Tag Archives: ghost

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…

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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:

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Matt Hickman’s Sinister Scribblings

Matt Hickman has burst onto the UK horror scene in the past few years, gaining quite the reputation for both his collaborations with other authors (notably Stuart Keene and Andrew Lennon) and his solo efforts Amnesia and Jeremy. His latest release is the short story collection Sinister Scribblings, which also features bonus stories by the aforementioned Keane and Lennon, as well as Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason (aka The Slaughter Sisters), Daryl Duncan, Mark Nye, Dale Robertson, and myself. My contribution, Jumping at Shadows, is a previously-unpublished tale about the perils of the LDR. The long-distance relationship. I’m sure anyone who has ever tried it will agree they are never easy, even without the intervention of a supernatural entity.

Blurb:

From the vivid imagination of Matt Hickman comes a collection of thirteen short horror stories that are guaranteed to leave you feeling unsettled and disturbed. Featuring a foreword from Kyle M. Scott, Sinister Scribblings brings together a unique blend of stories, some of which have been previously published, others that are original pieces and only available within this collection.

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In this collection we meet a whole host of broken, deranged characters in a sequence of horrific circumstances, including a mother who is determined to seek vengeance upon the school thugs that are bullying her only daughter; a woman who’s lifestyle has spiralled out of control after finding her boyfriend in a more than compromising position; a man who once spent his life in the public eye, has fallen from the heights of stardom and is slowly rebuilding himself; a teenage boy, a daydreamer who enjoys chocolate eggs for breakfast, who finds himself unravelling a unique Easter gift; a cave dwelling creature who has a taste for young flesh; a mischievous young boy who finds himself upon the naughty list at Christmas; a man, who after recently losing his job, makes a compelling agreement with a strange figure in a bar; two twin sisters who battle it out in brutal style after a major misunderstanding; a group of friends on their friends stag night, who get more than they bargained for upon entering an abandoned hospital for a prank; a man who awakens in a terrifying situation, in a strange location following a party with his friends; a woman abandoned in her friend’s cabin at a picturesque lake during a thunder storm; a man who crashes his car whilst driving home and spotting the figure of woman in amongst the trees beside the road; a serial killer enduring complications whilst receiving the lethal injection.

Sit back, relax and immerse yourself in these Sinister Scribblings.


Cover Reveal – Apartment 14F (Uncut)

Later this month, I am re-issuing a new version of my 2009 book, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story. I’ll tell you more about why I re-wrote it and some of the back story another time, but for now I wanted to share the new artwork with you.

When the book was first released it did pretty well, and was nominated for several industry awards. This was mostly thanks to the great cover, which was designed by a very talented lady called Annie Melton.

This is the original:

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As successful as it was, I was never truly happy with Apartment 14F. Long story short (pun intended), I had to make a lot of editorial compromises. So when the rights reverted back to me from the publisher last year, I couldn’t wait to release it the way it was intended.

I contacted Annie and asked if I could use the original artwork. She graciously agreed, but there was some uncertainty about who actually owned the rights and neither of us wanted to get caught in a legal minefield. After a bit of push and shove with the rather unhelpful publisher, I decided the best thing to do was to commission another cover. Annie has now moved on from doing commercial covers, so I called on my old friend and collaborator Greg Chapman, who I’ve worked with several times in the past, most recently on X SAMPLE and No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches.

I was interested to see what Greg would come up with. It’s always fascinating to see how other people process and interpret various things. He hasn’t let me down yet, so I gave him a blurb and let him loose. The result is very different from the original cover art, but equally as impressive. 14f

What do you think?

Released on April 14th, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut) is available for pre-order now.

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Sker House is out TODAY!

The result of over five years work, my new novel Sker House drops today!

It’s a contemporary ghost story with a distinctly Welsh flavour, featuring some great artwork by Stoker Award-nominee Greg Chapman.

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Dale and Lucy are two students with a fascination in the supernatural. One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn. They plan to write an article for their university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide. Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House. An air of oppression hangs over it, while misery, tragedy and ill-fortune are commonplace. Gradually, it becomes clear that the true depth of the mystery goes far beyond a mere historical haunting. This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks.

Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker’s dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the mysteries of the past, they realize that nothing stays buried forever.

Welcome to Sker House, a place where past and present collide.

The book is already picking up some rave reviews, one of which, from the Horror cabin, you can read HERE

Sker House is available exclusively on Amazon:

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

One recent Sunday afternoon, I found myself at a loose end in Nottingham. Obviously, the first thing I did on checking out of the hotel after a heavy session the night before was to find a J.D. Wetherspoon’s and get a traditional English with a beer chaser. That business concluded, with about three hours to kill before my train came, I decided to take a stroll over to the castle, which was (almost) on my route. Being Welsh, I have a thing for castles. No disrespect, but as it happened, Nottingham Castle has nothing on any castle I’ve seen across the border. I don’t know why, I’m not an expert. It just didn’t seem to have much character. Not enough to make me stop for long, anyway. So I kept on walking, and down the road a bit I stumbled across a cute little whitewashed pub set in a courtyard called ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.’ Sometimes you find the best things when you aren’t looking for them.

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I remembered thinking what a strange name that was. A lot of pubs in Britain are named after something connected with the local history. The Plough, The Hope & Anchor, or The Railway Inn. As far as I knew, Jerusalem was a long way from Nottingham. I could tell the pub was old. It had that clumpy, uneven look about it. But I didn’t realize how old until I saw the sign outside that said, ‘The oldest Inn in England, Est. 1189AD.’

That settled it. There was only one place this path was leading.

Inside, it looked just as old as it did on the outside. Wooden tables and chairs, sloping ceilings, there’s even a suit of armour standing in the corner. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a cheap imported lager in a place like this, so I got a pint of Fuller’s Wild River, took a seat in a quiet corner, and whipped out my Kindle. That felt weird too, and I found myself wishing I’d brought at least a paperback, if not some form of ancient scripture to read instead. It was like being in a time slip. I kept expecting a buxom blonde waitress with a massive heaving bosom to come waltzing through. Or I might have just been hoping. Either way, no such luck.

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When I got home I Googled Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, and found that the pub is attached to rock caves which were once used as a brewing house, and are believed to date back to around the time Nottingham Castle was built in 1068. As you can probably imagine, it has a suitably grisly history. The pub is said to be plagued by poltergeist activity, and there is a disused condemned cell on the premises where prisoners were shackled to walls and left to starve to death. My favourite story is the one about how they keep a cursed model Galleon in a glass case. Superstition has it that anyone who cleans it will die or suffer terrible luck, so everyone stopped cleaning it years ago and now it’s covered with a thick layer of grime.

I also discovered that Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem isn’t the only place that claims to be the oldest pub in England. In fact, there are two more in Nottingham alone. If I’d had more time I could have gone on a mini-pub crawl and decided myself which one was the oldest, or at least which one was the best, but I had a train to catch.

*All photographs nicked off the internet. If they are yours, blame Google Images.


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