I love stories. There are
those who would claim I have to say that, otherwise I’m in the wrong game. But
I genuinely do: either, writing, reading, telling or listening to them.
better than putting your feet up in front of the fire on a winter’s night, a
bottle of wine by your side and a book at your disposal. Outside, the
blistering rain hits the windows, draughts creep around the building, with
unexpected sounds giving the house a life of its own. Inside, the television is
off, the stereo is low, the room is warm, and you’re alone with your book – a
mood of tranquility pervades.
have a number of like-minded friends and I was recently given the chance to
join three of them for a weekend break, deep in the heart of The Yorkshire
Dales. The log cabin nestled in the woods with a large lake at the end of the
garden. Given that it was summer, the weather was agreeable, so we took
advantage of the patio complete with barbeque, chimnea and halogen lights. All we
needed to provide was alcohol and food.
three friends consisted of my webmaster, Iain, and his wife, Julie, and a
friend of mine called Emma. What usually happens with people in such situations
is they eventually start relating campfire stories, which are almost always
ghost stories. Before long no one wants to leave the table or part company from
the rest in case something is lurking in the darkened recesses. But it didn’t
take that turn. It almost became an impromptu interview, when each of them tried
to think of a question I have never been asked.
was curious because I thought they had set themselves a real task. Not so,
Julie opened the questions with an absolute beauty:
you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be, and why?”
a right question,” I replied, taking a sip of wine, confirming without doubt
that I had never been asked that one before.
“But are you going to answer
it?” she added, cheekily, thinking she had me.
I had to think about it. I was
pleased it wasn’t a live radio interview. After I’d replenished everyone’s
glasses, here’s what I said:
“I think it would have to be
“Great name,” replied Emma,
“so tell us who he is.”
“It was a character I featured
in a short story called, Lost and Found, eventually published as part of
a collection entitled A Devil’s Dozen by Double Dragon.
“You guys all know me well
enough by now to know I’ve always been a big fan of the mysterious: stories
with twist endings that surprise you because you never saw it coming. Back in
the 60’s, there was no shortage of that kind of stuff on the TV. I remember The
Outer Limits. It used to open with the line ‘Do not adjust your TV set…’
That gripped me. Alfred Hitchcock had his own series. Boris Karloff presented
something called The Veil, and Out Of This World, the latter
being a series I have never laid my hands on.
“Don’t think I remember that
one,” said Iain, “the others I do, and what about The Twilight Zone.”
“I was just coming to that –
my all-time favourite. I think Rod Serling wrote some of the stories and
hand-picked others. I have so much respect for that level of imagination. My story all started from a
conversation I once had with a colleague. I told him I was collecting all the
episodes on DVD. He said to me, ‘Do you know, I’ve seen loads of them, and
never seen the same one twice.’ Neither have I, I thought…
I even gave my story a Twilight Zone opening:
“Witness Luther Grant, a
loner, 61 years of age. He has a moderate inheritance and a care free life,
most of which he’s spent collecting things he holds dear, much as we all do. At
present, he’s testing his knowledge to its limit on America’s most popular game
show. Luther has no family and no one he would define as close. But he does
have a strong will and a very sharp mind. He’s also very determined. A trait
that’s going to lead him into unfamiliar territory…”
“Lost & Found paid homage to Rod Serling, and his
series. So, to answer your question, I would
love to be Luther Grant, because in that story he was given something that
every film buff, or author, or even admirer of that kind of fiction or TV – the
trip of a lifetime. I might even be prepared to settle for what happened to
“Which was?” asked Emma.
“I could tell you but I’d have to kill you.”
“In other words, buy the book.”
We all laughed at that reply.
Little time passed before Iain decided to ask his, and what he basically
did was flip the previous question on its head.
would you not want to be?”
Another good question.
“Most of them,” I laughed. When you think that I write
either crime fiction or horror you wouldn’t want to be in many of their shoes.
“The quick answer would be, D.I. Gardener: using my real
life friend who is a D.I. in the murder squad in North Yorkshire as an example.
He sees and deals with things I can only experience in my worst nightmares –
and then write about. Strangely enough, that’s what he calls me, his worst
nightmare. Every time he sees an email from me in his inbox he runs a mile and
hides for an hour or two.
“The correct answer would be a lady called Sonia Knight from
the upcoming IMP series book, Implant. There are definitely two very
intense horrific scenes that fall into the scary category. They instill a sense
of fear in the creeping-dread-of-what-is-about-to-happen sense. Both victims
are isolated but they are treated in very different ways. With one, it’s a long
drawn out affair in which the victim is held captive, and being forced – in a
unique way – to part with information.
The other is from a scene set in the waiting room of a small
country railway station. I take quite a bit of time throughout the novel to
explain the gentle, rural setting where life is lived at a slower pace, with a
serene, small-town, yesteryear feeling. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I
describe what I believe to be an extremely spine tingling situation that the
police are faced with. All along, you instinctively know that no matter what
they do – or attempt to do – things are going to end very badly for the victim.
Hopefully, the rising panic the scene invokes causes a sense of fright in the
dreaded anticipation of what is coming.”
something wrong with you,” said Emma.
something I don’t know, but you all knew that before you came here,” I replied.
“Even while I was writing it I could see and sense it all perfectly, and
despite what I was doing, and the fact that I
was also starting to inwardly feel uncomfortable, I couldn’t stop myself. I
wanted to make sure that everyone who reads that scene feels as I did – or
maybe even as stressed out as the victim.”
“See what I
mean,” said Emma, to the rest of them.
a new bottle of wine while I threw a few more logs on the chimnea. Once she’d
filled everyone’s glass she asked her question.
“With that in mind, where on Earth do you come up with your
ideas for disposing of people?”
What could I say? Yet another cracking question, and one I
genuinely cannot answer in all honesty.
One of the biggest influences on my writing is a man called
Graham Masterton, the author of some really excellent horror novels like Mirror,
Night Warriors, Black Angel, The Burning and a whole host
of others. For me, it all started with The Manitou: a story about the
re-birth of a Native American Medicine Man. It was the location for the
re-birth that blew my mind – in someone else’s body! It was full of myths and
legends, and Masterton was weaving fact and fiction together quite seamlessly.
One of Masterton’s un-nerving talents is the ability to
dispose of his victims in the most horrendous ways. The darkest, visually
inventive scene I ever read, happened to a victim in a book called The
Doorkeepers, who was connected to something called The Holy Harp. Believe
me you do not want to be in that contraption. I found myself influenced by that
scene when I wrote Sonia Knight’s demise. I think I was trying to outdo him.
So there we have it, the weekend finally ended with someone
asking a question that I had real difficulty in answering.
Implant is available here in the UK (only 99p) and here in the US (only 99c).