Welcome to Halloween, and the chance for me to talk about three of my novels.
My Horror History
When I was 11, I hankered after all things Hammer Horror, the British film company that made a series of Dracula, Frankenstein and other horror films. I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to these films at such an early age, but my best friend and I shared the Hammer Horror magazines. Where some boys smoked or did other naughty things ‘behind the bike sheds’, we pored over the horror stories. These magazines had glossy photos of Christopher Lee impaled on a cartwheel, or Peter Cushing bearing a crucifix, and those, I found more exciting than the busty vamp playing the leading lady. That Christmas (1974), I asked my dad to buy me Dracula, the Bram Stoker novel, and I have since read it innumerable times. My novel, ‘The Stoker Connection’ is based on it, and Bram Stoker appears in the Clearwater Mystery book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline.)
I was also into James Herbert novels like ‘The Rats’ and ‘The Fog’, Universal horror movies, and even made the Aurora glow in the dark horror model kits. Strange then, that I have only written one or two horror novels… So far.
Actually, thinking about it, I’ve written more, if you include ghost stories and dark thrillers. For example, as James Collins, I have three books in the Saddling series. Starting with The Saddling, they follow the MC, Tom Carey, who returns to his ancestor’s village of Saddling in pursuit of a mystery which, if solved, will land him an inheritance. What Tom finds is a village living in the past with its own rituals and way of life akin to the 19th century. He also finds confusion when he meets the ethereal, mysterious and stunningly attractive Daniel Vye, and later finds love. I won’t give too much away, but the plot was inspired by The Wicker Man film from 1973. Part two, ‘The Witchling’ is about a returning witch seeking revenge, and part three, ‘The Eastling’ concerns one of the annual festivals and a dark spirit that inhabits the marsh mists. You can find them on my James Collins Author page.
As for my first, true horror story, well, that’s also a James Collins and was inspired by a true story.
Some time ago, two youths broke into a lonely farmhouse to rob it but encountered the owner with a shotgun. Outraged, the owner shot the boys and later, was put away for the crime. I wondered, what if it was the other way around? Two boys break into a lonely house because they are vagrants and starving. They encounter a man with a shotgun, but instead of him shooting them, they shoot him and kill him.
They do this just as a car arrives at the house; the family coming to the old man’s birthday party. The boys hide the body and try and cover their tracks, but as the story unfolds, they learn that things are not what they seem. Forced to confess, they take the family to where the body is hidden, only to find it gone.
And then things get really bad.
Ancient rituals are involved again, as is a supernatural inheritance, a lot of deception and a freezer full of body parts, but I’ll not spoil the story for you.
Unsurprisingly, this novel is called ‘Lonely House’, and you can find it on Amazon. It’s a kind of ‘cabin in the woods’ story with plenty of twists and two central main characters who not only have a dubious past but what one reviewer called ‘a Steinbeckish relationship’, which I thought rather flattering. We are also left wondering if they end up as a couple.
Also, as James Collins, I wrote ‘The Judas Inheritance‘ back in 2014. At the time, I was working with a collaborator on ideas for a low-budget horror film. He was involved with a film company who wanted to make good-quality but cheap-to-produce horror films, as they are, apparently, best sellers in the film world, or were at the time.
I came up with a story set on a Greek island during the Greek financial crisis of the time, and one which could easily be scripted and filmed here.
I used Symi, my home, as the island because of it’s ruins and scenery which would provide the sets should the film ever get made. It was! Well, a budget was raised, and a crew came over, we filmed for two weeks during which I was reduced from scriptwriter and producer to location manager, office manager and catering, but that’s how low-budget films get made. Neil even appeared in it as a character who wasn’t even in the script when we started, and the film, although looking fantastic and sounding good, wandered from the script so much, there was a problem in post-production, and it was never released. Such is life in the screen trade.
Anyway… ‘The Judas Inheritance’ is presented in two voices. The narrator via diary form (note the ‘Dracula’ inspiration) and in the third person, so the reader is at times in the story and at other times, outside. It concerns an inheritance left to a reluctant hero who travels to the island to claim his late father’s possessions and discovers an island in decline. An evil spirit has been set free by the father’s investigations into the whereabouts of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas in the Bible story. The spirit of a guilt-ridden Judas causes islanders to kill themselves in ever-increasing nasty ways, and if not stopped, will cause the end of the entire population. There’s the analogy to the financial crisis if you want one.
The story combines actual island history with supernatural imagination, and as with many of my books, is a mix of fact and fiction.
And then we switch over to Jackson Marsh. I started writing as Jackson because I wanted to be freer with my storylines and characters. The Judas Inheritance is the only novel with no gay character, but the James Collins ones are tame in terms of gay relationships and openness of sexuality and sex. I didn’t want to confuse my established readers, who follow my autobiographical books about moving to and living in Greece, by presenting them with two guys bouncing around a bed, and so came up with Jackson Marsh. As him, I can write more intimately about men and what we do together.
That’s one thing, and after a few books with a fair amount of erotica involved (such as ‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’, I am now veering more towards the ‘fade to black’ handling of sex scenes, or at least, writing fewer of them.
In ‘Curious Moonlight‘ I went for the ‘fade to black’ approach because I wanted to write a story about a gay-curious guy struggling with feelings towards an out gay guy. Luke moves into an old house on a Cornish clifftop and needs a repairman. Peran turns up to do the job, but that’s where the clichés end. The house comes with an unsettled spirit and a long history which, together, Luke and Peran investigate.
As they do, they come closer together, but Peran is straight… ish. The trouble is, the spirit, or ghost, doesn’t want them to be happy until his story is known and understood, and starts misbehaving. I’m making it sound like a comedy, but it isn’t. It’s a slow-burn, paranormal romance and mystery.
Curious Moonlight was inspired by an old Cornish legend. In it, an old sea captain, living alone and remotely, was the go-to person when young, newbie sailors wanted to be blessed before their first voyage. A night spent with the old man would ensure safe travels, but when the sailors returned the next morning, none would speak of what had taken place, or what the ‘blessing’ consisted of, only that it took all night. Well, you can imagine how my imagination set off on a voyage of its own with that one! That story is the background of the haunting.
Whatever you decide to read this Halloween or after it, I hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, here’s the latest news from my desk.
Banyak & Fecks
Banyak & Fecks has been booked in for its proof-reading on November 20th. That means, I should have it back and approved about a week later, and that means, I should be able to release it around the end of that month. Andjela, the cover designer, has shown me the first proofs of the cover idea and has created two portraits, one of Fecker and one of Silas. I think they’re fab. We’ll do a proper cover reveal in due course.
As usual, you can find all my novels on my two author pages.