the pits of emotional hell. I love my characters, I’ve been living with them for years and been inside Stalker’s skin. I don’t like putting them through these things, but I love creating drama! Getting some of that drama onto the page was hard work.

Getting to the end was mainly a relief.

So now I’m in my ritual rest phase. Though I’ve yet to actually rest during this phase of any book! In order to be able to enter revisions with fresh eyes I take some time away from the manuscript. With Seeds of Autumn I started writing Ghosts of Winter during this rest phase, then with Winter I started writing Tides of Spring. I’m breaking this streak now, and instead of beginning the next book I’m working on some other areas of my author life…

The first announcement I have is that I now have a mailing list. You can subscribe here, or in the link in the right hand menu of this page. You’ll get a free PDF of the short story The Storm Riders’ Vigil when you subscribe.

Last, but by no means least, I am really excited to announce that I will be running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds I need to give Tides of Spring the professional treatment before publishing it. I’ve got some really special perks lined up; from signed copies of the book, to the opportunity to name a character in the next book. So get your thinking caps on for that one! Subscribers to my mailing list will be the first to receive updates in the build up to the launch of the campaign too, so that’s another reason to subscribe 😉


Shock and Awe

Shock 2The title of this post refers to the dubious US military tactic of imposing “this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on”, in other words, bomb the shit out of the enemy until they’re too scared to fight. Nice.

Well, in a way, and to a lesser extent, really good horror and action fiction do this too. The audience is constantly afraid for the wellbeing of the heroes, never sure who is going to survive and who isn’t, and character losses feel almost as devastating as if they were real friends. The balance has to be right though, there has to be hope too, a reason to keep reading or watching. We don’t want to paralyse our audience and have them give up on our stories because they are too bleak.

I’m writing this in the wake of the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, season 5. Don’t worry, no spoilers. This is my absolute favourite show on TV at the moment, but I have to confess, I nearly gave up on it in season 3. It was just too depressing, with not quite enough hope. I stuck with it though, and I’m glad I did. Season 5 has been similar and before the latest episode I was willing for something to go right for our protagonists for once. But the show is predictably grim, and I had little hope of things turning out well. The post credits sequence of the latest episode gave me what I felt was lacking in series 3… hope, a reason to keep watching, despite how devastated I felt as the credits rolled.

I strive for that level of connection with my readers, to move them. Echoes of the Past is undoubtedly a dark series, my characters go through hell, and hopefully take the reader with them. I want my readers to feel as though no character is safe from harm, they are fallible people with weaknesses, and live lives that are truly dangerous. When they go into battle against mighty demons, I want my readers to be afraid that someone might not come out of it alive.

Perhaps the master, or demon, of this sort of writing is George R. R. Martin. When you read A Song of Ice and Fire you know that even the mightiest hero is not safe, not immune to the force of the plot. This is a risk, of course, leading readers to form attachments to characters and then mercilessly killing them off, often in quite senseless ways. Readers, or viewers, may never forgive you, but for the ones that do, or who stick with your story regardless, it makes for true immersion and a wonderful experience.

If I can one day stir my readers to reactions like those watching or reading GRRM’s infamous “Red Wedding” scene for the first time, I will be a very happy author 😉

I love to hear from you. What book, film or TV show has the sort of hold on you that you have literally cried at a pivotal moment in the story?

If you’d like to see if my writing measures up, then grab your free copy of the first book in the Echoes of the Past series here.

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