Ginger Nuts of Horror Review

Big shout out today to Jim over at Ginger Nuts of Horror for allowing me to shove my self-published novel Through the Eyes of Douglas under his nose, and to Tony Jones for taking the time to read and review it.  The icing on this blood cake is that Tony seemed to really like it and gave me a truly fantastic review.  Thank you, Tony!

Ginger Nuts review of Through the Eyes of Douglas

I also have a ramble about horror fiction and other writing related gubbins here:

Ginger Nuts Interview

Cheers gents, and to everyone so far who’s grabbed a copy.  To the rest of you, expect a visit from Big H very soon…

 

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Through the Eyes of Douglas…

On the 18th of May I’m going to be publishing my first novel in seven years, and deciding to take the self-publishing route to do it did not come easily.  My debut novel Dark Heart was published in 2011 by Snowbooks, and sold about as well as can be expected for a smallish publisher with no promotional budget, and a debut novelist who didn’t (and still doesn’t) have the first clue about social media and self-promotion.  But as much as I got a thrill out of seeing my first novel transformed into a physical book, I was not in any great hurry to repeat the process.  I knew I was in it for the long haul, and if I wanted to write for a living, I needed to earn enough money to live on, so when I finished my second novel I decided to try and find an agent.  Which I did.  A very reputable one.

My agent sent my psychological horror novel to around ten editors from the big houses, and in nearly two years out on submission only two of those editors ever got back to us.  Gollancz passed because they felt it was more of a mainstream speculative novel, but thought it good enough to recommend it to a different Orion editor further up the chain, and Hodder & Stoughton passed after a second read.  We never heard any more from Orion.

I wrote another novel with my agent, but by then I felt he’d lost interest, and the thought of having this new novel out on submission for another two years didn’t fill me with joy, and so I reluctantly and amicably left the agency.

I’ve written a sci-fi fantasy since then, which is being considered by a few agents and a publisher, but while I was writing it I continued to sub my two horror novels around, and at this point in time I’ve come to realise that I’m sitting on two unpublishable novels in today’s climate.  So that brings me to now.

I’ve not decided to self-publish with delusions of making a lot of money, but I have decided to self-publish in the hopes of being read.  So I’m putting one out there, because it’s too good to be sitting on my hard drive for the next seven years collecting digital dust, and if people like it, I might throw the other one out there, too.  But for now, I’d like to try and break your hearts with this here tale:

 

THROUGH THE EYES OF DOUGLAS (2)

Chaplin, the Elegant Writer…

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I watched the film Chaplin last night – the biography of the silent-movie legend Charlie Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr.  It was all very interesting, but there was one scene that struck a chord with me in particular.

Chaplin (the director, not the tramp character), is struggling with a scene he’s directing.  The female lead has to mistake Chaplin (the tramp, not the director) for a well-to-do gentleman, only the woman is blind and the movie is obviously shot in silence.  A problem.  Now, because the whole plot is hinged on the incorrect assumption made by the female lead, Chaplin (the director) feels he cannot cheat the audience with a flimsy incorrect assumption, or ask them to turn a blind eye (no pun intended) to the implausibility of the mechanics.  Chaplin doesn’t want the audience to say, I don’t believe that.z

He not only solves the problem, but solves it with elegance:  The blind girl is sitting on a busy street corner selling flowers, and Chaplin, trying to get to the obstructed pavement, steps through the back of a parked car to emerge on the street in front of the girl.  The girl thusly assumes he has exited the car, and therefore must be a gentleman of some standing, etc…

It needn’t have gone like this.  The dialogue card has the girl address Chaplin as Sir, anyway, so he could have just been walking by for the incorrect assumption to be made, but it’s lazy, and even if it’s only on a subliminal level, the audience will know it’s lazy, and the story will be weaker for the, I don’t believe that, moment.

It’s the same in written fiction.  Plot-heavy genre fiction more specifically.  A carefully contrived plot can be softened with elegance.  Characters needn’t be shunted around with a cattle prod but subtly directed by a conductor’s baton.  Chaplin’s way is elegant because the path he takes through the back of the car is in keeping with his cheeky-chappy characterisation, so it feels like the plot is following Chaplin and not the other way around.  It’s all device of course, but it should be artful.  The actor’s goal is to hide the performance within the performance.  To give the illusion of spontaneity.  To not be seen to be acting.

The writer’s goal is the same.

Corruption of the artist…

I recently finished my third novel, a literary ghost story called Youngblood, which consumed more than two years of my life, and for which I have yet to find an agent or publisher. What if, like the novel I wrote before it, this novel never sees the light of day?  What is this lowly writer to do?  It’s answering this question that gave Youngblood its theme, its heartbeat.  What is the nature of art?  And what, if at all, does the relationship between artist and audience have to do with its creation?

Art – Artist – Audience.  Subconsciously I’ve been thinking about this triangle for years, and it first germinated in my mind when I was watching a news article about a violinist who had busked at a train station only to be summarily ignored by the commuters.  It transpired that the previous night the violinist had played to a crowd of thousands at the Royal Albert Hall.  I didn’t know how I felt about this at the time, but it became obvious that this news article had spoken something to me, and that over the course of writing Youngblood I had been trying to translate it.

Edgar Allan Poe talked about “Art for Art’s sake”.  Poe’s example of this is the writing of a poem purely for the sake of the poem, but I see it a little differently, I see pure art as creating with no agenda, and it’s for this reason I don’t believe there is such a thing as “pure art”, not in the modern age, at least.  If we imagine such a thing as “pure”, then we also have to acknowledge the pollutants that can sully it.  Money, fame and ego have to be the major three pollutants, but none of these things can apply the kind of corruptive pressure to an artist the way an audience can, because an audience represents all three of these things, all at once, and for an artist to truly create something pure, he or she would have to create something with no audience in mind.

Imagine a sliding scale.  At one end you have an artist working on a masterpiece, a can of petrol and a box of matches waiting beside his easel for when the painting is finished.  And at the other end, a writer furiously penning a raunchy Fifty-Shades knockoff while the market’s still hot for it.

Whether the artist is a painter, sculptor, writer or musician, he or she will be creating their art, to some degree, with an agenda – perceiving their art, to some degree, through the lens of the audience.  And the funny thing is, the audience cannot be trusted, because the audience is as corruptible as the artist because the audience is under the illusion they have subjective opinion, but this opinion can be manipulated in many ways – by others’ opinion for instance – friends or experts or majority popularity. But by far the most interesting to me is the corruptive power of narrative.

The chef, Raymond Blanc, is a true artisan of food – if not an expert in wine, then certainly a man who knows his own mind.  I watched him taste a cider and declare it bland, but ‘Wait!’ says the wine expert serving him, ‘this cider was produced by three men who learned to make wine as prisoners of war, and when they were released in ’46 they started producing apple wine, and from that came this, their very first cider…’  Raymond Blanc smiles and tastes again: ‘I like it better now,’ he says, and his smile says that he knows he has been manipulated, but doesn’t mind.

Apply this formula to the violinist busking at the station.  The art he was producing for the commuters was the same as for the patrons of the Royal Albert Hall, but the narrative surrounding the art was different, and so the audience was corrupted.  As I was writing Youngblood, this merging of ideas regarding the nature of art and the corruptive power of narrative seemed too perfect, almost as though the first time I had seen the violinist article and couldn’t immediately pin down what it meant, my subconscious had figured it out straight away and was feeding it to me as I wrote.

So what if this novel never finds an audience?  What is my agenda regarding my art? I’d love to say that my art is pure, and that I create just for me and for the sake of the work, but alas, I’m just like everybody else.  A little money and fame would not do my ego any lasting damage, and I’m just shallow and insecure enough to want people to like what I’m writing, but what I have come to realise is that I also love to write stories, and if nobody ever read them, I can honestly say that I would still write them.  There is something pure in that at least.

The Outcast Gully Morgan…

My new novel The Outcast Gully Morgan has reached a bit of a milestone, both in wordcount and events within the narrative.  I surpassed the 85k mark recently, of a projected 110k finished length, and have just entered the final era of the time-travelling aspect of the story, namely Victorian London.  Each era I’ve visited has put the brakes on the writing process.  A ten to fifteen-thousand-word toe-dip into history takes a ridiculous amount of research, especially if you don’t want your Wild West saloon to have batwing doors and yee-haws, or your prohibition speakeasies to be overrun by no-good derdy rats.  It’s even more mire-wading when you choose to add factual characters into the mix.

Including Izzy Gomez’s infamous café as the setting for the San Francisco prohibition era section made it particularly slow-going for many weeks, as I couldn’t do it without Izzy Gomez himself.  Novelist and playwright William Saroyan used to frequent Izzy’s place in North Beach, and in fact used it as inspiration for his Pulitzer-winning play The Time of Your Life.  Saroyan didn’t write Izzy into his play, but I couldn’t resist.  That’s a whole lot of research I had to collate, prune, filter through Saroyan’s eyes and then through Gully’s, but I think it was worth it.  Giving the reader a Bugsy Malone knockoff  (whilst still fun) would’ve left a nasty marshmallow taste in both our mouths.  Same goes for the Western era: less spaghetti and more McCarthy.

And that’s not to say I’ve forgotten what this novel is about: fun.  It goes quite deep sometimes – philosophically – and there’s a beautiful theme I want to thread through the story, but above all else I want the reader to have a good time reading it.  There are gunfighters and gangsters, dinosaurs and cyborgs (and Amish?).  Uh-hmm…yeah.  It’s a post-apocalyptic, time-travelling sci-fi fantasy with colourful characters who may or may not be what you think they are, and I’ve tried to give it to you straight and real and fucking epic.

I’ll post the blurb soon, and may add some excerpts.  Stay tooned, folks.