Category Archives: Blogging

The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there a hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again? I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another of my books. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need a flipping degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but on this occasion, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you hemorrhage money anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


2020 in Review

Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also read a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). I’ll hopefully find homes for them later this year. On the subject of drabbles, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.

Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).

Elsewhere, I sold non-fiction articles to Fortean Times about the Hong Kong protests and cockroach farming and a couple more instructional pieces to Writer’s Weekly including Writing the Perfect Blurb, High-Paying Flash Fiction Markets and How to Find Your Micro Niche, while I also picked up some work for a website called DaiSport, which allowed me to stalk Newport County legend Fraser Franks and pursue my two great loves; Wales and MMA. I’m still trying to find a way to incorporate beer into the mix.

In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.

In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.

Terror Tract also published my novella, Tethered, the story of a journalism graduate who inadvertently gets sucked into a dark world of internet rituals, serial killers and strange disappearances. TT is fronted by Becky Narron, who is a living legend of the horror scene and it was an honour and a thrill to work with her. After the release of Tethered I entered into a promo cycle and did some interviews and guest blogs with the likes of Redrum Reviews, EB Lunsford and Kendall Reviews, where I took up the temporary post of warden, to add to the interview I did with Haunted MTL earlier in the year.

After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.

To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.


RetView #41 – Megan is Missing (2011)

Title: Megan is Missing

Year of Release: 2011

Director: Michael Goi

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

The story behind Megan is Missing is almost as remarkable as the film itself. Despite being initially released in 2011 it was shot in the found footage format made famous by the Blair Witch Project (1999) five years earlier on a miniscule budget of around $30k. Writer/Director Michael Goi claimed the reason for the gap between production and release was down to the objectionable subject matter. He simply couldn’t find anyone to distribute it until Anchor Bay stepped up. Due to the budgetary constraints involved, and to give the movie a ‘raw’ feeling, it was made over the course of a week by a crew of just five using only minimal equipment. It was claimed that this drive for authenticity was also the reasoning behind using largely juvenile, unknown actors, though it’s difficult to see many Hollywood A-listers (or even Z-listers) signing on to a project by a newbie director when those kinds of figures are being bandied around. It was originally marketed as an educational film about the dangers of the internet with Goi stating his desire for it to serve as a ‘wake up call’ to parents. However, it later found considerable traction in the teen horror market.

The story follows popular Californian high-school student Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) who meets up with ‘Josh,’ a boy she had been interacting with online, and subsequently vanishes without trace prompting her less-popular best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) to set out to find her. The first half of the film provides an unflinching snapshot into the complicated, overlapping lives of teens in the technological age where bullying and peer pressure is rife, interspersed with regular bouts of slut-shaming, social exclusion and a plethora of other disturbing yet apparently all-too common practices. It’s difficult to watch and not recognize something of yourself in there somewhere, and credit has to be given where it’s due for shining a light on some of the more damaging aspects of teenage life. If you have kids that age, this is what they deal with on a daily basis but never tell you about, and it’s fucking terrifying. All this occurs before the watershed point about two-thirds through where everything is ramped up several hundred notches. Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers stating: “Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words ‘photo number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”

As the movie is played out entirely on a screen (or a screen within a screen) through a clumsy combination of supposedly recovered video tapes, photographs, and news reports, it technically belongs to the Computer Screen (aka Desktop Film) genre, which has risen to prominence on the back of increased use of social media. In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on social media platform TikTok, where it found its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” To date, the hashtag for the film has over 84 million views, much of the attention seemingly stemming from persistent rumours that the footage is real. It’s not. But nevertheless, the movie has been dogged by controversey since its release, spawned no end of debate, and firmly divided opinion. An article on Thought Catalogue says, “Everyone has those scenes from the end of the movie etched into their mind forever. This is one of the scariest movies from the past 10 years and no one talks about it,” while HorrorNews.net said that the first portion of the film “really works,” although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes “went a little overboard.” Film critic Jamie Dexter perhaps puts it best saying, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do.”

That final third is definitely hard to watch. I think the most difficult thing to reconcile is the fact that **spoiler alert** he gets away with it. After being put through over 80 minutes of debilitating psychological trauma, the viewer is entitled to expect some retribution, some kind of payback because no evil deed goes unpunished, right? Right? Yeah, we all know that isn’t always the case in real life. But this is a film, dammit. Somebody had control over it. And that somebody could easily have made ‘Josh’ fall over a tree root and bang his head on a rock or something at the end. But no. This is the kind of nightmare scenario we read about in newspapers, presented to us in vivid, unflinching, excruciating detail. Indeed, Goi based the film on real life cases of child abduction. Most of the criticism, apart from that concerning the content, was directed at the unprofessional, ‘thrown together’ feel, completely missing the fact that this was the intention from the start. Goi was going for the kind of gritty realism you just don’t get with massive budgets and slick Hollywood production. He succeeded.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Viewer discretion is advised.

Trivia Corner

The movie was banned by New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification on the grounds of containing sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree that if it was released it would be ‘injurious to the public good’. The officials went on to say that the movie relished the spectacle of one girl’s ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene, and that it sexualized the lives of teenaged girls to a “highly exploitative degree.” Whilst I deplore censorship in any form, to be fair they weren’t far off the mark there.


Loose Ends @ 34 Orchard

I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find my contribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.

The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:

“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check
We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks
Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when
Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”

The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.

Issue 2 of 34 Orchard featuring Loose Ends is available now.


The Facebook Album Cover Challenge

I usually try to avoid these things. They are a drain on my time and resources, and more often than not completely pointless. This challenge, though, caught my attention. So much so, that I want to share it here. My Facebook page is a shit show. Things get buried and I often delete stuff without warning – usually when two or more of my acquaintances start arguing on one of my threads about Bigfoot or something. But this is my permanent record. It’s where things are kept for posterity, which is why you will find a near-complete record of everything I’ve ever had published here.

I was nominated by Douglas Sutherland (a madcap Canadian I first met when I worked at Southampton FC a lifetime ago – we later became house mates) to share one album per day for 10 consecutive days that influenced my taste in music – no explanations, no reviews, only the covers. It was pretty hard not to explain myself sometimes. I found the first few albums came easily, but the less choices I had left the harder it became and by day 10 there were five or six albums vying for a mention. 

So here they are for your perusal, in the order I posted them (which wasn’t in order of preference).

dark

word

once upon a time

whitesnake 87

ad2

astoria

enema

 

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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 incidences involving the number 27 there are, the bigger the changes I am to expect. 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, all the time.

When I tell people about this they usually think I’m nuts, or they just put it down to coincidence. So this time I decided to take some photos to document it. As a bit of background, when this all happened between late 2019 and early 2020 when I was living in Guangzhou, China, and working as an IELTS instructor.

My then-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 of each. Sometimes there were several a day and became so commonplace that and I didn’t even bother documenting all of them so what you see here is a selection of the most impressive. 

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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The Bookshelf 2019

As is now customary, below is a complete list of all the books I read, from cover to cover (or from 0 to 100%, as is increasingly the case) last year. I gave up on more than a few, which I won’t bother to name. Life’s too short to read a shitty book.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked in the first half of the year, but in my defence a couple of entries in this list are absolute monsters. I actually started the longest, Sleeping Beauties, weighing in at 702 pages, about eighteen months ago. I kept drifting in and out of it. All things considered, let’s just say that it was far too long and meandering. A good editor could cut at least 30% off the word count and not lose anything from the plot. I had high hopes for the Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, but I rolled my eyes so much reading it that by the end it was like a physical affliction. Amy Cross hit another couple of home runs, but probably the best book I read last year was Lost at Sea by British journalist Jon Ronson. A selection of essays and investigative reports, it’s not my usual thing but I found it both insightful and refreshing.

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more widely, which is why I gave some new writers a shot. At least, writers new to me. And I fell back in love with the short story and read a bunch of anthologies, the pick of which being Body Horror: Trigger Warning. And I’m not just saying that because one of my stories is in it. Ultimately, however, I returned to Dean Koontz after a long break. I actually forgot how good the guy is. At first, anyway. But then a dog and a demented serial killer turned up like they do in all his books and I had to suffer yet more preachy, religious overtones. Sigh.

 

Signal Failure by David Wailing (2016)

Private Number/claws by Derek Muk (2018)

Stranded by Renee Miller (2018)

The Lighthouse by Amy Cross (2015)

The Last Days of by Jack Sparks Jason Arnopp (2017)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2017)

Filthy Beast: Diary of an English Teacher in China by White Buffalo (2018)

Bad News by Amy Cross (2019)

Body Horror: Trigger Warning by Various Authors (2019)

Living After Midnight: Hard & Heavy Stories by Various Authors (2010)

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King (2017)

The Nowhere Men – The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin (2014)

Room 9 & Other Stories by Amy Cross (2018)

Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson (2012)

The Neighbour by Dean Koontz (2014)

Take the Corvus: Short Stories & Essays by Luke Kondor (2018)

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill (2017)

The Corona Book of Ghost Stories by Various Authors (2019)

The Taking by Dean Koontz (2007)

Zombie Punks Fuck Off by Various Authors (2018)

You can check out last year’s bookshelf HERE.

 

 


2019 in Review

It’s that time of year again…

Another one ‘in the books,’ so to speak. And time for another quick review.

2019 kicked off in a high gear for me. In January I finally finished the final edits of my novella Tethered and started punting it around carefully selected publishers, and placed drabbles in 100-Word Horrors volumes 2 and 3, to follow-up my appearance in the first volume.

Saunders for the hattrick.

I also finished compiling X: Omnibus, a collection of all three of my short story collections to date, plus some other odds and ends. I’d already commissioned a cover from the sublime Greg Chapman, but even though most of the stories have been published before in various places, many of them still needed a bit of spit and polish. That process complete, I then had to format both the paperback and ebook versions and set about the task of marketing the sucker. I try to do a couple of guest posts at horror blogs and sites around every release. I find it beneficial, as well as fun. Most notably, this time around I popped up on Kendall Reviews discussing why I write horror.

In the first quarter of the year I had a couple of ‘quiet horror’ stories accepted into anthologies. Specifically, Down the Road appeared in a two-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts, and Where a Town Once Stood was included in the Corona Book of Horror Stories. Obviously, I couldn’t stay ‘quiet’ for long and indulged my wild side in Trigger Warning: Body Horror from Madness Heart Press which included my surrealist skit Revenge of the Toothfish. Tiny Little Vampires was in a similar vein, and that was published by Tell Tale Press and elsewhere, The Bell showed up in Dark Moments.

With seven (count ’em!) new short stories being published, 2019 was probably my most successful ever calendar year in fiction. I also wrote seven or eight more shorts of various lengths and made a start on a new novel about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) and his cat I’ve been planning for a long time. For the most part, my fiction has taken a slightly surreal turn. There have been disembodied fingers poking through plugholes, giant cockroaches, and assassins with supernatural abilities. Still, most of the time, I’ve been living in China and writing non-fiction under a pseudonym. There are a lot of good reasons why I use a pseudonym when I write about my adventures and misadventures in the Middle Kingdom, which I won’t go into here. Let’s just say what happens in China is often best left in China, and written about by some other dude with a fake name. But it’s no big secret. If you want to know who this guy is, PM me and I’ll probably tell you, as long as you’re not the thought police.

*Nervous grin.*

I’m quite excited about this coming year. My RetView series of blog posts where I re-visit classic horror movies is picking up more readers and going from strength to strength, the latest installment of my X series of short fiction (imaginatively entitled X4. I like to keep things simple) is set to drop soon, and I’ve already had a couple of stories accepted into anthologies penciled in for 2020 releases. Hopefully, I’ll also have some new material which I’ve been working on for a while out in the second half of the year, so watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

2018 in Review.


RetView #29 – Turistas (2006)

Title: Turista (Paradise Lost)

Year of Release: 2006

Director: John Stockwell

Length: 95 minutes (uncut)

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Max Brown

Turistas

A lot of horror movies play on mankind’s basic fear of the unknown. Some do it with more flair and panache than others, and manage to tick another box by catering to the kind of inherent xenophobia seemingly prevalent in the vast majority of cinema goers. Foreigners bad! Anything can happen over there! Ain’t you done heard the stories? This is why such classics as Severance, Hostel, Train to Busan and any number of Japanese offeringsJapanese offerings end up being so revered by western audiences. Not only do they exploit our dove-tailing fears of foreigners and the unknown, but they also provide a welcome splash of the weird and exotic, the colourful and vibrant. If we’re lucky. In any case, we can console ourselves with the fact that you won’t find any of that stuff over ‘ere, mate. This effectively creates a welcome sense of distance and separation between you and your horror. It makes the whole thing not only more believable but more enjoyable, because it’s never going to happen to you. Is it?

Turistas (Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian for ‘Tourist,’ in case you couldn’t work it out) follows the adventures of a group of hip young American backpackers trekking through Brazil. As soon as the premise is established, you know bad shit is soon going to befall them. The only question is, what kind of bad shit are we talking about? It all becomes a bit more clear a few minutes in when their coach crashes and they hook up with a couple of wise-cracking English blokes (Askew and Brown) and an Australian girl (George). Together, the newly-expanded group of wayward thrill-seekers find a beach bar and proceed to get wasted. They mix with the locals and much cavorting and hilarity ensues, until they all wake up the next morning and find they’re drinks were spiked and they’ve all been robbed (bloody foreigners!). With no phones, no money, and very little hope, they start walking. They soon find themselves in a tiny village, but incur the wrath of the locals when they chase down a kid they see sporting one of their baseball hats. An ally called Kiko, who may or may not be on the level, takes pity on them and whisks them away to a safe house deep in the jungle. Whether he has their best interests at heart or not is rendered immaterial when he dives into a river and bangs his head, knocking himself unconscious. The turistas carry him to the ‘safe house,’ which is deserted, but not for long, as pretty soon some crackhead hoodlums arrive by helicopter. Chief among them is a power-mad physician who proceeds to drug the unfortunate travellers (again), strap them to beds or lock them in cages, and extract their organs one-by-one to sell on the black market. The trip of a lifetime to Brazil then turns into a horrifying battle for survival.

On its release, Turistas (re-named Paradise Lost in the UK, Ireland and France) was met with mixed reviews. Fangoria magazine claimed it was, “Better and scarier than Hostel,” while the New York Times dismissed it as, “Plain stupid.” Being filmed on location in Brazil means it is visually breathtaking, and there is some stunning underwater photography on show. Gore hounds will be happy with the surgery scenes in the unrated version, which leave little to the imagination and are definitely not for the squeamish. According to IMBD, these scenes were performed by an actual surgeon for authenticity. Most of the sequence was cut for the theatrical release, as was an earlier eye-gouging scene.

Turistas uk edition

Interestingly, Turistas was largely boycotted in Brazil because of the negative image it portrays of the country, and star Josh Duhamel, who later found a home in the Transformer films, was coerced into offering the Brazilian government and people a grovelling apology during a subsequent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Perhaps owing to the mixed reviews and the associated controversy, Turistas was only a modest box office success, bringing in a reported $14.7 million from a budget of $10 million. But don’t let the figures sway you, this is a cut above average.

Trivia Corner:

Desmond Askew (who plays Finn) first shot to fame as a naughty schoolboy in the promo video for Wham’s 1983 hit single Bad Boys. Sticking with the same theme, he later starred in legendary British school drama Grange Hill.


The Amazon Prime Horror Binge

I was never going to pay for Amazon Prime. But then I accidentally signed up for a month’s free trial so I didn’t have to. First on the agenda was, obviously, ordering lots of crap which had been in or around my shopping basket for ages to take advantage of the free next-day postage. Then, being a huge horror movie nut, it was over to Amazon Prime Video to see what was what.

Hide and Go Kill (2008, 72 mins)

Hide and Go Kill

Stumbling across this was a pleasant surprise, and something of a coincidence because I’d just finished writing a story based on the same weird Internet ritual, hitori kakurenbo, which roughly translates as ‘hide and seek alone.’ Search for it if you want the grisly details. If you’re a fan of J-Horror as I am, you’ll know that all the most twisted shit starts in Japanese classrooms, and this is no different. Here, there’s a girl remembering her absent friend who, after being jilted by her lover and bullied at school, becomes obsessed with a mysterious blog about the aforementioned Internet ritual. Word of the blog spreads, and soon the horror takes hold. The film is an anthology of sorts, each segment following a different person’s experience with said blog. True, it’s a somewhat familiar template and in places is slightly derivative of certain other J-Horror staples, but it’s still worthy of your time.

7/10

Countrycide (2017, 69 mins)

OK, I wasn’t expecting much from this. Especially after reading some scathing reviews online. However, nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this no-budget affair would be. It starts with a torture porn scenario lifted straight out of a dodgy exploitation flick as we see a woman running (or trying to run) through the woods sporting a nasty bear trap injury to her leg. The film then flashes back two days and we discover she was on her way to a wedding with her new boyfriend when they decided to stop off and camp for a night. And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Hallucinations, rampaging rednecks, local wildlife, and the afore-mentioned bear trap all conspire to piss on their parade before it properly gets started. If any of that is appealing to you, don’t be fooled. Nothing about this film is appealing. Not least the fact that it appears to have been filmed on someone’s iPhone. Total crap. The only reason it’s getting two points is because someone went to the effort of making it, and hard work should always be rewarded.

2/10

Death Valley (2015, 94 mins)

A few criticisms here right off the bat. Firstly, there have been at least three other films with the same title. Some imagination would have been nice. Also, the description on IMDB and Amazon Prime is just plain wrong. Four strangers aren’t on a ‘drunken wedding dash’ at all. Four strangers are going to a music festival. Sigh. Anyway, when said strangers’ car breaks down they blag a lift with some more strangers in an RV who think it would be a good idea to take the RV off-road and into the desert. Now I’m not an expert, but I do know that most vehicles like to be on roads. Obviously, the RV comes a cropper and then they all take peyote and party on down in the middle of nowhere. I mean, the desert must be a dangerous enough place as it is without compounding things by being stupid as fuck. Within minutes one of them drops dead of an overdose, another one gets bitten by a snake, and the rest are hopelessly lost. And that’s about it. From there, everything just fizzles out. A lame plot is salvaged only by some breathtaking cinematography and generally high production values.

5/10

Our Last Weekend (2011, 82 mins)

Four minutes in and I have no idea what’s going on. There are two people arguing, a threesome, and someone’s making a salad. Despite what you may think, the most entertaining of these three threads is the argument. It’s a Spanish language film, and Amazon’s subtitling skills are woefully exposed (“I’ll break your teeth and pull your eyes off!”). Google translate would do a better job. Twelve minutes in, there’s someone peeing in the woods, someone else has been caught cheating, and we’re all off to a villa for a party. Things are looking up. It’s freezing, though. Not even sunny. Everyone’s walking around in shorts and bikinis trying to pretend otherwise, but it’s obviously the middle of winter. Probably cheaper to film in the off-season. Back to the plot, and despite the hedonistic atmosphere, all is not well. A creepy dude in a blue onesie keeps popping up everywhere and a drunken local lets slip that there’s a secret military base nearby. Then the group accidentally runs someone over (shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer) and things take a very surreal turn indeed. I think the makers were aiming for arty, but what we get is more weird and confusing. They do deserve some credit for at least trying to be original.

3.5/10

Webcast (2018, 92 mins)

webcast-movie-poster

Let’s be honest, there’s been a few missteps in this experiment. It’s partly my own fault. I was choosing films primarily based on the synopsis, without factoring in other pertinent information like their IMDB listing notes or their score on Rotten Tomatoes. Any decent writer can make a film sound good in a three-line synopsis. But as it’s my last chance (the free trial is ending) I made an informed decision, and opted for this one. It’s picked up some good reviews, and I’m a huge fan of the found footage format. Shoot me. So here, a young couple researching a missing person cold case become convinced that one of their neighbours has kidnapped a(nother) teenage girl and decide to run a surveillance operation on him. As you do. And that’s just the start of the shenanigans. In many ways, this is a typical British film; small town paranoia, suburban secrets, clandestine cults, general weirdness. If this film were an album it would be by Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Written and directed by Paul McGhie who, according to his website, usually specializes in wedding videos, this is another no-budget effort which has its moments but is ultimately let down by the ambiguous ending.

6/10

Conclusion: As a platform, Amazon Prime Video might be in its infancy and could well improve in the future but for now, Netflix doesn’t have much to worry about. The Zon would do well to invest in some real quality, rather than focusing on quantity in order to build their library. By the way, I was going to leave these reviews on the site, but apparently I’m not eligible to leave reviews, probably because I haven’t spent more than $50 in the past six hours and I don’t have a dog called Gerald.

So here they are.


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