Geek and Proud – MCM Comic Con Liverpool 2016

Hello!

So … the weekend of 12/13 March 2016, I was lucky enough to attend the MCM Comic Con at Liverpool’s waterfront Exhibition Centre, and it was two days of geektastic epicness! There was just so much there to enjoy and experience, that I thought the easiest way to distil the weekend for this post was just to offer up some of – well … lots – of my photos from the two days, and a sort of top ten of my favourite bits. So … here we go!

1. Star Wars Steampunk – There was an entire section dedicated to the genre, full of costumes and cosplay accessories – I bought a pair of retro aviator goggles! – but I loved the spin on the Star Wars Universe.

2. The various cosplayers with the Free Hugs signs, an offer of which I took full and frequent advantage. Two Black Widows, an Amy Pond, a couple of Catwomen, and a Poison Ivy. If I wasn’t being hugged at any point, I was being threatened.

3. So many Harley Quinn’s … so little time.

4. The cupcake stalls!

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5. Being recognised from Twitter … twice.

6. Having Boba Fett sneer at the emblem on my beanie on Day One and call me, “Rebel Scum!”

7. The booty! In a pirate sense, obviously. I bought lots, but my favourite acquisitions are probably my SHIELD beanie, my Steampunk fob watch and, rather brilliantly, a bullet with my name on it!

8. Getting the best massage ever. Seriously.

9. Everything that happened in the photos I can’t post.

10. The atmosphere. The sheer joy of being surrounded by happy, charming, like-minded people, each with their different genre interests but united in their appreciation of the fantastic and the imaginative. Geek and proud!

 

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!


Football and Friendship

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My last post was something of a downer (and a sincere thanks by the way to everyone for their well-wishes), so I thought I might try and lighten things up a little with this one. Strangely, for me, it’s a football story. Strangely, for a non-fan, I’ve quite a few of them.

1. I once sat in a pub while the World Cup (or something) was on TV and a bloke came back from the toilets and asked me, “What’s the score, mate?”, little realising that he’d asked the ONE man in the ENTIRE place who had absolutely no idea.

2. One time, I found myself in a sports bar in Manchester, with a beer and everything, only knowing when to cheer because my friend did.

3. I once amused the same friend with an awful (and very rude) Alan Hansen impression as we watched Match of the Day with the sound turned down.

4. Another time, I waited in a line with her to get items signed by a footballer called Landon Donovan, and because it was one item per person and I didn’t have anything, I volunteered to get an extra item signed for child in the queue. I well remember shaking Mr Donovan’s hand, and awkwardly mumbling something about asking him to autograph it, “To … erm … to Sally”.

But this story is probably my favourite. One time, my friend and her sister were kind enough to take me to an actual football match (Everton vs. Stoke). As I say, I’ve never really followed the game (for fun, I once wore an Everton shirt for an evening with my friend, to which her sister commented wryly, “Bloody Hell, he looks like a real boy!”), but both girls are huge fans, and so I was up for the experience.

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Incidentally, the shirt I wore then isn’t the one in the photos. I got that especially for this post and I’m grateful to the staff in the Everton-themed shop where I bought it for all their patience with me. I’m told that Evertonians, like writers, are born not manufactured, and I was all:

“And you’re SURE this is the latest shirt? Can I have three numbers on the back, please? Do you sell beanies? WHERE AM I?”

Anyway, the match I went to was later in the year, the weather cold and bleak, and I was advised to bundle up in a heavy coat and hat. I was even allowed to wear a team scarf owned by my friend’s granddad, a genuine antique – the scarf, of course, not her grandfather – and when I look at the pictures of the event, I do look VERY out of my depth. My friend and her sister look like custodians, like carers taking me out for the day.

To be fair, they DID look after me. They guided me through crowds and turnstiles and told me where to stand, and finally I got to see the view that my friend was so passionate about. The players seemed to be miles away, but there was a big screen and I knew I was meant to be supporting “The Blues”, and I knew some of the players’ names, so I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to follow what was happening.

At half-time, my friend and her sister treated me to the traditional pint of lager and I did my best to join in with the conversation about Bilyaletdinov’s miss (and yes, I did have to Google that), and this clearance and that block, and the referees’ questionable judgement calls, and the goal, and the –

Wait … what?

Goal?

What bloody goal?

Apparently, one of the opposing team’s players had done the thing he’s paid to do and volleyed the ball into the back of the net. Apparently, there’d been a great deal of shouting about it from both halves of the football ground. And apparently … I hadn’t even noticed.

My friends laughed good-naturedly at my idiocy, finding genuine amusement that somehow, insanely, I’d missed the critical moment. Mistakenly, they put it down to indifference (although I did point out that, if they wanted an example of indifference, one time my friend and I had watched a GREAT Doctor Who episode that she engaged with enough to fall asleep on the couch next to me, which to be honest I found rather charming).

But no, it wasn’t indifference, not really. Football isn’t my thing but it was more … I don’t know. I just remember being happy to be there, with them, feeling strangely honoured and touched that their granddad had vouchsafed his scarf to me for the day. I was cold, and more than a little lost, and my word, the bad language! I’m no expert on lager, but I remember enjoying it even though my friend’s sister told me it was rubbish.

I felt that I understood my friends a bit more, and got a weird kick out of watching the game again on Match of The Day that evening (and seeing the goal, at last – I mean, yeah, they did have to point it out with on-screen arrows and graphics and things but I still saw it). I always remembered the day with fondness, and perhaps more so as I write about it now.

I know I’ll never stand on those terraces again, even though I’ve got the hat and everything now! That’s okay. It was a good day, and looking back on it now I can say that I learned three things:

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1. If you’re a short bloke who’s not into football but ends up at a game, take a box to stand on and a pair of binoculars so you don’t miss the whole point of being there.

2. Extra time, whether it be at a football match or with people you love, is the most precious thing in the world. It absolutely, genuinely is.

3. If you go, enjoy the half-time pint of lager, no matter how rubbish it is.

Thanks for reading!


Love And Loss

I thought for a few days about whether or not I’d publish this post. I knew I’d write it, because that’s sort of the point, but I didn’t know if it was destined to spend its days gathering virtual dust in a drafts folder. I’m not 100% convinced that I won’t delete it sooner rather than later, and make good use of a blog’s enviable functionality in being able to erase the painful, but for now, it stands.
Last week, I was present for the final hours of someone who meant a lot to me and who’d been in my life for a long time. It wasn’t an unexpected death, and certainly the few days leading up to it felt like a strange kind of rehearsal, full of doctors that spoke in ever softer voices of making the patient as comfortable as possible, and screens showing heart rates and respiration in green and blue peaks and troughs that made me think of a horizon of grassy mountains towering over a gentle blue sea.
I won’t go into details, because such personal disclosures aren’t in my nature and even now it doesn’t sit well with me to fully talk about their illness – even now, with their days echoed in memories and photographs and journal entries, it’s still their life, their business. The journal entries reinforce that, actually. There are pages that speak of a heartache held in check until it can be expressed alone and thus with the one person that truly understands the loss.
I’d never seen the journal until this week, and each page shows a level of bravery that I could only hope to approach. But I think that the thing I’m seeing most bleeding from those cracks between the lines is how much comfort the person behind them took from having people dear to them in their life, how fortunate they honestly felt to have been loved.
I need to remember that right now, on so many levels. That might be the sweetest gift they could leave behind, and I hope that in the days and weeks ahead, I can keep it close.


Thirteen Days – A Prequel

Hello!

Today marks one year since I was thrilled to announce the publication of my novella Cradle Of The Dead! It was THE MOST exciting time, and great to talk about it after all the little milestones that I hadn’t been able to share: The acceptance e-mail, the fantastic cover design, the preview copies …

I’ve been busy since then, and there are a few more things to announce that I’m very excited about, but … not yet.

I would like to take the opportunity to say Thank You to anyone and everyone who has taken the time to read the book, post a review, retweet a link or a trailer, and of course a huge thank you to everyone at Blood Bound Books, for buying it in the first place. I don’t want this to turn into some dreadful Academy Award style speech, but all the support means the world to me. Thank you 🙂

And of course, I can’t let Cradle’s special day pass without posting a teensy-tiny Amazon link: http://t.co/6FtH6OBwcu

Anyway, on to the prose. It’s a tiny little prequel to the events at Alderville on Christmas Eve. It’s different in style to the novella itself, but it was fun to get into the head of one of it’s unseen characters, a kind of literary craniotomy, if you will. So … scalpels at the ready …

Thirteen Days

From the journals of Doktor Reinhart Von Fleisher – Date Unknown

The patient is female, nineteen years of age, and prior to the craniotomy and subsequent complications was in general good health. Pre-operatively, she displayed a strong and wilful personality, which in my clinical judgement provided a sound foundation for her to both survive the procedure and also to offer a valuable and imaginative insight into the territories my work seeks to explore.

The procedure was carried out under local anaesthetic (the benefits of wakefulness during brain surgery being well documented elsewhere), and following the expected recuperative inactivity, the patient resumed full and chronic alertness.

As of writing, she has been awake for thirteen days.

This is the most protracted period of wakefulness so far, and as hoped her behaviour patterns have mirrored and then surpassed those of the test subjects she has survived. The feral traits displayed by the other patients are increased exponentially in her, and she is currently restrained following her dismantling of the cranial stitches and the incident with …

(The page is partially torn here, and the text resumes on the following page)

… right eye was retrieved from her mouth, but so badly damaged that orbital reconstruction was not considered as an option.

In addition to the feral conduct, the instances of lucidity are amplified in a fashion that far exceeds those of the other patients. She recognises familiar objects, photographs and the like, and has even displayed some elements of extra-sensory cognisance, talking of future events as if they run contemporaneous to her. She talks of “Men with guns, speaking into their hands” and “Many voices from one mouth”.

I do not believe these visions to be delusional – matters of medicine and discovery are founded upon instinct as much as experimentation, and in her bloodshot gaze I see that wilful conviction and strength that I concluded would make her an exceptional test subject. I believe she speaks the truth, that she speaks of events yet to come, and that her mental fortitude has allowed her to access those Astral corridors in which I seek to stride.

In her gaze, I believe I see gratitude, thankfulness that my hands and scalpel should have gifted her such access. I believe that I see the mad glint of an intrepid explorer in those eyes, a darkness that burns with the thrill of the chase and a steady hand at the portal to the unknown.

Sometimes, our gazes lock, just for a moment, and I believe that she recognises my eyes as the last ones she saw before the blade descended. Perhaps, above the surgical mask, she saw that crazed explorer’s spark and took a little of it with her to light up the void. Sometimes, I know she remembers me, though it has been thirteen days since she last called me Father.


The Song of the Counter-Intuitive

This piece originally appeared as a guest post on the wonderful blog of that splendid fellow Armand Rosamilia (https://twitter.com/ArmandAuthor). My thanks to Armand for hosting my scribblings, and a sincere recommendation that you check his blog out – lots of good stuff there 🙂

Every writer has their quirks, I think. Whether it be a constant supply of coffee chuckling blackly to itself beside them, or a place where the sunlight is perfect, or even, as Annie Wilkes suggests in Misery, a pair of handmade writing slippers, every writer has a gimmick of their own, perhaps even the smallest talisman or routine that greases the wheels of the writing process. A lot of writers need peace and quiet, absolute silence when they create, but it’s fair to say that most authors I’ve spoken to listen to music when they write, perhaps with the volume cranked up to its apex, rattling the kitchenware like a poltergeist, perhaps with their ears couched in the intimate embrace of an isolating pair of headphones. They listen to what they like, what relaxes them. They listen to what their characters like, or the music that’s playing in a particular scene. They listen to movie soundtracks, something that fits or sets the mood of the moments they’re creating.

I’ve done that, and sometimes it works, but I’ve found something else that works, too. Ones instinct is to listen to music that’s appropriate for a scene, the driving beats of a chase or a struggle, the sweeping strings of a romantic interlude. That works, but I’ve also found it useful to take a different approach, to think counter-intuitively about what music might accompany certain given moments.

To offer an example. I’ve a scene in a novel I’ve written where a character is confronted by a horribly twisted version of a deceased family member. Let’s give this character the entirely fake name of Steve, just in case the novel is ever sold, and someone reading this reads the novel and is like, “Hey, I know what happens in this part! Spoilers! This novel is DEAD to me!” (how’s that for writerly optimism?). Anyways, Steve is trapped with this apparition, and I’ve paced the scene very quickly, nice and terse, lots of breathless paragraphs as Steve’s scared companion tries to break into the room in which he’s trapped with something monstrous.

And it is monstrous. Like most Horror writers, I’m pretty proud of my twisted track record, proud of any moments I’ve written that have touched the reader with fear or disgust or dread. I’d like to think I’ve done a few of those, but this scene … it’s dark. It’s the darkest thing I’ve ever written, maybe. Hopefully, there’s a raw, visceral quality to it that’ll unsettle. There’s imagery, yes, but I don’t think that’s where the Horror comes from. I don’t think it comes from how the monster moves, or what it’s saying, or the terrible transformation that the dead family member seems to have undergone. I think the Horror of that particular moment comes from how heartbreaking it is for Steve to see what’s happened to someone so well-loved, so very missed. He’s terrified, yes, but if we’re playing a kind of psychological rock-paper-scissors game here, then in this instance heartbreak vanquishes terror, hands down.

And so the Horror is borne not from what Steve can see, but what he can feel, and what he feels is a terrible, empty grief, a moment that needs not a soundtrack of action, where there’s an apparition advancing and a concerned companion trying to break in fast enough to rescue him, but a sadder tune, one that reflects the core of the scene. That was the kind of music I listened to when I wrote it, and it seemed to give the sequence the tone that it needed.

I’d suggest giving it a try. Maybe you’re writing something and the words are flowing but the mood of the scene, the beating heart of it, is stuttering on the page. It might be because the coffee is cold, or the sunlight is fading, or even that your handmade writing slippers are pinching your toes, but it might be that your chosen music isn’t oiling the cogs of your imagination like it should.

It might be that you, and the moment your characters find themselves in, need a different song.


Flash Fiction Horror Double Bill

Two pieces of Horror Flash Fiction inspired by a couple of my own #FPs …

DRIVEN

He couldn’t seem to let go of the wheel, as if the plastic skin of it and the flesh of his hands had melted and fused. He knew he was driving too fast, but one his feet felt like a lead weight upon the accelerator, while the other seemed to pass uselessly through the rubber pad of the brake pedal. The screen clipped to the dashboard shuddered as his car raced along the increasingly uneven ground, the electronic map flickering as it sought a satellite signal, tried to find him an alternative route.
He barely remembered taking this road. The last thing he remembered was that thick, heavy pressure in his chest as he’d lifted the girl’s corpse on to back seat of the car, the cold sweat that had sprung up on his brow as he’d buckled his pants and got into the driver’s seat. She’d struggled, a lot more than the others, and he guessed she must have winded him, because even before he started the engine he was finding it difficult to breathe, that pressure in his chest radiating outwards towards his arm.
And then he was on this unknown road, driving too fast, but seemingly unable to slow down. He guessed that he’d found himself somewhere remote, given the way the map was calibrating and how there didn’t seem to be a single streetlight to illuminate his way. There was no moonlight, just skies of endless black clouds. He thought there might be a storm soon, judging by the gusts of hot air that were blowing in through the half-open window.
There were sounds filtering into the car too, distant but growing louder as the vehicle hurtled forward, faster and faster. It sounded like a crowd of people, yelling and screaming as though they were at a rock concert. Maybe it was an event of some sort, because the further his car took him down this strange road, the more he saw the fireworks in among the clouds, a rain of sparks and embers, soaking the hot air of the car with sulphur.
The map on the screen spun crazily, the image dissolving into flickering bursts of static as the screaming voices intensified, as the black clouds thinned to show not the stars nor cold face of the moon, not even the electric signature of the expected storm. There was a storm, but it was a maelstrom of fire and sour ash, of smoke and burning, blasted rock.
The car finally stopped, the tyres squealing as if they were crushing souls beneath their tread.
The screen on the dashboard turned black. ‘You have reached your destination.’ said the Satan-nav.

VISITING HOURS

It was late, and the ward was quiet, and dark. She sat beside the child’s bed, holding the little boy’s hand, careful not to disturb the cannula implanted into the narrow thread of his vein. Her other hand caressed the curve of the child’s brow, finding it cool and dry. According to the casenotes on the clipboard at the end of the bed, the little one had suffered the most awful fever, terrifying his parents, but thankfully that had subsided in the last day or so. Everything in the casenotes indicated that he would be fine.
She moved her hand from his forehead to the watch pinned to the breast of her crisp white uniform. She stared at the tiny, ticking hand marking one second after another, then gave the boy’s hand a little squeeze, gently, careful not to wake him. She stood, picking up the broad, soft pillow that she’d taken from one of the other beds.
He stirred as she placed it across his face, and began to thrash as she pressed it down. His cries were short, and panicked, and muffled. His hands leapt upwards to claw at the pillow, the IV tube popping free of the cannula, and she made soft hushing sounds, soothing him until his struggles stopped, a lullaby for his final sleep.
Calmly, she moved from bed to bed. When the real nurse returned, she found a ward full of corpses.

Thanks for reading – below are links to more of my microfiction, should you feel so inclined … 😉

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 1st December – 5th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 6th December – 12th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 13th December – 19th December

A Love Letter To Friday Phrases

Friday Phrases – I’m In Love

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 01

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 02

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 03

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 04

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 05

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 06

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 07


#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 07

Each one of the pieces of microfiction that follows is Horror, in its own way. They might not seem that way, not at first glance, but take a look at them again, out of the corner of your eye. In between their severed body parts and homicidal thoughts, the bread and butter of my genre, there are other horrors, the ones that perhaps aren’t as easy to outrun or outsmart as a Jason Vorhees or a Freddy Krueger. There’s cruelty, and grief, and loss. There’s loneliness and not enough hope.

Horror isn’t just about the blood and guts. I’ve written about this before, but it’s a point worth making again. Fictional Horror doesn’t just exist in the dissolution of the body or mind, it also thrives in the badlands of the commonplace, the unexpected phone call at 2am, or the loved one that doesn’t come home through Fate’s choice or theirs. It lurks in the white noise of the psyche, the knowledge that, physically or emotionally, these are the dying days. It’s there when you realise that every new beginning is an ending waiting to happen.

As an aside, many of these micro fiction pieces were first presented via Twitter’s Friday Phrases hashtag (#FP). Friday Phrases has an e-book in the works (closing date for submissions is 31 August 2015). Visit friday-phrases.com to take a look at the guidelines for more details.

Anyway, on with the show …

The last call was a missed call, and left her with a voicemail more haunting than any ghost.
“Mum? Where are you? It’s getting dark.”

She loved the summer. The games. The lake. The picnics. The days she would torch the anthills and imagine she heard a thousand screams.

I thought the little redhead girl had a spray of freckles upon her nose, until I saw the empty crib & the fine blond hair in her teeth.

“I’ll make you pretty, alright” she said, pulling the barbed wire as tight as she could.

He was still in denial about her death, and as a loving smile began to pop the mortician’s stitches, he realised that so was she.

At night, the tiny lids were lifted & there was laughter & running footsteps between the gravestones. The children still wanted to play.

‘Lose a little weight.’ the director had said.
She traced her xylophone ribs, wondering how long she could eat nothing but thin air.

The man was very handsome, and the roses beautiful.
“Who’s the lucky girl?” she smiled.
His blade glinted within the flowers. “You are.”

She smiled in denial of the fracture in her heart and the tears that flooded from the break, and gave her daughter one last kiss.

The surface tension of his eyeball trembled beneath the razor. “Now,” she said. “Let’s open up those windows to your soul, shall we?”

His childhood was filled with games and stories, but every growing year stole an imaginary friend from him, until he was alone again.

“Oops, you’re coming undone,” he told her. “Let me fix that zip.” Her wide eyes were the last he saw of her as he re-sealed the bodybag.

It was too addictive, the next romance, the new love, the thrilling potential of being alone again. That’s why she kept killing them.

Watching the blade dive between his fingers, again & again, made the dare feel like a wrong decision even before his thumb was severed.

She cried as his hands tightened around her throat. He’d always thought her eyes the perfect pallet for a portrait of tears.

Parchment-thin skin crackled as tiny hands peeled aside withered muscle. The newborn crawled from the ancient wreckage and began to cry.

“The injuries are severe,” the surgeon said. “If the child lives, it’ll spend every day in agonising pain.”
She smiled. “Then save it.”

My pupils dilated first because of the dark, then in shock, and finally as eight spidery legs forced them wide from within.

There are only three things you need to know about me:

1. I’m a psychopath.
2. I’m invisible.
3. I’m behind you.

I took the clothes and the photos from the trash and buried them in the garden.
“Don’t cry, Dad,” I told him. “I’ll grow us a new Mum.”

Thanks for reading – below are links to more of my microfiction, should you feel so inclined … 😉

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 1st December – 5th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 6th December – 12th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 13th December – 19th December

A Love Letter To Friday Phrases

Friday Phrases – I’m In Love

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 01

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 02

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 03

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 04

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 05

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 06