Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Homage to Women in Horror – Part 3

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

And so we come to the final post in my three-part tribute to women horror writers.

Several of my fellow horror hounds over on the AbsoluteWrite forum have also been honouring Women in Horror Month, so this week I’d like to give them a shout-out. Go check out their blogs, because they are all worth a read.

Rhoda Nightingale: Rhoda’s ‘Glitter and Gore’ blog does what it says on the tin, and she has several posts paying tribute to Women in Horror.

Damien Walters Grintalis: Damien has a lot of guest posts for Women in Horror month on her blog, including one from me. Do read the post about Ripley from the ‘Alien’ movies, by Molly Tanzer.  She makes some jolly good points.

Brittany Maresh: On her blog, Brittany has listed the female horror writers who have inspired her at different stages of her life.

Tracy Pittman: Tracey’s ‘Flying With Broken Wings’ blog pays tribute to more female horror writers, and she also explains why she writes horror.

As we come to the end of Women in Horror month, I’m aware that I’ve barely scratched the surface in naming women horror writers, even counting all the links that my fellow Horror Hounds have posted.  We are to be found everywhere, we women in horror, and we are a much larger force than people might think.

Ladies of horror, remember to say it loud:  “I am a woman.  I write horror.  I am proud.”


Monday’s Friend: Toni V Sweeney

Today I am pleased to have prolific writer Toni V Sweeney on my blog.

Carrying a Theme through Several Generations
By Toni V Sweeney

One thing about writing about a dynasty, it covers a lot of territory and a whole lot of people…centuries of events…millennia of generations… I took the easy way out. I decided to write about the beginning and the end of a dynasty—the rule of the kan Ingans of the Emeraunt Galaxy. My series, The Chronicles of Riven the Heretic (BLOODSEEK, BLOOD CURSE, A SINGING IN THE BLOOD, and BARBARIAN BLOOD ROYAL, and soon to come, THE MAN FROM CYMENE) told of the kan Ingans’ origins. My series, The kan Ingan Archives, told of their inglorious end thirty-one hundred years later. The series didn’t start out that way, but–as usual with characters with which I have more than one dealing, familiarity bred contempt—and Aric kan Ingan and his Black Shield friends yanked the book out of my hot little hands, and, in their superiorly militant way, took over. If they’d let me handle things, the story might have ended differently; then again, knowing my penchant for Unhappily-Ever-After endings, it might have been worse! As it stands now…

Family sagas are a lot of work because you have to keep track not only of the characters’ names and physical appearances, but also of their ages, especially if each novel encompasses a number of years. Sometimes it’s easier to make a tangible chart, a family tree or spreadsheet with all the relationships, ages, etc., so it can be referred to from time to time. In SINNER, the main character, Aric, goes from age 20 to 30; the second novel (tentatively titled EXILE) opens ten years later and covers five years of his life. In the third novel (RETURN), at the age of 46, Aric comes back to to his home planet, much to his enemies’ dismay. When Aric left, the woman he will eventually wed was six-years-old. When he meets her again in the third book, she’s 22, and his decision to marry her scandalizes his best friend because he’s now twice her age. To add insult to injury, she’s also the best friend’s niece and he’s only five years older than she though he’s 15 years younger than Aric! Confused yet? Age plays a very important part in these stories so I had to keep close tabs on how old everyone was and when.


What is all this leading to? To the promo for my new book. SINNER, the story of a man who falls in love with the wrong woman. (Don’t they all?) A man who was destined to be the most powerful person in the galaxy until Cupid skewered him with one of those little darts. A man accused of committing a crime and unable to prove himself innocent because to do so would reveal he’s committed an ever greater crime. It’s got plenty of love, sex, and violence. In other words, it’s a real winner!

Check it out.

Blood Sin is available from Double Dragon Publishing.

Watch the trailer here:

Toni V. Sweeney was born some time between the War Between the States and the Gulf War. She has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains. Her first novel was published in 1989. An accomplished artist as well as writer, she has a degree in Fine Art and a diploma in Graphic Art and produces videos as well as writing. Toni maintains a website for herself and her pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone, and has been associated with the South Coast Writer’s Association, the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers, several other writer’s loops, myspace, Facebook, and YouTube. She has currently had her 30th book published.

My Life In Books: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Everything changes when one hits puberty. The grown-ups do tell you this – but no one, at 10 years old, can fully comprehend how much is going to change in the next couple of years. The physical, psychological, mental and emotional changes that you experience in just a few short years are completely overwhelming. No wonder teenagers get a bit stroppy.

The enduring popularity of Judy Blume is that her books are there to help you through the Hell that is puberty – because her characters are going through what you are going through, and you feel she understands. Unlike all other grown ups, who of course couldn’t ever have been young enough to experience puberty…

Grade 6 was the year that this book made the rounds amongst all the girls in my class. It was also the year all the boys had to leave the room while the girls had to watch the film about periods. A bit late in the day, in my opinion, but maybe things have changed nowadays. Nevertheless, this book is as relevant now as it was then, to girls on the brink of puberty.

Margaret is coming up to 12 when she moves to a new city with her parents. An only child of parents who eloped, because one was Jewish and one was Christian and her grandparents did not approve of the match, she has grown up without any particular religious doctrine. But as she hits puberty, part of the process of discovering who she is involves exploring the concept of God.

Margaret and her friends start a club where they talk about boys. They practise kissing on posters. They are all anxious to start their periods – no one wants to be the last to experience this formal passage into womanhood. They all go off to buy their first bras, and worry about not having anything to fill them. And Margaret talks to God about all of her worries – things she feels she can’t talk to anyone else about.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it demonstrates that 12-year-old girls really haven’t changed at all in the generations since it was written. I identified with it because at 11/12 I worried about the same things Margaret did. I’m sure I wasn’t the only girl who decided to try out the exercise that Margaret and her friends engage in to improve the chest muscles – holed up in the bedroom, pulling my arms back vigorously, chanting “I must, I must, I must imcrease my bust” as the characters in the book did. I really should have looked at the long line of generously endowed women in my mother’s family and realised that genes would take care of this problem for me, with a little patience. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the anxieties of the adolescent seem like the end of the world at the time, even though in the grand scheme of things these problems are pretty trivial.

The only thing that dates this book is the fact that the sanitary towels Margaret buys in secret to practise using, so that when she has need of them she’ll know what to do, are the kind with loops attached to a belt around one’s waist, which haven’t been available for many years now.

Judy Blume said she wrote this based on many of her own experiences and feelings in adolescence. They resounded with me as a pre-teen, and I have no doubt that they still resound with today’s pre-teenage girls. Sometimes I feel old when I see today’s teens. But sometimes, books like this serve to remind me that some things don’t change at all.

Homage to Women in Horror – Part 2

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Continuing my tribute to Women in Horror Month, today I am following on by mentioning some of the women of horror I have met, and who have inspired me, over the years:

Sally Spedding: I first met Sally at the Winchester Writers’ Conference a few years ago. Part of your delegate ticket when you register is the opportunity for three one-to-ones, two of which can be with agents or editors. I picked Sally for my third non-agent/editor one-to-one because she was another writer who crossed the genres of crime and horror. I sent her the first chapter of DEATH SCENE. When I sat down for my fifteen minutes with her, she told me it was the best thing she’d read all weekend and I’d really made her day by sending it to her. Well, she made my week – nay, my year – by telling me so, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

Sarah Pinborough: Sarah is a versatile writer who writes in many genres, including YA, sf, horror and crime – or combining all of the above. I can particularly recommend her “Dog-Faced Gods” trilogy. Set in a near-future dystopian London, the main character is a paranormal investigator looking into a series of crimes. It becomes clear that there is something supernatural involved. I feel like I’ve known Sarah for ages, because I run into her at every convention I go to.  But I think we first met at the World Horror Con in Brighton, less than two years ago.

Lisa Tuttle: Many years ago, in my first job as book shop assistant, an anthology of horror stories written by women came into the shop. Published by Women’s Press, it was called THE SKIN OF THE SOUL and Lisa Tuttle gave the introduction, making the argument that horror had been erroneously considered a man’s domain for far too long and it was high time to acknowledge all the fine women horror writers out there. I’ve been a fan of Lisa’s ever since.  I got to tell her how inspiring I found that anthology at World Horror Con in Brighton – and it seems I wasn’t the only woman to do so, as she makes reference to it in a blog post on her livejournal blog.

Next, a shout-out to some Women of Horror I’ve connected with online, but haven’t met in person:

Rita Vetere:  Rita’s WHISPERING BONES is a thrillingly scary horror tale.

Diane Dooley: Diane is also honouring Women of Horror on her blog this month, so go check it out.

Fiona Dodwell: Fiona is another Writer of Damn Scary Books.

Sealey Andrews: Sealey is also honouring Women in Horror Month on her ‘Girl in the Soapdish’ blog.

Jenna M Pitman: Jenna’s horror fiction can be found everywhere, it seems, going by her list of publishing credits.

Last but by no means least, I want to give a shout-out to the lovely ladies who are my co-bloggers on the WriteClub blog. They are all fabulous writers, and you should go read their books:

Sonya Clark
Nerine Dorman
Pamela Turner

Seeing as how February has an extra day this year, next Wednesday will be the third and final part of my homage to women of horror, so be sure to come back next week.

My Life In Books: The Witches

We’re going slightly out of order here because I didn’t read this book as a child. However, as it’s a children’s book, I thought it was best to publish this post at the end of my section on children’s books, before I move on to the books I read in puberty.

Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES was published in 1983, at which point I was 13 and had decided I was far too old for kid’s books. Such irony here, as I got to be a grown up and decided I wasn’t too old for kids’ books after all.

When I was 19 I had a job working in a book shop in central London. In some ways I really enjoyed the job – I loved being surrounded by books, I loved putting the books in alphabetical order (one of my favouring pastimes), and we were free to borrow all the books we liked from the shop. There was also a 40% staff discount if we wanted to buy any. What I didn’t like, though, was having to deal with customers. In the end I decided customer service probably wasn’t for me.

Anway, staff members had to take turns being on ‘cash register duty’. As the cash register could not be left unattended, if you were on this shift you had to sit there until relief arrived, whether there were customers or not. If the shop was quiet, in these days before computers at every work station and mobile phones, it could be pretty boring. There were always piles of books around the till, so if there were no customers to serve I would reach for whatever book was handy – no matter what it was – just to have something to read. One such occasion, THE WITCHES was to hand, so I read it in one particularly quiet afternoon whilst on ‘cash register’ duty.

I think THE WITCHES still holds up as a marvellous kid’s book. It has the archetypal Dahl violence – the protagonist is a young boy (in the book he is never named) whose parents are killed in a traffic accident. It contains some delightfully subversive messages – for instance, as witches can sniff out children, and the scent of a clean child is much stronger, it’s better for children not to bathe too often.

As usual in a Roald Dahl book, there are adults being very nasty to children – possibly this is the most extreme example, as the witches are out to eradicate every child in Britain. The protagonist also goes through a rough time. Not only does he find himself an orphan, the witches turn him into a mouse and he has to foil their dastardly plot in this form. The boy, with the help of his grandmother, manages to defeat the witches, tipping the potion the witches planned to use to turn all children into mice into the witches’ soup. All the witches turn into mice at their banquet, and they are destroyed by the hotel staff who think they have a serious rodent problem.

What I really like about this book is that it has a somewhat bittersweet ending. Although all the witches are defeated, the boy remains a mouse. But he’s happy to remain so. He still has his grandmother, and she loves him dearly, and he decides it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you have someone who loves you. And although he won’t have a long life as a mouse, it means he won’t have to out-live his grandmother and face years being alone.

The film version, predictably, changed the ending to a somewhat saccharin version where one of the witches decides to be a good witch instead of an evil one, and turns the main character back into a boy. I much prefer the book’s ending. It teaches you that things don’t always go the way you want them to but they generally work out OK in the end, and that’s a very important lesson to learn.

This post brings me to the end of the first part of this series – books of childhood. But there are still plenty of books left for me to talk about, and in the next part I will be moving onto the books that made an impact on me as a teenager.

Homage to Women in Horror – Part 1

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This month is Women In Horror month. As a woman of horror I want to support this worthy cause. I’m going to start by pointing you towards this website, dedicated to Women In Horror Month.

“Women don’t write horror”. This is a battle I feel I’ve been fighting my whole life. It’s as frustrating and erroneous an assumption as the notion that all SF fans are 16-year-old boys who like pictures of women in chain mail bikinis, with unfeasibly large breasts, because they can’t get anywhere near a real-life woman.

The media does nothing to disabuse the general public of this notion. Cult SF and horror magazines sport covers featuring pictures of mostly-naked women with the aforementioned unfeasibly large breasts. Books aimed at women sport pink covers with curly lettering and pictures of lipstick, shoes and shopping bags. Gifts aimed at women (and we are bombarded by such ads at Christmas) suggest that your mum or aunty or sister or girlfriend wants a make-up kit or bottle of perfume. Never have I seen an advert that says she wants the new Resident Evil game on the PS3 (which is what I want next birthday).

I would like to point out that women horror writers are hardly a modern phenomenon. One of the first horror novels to be published was not only written by a woman, it was written by a teenager. Mary Shelley was 17 when she penned FRANKENSTEIN.

In support of Women In Horror month, next week I will be paying homage to some contemporary women of horror. If you are one such woman and you want a mention and a link to your blog this month, please let me know.

Let’s hear it for Horror Women!

Monday’s Friend: Luke Walker

Today I am pleased to welcome horror writer Luke Walker to my blog.

Waiting On A Story
By Luke Walker

A question I see a lot of writers asked (and asking for that matter) ties in with the ‘where do you get your ideas’ question. It’s a variation of ‘how long do you wait on an idea’. Often, this comes out as ‘which one do you write first’. My answer is always the same. It doesn’t really matter as long as the stories are written in the end. I started work on my book THE RED GIRL in June 2010 and finished the first draft in about two months. That’s about half the time it usually takes me to write the first draft. Even while writing that draft, I knew why it was going so quickly. I’d had a rough idea of the plot for quite a while plus I’d had the characters with me for years. I came to THE RED GIRL more prepared for a book than ever before which is why it took so little time to get that first draft down.

I could have written THE RED GIRL back when I first had the idea for the plot (around 2003-2004, I think), but it would have been a terrible book. The characters featured in the second book I wrote which was a couple of years before the plot came to me, and while I loved the characters, the book was terrible. There was no plot, no direction, no real narrative. Worse than all of those issues, it was boring. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to realise that and to admit it was the best I could do at the time. Writing THE RED GIRL soon after it wouldn’t have been right because even though I didn’t know exactly how my story would go, I had a feeling it could be a good book. It could be one of the best things I’d ever done.

So I sat on the idea. I let it simmer and I wrote other books. A couple of them were rubbish, a couple weren’t too bad and I may return to them at some point to see what I can do with them now I actually know what I’m doing. All through those books, I thought about the story of THE RED GIRL and I thought about the characters. Before writing the first word, I knew who the characters would be. They’d stuck with me from my second book; they’d grown a bit older which was only fair. As we got into 2010, I started thinking more often about those characters and where they’d be now. They’d have mortgages and they might be married. They might have kids; they might be getting a bit porky and be worried about it. They might have lost parents and they’d very probably have moved out of their hometown. And I was pretty sure they were being haunted.

That’s where THE RED GIRL came from – a plot idea I had in my early twenties which I sat on until I thought I could do it justice, and characters I first encountered in their last year of school now a bit older. Put the two together and here we are. One horror story about getting older and the secrets we can’t leave behind.

All of this is a long way of saying it doesn’t matter too much to me how long a writer keeps hold of an idea or their characters. As long as the stories get written, that is.

Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His debut horror novel THE RED GIRL is available now from Musa Publishing. A number of his short stories have been published online at Dark Fire Fiction and in the emag Penumbra. He is thirty-four and lives in England, with his wife, two cats and not enough zombie films.

Book link:
Blog link:

My Life in Books: The Bears’ House

Another Marilyn Sachs book, this story is narrated by nine-year-old Fran Ellen, the eldest child in quite a large family. The family’s father is absent, and it seems their mother isn’t coping well with his departure. It’s implied that she’s an alcoholic, but Fran Ellen isn’t really old enough to understand this, she just knows that Mum spends a lot of time in bed. She does understand, however, that if anyone comes to the house and finds out their mother isn’t doing a very good job looking after her kids they will all be taken away and put into foster care. Fran Ellen is so afraid that she and her siblings will be split up when this happens, she does her best to look after the family herself, so no one will discover what kind of state their mother is in.

Fran Ellen has a particular fondness for her baby sister Flora, who she feeds Kool-Aid out of a baby bottle. Flora gets increasingly sick as the book progresses, a fact that worries Fran Ellen but she’s afraid to go to the doctor. Her only solace is the wonderful dolls’ house at her school, in which a family of bears reside. The teacher lets the children play with the bears’ house as a reward for good work or good behaviour. When Fran Ellen plays with it, she transports herself into the house, where the caring bear family love her and offer a security her real life family cannot.

The teacher declares that at the end of the school year, she will give the bears’ house to the most deserving student. Fran Ellen doesn’t think for a moment that it will be her, as there are so many prettier, cleverer and more popular pupils in the class. And yet she is the one the teacher chooses to give the house to. When the teacher gives Fran Ellen and the bears’ house a lift home, she discovers the appalling neglect Fran Ellen and her siblings endure, and Fran Ellen knows that life as she knows it is over.

Part of the attraction of this book for me was the wonderful dolls’ house the bears live in, and I did wish I could be Fran Ellen so I could play with it. But even at the age I was when I read this book (about nine, I think), I recognised that Fran Ellen was having a really hard time at home. This is a very depressing story, about neglect and alcoholism from a child’s point of view, and from Fran Ellen’s perspective it doesn’t end happily. The book ends with her and her siblings being taken into care and sent to separate foster homes.

It had an impact on me, and I think when I wrote SUFFER THE CHILDREN, years later, I was channelling Fran Ellen through Leanne, another character who suffers neglect and who goes out of her way to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities, out of fear of losing the only home she knows.

When I decided to include this book in this blog series I had to look it up on Amazon, because I couldn’t remember who wrote it. I discovered then that Marilyn Sachs wrote a sequel to THE BEARS’ HOUSE, called FRAN ELLEN’S HOUSE, in which Fran Ellen and her siblings are reunited after being separated in foster care, and she tries to restore the fractured relationship they now have to the closeness they had when they all lived together with their alcoholic mother. I think I will need to read this book. I always regretted leaving Fran Ellen in such a sad place at the end of THE BEARS’ HOUSE, and I would like to know if she found happiness.

Geek Excitement: Resident Evil 6

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you will know I have something of an obsession with playing ‘Resident Evil 4’.

We have ‘Resident Evil 5’ as well, but in my view it’s just not as good. Sure, the graphics are better – RE4 is only available on the Nintendo Wii, and it was never really designed to be a superior graphics machine. But I prefer the Wii controls to the PS3 controls. I am a hopeless shot. The Wii controls are gentler on those who are crap shots.

But the game itself just has more atmosphere than its sequel. In RE4, Leon spends a lot of time runing around alone (apart from occasional cut scene interactions with NPCs, and of course the interactions with the very annoying Ashley) in a lonely and creepy part of rural Spain, being attacked by zombies and other unnatural beasties, on a dark rainy night. RE5, set in the daytime under the baking sun of Africa, just doesn’t have the same atmosphere.

And then, of course, the game has Leon. Leon is hot. I have a solid faction of female friends who all drool over Leon. The main character in RE5 is Chris Redfield, who doesn’t have the same lust factor.

‘Resident Evil’ as a series has been around for years. Not being familiar with the game before RE4, I can’t say anything about what earlier games were like, but I gather that the same characters have been popping up periodically throughout the series – Chris and his sister Claire; Leon; Krauser; Jill Valentine; Ada Wong. Each game progresses the plot along, with points from the previous series occasionally referred to. The films follow through with this. I hear rumour there’s a new film in development – live action this time – that will feature all of the series’ characters. Including Leon. Can’t wait for that one.

Anyway, more exciting than that is the news that ‘Resident Evil 6’ is being released later this year. It’s on the PS3, not the Wii, so I will have to get a handle on the awkward controls. But the graphics will be great. And, more relevant, this game features Leon. In full PS3 CGI glory. Woohoo!

For a taster, here’s the trailer: Resident Evil 6 official trailer.

Writing Update – February 2012

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I thought it was about time for a roundup of current news in my writing world.

Firstly, the big news is that I have been asked to contribute to an anthology on the subject of siblings – one of whom must have a dark secret – that is to be part of Hersham Press’s pentanth series, to be published in September 2012.

The other four writers involved are Richard Farren Barber, Stuart Hughes, Sam Stone and Simon Kurt Unsworth.

This is tremendously exciting for me, as it’s the first time I’ve been approached to write something that’s not been vetted or auditioned first. The fact that there’s an assumption I can write something good enough to compete with these other marvellous writers is singularly thrilling and terrifying.

However, one obstacle at least has been overcome. I’ve got an idea for my story, and I’m already 3,000 words in to the first draft. So I have plenty of time to polish it up to publishable standard. She says confidently…

And what of other writing projects? Work on my short story collection SOUL SCREAMS continues apace, though its release date has been put back a little. We are now expecting the e-book and the print version to be released in June. I will reiterate this will available in print as well as electronic format. So all of you who keep saying you don’t like e-books and prefer ‘proper’ books have no excuses with this one. A paper version will be available.

On top of all this, I still have my two WIP novels on the go – the second Shara book, and the new horror novel.

So already 2012 is proving to be a very busy year, and it’s only just started!