Monthly Archives: July 2017

Inside Apartment 14F

My latest novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), just came out. As the title suggests, it’s a partially re-written and expanded version of an earlier release. The original came out on Damnation Books eight years ago, and truth be told I was never really happy with it. By the time the publisher was absorbed by another company and consequently vanished off the face of the earth a few years later, our contract had expired and all rights reverted back to me. That meant, the story was free for me to do what I wanted with, and I felt a remix was in order.

So here we are.

I wrote the original version of Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story in January/February 2009, when I was living in the industrial city of Tianjin, northern China. Tianjin is like a Chinese Middlesbrough, only with much harsher winters. Yep, it really is that bad. I’d spent the year before in Beijing, where Apartment 14F is set, and had moved to Tianjin to be closer to my then-girlfriend. Obviously, the moment I moved there she dumped me for another dude, leaving me alone and heartbroken doing a job I hated (teaching English at a primary school) in a freezing cold foreign country far too close to Russia with no friends.

Like most teachers, during the Spring Festival period I had a long holiday. It was too cold to go out for any other reason than buying supplies and Chinese TV is a bit shit, so I decided to do something constructive. Though I’d had a few short stories published in the small press when that was a thing years earlier, I’d taken a long sabbatical from writing fiction to focus on feature writing for magazines (the money is better) and was just beginning to get back into the fiction side of things. To me, it’s always been more of a labour of love. I consider any money I make from it a bonus, but it’s so time-consuming and energy-sapping that I feel I have to justify it somehow.

 There’s a different skill-set involved when writing fiction. It’s a bit like opening a door into your mind, and I’m not always entirely sure I want people to see what’s in there. Subconsciously or otherwise, you write about some pretty personal shit. There’s a lot of my early-China experience in Apartment 14F. The sense of isolation, feeling like an imposter, or an alien, feeling strangely detached as lots of weird shit goes on around you. It all added to the loneliness and simmering resentment.

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story started life as a short story called When Eyes Lie (Did I mention how bitter I was about the girlfriend thing?). I submitted it to Damnation Books, who were then a new start-up and had just put out a submission call. They loved it, but said it was too short and could do with being bulked up. It was good advice. There was a lot more I wanted to say, and I’d rushed through the short story. At over 17,000 words, the second version was almost twice as long as the original.

I’d hate to bite the hand that used to feed (they didn’t feed me much, but a little) but over time Damnation Books developed something of a reputation for being difficult to work with. I heard a lot of horror stories from other writers, and not the good kind. It’s not my place to air other people’s dirty washing. If you are interested, you can Google it. All the negativity came later. At the time, like most writers, I was just happy that someone liked my work enough to publish it.

In the case of Apartment 14F, there were a few things they wanted me to change. It’s not that I’m precious. I’m always open to suggestions from editors. It’s their job. But I don’t like making wholescale changes on the whim of someone who’s probably spent barely a few minutes skimming my manuscript, whereas I’d been working on it for months. I could have argued my case, but if you argue too much you get a reputation for being difficult and the publisher is liable to pull the plug on your book. I learned a long time ago to choose my battles. Some things are worth fighting for, and some things just aren’t.

Two key scenes came from different dreams I had. I had a lot of weird dreams when I was in China. Still do. It’s a fucking trippy place . The first dream I worked into the story is the hair in the bed scene. If you read it, you’ll know the part I mean. The second was the fortune teller with the inventive way of telling your fortune. That was one creepy nocturnal escapade, and luckily for me, the creepiness translated well to the page. I just described it as best as I could remember. The feelings, the sensations, the thoughts that ran through my head. That one scene has probably provoked more discussion than anything else I’ve written. Discounting the time I did an assignment for the sadly departed Nuts magazine and had the pleasure of telling the world what Lucy Pinder’s tits thought of the Southampton FC back four. But that was a different kind of writing in a different world.

Apart from being forced into making changes to the story, the other sticking points I had with Damnation Books were the amount of promotion they did for the book (none) and the price they set. Both the paperback and the ebook were on sale for over $7, that’s a lot for a novella-length work by someone you’ve never heard of.

Despite being overpriced, on it’s initial release Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story did extremely well. When Damnation Books imploded a couple of years later, it was still second in their all-time bestseller list. Okay, I know it’s not like being on the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means something to me. DB released A LOT of books. But like I said, I never really felt comfortable with it. I turned a corner with my writing not long afterwards. Must have been the 10,000-hour rule in effect. I went from being a part time writer to a full-time writer, and started doing a lot more fiction as a kind of release from the day job.

Whenever I went back and read the original version of Apartment 14F, some parts made me cringe. I think I have much more insight now. I lived in china another four years after I wrote the original story. I also like to think I’ve improved a lot as a writer since then, and maybe now I can finally do the idea I had back in ’09 justice. It also has a snazzy new cover…

14f

As an extra little sweetener, I’m also including a bonus short story, Little Dead Girl, which was first published in a short-lived publication called Unspoken Water (2011) and later in X2: Another Collection of Horror (2015). It’s a story written in a similar vein, ironically based on another deeply disturbing dream I had whilst living in the Middle Kingdom, and also featuring a teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown as the lead character. You could probably say they are set in the same spooky-ass far eastern universe. The two stories kinda compliment each other well, I think.

This is an edited version of an essay which appears in Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut). Available now on Amazon:

UK LINK

US LINK

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Reading Habits

Like a good little writer, I read a lot. You might say obsessively. All things considered, I guess I read between 2-4 hours a day. I read widely, across a lot of platforms and topics, but mostly in the sport, lifestyle, travel and paranormal areas. These are the areas I usually work in, so being knowledgeable helps me follow trends and keep my finger on the pulse.

Newspapers

Yeah, I know they are going out of style, but I’m keeping the dream alive. For me, The Times is the best newspaper out there. I don’t agree with all their politics. In fact, I usually skip those sections. But they have excellent writers and the articles are usually not only newsworthy but informative and often a bit quirky. There’s something quintessentially British about The Times, and I love how it treads the line between broadsheet and tabloid. My ‘happy place’ is a quiet pub on a rainy afternoon, with a pint of craft ale and a copy of The Times.

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If I can’t get a copy of The Times, the Guardian will do. Or the Observer on a Sunday. I never get The Sunday times because it’s like a metre-squared fucking Argos catalogue. My tabloid of choice is The Sun. It gets a lot of bad press (ho ho!) but it serves a purpose and the sports pages are outstanding. Wales on Sunday and the Western Mail are my regional newspapers when I’m in Wales but I rarely buy them these days. The quality of local journalism has nosedived. It’s largely due to less people reading newspapers and consequently their resources taking a hit, but you could argue that one reason less people are reading newspapers is because the quality of the product isn’t what it used to be. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. My most hated newspapers would be the Metro, because it reads like it was written by a bunch of 6-year old’s, and the Daily Mail, because that’s why.

Magazines

Ten years ago, there were eight or more different magazines I bought religiously every week or month, depending on their frequency. Sadly, most of them are gone now. Of the few that remain, the only one I subscribe to (and I have done for twenty years or so) is Fortean Times. I like the crazy. I also buy Classic Rock almost every month, and either GQ or Esquire. Both are slightly pretentious, but they are the closest thing remaining to FHM and Loaded, and they make decent toilet reading. I also like going to large newsagents and impulse buying whatever catches my eye. I grab Kerrang! Empire, Fighters Only and Mojo semi-regularly, along with the occasional travel title or hobbyist writing magazine. One day I woke up hungover, fully-clothed in my bed, covered in about £35 worth of mags. What a glorious day that was. When in London, I make sure I pick up whichever free mag is being distributed that day, Sport and Shortlist being pick of the bunch, with Escapism and Red Bulletin third and fourth.

Websites

I spend a lot of time surfing the net, but there aren’t many websites I use on a regular basis apart from Facebook and WordPress. Does Wiki count? How about Bet 365? Otherwise, MMA Fighting, Louder Than War and BBC News are probably my most visited. I habitually used Wales Online a lot until recently. But this outlet is suffering in much the same way as the print products Media Wales oversees is. In an effort to maximise profits, the quality of reporting has declined to laughable levels and the site is literally clogged up with advertising. It often takes several minutes to load, and when it finally does you are inundated with pop-ups. Sometimes you have to participate in a survey before you can even read the article you clicked on. I understand they have to (try and) make a profit, but that’s just intrusive. Life’s too short.

Books

I try to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction. I love sports autobiographies, travelogues, and rock memoirs, along with a healthy dose of true crime and the occasional tale of survival-against-the-odds.

The fiction I read is almost exclusively in the horror genre (as broad as that is). If there are no ghosts or zombies, or at least a demented serial killer on the rampage, I get real bored real fast. I’ve never been the kind of person to read one book at a time, but only when I wrote this post did I realize how bad things have got. I really should show some more composure, but there are just so many books and so little time. At the moment, I have no less than seven on the go. For the interested, these are:

Physical copies:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss

PDF’s on the PC:

DOA 3, various authors

Wild Talents, Charles Fort

And on the Kindle:

Sinister Scribblings, Matt Hickman

Unit 731, Craig Saunders

Battlefield, Amy Cross


Film Review – The Chamber (2016)

Tension is the name of the game in this low-budget survival thriller from debut writer/director Ben Parker which premièred at last year’s Frightfest. The film opens with news reports that the nation of North Korea is becoming increasingly hostile, and has successfully test-launched ballistic missiles in an act of ‘clear provocation,’ conveniently playing on our newly-instilled suspicion of Kim Jong Un’s lot. Once it was the Russians, now it seems as though the North Koreans are the ones we should be scared of.

chamber

With every other country in the world uniting in panic, an American special ops team led by the pragmatic Alice Edwards (Charlotte Salt) enlist the help of a research vessel in the Yellow Sea to help them complete a mysterious ‘mission.’ The research vessel is equipped with a submersible craft called the Aurora (yep, the ‘chamber’) reluctantly piloted by Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) which is dispatched to search for something. The special ops team won’t say what they are looking for, which is helpful, and as you can probably imagine doesn’t make for a good working relationship with the poor civilian roped into doing their dirty work for them.

All this is compounded when the mother ship is boarded by the North Korean navy, leaving them stranded hundreds of meters beneath the surface. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a serious error of judgement leaves them upside down on the ocean floor letting in water. Don’t ask.

Random dialogue extract:

A: That wasn’t part of the plan.

B: The plan’s coming loose.

A: You’re coming loose.

All the action takes place on board a tiny submarine, so you naturally get that icky sense of, creeping, claustrophobic dread, which is just as well because the military espionage-based plot is wafer-thin, and seriously lacking any of the twists and turns that usually make this kind of film worth watching. Instead, you get an insanely improbable love angle. Because when you’re trapped in a tiny submarine on the ocean floor facing certain death, everyone gets the horn. Don’t they? There are, however, a few shocks toward the end, and eventually justice is seen to be done. Kind of.

Another point of interest is that Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield did the musical score. It’s not exactly Motorcycle Emptiness, more of a dark, sinister plod, but it’s still pretty effective. Bradfield’s appearance isn’t a complete surprise, given that the movie was filmed in Pencoed rather than the Yellow Sea and was produced in association with Ffilm Cymru Wales, making it possibly the first ever underwater thriller made in the Principality. Something tells me it might also be the last.

The original version of this review can be found in the free Morpheus Tales supplement.


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