It would probably entertain Alan Moore no end that my next article after one about his Swamp Thing would be one about a piece work from Moore’s nemesis, Scottish comic scribe Grant Morrison. There’s no love lost between the two, with Moore accusing Morrison on numerous occasions of outright plagiarism.
“As to his conversation, (Grant) was quite forthcoming in his praise for my work, telling me how much inspiration it had provided and adding that it was his ambition “to be a comic-writer, like you”. Looking back from my present position, it strikes me that I may have only imagined that there was a comma in that last statement, but at the time I took it at face value.” – Alan Moore.
I’ve no idea how genuine the feud is – or how much is perpetuated by the comics press – but I’ve never been backwards in coming forwards expressing my great love for both the dour Northamptonian and the prolific Glaswegian. Both are prone to similar flaws – an occasional tendency towards pretension and overly florid language – but the two of them have created pieces I consider to be masterworks of the medium.
Moore has Swamp Thing, Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Morrison has his genius reinvention of JLA (Justice League of America), All-Star Superman, the mind-fuck that was The Invisibles and his first strip for 2000 AD, Zenith. And this being Ginger Nuts of Horror, we’ve a theme to stick to. We’re getting there, honestly.
Issue (“Prog”) #536 of 2000 AD in August of 1987 saw the first episode of Zenith. It was the first superhero strip in 2000 AD (I’m not counting Dash Decent) written by new talent Grant Morrison and drawn by relative newcomer Steve Yeowell.
After a climactic battle between an Allied and German superhero in Berlin, 1945 – cut short by that alternative histories first use of the atomic bomb - we travel forward in time 40 years to meet our titular character. The last active superhero – the rest having vanished or retired – is Zenith, an egotistical popstar who uses his powers only for publicity and self-gain. He’s a selfish self-obsessed jerk, more interested in dating super-models than super-heroics, more concerned with downing cocktails in a single gulp than leaping tall buildings with a single bound.
Along with Peter St. John – once known to the world as Mandala, psychedelic guru turned Conservative MP, Ruby Fox (Voltage) and drunken recluse Siadwell Rhys (Red Dragon) Zenith is dragged back into a battle that started in World War 2, all of them forced to confront the German supervillain Masterman – The WWII Super Nazi seemingly returned from the dead.
I’d only just become introduced to the Cthulhu Mythos back in 1987, eagerly devouring anything I could find by H.P. Lovecraft, and, once I’d read all that, anything I could find by his protégé August Derleth.
And, in Zenith, what seemed like a simple enough superhero story at the time ended up being anything but. The Nazis had created Masterman, but the real purpose of their secret superhero project was to produce host bodies strong enough to hold the spirits of the Lloigor, or “The Many-Angled Ones”. Masterman was their success, a physical form strong hold enough to hold the spirit of Iok Sotot, Eater of Souls.
The Lloigor, a race in the Cthulhu Mythos, were created by August Derleth and Mark Schorer in the 1932 short story “The Lair of the Star Spawn”, although the Lloigor in Zenith more closely resemble the ones from Colin Wilson’s later 1969 tale “The Return of the Lloigor”, powerful disembodied vortices of psychic energy.
It’s when Zenith and his companions believe they’ve defeated Masterman when they’re confronted with the reality and true horror of their foe.
Yeowell is at his absolute best – and in his element - when portraying this final conflict, as Zenith and Mandala fight Iok Sotot from within the sanity-defying confines of his many-angled non-Euclidean form.
The eighties was a time when Lovecraft’s creations seemed to be intruding more and more into popular culture – 1987 even saw an episode of The Real Ghostbusters called “The Collect Call of Cathulhu” – but it was mind-blowing to find reference to the Mythos in what appeared to be, on the surface, a fairly conventional superhero tale.
Here was a superhero story where the enemy were more than mere spandex-clad villainous musclemen – here the foe was beyond human understanding, an eldritch horror from a different plane of reality, one of a race immortal formless creatures that sees humanity – even its few remaining super-humans– as insignificant insects.
Screw Galactus – the Lloigor were the true planet eaters. Whereas Alan Moore was elegantly crossing the worlds of horror with super-heroics in Swamp Thing over with Vertigo/DC, Morrison was doing the same in a weekly comic aimed primarily at teens.
Phase 2 of the Zenith storyline would – apart from the introduction of a new character, Chimera, who would be pivotal in the final chapter – mostly shy away from the Elder God aspect, concentrating more on Zenith and the history of the superheroes. However, we’d plunge headlong back into nihilism and cosmic existential horror for the final two parts.
Chapters (or “Phases”) III and IV of the story upped the horror aspect considerably as the many-angled ones made their final play to conquer the universe.
Phase 3 was a riff on the common Marvel/DC trope of the summer crossover – that, in the eighties, typically involved multiple heroes and alternate Earths. Morrison would introduce a vast roster of copyright-skirting characters based on British superheroes from the past, all teaming up to fight the Lloigor.
The Lloigor were busy with their plans, taking over a multitude of realities and killing – or possessing – our heroes in a variety of thoroughly unpleasant ways. This made for grim reading, especially in a kid’s comic. Characters were messily executed, tortured and thoroughly tormented.
For one thing – and I’m not simply referring to Yeowell’s stark colouring – phases III and IV are both really, really dark. In both tales the heroes lose, and just keep on losing. With the stakes raised considerably – they’re not just fighting to save the Earth, but the Universe – it makes for bleak reading. The Lloigor know they’ve already won, and all we can do is read as our heroes go through the motions of trying – and failing – to stop them.
When Moore accuses Morrison of plagiarism, it’s clear to see why with certain elements of this in Zenith Phase 4. The framing device of the sole survivor narrator is stolen wholeheartedly from Moore’s Miracleman. Indeed they share the whole concept of placing a superhero in a contemporary England that we recognise, but it’s best not to look too closely at that.
That said, though – the ending of Phase 4 is genius and still one of my favourite moments in comic history. It’s a rug-pull, but it’s been so well signposted throughout the entirety of the story that it doesn’t feel like a cheat. If you don’t know it, I urge you to find out what that ending is for yourself. Since Morrison and Fleetway finally sorted out all the lengthy legal wrangles regarding its release, all four of Zenith’s phases are available to buy in both physical and electronic format.
Zenith eventually ended with Phase IV in Prog 806 of 2000 AD in 1992, never to return bar the odd guest appearance or one-off.
Except for Phase 2 which is mostly involved with Zenith’s troubled origins, he’s mostly just a portal through which we view the world he belongs to. Despite his super-powers, he’s far from heroic – he only gets involved when he has absolutely no other choice, and the sole moment in the entire saga where he appears to do something entirely selflessly, it turns out that it’s a case of mistaken identity. It seems like an odd choice to have a lead character who completely fails to grow or learn – he starts the saga as a spoilt brat and ends the saga much the same – but,it’s similarly interesting in that it’s the villains who evolve in Zenith.
In Phase 1, the Lloigor are slow to play their hand, unsure of our reality and the extent of their abilities. In Phase 3, their plans begin proper but they’re still effectively taking the roles of villains, pantomimic and over-blown. Phase 4 properly demonstrates the true horror of the Lloigor, mind.
In the final phase, the Many-angled ones are fully evolved, casually embracing their true cosmic nature. Mankind is no longer a threat, and they’ve already won. Some of the scenes in Phase 4 are truly terrifying, such is the complete absence of any humanity remaining in them. Some of Zenith’s old allies have gone to join the Lloigor, and quickly shed any trace of mortality like a snake shedding skin. We – and the matter of the universe itself – are just playthings, so much pliable matter to rend and shape. The true horror – which we’ve been building up to, all along – is that Zenith is lost in a battle he can’t win with his fists or wits.
He’s humanities last hope, and he is – in every sense of the word - hopeless.
Zenith Phases 1-4 written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Steve Yeowell
For an entertaining read about Alan Moore’s rivalry with Grant Morrison, I can thoroughly recommend
To read about the “I still can’t quite believe that it ever existed” official HP Lovecraft/Ghostbusters “The Collect Call of Cathulhu”, this Ghostbusters site has a detailed explanation at https://ghostbusters.fandom.com/wiki/The_Collect_Call_of_Cathulhu
A blog post about Zenith from my distant past can be found via the following link https://foldsfive.blogspot.com/2011/04/im-nineteen-i-can-fly-i-can-flatten.html
The following is a list of all the superheroes who appeared in the densely populated Phase 3 of Zenith – sometimes under their own name, sometimes under a copyright-safe pseudonym.
David Court is a short story author and novelist, whose works have appeared in over a dozen
venues including Tales to Terrify, StarShipSofa, Visions From the Void, Fear’s Accomplice and The Voices Within. Whilst primarily a horror writer, he also writes science fiction, poetry and satire. His last collection, Scenes of Mild Peril, was released by Stitched Smile Publications and his debut comic writing has just featured in Tpub’s The Theory (Twisted Sci-Fi).
As well as writing, David works as a Software Developer and lives in Coventry with his wife, three cats and an ever-growing beard. David’s wife once asked him if he’d write about how great she was. David replied that he would, because he specialized in short fiction. Despite that, they are still married.
“With ‘The Old One and The Sea’, Lex H Jones has crafted a clever and beautiful coming-of-age story set within a miniature Lovecraftian snowglobe – in which adventure and intrigue exist alongside ancient monsters, and friends can be found in the unlikeliest of places.”
“Lex H Jones is a unique voice in horror and a writer to watch. The Old One and The Sea is an imaginative tale that will delight Lovecraftian readers of all ages.”
The Sinister Horror Company are proud to reveal the cover of our forthcoming title The Old One and The Sea by Lex H. Jones which will be released on the 1st November 2019. The story centres around a fictional, secret childhood of influential horror author H. P. Lovecraft, and contains a foreword by Jim Mcleod of Ginger Nuts of Horror
The book is a new venture for the Sinister Horror Company as it is our first title aimed at a younger audience. The story is most likely aimed at the 7 – 12 year old market, although we’re sure a lot of adult Lovecraft fans will get a kick out of reading it too. As such we have created a new branding, Sinister Horror Company Kids, in order to show a difference between this and the regular adult books that Sinister are known for releasing. For this purpose we’ve tweaked our logo on the new book.
The gorgeous artwork for the cover and the twelve illustrations inside the book were created by Liam ‘Pais’ Hill.
Lex has this to say about the new release:
“I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book. The idea of giving somebody what might just be their first favourite book carries a lot of magic for me. Those books we remember from childhood, that we read again as adults and then go on to read to our own children, passing down the joy that they brought to us. To write something that carries with it the possibility of becoming such a book for somebody has always been a goal of mine. Naturally, in the absence of somebody coming over and telling you, it’s impossible to know if you’ve achieved that even long after the book is published, but the possibility that something might not work out exactly how you hoped is never a reason to not give it a go.
One of my first memories of ‘properly’ writing was actually writing for children. I was around nine years old myself at the time, and a teacher gave us the task of writing a story for much younger children than ourselves. He first read us a story, which as I recall was about anthropomorphised vegetables, and then asked us to write a story using the same characters and in the same style. Mine was about a game of hide and seek, and how one of the vegetables got stuck in some nettles because he wasn’t careful about choosing his hiding place. The reason all of this sticks in my mind is because the teacher took me to one side at the end of the class, and said to me that as I get older, I should seriously consider writing as something to pursue. That was the first notable time anybody had truly done that, and it would always stay with me.
At that age, I think I was a fan of Lovecraft before I even knew what Lovecraft was. The giant beast beneath the sea, tentacles where there shouldn’t be tentacles, whispering from the void, nameless, formless horror. I was always drawn to that. Episodes of my childhood cartoons like Ghostbusters, He-Man, and Thundercats would regularly draw upon Lovecraftian mythology, and whilst I was too young to recognise it, I lapped it up. That and my lifelong love of sea monsters meant I was always inevitably going to become a fan of Lovecraftian lore.
A little older now, when I started reading actual horror novels, Lovecraftian themes were strong in the titles that I enjoyed. It wasn’t just the monsters, it was the way in which they came to us. They were often discovered to have been here before we were, hidden away in the dark corners of the earth. That idea…that we might not actually be top of the food chain…that the world might not be quite as securely ‘ours’ as we like to think…is much more chilling to me than more traditional ‘good vs evil’ mythologies full of angels and demons. There’s a clear black and white there, goodies and baddies. Lovecraftian monsters are something different, there’s far more questions to be asked, and the answers are often deeply uncomfortable to those who find them.
All of this brings me to the decision to write a children’s book based on the works of Lovecraft. It started with a conversation I had with a fellow writer about whether you could actually make it work. I didn’t want to do one of those “Cthulhu Poops The World” type of children’s books, which is fine but essentially just silly. I wanted to do a serious, credible story with real emotion and a genuine plot. The more I thought about it, the more it started to fall into place. I’d set it in a run-down seaside town, which is another dark-but-somehow-still-magical thing I’ve always been interested in. I’d get my friend and comic-book creator Liam Hill to do the artwork for it.
I believed that I could actually do this as a serious project, and thankfully, other people believed it too. Without those people… like Kya Stillson for giving the book its first professional edit, Laura Mauro and Taylor Grant for reading it and being kind enough to provide both feedback and cover blurbs, Jim Mcleod for writing me a wonderful introduction, and of course Justin at Sinister Horror for believing in the book enough to publish it… then this book would have remained an unachieved pet project. Everybody sees writing as a solitary thing, but this book is living proof to me that this is very rarely the case. So many people whom I love and admire have had a hand in bringing this to life, and I know they’ll be as happy as I am to see it take its first steps.
On a final, and more personal note, this is the first story I’ve written which my own niece and nephew will actually be able to read, and that thought excites me immensely. There’s even a little dedication to them inside the book. As much as I hope the wider audience enjoys it, I’m most excited to hear what they think.”
THE OLD ONE AND THE SEA BLURB:
Howard is a lonely, isolated boy who lives in the run-down seaside town of Innsmouth. Most of the town’s men left to fight the Great War and didn’t come back, and those that did, like Howard’s neighbour Mr Derleth, brought their own scars and strange stories with them. None quite so strange as what is about to happen to Howard, however.
An undersea earthquake brings a strange black reef to the surface just off the coast of Innsmouth, and with it something else. Something old, and forgotten, and every bit as lonely as the young boy who discovers it. What follows is a unique and secret friendship that will change the life of both Howard and his bizarre new friend forever.
The Old One and The Sea will be available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback from Amazon and the Sinister Horror Company website from the 1st November 2019.
Pre-orders to go live on Amazon and the Sinister website in due course.
For any enquiries or further information visit:
Matt Shaw has been on the scene for a while now; like a bad smell which just won’t go away. And, when you leave a skid at the bottom of a toilet pan instead of just cleaning it away, it is fair to say he has left his dirty, little mark. He is the published author of over 200 stories (all readily available on Amazon), he has produced, written and directed a feature film based on one of his books (MONSTER), is currently producing and directing a second feature film (NEXT DOOR) and… And now he has produced a card game based upon his best-selling book, Sick B*stards.
Sick B*stards: The Card Game.
A card game (with 3 ways of playing) designed by one of the UK's darkest horror authors! Ever wanted to create your own twisted little story? Well, with these cards, you can! Play your hand to create the most disturbing "story" you possibly can! Prove to your friends that you are the biggest Sick B*stard going!
Let's be clear, this game is NOT intended for those under the age of 18. From the warped mind of one of the UK's leading (and more depraved) horror authors, this game is strictly for adults with a love of the horror genre and the written word.
So what is Sick B*stards?
"Sick B*stards" is Matt Shaw's breakthrough novel. Working with a publisher who once called Matt a Sick B*stard, Matt decided to show him what a Sick B*stard really looked like and set about writing the most disgusting opening chapter to a book that he could think of. The problem was, he liked it so much, he decided to release the book. As he did so, he expected a massive backlash so gave the book a simple black cover with a warning on the front. "If easily offended, do not purchase". Well, the book went straight to number one on Amazon and the film rights were sold within a couple of months of the release. As the reviews started to come in, Matt Shaw had found his calling and his brand "The Black Cover Books" came to life…
And now it's a card game?
No! It is THREE CARD GAMES.
Sick B*stards is part of a trilogy: Sick B*stards, SickER B*stards and SickEST B*stards so it made sense to have the card game include different ways of playing. Here is a run down on how each game plays:
Sick B*stards (GAME ONE)
Each player has x amount of cards in their hands. The card may have a character name (such as "Jesus Christ"), something the character did, another character name, and an outcome to the story. The idea is to put the cards down onto the table into a coherent story. Don't forget the cards are shuffled so you may not be able to go in which case you dump a card and pick up another card until you can go. But it isn't just a question of playing the cards in your hand.
The first player puts their cards down (different points depending on how many cards they managed to use for their story) and then the next player has to put a story down leading off any of the cards already played on the table (similar to how you would build a word in a game of Scrabble using a tile already played by another player).
But it's not that simple. There are, of course, "B*stard" cards in the deck too. You have the chance to make players skip a go, you have Happy Ending cards which you can play on another person's story to make them lose the points, you have the opportunity to steal random cards right from the other players' hand... Basically lots of ways to stuff them over whilst you try and win the game by scoring the most amount of points.
Stories can be played horizontally and vertically so... With all the random characters, situations, locations and outcomes available in the 133 card deck... How sick is your imagination? Are you a real Sick B*stard?
Plays like: Cards Against Humanity crossed with Scrabble.
SickER B*stards (GAME TWO)
Each player starts with a number of cards in their hands. A five minute timer is set. The players then compete at the same time to put down as many stories as they possibly can in the five minutes. There's no taking turns. It is a free-for-all. Make a story, take replacement cards from the deck and keep on going until the buzzer! Who can make the most stories? The longer the story (played with more cards), the higher the points for that particular story so, do you just try and play it safe with small stories or go for something longer?
Don't forget the bastard cards though. Can another player sneak in and claim one of the stories as your own? Can they make you discard your whole hand and replace all the cards you hold? Can they grab a random card from your hand and play it themselves? I wouldn't put it past them. Your friends are real B*stards.
SiCKEST B*stards (GAME THREE)
Each player has a hand of 5 cards. All they need to do to win and prove themselves the SickEST B*stard is to play ONE story using ALL the cards in their hand. Can't go? Dump a card for another and keep repeating the process (taking it in turns) until you're able to play the story out.
Just watch out for the B*stard cards though. Be a real shame for you to have a great hand and have someone swipe one of your cards just as you're about to tell your story... A real shame indeed.
Plays like Rummy
What's in the box?
Inside the travel-friendly box are 133 cards. These are made up of character cards, situations cards, locations... All you need to create disgusting stories! Better yet? There are B*stard Cards too which are designed to purposefully screw one another over and ensure you get extra points! Stop them from going, add a happy ending to their story, steal one of their cards, make them dump the whole hand and start again... Warning: This game can get extremely competitive!
There are also 5 blank cards? Why? So you can add your own spin on it too!
And, more importantly, there are 3 instruction cards showing you how to play each game!
So what is happening with the game?
Matt had 5 copies of the game produced. 4 sold immediately so some of his readers and the other one, he kept for himself to play with his friends. Once the game was thoroughly tested, it was set up on Kickstarter and immediately banned. They said it went against their community standards, which is amazing given they are fine with items from the controversial comic strip makers of Cyanide and Happiness. Thankfully Indiegogo were kinder and the game is now live there BUT… Production costs are high so there is a goal of £2,000 there. If the goal isn’t complete, the goal will not go into production. If the goal is reached… The game will be coming out! Intrigued to know more or just want a copy of your own? Here’s some handy links!
Watch authors J.R Park and Matt Shaw play the game here:
See the Indiegogo Campaign here:
See signed merchandise (including books and his film) here:
The Agony and the Ecstasy, aka A Tale of Two Methods for Writing a Series
Originally Published in StokerCon 2019 Souvenir Anthology by Nancy Kilpatrick
Building your own fictional world is fun, but it also requires forethought. No writer wants to be on the other end of a reader's annoyance as in one of those Star Trek or Buffy questions that huffily starts "How come you didn't..." or "That's not what you said in book..."
I have contributed to worlds not of my own imagining: two novels in the Jason X series; one collab in the White Wolf vampire domain. Such realms come with pre-existing rules and often a series bible. At the very least there's usually a knowledgeable editor to keep the writer adhering to the desired territory.
I've also written two original series: Power of the Blood (4 novels), and Thrones of Blood (ongoing to 6 novels). Creating a world endows a writer with god-like powers of control. That's the Ecstasy! The Agony! comes because the writer alone is responsible for every single thing that goes wrong in the series.
The first series I wrote didn't begin as a series. Decades ago, I was a young writer with a stand-alone vampire novel set in the then future, 2006. I didn't have a plan, just an idea, and a love of the characters and story line. At that time vampires were becoming hot (again) press-wise. I had a great belief that Bloodlover would be published. Ecstasy! Thirty-five publishers told me not-by-them. Agony!
I felt somewhat discouraged, not enough to quit writing, but I did switch to short fiction for a while until another novel idea wormed its way into my brain and I was forced to write it or undergo a lobotomy.
Child of the Night was my next effort. From it was born yet another novel, Near Death. Much to my amazement, one followed the other. I hadn't intended that! But I liked the characters appearing in each other's stories. Ecstasy!
I won't go into the details of my adventures in publishing, but here's the overview: Pocket Books wanted Near Death. Why? Because Near Death is set in NYC. The editor felt Americans could more easily relate to their own country than to a book set in France (Child of the Night). Pre-Global Village mentality. Like most young writers eager to see print in a difficult business, I went with the publishing flow. Mostly Ecstasy!
My wonderful editor assured me that they would publish Child of the Night next. Not chronological, but I figured they knew what they were doing over at Simon & Schuster. More Ecstasy!
My wonderful editor quit her job the month Near Death came out. The new editor told me that Pocket Books had suddenly placed a moratorium on buying horror novels. Agony!
At Robinson Publishing, the editor of the imprint Raven Books wanted to publish Child of the Night. The plan included reprinting Near Death. If I could write a third book and Bloodlover could be the fourth book, each title would come out separately and then as two together in two omnibus editions. Wild Ecstasy!
That editor left Raven before Child of the Night came out, but was kind enough to insist he be permitted to edit my novel and see it through to publication. Controlled Agony!
I now had Near Death and Child of the Night in print. Bloodlover languished.
The editor/owner of a new house, Pumpkin Books, approached me and wanted to reprint Near Death and Child of the Night. Could I get the rights back and write another book quickly to continue the series? Series??? Suddenly, I realized I was writing one. I agreed and produced Reborn. Ecstasy!
Unknown to me until after all three books came out, that publisher was involved in a law suit which culminated in the house going out of business, and the owner/editor moving to parts unknown. Serious Agony!
A small publisher wanted to know if I had a novel available. Baskerville Books published Bloodlover. By then, we were in the year 2000. Bloodlover became a flashback novel, re-set in the 1960s, an era where some of the futuristic elements—now commonplace—were at their inception. Mild Ecstasy!
When the rights to all four novels reverted, I pitched the series to a mid-size house, Mosaic Press, which published them in English and sold foreign rights to several countries. The books were finally out as a set for the first time. Ecstasy!
Crossroad Press published the series as ebooks, and sold one of the novels as an audio book. Serious Ecstasy!
The biggest drawback I faced with writing four novels in the same world over decades and not realizing for a long time that I was writing a series was connecting all the dots, because I hadn't planned this continuum.
Writing an unplanned series is not ideal. I had no outline, no overview plan. I was winging it each step of the way. There were lots of messy bits that had to be fixed, an overarching plot to create, connections made and smoothed out. Even though by some dark magic the four books became of a piece, I do not recommend this method.
My new series, Thrones of Blood, is an entirely different entity. I wrote this series assuming it wouldn't be published. I mentioned it from time to time on Facebook as The Unpublishables. The manuscripts crossed half a dozen genres and a lot of politically incorrect territory. I was just having fun.
About twelve or more winters ago, I wrote Vol. 1 in one month. Then I began thinking about how The Unpublishables could be a fun series to write. I outlined the basic ideas for seven novels all at the same time. I worked on each book depending on how I felt that day, but kept to the idea of folding the stories together, and especially to maintaining the connection with and advancement in each novel of the two overarching series plots. I revised Vol. 1 and cut most of the genres to keep the story more coherent and focused. It and the then novels-in-progress clocked in at about 100,000 words each, + or -. I amalgamated Vols. 6 & 7 and by then had a good grasp of the six-book series. I showed the first book to a couple of writer friends, who deemed it publishable.
As well as the plot of each novel, much thought went into the big picture—the two overarching series plots. This project took more than a decade because I was determined that it make sense, and I wanted to avoid the problems I'd had with the first series being written piecemeal. Each story would, of course, sometimes veer off in an unanticipated direction, as novels will. But, as long as the plot still worked—neither predictable nor out-of-the-blue—, it was good to go. But the two overarching plots were equally important. Both built in each novel and that big picture had to lead to a satisfying conclusion.
If you are so inclined, feel free to pick up Vols. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in print or ebook (5 is out the end of 2019 and 6 in 2020) and see how structuring an overview can build.
This series will conclude by 2020. Okay, you've heard that before. Writers have been known to become so enamoured with their stories and characters that they just can't let go. I hope to not be that kind of literary smother-mother. Besides, I have other books to write, and maybe other series.
I was lucky with Power of the Blood. Working in the dark can be exhilarating, but it's also fraught with many near heart-stopping stress storms. I'm grateful that somehow I managed to navigate the rough waters without drowning. But I much prefer the safety of a secure vessel holding it all together: the series outline. That gets me where I want to go without having to plug seemingly endless leaks along the way.
Some suggestions: If you think you're writing a series, ask yourself:
- Why does this story require more than one novel to be told?
- How can one book lead to the next seamlessly without too much 'filler' to remind reader of what they read in the previous book(s)? (Tons of filler—aka exposition—is rarely pretty.)
- Is there a big plot or two or three overarching the series, and if not, why not?
- If there is, how are you going to dole out the bits needed in each novel to move those over-plots along without giving the conclusion away?
You likely need to do research, some or extensive. It's a good idea to research all the books you're envisioning in the series at once, that way you'll be less likely to crash into this-won't-work-now-because walls.
The best thing you can do for your series is to know where you're going by identifying the connecting links between the novels that keep that big picture vibrant. Minimize the Agony! Maximum the Ecstasy! Your readers will be glad you did! Wouldn't you rather end up with accolades than damnation!
- The End -
Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick has published 22 novels, over 220 short stories, 7 collections of her stories, and has edited 15 anthologies, plus scripted graphic novels and one non-fiction book, The goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined (St. Martin's Press). Thrones of Blood (Crossroad Press), her series of non-sparkling vampire novels for Adults! is ongoing. Details on her website
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Today at Ginger Nuts of Horror is Benjamin Langley Day, we have a brilliant interview with Benjamin, the chance to win a copy of his new book, and this excerpt from his latest novel Dead Branches. (Details on how to win a copy of the book can be found at the end of this excerpt and at the end of our interview with Benjamin comments and shares on both articles and the pinned tweet count as multiple entries in the prize draw)
Benjamin Langley has been writing since he could hold a pen and has always been drawn to dark tales. His debut novel, Dead Branches, was released by Bloodshot Books in June. He has had short stories published in over a dozen publications including Crescendo of Darkness, Deadman’s Tome, and The Manchester Review. He has also written Sherlock Holmes adventures that have featured in Adventures in the Realm of H.G. Wells, Adventures Beyond the Canon, and Adventures in the Realm of Steampunk. Benjamin has also written comedy sketches that have been performed on stage, radio and television.
He lives, writes, and teaches in Cambridgeshire, UK.
Dead Branches by Benjamin Langley Published by Bloodshot Book Excerpt
Normally, you could hear the chickens clucking from a mile off. I don’t remember if that struck me as odd right away, but then I saw the flurry of feathers, small, soft, white under-feathers, stained red, and sitting in the mud and I knew that something was wrong. Chicken wire jutted out of the coop at an ugly angle, twisted and torn away from the wood and there was a strong pissy smell like a well-soiled cat litter tray left to fester in the sun.
Reaching to open the door, I was most disturbed to find it cold. Heat used to radiate from the coop, but now it felt lifeless. I didn’t have to open the door far before what was left of one of the chickens fell onto my foot. It was mostly still intact: head, wings, legs, but its side was a bloody chasm. I could see bits of bone inside and pinky-purplish flesh, still wet, glistening in the early morning sun.
Inside, the wooden panels were streaked with blood, and the straw was almost entirely lost beneath a layer of feathers. It wasn’t until I saw a broken shell and hardening yolk smeared on a nest box that I started to panic. What if I went back without an egg? I could see Dad’s face, puffy and red, and I could already hear the words “Useless boy”, and then he’d pull on his boots and go stamping off, swearing about me under his breath. I had to find an egg. I pushed aside some of the straw, looking in the corner where they normally laid. The straw was sticky, and shards of eggshell clung to it, glued with half-set egg. In the other corner was another dead chicken, this one with a wing torn off, but behind that I was sure there was something egg shaped. I pulled a mangled chicken aside by a cold, hard leg and in the corner, there was a speckled egg. Proudly I gathered it and hurried back to the house where the smell of melting lard made my stomach turn over.
“You got some?” asked Mum.
“Something’s happened,” I said.
Dad was already glaring at me. “One egg? What good is one fucking egg?” He sneered, and then he looked me up and down, no doubt looking for something else to criticise, and as always, he found something. “What’s that slarred all up the side of your top?”
I looked at one arm, saw nothing, and then at the other and saw the streaks of red on my white, school shirt.
“You’ve ruined your shirt. You must think I farm money. You must think I can just pull it out of the earth.”
“Something’s happened,” I said again, but it was as if I had no voice.
Mum dipped a tea towel in the sink and came over to me. She started to scrub at the blood, but only succeeded in smudging it, spreading it further along the sleeve. “Whatever is it?” she asked.
“They’re dead,” I said, shaking my arm away from Mum. As I did so the egg shot out of my hand and smashed onto the floor.
“What the hell are you playing at, boy?” Dad said. He was rising out of his chair.
“They’re all dead!” I said again, and this time he seemed to hear me.
“Who are?” he said, his brow furrowing, his eyebrows forming into one long hairy caterpillar.
“The chickens! Something’s been in there. They’re all dead.”
As expected, Dad went over to the door and pulled his boots on. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
“Go up and get a fresh shirt,” Mum said. “I’ll clean this mess up.”
We both looked down at the egg. The sight of the orange yolk, broken and diluting with the transparent white made me think of the stiff egg yolk in the hen hut and the gored bodies of the hens, so I dashed through the door.
My older brother Will was standing on the stairs. “What have you done now?” he asked, knowing it would wind me up.
I rushed past him, jutting my elbow out, trying to catch him in the guts on the way by, but I missed. I was in no mood for his games.
The chickens had been on my mind all day at school. I couldn’t concentrate and thinking about them had made me short tempered. After school, my concentration wasn’t much better. I’d just started my go on Super Mario Bros. when a knock on the door distracted me. I mistimed my jump and Mario landed in the open mouth of a piranha plant. Will laughed as Mario’s death tune played and he reached for the joypad but then seven rapid bangs on the door drew us out of our bedroom. As we were halfway down the stairs, Mum called my name.
The door at the bottom of the stairs opened into the kitchen. Dad was sitting at the table chasing gravy around his plate with a piece of Yorkshire pudding. As usual, he had a smear of mud on his left cheek. Mum stood by the door, and outside was my friend John’s mum. She always insisted that I call her Barbara, rather than Mrs Glover, but it felt weird calling adults by their first names. Mum urged her in. She looked out of place in our kitchen in her red and white supermarket uniform.
She came over to me. “Tom,” she said, and put her hand on my shoulder. The knuckles were red. “Have you seen John?” A string of saliva hung between her lips.
“Not since school.”
“Did he have any plans?” said Barbara.
I shrugged. Had John said anything? With the mood I’d been in all day, I couldn’t remember. I’d gone home with my cousin, Liam, who had practically dragged me out of the classroom at the end of the day and was impatiently hopping around outside his brother Andy’s classroom. We had a gang, the Crusaders. It was me, Will, Liam and Andy. We were originally called The Muskehounds, but we argued over who was Dogtanian, so we changed it. John had been hanging around with us so much that we’d had a secret meeting about whether he should be allowed to be a full-time part of the gang. We’d decided that he could, but we hadn’t told him yet.
“Did he leave on his own?” said Barbara. The saliva string broke.
“I don’t know. Sometimes he walks with Chris Jackson.”
“I’ve been there,” said Barbara. She took a huge gasp of air, as if she’d forgotten to breathe.
“Did he get home and go out again?” asked Dad, looking up from his dinner plate. Before waiting for a response, he picked up a knife and cut himself a slab of bread.
Barbara looked down at the tiles. She was never home when John got in. She worked in the new supermarket in Ely and John had the house to himself for a couple of hours. That was why he was always asking one of us over to play, so that he wouldn’t be on his own.
“I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Mum said. She placed a hand on Barbara’s shoulder. “You know what boys are like.”
I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment that Mum was thinking about because there had been so many evenings when we’d been out all day, reinforcing one of our hideouts or trying to get a raft to float on the river, and then wandered home when it was already dark, but we’d never dare do it on a school night.
Mum was looking at Barbara with a sad look on her face, her hand still resting on her shoulder. I could never imagine the two of them as friends. Everything about them was different. Mum looked like a proper mum should, but John’s mum looked more like one of those TV mums, with red lipstick and hair that didn’t move, and they lived in one of Little Mosswick’s new housing estates that Dad had sworn so much about when they were built.
“I should go,” said Barbara. She stepped out of the door then turned to look back at me.
“Does he have any other friends I could check with?”
John didn’t have many friends. The trouble was that he was smart, and he knew it, and people didn’t like that. I shook my head and she turned away, her shoulders slung low. As Mum put her hand on the door, I said, “Wait,” and Barbara turned around. “Maybe Daniel Richardson? They hang out together sometimes.”
Daniel and John were friends, but they’d fallen out when John had lent his imported Nintendo Gameboy to me and not him. But perhaps they’d made up. Perhaps John was over at Daniel’s house trading Panini World Cup stickers. Maybe John was swapping his sticker of the World Cup trophy with Daniel, the sticker that I needed so badly to complete the first page. More than anything I wanted Daniel to have that shiny world cup sticker, even if it meant that I never completed my collection.
“Want us to have a bit of a look around? See if he turns up?” Dad said without looking up from his plate.
“No, I couldn’t possibly ask you to…”
“It’s no trouble. We’ll send him straight home if we find him.” Dad was already halfway out of his seat. He wiped his hands on his jumper and I wondered how he could even be wearing one in that heat.
“If you don’t mind… Thank you.” She looked at me, “And this other boy, Daniel?”
I told Barbara where Daniel lived, and she smiled before she hurried out of the door, catching her heel on the ridge, but not letting it slow her down on her way to her car.
“It’s not right leaving kids that age home on their own,” Dad said, after pushing another piece of bread into his mouth which distorted his voice. “Mothers should be home with their children.”
He swallowed noisily then reached for his boots and sunk back into the seat to pull them on. “Couldn’t very well leave her in that state though. Had to do something.”
He stood up and called out, “Will!”
Will thudded down the stairs and peered around the door-frame.
“Come take a walk with me up along the drove, and down to the riverbank.”
“Okay,” Will said and went to fetch his shoes.
“You, boy,” he said, glaring at me. “Take a wander around the back field. Take Chappie with you. He could do with the exercise.”
We named our dog after the brand of food we fed him. We thought we were being original by not calling him Spot or Patch or Rover or Shep.
He was a border collie, black with a ring of white around his neck and over his shoulders, and a patch of white around his left eye. We got him from the animal shelter. He’d been abandoned, so we had no idea of how old he was, but in the last year he’d slowed down. He didn’t show any excitement when I fetched the lead, and he struggled to get to his feet.
“Come on, Chappie,” I said, trying to muster some enthusiasm from him.
He shook after he stood, then looked at me with watery eyes, and put up no fight as I put him on the lead.
Our house was a couple of hundred metres from the main road which ran through Little Mosswick and was connected to the various fields that made up our farm by a series of droves. It had been so dry that the stiff grey mud had cracked and looked like the skin of an ancient dinosaur. Granddad Norman knew all of the names of the droves, but I only knew them by where they led to, or the streets in the village they crossed. I looked up along the drove that led up to the river, the one that Dad and Will were on, but I could see no sign of them. They’d already disappeared behind the row of elderberry bushes.
I gave Chappie’s lead a tug. “It’s me and you again.”
He stopped to sniff the gatepost.
“How come it’s always Dad and Will, hey Chappie?” I was almost dragging him along as I gazed down into the ditches on either side of the drove that separated the field of oilseed rape, which was alive with yellow flowers swaying in the breeze, from the potato field. “I’d rather be with you anyway.”
I didn’t know what I was looking into the ditches for. There wouldn’t be anything down there. Those on the left were all bone-dry and had a bit of brown grass and a few bulrushes withering away in them. The other side was thick with nettles, with a few dock leaves sprouting at the very edges. At least if anyone fell in, they’d be able to ease the sting right away. I heard a rustling and pictured the horrible toad-like creature from the cover of the Deathtrap Dungeon Fighting Fantasy book that I’d been playing through. If anything was going to strike, it would have been when I was on my own. But John was strong, and he was smart; he wouldn’t have been taken by a beast like that.
I wasn’t scared, but I didn’t want to walk along the ditches anymore, so a little way down the track, when we reached the entrance to the potato field, I decided to cut across it.
Chappie was immediately lost under the large green leaves, and I could only tell where he was by seeing where his lead disappeared, and from the odd quivering of the plants. I headed towards the back section of the field which was never planted up. It was home to a rusting Ford tractor that hadn’t moved as long as I was alive. John was into old machinery, and liked to tinker with things, so I thought it was worth a look in case he’d wandered over there.
I kept my eyes on the tractor to avoid looking at the twisted old oak tree in the back corner. It was dead, and at some point, it had been struck by lightning, perhaps more than once, which had almost split the tree in two. There was also a scorch mark on its trunk like a gaping mouth, and the wild branches above were like the hair of some ancient creature, or the snakes of Medusa, and where some low branches had been cut short years ago it looked like it had stumpy limbs. In recent years ivy had started to grow around its base, giving the impression that it had returned to life like some kind of foul, brain-thirsty zombie.
I’d been scared of the tree ever since Granddad Norman put one of his glass eyes into a knot on the tree’s trunk the day after he told us the story of how he lost his eye. It was not long after they bought the land, which hadn’t been farmed since the Miller boys (whoever they were) had all been killed during the First World War, when Granddad Norman was still only a boy. My great-granddad wanted that land in use, so he gaveGranddad Norman, and his older brother, Arthur, one day to clear it.
Once, there were sheds there, but they’d long since collapsed and the beams were half-buried in the ground. The best method Arthur and Granddad Norman could think of was to drag them out using chains attached to the tractor. They were all set to have the entire field clear, but then they set their sights on the old oak tree, and even though it was before the lightning strike, it already looked dead. They thought that it would come out of the ground as easily as those beams that had only been sunk a year or two. They didn’t reckon on the ancient evil that was holding the cursed oak in place. They tied their chain around the tree, and Arthur started in the tractor. The engine roared and the chain dug into the trunk, and Granddad swears it was on the lean and it looked like it was about to go when he heard something ping. The last thing he saw with his left eye was the broken chain flying towards him.
It was all for the best, claimed Granddad, because if the tree hadn’t taken his eye, then he would have had to fight in the war and, like Arthur, he might never have come home.
Putting his glass eye in the tree, the day after he told us that story, was his worst prank yet. He was spying on us from behind the old Ford tractor and he slapped the side of his legs and made a “Hoo-hoo,” sound, as Andy ran off across the field screaming, and he kept laughing until he had to dab at his good eye with a handkerchief.
I couldn’t look at the tree in case it was looking back and who knows what would have happened if I got caught in its evil glare, so I looked over to the new bypass. John wouldn’t have been playing there. Not while they were working on it. We used to, when it was a huge pile of sand and rubble and it would be left unattended for days at a time, but he was more sensible than to play in the path of a steamroller.
Chappie sniffed at the tractor wheels and cocked his leg up at it and whined. There was a thin film of dust and dirt on the seat, and it was clear no one had been on it for a while. I lifted a sheet of corrugated iron, and flipped it over, watching the worms wriggle underneath. There was a strong earthy smell, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. We walked close enough to the oak tree to see that there were no footprints in the soft earth around it, but I wasn’t getting any closer than that. We walked to the other side of the field and then I jumped the ditch while Chappie ran down and scrambled back up the other side. We had one of our old dens just off the path that led back to the farmhouse. This one we’d called Narnia, because, when we built it, I was obsessed with the TV series of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which had been on TV a few months earlier. It was watching that which made me want to read all of the books. Our current base was across the other side of the oil seed rape field, and we called that one Moon Base One (Liam named it) and we had a smaller one, up by the school, which was The Broom Cupboard. Narnia was built where the dyke came to an end a couple of elderberry bushes met and formed a natural shelter. We used to climb down the dyke and hide under the bushes. All that was left in there was some sticks Will had sharpened with his penknife back in the days when we were still Muskehounds. When it rained hard the dyke would get wet at the bottom and Mum told us off for getting our school trousers muddy, so we gave it up. John didn’t even know about this base though, and there was no sign of anyone having been there, so we wandered back home, passing the chicken coop on the way. Something bad had happened there. I saw those mutilated chickens in my head again, and then John’s face. What if the same thing that had gotten the chickens had gotten John too?
Dad’s boots were by the door. I walked in and he was sitting at the table. His face was red, and his hair was standing up, as if he’d been running his hands through it. He broke off his conversation with Mum when he saw me and stared until I looked away.
“He’ll be all right,” Mum said. She patted me on the back, and I slipped off my shoes.
“Can I give his house a call? To see if he’s home?”
Mum turned away and picked up a tea-towel to wipe a cup which was already dry. “Better leave them alone,” she said, looking down at the cup. “I’m sure he’ll be at home, but his Mum and Dad will be having words with him.”
Having words. That was adult speak for telling him off.
With that I filled a beaker with orange squash, ran in some water, and took it up to my room. It was the room at the top of the stairs, with the spare room on the left (piled high with boxes) and the bathroom on the right. Mum and Dad’s room was on the other side of that, but we weren’t allowed in there.
In our room, my bed was nearest the door and Will’s was on the other side of the room which meant that he had to cross into my side to get to his, so he claimed that he had the better side of the room as it had more privacy. As the older brother, he deserved that.
On top of our shared set of drawers (top two for Will, bottom two for me) was our TV. We shared that too. It was a 21-inch Philips colour TV with Teletext and a remote control. Attached to that was our Nintendo Entertainment System, a joint Christmas present six months earlier. Will had already started playing again.
I walked over to the window and looked out. I was glad our bedroom didn’t look out to the rest of the village; I didn’t want to see the school and the estate John lived on. But looking out over the field brought me no comfort either as my eyes always came to rest on the oak tree. I pulled the curtains closed.
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The Sinister Horror Company are proud to reveal the cover of our forthcoming title My Dead and Blackened Heart by Andrew Freudenberg which will be released on the 25th October 2019, with an early release at FCON in Glasgow over the weekend of 18th – 20th October 2019.
Andrew Freudenberg has long since been a regular feature in anthologies over the last five years, including our very own The Black Room Manuscripts Volume Three and the Sinister Horror Company Annual. With My Dead and Blackened Heart, Freudenberg marks his debut solo collection, featuring 14 short stories. His work is characterised with a wry smile that permeates a bleakness in settings as far removed as World War 2 and the outer reaches of space. Freud (as he is commonly referred to) is a well known face in the horror community, and it is with pride and pleasure that Sinister Horror Company present this collection.
The cover is a rather striking and unusual image, and the author will explain more.
Andrew Freudenberg has this to say about the new release:
“I’m very excited to join the Sinister Horror Company in revealing the cover to my forthcoming collection, ‘My Dead and Blackened Heart’. Some years ago, when he was four or five, Xavier, the youngest of my three sons, was asked to draw a self-portrait at school. This work in charcoal was the finished result. To me it contained an unwitting, I hope, glimpse into the void, an individual seeing the darkness staring back from the shadows. I immediately thought that this striking image would make a good book cover.
Fast forwards to recent times, and I find myself being asked by the good folk of Sinister whether I would be interested in publishing a collection with them. I’ve always liked The Sinister Horror Company press, both as publishers and people, and watching them expand their horizons over the years has been a total pleasure. In addition, on the occasions that they’ve asked if I would like to contribute to various projects, they’ve always been huge supporters of my writing and fantastic to work with. So… of course I bit their figurative hands off and jumped at the chance. I had several possibilities in mind for a cover, and working with Justin Park, came up with several more. In the end though, it was this, Xavier’s self-portrait, that called the loudest.
One of the basic concepts for this collection was variety. I like to write in an abundance of tones and settings, and Mr Park was keen to highlight this. With this in mind, we assembled the stories, some old, some new, into ‘My Dead and Blackened Heart’. It quickly became clear that childhood and parenting were emergent themes throughout many of the chosen tales. Obviously raising three boys had made their mark on my imagination, so it seemed doubly appropriate to use this image, and another which you’ll find within. Synchronicity!
Inside you’ll find stories that waste no time in rolling in the dirt, weirder tales that encourage you to step inside the madness of my protagonists, and deceptively inviting yarns, that take you by the hand before dragging you into their grim realities. I hope that the different hues of horror bind together, making a collection that will leave the reader feeling like the cover art.”
My Dead and Blackened Heart blurb:
14 stories of terror, dread and fatherhood.
From the isolation of space, to the ever-watchful eyes in a darkening wood, Andrew Freudenberg takes us on a journey exploring the themes of friendship, fatherhood and loss, as we pick through the remains of his dead and blackened heart.
“Overhead the lighting operator switched everything to green, just as two enormous mortars fired shredded silver paper in a plume over the crowd. Sarge blinked, attempting to clear the salt lacing his eyes.
For a moment he thought he saw paratroopers descending from above, but shook off the hallucination and turned his attention to the stalls. A group of youngsters were caught by Doc’s spotlight for a split second, their eyes wide with wonderment and a touch of fear.
It was enough to send Sarge back to the jungle, back to the children in the village. Their eyes had been the same, gazing up at him intently, even after he had slaughtered them with his bayonet and laid them all out in a row. At the time it had seemed the kind thing to do, a mercy killing of sorts. After all they had executed everyone else, so who would have looked after them?
There was something complete about leaving them lying peacefully amongst the burning buildings.
It had been a Zen moment.”
Featuring the stories: Something Akin To Despair, A Bitter Parliament, Charlie’s Turn, Pater in Tenebris, Milkshake, Nose to the Window, The Cardiac Ordeal, Meat Sweets, Scorch, The Teppenyaki of Truth, Before The Meat Time, Hope Eternal, The Last Patrol & Beyond The Book.
My Dead and Blackened Heart will be available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback from Amazon and the Sinister Horror Company website from the 25th October 2019.
An early release launch party will be happening at FCON in Glasgow between 18th – 20th October 2019.
A hardback edition with additional stories and bonus features will also be available (more details on its contents to be announced).
Pre-orders to go live on Amazon and the Sinister website in due course.
Cover art by Xavier Freudenberg.
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