The ramblings of a British author from somewhere down the pub...
Friday night. The end of another week.
Jill would rather be down the pub with her friends, but being a student often means taking the money whenever it’s offered. That means the odd babysitting job every now and then.
The Comptons are going out and have asked Jill to babysit their young son, William. An easy night’s work, if not exactly exciting. Even so, events soon suggest that not everything is quite right…
Perhaps it’s just the season.
The short, autumnal, days often make the evenings feel darker, lonelier. The growing darkness awakens that instinctive hunger in all living things, to seek out warmth and comfort so as to better ward against the last, chill breaths of a dying year.
We are but moths in the long dark of existence.
And so too are the dead.
Cinder is a short story of around 8,000 words that I wrote over the past few months. Yes, I wrote that slowly.
The tale itself is one of ghostly horror, although I don't consider it to be horrific. I often find that our senses have become overly saturated to the point that it is hard to define true horror anymore. If I had to come up with a single word I'd probably go with 'reality'.
I was recently asked what I found to be the hardest aspect of writing (other than actually trying to write). Without a doubt, it is tagging the genre. I never write with a solid genre in mind. I write the story I have and then struggle to fit it into the correct box, even when it screams out in frustration. In the end, I labelled Cinder as horror because it didn't like the other option I suggested and made it quite clear who was in charge.
If I were to write a suspense/thriller (which I wouldn't) I would probably be inclined to label it something else. Perhaps it's a case of over-reading. A bit like watching a film over and over. I read my work to death before releasing it and, by that time, it no longer feels quite the same. I have to leave it a good few months before I can read it again and smile. I do smile. Honest.
So, Cinder will be released on October 27th in both digital and paperback format.
In the meantime, here is a snippet from the first part of Cinder. Everything and nothing happens in the few lines I offer...
They both laughed.
It was Friday night and aside from a paper that was due, having already been extended from its previous deadline, a weekend of late night spliffs, copious amounts of red wine and sex awaited. It was hardly original; a mere extension of the past week’s activities, give or take a night or two.
Jill stuffed her hands into the pockets of her long coat as she stepped out into the November evening. A grey fog rolled aimlessly along the street, uncaring of those that passed through it. The last ragged breaths of the dying year.
She shivered as the cold slipped furtively beneath the thick skirt that she wore and caressed the pale skin of her purple and black stocking-clad legs. She stamped her booted feet loudly, both to shake away the cold and to get Callum to hurry up.
‘Sorry. I forgot my lighter,’ he said as he shut the door behind him, testing it twice to make sure that it was locked.
Jill lit a cigarette as she watched.
‘You should quit,’ she said, taking a long drag.
She rolled her eyes. ‘Come on. I need to get going.’
He stuck the key into the small pocket in his jeans and followed after, zipping his thick coat up as he did so.
‘Bloody hell.’ He stuffed his hands into his coat pockets.
The couple walked down the street. The fog parting somewhat reluctantly, perhaps in the fear that this would somehow hasten its demise. Jill’s hand slipped from her pocket and reached for Callum’s. Despite the cold, he removed his hand from the relative warmth of his coat and let his fingers intertwine with hers.
Two girls walked by with hushed whispers and sidelong glances. Pretty enough, in an unimaginative way. Jill eyed them both and offered a black-lipped smile completed by a silver ring. The girls quickened their pace until they felt a safe distance had been reached before they burst into laughter. She didn’t care. He smiled.
They reached the end of the road and stopped under the dim street lamp, their breath ghosting as they stood face to face. Worlds grew old and died as they stared into each other’s eyes and then they embraced. Their tongues entwined as they shared in their warmth before reluctantly parting.
‘I’ll be late.’
‘Then be late.’
The fog swirled about them as they nuzzled each other beneath the wavering street light. An old lady carrying shopping walked by, but neither noticed the smile of remembrance that stole away her frown. The fog wavered, torn between the now and the memory of what was.
‘Come on. I’ll walk with you.’
‘What about the pub?’
‘It’s fine. I’ll only be about ten minutes late. We’re off down The Rising Sun first and then up to the Crown or the Baker’s. Something like that.’
She wrapped his arm around her and they staggered off down the road, the fog in tow. It was easily a thirty-minute walk, possibly longer if they stopped in the park for a quick shag in the bushes. They quickened their pace.
‘I’m going to be late.’
Jill grinned and ran laughing across the park green, Callum following after as he fumbled with his belt. He caught her hand and pulled her close to him, marvelling at the contrast between her crow-black hair and pale skin. He kissed her black lips deeply and then they dashed out of the park and across the road.
‘I hate this.’
He tightened his grip on her hand and flashed her a smile.
The road crawled up a wooded hill towards the houses beyond. Although it only took about ten minutes to reach the top, it always seemed longer at night. They passed by the dilapidated bus shelter, silent and neglected amongst the tall trees, and started up the hill.
About half way up, a street lamp peeked from beneath its ivy-shroud, the weak illumination revealing a gate of wrought-iron. He felt her hand clench tighter.
The black gate led to a little graveyard; its long-forgotten stones overgrown and entangled. A lonely little path cut bravely between the shadowy trees, winding in between the old stones. Yet even the path seemed to grow hesitant the further it went from the gate. Eventually, it petered out, succumbing to the tangle of weeds and long grasses, content to remain hidden from whatever lurked in the dark.
He flicked her another smile, but she did not catch it. Her dark eyes, heavily framed with black eyeliner, remained fixed upon the dark trees; wary and watchful.
Ta-dah! A Bump in the Night… the book trailer!
After much ado, I can finally say that A Bump in the Night is now available!
So… what’s it about?
Despite the title, A Bump in the Night is not a horror story. It’s not going to scare you (it really isn’t – but it might make you laugh). It is not even a ghost story, but rather a story about ghosts and death…
“Being dead can be hard.
In the past, it was all rattling chains and white sheets. Now, it is all mortgages and unpaid bills.
Mr Snaggle and Mr Snuffle, Arbitrators for the Quick and the Dead, find themselves coming to the aid of an old friend, Mr Bump, formerly known as Mr Grym, Lurker-under-the-Bed-and-Frequenter-of-Wardrobes (or just Charon to his close friends).
Together, they must come up with a plan to prevent Mr Bump from fading. Of course, a cunning plan is never easy to come up with, but with the help of a few beers, a young girl, and an unfortunate victim, they might just pull it off… or will they?
Not everything that goes bump in the night is the stuff of nightmare… sometimes, the dead have nightmares themselves!”
I originally wrote A Bump in the Night back in 2000 for a UK-based magazine. The magazine was going to print the novella in 3-parts but then passed it up for something else and so the story ended up in the rejected pile at the bottom of my drawer. Until now.
The novella, set in England circa 1997, will likely appeal to those that enjoy fantasy, humour, long sentences and historical references. Some have done me the honour of saying it had a Dickensian feel to it and others pointing to hints of Terry Pratchett or Susanna Clarke (her excellent “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” being a favourite of mine). I can only hope!
If such references help you, the reader, get a feel for what A Bump in the Night is then there you go. Of interest to some, all the places in the story do (or did) exist… especially the pubs!
Here’s a sample from the first chapter…
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that,” said the elderly man as he read aloud to himself from the armchair by the window.
He was finely attired with a short maroon frock-coat with grey check trousers and what appeared to be a dull-coloured wool waistcoat. A purple cravat finished the white, open-neck shirt visible beneath his waistcoat. Set to one side on a reading table was a silk top hat, black. On first glance, the old man appeared quite the gentleman, even if the garments he wore did look as if they had seen better days. Yet despite the respectable manner in which he was dressed, there was very little at all that could be considered gentlemanly about his hair, if hair indeed it was. A writhing mass of grey and white that seemed to pop out at all angles covered the elderly man’s head. Every now and then a coil would twist and turn, knotting itself into such a state before releasing once more with a life entirely of its own.
The elderly man’s name was Mr Snaggle and he was busy savouring his favourite book, in his favourite armchair, that sat upstairs within the little private library on a lane just off Watergate Street, in the fair city of Chester. He had been going there for many a year, every day without fail, come rain or shine. Even death had not managed to stop him. You see, Mr Snaggle was a ghost.
Actually, he had been a ghost for quite some time, so Death really did not have much of a say in things (although they did have heated discussions from time to time regarding the fate of Edwin Drood). Mr Snaggle was much older than his late Victorian garb would suggest to the casual observer, if anyone could actually see him that is, which, of course, they could not (with the notable exception of animals - children included). He had officially died back in 1265 after Simon de Montfort had convinced him and five thousand others to run up Green Hill and die in the slaughter that historians would refer to as the Battle of Evesham. He could still remember Montfort’s disembodied spirit sheepishly shrugging, “Sorry about that, lads…”.
All in all, he was old.
Beyond the small window, at the end of the little lane, the busy streets of Chester clattered and roared to the sound of cars and buses. People sounded their horns and the general chatter of voices, although muffled by the glass, could still be faintly heard. A car passed down the lane, taking a sly shortcut to avoid the traffic, its radio blaring with the shrill sounds of a woman singing (or being strangled). The car passed by and silence fell upon the little reading room.
Mr Snaggle appeared as an English gentleman from a bygone era simply because he enjoyed it. Ever since he had died he had always felt a little ‘out of place’. The 16th century had had its moments as had the 18th, but it was not until the winds of change swept away the Georgian era and the Victorian one eventually took hold that he really felt comfortable. Those glorious years of the mid and late 19th century had been the most memorable, indeed, for all the time he had been incorporeal. It was for that reason that Mr Snaggle continued to ‘dress’ as he did. It had sort of ‘grown’ on him.
Mr Snaggle looked about the little room in which he sat. He was alone. Just the way he liked it. It really was a most unpleasant experience when someone just wandered in unannounced and then proceeded to sit on you. He found it terribly rude. People of the present day and age had grown decidedly casual in their respect for the dead, which of course they should not, for they too would be dead themselves someday.
Mr Snaggle set the book down next to his hat. He loved Dickens’ little story. He could still recall the very first evening that he had dropped by to visit the young boy, back in those faded days before he had matured into the writer the world would remember him as. If truth be told, Mr Snaggle had often wondered why it was he had been so drawn to that little back attic in Lant Street. Perhaps it had been the child’s own voracious appetite for reading or perhaps it had been a premonition of what the future held. He had certainly never thought that the boy possessed the flair with which to last throughout the decades until the present age. A remarkable talent indeed. One could almost consider that Dickens had, in a manner, become one of the very ghosts he had written about, living on through film and the numerous television adaptations of his works.
Now, although Mr Snaggle thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Christmas Carol’, he had never been overly fond of the first two spirits; they were rather too jolly for his liking. The ghost of Christmas Future, now that was a real ghost, the sort of ghost that you could rely upon to get the job done. Yes indeed, a ghost like that would be able to scare anyone half-to-death in no time, or maybe just frighten them plain cold dead, depending upon what circumstances required and whatnot. Mr Snaggle used to have an old friend like that (older than himself by far), dependable sort, rather handy with a boat too. The problem was, everyone seemed to confuse him with Death, on account of his cadaverous appearance and wardrobe preference. A simple case of mistaken identity, but tremendously frustrating for the poor fellow. The last time that they had met had been in a creaky wardrobe in Paris, on a cold October morning in 1853. At the time, he had been going by the name of Mr Grym.
Mr Snaggle was just reaching for his book again when Marley, the library’s large tabby cat, plopped itself down on the table and hissed at him. That the cat was named after a character that Mr Snaggle was particularly fond of only served to strengthen his dislike for the feline.
Mr Snaggle narrowed his eyes at the cat. “Disturb me, would you? Have you forgotten so soon when last you saw fit to interrupt me?” he asked, voice tinged with polite irritation. Mr Snaggle was, after all, a gentleman even if he was dead.
The cat seemed not to care for it hissed once again before dashing across the table, knocking Mr Snaggle’s book onto the floor in the process.
“Blast you, cat! I’ll make you regret that, you just see if I don’t!” said Mr Snaggle, shaking his fist with ghostly lividity. The cat stopped at the far end of the room before looking back, rather too smugly Mr Snaggle thought, and then hissing at him once more for good measure. Mr Snaggle leapt to his feet and stamped his foot. The cat turned away and bolted through the doorway, scaring poor Ms Wycombe half witless as she entered the little room.
“Good gracious!” she said, as she clutched the door frame for support. “I swear that one day that cat will be the death of me.”
Ms Wycombe was the chief librarian of the private library and had been so for some fifty years or thereabouts. Actually, she was the only librarian as the building had gradually been forced to move its volumes to other premises or larger libraries over the years and now it only consisted of three floors and five small rooms.
Mr Snaggle, while none too fond of librarians in general, had to admit (at least in private) that he was rather fond of Ms Wycombe. He had seen many librarians since the building had first housed private books in 1614 as an offshoot from the cathedral library. Most of them he had forgotten, some of them he had positively despised, and a great many of them he had helped to scare away. One in particular, being a Mr Carmichael, who had been employed in 1790, had proven to be one of the most extremely vexing men Mr Snaggle had ever had the misfortune to meet; always rearranging the books or moving the chairs around the library with no apparent thought whatsoever. After several months of that, Mr Snaggle had decided enough was enough and took action to ensure Mr Carmichael’s swift departure.
As for Ms Wycombe, well, he could distinctly remember the first day she had started at the library, stepping hesitantly through the front door as a young girl of seventeen. Very prim-and-proper and a tad plain of face it had to be said, but when one looked closer they could see the beauty beneath the hard-rimmed glasses and the scraped-back hair. That lustrous hair, once as black as a moonless night, now had thousands of silver strands woven through it that caught the light like stars.
She had never changed in all that time. Never married either, although she had almost been so. Her fiancé had died during the second great war of the age; during the Battle of Monte Cassino if Mr Snaggle remembered correctly. The devastated young man had stopped by to visit a heart-broken Ms Wycombe in the weeks after. A pleasant enough fellow, Mr Snaggle recalled, but his ghost, like so many others that died during those years of tribulation, had not lasted for very long. Few of them ever did. Sadly, Ms Wycombe had never even known the poor chap was there.
Unlike your average ghost story, where everything goes bump in the night, it was extremely hard for the dead to communicate with the Quick; as the dead often referred to those amongst the living. It took an inordinate amount of time, patience, and practice. Mr Snaggle had known ghosts that had spent decades trying to whisper just one solitary word to a loved one only to then find that their intended had passed away years before. In truth, it was rare that a spirit should last more than a few days, before crossing to the other side. Death liked to keep a tidy schedule. There were always those that moaned about not being ready, or claimed that they still had something to do or somewhere to be. Death did not like these ones much. They left little red circles on his schedule with a question mark by the side. Still, Death was nothing if not fair and he liked to play by the rules (although playing cards with him was a different matter altogether). None were ever forced to leave, but the reluctant were always reminded that only by resolving their ties to the living could they know peace.
Of course, none could stay indefinitely. Death did not allow it. Even the most tormented spirit would fade with the passing of years, as the chains that once bound them to the world crumbled and became shadows themselves. People forgot. Buildings crumbled. Keepsakes were lost. The dead… faded. When the Quick liked to laugh about a fate worse than death… well, that was it. Fading.
Despite all of this, and perhaps not unexpectedly, there were exceptions to the rules; as there always were in matters of life and death. Mr Snaggle was one of them.
Mr Snaggle snapped out of his reverie. He was prone to that at times, just like he always seemed to be forgetting things of late. One day he could quite clearly remember Henry VIII’s chamber at the Palace of Placentia, right down to the notches upon the bedpost, and then the next he would forget which Henry was which. Then there was…
Mr Snaggle paused in his pacing. It was a habit he had developed over the centuries. Now, what had he been thinking about? Henry… beheading… ah yes, the cat! Marley. Yes, he would be sure to hand out a suitable punishment to that intolerable creature when he next crossed paths with it.
“Oh!” Ms. Wycombe shivered, just as if someone had stepped over her grave. In truth, she had just happened to step upon Mr Snaggle’s foot and he was now limping about the reading room muttering curses about tabby cats and librarians.
Mr Snaggle snatched up his top-hat and watched as Ms Wycombe picked the fallen book up from the floor and set it back on the shelf under ‘D’ before leaving the room. How frustrating. Had she no idea how much effort he had expended just to get the book off the shelf in the first place? Blast and bother. “Well, since I am clearly to have no peace whatsoever it seems only fitting that I ruin someone else’s day.”
Mr Snaggle was just thinking of where Marley might have run off too when he heard a polite cough. Mr Snaggle, hair squirming as it squeezed itself from beneath the top hat, tugged at his equally lively handlebar moustache and turned to greet his guest. It was his old friend, Mr Snuffle.
“Good afternoon, Mr Snaggle,” said Mr Snuffle.
“Good afternoon, Mr Snuffle,” said Mr Snaggle.
Mr Snaggle and Mr Snuffle were quite similar in more ways than just being dead. Besides sharing a fondness for darkened parlours and Victoriana, they had also shared the same fate. Somewhat ironically, as Death often was, Mr Snuffle had died fifteen months earlier, in 1264, whilst also running up a hill. On that fateful occasion, it was during the Battle of Lewes; fighting against the baronial forces of Simon de Montfort. Despite dying on opposite sides, Mr Snuffle and Mr Snaggle had forged a lasting friendship that had spanned the centuries. They also shared a penchant for tea, thunderstorms, and terrifying budgerigars.
Mr Snuffle was dressed… (continued)
A brief excerpt from "Glade" (due 2106).
The book will be divided into three parts. This fragment will appear within in part one.
I won’t explain who, where, and why. It is, as I say, just a snippet that I enjoyed and thought I’d share. It’s sung to the tune of the nursery rhyme, “Pop! Goes the Weasel”.
Incidentally, I was listening to the “Showtime, Storytime” live album by Nightwish as I wrote the 2000 or so words that included the fragment above (with the tracks “My Sin”, “Ever Dream”, “I Want My Tears Back”, “Nemo”, “Last of the Wilds”, and “Amaranth” featuring prominently in replays).
It’s not always the lyrics, but more often the tune that serves as my muse. The little people in my head busily shift the scenery back and forth upon stage as the music changes and I see the kaleidoscope of images flash in my mind…