“This is a film about time and the landscape.” – ENYS MEN reviewed

Enys Men is the kind of film that one person will like and another will not for exactly the same reasons. Chronicling the disturbing experiences of a lone ‘volunteer’ who is monitoring the progress of some rare plants on a barren, wind-battered Cornish island, it’s discordant, fragmented, dreamlike and, most of all, unsettling.

The island in question (Enys Men translates as Stone Island) is dominated by a standing stone that is the first thing The Volunteer (excellently played by Mary Woodvine) sees whenever she steps out of her cottage. It is 1973, according to the records she keeps, and her only means of connection with the world are a transistor radio and a CB for talking to the mainland. Every day, as a matter of ritual, she drops a stone down a mineshaft and waits for the faint, distant splash.

But soon strange things start to happen. There is a news report on the radio that could only be from a future year. The ocean’s waves roll backwards. She is frequently accompanied by her younger self. She is serenaded by white-robed children and Bal Maidens.

Yes, this is a film about time and the landscape, both of which haunt The Volunteer in ever more disturbing ways. Her journey towards madness is chronicled with sparse dialogue, frequent bursts of deafening sound, fragmented time and inexplicable visions of the island’s past inhabitants.

Shot on 16mm, Enys Men has the coarse grain and visceral colour of the folk-horror films of the era it is set in, which adds yet another layer to its sense of disturbed time.  

A friend and I saw the film on the big screen at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. Knowing that I was in for a ’different’ kind of movie experience, I opened my mind and allowed it to transport it to its own reality. In other words, I was willing to be challenged, and in this sense the film totally worked on me. I thought it was brilliant. The friend I attended the screening with, on the other hand, was not so taken with it. As I said at the start, this film is one that is going to divide people. Some will tune into the language of it, some will not.

 The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Mark Jenkin, who also wrote, shot, edited and scored the movie. Phew. Mark spoke about the hands-on approach he takes to his work, how the pandemic affected the film and how much of what we saw on the screen does not necessarily have a meaning, but allows viewers to find their own. He also related how he got carried away with the scoring process and started to have delusions of being a rock star. It was a very enlightening, enjoyable and often funny talk.

In an interview with Fortean Times magazine about Enys Men, Mark said that as a child he was frightened of the Merry Maidens standing stones in Penzance, having been told that they had once been living, breathing girls, and that they had been turned to stone for daring to dance on the Sabbath. He also said that ‘the scariest thing in horror films is when times stops making sense’. In these two things you’ll find the DNA of his film. Seek it out on the big screen if you possibly can. I can strongly recommend it, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it.

“She cast a spell on me with this book.” – THE WITCH AND THE FAITHLESS by Polly J. Mordant reviewed

It is our third visit to the supernaturally-afflicted village of Flammark and we find our gifted hero Emma Blake in a state of turmoil. Her dear friend (and local priest) Will Turner has gone awol, leaving her bereft, and the village has been issued with a replacement priest (the faithless of the title?) who immediately proceeds to rub everyone up the wrong way. And if all that isn’t enough, Emma’s gloriously foul-mouthed detective boyfriend Westen is neck-deep in a multiple murder investigation.

Yes, there is a serial killer on the loose, and they’re exclusively targeting teenage girls. But this is no ordinary, common-or-garden, run-of-the-mill, hack-n-slash serial killer. No, this one buries his or her victims alive, apparently with their compliance, and then makes their parents oblivious to the fact that their offspring are even missing, let alone lying dead in a hole in the ground somewhere.

Oh, and an ancient witch has apparently risen and has attached itself to Emma.

Sound strange and inexplicable? Well, this is the anti-Dibley, after all.

The Witch and the Faithless is absolutely, totally and completely the best of the Flammark series so far. As a supernatural thriller it ticks all the boxes and more by being exciting, thoughtful, compelling, deep and even – yes – educational. Seriously, I learned a lot about witches and folk mythology in these pages.

The characters are all, of course, engaging and likeable, except for the ones who aren’t supposed to be likable, but the star of the show for my money is the titular witch. When she makes her first appearance it’s genuinely electrifying. Also, this witch is considerably more than the usual cackling, spell-casting hag of trope. I love what the author has conjured up here, rooting her in the landscape and pagan lore. And despite her terrifying initial appearance, as her back story is uncovered Mordant pulls off the impressive feat of making the reader feel sympathetic for her.

Hats off for that one.

Actually, I’m starting to wonder if Polly J. Mordant herself might be a witch, especially after she cast such a spell on me with this book. In a footnote she promises further instalments and I say hurrah! My bags are already packed and Flammark awaits.

“You’ll find love on every page.” – Cerys Matthews’ retelling of UNDER MILKWOOD reviewed

As a Dylan Thomas fanboy (my copy of The Dylan Thomas Omnibus never leaves my bedside) I was very excited about getting my hands on a copy of this book. It’s an illustrated retelling of Thomas’s classic ‘play for voices’ that made its debut in 1954.

For those that don’t already know, Under Milkwood chronicles a day in the life of a small, ‘lulled and dumbfound’ seaside town in Wales called Llareggub. The story begins and ends at night, ‘behind the eyes of the sleepers’, and we share all these characters’ ‘dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs’ that occur during these glorious 24 hours.

This lovingly produced book comes courtesy of singer/songwriter/author/radio presenter Cerys Matthews, another Thomas devotee, who has in the past recorded an album based on his work (A Child’s Christmas, 2014). As a ‘retelling’, the original text is not presented here in its complete form. Instead, exquisite paintings by illustrator and artist Kate Evans do much of the work without losing any of the evocative power of the original, as her images capture perfectly the sombre, playful and bittersweet mood that Thomas’s words so vividly paint in the mind.

In the biggest change to the narrative, Cerys has taken pieces from the play’s opening and moved them to the latter pages, using them to extend the evening. In the original work, Thomas devotes a great deal of attention to the comings and goings of the villagers during the morning and afternoon, with dusk arriving and departing rather abruptly.  

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend a launch event in Swansea where the author chatted about the concept behind her retelling, about her agonising over what text to keep and what to lose, and about how the original play is saturated with love. And on this I absolutely agree. There’s unrequited love, love for husbands both drunk and sober, love in stitches hung on the wall and love for the town itself expressed in sermons. And in this book you’ll find love on every page; love for the characters, love for the setting, love for the words.

Cerys said at the event that this book would be a great way to introduce children to the work of Dylan Thomas. As well as the enchanting and playful artwork, the story is packed with loveably eccentric characters, wry observations and crackling dialogue.  And just to keep things kid-friendly, Cerys has replaced Captain Cat’s immortal line, delivered with the lost love of his life, Rosie Probert, in mind, “Let me shipwreck in your thighs”, with “Let me shipwreck in your eyes.”  

Me meeting Cerys at the event

To produce a retelling of a classic work – especially one so beloved – is a brave thing to do, and only someone who truly loves the original could have pulled it off so beautifully. It’s as much a tribute as it is a retelling. So, whether you’re familiar with original work or have yet to discover it, I think you’ll fall in love with this gorgeous book.

Milkwood awaits.

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood: a Retelling by Cerys Matthews, illustrated by Kate Evans, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is out now.

“Thank you for introducing me to Tartan Noir.” – HUNTER’S REVENGE by Val Penny reviewed

The blurb:

Hunter by name – Hunter by nature.

Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is a loyal friend and a fair leader. He is called to the scene of a murder in Edinburgh where the corpse has been fatally shot. He is dismayed to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold.Hunter must investigate Reinbold’s murky past in Germany to identify George’s killer.

At the same time, Hunter is tasked with looking into a previously undetected criminal gang supplying drugs from Peru.There seems to be no connection between the murder and the drug supply until Hunter unexpectedly secures help from inmates of the local jail.

Hunter’s investigations are hampered by distracted members of his team and unobservant witnesses.

Reinbold was not the quiet, old man Hunter believed him to be and his killer bore their grudge for a lifetime.

The review…

One of their own has been murdered on his doorstep, and now Edinburgh’s finest are out for blood.

George Reinbold (or Georg as he was known in his East German youth) was a gentle, private and respected man with a passion for first edition books. But, as it turns out, he has been carrying with him all these years a terrible secret, and has been living in fear behind bullet proof glass and bomb proof curtains.

Meanwhile…

A burnt-out car with the body of a young woman has been found near the airport, and it seems that a lot of crims have been looking for it. But why?

In DI Hunter Wilson’s second outing (his first being Hunter’s Chase), he is called upon to investigate this cold blooded killing of a friend and colleague and discover what’s so special about an apparently unremarkable, ten-year-old Volvo that was nicked from a local car showroom.

This was my first dip into the murky waters of author Val Penny’s world of crime, and it was a delight. Hunter isn’t cut from the usual noir cloth (i.e. gruff, bitter, alcoholic), being instead reasonably level-headed, assuredly moral and admirably socially active. However, he is also clever, thorough and dogged, which is bad news for the baddies.

Along for the ride are Hunter’s posse of trusted deputies, including his memorable sidekick DC Tim Myerscough, a well-bred copper with a butler. How often do you get to say that about a crime novel? These characters are all richly drawn with a believable and enjoyable interplay of professional and personal relationships.

As the investigation progresses, the suspicions of this righteous band bounce from one scrote to the next and to the next, as clues are uncovered and secrets revealed. It’s all deliciously compelling.

Another character that warrants mentioning is Edinburgh itself. Val is obviously in love with her adopted home and its DNA is imprinted on every page. For me, it’s always a good sign when you can’t imagine a story being set anywhere else.

Another big plus is that Val eschews the familiar Brit noir topes of geezer posturing and violence in favour of richly drawn characters, a tangled web of motives and a wicked smorgasbord of suspects. So, thank you Val for a superbly enjoyable book, and thank you also for introducing me to the subgenre Tartan Noir. I’ll certainly be back for more.

Author Val Penny

The author…

Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.

Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories,nonfiction,and novels. Val is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.

Hunter’s Revenge by Val Penny is published by SpellBound Books and is out now. Order yours here…

“This is a book for people who love books.” – ECHO: THE CURSE OF THE BLACKWOOD WITCHES by Yasmine Maher reviewed

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.

Enter Echo!

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 reviewed by me and my girlfriend!

My review:

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.

My girlfriend’s review:

I thought it was brilliant!

“Fun, scary and brutal.” – SILENT DAWN by CL Raven reviewed

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.

Me with CL Raven (aka Cat and Lynx) at Swansea Comic Con earlier this year

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.

Silent Dawn is available from Amazon.

Say ‘Howdy!’ to Byron Wurd in this extract from FRENZY ISLAND

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.

            “Latest?”

            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.

            “Okay. Ready,” said Elise to the boss man.

            “Everyone! Everyone! Attention, please!” Byron Wurd hollered.

            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.”

Say “Bwakeye!” to Esperance, Godriva and Buki in this extract from FRENZY ISLAND

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.  

            “Don’t stop!” gasped Esperance. “For god’s sake don’t stop!”

            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.

Say ‘Hey!’ to Cynthia – an extract from FRENZY ISLAND

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.