Tag Archives: wales

Terrors Unimagined

I’m thrilled to announce that my latest short story, Lakeside Park, is included in the new anthology Terrors Unimagined, edited by Karen T. Newman and out now on Left Hand Press.

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Lakeside Park is an old-fashioned creature tale about a down-on-his-luck, ex-alcoholic custodian who agrees to take a job looking after a remote caravan park deep in the Welsh valleys during the winter.

Suffice to say he doesn’t get the anticipated peace and quiet.

About the book:

Far beyond what you can imagine lies a dreamscape full of the unexpected and the unexplainable. The supernatural, the paranormal, monsters, demons, magic, witches, and inconceivable horrors reside in a world of Terrors Unimagined.

An international cadre of authors, both new and experienced, lead you down a path to the other side of the unbelievable with stories unique and thought-provoking. This anthology of supernatural and horror-inspiring short stories drags us screaming into a world of creatures and nightmares undreamed of. Prepare to ponder your nights away.

Sleep is no longer an option.

Check out the trailer HERE

See HERE for full details and Table of Contents.

Incidentally, you can check out the rest of my fiction HERE.

 

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Those Left Behind

My latest short story has just been published on a very cool multimedia platform called twentytwotwentyeight. Those Left Behind is  an urban horror story with a twist, and a surprise ending I hope you don’t see coming. It addresses mental illness, in particular suicide, which is something close to my heart. Depression and mental illness is a big issue for young men, and Wales has the second-highest suicide rate in the UK. There aren’t many people here who remain unaffected. The sorry state of affairs was brought to the public’s attention a few years ago with the mysterious Bridgend Triangle business.

There are many reasons for it, not least the current economic climate. Not so long ago, the towns and villages of south Wales were thriving as the steel and coal money rolled in. Black gold, we called it. it was dangerous work, but there was money to be made. Then the steelworks and coal mines closed, and an entire generation was put out of work almost overnight. I found this great article about it on the Washington Post, of all places. Not that I need to read about it, I lived through it.

The end result of the closures was that young people living in Wales today have little education and few prospects. Poverty is steadily increasing, and in relation to that drug abuse and crime rates are still soaring. This, combined with other factors like isolation and deprivation, has a debilitating effect on a person’s mental state. That’s my theory, anyway.

How can we solve the problem? Who knows. But maybe acknowledging it would be a good start. I hope you like the story.

You can read Those Left Behind now, free.


Twenty Years!?

I saw a Facebook post recently which reminded me of something. Well, not so much ‘reminded me’ of something, more like hit me over the head with something. It’s been twenty years since I had my first story published. Twenty fucking years. I was going to say it’s been twenty years since I started writing, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. My first published story was called Monkey Man, and it came out in a Welsh literature magazine called Cambrensis some time in 1997. It was a different landscape back then. In the late-nineties there was a thriving small press consisting of various genre mags as opposed to a glut of websites. I also had some early success in Raw Nerve, the Asphalt Jungle, Roadworks, Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque and several others. The thing was, even back then I was very conscious of getting paid for my efforts, and the vast majority of these titles didn’t offer anything except ‘exposure.’ In fact, when you consider materials, printing and postage expenses, in the pre-digital age it actually cost money to submit to publications. It was a two-way street. Being physical entities, it meant these magazines cost money to put together and distribute.

Having flunked all my exams (even English) I was working in a factory at the time for minimum wage. Mostly, I put things in boxes. Soap, shampoo, pills. You name it, I’d put it in a box. I wanted to find some way of generating extra income, so I started submitting feature ideas to newsstand magazines. This was when shows like the X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were at their peak, and this was manifested in the popularity of paranormal-themed publications like Fortean Times, Enigma and Beyond. I soon found my little niche, and what was more, they paid! They paid pretty well, actually. Sometimes, I would get as much money for one 2000-word feature as I would for an entire week slaving in the factory. My magazine work and general fascination with the weird and fucked-up led to me researching and writing my first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales, which was eventually published by a mid-size Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch in 2003. Into the Dragon’s Lair set my life on a different path. It was targeted mainly at the tourist trade, and generated a lot of media interest. Several national newspapers did stories about it, and I was a guest on a live Radio Wales programme. It all resulted in a division of the Welsh government giving me a grant to go to university as a mature student.

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I had a choice of two; Carlisle and Southampton. I chose the latter because growing up I was a big Matt Le Tissier fan, who played for Southampton FC. It was that simple. Two weeks later, I was enrolled on a journalism degree and working part time as a barman at the football stadium. I’d hardly left Wales before. In my spare time, I decided to knuckle down and write ‘The Great Welsh Novel,’ a partly autobiographical tale called Rainbow’s End. It took a couple of years, but as soon as it was finished it was snapped up by a new start-up publisher called Flarefont, who promptly went bankrupt. During this time, I also started working on a book about Cardiff City FC, which eventually came out in 2014, again on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, after another publisher strung me along for about three years until eventually pulling the plug.

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During university, one of the most beneficial things I did, was go on work experience placements at every magazine that would take me (Front, Ice, Maxim, FHM). I learned more during those two-week placements than I did in three years of university, and I managed to form relationships that would serve me well later in my career. After I graduated from university, I freelanced for a year, writing features for Nuts, Record Collector, Rock Sounds, Urban Ink, Chat… It’s Fate, and anyone else who would pay me, before bunking off to China to teach English. I mainly worked at universities, which meant I had a lot of free time during which I continued to freelance, adding China to my list of specialist topics. One freezing Spring Festival in Tianjin, through sheer boredom, I started writing fiction again, a full nine years after my last published effort. Perhaps this explains why some people assume I am relatively ‘new’ to the scene. Nah, mate. Been here a while. Just had a rest. Over the next couple of years I wrote Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story and Dead of Night (both published by Damnation Books), and Devil’s Island (Rainstorm Press), as well as a clutch of short stories, which would appear in Screams of Terror, Gore, Siren’s Call, the Literary Hatchet, Trigger Warning, Deadman’s Tome, and a few anthologies.

Then, in 2012, I had another huge stroke of luck. A Staff Writer job came up at Nuts magazine and I was given a shot at it mainly because the deputy editor had somehow noticed some of my funny quips on social media. I flew back from China and was suddenly zipping around London fraternizing with models and film stars. But times were already hard in the ‘lad mag’ market, and getting progressively harder. I was soon got laid off as the sector went through its death throes. I reinvented myself as a sports journalist, and landed a job on the new-fangled Sports Direct magazine. That, too, went belly-up for entirely different reasons, and was re-launched as Forever Sports (later FS). After a couple of years as Senior Writer I was offered a promotion and a pay rise, and asked to move to another new launch at a different publishing company. It didn’t work out. I butted heads with my new editor for a while, then left to go back to freelance, and the new launch sank like the Titanic. By this time I was beginning to realize that the magazine industry was a ruthless arena with very little in the way of job security.

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Parallel to my magazine career, I took advantage of the rise in self-publishing and put out a steady stream of material. To help keep a degree of separation from my day job(s) I modified by name for fiction. There were some things I wrote while I was in China (including Sker House, and No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches) which just needed tweaking, and I also started gathering my previously-published short stories into a series of collections. I’ve lost a lot of faith in publishing companies, so I much prefer to put these things out myself. That way I can maintain complete control over every aspect of the process from the cover art to the contents and pricing. These days, I make a living by maintaining several revenue streams, fiction and magazine work being just two components. It isn’t easy, but it’s the life I chose. The past two decades have been a hell of a ride. I’ve done things I never thought I would do, and seen things I never thought I would see. I’ve met some amazing people, more than a few cunts, and lived in 12 different places, in eight different towns and cities, in three different countries. I’ve come to realize that moving around is a big part of my identity. I get restless if I stay in one place for too long. I need the constant sense of ‘newness.’ It keeps me focused. All things considered, I’ve far exceeded my own expectations, and anything beats working in that factory.

I can’t wait to see what the next twenty brings.

 


When Word Got Around About Cool Cymru

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Stereophonics debut album, Word Gets Around. I’ll skip the ‘I can’t believe it was so long ago!’ rhetoric and get right to why it was significant. 1997 was the peak of Cool Cymru, a spin-off from the Britpop-fuelled Cool Britannia movement, which deemed it a positive thing to be from Wales. This was new to me. Until then, for most people living in the valleys, our existence had been anything but cool. Frustrating, alienating and angst-ridden maybe, but never cool. Wales is a nice place to visit, but has been on an economic down-turn since Thatcher closed the coal mines in the 80s. Sadly, no money often equals no prospects, no hope, and no reason to believe that will change any time soon. Cue high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, and widespread alcohol and drug abuse.

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While Cool Britannia was typified by a new influx of guitar bands with suitably provocative one-word names (Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Sleeper, Cast, Keane, Embrace, to name but, er, nine) Cool Cymru was always about more than music. Sure, it was spearheaded by the Stereophonics, The Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and the Super Furry Animals, but it encapsulated so much more. Howard Marks was showing us that bad boys really can come good, in the sporting arena we had Joe Calzaghe (boxing), Ryan Giggs (football) and Scott Gibbs (rugby). The Cardiff Devils ice hockey team were dominant, Ioan Gruffudd was on the Titanic, Twin Town was all the rage, and a national referendum voted ‘yes’ to devolution. The emphasis was very much on growth, progress and change, the historic Cardiff Arms Park being demolished to make way for a plush new venue (the Millennium Stadium) symptomatic of this general shift in attitude. It was an exciting time, filled with optimism and grand expectations, and through it all was an overriding sense that anything was possible.

All this was manifested in the music, and Word Gets Around is a prime example. Not much time for naval-gazing on the Welsh music scene. We were too busy getting wasted and jumping around, high on the fact that if a bunch of beery blokes from a tiny village near Aberdare in the Cynon Valley called Cwmaman could make it, any of us could. The album kicks off with a quartet of fast-paced, fist-pumping, balls-out floor fillers laden with killer riffs and pop hooks. A Thousand Trees, Looks Like Chaplin, More Life in a Tramp’s Vest and Local Boy in the Photograph which, incidentally, were the band’s first four singles, breeze by in a combined total of about eleven minutes, before things are taken down a few notches for track (and single) five, Traffic. These songs are still regulars in the band’s live gigs today.

“Is anyone going anywhere?

Everyone’s got to be somewhere.”

The second half of the album, or side 2 if you are a vinyl worshipper, is where you’ll find all the deep cuts. Two of my all-time favourite ‘Phonics tracks, Same Size Feet and Too Many Sandwiches, reside there. Most of the songs on Word Gets Around are about small-town life, holding a magnifying glass against it and articulating the desire to escape that we all felt, or are based on actual events in and around Cwmaman. Weddings, funerals, suicides, sexual abuse, violent encounters and mundane acts like selling fruit in dying market stalls. Like most valley towns, Cwmaman is a place you don’t visit unless you have to, or you are very, very lost. The isolation can be both a blessing and a curse, and songs like Goldfish Bowl and Last of the Big Time Drinkers’ sum up this state of existence perfectly. Lyrically, the former is pretty self-explanatory, while the latter is about working a dead end job with your only release being a few pints in the local at the end of the week.

“I don’t live to work,

I work to live,

I live at the weekend.”

The album closes on the poignant ballad Billy Davey’s Daughter, about a young girl who drowns herself, which is another standard that has stood the test of time. It’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the record, and it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see it released as a single. But then again, five singles was enough. This isn’t Michael Jackson we’re talking about. While we’re on the topic, a few words must be said about the sheer quality of b-sides to be found on the singles that were released, most of which have been included on various re-issues. Carrot Cake & Wine is strong enough to grace virtually any album of the decade and Poppy Day isn’t far behind, while covers of The Last Resort (originally by The Eagles) and Who’ll Stop the Rain (Creedence Clearwater revival) not only pay homage to the ‘Phonics roots, but make decent additions to any collection.

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The year before, the ‘Phonics had been the first band to sign to Richard Branson’s new V2 label which meant they had some money and industry clout behind them, ensuring the album reached number six on the UK charts and eventually went triple platinum. Later albums may have sold more (2001’s Just Enough Education to Perform remains their biggest seller to date), but Word Gets Around is the one that got under people’s skin, and is still a firm fan favourite. It featured the original, stripped-down line up of Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and Stuart Cable, who were so polished through years of playing together in workingmen’s clubs that they were as tight as the proverbial nun’s arse. And just as dirty. This is the sound of a band on the cusp, energetic, wide-eyed and hungry, before their next album Performance & Cocktails launched them into the stratosphere, and listening to Word Gets Around now two decades later still evokes the same feelings of defiant celebration.

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Film Review – The Chamber (2016)

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

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

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

Random dialogue extract:

A: That wasn’t part of the plan.

B: The plan’s coming loose.

A: You’re coming loose.

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

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

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


The Paperbacks are Here!

The environment won’t be happy about it, but I’ve finally bowed to pressure and released my indie titles which were previously only available as ebooks on paperback. Benefiting from the treatment and now ready for purchase are Out of Time, Sker House, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches and my latest offering, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut).

The links will take you to the UK Amazon site, but you should be given the option there to click off it and go to whichever Amazon store is most appropriate to your location.

Take it from me, getting these paperbacks to market wasn’t an easy task. Formatting and getting the covers to fit properly represents a whole new level of fuckery. As you can see, I didn’t succeed every time, and the paperback of Apartment 14F (Uncut) now sports a completely new minimalist look. Ho-hum.

My X Book collections won’t be issued in paperback in their current form. I am still a huge ebook advocate and want to have some e-exclusive stuff in my repertoire. Besides, the plan is to put out book 3 early next year, then combine all three into one bumper volume at some point thereafter. That will represent a much meatier proposition, and better value for money.

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Time for a New Six Nations?

So the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. This always gets me thinking about rugby, and in particular, the competition’s format. Rugby aficionados might find what I am going to say controversial, while nobody else will give much of a shit. But as a lifelong fan, I want to make my feelings heard. And before we go any further no, this blog isn’t about the customary capitulation of the Wales team.

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You see, I don’t think the Six Nations should be six nations. Not any more. Frankly, Italy (wooden spoon winners in two of the past three seasons and odds on for a hat-trick) are not strong enough to contest and do themselves no favours by continuing to slug it out with the big boys of European rugby. From the 85 games they’d played up to the start of the current championship, they’d lost 72 and their overall points difference stood at an alarming -1553. That’s more than twice as many as the second worst team, Scotland.

It’s nothing personal. I admire the way Italy stick to their guns, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are a strong, powerful team, and have produced a couple of top players. But this season really should spell the end of their involvement in the Six Nations tournament. Who needs it? They were effectively out of the reckoning after just two games, having been on the end of two home thrashings at the hands of Wales and Ireland (7-33 and 10-63 respectively). They usually have one good game a year, and that came last week at Twickers. They gave England a scare, more through clever exploitation of the rules than any real skill, but still ended up losing by double digits. All the evidence suggests that Italy are getting worse at this rugby lark, not better. It could be time to go. And you know what? They can take France with them.

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Controversial? Let me explain…

At several points in it’s long history (the first comparable tournament was played way back in 1883) the Six Nations was known as the Home Nations, and consisted of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then in came the French and it became the Five Nations. Then Italy made it six. Where’s it going to end? Shall we just invite every rugby-playing nation in Europe and call it the 17 Nations? Of course not, that would be impractical. But then you have to wonder why Italy deserve a place. Georgia are actually above them in the world rankings and Romania and Russia aren’t far behind.

I want a return to the old days. But not because I’m some Neanderthal racist who hates Italians and Frenchies. Nope, I have a plan. The tournament should return to its roots, but I think we should do it differently this time. I want the home nations to play every other home nation twice a season, for a total of six games. And lets mix up the draw each year, pulling the fixtures at random, instead of having the format and fixtures set in stone. That gets boring. The draw for the next tournament can be made at the end of the previous one to give fans time to make arrangements, and thereby amping up the drama even more. Put it on live TV, make a spectacle out of it like the FA Cup draw.

Let’s be honest, nobody really likes playing the French. Not because anyone is afraid of them (though they do have a nasty habit of running in good tries), but because they bring nothing to the tournament, especially the way the team is at the moment. They currently stand at 8th in the latest World Rugby rankings, lower than any of the home nations, and haven’t been serious contenders for years. They were fortunate to beat Italy last season. If they’d lost, they would have suffered a second whitewash in four years. Not good enough, sorry.

There’s long been talk of introducing a two-tier system into the Six Nations, with promotion and relegation. If that ever happened, Italy would undoubtedly be the first team relegated. And there’s a decent chance France could follow. I suggest we take the initiative and cull them now, then put them in a separate European group with two of Georgia, Romania and Russia. Maybe even Spain, Germany or Portugal. All are emerging nations ranked in the world top 25. Playing each other (along with France and Italy) on a regular basis would improve their game immeasurably, which can only be good for the sport. The European group of four (even five or six would be manageable as these teams play less games per year than the elite) can also play each home and away, then face the winners of the British group in a grand final every year at a neutral venue. Obviously France would dominate for the first couple of years, but I the other teams would soon catch up with them.

There, sorted. Think about it. This proposed new format would benefit everyone involved. The British teams would only have to play one (or two, if they get to the grand final) more games a season, there would be more opportunity for sponsors and TV revenue, the fans would get more of what they really want (Wales v Scotland, England v Anybody), the smaller rugby-playing nations would have a framework and a chance to develop, and there would be a huge showpiece final every year to rival the (football) European Championship.

Who’s with me?


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