Everything about this book is beautiful; the cover, the writing, the story, the titular character, even the formatting! How often do you find yourself saying that about a novel? I even dig the ‘Echo’ logo on the cover. Yes, you can tell that a lot of thought, care, effort and love has gone into creating this work. Author Yasmine Maher is clearly someone who loves books, and she’s passing that love on in the form of her own.
Our improbably yet gloriously named hero is at law school, has a fiancé called Joe and a sister called Tara who’s getting married. Yes, she’s an apparently normal young woman with a secure yet unremarkable future ahead of her. Ah, but Echo is a Blackwood which means that she comes from a long line of witches and is the subject of a prophecy. Basically, she is the only person in the world capable of defeating the severely damaged magical being known as Jivar, but this is not a journey she can take on her her own.
After her sister’s wedding gets rudely gatecrashed by grotesque creatures not of this Earth, Echo is befriended by Vanna and Kirby, who mentor her in the ways of magic. As she negotiates the labyrinth of her new life, she falls in love with a captured baddie called Doyle and travels to other realms in her mission to save the world, all while being pursued and threatened by a supremely evil witch called Viessa.
As Echo grows and develops as a character, secrets are revealed, allegiances are switched and a cataclysmic showdown between good and evil looms. It’s all very exciting, and, as I earlier stated earlier, very beautiful.
This is a book for people who love books, for people who love fantasy and escapism, who love strong characters, who love twists and turns and rich world building. It’s a joyous labour of love from the author and an assured debut and I can’t wait to see what Yasmine has up her sleeve next. Whatever it is, I prophesise that we’re in for a treat.
Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches is available from Amazon.
Rob Zombie’s THE MUNSTERS serves as a prequel to the classic TV sitcom that originally aired in 1964. Set for the most part in Transylvania, it chronicles how lumbering monster Herman and vampish Lily meet and fall in love, to the ire of Lily’s undead father, The Count.
This movie is a very different beast from the series it’s based on. For a start, whereas the original show was broadcast in black and white, this is filmed in retina-scorching colour. Actually, there is waaaay too much colour, the screen awash with vivid greens and purples. Zombie said that his intention was to have the movie resemble a live action cartoon, but it ends up looking garish.
Also, many of the laughs from the original series came from the fact that a family of monsters was living in America, and what happened when these two very different worlds collided. But here, in the Transylvania of this movie, everyone is a ghoul, so the Munsters don’t really stand out at all.
The biggest departure from the original show, however, is the character of Herman. In the series he was a dimwitted but big hearted family man, completely devoted to wife Lily and their son Eddie. But here he’s a fast-talking, wisecracking hep cat with the stolen brain of a stand-up comedian. Instead of being disarming he’s swaggering and a little bit arrogant, while still being dimwitted. Frankly, he’s just not as loveable.
Sheri Moon Zombie does a great job in the role of Lily and certainly looks the part, but best of the trio is Daniel Roebuck as The Count (aka Grandpa). His performance sails pretty close to that of original cast member Al Lewis.
A large part of the charm of the original show was that this family of monsters from Transylvania was living in suburban America completely oblivious to the fact that they were different. It just never seemed to occur to them. And despite their ghoulish origins, they were as loving and morally sure as any of their neighbours. It was actually quite a beautiful message when you think about it, because inside, where it really counts, the Munsters were in reality no different from their neighbours. But, in Zombie’s movie, when the titular family finally make it to the US and see their neighbours for the first time (devoid of their Halloween costumes), they’re horrified. It just doesn’t work.
But on the plus side, there are a few genuine laughs to be had, some good performances and some fun cameos (such as Cassandra Peterson – none other than Elvira, Mistress of the Dark herself). Also, I loved the fact that the family’s fiery pet Spot was afforded an appearance.
I watched this movie on Halloween night really wanting to enjoy it, but it had way too many flaws. Sorry, Rob. I tried.
After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Malignant Dead, a macabre tale of life and death (but mostly death) set in the plague-ravaged gutters of 17th century Edinburgh, I was in the mood for another grisly fix from ghost-chasing, pole-dancing, horror-fixated twins CL Raven, so I picked up Silent Dawn and dived in.
This novel is a very different beast, trading old Scotland for present day Wales, plague doctors for ostracised Goths and a rampaging disease for a deadly computer game character.
A spate of disappearances has thrown a dark cloud over the fictional town of Blackwater, and gay Goth Ben thinks he knows who the culprit is; computer game character Silent Dawn. Accompanied by his friends, serial killer-obsessed Goth Drake (aka Drakeula) and creative Goth Keira, he pursues his suspicions and discovers that Silent Dawn did not begin life as an amalgamation of code, but as a dark figure of folklore stretching back centuries.
As our heroes delve deeper into the grim game, in which they explore a terrifying abandoned asylum, Silent Dawn, with her hollow eyes and stitched-up mouth, burrows deeper into their psyches, until they can’t be sure if she is actually real or if they’re losing their minds. The only thing they are sure of is that in order to save themselves and the children she has taken, they have to destroy her.
Silent Dawn (the book, that is, not the character), is fun, scary, compelling and brutal. Despite the madness and the asylum and the gore, it’s written with a light touch and a genuine, heartfelt compassion for the characters.
Ben is both loveable and infuriating, endlessly cracking jokes even as Silent Dawn invades his life. Drake is tormented not only by the mutilated title character but also by Ben’s besotted younger sister. And Keira, who never leaves home, it seems, without her trusty sketchbook, is gritty, resilient and compassionate.
But as well as being a creepy horror this book also touches on a more serious and sombre issue; that of bullying. Throughout the story our trio of heroes face scorn and ridicule for daring to be different. And as a Goth and a member of the LGBTQ community, Ben gets it twice as bad.
I’ll definitely be getting stuck into some more books by CL Raven in the near future, but for the moment…it’s game over.
In the first extract from FRENZY ISLAND that I posted we met the cat-loving heavy metal fan from Arizona, Cynthia Dowley. In the second we met refugees Esperance and Godriva Watara. Now it’s time to meet the bad guy from my forthcoming sci-fi/horror novel: Texan billionaire businessman Byron Wurd.
Byron made his fortune with a chain of toyshops called Wurd’s World before moving into the far more lucrative fields of search engine technology and streaming services. Now he has started a commercial space flight operation (that has yet to see its first launch) which is headquartered in Arizona. This is where Cynthia Dowley works as a lowly monitoring station employee. Byron is also the owner of the east African island that Esperance and Godriva Watara have washed up on after being shipwrecked.
Oh, he has also entered into a secret agreement with the US government to build a machine the like of which humankind has never seen before.
He doesn’t make his appearance until quite late in the story, despite his name and his presence casting a shadow over every preceding page. Here, as events are starting to reach their crescendo, he finally arrives at the Arizona spaceport from where the east Africa lab site is being monitored…
The entourage entered first – the personal assistant, the press secretary, the attorney, the security advisor, the government attache – with Byron Wurd following behind, as ever sporting his trademark Stetson and cowboy boots. Having his entourage go before him was a policy of his. It gave the impression that something important was about to happen, that the person following in their wake was not a person at all, but something far more.
He had picked up this little trick from Adolf Hitler. Or, more specifically, from a biography of Adolf Hitler. When the future Führer was still nothing more than a rabble-rousing party leader, he would not make his appearance at a speaking event until his armed guards had gone in ahead and parted the crowd. This gave the impression that a major figure was about to enter the frame. A man of power.
Mr B. liked this. He admired Hitler’s grip on the psychology of the crowd. Unfortunately, it was not the only thing he admired about the former German chancellor.
When Byron Wurd spoke, things happened. Necks were craned so that aghast stares could be aimed in his direction. Wide-eyed looks were exchanged. Then, the spaceport administrator, Elise Diamond, appeared at his side.
“It’s begun,” said Elise coldly. “One of the refugee women has seen Victor. Victor’s been communicating with them via the baby. It’s only a matter of time now.”
If anyone had been watching closely they’d have seen Elise’s lip curl with the utterance of the word ‘refugee.’ Cynthia was already convinced that Elise was a psychopath, and she’d only worked one shift in the top tier control room.
“Is there visual?”
With an icy hand, Elise tapped on the shoulder of the man sitting at the nearest workstation.
“You. Take your SmartCard out,” she ordered.
“What? My SmartCard? Why?” asked the underling, whose name was Mostin. He had not been prepped for this impromptu visit from the head of the company and so had been caught on the hop.
“Just do it,” an exasperated Elise snapped.
Mostin did as he was told. He pulled his SmartCard from the slot on his workstation, leaving his screens blank. Then he hung it around his neck on its lanyard. He winced as Elise leaned over him, inserting her own Priority 1 SmartCard. Then she typed in her password. Mostin made a point of looking away as she did so.
The workers at their workstations all turned to look at him.
“I would just like to remind you of the non-disclosure agreements in your contracts. What you are about to see does not leave this building! Understand?”
He was answered by a lot of nodding and a few nervous gulps.
“Okay,” Byron said to Elise.
Elise again tapped Mostin on the shoulder. “In the CCTV menu for the east African lab site you’ll see options that were not previously available to you. Find the one entitled ‘Victor’ and bring it up.”
Mostin did so and then there it was, on the big screen, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Mostin stared in stunned silence. Various colleagues inhaled sharply. The press secretary gasped and clasped a hand over his mouth. The personal assistant’s mouth dropped open. The security advisor dumbly uttered, “Judas fuckin’ Priest.” And the government attaché said and did nothing. He’d seen it all before.
The image was pin-sharp, HD quality. This only served to make the thing that every pair of eyes in the room was now fixed on all the more grotesque. It was…
If you want to know what “it” was you’ll have to read the book!
FRENZY ISLAND is published by Cranthorpe Millner on October 25th and is available for pre-order now.
“The boat hit shore at 09:27 EAT. We can be exact on this because it was picked up by the perimeter cameras. It was an old open lifeboat, navy blue, and we counted seven people on board. Eight if you want to include the baby. Most of them didn’t survive more than ten minutes.”
The story of FRENZY ISLAND kicks off when a small lifeboat full of shipwrecked refugees washes ashore on an unnamed island off the coast of east Africa…
“The boat hit shore at 09:27 EAT. We can be exact on this because it was picked up by the perimeter cameras. It was an old open lifeboat, navy blue, and we counted seven people on board. Eight if you want to include the baby. Most of them didn’t survive more than ten minutes.”
If Cynthia Dowley, who we met in my last post, brings the fun to my forthcoming novel, then sisters Esperance and Godriva Watara are its heart and soul. Esperance is the (slightly) older of the two and is a nurse. Godriva is a schoolteacher and has a baby son called Buki. Back home in Burundi Esperance and Godriva were promising runners. There was even talk of ‘careers’ as athletes for them. But now the only running they are doing is away from the political and civil unrest that has engulfed their country. Their escape leads them to an island of mysteries, horrors and things that should not be, which is where we first meet them…
“So what do we do now?” asked one of the boys.
Despite the fact he was brandishing an assault rifle, Mohamud, who was still young himself, probably no more than twenty-five, looked like a cornered deer. “I don’t know,” he stammered.
Esperance was having none of that. “You’re not allowed to not know,” she snapped. “We paid you to get us to South Africa. You have to have a back-up plan.”
“Smuggling people over borders doesn’t come with insurance,” Mohamud retorted.
“So is that your way of saying no one’s coming looking for us?”
“You’re refugees. I’m a pirate. Of course no one’s coming looking for us. We’re on our own, unless we can attract attention from a passing ship.”
“That’s not good enough,” said Godriva. “I’ve got a baby to look after. We can’t just wait. He has needs.”
Godriva suddenly felt hopelessly exposed on her baby’s behalf. She snuggled Bukeneza, Buki for short, up under her chin, rocking him to keep him from crying. He was looking eagerly around at these exciting new surroundings, blissfully unaware of the desperate situation he was in.
When the ship had gone down in the deep underworld of the night, all Godriva had manage to salvage was the small backpack containing baby supplies she now wore on her back. That and the light dress she had been wearing when the wave had hit. She suddenly remembered that she still had her phone. She handed Buki to her sister, slipped off the backpack and fished it out of the pocket on the side. No signal. Others checked theirs. Same result.
Esperance returned Buki and checked her own phone. With a roll of her eyes she slipped it back into the pocket of her shorts. She had managed to escape the capsizing ship with nothing but those and a vest. She’d even had to ditch her rucksack with the supplies for herself and her younger sister. She had not been allowed to bring it onto the lifeboat as it was too big.
“Do you even know where we are?” Godriva asked, not yet ready to let this Mohamud guy off the hook. “Is this Madagascar?”
“No. We didn’t get that far. Wherever this is, it’s north of Madagascar.”
“If I might interject,” said Leonce, the middle-aged man who was accompanying his mother. “If rescue does come, you really don’t want to be caught waving that thing about.” He nodded towards Mohamud’s assault rifle. “Maybe you should get rid of it.”
Mohamud raised the gun, Terminator-style. “Nice try,” he smirked.
Leonce rolled his eyes. “Oh, for goodness sake! What do you think we’re going to do? Mutiny? If rescue comes and you’re seen with a gun, they might just sail off and leave us here!”
“Or start shooting,” Esperance added.
“The gun stays.”
Godriva snorted with derision. “It’s because of people like you that we fled Burundi in the first place.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“It is now.”
“Maybe we should start a fire on the beach, to attract attention,” suggested one of the boys, whose name was Vital. He was obviously keen to diffuse the conversation.
“Yeah,” said the other kid, Walter. “Maybe we’ll be spotted by a plane or something. We could say we’re tourists heading for Madagascar, or…”
“Tourists, huh?” snickered Mohamud. “So where are your passports?”
Throughout this exchange, the older woman, Yanka, had remained silent, until now. “Shush,” she said. “Can anyone else here something?”
The talking ceased. Everyone tilted their heads to try and listen beyond the surface noise of waves lapping against shore, breeze blowing through trees, birds cawing. There was something there alright, and it sounded like…yelling?
The party of seven, eight if you want to include the baby, broke from their tree cover and stepped cautiously out onto the beach. The wind was fresh and cool, as it usually is after a storm, and it carried the noise their way.
“Over there,” said Yanka, pointing towards the headland.
It was early and the sun was still low in the sky. Framed against it was a pack of men. They were charging towards the shipwrecked survivors, scattering the seabirds that dotted the beach as they neared. ‘Pack’ is the word that presented itself to Esperance because they seemed more like wild animals than people; sprinting, screaming, roaring, grimacing. She quickly counted ten of them, all freakishly tall, completely naked, utterly hairless and…
“There’re blue,” said Leonce.
“Can’t be,” said Esperance, still squinting into the morning glare.
“They are,” said Walter. “They really are blue.”
“They must be like…seven-foot tall, or something,” Vital added.
None of the survivors moved, mostly because they did not know how to respond to a sight as bizarre as this. They were being charged by a pack of naked, blue-skinned giants with penises swinging wildly and faces contorted into visages of rage. But as the pack neared, their bloodlust became impossible to deny.
Godriva was the first to break. “Run,” she simply said. And run they did.
The party scattered. Holding her baby boy tightly against her chest, Godriva made for the trees. Esperance followed as shouting and gunfire erupted behind her. She put herself between the gunfire and her sister with her baby. Even with her son in her arms, Godriva sprinted like a pro athlete; light, lithe and fast. With her identical physique, Esperance kept pace easily. She looked back over her shoulder to see Yanka going down under the pack of blue men in a frenzy of blood and limbs. There was a kind of cool fascination to it, like watching a pride of lions taking down a zebra on a nature doc. Yanka’s son swung punches and kicks in a desperate attempt to save his mother but he lasted only seconds. He died with teeth in his throat.
Again there was the rapid rat-a-tat of bullets leaving barrel followed by screaming. Mohamud was down. Three of the blue savages broke from the pack and zeroed in on Esperance and Godriva.
“RUUUUN!” screamed Esperance. “RUUUUUUN!”
Esperance and Godriva have washed up on the very island that a certain Cynthia Dowley monitors from Arizona, which is how their journeys become intertwined. And believe it or not, there is a logical explanation as to why an east African island should be home to a pack of freakishly tall, hairless, blue-skinned savages, but if you want to know what it is you’ll have to read the book.
FRENZY ISLAND is published by Cranthorpe Millner on October 25th and can be pre-ordered now.
Cynthia Dowley is one of the main players in my forthcoming sci-fi/horror novel FRENZY ISLAND. She is absolutely, totally and completely my favourite character in the book; a prolifically tattooed twenty-something employee of SpaceWurd who digs heavy metal (favourite bands include Sumo Cyco, Butcher Babies, Stitched Up Heart and Megadeth), has a big ginger cat called Mashed Potato and an on/off girlfriend called Alison. Also, she takes great pride in taking no care of herself whatsoever; crashing out in her clothes and eating hot dogs for breakfast. She used to play bass in a band with her friends but let it fall by the wayside when she bought a games console.
We first meet her at Scottsdale Airport in Arizona, on her way to work for the night shift…
Cynthia liked to get to Scottsdale Airport early to grab a hot dog and a coffee before flying out to the spaceport to start her shift. At this point in time it was a spaceport in name only, as nothing had officially been launched from there. The company were promising that commercial passenger flights skimming the Earth’s atmosphere would be starting the next year. But then, they’d been repeating that promise for the last five. All that aside, no matter how far ahead of flight-time she arrived, there was always someone there before her, which only succeeded in pissing her off as it meant a queue at Gene’s Hot Dog Heaven trailer.
“Usual, Cynth?” asked the man himself from behind the counter.
“Hell yeah!” Cynthia replied with a wicked grin. “S’always the right time for a dog.”
“Thanks to people who hold that attitude, I can pay my rent,” Gene said in his glorious Arizona drawl. He started preparing her usual jumbo cheese dog with onions, ketchup and mustard.
“Besides, when you work shifts like I do,” Cynthia continued as she fished her wallet from her shoulder bag, “you stop caring if it’s morning or night. Hunger is hunger, you know.”
“Yeah, I guess. Have to take yer word for that though. Always bin a nine-to-five man, mysel‘. Till now, o‘ course.”
“You’re living the dream there, Gene. Living the dream.”
“Well, I don‘ know ’bout that.”
Gene looked at his watch. It was pushing 7:20pm. Be time to pack up and head home soon. When he’d left the house that lunchtime to come to work he’d made sure to leave a beer or two in the fridge for when he got back.
Cynthia zipped up her leather jacket. The sun had already disappeared behind the hills, leaving a dying blue sky behind it. She inhaled as the sweet aromas of coffee and frying onions mixed with the chilly breeze coming in from the desert.
By now a few more workers had shown up and were milling around. Cynthia spotted her friend and colleague Matt and nodded him a hello as a queue formed behind her. Not caring, she carried on yakking.
“Screw it. Gimme a donut too.”
“That’s my girl,” Gene said with a wink. “Say, you’ll never guess who came by here yesterday. Alice Cooper.”
Cynthia was genuinely astounded. “What? No shit!”
“Yep. Sold ’im a dog before his flight. Had his wife ’n‘ daughter with him. Nice fam’ly.”
“Gene, you just officially became the coolest guy I know.”
“’Bout time you cottoned on.”
“What is it about Arizona that pulls the rocks stars in?” Cynthia pondered aloud. “Place is crawling with ’em. We got Alice Cooper, Rob Halford from Judas Priest, the bassist from Megadeth, that dude from Tool.”
“Two words,” replied wise old Gene, “skies ’n‘ golf. We got the best o‘ both.”
A small passenger plane swished through the bleached-out sky overhead.
“Ooh! Looks like my ride is here,” Cynthia said.
Gene handed over her coffee, hot dog and donut. Cynthia paid up, bade Gene a good evening and scurried off to the landing strip. She liked Gene. He never seemed to be afflicted by bad moods no matter what shit was going down. She admired this increasingly rare quality in a human being. Gene, in turn, watched as his favourite customer, laden with her dinner of saturated fats, salts, sugars and caffeine, trotted off for another long night of doing whatever the hell it was she did in that darn spaceport place.
Nice kid, he thought, but if my daughter-in-law starts dressing like that,me an‘ her’ll be having words.
Stay tuned for more character profiles and extracts soon. FRENZY ISLAND is published by Cranthorpe Millner on October 25th and can be pre-ordered now.
If you’re hungry for a creepy folk-horror tale that’s guaranteed to put you off your dinner, this is it.
The Feast is a Welsh language film, subtitled, that centres around a dinner party thrown by a well-to-do family of generally unpleasant people. Glenda, the matriarch, is a prissy perfectionist stewing in her own materialism. Her husband Gwyn is the local MP who shoots the rabbits the family and their guests are about to devour. Then there are their two dysfunctional sons; drug dependent musician Guto and sinister doctor-slash-triathlete Gweirydd.
Hired to assist for the evening is the evidently troubled young woman Cadi, who barely speaks and creeps around the family’s home like a ghost. Needless to say, she is not all that she seems.
+++WARNING+++IF YOU’RE ALLERGIC TO SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY NOW+++
This is a compelling slow-burn of a film that provides ever more to chew on as it progresses. It’s quietly unnerving for starters, positively disturbing by the time we get to the main course, and as for dessert? Well…
Director Lee Haven Jones keeps the audience stewing as the ulterior reason for the dinner party is revealed, leading to an attack of social awkwardness severe enough to rival any of the more traditional horror elements. Also, as the sons fall under the influence of the hired help, Glenda slowly realises that a malignant force is at work, and descends into madness as her family is slowly destroyed around her.
This ‘malignant force’ is the only thing about the film which I found hard to swallow. There is a subplot about someone – only ever referred to as ‘she’ – buried in a place called The Rise, which one of the dinner party guests wants to dig up and mine for profit. I found this to be a little bit corny, but that really is just a quibble.
The film really hits its icky stride when the family and their guests start eating. Jones expertly tightens the tourniquet with every bite, expertly cranking up the tension all the way to the stomach-churning denouement without ever overegging it.
And in the middle of this orgy of raw meat, ingested hair, skinned rabbits and bile is Cadi, who remains coldly impassive yet impeccably evil throughout. It’s a brilliant and chilling performance from Annes Elwy, who conveys a hell of a lot despite saying very little.
I’m sure there are people out there who will find this film particularly tasteless, but I’m not one of them. And if, like me, you like your horror cerebral as well as visceral, make sure The Feast is on your menu.
I’ve officially run out of dinner-related puns now, so review over. Time to wash up.
For the uninitiated, Liv Kristine is a Norwegian singer who, as lead vocalist in Theatre of Tragedy and Leaves’ Eyes, helped to define the gothic heavy metal subgenre. She has also throughout her career contributed vocals to a number of other bands and released five solo albums plus numerous EPs. But what I’m reviewing here, friends, is a brand-new, lavish, digitally remastered re-release of her second album, Enter My Religion, which originally came out in 2006.
I’ve read reviews that place this album in the category of pop-rock, but I don’t agree. This is opulently produced rock with a gothic tinge, boasting a satisfyingly sumptuous mix, seductive hooks, exquisite arrangements and the silky-yet-powerful vocals that are Liv’s trademark. The only time Enter My Religion strays into the arena of pop, in my own humble opinion, is on the track You Take Me Higher, and even then the arrangement is far too unique to be dismissed as merely ‘pop’. Featuring an accordion in the mix, it has a quirky, characterful sound and an irresistibly catchy groove. I thought it was terrific.
Kicking off the album, however, is Over The Moon, which features a meaty riff and a beguiling chorus. From that moment on you know you’re in expert hands, with sonic delights awaiting you around every corner. Trapped In Your Labyrinth, for example, is gloriously atmospheric, with soaring strings, evocative sitar and a surging chorus. My personal highlight is the title track, which boasts a melody so warm it’s like a hug. It really is a stunner.
Also included in this collection is a moving cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia. The Boss’s powerful lyrics coupled with Liv’s emotional delivery makes for a perfect match. The world seems to stop when that one comes on.
Enter My Religion is a beautiful album from start to finish, and listening to it reminds me why I’m such a hopelessly devoted Liv Kristine fanboy. Give it a spin and I daresay you’ll be one too.
If you’re lucky enough to bag yourself one of the limited edition CDs you’ll also get a second disc of demo versions. I treated myself to this and the limited white vinyl which comes with a 7” single featuring piano versions of Trapped In Your Labyrinth and Fake A Smile. What a lucky boy I am!
Just as my first novel, Deep Level, began with a nightmare, so did this one. Actually, scratch that. The journey to Frenzy Island began with a series of them.
There were four, and they came over successive nights. The first depicted a shipwrecked party of cruise liner tourists washing ashore on an island with a long beach and a jungle, where they were set upon by a pack of freakishly tall, naked, hairless, blue-skinned savages. It was carnage. I wasn’t ‘in’ this dream, as it were. I was observing it, like a movie.
I did, however, have a starring role in the second nightmare. I was hiding in a dilapidated warehouse while the blue-skinned savages from my first dream hunted me. Weird.
Dream numbers three and four were both off the charts in the terror stakes. I was ‘in’ both of these and during the last one actually called out during my sleep. My girlfriend had to wake me up in order to snap me out of it. However, I can’t tell you anything about these last two without giving away major plot points in the novel, so I’ll keep schtum.
I quickly realised that by putting these four nightmares together I would have the basis of a story, and a damn compelling one too, not least because this story would involve a subject I have long been interested in: UFOs and aliens. Inspiration had struck!
However, I couldn’t make this story work with the shipwreck survivors being cruise liner castaways. Holidaymakers have money, passports, insurance and, most importantly, people who will demand that they be found and rescued. There could be no convenient rescue for my protagonists on this hellish island, and that’s why I decided to make them not tourists but refugees.
That the world doesn’t care about refugees is a refrain repeated throughout the novel.
For authenticity, I wanted an African country with a genuine crisis from which my protagonists could be fleeing. Also, this crisis needed to be something that was going on in 2018, which is when my novel is set.
Enter Burundi. Or rather, exit Burundi.
Burundi is a small, landlocked country bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An attempted coup in May 2015 led to a humanitarian emergency that unfolded over the following few years, with thousands of citizens fleeing violence, arrest and torture, among them my protagonists: nurse Esperance Watara, her schoolteacher sister Godriva and Godriva’s baby son Buki.
They are escaping to South Africa where Godriva has friends. Knowing that wherever you go in the world, there will always be a need for nurses and schoolteachers, she and her sister are hopeful that they can build new lives there. But thanks to tropical Cyclone Ava, which battered eastern Madagascar in January 2018, they never make it.
Meanwhile, half a world away in Arizona, lowly monitoring station employee Cynthia Dowley is clocking into work in the hope that her shift will be a quiet one. However, it’s not to be her day. When she hits the button to allow three refugees – our sisters and baby from Burundi – into a scientific facility that she watches over, she becomes unwittingly embroiled in a conspiracy that could change the course of human history. But unwilling to abandon two young women and a child to a fate beyond the worst nightmares of any reasonable person, she comes up with a plan.
Cynthia was a delight to write. She’s in her mid-twenties, is into heavy metal, has multiple tattoos and piercings and sports a magnificent mohawk. She used to play bass but it fell to the side when she bought a games console. She has an appalling diet and sleeps in her clothes. Also, she has a cat named Mashed Potato and an on/off girlfriend called Alison.
Basically, she’s not someone her employers take seriously. That turns out to be a big mistake on their part because boy is she smart!
So, why Arizona? I chose that particular state in the US as Cynthia’s home because I’m fascinated by it. Among other things, I’m intrigued by the desert landscape, the mind-boggling temperatures and the fact that so many rock stars live there. As Cynthia recounts to a hot dog seller during a scene in the novel, “We got Alice Cooper, Rob Halford from Judas Priest, the bassist from Megadeth, that dude from Tool.”
The abandoned facility Esperance, Godriva and Buki retreat to is owned by Cynthia’s employer, Texan billionaire oligarch Byron Wurd. Every story needs a bad guy, and he’s ours. Never seen without his trademark Stetson, he made his fortune in toys before moving onto search engine technology and eventually commercial space travel. He’s an absolute bastard and the inspiration for him came in an entirely separate dream.
The dreams I have are rarely pleasant.
The refugees initially believe that they are safe in the deserted compound, but soon discover that they are trapped in there with something far more terrifying than the blue-skinned savages beyond the stainless steel fence. There is something lurking below the ground, trapped. Something that should not be there. And in the skies above, strange things are happening. Looking up at night, Esperance and Godriva see things that do not belong in our galaxy.
When I was pitching Frenzy Island to publishers, I described it as, “Jurassic Park meets Close Encounters by way of Stephen King.” Both Jurassic Park and Close Encounters have elements of horror in them – people being eaten, the boy being abducted from his home by aliens – but when writing Frenzy Island I decided to dial the terror up to 11. The situation the refugees are in is nightmarish and claustrophobic. They are trapped on all sides, with blue-skinned savages surrounding the facility, mysterious objects in the sky above and a terrifying entity below ground. And in Arizona Cynthia is falling ever deeper into a web of conspiracy and lies.
Can she save herself AND the refugees half a world away? On Frenzy Island no one is safe and there is no guarantee of a happy ending.
Oh, and just so you know, there is actually a rational explanation for the existence of giant, blue-skinned savages on that mysterious east African island, but to find out what it is you’re going to have to read the book. But be warned, it’s going to be one hell of a trip!
Frenzy Island is out 25th October 2022 and can be pre-ordered now from Waterstones, Foyles, Barnes & Noble, Forbidden Planet and Amazon. It is also available direct from the publisher, Cranthorpe Millner.
Whitechapel 1888 was no place for a lady. Not only were poverty, disease, crime and alcoholism rife, but there was a notorious killer on the loose whose savagery, it seemed, knew no limits. But Jack the Ripper wasn’t the only murderer preying on woman at that time.
The Ladies of Whitechapel by Denise Bloom sits as a worthy companion piece to Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: the Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. But whereas that was a work of social history, Bloom’s book is a novelised account of four gruesome deaths that occurred around the Ripper murders, in the same borough and in the same year.
This novel, which is presented as four self-contained stories, albeit it with overlapping themes, locations and characters, tells the tale of a high society woman who abandons her life of privilege for true love, a bereaved woman abandoned by uncaring relatives, a music hall entertainer raped by a lord. But it was the account, told in the first person, of one woman’s descent into destitution that I found the most affecting, because of the immediacy of the narrative and the doomed resilience of the character in whose company we find ourselves.
The fog-shrouded alleyways and grimy taverns of late Victorian London are vividly evoked, and the squalor in which these women are forced to eke out their lives is palpable. Every day they are stalked by multiple spectres, not all of whom carry knives. There is alcoholism, domestic violence and men rich enough to not have to worry about small things like consequences. And just as it was with Rubenhold’s book, you finish The Ladies of Whitechapel with the dark impression that none of the women who lived there in 1888 stood a chance.
The Ladies of Whitechapel is published by Darkstroke Books and is available from Amazon.