Monday, 2 May 2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Cover Ideas

This week I've been messing around with cover ideas for my next book, They Move Below - a short story collection, mostly psychological horror but with some monster tales. I thought I'd maybe work one up as a final version, or use it as a concept for a professional cover designer. Prototypes are scrappy and badly composited but vital for ruling things out. In fact, I've probably created over 100 images in the last few days, most of them quickly filed away as experience. (The horror jellyfish-eyed woman ended up making me laugh when I realised it just looked like she had googly eyes.)

There are many challenges. Finding the right ideas and images is just one of them; then there is a need for creativity and technical know-how. I also have to try and tick as many of the boxes as I can:

1. Must be creepy/ominous/say horror.
2. Ideally combines beauty and ugliness (think Marilyn Manson).
3. Hints at some of the stories (especially the title one - about a big jellyfish) without going overboard (HA!) on details.
4. Works as a thumbnail.
5. Probably needs some human interest - face, person, eyes etc.
6. Hints at things, movement, or stuff going on "below" (the body, the skin, the mind, the sea, the stars, the earth etc).
7. Possibly a format that can be repeated for other dark books I write (and maybe retro-fitted to Turner). This feature is not too important though.

Okay, bearing all that in mind and that these are just frantic whip-ups to try out ideas using placeholder images (I'll licence proper ones later), I'm interested in any feedback on which people like, or don't; or even just aspects of them (e.g. if you like the colours or effect in one, or the layout). Which ones work for you? Any feedback at all, good or bad, full or partial, is very much welcomed! You can comment below or contact me via any of the usual channels in the contact menu. No doubt I'll hate all these by tomorrow and start another set of designs! Prototyping can go on for a while. Lastly - I haven't bothered adding typography to them yet, since there are so many options there that I don't want to sway opinion. I'm just interested in the ideas, layouts, colours, and so on. Off we go. I'll include notes on what I was getting at. Probably you'd never have guessed.

1. Like some deep-sea creature caught on infra-red scanner; 
UFO ship on infra-red; jellyfish; horror sperm; contraceptive device; 
attempt to create a WTF? moment. 
I have a few variants of this.

2. Lots of space for text. 
It's actually a jellyfish, but hints at the alien story; 
maybe a scan of a body showing weird brain tissue below the surface.

3. Again, lots of space for text. 
Like a scan of interior body structure; alien; jellyfish; 
(it is actually coloured ink drops in water).

4. Various ones like this. 
Hints of body tissue/blood; weird flesh (like the alien story); jellyfish. 
I don't really like this idea.

5. Similar to 4 in some ways. 
UFO orbiting a planet; jellyfish in sea; 
weird virus in bloodstream.

6. Old Skool! Hearkens back to retro horror. 
Idea of images related to some of the stories 
(with proper composition, but it captures the idea/style).

7. The image that triggered the retro idea for 6.

8. I did a few of these. A bit silly, maybe.

9. As above. More laughter than horror.

10. Playing with the "hollow head" idea. One of the stories is called Web, about a woman obsessed with spiders and possibly a bit mental in thinking her husband is a large spider under the skin; general idea of nastiness moving beneath the surface.

11. A variant of 10. Maybe the image from 14
would be better reflected in her eyes?

12. Being a bit more subtle. Is that a caress? 
Stark light and intense focus, matching some
of the stories which include disturbed women.

13. As 12, but less subtle. I'd want the shapes to flow more.

14. Playing with creepy faces in the shadows. 
The image started out with lots of detail and a very pretty lady.

15. An expansion of 14. Maybe a bit too reminiscent of vampires and nosferatu. 
One of the stories is about vampires but I think I'm drifting from my goals here.

16. A jellyfish swimming down, or an alien eye. 
I like the image but think it would confuse people about the type of book it is.

17. The first image I did today. Jellyfish tentacles. 
Also a bit like roots reaching down into the ground maybe.

18. A development of 17. Blue is colder, like sea, or night-time. Is she dead or sleeping or waiting? Under water or dreaming? Jellyfish or alien? (One of the stories has an alien with tentacles round the mouth). Something reaching down for her, or something from space trying to pull her up? (Harvest Festival story).

19. Just 18 flipped vertically to see if that changes things. 
A face submerged in a pool of water that has nastiness below the surface?

All comments and feedback welcome. I numbered the images to make it easier. Thanks!


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


I sometimes write about games. Usually computer games, though I am obsessed with boardgames too, and am surprised that I haven't written about them.

Here are some posts about computer games.
And a new tag for games.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Monday, 18 April 2016

Why You Should Read Shakespeare Today – A Personal Article

Shakespeare. I groaned when they mentioned his plays at school. What relevance did a dead beardy-bloke have for me? Fast forward to college, where I had to study Othello and As You Like It for my English A level. At first they seemed so alien. Strange words! Quaint constructions! But in my class we would recite it aloud, different students playing different parts. Sure, we weren’t actors. We struggled with ye olde language. But in the interaction, and timing, and sound, we started to understand drama.

Then we suggested standing at the front to read out, rather than sitting behind our desks.

And we enjoyed it.

And we laughed.

And became characters.

And we understood.

And suddenly it was time for me to write an extended essay as a key assessed piece. The longest thing I’d ever written. I toyed with writing about horror, but was told it would not be “literary” enough. So I chose to write about island fiction, and how it explored human nature. Two of the three texts were obvious choices. Lord Of The Flies: a sneaky way of slipping horror into my essay. Robinson Crusoe: a book I hated but which was a gold mine for an essay like this. My third choice? I surprised myself by choosing a Shakespeare play. That’s how much my opinions had reversed! The Tempest, with its enslaved natives (Caliban) versus “civilised” invaders. I read it again and again, usually out loud. The play spoke to me about life.

Sometimes when we encounter new cultures for the first time we recoil. We may think they seem too alien, and it will take too much effort. But we are wrong! Brains can do many amazing things. Learning, and familiarisation, and adaptation are some of them. Thanks for teaching me that lesson, Shakes old pal!

Shakespeare became an obsession. I borrowed his complete works from the library, and during the summer holidays I read them cover to cover. Every play. Every sonnet. It wasn’t a chore, it was fun. By the end I could slip into Shakespearean tongue at the drop of a hat. (Which didn’t go down well at my local pub. People stopped dropping hats.)

Shakespeare continued to affect me, often in retrospect. Is it pure chance that my first novel, a horror, was set on an island during a storm; that a powerful “civilised” family had enslaved the locals; that things are disrupted by strangers arriving on the island; that it includes a theme about the power of words, and one chapter begins with the quote at the head of this article? No. Shakespeare’s stories had stuck in my mind: influences ferment over time, and come out in new and interesting ways. That’s the most a writer can ever hope for.

The things of greatest value require a bit of effort, but it pays off. If you’re new to Shakespeare then read the notes alongside the text, so that you pick it up quicker. Read it aloud (ideally with friends), and lose your inhibitions, and laugh, and imbue words with life. You’ll find entertainment, and stories, and drama, and see that some things haven’t changed. We’re all connected.

[The article above was originally published on OpenBooks, via commission.]

“Keep clear of the moors”, they said in The Slaughtered Lamb. Unfortunately Desdemona wasn’t given the same advice.

Othello is a man of power, a masterful strategist, who uses language with intricacy and authority: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.” Yet he is also prone to suspicion and pride. Good and bad qualities, a mix all the best characters share. But the subtly evil Iago spreading poison from the wings illustrates how weak the foundations of life can be. Modern horror and thrillers have a debt to pay to Othello.

So foul and fair a play I have not seen. Dig beneath the melodrama of witches and cauldrons; look past a Thane of Cawdor brought low by wordplay; then you will find ambition and madness laid bare in The Scottish Play. Lady Macbeth pulls the strings of power, but that lust curses all it touches. Those at the top scheme behind false-friend facades, and the commoners pay the real price. Royalty, politicians, corporations – things may not be so different today. “What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?”


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Historical Versus Contemporary

Image by Mysticsartdesign via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

When is a book historical, and when is it contemporary?

I've struggled with this. My last two novels (Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes) were written since 2013, so in one sense are contemporary. But both are set in the year 2000. Is that old enough to be historical? When does the date of writing take precedence over the date of the novel's action? What if a novel covers the present and the past: is it half historical, half contemporary? I have no answers except to conclude that all categories break down in the liminal regions, though that makes me all the more determined to explore them. What do you think? If you come up with any definite answers I'd love to know!

Just in case you wonder why I set the novels in 2000: around that year I worked in Manchester. The Haçienda had closed a couple of years before, so things were on a downer. I decided to set the novels then because 2000 was a funny time - I never understood the reasons why people thought the world would be different just because a number ticked over in an arbitrary dating system. I decided to focus on the one thing that could change - the life of an individual. So two stories came out of it, both about love and taking control of your life.