Rats in the Walls

The Ash and Col podcast is, once again, live. This week we’ve been dealing with The Rats in the Walls, a story written by HP Lovecraft and selected for this discussion by the legend that is Ramsey Campbell.

I got a lot out of this discussion, and not just because Mr Campbell has been one of my heroes since I started reading in the horror genre.

If you do listen, please remember to tell friends, hit the like/subscribe button, and participate if possible by suggesting future titles that we might want to consider.

Book Update: Cover Reveal

Thanks to my good friend Colin Davies, Conversations with Dead Serial Killers now has a cover. I’ve teased about this a couple of times but today I’m going to share the full image for the forthcoming title.

I’ve got a lot of love for this cover, which does so many things that are appropriate for the forthcoming novel, and I’d ask you to keep checking in here so I can share updates for how the story is progressing.

I’d also like to say, if you want cover design that’s effective like this, drop me an email and I’ll pass on your contact details to Colin.

The Problem with Serial Killers: Jeffrey Dahmer

I’ve mentioned already that I’m currently in the process of writing a novel that deals with serial killers and this has meant a substantial amount of research that has been fun and surprisingly engaging.  My time at the gym is currently spent listening to podcasts about the life and crimes of notorious serial killers and, the more I hear about them, the more I’m beginning to realise that some of these individuals are thicker than shit in the neck of a bottle.

This week I want to look at the stupidity of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Jeffrey Dahmer raped and murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.  The number would have been substantially higher if Dahmer hadn’t been so stupid in 1991 when he was found out.

On the day of his capture, Dahmer had invited 32-year-old Tracy Edwards to visit his flat under the pretence of taking nude photographs. When Edwards arrived, he was immediately hit by the stench and the boxes of hydrochloric acid strewn on the floor. Dahmer explained the hydrochloric acid was being used for cleaning bricks.

Dahmer’s MO involved getting his victim-to-be into handcuffs, pressing a sharp knife against the victim’s chest, and then boasting about his plans to kill. Although cuffed, and most certainly scared, Edwards managed to stay calm and kept Dahmer from attacking him by chatting with him in a calm tone and pretending they were still friends. This simple technique confused Dahmer, who would (apparently) occasionally drop his guard to look away at the TV and lose himself in satanic chants.

Edwards asked to be released from the handcuffs to go to the toilet. Dahmer acquiesced and Edwards took advantage of the opportunity, punched him in the face, and ran away. There are some people who argue that this is not so much stupidity as gullibility, or misplaced trust, on Dahmer’s part.  However, I’d argue that any serial killer wanting to avoid capture should have the brains not to trust someone who he had been about to murder. I’m glad Edwards escaped, and I’m delighted Edwards’ escape led to Dahmer’s arrest and incarceration. But I firmly believe that Dahmer’s stupidity was as much a factor as Edwards’ quick thinking and bravery. Edwards returned to the flat with two police officers later to find Dahmer still sitting there. Dahmer told the officers that it was all a huge misunderstanding and they were ready to believe him, until they discovered a drawer full of Polaroid pictures showing human bodies in various stages of dismemberment. In addition to the photographs, the flat was littered with human remains. Several heads were in the refrigerator and freezer. There were two skulls on top of Dahmer’s computer. And there was a 57-gallon drum containing several bodies decomposing in chemicals, stored in a corner of Dahmer’s bedroom. And, if that’s not sufficiently grotesque, police also found evidence to suggest that Dahmer had been eating some of his victims.

The Body Snatcher

The Ash and Col podcast is, once again, live. This week we’ve been dealing with Col’s choice of Robert Louis Stephenson’s ‘The Body Snatcher’, a chilling little tale potentially inspired by the nefarious habits of Burke and Hare.

I’d say this one is also worth tuning in for as well because we have an exciting announcement about next week’s podcast.

If you do listen, please remember to tell friends, hit the like/subscribe button, and participate if possible by suggesting future titles that we might want to consider.

Book Update

As I mentioned in my newsletter, I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo (again) but I’ve not given up on the story I was writing.  Conversations with Dead Serial Killers is coming along nicely but I’m no longer trying to write it to fit in with the restrictions of NaNoWriMo.

Conversations with Dead Serial Killers is going to be my first full-length work in a couple of years. The characters are growing and developing as I work on the story and, similarly, the story is becoming more complex and supported by its own internal logic.  As Henry James put it in The Art of Fiction: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”

This means I’m going to be blogging a little more than I have been doing recently and one of the subjects I’ll be blogging about will be serial killers. This should come as no surprise to those who’ve seen that the title is Conversations with Dead Serial Killers, and I think I can use this as a place to leave my notes and get a better understanding of some of the background players in the forthcoming novel. I’m hoping you guys are as excited about this one as I am.

Raven & Skull: Audiobook

This is now available on audiobook and it sounds delicious.

Raven & Skull

Below is Chapter Six of the novel. And, below that, is a link to how Chapter Six sounds.

Chapter Six

As soon as the clock shifted past five-thirty, Becky’s stomach clenched and her bowels grew tight. It was hard to explain why, but being in the office after normal hours seemed somehow strange, different and wrong. In the minute between the clock creeping from five thirty to five thirty one, Becky could feel the shadows lengthening and the room’s light changing to a more sinister hue. She thought the effect was like being in an empty house without the owner’s permission, or being in a cemetery when there wasn’t a funeral.

“This is the biggest and best skive going,” Shaun said cheerfully. He was a broad-shouldered office boor. With a shock of dark hair contrasting with his pale complexion, and sharp dark eyes appraising her in an overly familiar fashion, he managed to appear both attractive and repulsive in equal measures. “We get to sit around doing fuck all and we get paid time and a half. What could be better than that? Apart from sex?”

Becky tried to match his enthusiasm but the knot of unease tightened in her belly. The effort of smiling was an arduous strain and the urge to grab her coat and bolt from the offices of Raven and Skull was almost irresistible. It didn’t help that Shaun’s language was offensively colourful – richer than she cared to hear. It also added to her discomfort that he was blatantly leering at her breasts whilst he spoke. She was a cuddly size sixteen, blessed with a chest size that was not disproportionate for her large frame, and Shaun was staring at her cleavage as though her breasts were tattooed with next week’s winning lottery numbers.

“The only thing you’ve got to watch out for is Harry Shaw,” Shaun told her breasts. “He’s got a habit of trying to get his hands on every new recruit to the overtime gravy-train and you’ll probably be prime pickings for him during this first month.”

Becky nodded and said nothing. She didn’t consider herself worldly but she had heard enough stories in her time to be aware that Shaun was building up to some sort of fib. She also wasn’t sure that either of her breasts wanted to hear about Harry Shaw, whoever Harry Shaw might be.

“Right,” she agreed. “Harry Shaw. I’ll watch out for him.”

With that said she took off from Shaun’s desk and joined Nicola and Chloe by the water cooler. She knew the two girls as casual acquaintances from her days in the office and from the occasional girls’ night out with the rest of the office staff.

Nicola looked to be the taller of the two women but that was only because she was so anorexically thin. Outside the office, Becky had seen Nicola wearing a pair of hipster jeans that were no larger than a size two and cut low enough to reveal a stomach that was so childishly flat it was almost concave. In the office, she wore the traditional uniform of a black skirt and white blouse but she made the clothes look as though they had been tailored to fit her stick-like figure. Chloe, big breasted and blessed with the sort of curves that made Nicola look like a boy, wore identical clothes. Despite their Laurel and Hardy size difference, Becky knew the two women were inseparable friends. Outside the office, seeing them together was more common than seeing them apart. Inside the office, it was unheard of for them to be away from each other.

Chloe and Nicola welcomed Becky with obvious sympathy when they saw she was trying to escape from Shaun. Nicola made a hospitable gesture whilst Chloe snatched a fresh plastic carton from the water cooler’s dispenser and began to pour Becky a drink. They chatted easily for a moment; Chloe explaining that they had to drink water during overtime because the use of a kettle wasn’t allowed; Nicola saying that the only unlocked lavatories in the building during overtime were those situated in the basement. Becky took all this in and grimly accepted that the world of overtime was drastically different to the normality of the office life that she had grown to know and understand.

“What’s Captain Creepy up to this time?” Chloe asked. “I saw him getting an eyeful of your rack.”

Nicola threw a disdainful glance in Shaun’s direction and said, “He’s not trying to show you his cock again, is he?” She shivered theatrically and said, “How any man can be proud of three inches of spotted dick is beyond me.”

Chloe handed Becky a carton of water. “I’ve spoken to Tony about that arsehole. I swear, if he doesn’t do something soon, I’m going to put in an official report to human resources about sexual harassment. I might even go to Roger Black about the situation.”

“He wasn’t trying to show me his… his… anything,” Becky whispered.  Although she didn’t like Shaun she didn’t want him to know she was talking about him. “He was just telling me to watch out for someone called Harry Shaw.”

Chloe rolled her eyes.

Nicola cast another disparaging glance in Shaun’s direction.

“I swear,” Chloe began, “if that cock-focused pillock isn’t taken off this overtime rota I’m going to get my boyfriend to sort him out properly.”

“You’d do that?” Nicola sounded surprised and enthusiastic.

Becky watched the exchange with growing bewilderment.

“Your Kevin is pretty tough,” Nicola went on. “He’d snap Shaun into small pieces.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and said, “I’m serious, Chloe. Your Kevin could genuinely kill someone like Shaun. Genuinely.”

“And wouldn’t that be a great loss,” Chloe muttered.

“Who is Harry Shaw?”

Chloe and Nicola exchanged a glance. “Get sorted with your work for the night,” Chloe said. “Let Captain Creepy go through the process of telling you what you’re supposed to be doing. Me and Nicky have a water break every hour or so and one of us will come and find you. Then we’ll fill you in on Harry Shaw.”

Becky thanked them both.

“Go on,” Nicola said, nodding in Shaun’s direction. “Go and give him his fifteen minutes of glory as he explains that overtime is just playing catch-up for the constant backlog of paperwork that comes from customer services.”

“And,” Chloe broke in, “if he starts off with his Harry Shaw bullshit, tell him you’re not arsed about his fucking ghost stories and you just want to know what you’re supposed to be doing.” She said the words in such a loud voice Becky knew they would be carrying across the office towards Shaun.

Glancing at him, poring over a ream of paperwork, she saw his smile tighten to an unpleasant grimace. His eyes were small, dark and mean. His fat fingers clutched tight around a thick pen.

“I’m so fucking serious,” Chloe told Nicola. “I’m so tempted to get Kevin to meet him in a dark alley one night.”

“If Kevin wants an alibi,” Nicola said, “I can always get Don to say he was round at The House of Usher.”

Becky remembered that Don was the head chef at a restaurant called The House of Usher. She smiled at the way Nicola always managed to slip the name of her boyfriend’s restaurant into every conversation.

“All we’d need to do is get his credit card there and, with Don and his waiters backing up the story, it would look like he’d spent the night at the restaurant.”

Becky stepped away from them. She couldn’t decide whether their planning was serious, or whether it was just typical overtime bravado and banter. Sauntering back to Shaun, sipping at her carton of water, she asked, “What am I supposed to be working on?”

“You want to be careful hanging round with those two bitches,” Shaun sniffed. “They’re a pair of poisonous cunts.”

Becky swallowed. She couldn’t think of how to respond to such a vitriolic exclamation. “What am I supposed to be working on?”

Shaun pointed at her desk. “There’s a night’s work in your in-tray. Geoff Arnold wants us to do some work getting his department’s books ready for the year-end but he can suck my big fat cock. The stuff in your in-tray comes from a Customer Services backlog. Get started on that. If there’s anything you don’t understand go and ask one of those whores.” He flicked his head towards the water cooler where Chloe and Nicola still stood. Raising his gaze from the work on his desk he glared at Becky and said, “If you end up getting caught by Harry Shaw, don’t bother asking why I didn’t warn you about him.”

Who the hell is Harry Shaw?

Becky didn’t ask the question. Instead, realising Shaun had dismissed her, she started towards her desk. It was only as an afterthought that she made the grim discovery that the strangeness of working overtime was now a minor consideration. The shadows had stretched to breaking point. The office windows were darkened to a deathly pall that overlooked the grey remnants of the world’s end. And, with other considerations to worry about, the environment now seemed terribly normal.

Raven & Skull is now available as an audiobook.

The Signalman

Once again, Col and I have been talking books and this week we had a look at Dickens’ The Signalman. I can’t remember reading this one before (although I think I remember someone reading it at a poetry event) and I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed.

To hear us talking about our disappointment in this classic, simply follow the link below.

Obviously, if you enjoy the podcast please hit the LIKE button, and also smash the SUBSCRIBE bell to be notified of future podcast releases.

Word of the Day: Hybristophilia

Hybristophilia is a sexual interest in and attraction to those who commit crimes, a paraphilia in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed a crime.

In case you weren’t aware of it, I’m currently writing about serial killers and sitting in a constant state of flux between horror, revulsion and fascination.  In amongst the serial killers, I’ve also got a subplot involving a stage psychic who is not as honest as one would hope in such an individual.  This is how we meet the psychic in Chapter Two.

“I’m getting a message,” Derek declared.  “It’s from someone with the initial J. Does that mean anything to anyone?”

He stood alone on an otherwise empty stage: a dishevelled man wearing a rumpled grey suit and a slouching posture. Yesterday’s five o’clock shadow made his jawline fuzzy. A blinding spotlight bathed him in whiteness, as though he had just been helped down to the stage by the hand of God or the transporter beam from an alien spacecraft. Derek drew a deep breath and refused to let his nervousness show. 

Because of Clive’s unexpected absence, he intended spending his first half hour on stage at the Playhouse doing cold readings. Clive’s voice was in his ear, whispering occasional words of encouragement, whilst Derek cajoled the audience with cold readings to get them to accept his abilities as a medium before he started using any of the hot-reading information supplied by his brother.

“The initial J,” Derek repeated.  “Does that mean anything to anyone here tonight?”

There was a moment’s hesitation. There always was. No one ever wanted to be the first to say they believed: that was just a sign of foolish gullibility. But someone would bite soon enough because the majority of them were in the room wanting to make contact with someone who had died and it was an unwritten law of every Conversations with Dead Friends show that, if the punters didn’t bite early, they’d never get another chance.

“The initial J,” he prompted. He glanced toward the left of the auditorium and said, “I’m sensing it might be someone on this side of the room.  Does the initial J mean anything to anyone here? I think it’s someone who passed after a long illness.”

A hesitant hand went up. “My mum died from a long illness,” a weak voice told him. “But the letter J doesn’t mean anything to-”

“I’ve got the letter J and a long illness,” a voice to his right declared triumphantly.

Derek turned to them, thinking that this sounded like the winning call from someone playing a game of ‘Dead Relative Bingo’.

Book Review: The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker

A Cure for Imposter Syndrome

According to Gill Corkindale in the Harvard Business Review, “Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.”

I reiterate this definition of Imposter Syndrome because, as a writer and lecturer, I’ve encountered several colleagues who suffer from this condition and I know many have had opportunities limited by its symptoms. Someone says they’re looking for a talented writer for a project, and sufferers of Imposter Syndrome eschew the opportunity because they’re not sure their skills are attributable to talent. Even if the skills are attributable to talent, sufferers of Imposter Syndrome feel sure that THEY ARE NOT the talented writer that is being sought.

It’s a maddening condition because usually (as perceived from my anecdotal experience) Imposter Syndrome afflicts people with inverse severity to their abilities. Consequently, those who are very talented think they’re absolute crap and those who are absolute crap think they are very talented.

And I mention all of this because I’ve just finished reading The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker and I’m going to use the text as a palliative when I next meet a student who suffers from Imposter Syndrome.   

According to Amazon:

“Recently a long-lost notebook belonging to Dracula author, Bram Stoker, was discovered in the attic of one of his great grandsons. Published to coincide with the centenary of Stoker’s death the text of this notebook, written between 1871 and 1881 mostly in his native Dublin, will captivate scholars of Gothic literature and Dracula fans alike. Painstakingly transcribed and researched, the entries offer intriguing new insights into the complex nature of the man who wrote Dracula more than one hundred years ago. Assisted by a team of Dracula scholars and Stoker historians, Dacre Stoker and Dr Elizabeth Miller neatly connect the dots between contents of the Notebook and Bram Stoker’s later work, most significantly Dracula.”

Which means as readers, we’re looking at Stoker’s notebooks from a ten year period, and gaining a unique insight into the writer’s thoughts, interests and imaginations.  Some of these notes are simple poems that remind us that Stoker was always more than a one-hit author.  His description is keen and focused and his use of words is exemplary. Some of them are anecdotes or recollections that illustrate Stoker was a regular human being and not just the creator of the world’s most famous vampire. And some of the points here are notes for story ideas and potential content, such as: A web-legged girl with legs like fippers of a seal.

I think it’s only when we use the excuse ‘I’m a writer’ that we can get away with keeping such things in notebooks and not worry too much about being committed as a danger to decent society.

But I cite this book as a cure for Imposter Syndrome because it is a wonderful reminder of Stoker’s humanity. Aside from giving an insight into his life, and Elizabeth Miller and Dacre Stoker have done an enormous amount of research in trying to attribute the notes to existing texts and identify how the ideas could potentially relate to the content of Stoker’s writing, we can also see that Stoker is like the rest of us. He jots down fragments of ideas that look ridiculously underwhelming in shorthand, but we know any or all of these could be developed in his hands into something masterful:

Mem for story:

‘The Quatorzième’ – death coming on to 13 guests – making the 14th.

27th of November, 1881

In some ways this is like seeing a literary version of Alan Partridge’s TV pitches, where he suggests such random and asinine ideas for TV shows as ‘Cooking in Prison’, ‘Monkey Tennis’ and ‘Inner City Sumo.’  These are ideas that sound fatuous, but they have the potential to be something that captures the spirit of the public’s zeitgeist.

I heartily recommend this title as a book that gives us an insight into the life of a highly celebrated writer, and serves as a reminder that the greatest of ideas can start from the humblest origins in a writer’s notebook.