Tag Archives: publishing

What’s in the Dead of Night?

Last year, after the rights to Apartment 14F, one of my earlier novellas, reverted back to me, I was finally able to polish it up and put out the version I wanted to. Now, I am giving the other book published by Damnation Books the same treatment.

I haven’t read this story for years. I don’t tend to go back and read stories once they’ve been published. It’s partly because I see writing as a continuous process. I’m a better writer now than I was eight years ago when Dead of Night first came out, and I’m probably a better writer than I was last week. But I have to say, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

From the double-meaning title to the cheesy one-liners and OTT violence, Dead of Night probably represents my first shambling steps into splatterpunk territory. It’s one of the first things I wrote that had a female protagonist. And no, it’s not because I’m sexist. I just didn’t think I would be able to write a strong female character convincingly. It took me a long time to realize that well, men and women aren’t very different after all. For this story, I thought I’d turn the usual set of circumstances on their head and have the gal saving the guy for a change. During the course of the story I grew very fond of Maggie.

I found the story flowed quite well, there weren’t many grammatical errors, and I was happy with the overall pacing. The only thing that lets it down is the fact that in some parts, it’s pretty dated. It’s been almost a decade since I wrote it. At the beginning, I had Maggie and Nick Arguing over what CDs to play in the car. Do cars even have CD players anymore? I suppose some still do. But for how much longer?

Dead of Night is packed full of pop culture references. Music, films, books. In the first version the dead celebrity Nick and Maggie discussed in the beginning was Michael Jackson. Since then Prince died, so for the reboot, Prince gets the nod. I always preferred his music anyway. There was a period in the second half of the eighties when he was untouchable. MJ does still get a name check, though, and I gave Meatloaf a nod by nicking one of the lines from ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ (I’ll probably get sued for that). I even slipped in the phrase ‘motley crew.’ Proud of that one.

If you’re a connoisseur, you might catch some of the movie references, too. The ‘Romero’s zombies’ one is easy to get, and the whole Nick losing a hand thing is a thinly-veiled homage to Evil Dead. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also makes an unlikely appearance.

In a lot of my stories I drop the names of Cardiff City FC players, past and present. It’s kind of an in-joke nobody fucking notices except me. Steve McPhail and Jay Bothroyd are definitely from the past. I was going to update them, but then I decided it wouldn’t make much difference. McPhail and Bothroyd are still great players and deserve their place in history.

Reading it back now all these years later, though I might not have been aware of it at the time, Dead of Night is clearly a tribute to the King of splatterpunk, Richard Laymon. I even use the word ‘rump. ’ If you aren’t familiar with his work, the joke is that he used ‘rump’ A LOT. At every opportunity. A couple of times a page. It was one of his trademarks.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment I had to make when I knocked out the original version was that I had to write it in ‘American.’ I rarely do that. The vast majority of my stories are set in places I have lived – Wales, England or China. However, because the story is about American Civil War zombies, this one had to be set in America. There was no way around it. I have visited a few cities in America, but never the Deep South where the story is set. Some artistic license was used there.

I found a couple of continuity errors, even after two rounds of editing by the publisher. That sucked. I had my happy couple hiking several hours to their camp site, then ‘nipping back’ to their car to grab hoodies when it got cold. That was improbable. Perhaps even more improbable than the other stuff going on. Oh, and I know guns probably wouldn’t still work after being in the ground for 150 years or so but fuck it, I wanted them to work so they did. It’s my story.

Finally, I added about 2000 words, took out the chapters, and inserted more line breaks. I originally wanted to tell the story through two POVs simultaneously, flashing back and forth from one to the other. But of course, that’s extremely difficult to do without head-hopping all over the place, so line breaks it is.

Check out the all-new cover art by Greg Chapman:

dead-of-night-reissue

All things considered, I’m pretty happy with this reissue. The book has been out of print for a couple of years now, apart from a few ropy second-hand paperbacks floating about on Amazon. It’s an important part of my back catalogue, and I’m glad it’s finally available again.

Dead of Night (Revised edition)  is available now on paperback and ebook.


Free Read – Monkey Man

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“And they all lived happily ever after.”

Toby’s mother closed the story book and gazed down at her petrified son with a look filled with such compassion only a mother could give it. She knew he was scared. She could feel it. Since the moment he came home from school the fear had been slowly building up inside him, and as the afternoon marched relentlessly on towards night he became a dishevelled shell of a boy.

Toby wouldn’t tell her what the problem was. Throughout the evening she had gently poked and prodded at his defences trying to make him open up, but he remained tight-lipped. He was stubborn, just like his dad.

She leaned in closer to her son and planted a delicate kiss on his forehead. “Okay?” she asked. The boy nodded emphatically. He was tying to hide his fear, probably for her sake. But she knew he was quaking in his boots, she could almost smell the fear coming off him in cloying waves. It was in his voice, his eyes, the atmosphere. The fear was like a dense black cloud that threatened to engulf everything.

As a last resort, she decided on the direct approach. “Toby, tell me what’s wrong, love.” The boy remained silent, but the expression on his face spoke a thousand words.

“Monsters?” she asked, tentatively. “Is it the dark? Bogeymen? Did someone at school say something? What is it?” She fought to keep her voice from rising. Not in anger, but pure frustration. “Do you wanna sleep with the light on? Would that help any? For God’s sake, just tell me what you’re so scared of!”

No answer.

She was getting ready to give up when Toby spoke, quietly and deliberately, as if worried about who or what may be listening. “I’m not scared of the Bogeyman. I’m not a kid, I know its not real. I’m scared of the Monkey Man, because he’s real.”

Toby’s mother was momentarily stunned into silence. What a bizarre thing for a six-year old to say! In all her years, she had never even heard of anything called the Monkey Man but decided that it must be some variation on the Bogeyman theme. Adopting her softest, most understanding tone, she met his eyes and tried to look sincere. “Toby, listen,” she began. “Nothing and nobody is going to hurt you, okay? I promise. Not the Bogeyman, the Monkey Man, or any other kind of man. Do you trust me? Do you trust mummy?”

Toby nodded again, as if he had known all along such creatures didn’t exist, but didn’t look entirely convinced. There was more than a shred of doubt lingering in his mind, and that shred of doubt was causing all the problems. But what more could she do? With a sigh she stood and went to the door, then turned to look back at her son. She didn’t want to leave him alone like this but it was getting late, and surely this was the best way? She remembered reading an article in the Mail on Sunday. He would confront his fears, win the battle, and be all the better for it.

“Remember, Toby,” she said. “Monster’s aren’t real. I promise. They only exist on television and in your mind. So don’t you be afraid, okay?”

“Okay, mum,” Toby’s voice was small and weak.

“Okay, then. I’ll leave the landing light on until you drop off. If you want me, just call out.”

“Okay, mum.”

“Goodnight then, love.”

“G’night, mum.”

Alone in the semi-darkness, Toby lay still, listening. The old terraced house creaked and groaned around him and the muffled voices of his parents drifted up the stairs, but he was oblivious to them. His ears were cocked, his heart thudded in his chest, and every nerve was wound tighter than a spring. The first sign of the Monkey Man, and he was going to run for it.

There was such a thing as a Monkey Man, too. Adam Yates had told him at school. And Adam Yates had a cousin who had actually SEEN it with his own eyes. He said when it was dark, the Monkey Man climbed up the drainpipe of little boy’s houses, quietly opened their bedroom window, crept in and carried the boy off as he slept. Adam said after that, he did unspeakable things to them and they were never seen again. Toby wasn’t exactly sure what unspeakable meant, but it didn’t sound good. He secretly suspected that know-it-all Adam Yates didn’t know what the Monkey Man did to little boys either, and tried to disguise the fact by using words nobody else could understand. It was probably a made-up word, anyway. Suddenly there was a noise outside the window. A faint scrape.

He was coming! The Monkey Man!

Instead of running for it as planned, Toby buried his head beneath the bedsheets. In his mind’s eyes he saw the exterior of the house. A shapeless black mass, barely visible amidst the crawling shadows, clung to the drainpipe just below the upstairs windowsill. For the first time Toby noticed that his parents had kindly fitted his bedroom with rather a large window, easily big enough for the sly Monkey Man to squeeze through.

Mum had left the landing light on! How stupid! She was advertising him like a fresh lamb chop in a butcher’s window. Even worse then that, the beast outside was provided with enough light to enable it to open the window. Did she want him to get taken away and have unspeakable things done on him or what? But why would she want that? He had been good. Well, in the main. He had only been eight for two weeks and already he hated it. There was so much about the world he didn’t know. It was so BIG. And weird! Any thing could happen.

He wanted to get out of bed, run across the landing and turn off the light. Maybe then the Monkey Man would move along down the street in search of another, easier victim. But his body seemed frozen. Besides, this way least he would see the thing coming. Without the light there would be only darkness, and he would be defenceless.

Maybe, if he lay still, the Monkey Man wouldn’t see him. He would climb up the drainpipe, take a sneaky peak through the window and see only an unkempt, unmade bed. The seconds ticked by, agonizingly slowly. Surely, if the Monkey Man planned to come in he would have by now. It had been a long time since he heard that single scrape and he hadn’t heard any other suspicious sounds since. All was quiet now.

After a seemingly impossible amount of time passed, Toby found himself growing weary. His breathing slowed and his eyelids began to droop. Maybe mum was right, after all. Maybe the Monkey Man really isn’t real. She had promised, and mum never broke a promise. She always told him that was naughty. What was more, she would never let anything happen to him. He was safe here.

Adam Yates might have been lying. That was naughty, too. He had been caught lying in school before. He thought telling fibs made him sound clever, or made other people like him more or something. He was a sad case.

Now he was awfully tired. He could barely keep his eyes open. He was surprised to learn that he no longer cared about the Monkey Man. All he cared about was sleep. Glorious, peaceful sleep. He allowed his lids to close over his grainy eyeballs and almost immediately succumbed to the great dark abyss.

Later, the house was completely still. Nothing stirred, and the only sounds to be heard were the soft snores emanating from the master bedroom. Toby was in a different world now, a world of adventure and magnificent dreamscapes.

Nobody heard the strange, stealthy noises coming from just outside; the scrape of boot against brick, or the creak of the drainpipe as it struggled to bear a weight it was never designed for. Nobody heard the soft click as Toby’s bedroom window was tentatively opened.

Monkey Man was inspired by a story I read in a tabloid newspaper. One of those little ‘Strange But True’ fillers. The story was about an area of northern England being terrorized by a man often seen scaling the front’s of houses. It was probably either a peeping Tom or a burglar on the prowl. But maybe it was something worse, which is what my imagination did with the story. In a nod to his dexterity the media dubbed him the Monkey Man and put a cheeky, light-hearted spin on it. I decided to take it and add a dark twist, resisting the urge to place anyone in a gorilla costume.

This was the first thing I ever had published, by a man called Arthur Smith who ran the iconic Welsh fiction magazine Cambrensis. In fact, it was the first piece of fiction I ever submitted, which set me in a falsely confident state of mind until the rejections started piling up. I think the early success had more to do with Arthur feeling sorry for me than any real skill on my part. I remember submitting the whole manuscript in BLOCK CAPITALS on the suggestion of my dad. Dad, you’ve been right about most things in my life, but you were wrong about that. Readers, please don’t submit manuscripts in block capitals. Anyway, Arthur re-typed the whole thing, edited it, and put it out in an edition of Cambrensis in 1997. I was 23. 

Cambrensis was a labour of love for Arthur. I can’t imagine he ever made any money out of his little enterprise. Especially when you take into account that the payment for publication was a lifetime subscription. As it turned out, the ‘lifetime’ in question was poor old Arthur’s, as he died a few years later and Cambrensis died with him. This is a shout out to you, Arthur, wherever you may be. Thanks for believing.

Monkey Man is available in X, my first collection of short stories.

UK LINK

US LINK

© This is a work of fiction, copyright of the author, C.M. Saunders

DISCLAIMER: Picture nicked from Google Images


The Halloween Sale!

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Being your typical horror nut, I absolutely love Halloween. I love it so much, I’m going to give you a special gift. Not only that, but I’m giving it to you early. Five times, baby. From now until 1st November, all my indie titles are 0.99. I’m also open to offers for my body, my soul, and an Iron Maiden Number of the Beast limited edition 7″ red vinyl, but let’s start with the books.

The sale means you can pick up a novel, two novellas, and two short story collections for less than a fiver, including the Top Ten Amazon bestseller Sker House and my new release No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches. Details and links below. So in the immortal words of David Coverdale, If you want it, come an’ get it.

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches

The Somme Offensive, 1916. Harry Doyle is a young, overawed British infantryman struggling to come to terms with the insanity of war. His main objective is staying alive, and getting back home to his family in one piece. But his hopes begin to diminish when he realises the full extent of the misery and destruction around him. And the German war machine isn’t the only thing he has to worry about. Something else is preying on his friends and comrades in the trenches, picking them off one by one. Something no amount of military training can prepare him for.

Proceeds from this book will be donated to the Help for Heroes foundation.

This book contains descriptions of graphic violence and is not suitable for minors.

UK LINK

US LINK

Sker House

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.

UK LINK

US LINK

Out of Time

Joe Dawson is a struggling 41-year old writer battling a serious case of writer’s block. When he travels to Wales in a last-ditch attempt to reignite his career, he finds himself staying at a mysterious seaside hotel, where nothing is quite what it seems. As the secrets of his past finally catch up with him, Joe is thrust into a life or death situation where his every action could have terrible consequences.

UK LINK

US LINK

X: A Collection of Horror

This is what happens when you ‘wake up’ inside a dream, when the urban myth you heard turns out to be so much more, and when that hottie you pick up in a bar springs a terrible surprise. But what do you do when your wife gives birth to something not entirely human? When your past discretions come back to haunt you? Or when a serial killer moves in next door?

The first collection of horror and dark fiction from C.M. Saunders, including three previously unpublished stories, plus an introduction and extensive notes. Also features exclusive artwork by Greg Chapman.

Table of Contents: Introduction: That’s Entertainment, A Thin Disguise, A Hell of my Own Creation, Monkey Man, The Awful Truth, Mr. C, Fame / Infamy: A Deconstruction, Another False Dawn, The Night Everything Changed, The Devil & Jim Rosenthal, Club Culture, Afterword

UK LINK

US LINK

X2: Another Collection of Horror

The sequel to 2014’s successful X: A Collection of Horror features ten more slices of dark fiction from the blood-soaked pages of Fantastic Horror, Unspoken Water, Dark Valentine and several anthologies. Also includes two previously unpublished stories, extensive notes, and original artwork by Greg Chapman.

Meet the teacher who sees dead pupils, the ambulance crew who pick up a casualty who won’t die, and the childhood friends who spend the night in a haunted pub. Along the way you can meet a man who refuses to accept his wife’s death and goes to extreme lengths to keep the flame of love alive, the boy who just likes to watch you sleep, and maybe even pay a visit to an antique shop with a deadly secret. If you dare.

Table of Contents: Little Dead Girl, Curiosities, Intruder, The Night Visitor, Hero of the Day, Embracing Solitude, Treat Night, Handsome Jack, Tiny Little Vampires (Flash Version), Roadkill, Afterword

UK LINK

US LINK

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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?


The Sker House Blog Tour

It’s finally over. Wow, that was energy sapping. Now I know how Thirty Seconds to Mars felt when they played 309 shows to break the record for the longest ever tour. Well, kinda. I probably got less groupies than they did. but I did meet a lot of cool, like-minded people, and gained some new readers along the way.

Here is a full itinerary of my stops, with links. Please take a few minutes to check out some of the sites. You might find something you like.

Fiona McVie runs an excellent cross-genre site dedicated specifically called Author Interviews. I gave her the lowdown on why I do what I do:

The ultra-cool Scary Reviews is dedicated to horror, post-apocalyptic fiction, dark fiction, thrillers and science fiction books and movies. I stopped by to talk about the REAL Maid of Sker:

Being horror’s #1 community on the web, Horror World should need no introduction. Here I discuss the truth behind Sker House, and why the book needed to be written:

The charming Em Lehrer does a wonderful job over at Keystroke Blog, a review and interview combo site. She’s also one of those uber-sassy young YouTubers who has her own channel called #BookTalk.

Gorefiend caters more toward the splatterpunk and extreme horror side of things. I did something special for them. When I wrote Sker House I incorporated lots of paranormal/supernatural phenomena into it, including Shadow People. They are most definitely real. We just don’t know what the fuck they are.

This is the definitive Sker House article, written for Americymru, the best Welsh ex-pat site you’ll ever see:

You may or may not know, one of the things I do is review books and films for Morpheus Tales, one of the UK’s biggest genre fiction mags. When editor Adam Bradley goes in for an interview, he goes in HARD. This is everything you wanted to know about me but couldn’t be bothered to ask:

There is a lot of historical fact in Sker House. Every country has episodes in their past that they are not proud of. Wales had the Wreckers, which I discussed over at The Horror Bookshelf.

I did an interview with the elegant, ultra-professional and self-confessed snark Lilyn G at Sci-fi & Scary

I spoke to Horror Made about why I ‘turned indie’ and the publishing industry in general.

Got me a namecheck in a piece on haunted houses by Daniel Cheely:

And finally, I went rogue and talked about my unhealthy fascination with Japanese horror movies for those lovable, yet so Deviant Dolls

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

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Finally, guess what? When one adventure finishes, another begins, and I just started the No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches blog tour. No rest for the wicked, as they say. So keep half an eye open for my updates and please ‘share’ and ‘like’ occasionally, if so inclined. It means the world to an impoverished indie writer.

Peace and love.


No Man’s Land – Horror in the Trenches

My new novella, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches, is out now via Deviant Dolls Publications. July 1st  2016 marked the 100-year anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme in France between the Allies and the German Empire, which is still one of the episodes in human history. In the first hours, eight British soldiers fell PER SECOND and by the time it was over some five months later, there were a million dead.

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The Somme Offensive, 1916. Harry Doyle is a young, overawed British infantryman struggling to come to terms with the insanity of war. His main objective is staying alive, and getting back home to his family in one piece. But his hopes begin to diminish as he realizes the full extent of misery and destruction around him. And the German war machine isn’t the only thing he has to worry about. Something else is preying on his friends and comrades in the trenches, picking them off one by one. Something no amount of military training can prepare him for.

This book contains descriptions of graphic violence and is not suitable for minors. Cover art by Greg Chapman.

Proceeds will be donated to Help for Heroes 

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches is available now, priced £1.99/$2.99:

 Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com 

Check out more great books from the Deviant Dolls HERE


Trigger Warning #6

I am pleased to report that my short story, Little Dead Girl, is included in Trigger Warning #6deadgirl-945x945As you can probably gather, I wrote Little Dead Girl when I was in living in China. I tried to convey some of the isolation and disassociation you feel when immersed in a different culture, and the surreal sense of  unreality that permeates everything you do. The artist who illustrated the story, John Skewes, captures the mood perfectly.

Little Dead Girl was yet another story based on one of my fucked up dreams, probably inspired by the evil Little Emperors I was teaching at the time. Believe me, some of them deserved to be kicked down a flight of stairs or three. To this day, I can still remember the dream vividly, and it still gives me chills.

You can read Little Dead Girl for free HERE

 


No Man’s Land – Cover Reveal

My new novella is coming out next month. More details to follow, but in the meantime I wanted to share this amazing cover by my friend and long-time collaborator Greg Chapman. Like it?

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No Man’s Land is available for pre-order now:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

You can check out more of Greg’s work HERE

 

 


Jessica – Liquid Imagination #29

My short story Jessica is now available in the new edition of Liquid Imagination, the place where reality and fantasy blur.

Jessica, a tale of young love, was fun to write. It was one of those stories that comes virtually full-formed in a dream. Wake up, bang, new story! The only difference is, I dreamed the ending first, then had to fit some kind of story around it. The hardest part was deciding what to call the girl, who is the real star of the show. I wanted something cute-sounding, maybe a little prim, but relatable. I hope the ending kicks you in the nuts.

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When I write a new story, it usually sits on my hard drive for a few months, even years. Periodically I dust it off, re-write it, format it differently and just generally play around with it whilst submitting it to different markets. Not Jessica. This was written, edited, subbed and accepted, to the first market I sent it to, all within two weeks. If only everything was that easy.

Anyway, please give it a read, all it will cost you is a little time,  and let me know what you think! Diolch!

Liquid Imagination #29 – Jessica


King For a Year – Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Earlier this year I got involved in a project curated by Mark West, with the aim of discussing the works of Stephen King. Every week for 52 weeks, a different writer chose a different book. I chose Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and got a bit carried away. This is my unedited contribution.

Since 1980 or so, some critics have been saying I could publish my laundry list and sell a million copies or so, but these are for the most part critics who think that’s what I’ve been doing all along. The people who read my work for pleasure obviously feel differently, and I have made this book with those readers, not the critics, in the forefront of my mind.”

Among the highlights of any SK collection is the introduction, which often contains semi-hidden pearls of wisdom and unrestrained glimpses into the mind of one of the greatest writers of his generation. The above short passage is at once insightful, humble, witty, and scathing toward his perceived detractors. Elsewhere in the often brutally honest forward, he claims to have read (probably in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!) that people completely renew themselves every seven years, every muscle and organ replaced by new cells. He makes the point that it had been seven years since his last short story collection, Skeleton Crew (actually, it was eight, Skeleton Crew was issued in 1985, but who am I to argue with the Master?) and the first, Night Shift, was released seven years before that. Strange, then, that the first line of the first story (Dolan’s Cadillac) should be…

I waited and watched for seven years.

Or maybe it was deliberate. Who knows?

It goes without saying that I’ve always been a huge King fan. I am the Constant Reader who he addresses directly so often. I guess you are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. And there was me thinking I was the only one. Still, at least we have some common ground to build on. One of the truly great things about literature is that it unites people of all ages and creeds and from all walks of life. King’s work has certainly done that. From the long-haired pulp paperback-buying hordes of the seventies, right up to the mobile phone waving, Dome-loving Gen Y, King speaks to us all. I plucked my first SK book from my older sister’s collection of scary paperbacks soon after I was mature enough to decide what I wanted to read. It was the seminal ‘Salem’s Lot. And since then I’ve been hooked. I’ve read the vast majority of his books at least once, and there are some I’ve read several times. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, originally published in 1993, isn’t one of them. It’s been at least 20 years since I last opened it, which is one reason I thought it might be cool to revisit for this project.

nightmaredreamscapes

The first thing I noticed is how different everything is. Obviously, the book hasn’t changed. The book will never change. I have. And I always will. When I first read this book I was in my early twenties, and still living with my parents in the Welsh valleys. I had a car, a girlfriend and a crappy job putting things in boxes. That was half a lifetime ago, and a lot has changed since then. I’ve lived in different places, changed jobs, relationships have come and gone, and I sold my Hyundai Sports Coupé years ago. SK has probably been the only constant. Him and punk rock. Time changes everything, not least your perspective on life.

I smoked a lot of weed in my twenties, which may account for the fact that I have no recollection of reading several of these stories whatsoever. I sort of remembered Dolan’s Cadillac, but it would be a huge understatement to say that I didn’t fully understand the complexities of it all back then. On the surface, not much happens, and it would be easy to dismiss it as a bloated, overlong diatribe about a man with a chip on his shoulder digging a big hole. But like so many other King stories, its more about the telling. The journey is more than half the fun. Other early highlights include The End of the Whole Mess, which is about two brothers, one of whom is so ridiculously intelligent that he winds up using that intelligence to do something really stupid. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, King claimed his own brother, Dave, was the inspiration behind it. We can only hope the real Dave King isn’t as batshit crazy as his fictitious incarnation. Suffer the Little Children, a little shocker about a teacher who may or may not seen going ever-so-slightly mad, is flat-out one of the most disturbing things in King’s locker. Originally published in a copy of Cavalier in 1972, it’s also one of the oldest here. One of the most interesting and noteworthy stories is Dedication, a tale of witchcraft and woe which is by turns heart-wrenching and horrifying, with an almost palpable undercurrent of edgy tenderness.

Some of these tales struck a chord and lodged firmly in my memory, for whatever reason. And reading them again gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like having a chat with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Rainy Season, a creepy little yarn about a couple facing a sudden rash of murderous toads, and Night Flier, the story of a jaded newspaper hack on the trail of a serial killer, fall into this category. Both are so typically King that you would know who penned it just from reading the first few paragraphs. It’s quite weird (and often hilarious) as a British guy to read Americans writing about Britain. But the truth is, the odd cringe-worthy cliché (“Got a spare fag, mate?”) aside, King just about pulls it off in Crouch End, which was originally written for an anthology with the title New Tales of the Cthulu Mythos. That pretty much tells you all you really need to know. Thank God the real Crouch End isn’t quite as weird as the one described in the story.

A story I didn’t fully appreciate first time around is Home delivery. As it unfolds, it changes from a Delores Clairborne-style yarn about a young mother preparing to give birth on a secluded island, into a fully-fledged zombie story. The tale is expertly crafted, the textures and tones of the words King uses throughout adding to a hollow sense of isolation. Another tale that hits you harder after you have some years under your belt is My Pretty Pony. It’s probably the farthest thing from ‘horror’ in this entire collection, poignant in the extreme, it is a study on the nature of time and how it seems to move faster as you approach the end of your run. The story behind this story is just as interesting as the story itself. As everyone probably knows, King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman also had a pseudonym. Enter one George Stark.

In the early 1980s King was simultaneously working on a Bachman book called Machine’s Way, and a book (which began life as a lengthy flashback incorporated into Machine’s Way) by Stark called My Pretty Pony. The projects disintegrated, but Machine’s Way later morphed into The Dark Half while My Pretty Pony was buried in a file until 1989 when it resurfaced as one of those posh limited edition coffee table books none of us can afford.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a pretty weighty tome containing 24 stories and its pages numbering a grand total of 816. Included are five previously unpublished stories, the pick of which being the Ten O’ Clock People, a close relative of Quitters, Inc from Night Shift, which is set for an imminent theatrical release having been the latest of SK’s works to be given the Hollywood treatment. It has to be said, this isn’t his best book. It isn’t even his best collection. There’s a bit too much imitation and what can only be described as low-brow fan fiction for my liking. Derivative in the extreme, Crouch End is a homage to Lovecraft, The Doctors Case to Conan Doyle and Umney’s Last Case to Raymond Chandler. It’s all weirdly reminiscent of your favourite artist doing a covers album. It’s entertaining enough, but you can’t help but feel it’s lacking something, making this less of a Greatest Hits and more of an unessential B-sides collection. I can’t imagine even hardcore baseball fans being overly enamoured with long and tedious non-fiction piece Head Down. If you don’t know much about baseball, like most people outside the US and Japan, then you’d have no chance. Still, there’s enough decent material here to make the whole exercise worthwhile and as we all know, King at his worst still shits all over 99% of other writers at their best.

The King for a Year Project can be viewed in it’s entirety HERE:


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