Sker House and the Angry Reader

So I managed to upset a couple of people last month when I ran a free promo on my novel Sker House. How can giving something away piss people off? Because in the run-up to the free promo, Sker House experienced some weird inexplicable sales spike. It happens. Not nearly often as I would like, but it happens. And the book sold a few copies at full price, $4.99/£3.99.

Then, the free promo kicked in.

Quite rightly, a few people (okay, one person) contacted me through Facebook and voiced their displeasure because they’d paid for something that was then made free days later. It’s probably fair to assume that if this one person felt cheated, others probably did too. I would. So maybe I should explain a couple of things.

Why do writers run free promos? Why do we work tirelessly for six months or more, then pay for artists to design our covers and editors to make us sound good, only to give the result away for free?

Because we are dumb, that’s why.

Not really. The simple truth is, we do it for exposure. Amazon uses magic algorithms to determine your book’s ranking. The higher your ranking, the more love  Amazon will give your book, in the form of recommending it to potential readers and what-not. Of course, writers also want to attract new readers, in the hope that they’ll like our work and perhaps buy another of our books at some point. We hope this works by the same principal as a drug dealer giving away the first hit for free. It doesn’t work like that at all, but that’s what we hope.

And then there are the reviews. Indie writers like me can never get enough reviews. The good, the bad, and the indifferent. We love them all. Reviews sell books. Most of us would beg, steal, kill or maim for an honest review.

The Sker House free promo was probably the most successful promotion I’ve ever done. In four days it was downloaded a total of 1,012 times. It peaked at #14 in Amazon’s Top 100 free horror books, and #3 in it’s sub-category (occult). Judging by the habits certain other indie writers display, I’m pretty sure that practically qualifies it as an ‘Amazon bestseller.’ So in that respect, even though I gave away about four grand’s worth of free books, the promo was a resounding success. Yeah, I know the majority of people won’t read it. It’ll sit on their Kindle, phone, or computer unopened for all eternity with all the other free books they’ve collected. But if only 1% of the people who downloaded Sker House read it then left a review on Amazon, the exercise would be more than worth it.

Be special. Be the 1%!

Weirdly, immediately after the promotion ended, Sker House enjoyed another unprecedented spike and sold more copies in three days than it had at any time since it’s release. This is another benefit of running free promos. Your book stays ‘visible’ for a while before sinking without trace again. We’re not talking thousands of sales here, or even hundreds. The harsh truth is that for most indie writers, to sell double figures of one title in one day is considered an achievement. To do it two or three days running represents the height of success.

Anyway, back to Angry Reader, I explained the situation to her and I think I made amends. Now I feel bad for everyone else who might think I pulled a fast one on them and I want to make it right. So if you also bought Sker House at full price between August 1st and August 25th 2016, send me proof of purchase, and I’ll let you choose any of my other indie titles for free. How’s that? Are we good?

Good.


Spring – Film Review

How on earth have I not seen this movie before? The Internet says it’s been around since debuting at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014. It did have a very limited theatrical release, then went direct to streaming, though, which is where a lot of things tend to get lost. More’s the pity, because it’s an exceptional piece of work. Part of the attraction is that it’s so many things, and yet at the same time none of them. At it’s core it’s a love story, but it’s also a sci-fi flick, a monster movie, a mystery, a comedy, and one of those meaningful coming-of-age dramas like The Beach. It’s a huge risk trying to do so much within the confines of a single movie. So much can go wrong. But the directing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson (who also wrote it) have done a magnificent job of crossing boundaries and meshing those genres together into something that is captivating, original and truly unique.

spring

A directionless young American, Evan Russell (Lou Taylor Pucci, who starred in the recent Evil Dead remake) loses his mother and his job within days of each other. He also gets in a spot of bother with da police and some local hoodlums, so decides to skip town and use his inheritance to fund a voyage of discovery to Italy. Once there, he meets two hilarious Englishmen in a hostel, and hooks up with a local hottie called Louise (Nadia Hilker). And that’s where the fun begins. Louise slowly reveals herself to be a 2000-year old murderous genetic freak, who gets herself pregnant every twenty years so her body can ingest the cells in her embryo and keep her young. Yup. She regales Evan with tales of 17th Century witch trials, erupting volcanoes, and surviving the Great Plague that swept Europe, all of which Evan takes remarkably well (“At least you have the same back-story as Harry Potter. That’s pretty cool”). Such is the power of love, I guess. Louise then reveals that she can only return to anything resembling a normal state if she falls in love. But does she really want to and risk giving up the life to which she has become accustomed?

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot compelling, and the Italian setting stunning. Spring is much more than a mere comedic sci-fi flick. The subtext throws up some interesting existential questions and addresses some pretty fundamental moral dilemmas. Overall, this is a supremely creative, entertaining and imaginative movie. Go watch it right now.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement. Available FREE.


Devil Dogs

My new novella, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches, tells the story of a young British infantryman called Harry Price at the Somme in World War I who ends up fighting not just the Germans, but also an unseen enemy that makes his friends ‘disappear.’ Amongst the usual death and destruction to be found in a war zone, the book features a reanimated corpse, unkillable death squads, and what I refer to as ‘Devil Dogs.’ In the story, these are vicious German Shepherds, symbols of the German war machine, who had their brains transplanted and replaced with those taken from dead SS soldiers. So in effect, they are dogs with people brains. Angry people brains. They are then sent out to prowl no man’s land, the area between the allied and German trenches, looking for victims.

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I wish I could lay claim to making this shit up. But rumour has it that this area of research was part of the infamous Nazi human experiments of the 1940’s during which all manner of cheerful things took place, from sewing sets of twins together to making people drink nothing but sea water so they could study the effects. Some of these experiments also included forced amputations and limb transplants. Yep, just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Most of this stuff was inflicted on POW’s during World War II, but I moved it to the trenches of World War I to suit my purposes. During war time, or even outside war time, people do such incredibly fucked-up shit to each other you don’t have to make it up. Just read a bit of history.

I couldn’t find any online sources for the transplanting-people-brains-into-dogs thing, so maybe I did make that bit up. Who knows? However, there is some literature relating to Soviet experiments along similar lines concerning the pioneering ‘work’ of Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov in the 1950’s which supposedly led to the first heart transplant in 1967. One of his greatest achievements was bringing a dead dog’s head ‘back to life.’ There’s even footage on YouTube. Some sources suggest this was a continuation of research started by the Nazis a decade earlier, and it’s anyone’s guess what really went on at those sketchy Unit 731 camps.

Ultimately, nobody knows how far they want or if the experiments were successful. Probably not. I imagine it came down to size in the end (doesn’t it always?). I mean a man’s brain wouldn’t fit inside a dog’s head, would it? Unless these particular dogs were genetically engineered or something to make them bigger than the average canine. And the Nazis would never do that, would they? By the way, I took the term Devil Dogs from a nickname the US Marine Corps were given by the Germans. According to Marine Corps legend, they fought with such ferocity at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 that they were likened by the enemy to ‘Dogs from Hell.’

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?


Rolling the Dice, Man

I don’t know how many people reading this would be familiar with the now-defunct British magazine Loaded. For men of a certain age, it was something of a lifestyle bible, and told you everything you needed to know about, well, life and style.

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In a 1999 issue they named an obscure (to me, anyway) American writer by the name of Luke Rhinehart, ‘Novelist of the Century.’ He was awarded this accolade largely due to a book he wrote called The Dice Man, which carried the rather catchy tag (on some editions) ‘Few novels can change your life, this one will.’ Until that point, I’d thought Stephen King was ‘Novelist of the Century.’ Still do, actually. So this was news to me. Loaded were very rarely wrong about such important things, so I went out and found a copy of said book in HMV. Then I stuck it on my ever-expanding book shelf and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and I’m a mature student with a lot of free time on my hands. Enter The Dice Man.

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In a nutshell, the book tells the story of a psychiatrist called Luke Rhinehart (which makes it kind of a mock autobiography) who, feeling bored and unsatisfied with life, decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he rolls a dice, and lets fate decide which path he should take. As far as I remember, the rule of the ‘game’ is that you give yourself six options, one for each number on the dice. Five reasonably attractive things that you wouldn’t mind doing, and one thing you don’t want to do. But you have to be prepared to do it.

On the surface, its a book about freedom, the search for adventure, and fucking the system. I’m sure many of the deeper psychological concepts and themes were lost on me at the time. You kind of grasp most of them, but not with much clarity. The result is that they linger in your subconscious for years after.

I was so taken with the book that one summer I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and decided to live by the dice for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let the dice decide anything important. That would be stupid. I just let it dictate the little things like which places I should travel through and in what order (as it tuned out, it was Alicante, Benidorm, Murcia, Granada and Malaga, in that order), and when I got there which tapas bar I should I stop at, which hostel should I stay in, and whether or not I should hit on the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair. Nothing remotely negative happened, apart from the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair saying no. But even that wasn’t a total blow-out. The two of us got talking to a Spanish gypsy girl called Estrella (Star) and I took her home instead.

Playing the dice was a liberating experience, and I spent most of the time strolling through the sunshine wallowing in a carefree attitude sadly missing from my daily life. But at the same time, it was slightly unnerving. I wasn’t in control of my life anymore. Something else was, some higher force. Call it what you want; fate, destiny, the Cosmic Joker, God, whatever. After a while you begin to wonder what path you are on, and why. Is it really all random? Or is there some kind of plan involved? Interesting times, indeed. It’s also kind of dangerous, in the sense that the dice allow you an excuse to be reckless.

Why did you do that stupid thing? 

Because the dice told me to do it.

Ironically, it was Tim Southwell, writer and one-time editor of Loaded, who said:

“A man without responsibility is like Genghis Khan.”

Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonym of George Cockroft, who has written numerous books and essays, including several other ‘Dice’ books. The original, first published in 1971, has attained cult status, and been published in over 60 countries. In 2012 he pranked his own death, the mentalist, but in reality is still going strong at the age of 83. Throw a dice for him. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might. But that’s part of the fun.

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Free Trip to Sker House!

It’s August Bank Holiday. So why not take a trip to Sker House, a lovely little seaside retreat in south Wales?

Look. Isn’t it beautiful, in a creepy kind of way?

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You can just imagine some of the things that have gone on there over the years. The house has a very long and macabre history, and is also just a little bit haunted. But don’t worry, you should be okay. Sker House has garnered quite a bit of publicity recently, and a few notable visitors have spent time there. Some enjoyed their stay very much. Others, got a little bit disturbed by it all. Understandably so. It isn’t the kind of place which appeals to everybody.

The trip would normally cost you $4.99/£3.99. But from now until the end of the weekend it’s FREE to all. The offer will never be repeated because, call me old-fashioned, but I believe people should be paid for their hard work. Believe me, it was neither easy nor cheap to arrange this trip for you. I only hope you take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and please, bring your friends!

At least tell them where you are going so they know where to look if you don’t come back.

Sker House, the place where past and present collide, awaits.


Sker House – Collected Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of indie writers. Good, bad, or indifferent, we’ll take what we can get. We make no demands. Reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads can make or break a book, but those featured on websites and blogs can be even more valuable because of the potential exposure they get.

I am truly thankful to those below and truly appreciate the time these wonderful people invested in Sker House. And I hope I scared their pants off. Just a little bit.

The Horror Cabin

Metallic Wolf

The Haunted House Project

Americymru

The Acid Burn Horror Show

Frank E Bittinger

Dark Comedy Productions

Sci-fi & Scary

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As the Crow Flies included in QuickFic Anthology 2

I’m thrilled to announce that my very weird flash fiction story, As the Crow Flies, has finally found a home having been included in QuicFic Anthology 2: Shorter Short Speculative Fiction out now on DigitalFictionPub. This time out, I’m honoured to be sharing antho space with Lisa Finch, Liam Hogan, Greg Chamberlain, Tanya Bryan, Suzie Lockhart, Amy Sisson, Pedro Iniguez, D.J. Cockburn, and many others.

QuickFic Anthology_

“He remembered the stories his grandfather told him when he was a kid. The stories about how the devil himself, the original fallen angel, stalked these mountainous peaks under cover of darkness, preying on weary travellers. Granddad never elaborated much on what he meant by ‘preying.’ He never had to.”

– From As the Crow Flies

I wrote As the Crow Flies in 2011 or 2012. At about 750 words, it’s one of my shortest short stories. I submitted it to a few magazines and websites, nobody wanted it, so I dumped it in a folder on my desktop and moved on with my life. Fast forward a couple of years and I’m re-organising (okay, organising) my writing folders and I come across this again. I re-read it and remembered I had based it on a creepy old Welsh folk tale I read about in a history book. So yep, this story might be true. Equally, it might NOT be, but who the fuck knows, right?


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