Scouse Gothic is one of the more unique books I have read this year, just in terms of the makeup and layout of the narrative. I think it’s a book where your mindset and expectations are going to largely dictate how you enjoy the experience.
Mainly, I think it’s best to approach this like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There were a number of points throughout the book where I felt that, while I was enjoying the read, I didn’t necessarily feel a strong overall narrative drive to everything.
I scanned through some of the reviews for this because I was curious how other people were reacting to this. I suspect that this is the kind of book that will either be a solid hit or a complete miss. One reader compared this book to Pulp Fiction and I found that to be pretty close to the mark.
In Scouse Gothic, what we have is a series of vignettes that take place within a shared narrative universe. And like the threads that make up a piece of fabric, these vignettes have a tendency to bump up against each other and become twisted together. Different characters rise to the forefront to get the spotlight trained on them and before too long, the story is wrapping up and bringing everything back to some extent to where things started.
It should also be noted that this the first of what appears to be a trilogy of books. I have no idea if the followup books will take on a more traditional structure, with this newly formed cast of characters or if it will stick with the same format again. It’s entirely possible that the structure of the first book was mostly intended as an introduction to the key players.
For me, what makes this book shine is the characters. Books are made up of human (or otherwise) characters and their ability to reach the reader on an emotional level are going to be essential to making things work.
As I suggested already, most of the time when I feel like I don’t understand where the story is going, I tend to tune out. With this, I found the individual stories so compelling and entertaining that I wasn’t caring so much about the global perspective.
Just out of my own misgivings anymore, I tend to shut out stories involving vampires, just because the cultural landscape has become so littered and oversaturated. But even considering this, it’s still completely possible to write a good vampire story. What I think makes this work is that the character’s vampirism isn’t necessarily what the story hangs on. In fact, it almost seems incidental to the actual track of these vampires as characters. These aren’t bland, cookie-cutter people. They live and breathe and provide great texture to a world that is masterfully crafted.
Another way I feel like this book is a success is from the fact that, as each vignette drew to a close, I felt a little disappointed that we would have to move on and that most of the individual characters could likely support an entire separate book on their own. The book grabs your interest, holds on to it and when it gives it back, you find yourself saying, “Wait, you can hold on to it longer, if you want!”
Scouse Gothic is an interesting book that I hope you will consider checking out. Whatever you may feel is lacking from the overall narrative is more than made up for by the individual parts. Read this for the characters and for the quality of the writing, like a really nice wine that you have to let wash through you and take time to properly consider.
CHECK OUT MORE FROM IAN McKINNEY AT HIS OFFICIAL AMAZON PAGE, INCLUDING LINKS TO THE SECOND AND THIRD BOOKS OF THIS SERIES.
I finally took the plunge on my Kindle this past week and cracked open a book I had actually purchased some time ago, an experience I’m sure many of us are well familiar with. The Devil’s Guests was a book I was intrigued with, long before it was released but for whatever reason, it took me this long to get around to it.
And I was definitely not disappointed. I’m always a little hesitant, going into a Matt Shaw book because, while I don’t necessarily have an issue with extreme horror, I have to admit that it isn’t my favorite medium for the genre. While I have never found any of Shaw’s books to be lacking in depth or complexity, I have come across other names which I shall not mention that seem to use extreme horror as license to put as much vile, disgusting content onto the page as they can manage, with even the plot taking a back seat.
However, my experience with the work of Matt Shaw is that he devotes the proper attention to all aspects of the story, not just the parts that make you cringe away from the page or the screen. And while his writing does make me uncomfortable at times, it has always been with the knowledge and faith that somewhere in there is a point to the extreme nature of the story.
The Devil’s Guests on face is a simple concept, centered around a particularly violent and sociopathic manager of a hotel. In and of itself, it isn’t the newest concept but for me, what makes the book stand out is the collaborative effort of all the authors involved. While the heart of the book has been constructed by Shaw, he has invited other writers to pen specific sections of the book, introducing various characters who Shaw is then responsible for dispatching in good time.
What I was most taken by was how smooth the narrative comes off. In the introduction, Shaw mentions that he had to go through the manuscript with some minor editing to keep the tone of the characters consistent. I can’t imagine the amount of work and headaches that go into keeping a project like this straight but he did a fantastic job layering and fitting everything together. In all truthfulness, I found the tone here to be as consistent as most single-author books I have read. This is not an anthology, as Shaw argues himself, this is a novel.
The story isn’t given much context in terms of a backstory but I also don’t think it’s needed. This is about plunging yourself into a frightening and visceral experience. The characters are all great, the movement of the narrative is top notch and the extreme portions work well within the context of the story. I thought Shaw did a great job at balancing out the more graphic parts with great narrative, foreshadowing and voice of characters.
There were moments when I did feel like the hotel itself was a bit over the top just in terms of how many secret doors and rooms could be found within, making it seem more like the set of a classic Bond film than gritty horror. Still, this is a small criticism and to be honest, I was more than happy to let that go in the course of a fun reading experience. Horror works best when there is no reason and very little warning. This is a well-written exploration of the dark horror that can take place for no more of an offense than checking in to a hotel.
And as a bonus, Shaw provides several additional short stories from other authors, one of which is an extended scene of what ended up in the book. Shaw wrote an introduction explaining his decision to pare it down and I have to say that I agree that putting this story into the book in its original form would likely have been too much. It’s a brutal story and I’m pretty sure I would have had trouble moving on into the rest of the book after getting to the other side of this scene.
All around, great writing by everyone involved.
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of sequels when it comes to horror movies, especially when we are talking about slasher films. Mostly because it rarely feels like the narrative from the original film is going anywhere as much as simply being restarted. Sequels are constantly criticized as being little more than cash grabs from studios, trying to continue to profit off a successful property. And I think that horror is one realm where this criticism is more valid. Horror is one genre where sequels often have the feel of rinse and repeat, as it isn’t at all unusual for horror franchises to make it to seven, eight or nine films. For me, proper horror is quick and brutal and once it’s done, the stage is cleared. Continue Reading
I hope you will forgive me the indulgence of sharing some personal thoughts with you this week. Don’t worry, it won’t be long before we return to the blood and guts as normal.
This past week, an old friend of mine passed away after a long struggle with an illness. I don’t want to use his full name out of respect for his privacy so I’m just going to call him Tom, enough that family and friends of mine should know who I’m talking about.
I found out this past Friday that he had passed the night before and it was a pretty tough gut shot to hear. Obviously, when someone has been sick for some time, the end shouldn’t come as a shock on an intellectual level. Still, when the moment passes you are inevitably left with the feelings of depressive regret for all the things you wish you had done differently, as if fate grabs you by the head and wrenches it around backward, forcing you to devote all your attention to what is behind, now gone forever.
Essentially, the exact opposite of what I suspect Tom would have wanted from us.
I worked closely with Tom, starting in the mid-nineties. He came into my life in that informative phase, when you are just starting to get some legs under you and figuring out what the hell the world is (as an adult). I think for most of us, if you cast back, you can come across certain key people in your life who, maybe without their knowing it, had a profound effect on your development. Not in the same way children grow but in the sense that you float about in the world, striving for examples of what you think you would want to be seen as, in the prime of your adulthood.
I wanted to have Tom’s mind. He had one of the sharpest, most intuitive intellects I think I have ever had the luck to come across. He could carry on an informed discussion on just about everything. His knowledge of wine and food was unmatched in my experience as well as his passion for culture. He could talk about philosophy or he could talk about sports. What I remember learning the most from Tom is that it can be cool to be smart. And he carried his intellect with an equal weight of humility. I don’t think I ever felt a sense from him that he thought he was special or above anyone else.
I wanted to have Tom’s books. He was an avid reader and I always saw him with a book in his hands, whether it be at work or when he was out and about, walking from point A to point B (in all the time I knew him, Tom never owned a car. Or if he did, he never used it). Tom was well read and well spoken. I saw in tribute that compared him to Bukowski and I think it’s actually a pretty astute comparison. This was a man who struck out into the world and made it his, in turn introducing all of us to the person that could only ever be him. I never had the guts to show Tom any of my writing, mostly because I was sure he would call it out for the unparalleled, putrid shit that it really was. Because if there was one thing that described Tom to the letter, it’s that he was honest. If he thought something, he would tell you.
I wanted to have Tom’s music collection. Before I met him, Tom worked at one of the respected indie music stores in town and I can only imagine how extensive and eclectic his collection might have been. I have always held the belief that flipping through Tom’s records would be like taking a walking tour of rock and blues, probably some country and jazz, most of which I would not have ever heard of. I always thirsted for Tom’s knowledge and awareness of music and on more than one occasion, I tried to pick his brain to get some tips on the cool bands to check out.
I wanted to have Tom’s wine collection. This is the big one because I’m willing to bet those that knew him would agree that there would be some pretty phenomenal bottles in there. He practically built the wine department at our store single-handed, building a network of loyal customers, many of which are still with us to this day. He blazed out with a refined palate and built things of greatness.
Nothing in our life is permanent. We all know this, and we get reminders of it all the time. I can still remember the last conversation I had with Tom, mostly for the triviality of our encounter, more than anything else. How much I would like to drop down into myself in that moment and really tell him how I felt, how important of a friend I had always considered him to be.
I never had that chance, obviously. So, I do the best I can with what has been left behind, to earn the life I have and to enjoy the things which Tom no longer can. I always held Tom in the highest regard and respect. I consider myself privileged to have been able to spend time with him and to take away some of that vast bank vault of wisdom and knowledge contained in that head of his. He was an individual who dared to be himself in a world that often seems to worship normality, a reminder that sometimes it’s important to question things and think about things.
Thank you, Tom. May whatever waters you now sail across be forever a source of peace and comfort to you. Thank you for being a part of our lives. Yours is a mark that will stay with me for a long time to come.
In 1996, the cinematic world was introduced to the first of what would be one of the more successful new horror franchise of the modern era. And interestingly enough, it would spring forth from the mind of one Wes Craven, already responsible for one of the most popular monsters in movie history.
At the time this came out, I was in college and without going into a lot of details, I was going through a difficult time in my life. School was not going well and I had personal issues that were leading to some fairly severe depression and anxiety. I was on break at my father’s house and decided one night to take a spin with a video rental, a new movie release that I had seen advertised but knew very little about. Continue Reading
Silence Of The Lambs marked a monumental moment in film history. For me, it was one of those transitions as a teenager where I saw first hand how gripping a story could be and how the villain of a story can be developed just as much, if not more than the hero. Silence Of The Lambs would also lead to a number of unfortunate side effects down the road, something that was completely out of their control and that I will touch on later.
This film made household names out of both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. And while Foster certainly deserves the credit she receives for her work, the role of Clarice Starling is almost a throwaway for me. You can’t have a movie without a protagonist and she fits that bill just fine. We have a young, talented FBI agent-in-training, one with a bright future, but also with a past just dark enough to be exploited by one Hannibal Lector. Continue Reading
CLICK HERE AND GRAB A COPY TODAY!
On one hand, I think that The Strangers typifies what can be the brightest and most brilliant executions of the horror genre. On the other, I also think that The Strangers is a perfect example of some of the worst kind of tropes that are pounded to death like so many coffin nails.
Let’s start with the positive because it’s a new year and I’m trying to focus on such things. The premise for the film is as simple as can be which, as an aside I think is actually essential for great horror. The films and books that perform the best for me are about creating a visceral experience for the reader and the characters. If you need to draw a flow chart in order to find the horror, you might not be doing it right. Continue Reading
Yesterday, we posted our interview with Anthony Watson, discussing his work in general as well as his novella, The Company Of The Dead. I was thrilled to hear from him that not only would there be a second volume to Dark Frontiers but that we would be seeing more from Nate and Wolf. As I reached the end of the story, my thoughts were likely what most authors hope to hear from their readers, namely, “Wait, I want more!”
I think one of the stronger aspects of the book is how effectively Watson manages to set up so much in so little time. I love Westerns that drive home the desolate landscape they are taking place on. I also felt comfortable with Nate as a character almost from the start and one of my favorite parts is actually early on when he is trapped out in the open during a sandstorm.
Foul weather is something we hardly take note of anymore but I loved the foreshadowing it lent this tale. It was impossible to not see the massive dark presence sweeping over him, off to partake in some unknown evil. I also appreciated the historical experience of a life where something as “simple” as a storm has the potential to end your life.
After stumbling across the scene of an incredible act of violence, Nate ends up in the company of Wolf, a traveling shaman who is on a quest of his own. The story takes off from here and doesn’t look back.
The atmosphere and the buildup of tension in this story is fantastic as you really get the sense that Nate and Wolf are about to face off against a powerful presence. There is also just the perfect level of graphic description to bring home the violence and danger they are inherently threatened with. I think that in order to be successful in the western genre, you really have to be able to communicate the constant hostility of the environment and I think Watson does this well.
I’m surprised that more western stories don’t veer in the direction of the supernatural as it seems like an intuitive jump to make. And in this case, it works great as Nate is slowly introdoced to a darkness under the surface in levels of existence that we can’t be aware of.
Both Wolf and Nate are great characters. They come off somewhat casually as they are introduced but as the story moves on, you see how strong and courageous they both are, warriors in their own right. And they are put to the test in this story in ways many others would have quickly turned away from. I also like that there are hints of rough backstories for both of them that I think would open doors for future stories, should the scribe choose to go in that direction.
It isn’t easy to write good and authentic fiction set during a historical period of time. It isn’t simply a matter of replacing cars with horses and have them wear hats. In the interviews for this book, both authors have referred to the importance that research plays in this genre and I think Watson has really done his work here. I took note as well of how he tries to make sure he hits a proper balance of research to story. While I refer to this as the Dan Brown effect, I also see authors who make too much of an effort to shoehorn their background work into the story and some scenes start to feel like sitting through a lecture at University. With Company Of The Dead, Watson perfectly threads the needle, using his research in ways to make the story feel authentic, as opposed to show off how much he knows about the time period.
In all, this was a fantastic novella. It was an incredibly fun book that I read several times for the purposes of doing these reviews. I am eagerly looking forward to volume two of Dark Frontiers as well as future material from both of these authors, whether it be of their own or in future collaborations.
Starting last week, we have been doing a feature on Dark Frontiers, a pair of novellas bridging the worlds of horror and westerns. We started with an interview with Benedict Jones as well as a review of his contribution to the book.
This week, we shift our focus to the other half of this team, Anthony Watson. Many will be familiar with Anthony from his work with Dark Minds Press but he has earned acclaim on his own as an author as well. Take a look as I sat down with Anthony to get at his process and craft as a writer. And make sure you tune in tomorrow for my review of his novella, The Company Of The Dead.
MM : First of all, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for us. Why don’t we start with a little about you and what led you to the craft of writing?
AW : No problem! And thank you for asking – and showing such an interest in Dark Frontiers.
By day (well, four days a week) I work in a pathology laboratory and spend most of my time looking down a microscope at cells to work out if people have cancer or are at risk of developing it. Home is the beautiful Northumbrian coast where I live with my wife Judith and our two dogs, an environment and landscape which can’t fail to inspire.
As to where the desire to write originated I’m not entirely sure but I do remember enjoying my English language classes at school before heading down the scientific path for my higher qualifications. Reading and films were – and remain – my main source of entertainment so I guess all that input has led to stimulating my imagination to such an extent that I have to let some of it out.
Without sounding too pretentious, (I hope), writing is something I need to do – just to get all the stuff out of my head. It’s my only real creative talent – I can’t draw and although I play the guitar the urge – or ability – to compose my own music just isn’t there. That said, I really enjoy the process of writing and it’s something I’ll continue to do irrespective of sales or success.
MM : What do you consider to be your genre and what do you feel draws you to it?
AW : Definitely horror. I write it because that’s what I’ve read the most of in the course of my life – which begs the question as to why I read horror. Again, it’s not something I really know the answer to but for whatever reason, horror seems to resonate with me. Reading for me is entertainment, an escape if you will and I think that’s what all genre fiction provides, creating worlds which are far-removed from the humdrum of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy provide the same kind of escape but I don’t get the same enjoyment from those genres as I do from horror. Quite what that says about me I’m not sure…
MM : You have a novel coming soon, Witnesses, to be put out by Crowded Quarantine Publications. Is there anything you’d like to share about that?
AW : Witnesses takes as its starting point the Book of Revelations in the bible – but don’t let that put you off – in particular the prophesies around the end of the world and the final battle of Armageddon. It’s made up of four narrative strands which are set in different locations and times; World War One Belgium; Virginia, USA in the 1940s; Penang, Malaysia in the 1970s; and present day North East England. The four storylines run parallel with each other and the narrative of the novel is fractured, moving back and forth between them as it progresses.
It’s maybe a risky approach but hopefully won’t be too confusing – the four strands are actually linked and the idea is that revelations in one strand will progress another of the narratives, and so on and so forth, unlocking the mystery of the novel piece by piece.
That’s the plan anyway.
I’m very excited about the release of Witnesses, and still can’t quite believe that I’m having a novel published. It is, to coin the cliché, a dream come true and I’m deeply appreciative of Adam and Zoe at CQP for showing faith in my book. I loved writing it and I hope readers enjoy it and can lose themselves in the world(s) I’ve created.
MM : You have had a fair amount of time performing the publisher role of things. How do you feel this has affected your process as a writer?
AW : In practical terms it curtailed the amount of time I had available to write. As you know yourself, the time it takes to get a book ready for publication is huge – most of that time being taken up by the formatting process which tends to be nothing less than frustrating and which brings out the worst features of the operating systems you’re trying to get to communicate with each other and, certainly in my experience, the person doing the formatting too.
That said, I’m immensely proud of all the books myself and Ross put out through Dark Minds Press and it was a real pleasure working with all the authors and artists to produce what will hopefully be recognised as a high quality range of books.
I enjoyed the editing process – it’s something which is much easier when you’re looking at someone else’s work but I think I’ve tried to transfer what I’ve learned through those experiences to my own writing.
I made the decision last year to leave Dark Minds simply because I no longer have the time to dedicate to it. The risk was that if I continued my loss of enthusiasm would lead to a substandard service for the authors we were working with. My experiences with Dark Minds have definitely increased my admiration for all the other small presses out there who are still producing great books.
MM : Turning to Dark Frontiers, what can you tell us about The Company of the Dead? How did this story come about?
AW : The Company of the Dead is a horror western novella and features the characters of Nate Lee, an ex-Confederate artilleryman who has decided to travel the country after the end of the Civil War who meets a Cherokee shaman, Wolf, on his travels. The pair find themselves caught up in a tale of revenge, with a shaman from a massacred tribe unleashing a company of zombie Union cavalrymen.
I’ve always been a fan of westerns, a huge part of my childhood was spent watching films and TV programmes set in the wild west and that love of the genre has carried through to the present. I love reading them too but had always felt nervous of trying one of my own, unsure as to whether or not I could pull it off.
It was while I was working on Ben’s collection Ride the Dark Country that I decided I’d have a go. His weird westerns inspired me to put pen to paper and, I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had. The words really did fly out and I rattled the novella off in record time (for me anyway).
The opening scene of the novella is based on the real events of Sand Creek in 1864 where the US army attacked and massacred a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho – mainly women and children. Those events formed the basis of the film Soldier Blue and I can still remember being intrigued by the film when it was released, scrutinising the posters and stills in the cinema and being frustrated that I was too young to go and see it. Later, it provided inspiration for a scene in Centennial, the TV series based on James A Michener’s novel (which I subsequently read twice) and it made a huge impact on me. I guess I’d been waiting all these years to write my own version.
MM : Personally, I think that horror and westerns make for great companions. There’s great potential for stories about isolation and of the unknown. Why do you think we don’t see more of it?
AW : I agree! America is still full of wide, open spaces but that was even more so the case back in the 1800s – the perfect landscape in which to hide all manners of horrors.
I’m really not sure why the weird western is still a relatively small sub-genre as there are some outstanding examples of it out there. Joe Lansdale has written some incredible horror westerns (and some incredible “straight” westerns too) and Willie Meikle has knocked a few out of the park too. It’s fair to say that some fans are a bit, well, protective of their chosen genre and maybe it’s the case that they don’t want it sullied by cross-pollination with others. It may be the worry that the stories will be neither one thing or the other, that the individual genre elements are diluted in the mix but personally I hold to the opposite view, that some kind of synergy occurs and the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.
MM : How do you go about preparing a story set in a historical time period? Is there anything you try to do or avoid in creating a story and characters that feel authentic but are also accessible for a modern audience?
AW : Lots of research. Which isn’t a problem because I love doing it and finding out more about the time period I’m setting the story in. There’s the risk, of course, of shoe-horning facts into the story and turning it into a history lesson (or doing a “Simmons” as I call it) and I’ve had to rein myself in more than once.
It’s important to get the details right though and I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be. I probably stress a little too much about getting things right – as Ben will testify given it’s usually him I’ll contact to check stuff.
I probably stress less over characters and stories given that I’ve found that really, very little has changed in terms of human behaviour over the centuries. Contemporary events usually echo those that have happened in the past so describing a massacre, a battle, a murder – whatever – from the past will resonate with modern readers.
It would be great if mankind learned from the past but unfortunately that seems to be a step too far.
MM : Is there going to be a volume two?
AW : Yes. We’ve just finished edits on A Lonely Place to Die which we wrote together. It’s a direct follow-up to The Company of the Dead and once again features Nate and Wolf, this time journeying across the High Sierras to California. En route, they meet up with the mountain man Tomahawk Val who is a character Ben has used in a number of his weird western shorts and together face a deadly, supernatural foe.
MM : What does the future bring for Anthony Watson?
AW : Long life and happiness hopefully. And hopefully a good reception for Witnesses.
With regards writing I’ve begun work on a second novel which will be another historical piece set in two time periods, 16th Century Russia and 1942, the latter action taking place in an Arctic convoy.
More immediately, I’ve been working with Ben again, creating a fictional special operations group from the Second World War called DAMOCLES whose role is to combat the occult machinations of the Nazis.
We’ve done most of the groundwork already, sorting out characters and the various missions we’ll be sending them on. What we’ll end up with is a collection of linked stories, one for each year of the war, with a grand finale novella set in 1945.
I’ll still write short stories and sub them for publication. A dream would be to have a collection published – with 36 stories under my belt so far there are certainly plenty to choose from!