X4 – ToC

X4, my latest collection of short fiction, is out now.

Grin.

Check out the cover art by the awesome Greg Chapman.

X4

As promised, here is the complete ToC along with the original publishing credits:

Band of Souls has previously appeared in the anthologies Return of the Raven (2009) and Fearful Fathoms, Volume 1 (2017)

As the Crow Flies was first published in QuickFic Anthology 2 (2016)

Jessica was first published in Liquid Imagination (2016)

Jumping at Shadows was first published in Matt Hickman’s Sinister Scribblings (2017)

Other Me was first published in Feverish Fiction (2017)

Vicar on the Underground was first published in Monsters Among Us (2016)

The Past Entombed was first published in Echoes & Bones (2017)

My Tormentor was first published by The Horror Tree (2018)

Lakeside Park was first published in Terrors Unimagined (2017)

Harberry Close was first published in Dead Harvest (2014)

Afterword

X4 is on Amazon now.

US LINK

UK LINK


27 Everywhere

The number 27 has been a big part of my life for, well, since forever. I’ve blogged about it before here and there. It just seems to follow me, cropping up far more than it should. I’m still none the wiser about how it works or what any of it means, but as I get older I have become better at recognizing signs and patterns. I used to think that when I encountered number 27 it was like a ‘thumbs up’ from the universe, meaning I was somehow on the right track. But over time it has slowly become apparent that I was wrong.

Now, I firmly believe that the arrival of 27 heralds a period of seismic change in my life. Kind of like a warning. It happens in clusters, and the more 27 incidences there are, the thicker and more bigger the changes. I know it’s just a number, and by the law of averages I’m going to come across it occasionally, especially if I’m already sensitive to it. But I can go for months without seeing it once, and then bang. It’s everywhere.

When I tell my 27 stories, most people think I’m nuts, or they put it down to coincidence. So I decided to take some photos to document it. As a bit of background, when this all happened I was living in Guangzhou, China, working as an IELTS instructor, and in a very happy long-term relationship.

My girlfriend and I talked about destiny a lot. And one day she bought me a surprise gift, mostly because I was born on March 27.

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That seemed to kickstart the ’27 burst.’ And how.

Just to clarify, all these instances happened within a few of weeks either side of New Year. Sometimes, there were several a day, and I didn’t even capture all of them. 

Anyway, here goes.

One day I had to go to the government offices to file some paperwork. I took a cab.

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When I arrived, I was early so I popped in a nearby McDonalds. This was my bill…

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On weekends, my girlfriend and I would sometimes buy a takeaway. The delivery guy would leave it in a bank of numbered lockers outside my apartment, and send a code to your phone to open it. There are hundreds of them, but that particular evening…

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In the midst of all this, I was reading on my Kindle a lot. the name og this book escapes me, but it struck me as especially relevant because that line, “It’s Christian, but just call me Chris,” is one I rehash on a remarkably regular basis, and it appeared at 27%.

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A few days later, my girlfriend and I went to McDonalds again (shoot me). You very rarely have to wait for food, but when you do they give you a number.

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Then there was the Chinese New year gala at my college. Every teacher was given a raffle ticket with a number. Here’s mine:

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Incidentally, I won a prize that night. A suitcase. Which I now take to be another sign. Another came when I treated my girl to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Our bill came to 702 RMB, which is 27 backwards.

It was cloudy but uncharacteristically warm at that time, even for Guangzhou.

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I had planned a trip back to the UK during the Chinese New year holiday, and treated myself to a box of craft beer. When it arrived, it had a random number scrawled on it…

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Whilst home, I published my fourth collection of short fiction. I paid an graphic artist to do some artwork for it. Here’s my bill:

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Then I received word from my college in Guangzhou that due to the coronavirus, we wouldn’t be able to return to work on February 27 as planned. Instead, we will have to wait until May at the earliest. This was not ideal. Consequently, my girlfriend and I decided to call it a day.

Presumably, these are the seismic changes the universe was warning me about.

As I write this (on 27 February) the current death toll of the coronavirus stands at 2,798.

(EDIT: Of course, as we now know the virus then went on to ravage the worldwide economy and claim tens of thousands of lives).

I was discussing all this with one of my students online one afternoon. She said the situation is not improving much, but at least the weather is getting better over there. She sent me a screen shot to prove it…

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RetView #32 – Alien (1979)

Title: Alien

Year of Release: 1979

Director: Ridley Scott

Length: 117 mins

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronoca Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holme.

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Stone cold classics don’t come much colder or more classic than Alien. Widely regarded as one of the best films ever made despite being produced on a comparatively small budget, it was a smash hit and a critical success, even winning a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Visual effects, along with numerous other accolades. Every aspect of the film has been scrutinized and invariably come to be revered, even the above poster. However, had it not been for the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the film would probably never have been made. Eager to capitalize, 20th Century Fox rushed to produce a movie in a similar vein. Alien was shot in just 14 weeks in the second half of 1978, primarily at Shepperton Studios, and Bray Studios in Berkshire, where many Hammer Horror films were made before the site was redeveloped into luxury apartments.

Alien follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo in the year 2122, which is returning to earth with its seven crew members in an induced hyper sleep. Upon detecting a distress signal from nearby a Moon, the ship’s computer, Mother, awakens them and they send a search party out to investigate. On the mission, one of their number, Executive Officer Kane (Hurt) is attacked by an alien creature which attaches itself to his face (hence the name ‘facehugger).’ Kane is taken back to the Nostromo where, some time later, he wakes with seemingly no ill effects. That is, until the crew are all sharing a meal and the iconic chest bursting scene goes down. That’s enough to put anyone off their food. Now beginning to realize that the Nostromo has been infiltrated by a killer alien entity, the surviving crew set out to seek and destroy the now fully-grown, and scary as fuck, transgressor who, of course, picks them off one by one. As if this isn’t bad enough, Ripley (Weaver), now in command as ship’s captain Dallas (Skerritt) is one of the first to bite the dust, is attacked by another crew member, Ash (Hulme) who is then revealed to be an android with a pre-programmed agenda which is vastly at odds with the rest of the crew. And common sense. The whole thing climaxes in sole survivor Ripley destroying the Nostromo, taking Jones the resident cat, and escaping in a mini shuttle. Until she’s called upon to go back to work in the 1986 sequel, imaginatively titled Aliens.

In the years since its release, one of the most interesting aspects explored by critics is the film’s supposed sexual overtones. The adult xenomorph bristles with sexual imagery and a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas was scripted (though never filmed) to illustrate how crewmembers dealt with long periods of abstinence. Several critics have compared the fecehugger’s exploits with male rape, and Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the original screenplay under the working title ‘Star Beast’, has said that the chestburster scene is a metaphor for the male fear of penetration, and that the oral invasion of Kane by the facehugger functions as payback for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. This would seem to be in keeping with the rest of the movie, which contrary to the (then) norm, boasts a strong female lead in Sigourney Weaver who would go on to star in The Year of Living Dangerously, Ghostbusters, Working Girl and a host (sorry!) of others. Even the Alien is female. To go one step further, it has been suggested that Alien is a movie ALL about rape, as the driving force behind the antagonist is reproduction by non-consensual means.

Alien certainly struck a nerve, perhaps tapping into the late-seventies zeitgeist which encouraged people to ask fundamental existential questions such as what is, and what could be. Alien was an unprecedented success, raking in an estimated $104 to $203 million from a measly $11 million budget and spawning three direct sequels, as well as a series of crossovers with the Predator franchise. In 2003 when 20th Century Fox released the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box, which included the original Alien plus the three sequels, it was decided that the box should also include alternate versions of all four films. The alternate version of Alien, labelled the ‘Director’s Cut,’ has been re-edited to restore several deleted scenes (such as one where, during her escape from the Nostromo, Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett cocooned) but omits several others meaning the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the original. Scott explained, “The traditional definition of the term ‘Director’s Cut’ suggests the restoration of a director’s original vision, free of any creative limitations. Such is not the case with Alien: The Director’s Cut. It is a completely different beast.”

Trivia Corner

The newly-dead facehugger that Ash autopsies was created using shellfish, oysters, and a sheep kidney, while the ‘egg tube’ section is actually a piece of sheep intestine and the ‘slime’ used on the aliens was K.Y. Jelly.

 


X4 is out now!

So… now I can tell you all about my latest, ahem, release. X4 includes ten horror/dark fiction stories, all of which have been published before in the likes of Liquid Imagination, Terrors Unimagined and several anthologies. I’ve given them all a bit of spit and polish, but the stories are all otherwise untouched. It’s tempting sometimes, but I’m reluctant to change up the plot or anything substantial. As far as I’m concerned, once a story is published it’s done and dusted and I move on. Otherwise, it’s easy to get caught in a vicious circle of constantly reviewing, editing and updating. You have to know when to say enough is enough.

In my humble opinion, this is the strongest of my X books to date, not least because this writing lark is hard and it took me a while to get my head around it. Truth be told, I still haven’t got my head around it. I’m not sure if that’s even possible. It’s a learning process. But I’m definitely a better writer now than I was 23 years ago when I first started.

The X books are released in rough chronological order. The first volume collected all my early stories, and this latest addition brings us up to 2016-17, which was an especially prolific period for me. I lived in London at the time, so that was the setting for most of the stories. I’m very proud of some of them, and I’m elated to be able to share them with you.

X4

X4 is out now.


Green Day – Father of All (review)

Or Father of all Motherfuckers, to use its full, needlessly sweary title. This review, like the album itself, is going to be short. With its ten tracks amounting to a total of less than 26 minutes running time, in my view it barely qualifies as an album. And that’s not the only mildly confusing thing about this release. The truth is, after the swaggering pomp of Revolution Radio (2016) and the epic God’s Favourite Band compilation (2017), I expected more. With Father of All, Green Day appear to be going backwards, or at best treading water while they channel the spirit of nineties-era Prince. There are some decent tunes here, the best among them probably being the singles Oh Yeah, and Meet me on the Roof and there’s an impressive array of musical styles on show ranging from glam all the way over to motown.

Possibly the closest things to classic-era GD are I was a Teenage Teenager and Sugar Youth, and Junkies on a High also deserves a mention if only for the poignant lyrics which hint at much-loved rockers not with us anymore. But sadly, most of the other cuts fall flat, the most cringeworthy being Stab You in the Heart which is a blatant rip-off of Hippy Hippy Shake. For me, the whole thing lacks depth and substance. It’s no Dookie, or even an American Idiot. In an interview with the Sun newspaper to promote the album, Billy Joe Armstrong explains, “This record represents the time we are in now. It’s got the shortest attention span and there’s a lot of chaos.”

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In that context, the album makes a bit more sense but you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Green Day. There can be no denying they are in a weird place right now. In a concerted effort to avoid being pigeonholed, in their storied career they’ve gone from snot-nosed punk upstarts to angry political activists to pop rock icons brandishing saccharine sweet sing-alongs. I’m not sure where Father of All fits into this. It’s not exactly a new direction, but it’s surprising enough to have you scratching your head on the first listen. Both Kerrang! And The Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, while the Independent gave it a measly two, saying, “The onslaught of frenzied energy comes at the expense of innovation.”

It’s difficult to argue with that verdict. While Green Day deserve credit for always doing what they want, rather than taking the easy route and doing what was expected of them, it’s unlikely that their 13th album will be the one that defines them or even stands out amongst their now considerable body of work. If you’re on the hunt for new music you’d be better off checking out the recent releases by Bouncing Souls or Dangerous Summer.  All that said, Father of All does get better on repeated listens and GD might still prove me wrong.

It wouldn’t be the first time.


X4 Cover reveal!

Greetings, fellow hoodlums!

I have some exciting news.

The fourth book in my ongoing series of short fiction collections is available for pre-order now. Imaginatively titled X4, it mainly covers stories that were published in various markets in 2016 – 2017, slotting in neatly on the heels of X: Omnibus which collected the first three volumes.

More details will follow soon, including the ToC. In the meantime, I just wanted to share the spectacular cover art with you, designed once again by the irrepressible Greg Chapman.

Ta-da!

X4

X4 is available to pre-order here.


RetView #31 – Christine (1982)

Title: Christine

Year of Release: 1983

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 110 mins

Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Prosky, Kelly Preston

 

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A major reason behind this series of posts is to look at movies that had an impact on my childhood and adolescence not just from a whimsical, rose-tinted view, but through the cold, hard, unimpressed eyes of an adult to ascertain how the films stand up and how my perceptions have changed. From that perspective Christine, the second Stephen King adaptation I have looked at following Thinner, is perfect fodder. I was in my early teens when I first read the book, which was released the same year as the film (unusual in itself, as the journey from publication to silver screen is usually a lot longer) and I think I saw the movie around the same time. Both are shot-through with nostalgia, and though set in the late 1970’s, feel as if they could have been placed in a much earlier time. This is perhaps a result of Christine’s radio being permanently tuned into 1950’s, the era she was manufactured (or ‘born’) rock n’ roll. In many ways, both the book and the movie also capture the angst and confusion of being a teenager, which often goes hand-in-hand with the thrills and naked optimism. All of which is testament to King’s sublime storytelling. Something else that comes through loud and clear is how intrinsic cars and driving is to American teen culture. It’s probably important to most teenagers, wherever they are from. Obviously, cars represent freedom. But they mean so much more in America.

It’s unlikely that any of this would be so prevalent had it not been for the direction of John Carpenter, who had been exploring the horror/suspense genre ever since 1978’s classic Halloween, most impressively on The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981) and the Thing (1982), a run he continued with Christine. His trademark sinister musical score, on this occasion cut with rock n’ roll classics, is a permanent reminder of his involvement, but his influence is immediately apparent during the opening credits, which roll over the sound of a throbbing engine. Overall, Carpenter brings a kind of savage warmth to proceedings, which is surprising as in later interviews he said the film was more of a ‘job’ than a personal project.

The plot is simple enough, but when you think about it most great plots are. Things are usually only complicated by sprawling, convoluted storylines which you have to concentrate so hard on following, everything else falls by the wayside. Arnold ‘Arnie’ Cunningham (Gordon) is an unpopular and socially awkward teenager living in the (fictional) town of Rockbridge, California. He has only one friend, Dennis (Stockwell). However, things begin to change when he purchases a beaten-up 1958 Plymouth convertible named ‘Christine’ from a used car dealer. He invests all his time and money in the car, and slowly develops a new image, that of a 1950’s greaser, to go with it. He even lands his first girlfriend, Leigh Cabot (Paul). But then things turn ugly. Arnie isn’t the boy he used to be. These days he’s an arrogant dickhead, and when Leigh almost chokes on a hamburger whilst sitting in his prized car, his friend Dennis does some investigating. He discovers that Christine has a long history of death and tragedy tied her. But that can’t be right. It’s only a car. Isn’t it? Dennis’ worst fears are confirmed when, after an altercation, Christine begins to hint down a group of local bullies. As the violence escalates, Arnie is sucked further and further into his now-murderous alter-ego. Is there any way back for him?

As ever, the thing that stands out most in both the book and the film version of Christine is the characterization. You actually feel for the characters, and despite many of the film cast being novices (an attempt, you feel, to portray the fresh innocence of youth) the acting is impressive right across the board. Word is that the role of Arnie was originally offered to Kevin Bacon, who declined it to take his career-defining role in Footloose, which came out the following year. The exception to the novice rule is the casting of grizzled veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky, who are superb as Detective Junkins and Darnell respectively. Producer Richard Kobritz had first been introduced to the work of Stephen King through his involvement on the ‘Salem’s Lot TV mini-series, and in the aftermath of that project was presented with several other novels King wanted to adapt for the screen. Among these novels were Cujo and, of course, Christine.

Trivia Corner

Because only 5,303 1958 Plymouth Fury’s were ever made, by the time filming began in April 1983 they were in short supply. Carpenter decided to place ads seeking two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, and eventually got hold of 24 of them in various states of disrepair. These were then used to build a total of 17 versions of the Fury.

 


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