Category Archives: Blogging

Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


Quantifying Creepiness

It’s Halloween! That means only one thing. Creepy shit. But what does that even mean? Here’s a piece I did for Deviant Dolls where I attempted to find out.

Creepy: Causing an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease (Adj.)

We all have a thing. Something that creeps us the fuck out. I know a girl who is terrified of dwarves. Even worse than that, there are people who walk among us, looking all normal and shit, with a profound fear of cheese. Yep, it’s true. The condition even has a name, Turophobia.

My thing is creepy crawlies. Not very original, I know. But my bug fear has a weird little twist. The more legs they have, the more repulsed I get. Dung beetles? Cool. Centipedes? Forget it. There’s also something intrinsically creepy about lobsters and crabs. It’s those pincer things. Therefore, despite being about half an inch long, earwigs put the fear of God into me. ‘Cos they have lots of legs AND pincers, see?

Yep, it’s irrational. On paper it looks damn stupid. But it’s something I can’t control. With humankind being a race of such disparate and complex individuals, anything is possible. What might might freak one person out might make another get his freak on. One man’s poison, etc. It’s one of the things that makes our lives so colourful. Imagine how boring this would be if we were all the same.

So is quantifying creepiness even possible?

Apparently so. There’s a wealth of material on the Internet to prove it (so it must be true, right?). Everything from academic papers to sketchy blog posts like this one. After digesting some of this information, a few points become evident. Some things are almost universally creepy. Clowns? Creepy. Spiders? Creepy. Serial killers? Creepy. Using those indicators, it would be fair to assume that serial killer clowns like John Wayne Gacy would push the creep factor through the roof. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to discover he had a thing for spiders, too. He was just that kinda guy. Some people make it easy for the rest of us to judge them by ticking every. Fucking. Box. Or at least one box too many.

Usually, though, it isn’t so straightforward. Some boffins (smart, scientific types) have decided that people’s jobs should be taken into account. Apparently, the job with the highest ick factor of all is funeral director, while things like morticians also rank highly. Basically, anything involving death. Does that mean we find death itself creepy? Possibly. On the other hand, according to the statiticians, your friendly local weathermen is about as scary as a poptart. But guess what? That doesn’t mean a weatherman can’t be a serial killer. You just wouldn’t expect him to be, so you’d be even more horrified when sneaks up behind you and stabs you in the throat. Tellingly, a writer friend of mine disagreed with the first assumption because the funeral director in her town was ‘Hot, has abs, and rides a Harley.’ So it turns out, when someone is pleasing on the eye, we tend to overlook a lot. Who knew, right?

It’s obviously wrong to pre-judge anyone on what they do for a living. Just like it’s wrong to judge them on where they come from, the colour of their skin, or what music they are into. The only thing that really matters is what people are actually like. You know, their personality and shit. And here, a Reddit user by the name of Saigonsquare has helpfully attempted to produce a handy formula to help us decide how creepy the people around us really are.

Creepiness = (Awkwardness x Forwardness / Attractiveness) ^ Persistence.

See the role ‘attractiveness’ plays? It’s right up there, which means my friend with a thing for funeral directors isn’t such a freak after all. Apparently, if you are considered charming and/or good-looking, you can get away with murder. Just ask Ted Bundy.

Of course, this all breaks down when you enter the murky world of the Internet and you can’t actually see who you are talking to. Or, perhaps more accurately, who is talking to you. Sure, they might have a hot profile pic, but how do you know it’s not fake? I was happily chatting away to a hot chick online recently who’d sent me a random friend request a few days before. Things were going pretty well, until ‘she’ sent me a picture of his dick. Yup.

Every item in that formula is subjective. Take ‘persistence,’ for example. Everyone likes it when someone shows a romantic interest in them. It makes us feel wanted, valuable, even a bit special. We also like a bit of persistence. The keener the admirer is, the more they must like you. But too much persistence? Nope. Then you’re heading into potentially dangerous stalker territory. So where do we draw the line?

Same goes for ‘forwardness.’ Someone who displays just the right level of confidence is a real go-getter, right? Which can only be a good thing. They probably have a well-paying job, a nice car, prospects, ambition, all that good shit. Nobody wants to go out with a slacker. But there’s a fine line between ‘confident’ and ‘cocky.’ And after ‘cocky’ comes ‘pushy,’ which is an obvious turn-off.

This brings us to the ‘Awkwardness’ part of the equation. Some things just feel wrong. We don’t know why, they just do. It’s instinctive. It’s entirely possible that whatever causes us to lose our shit is linked to some primal condition buried deep within us. A legacy, perhaps, of the time when we crawled around on our bellies in swamps. But obviously, that doesn’t explain what the fuck clowns have to do with anything.

Check out some more deviance HERE.


An Unlikely Welsh Folk Hero

When people think of Welsh folk heroes, Twm Sion Cati and Owain Glyndwr invariably spring to mind, and rightly so. Not many people mention Will Cefn-Coch. In fact, I’d never heard of him myself until I recently read a book about Welsh murders. But his story is deserving of a much wider audience.

Until November 1868, plain old William Richards was an ordinary 28-year old bloke living a simple life in Cardiganshire. Times were hard in those days. There was a glaring gap between rich and poor, and lots of countryside folk took to poaching to feed their families. There simply wasn’t enough to eat, especially in winter. Although still technically a crime, most people considered sneaking onto privately-owned land to fish or hunt game a necessary evil. Except the rich landowners, obviously, who employed gamekeepers to combat the problem. These guys were not looked upon with much fondness by the locals, in much the same way I imagine Community Support Officers are these days.

One night, Will Richards (aka Will Cefn-Coch, that being the name of the village he was from) and two of his mates illegally ventured onto the estate of Trawscoed, the property of the Earl of Lisburne, to go hunting. Unbeknownst to them, gamekeepers were lying in wait. The gamekeepers, who were unarmed, tried to chase off the transgressors. The story goes that whilst running away, Will stopped and levelled his gun at them on three separate occasions. Each time, the gamekeepers begged for their lives, Will relented, ran off again, and the chase was back on. Eventually, a particularly determined gamekeeper caught up with one of the poachers and wrestled him to the ground. By this time Will had had enough, and shot the gamekeeper dead.

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One of the poachers was apprehended and prosecuted, while Will made his getaway and melted into the community. Some sources say he was held in quite high esteem by some of the locals, who sympathised with the fact that all he had been trying to do was feed his family. There was a lot of resentment against the upper classes. The locals hid and fed him, while the authorities alerted every port and city in the country and put a £100 reward on his head (over £8,000 in ‘today’s’ money). A tidy sum, because now it wasn’t just poaching Will was guilty of, it was murder. He was on the run for months, going from house to house and farm to farm, always on the move. He had a few close shaves, but always managed to evade capture with a little help from his friends.

Eventually however, the net began closing in. If he was caught, Will knew he faced death by hanging, so drastic measures were called for. Wary of using transport he walked (yes, walked) to Liverpool, where he put the most audacious part of his plan into action. The authorities were on the lookout for a man fitting his description, so he disguised himself as a woman, complete with heavy make-up. It is likely he drew inspiration for this from the Rebecca Riots thirty years previously, when farmers dressed in drag and attacked toll gates placed on Welsh roads in protest against unfair taxation. In any case, Will must have made a convincing femme fatale, because he succeeded in boarding a ship bound for America and somehow made it all the way to Ohio, where he met and married an Irish immigrant and lived a long and prosperous life.


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.


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?


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