I always enjoy discovering quirky scraps of information about writers I admire. It offers a valuable insight of them as human beings and helps to expand them in my mind beyond their craft.
With that in mind, here’s 10 fun facts about me. If you keep up with my blog then you probably already know a few of these. But if you’re new here, hopefully you’ll be for a few surprises.
So here we go…
I deliberately induce nightmares. Yep, that’s where I get my story ideas from. The last thing I do before going to sleep is look at vids on the internet that purport to show genuine ghosts, poltergeist activity, demonic entities and aliens. Then I switch the light off and let my subconscious get to work.
I’m a MASSIVE fan of heavy metal. As well as all the usual bands you’d expect a heavy metal fan to like – such as Iron Maiden (see pic), Metallica, Megadeth and the Scorpions etc – I also also listen to a lot of extreme metal. My favourites include BEHEMOTH, MAYHEM, VADER, IMMORTAL, BELPHEGOR and DARKTHRONE.
3. I have an art degree. I graduated in the year 2000. Here’s a portrait I did of my dad…
4. I work in radio. My day job is a commercial scriptwriter. My proudest professional moment was working on a campaign voiced by Joanna Lumley.
5. I’ve been an extra in a couple of Hollywood movies. This was in the distant past. I spent three weeks playing a medieval French soldier in the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood and one night playing a Hydra soldier in Captain America: the First Avenger.
6. The lead singer of IRON MAIDEN once flew me to Stockholm. Tis true. It was on a fan club charter flight with Bruce Dickinson at the controls to see the Maiden in Sweden. We also had a photo taken with him on stage.
7. I did the cover illustration for my novel. Pointless having an art degree if you ain’t gonna use it, right?
8. I genuinely believe that Wind of Change by the SCORPIONS is the greatest song ever recorded in the history of the world. Nuff said.
9. STAR WARS was my religion as a kid. The original movie was released when I was 6 years old. It was my first ever visit to the cinema and it changed my life forever. That’s the day my imagination was born.
10. I have no idea what the E in my name stands for. Richard E. Rock is not my real name. It came to me in a dream and I thought it sounded way cooler than my real name so that’s the one I ran with. Sadly, my dream did not expand on what the E stands for.
I became a paid, professional writer long before I had ever even thought about writing a novel.
I know what you’re thinking; that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be?
Allow me to explain…
The year is 2002 and I get a phone call from a friend. He tells me that some guy he’s working with has just handed his notice in so I should go for his job. My friend and ‘some guy’ are employed by The Wave and Swansea Sound, bonded local radio stations here in south Wales where I live.
At the time, I was working in Waterstones bookshop, so you could say that already had a career in literature. Kind of. But here was a chance to be a writer by profession. You see, what my friend and ‘some guy’ did at these stations was write commercial radio scripts. Well, I listened to those stations and I would hear the ads that went out on air. I can do that, I thought. So I went for it.
In the days leading up to the interview I made a point of paying very close attention to the commercials. I realised then that there was a kind of language that they all shared, a certain rhythm. I wondered if anyone else going for the job had noticed this.
The interview itself was very informal and lasted pretty much an entire working day. First, I had what could only be described as a ‘chat’ with the station’s commercial production manager, Bev, and some dude whose name escapes me. It was almost twenty years ago after all. After that I joined Bev in the comm prod dept and she gave me a couple of briefs to have a go at.
I can only remember the first brief. It was for the launch of a new rollercoaster at Oakwood Park or something like that. I thought that the most obvious thing to do would be to write a really exciting ad with a techno soundtrack and the sound of people screaming and so on, but being obvious was not going to get me the job. So instead I wrote a very tense ad about what happens to the human body when it’s in a state of fear and excitement. All this happens against the background of someone sitting in a rollercoaster car as it approaches the top of a ‘hill’, pausing for a moment before it shoots down the other side.
That ad actually got pitched to the client and they bought it, so they HAD to give me the job. My writing career was go!
Prior to this, I had never really considered taking up creative writing seriously. Sure, I came from a very creative family – my mother is a jazz pianist! – and I was a voracious reader, but the thought of writing a novel was as intimidating to me as climbing the north face of the Eiger. It was something that other people did.
As a kid I had been obsessed with Star Wars and Marvel Comics and I used to love writing and drawing my own comics. That was pretty much the whole extent of my creative writing endeavours up until that time.
Oh, I should mention also that in 2000 I gained an art degree. I got a 2:1 overall but was awarded a ‘first’ for my dissertation, which was about the painting ‘Flag’ by Jasper Johns. So, basically, I knew I could write if I really needed to.
Fast forward 17 or 18 years or so and I experienced a particularly ferocious nightmare. When morning came I could remember certain parts of it vividly, like getting chased through dark tunnels by a silent, driverless Victorian engine that produced no steam. And being stalked by some demonic entity. If I let it get too close my eyes would turn to cobwebs and my life-force would ebb away.
When I woke up safe and sound in my bed I thought, Wow! That was amazing! I need to write that down before I forget it.
So I did, and Deep Level was born.
It started out as a short story, just two-and-a-half thousand words or so. As soon as it was done I knew it had the potential to be novel, so I got to work. In the original version there is only one protagonist, Rich, the bookshop manager desperate to escape his loveless marriage. When I expanded it I created a supporting cast of three characters; Rosalind, Syeeda and Ffion.
Rosalind very quickly, for me at least, became the heart and soul of the book. She’s a fifty-something archivist, happily married and a mother of two fine boys away in uni. She came to London from Sierra Leone as a young girl and found her tribe on the vibrant ska scene. Basically, she’s a rude girl made good.
Syeeda is a civil servant and an aspiring writer. In her spare time she writes and illustrates stories for children and then puts them in a box underneath her bed and forgets about them.
Ffion is a cinema usher originally from Carmarthen in south Wales. She too is a mother of two boys and is happily living with her boyfriend. She is a very warm albeit somewhat crass character with infinite amounts of love to share.
I completed the novel version of Deep Level and, like Syeeda and her children’s stories, put it aside and forgot about it. I realised then that nightmares and anxiety dreams were something that could be harnessed, creatively speaking, so I started deliberately inducing them.
I do this by sitting in front of my computer last thing at night and watching footage that purports to show genuine ghosts, poltergeist activity, demonic entities and aliens. Then I go to sleep and let my subconsciousness do the work. It paid off and I started making notes for a new horror novel, this one a gothic Victorian vampire story.
And then along came Covid.
I was furloughed from my job in April 2020 and embraced this gift of extra time that I had been given. I completed my Victorian vampire novel, started work on a sci-fi horror novel and decided to try and find a publisher for Deep Level.
We all know that people can spend years trying to get a book published traditionally. Hell, some people spend their whole lives trying to do it, without success. But me? I got lucky. The third publisher I sent it to, Darkstroke Books, snapped it up.
Deep Level didn’t need much editing. I had already pretty much nailed that part of it on my own. Nine-tenths of my job as a commercial scriptwriter is self-editing. When I have an idea for an ad, I’ll write it up and then spend most of my time trying to work it down into a neat little 30-second script.
It was officially released in October 2020 and has since been gathering some very enthusiastic reviews.
I am currently hard at work on my fourth novel, my first outside of the horror genre. It’s a fantasy adventure about a young girl travelling to different worlds with her grandad, an old soldier, and his dog. Again, the inspiration came to me in a series of dreams. I’m working on it every day and I can’t stop.
That’s not a complaint, by the way. I love it.
Hopefully, Deep Level will be the first of many novels I get published. Nothing quite beats the feeling of holding your own book in your own hands, with your name on the front and your story inside. It’s a little part of you that will remain in the world long after you’ve gone.
I’ve been very lucky in my writing career, I acknowledge that and certainly don’t take my good fortune for granted. I have a job that I love and have had a book published. I really do feel like I’m living the dream – or should that be nightmare? – and long may it continue.
Before we get stuck into this review, let me start off by saying that yes, I am well aware that as a 50-year-old man I am most definitely NOT the target audience for this film. So what the hell was I doing watching it?
My girlfriend and I are big Scooby Doo fans and we’d just just watched all four of the live action movies. Where can we possibly go from here? I wondered. What can possibly fill the void left in our Saturday nights?
And then I got wind of this.
Daphne & Velma premiered in 2018 and takes place before the Scooby gang all get together. When we meet Daphne Blake she has a successful vlog in which she discusses evidence of paranormal activity and aliens etc. When we meet Velma Dinkley she is a socially awkward student at Ridge Valley High who believes that there is a logical explanation for everything.
However, they have not yet met each other, but all that changes when Daphne is transferred to Velma’s school and mysterious things start going down.
Able students are disappearing and then reappearing in a stupefied state, there is a strange locker that leads to who-knows-where and a ghostly figure is seen gliding through the corridors.
So far so Scooby Doo, but it does differ in a very big way. It abandons the ‘old school’ feel of the Scooby Doo cartoons and films in favour of something far more hi-tech. Ridge Valley High, where the mystery takes place, is operating at the cutting edge of science. One of my favourite gags, in fact, sees disgraced students being followed around by a drone that whines ‘Shame! Shame!’ wherever they go.
Sarah Jeffrey and Sarah Gilman are very likeable as our two heroes and the movie as a whole delivers enough twists and turns to hold the attention. Also, it zips along at a good pace and has a warm sense of humour. I watched it with my girlfriend and we both enjoyed it.
My only complaint, really, was that the director fluffed the action sequence at the end. There was no sense of danger and the whole thing felt a bit stilted. But that certainly wasn’t enough to ruin an otherwise fun film.
Given that Daphne & Velma is attached to such an iconic franchise as Scooby Doo, I’m amazed that I’d not heard of it earlier. But then, a great deal of this film’s charm lies in it’s discovery. I can’t help but wonder what other little gems are out there waiting to be found.
In recent weeks I’ve reviewed two books that were published in 1960, and for this one I’ve bypassed the present day altogether and headed straight for 2035.
The future in Michelle Cook’s TIPPING POINT seems close enough to reach out and touch. Climate change is ravaging the Earth, protest is outlawed, the police can brutalise people with impunity and drones hover in the sky watching our every move.
Scary, isn’t it? And what makes it scary is that it feels like it’s almost upon us.
And in the midst of all this chaos we meet Essie, a sparky 19-year-old waitress who lost her entire family in a tragic accident two years previously. Essie is trying to negotiate her way through her personal grief as well as a country in meltdown, and then, one day, she makes a decision that changes the course of her life. She accompanies a friend, Maya, to a meeting.
In this future, that’s all it takes to get you put on a government watch-list, and that’s when things start to get nasty. But there’s more. Essie is being messaged online by a mysterious man who needs her help. He claims to be in possession of plans for a ‘prototype’ that could reverse climate change, saving billions of lives.
Essie is a deeply layered and likeable hero and it’s through her that we experience the descent into paranoia, kidnap, torture, murder and, even more terrifying, politics. The tension never lets up and the author doesn’t spare us when the knives come out. TIPPING POINT is a vital, bloody and compelling debut novel. But it’s also more than that. It’s a warning.
This is the second book written in 1960 that I’ve reviewed within the space of a week, and boy, they couldn’t be more different!
Whereas Dennis Wheatley’s The Satanist was an adventure yarn about a bunch of fine, patriotic chaps saving the realm from a murderous Satanic cult who want to start WWIII, this is the story of a pregnant woman who has to move into a crappy room in a dingy house after being kicked out of the family home by her dad.
Here, she finds friendship, support and, yes, love among her new housemates, including a frustrated Jewish writer called Toby, a black jazz musician called John, her stern landlady, the eccentric old lady downstairs and the two prostitutes who live in the basement.
Jane Graham is a likeable, intelligent and cultured protagonist who merely finds herself on the wrong side of the social mores of her time. Author Lynne Reid Banks vividly evokes the squalor and griminess of the post-war period while conjuring a cast of richly-drawn characters, each with their own complex arcs and motivations.
As modern readers, we can only look on aghast as Jane accepts as inevitable the fact that she’ll lose her job because of her pregnancy. Proof that some things at least do change for the better.
One thing this book does have in common with its 1960 cousin The Satanist, though, is the whiff of racism. It seems that the author cannot mention John, the black jazz musician, without also mentioning the jungle, or his body odour. It’s a real shame, and also slightly baffling, because John is a sympathetic character, one of the good guys. He’s as deep, complex and richly-drawn as any of the others.
The L-Shaped Room provides an invaluable snapshot of Britain right at that moment. In these pages it’s frozen in time for us to delve into and experience, casual racism included.
This was my first Wheatley and three things stood out…
The incredible amount of exposition in the opening chapters.
The incredible amount of drinking.
That said, it would be remiss of me if I failed to state right from the off that Dennis Wheatley really does know how to write an exciting book. But before I get stuck into that, this review includes spoilers so if you don’t want to have any surprises ruined, you’d better stop reading.
What begins as two apparently unrelated plots – one involving Russian rabble-rousers in the trade union movement and the other a young lady investigating the death of her husband – soon converge to become something akin to a James Bond novel, with an evil genius trying to start WWIII by launching a stolen nuclear warhead at Moscow from his mountain lair.
It’s all genuinely thrilling and Wheatley wrings every last ounce of tension out of various imaginative set-pieces that take our heroes from the seedy streets of London to the snowy heights of the Swiss Alps.
Mary Morden’s husband was a secret agent who was murdered while attempting to infiltrate a Satanic coven somewhere in the capital. She decides that she should be the one to gather the evidence to convict his killers, so she disguises herself and tries to worm her way into the coven via a sleazy Indian chap called Ratnadatta.
Meanwhile, a fine, upstanding chap called Colonel Verney suspects a connection between the Commies and the Satanists and sends agent Barney Sullivan in to check it out. However, the defence of the realm is threatened when a megalomaniac with supernatural powers steals a plane-load of experimental rocket fuel for his own nefarious purposes.
The aforementioned exposition that occurs in the opening chapters of the book, far from holding things up, actually serves to set the scene nicely. It’s all too common these days for novels to begin by dropping the reader into the middle of the already unfolding action, so it was nice to read something that starts with a slow burn. However, not even this amount of exposition could prepare me for the absolutely astounding amount of drinking that Verney and Sullivan indulge in during the course of their adventure.
No national crisis, it seems, is too severe to prevent a quick visit to the nearest “club” for a glass of port, sherry or gin. I’m not kidding, they’re knocking this stuff back every couple of pages. After a few chapters I could only envisage them as two shambling red-faced drunkards, slurring their way from one plot point to the next, urinating themselves as they go.
And then there’s the racism. I can already hear people saying, “Ah yes, but The Satanist was published in 1960. It’s just of it’s time, that’s all.”
Yes, well…there’s being “of it’s time” and then there’s the n-word. Know what I mean? Also, as she infiltrates deeper into the Satanic coven, Mary learns that she might be expected to have sex with some of the members. She is horrified to discover that this may include one or more of the “negroes”. This is something that no decent, self-respecting white girl would ever consider, apparently.
So yes, that certainly left a sour taste.
The book concludes with Mary getting what every young lady truly desires, a marriage proposal. And that’s not all, because her suitor (ie Barney) also has a title (Lord) which means that she will too (Lady). It’s all so terribly terribly British, isn’t it?
Alright. I admit it. I’m a MASSIVE Lupita Nyong’o fanboy. I’ll watch anything that she stars in*, so when I got wind of a comedy horror movie that had her name above the title, I thought, “Yes please!”
Rather disappointingly, Little Monsters bypassed the cinemas where I live so I was denied the pleasure of a big screen viewing, and that’s a real shame as I found it hugely enjoyable.
Alexander England plays Dave, an ultra-selfish, washed-up musician who’s just broken up with his girlfriend and is, to use a very British phrase, on his arse. In a fit of self-pity he imposes himself on his sister, crashing on her couch.
One morning, she forces him to take her young son Felix to school and it’s there that he claps eyes on his angelic teacher Miss Caroline, played by an effervescent Lupita. Instantly besotted, he volunteers to help escort her class on an outing to some sort of outdoor attraction. Meanwhile, there’s been a zombie outbreak at a nearby military facility and soon the place is overrun.
Lupita Nyong’o is a mesmerising screen presence and it was a joy to behold her, armed only with a ukulele, morphing from ‘schoolteacher’ mode to ‘protector’ mode, doing everything and anything she could to keep her kids safe while also trying to convince them that the whole thing was just a game, even threatening a sleazy children’s entertainer (played by Josh Gad) with physical violence if he doesn’t play along.
This is a stupendously entertaining film and a lot more gory than I was expecting. Even though it’s primarily a comedy, director Abe Forsythe doesn’t shy away from the splatter, with zombie’s heads exploding and/or being cut off at regular intervals. There’s some great gags in her too, including a zombiefied sock puppet and the zombies joining in with a game of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.
Needless to say, by the end Dave has learned the meaning of responsibility and is now a good example to his nephew Felix. Also, he gains Miss Caroline’s approval. But thanks to very likeable performances from all the leads his journey never feels hackneyed.
If they ever decide to make a sequel to this, I’ll be first in the queue. And hopefully this time it’ll be at a cinema.
*With the exception of that latest Star Wars trilogy. I have no intention of ever sitting through that again.
On Monday 22nd February my debut horror novel DEEP LEVEL packed a suitcase, said goodbye and headed out on tour, leaving his tearful daddy (ie me!) behind.
It was a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was keen to see what kind of critical reaction my baby boy would get from book bloggers and reviewers. But on the other, I was terrified to see what kind of critical reaction my baby boy would get from book bloggers and reviewers.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because the reviews were all great. Every. Single. One of them.
Now, it goes without saying that I already thought my book was good. Of course I did. I never would have sent it out to publishers if I didn’t think it was. But when you find out that OTHER people think it’s good – overwhelmingly so – now THAT’s a great feeling. In fact, it’s the best.
In case you don’t know, DEEP LEVEL is the story of four friends who set out to explore a system of secret Victorian underground train tunnels. However, they soon discover that some things are secret for a reason. It is, as previously stated, a horror novel, and what I found most heartening about the reviews was that many of them started with something along the lines of: “Now, I’m no horror fan, but…” and then went on to heap praise on it.
I loved the fact that my horror novel was appealing to non-horror fans. When I read those comments I knew I had done something right. Here’s a few choice quotes…
“With characters who share humorous banter, a creepy and unsettling locale, and a fascinating plot that will keep you on your toes, Deep Level is a book fans of the horror genre should definitely pick up.” – jazzybookreviews.com
“Wow…just, wow, this is an extremely well written debut, it’s intense, atmospheric, spine chilling and makes your skin crawl in places but is also laced with moments of humour.” – nickislifeofcrime.blogspot.com
“Truly sinister and unnerving, this is a great book for those who like their horror malevolent and greedy.” – ramblingmads.com
“The suspense in this novel is amazing. It was completely unsettling and downright creepy. I think what makes horror novels so great is when they get under your skin. That’s what Deep Level does.” – jessicabelmont.wordpress.com
“I was hooked from the end of Chapter 1 and the tension grows so intense but is sprinkled delicately with humour in just the right places.” itgirlworld.co.uk
There were loads more, but I don’t want to bombard you with too much awesomeness.
The tour was arranged by Rachel at rachelsrandomresources.com and she got me a total of 18 reviews and 3 Q&As over 7 days. I was blown away by that. I would definitely recommend her if you have a book to publicise.
Over the course of that week, DEEP LEVEL was read about by thousands of people who may not otherwise have heard of it, and for that I am very grateful. But what was just as valuable was the validation I felt as the reviews came pouring in day after day. I actually wrote a good book. I know that because everyone else thinks so.
If I ever meet Charlie Tyler in person I’m going to keep a safe distance.
A lake on the surface is calm and serene, but underneath it is a dark and dangerous place. Perhaps the same could be said of Tyler. Friendly and accommodating on the outside but a raging hellstorm of murderous intent within. Or at least, she is if this, her debut novel, is anything to go by.
Right from the off the reader is thrown in at the deep end (pun intended) with a body that needs disposing of. From then on things only get worse. This unfortunate victim has been killed for no other reason than to frame an innocent man. So far so cosy crime. But before you settle down with a mug of cocoa, looking forward to that old trope of the investigating detective gathering his or her suspects together for the inevitable revelation, just know that things don’t stay cosy for long.
In The Cry of the Lake, even the secrets of secrets have secrets, and nothing is as it seems. The story demands your attention but never loses you, and with every revelation you feel yourself getting dragged down deeper and deeper into the murky depths of madness and despair. Also, the characters are richly drawn and the author doesn’t compromise on making them complex and multi-layered.
This is a brutal read and is never less than utterly compelling. By the time I finished it I felt like I needed to come up for air. And I’m only joking about Charlie. I know for a fact she is a sweet and accommodating person. However, I think we should all be grateful that she exorcises those dark thoughts of hers in her writing, otherwise we’d all be in trouble!
When you work in radio advertising, as I do, there’s a certain kind of horror that descends on you whenever a client says: “…and I’d like my niece to voice my ads.”
Just to clarify, it’s not just nieces voicing commercials we fear. It could be any relative/friend/acquaintance of the client. Ads should always be voiced by professional voice over artists, or at the very least by the clients themselves, if they’re outgoing and confident enough. But in this particular case it happened to be a niece.
The business in question was a day nursery, and the instant those words left the owner’s lips I felt my whole body slump. Oh, here we go, I thought. How am I going to let him down gently?
“So, does your niece have any experience in acting?” I asked.
“I should say so,” the client replied. “She’s Joanna Page.”
Wait up. You don’t mean THAT Joanna Page? Joanna Page of Gavin and Stacey and Love, Actually fame?
“Yes. THAT Joanna Page.”
My heart didn’t so much skip a beat as sprint up to the top of a large hill and yell for joy.
By this point we were well into December and Christmas was threatening to put the brakes on commercial production, so I had to move fast. The client gave me her number and told me she was expecting a call. So I called and she answered in the only way Joanna Page could, with a chirpy “Hiya!”
I asked where she was based, expecting her to answer “London”. “London”, she replied. I asked when she was free. She gave me a date and I said I’d book a studio and we’d do the voice over session via ISDN.
To the uninitiated, ISDN is a broadcast quality line that allows us to record VO artists remotely. So I could book her into a studio in London and direct and record from my little studio in Swansea. Easy peasy.
However, there was a problem. But then, when there’s no problem there’s no story, so let’s all be grateful. The problem was that our ISDN kit was being ripped out and replaced on the one day she was free. What were the odds?
I had two options. Option one was to trust another producer/engineer to produce the session for me. I wasn’t keen on this as only I knew how I wanted my scripts to sound. I wouldn’t even be able to listen in via phone because there’s no signal in the studios because of the soundproofing.
Option two was to get in my car and zoom up to London to produce the ads myself. So that’s what I did. But in the meantime, there was the matter of the scripts. I worked fast and bashed out a few that capitalised on Joanna’s uber-bubbly public persona (try saying that three times) and got them approved by the client. I also had a few tag lines and station links for her to record. I was all set.
I didn’t actually drive INTO London. That would have been crazy. Instead, I drove to Reading, parked up and got on the train. So much more convenient. I had ‘borrowed’ a studio from TalkSport and by the time I got there Joanna was waiting for me in the canteen. We had a little bit of a chat and then one of the engineers came up to show us to our studio. Heads turned as we were led through the sales office.
Yes. That really was Joanna Page. Her of Gavin and Stacey and Love, Actually fame?
Needless to say, she was a little bundle of Christmassy joy and the voice over session was a blast. When we were done I gave her a Christmas prezzie from my station and a bag of Welsh cakes from me. I never go anywhere without Welsh cakes. Then we wandered outside as her husband was due to pick her up. He turned out to be none other than actor and VO artist James Thornton, best known for starring in Emmerdale.
Then I got the train back to Reading, jumped in my car, aimed it in the direction of Swansea and was back in work that afternoon. There wasn’t much of the afternoon left by that point, but one likes to show willing. It had been a monumentally tiring day with about six hours spent on the road. But it had also been a very rewarding one. The ads sounded ace, and that’s all that matters.
In radio no two days are ever the same, and this was definitely one of the most memorable. On the plus side, to this day, whenever a client says they have a relative who can voice their ads for them, I no longer feel a sense of horror fall over me.