Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Preview of my new story - Dear Suzanna

10th April


I don't know what's happening but I'm scared. I'm really honestly fucking terrified like I haven't been since I was a kid.
They're outside. A lot of them. Outside the cottage.
I don't think they know I'm here. Not yet. But there's no way I can get out past them. And even if I was I don't know what I'd be getting out to.
I don't know what to do.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

2nd April

Dear Suzanna,

This isn't a love letter.

You know, I don't remember the last time I actually wrote a letter. Sat down and wrote a proper honest to goodness put it in an envelope missive. I don't remember for sure but I think the last one probably was a love letter. To you.
Writing is a lost art I think. A nice pen on nice paper rather than notes scribbled hastily in biro in a cheap notepad during some pointless meeting or other. I have found it nice to actually take the time to write. Sit in the solitude of this lovely rural setting and actually think about what I want to say to you. Think about it and then take the time to form the letters carefully and properly on the page.

But this isn't a love letter. In fact it might be a suicide note.

After you did what you did I needed to think. Which is why I've come away here. You'll have seen where I am from the address at the top of the page. I picked up the phone to Charles as soon as I found your letter. I told him what you'd done, how it made me feel. We spoke for an hour or more, the longest I've spent talking to him in years I suspect.
At the end of the conversation he offered me this place for as I need it for. To get away from all the distractions of life. To think. To get my head together.
I've done the first two. You remember this place; you couldn't get much more away from "it" if you went to the Highlands. It's so peaceful here and that peace is wonderful. It's lonely too, but I suppose loneliness is something I need to get used to.
I've thought a lot too. Precious little else to do here as you'll remember; although I seem to recall we found plenty of things to do to entertain ourselves on the occasions we stayed here.
I've brought some books with me of course, but mhy mind won't let me settle on them for more than a minute before flitting back to you. Always back to you.
The lack of a TV or radio here always appealed to me before but now I long for their easy distraction.

Why did you do it, Suzanna? I still can't understand. I know you tried to explain in your letter but I'm afraid, my dear, that you failed. Why throw away everything we had? Why hurt me so much that I want to die?
The oven here is electric so that's no good. There are aspirin in the bathroom cupboard but probably not enough. Can you even overdose on aspirin?
I have a razor, but I'd have to tear it to bits to get at the blades and I'm sure they'd be tiny, too tiny to hold probably. That leaves the breadknife, which just seems....messy.
I suppose I should have planned this trip better.

Oh Christ, I still love you so much.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

3rd April

Dear Suzanna,

I wrote you a letter yesterday. A long one. And then burned it last night on the fire.
I'm staying at Charles's cottage. A bit of space and time to think. Yesterday I felt very sad. Today I feel angry. Angry at you, Suzanna, for what you did to me. I suspect that this won't be the last letter I write. That tomorrow I'll do something and I'll write another letter and burn this one just like I did yesterday's. I hope so because right now I really fucking hate you and I don't like feeling like that.



Rabbit Warren Cottage

4th April

Dear Suzanna,

This is letter number three. Or rather my third attempt at writing to you as you won't see the other two.
I'm staying at Charles's cottage in Suffolk. Thinking. About you. About us.
He called me last night on my mobile but I'm afraid I didn't hear it. I'd been drinking. I'll admit that I've been doing rather a lot of that. Drinking and thinking.
I've got a glass in front of me right now in fact. Not the hard stuff. Just a rather nice Rioja I'm having with lunch. I'm well provisioned; plentiful supplies of both food and booze. You'd be proud of me. I shan't have to drive to the village to restock for a few days yet.
That's good because I don't think I could face anybody. Even strangers. I'm sure my pain is tattooed across my face for anyone to see.
Lats night I had been on the hard stuff and I was dozing when Charles rang. I woke up in the early hours, laying on the sofa with a whisky bottle next to me. My neck was fearfully stiff from the awkward position I'd ended up in. You remember what the sofas are like there: too short to really stretch out on. I think the pain may be what woke me up. I could have done with you here, you and your magic hands.
The phone was blining at me, that bright red light it has that annoyed you so much. Charles had left a message. A strange message. He asked me if I new what had happened. And then if I was alright. There was a terrible noise in the background, growing louder as he spoke. A fearful banging like someone kicking a metal door. And then there was silence, ten seconds of it at least. And then he hung up. I'll admit I was a bit concerned about him when I heard it. He's been in a few scrapes in the past as I'm sure you'll remember. I rang him back but he didn't answer. The phone just rang and rang and then went to voicemail. I left him a message, told him I was fine, asked him if he was.
That was last night and he hasn't called back yet, although knowing Charles he's probably sleeping off a hangover. I called Katie as well to see if she knew if he was okay. No answer from her either, but it was after nine so I expect she was at work. I did wonder if she'd seen it was me calling and deliberately ignored it. I haven't spoken to her since I read your letter but Charles will have. I expect the poor girl is very upset by it all. May feel awkward talking to me under the circumstances.

It's a beautiful day here today. Clear and crisp and quiet. I walked in the garden this morning, enjoying the fresh air and the quiet. You know I'm sure when we came here before you could hear a hint of traffic noise in the garden from the B road that runs through the village. Not a hint of it today though. Not so much as a peep. It really is utterly tranquil here. I suppose the wind must just have been blowing in the right direction, carrying the noise away.

I think I feel a bit better now. Not all the way there by a long chalk but better.

I still love you though, which is a bit of a kicker.



5th April

I don't really know why I'm writing these letters as I know you'll never read them. Talking to you this way is helpful somehow though. Maybe if I went to see a counsellor (Charles suggested that you know, some fellow he knows), they'd recommend a similar thing. They call psychiatry the "talking cure" don't they? I think these letters, for me, have become the "writing cure".
Have I got over what you did? Of course not. It's all too fresh still. Too raw. I find myself posing the question many times each day though. Checking my temperature. I picture myself like a short-sighted man putting his hand out of the window to see if it's still raining.
It is. But not so hard.



6th April

Dear Suzanna,

I've decided to go into the village today. Partly because there are a few bits and bobs I need. Mostly because I feel, after these few days of solitude, the need for some human contact again. Just a friendly smile and a how do you do with a shopkeeper. Maybe a chat about the weather and the news with the landlord of the Crown. Not that I have any idea what's been going on in the world since I got here. Probably time to catch up!
Charles never did call me back. If he had I might not need to go out at all. I have tried him again, a couple of time, but no answer.
I wrote yesterday that this felt like therapy. Today I'm worrying that in fact it's the written equivalent of talking to yourself. Human contact is definitely needed.

I will report back. To myself!



6th April - later

Dear Suzanna,

So much for that idea! The village was deserted, or seemed to be at least, like something from the bloody Twilight Zone.
I'll admit I've lost track of the days a bit but my watch is telling me it's the sixth and I'm pretty sure that means it's a Wednesday. I know the village isn't exactly a bustling metropolis but I didn't expect it to be completely dead.
I used the bike in the shed to get there. I've done no exercise since I got here and I thought the ride would do me good. Plus if the couple of pints I was going to have at the Crown turned into more than that I figured I could always leave it locked up somewhere and stagger back to the cottage.
When I got to the pub the door was shut and there was no sign of life. Living in the city you forget that pubs out here aren't open all day. I carried on into the village proper and everything was closed there too. The newsagents, the greengrocers, the village store. All locked up tight with the closed signs pointing outwards. It may have been half-day closing I suppose.
The strangest part was that the whole time I didn't see a single living soul.
Actually that wasn't the strangest part, or not the most distrurbing anyway.
I checked the church too. The main door was also locked up tight so I walked round to see if the side entrance was open. It wasn't of course but when I turned back from it I saw that two of the graves were disturbed. Desecrated I suppose you'd say. Judging by the headstones they had only been recently filled, not like most of the dusty tombs there. The earth was strewn all around them along with the remains of the bouquets and wreaths that had laid upin the graves.
I didn't look any more closely than that, to be honest the whole thing creeped me out a little. I did wonder if perhaps I should report it but the damage didn't look that fresh so I'm sure someone else must have already. Besides, even with my desire for a bit of human contact I have no appetite for talking to the police.
I'm back at the cottage now, without my provisions.
Fortunately, of all of the things I'm running short of whiskey isn't one of them. Consequently I'm now going to get very drunk.


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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Doorbell

I've started a new short story about a haunted doorbell. Not sure if its a good idea or a terrible one.
Here's a preview.

It started as a bit of a joke. Emma was going to bed one night when she looked up at the bell that hung on the wall high up to the right of the front door. The main light was off and the hallway was lit only by the glow of the TV her boyfriend was watching in the living room. The dimness made the tiny red light stand out more. The tiny red light staring down at her from box on the wall.
It seemed...wrong. Was it normally on? She didn't think so. She thought it only lit up when someone pressed that button outside and the doorbell rang. A visual cue to go along with the sound. A bit pointless really because you'd have to be looking at it to see it and when would you stand there staring at the doorbell waiting for it to ring?
She was sure it wasn't always lit though, because if it was, why was she noticing it now. It was creepy that red light, threatening somehow. Red was the colour of danger wasn't it, the colour of stop signs and warnings. She turned round and walked back to the living room.
"Come and look at this," she said. Her boyfriend sighed from the sofa.
"Look at what?"
"The doorbell.
"The light on it is on. It's not normally on is it?" She was sure it wasn't but she wanted his reasurrance that she wasn't going nuts.
He didn't get up. "Don't worry. It probably just means that the batteries are running down. I'll change them tomorrow."
She opened her mouth to say something back but couldn't think of anything. What he said made perfect sense. So she kissed him goodnight and walked back out into the hallway again. Just as she was leaving the room he laughed and said, "Either that or something is constantly ringing the bell and we just can't hear it." He put on a corny Bela Lugosi accent, "Something trying to get through from the other side...."
She laughed back. "Batteries tomorrow, don't fucking forget."
She looked up at it as she walked back through the hallway to the stairs. The thing on the wall...what did you call it? Not a doorbell because wasn't that the thing on the outside of the house? Besides, it wasn't a bell at all, not anymore. It would have been when she was a kid, a proper bell that got struck somehow and chimed. Now though it was a little speaker with circuit boards and wires inside it that received a wireless signal when the button on the outside of the house was pressed. All very clever but lacking in soul somehow. There was something so simple and pure about a proper bell.
She looked up at the box on the wall again, wishing pointlessly for a simpler time. The box stared back at her with its one red eye. She knew in her head that it was an inanimate object. Just another collection of plastic and wiring that performed a simple task that made he life easier. In that moment though it felt like maybe it wasn't souless after all. It felt as if it had a soul all of its own, a particularly malevolent soul that wished her no good at all.
She shooked her head and yawned, god she must to be thinking up this nonsense. Bed now for sure, and a stern telling off for him on the sofa if he didn't sort out the batteries tomorrow.

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Friday, 6 April 2012

Doll Eyes by Lancome - the first time a mascara has made me angry

This is something of a departure for me, on this blog at least, but I saw something in a magazine yesterday that made me angry. It may have been written about elsewhere but a quick Google search yielded nothing.
This blog is supposed to be about my writing, and this post doesn't sit well with that, but there is enough of a cross over with one of the central themes of Sunliner that I could justify the post to myself. What theme am I talking about? Well, a reader asked me the other day what I thought the message of the book was. My reply was this, the message is contained in something Rachel says to Curtis:

"This kind of corruption rots away at you, I saw it at home. You make little concessions because they appeal to some thing inside youthat you should be fighting rather than nurturing. You give the devil some little thing and before you know it he's taken more, and more until you've given everything and the devil owns you."

It's a bit of an overdone paragraph and probably a touch hokey but it's one I like. The notion of zero tolerance is a strong and appealing one in many ways. It's certainly something that politicians fall back on from time to time, often with results that ignore humanity in favour of vote grabbing headlines. Despite the negative aspects of it as a political policy I think it does have a personal appeal. It's like giving something up for Lent: simple, decisive and satisfying if you manage to stick to it.

So why am I talking about zero tolerance here? I'm a firm opponent of censorship but fall into that muddy liberal mire of also believing that the media can have an adverse influence on society by perpetuating negative stereotypes or pushing certain agendas. In recent years, for instance, there has been a definite focus on the influence of the fashion industry on young women, particularly around body image and anorexia. I don't believe in state sanctioned censorship, but I do believe that in a consumer society we, as the customers of the companies that produce the things we consume, can and should complain when those companies overstep the mark.
And boy have Lancome overstepped the mark.

The advert I saw wasn't one for discussion in that debate though, it was an ad for mascara. Here it is.

What is offensive about it is not just the advert but the marketing concept behind the product itself. It's called Doll Eyes and it's designed to make a woman's eye lashes look like those of a doll. Not longer or fuller or lusher but more doll-like.
Why am I appalled by that? Because it suggests that natural isn't good enough. That fake is better. That women should hide their natural beauty with layers of plastic rather than let it shine through. Most of all it suggests that there is one standard for what is beautiful and that standard is Barbie.

The Lancome publicity machine has in fact gone one step further and is running a game on the company's Facebook page allowing women to create virtual dolls of themselves. Nice, huh?

This notion of the superiority of falsehood isn't one that I find abhorrent only when attached to feminine beauty, it's one I dislike full stop. It seems to me to be dehumanising wherever you apply it and the women in the add certainly bear more than a passing resemblance to The Stepford Wives with their perfect plastic faces and their empty plastic eyes.
Is this mascara the thin end of the wedge then in driving into our brains the concept that fake beats real? Sadly not, its probably towards the thicker end, but it does seem to me to be something that we, as humans, should oppose. Because we're not dolls, we're better than that. More beautiful, more real and more alive.

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Monday, 2 April 2012

Sunliner 2 prologue preview

So here it is folks, by popular demand and hot off the presses, the prologue of the currently untitled sequel to Sunliner. Strictly first draft but I know there are at least a few people out there who want to see it.
Enjoy and please do let me know what you think.


When Rachel and I left LA I thought we'd left the violence behind but within a month I'd killed again. The man I killed didn't give me any choice but I still felt bad about it. Bad for him and bad for me because killing was starting to feel like something did rather than something I'd done.
The last man I'd killed was one who I'd hated with a passion as strong as the love a man feels for his wife and family. This man, the man in Nebraska, I didn't give two hoots about, didn't like him, didn't hate him, just knew he needed killing.
I'll get to the why in time. First let me tell you the how, because although I had no reason to expect that would make a blind bit of difference it proved to be important. I did it on blind instinct, the killing, when I walked into that room and found him doing what he was doing. I guess a shrink would say I had some kind of knight in shining armour complex. That I need to keep saving damsels in distress because I couldn't save my wife. I think that's BS. I saw a man doing something horrific to someone smaller and weaker than him and it was in my power to stop him. So I did.
The events in LA had changed me, made me harder. I suppose it's what happens to a man when he finally finds the balls to stand up to his nemesis. What I'd gone through had taken me to the edge of hell and back but like a snake sheddding its skin I'd come out of it renewed, better somehow. Would the man I'd been before that horrible night with JJ and the car and the Freak have reacted the way I did when I walked into that small, stinking room? I doubt it. He would have turned and run. Done the the right thing of course, found a payphone and called the cops, but by then it would have been too late for the girl.
So I didn't run and I certainly didn't call the cops; I still held a healthy respect for them, a respect that meant I wanted to stay as far away from them as possible. I walked forward rather than back.
The man turned when he heard the door open and saw me at the same moment as I saw him. Rachel and I had heard the screams from outside so we knew something bad was going down in there. The girl on the table in front of him went quiet at the sight of me. The scream that had been tumbling from her mouth and echoing off the wooden walls stopping as abruptly as if someone had put their hand over her mouth. Her eyes locked on mine and the terror in them was replaced with hope. I think that faith she had in me gave me the extra strength I needed to do what I did next. He was a big bastard and I doubt I could have taken him without the knowledge that if I didn't the girl would be done for. I might be tougher than I'd been a month ago but I was still no Rocky Marciano and I needed every advantage I could find.
My first thought was that I needed to find a weapon. The guy was 6 foot 6 if he was an inch and he had a knife in his hand. I could see a shovel leaning against the wall by the side of the table the girl was on. On the other side of the room. On the other side of the giant with the knife. That meant a weapon was out of the equation for now and there was no way I was going to beat him in a fair fight so I fought dirty.
I lashed out with my foot and caught him in the knee, he was big but he was slow and the toe of my shoe connected hard with his knee cap. He didn't even notice. For all my bravado I guess I wasn't such a touch guy after all. His right hand, the one holding the knife, swung round in a wild arc and he caught on the side of the head with his fist and the base of the knife handle. My head rocked from the blow and my legs went weak beneath me. I knew I was going down and there was nothing I could do about it.

New Cover

Well the new cover is done and I adore it. It has completely captured the pulpy, 50s feel I wanted and fits the book like a glove.

Many, many thanks to Thyme at