Christmas Ghost Story – Sneak Preview

_71928444_christmascarolGreetings all and the very best of the budding season to you.

Those of you that have followed me for a while know I like ghost stories at all times of year, but even more when the nights are drawing in and especially at Christmas. Christmas has a long been a popular time for ghost stories and they are one of the many Yuletide traditions I revel in (along with copious amounts of mulled wine and mince pies, of course).

I dig out the M. R. James, Susan Hill, Dickens, Collins, turn down the lights and let the authors and firelight take me to the dark, spooky and chilling places that are especially atmospheric at this time of year.

This year, I’m writing my own Seasonal Spookfest, The Highwayman, which I will be sharing in the run up to the big day. To whet your whistle (and I’ll come to you), please find a teaser below.

The Highwayman

the-highway-man-and-bess_origElanor Cruz left London to set up a recording studio in the folk-music-rich community of Crossways, a remote village on the edge of the wide, dark moors. She has found inspiration again after so many years and longs to capture the voice of region and give herself a fresh start.

However, not all the villagers are happy with her purchase and conversion of The Annex – a near-derelict section of the local pub, The Highwayman where, legend has it, a pair of fated lovers met their grisly end hundreds of years ago. When strange things start to happen Eleanor begins to wonder whether they really are just stories for the tourists.

“Busy night,” Eleanor observed as she rested her elbows on the stained rosewood bar.

“Aye,” Andrew, the hairy-knuckled landlord replied as he pulled a pint of IPA (without the sparkler) for a thin customer in expensive, unsoiled walking gear. “Got a coach load from the Yuletide Coast Tour staying over. What can I get ye?”

Eleanor ordered a gin and tonic whilst eyeing the festive gathering. “Do you think they’ll come to the open day tomorrow?”

“They’re here at least ’til lunch, so maybe.” Andrew sloshed gin into a large tumbler, squirted on some tonic and topped it with a slice of lime. “How you settling in?”

Eleanor examined what she could see of his lined face over his black hedge of beard, trying to figure out if he was actually interested. “Good. It’s wonderful. So quiet.”

“Quiet, huh?”

“The walls are so thick. I can’t even hear the pub.”

“So you’ve heard nothing…inside?”

Eleanor frowned, steadfastly ignoring the cold finger working its way up her spine. “Like what?”

“Footsteps on the stairs?” Andrew waggled his bushy eyebrows. “Shouts in the night?”

Eleanor gave him a wry look over the top of her glass. “Save the stories for the coach parties, Andrew.”

He planted his elbows on the counter. “If you say so, Miss Cruz. Just thought you might find it interesting to know that the room that’s now your…studio…” His eyebrows lifted, crinkling his forehead into deep lines. “That was Bess’s bedchamber.”

“Bess?”

“The landlord’s daughter,” Andrew went on. “The one what shot herself to warn the highwayman of the ambush. That’s the room where she died.”

Eleanor took another swallow of her drink. “Is that right?”

“It’s said you can sometimes hear things, is all. When the moon is full. When he tries to return to her but she has to warn him off all over again. Coming,” he called down the bar, gave Eleanor a wink. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn ye.” He shambled to the walking party that had just crowded in with dripping coats and shivering dogs.

“Pay no notice,” came a pleasant voice over her shoulder. She jumped, the second time that day, and turned to see a young man stood just behind her. He had a tea towel over his shoulder and a tray of empty glasses in his hand. “He’s been telling the stories for so long now it’s become habit. Bess’s bedchamber changes depending on who he’s telling the story to, too. John,” he said, setting down the tray on the bar and holding out a hand.

“Eleanor,” she said, shaking his hand. “I’ve bought next door – ”

“Oh I know who you are,” he said, his smile widening. He had a pleasant face, dark hair, the nut-coloured skin of someone who’s spent most of year outside. His eyes were very brown, like the oak timbers over their heads and she could tell he was young, though found it hard to guess how young. “The whole village knows who you are, Miss Cruz.”

“Eleanor’s fine,” she said, a little firmly. “Infamous already, am I?”

His smile twitched. “Take no notice of the gossip. Villages are like tides. When there’s change everything gets stirred up. But it all settles eventually and everyone forgets there ever was a problem. Besides, they like to have something to talk about. You could say you’ve given them the best Christmas present they’ve had in years.”

Eleanor smiled, feeling something warm inside her that she hadn’t let herself admit had been cold for days. “Thanks. John, was it?”

“That’s right.”

“You work here?”

He shrugged a shoulder, brown eyes scanning the room with a distant sort of air. “Not officially. I help out the guests from time to time..”

“Andrew must be grateful.”

The smile twitched again. “In his way. What made you choose Crossways? Hardly the first place someone might think of to set up a recording studio.”

Eleanor examined him closely, but there seemed to be nothing but honest curiosity in his eyes. “I overnighted here on my way up to Edinburgh this time last year,” she said, looking round the close, dimly-lit room wreathed with fairy lights and cheap tinsel. “I heard the choir. They’re very talented.”

“They’re just local lads and lasses. But the choirmaster at All Saints has always been a prestigious position.”

“I’d heard that. Then I heard them sing. And there was a folk festival on here that same night,” she nodded round the room. “Some real talent, too. Then I found out just how many local acts there are.”

“Musicians are drawn here,” John said, eyes on the fiddler and guitarist who had started something slow and sad. “It’s the moors, I think. And the hills, the sea. They land seems to make its own music.” Eleanor watched him as his eyes went far away. Then he blinked and the melancholy look on his face vanished. “So you thought they deserved their own studio?”

“I know talent,” Eleanor said. “I’ve been working with chart-topping artists in London for over ten years. But when I heard that choir well…I knew this place had a voice. I wanted to give the rest of the world a chance to hear it.”

John nodded, almost in approval. Eleanor felt she should be nettled by someone so much younger than her presuming to judge her at all, even in a good light. But she found she wasn’t.

“I wish you the best of luck with it.”

“There’s an open day,” she put in before he moved away. “Tomorrow. And I’m putting on a carol service in the performance space on Christmas Eve. Recording it for charity.”

He smiled again. “Sounds great. I’ll stop by, if I can.” He looked back over his shoulder as if hearing something, nodded to her once more, eyes lingering on hers, then wove back into the crowd. Eleanor finished her drink and ordered another, allowing herself to feel reassured by his words.

The Highwayman will be posted (possibly in sections) fully in the run up to Christmas Day 2018. Stay tuned!

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The Nights Are Drawing In….

images…the temperature is dropping, leaves are changing colour. Halloween is approaching. I always associate this time of year with stories and reading. I read and write all year round, of course, but there’s something about the long evenings and the cold outside that awakens the hibernation urge, making curling up with a good story and a hot drink the best part of the day. 

It also provides the perfect backdrop for everything spooky, atmospheric, dark and sinister. 

To that end, please find below a list of my favourite spine-chilling tales that are at their best when read at this time of year, preferably by the light of an open fire with the curtains drawn and the wind howling outside. If you can arrange such things, of course. Otherwise a sofa and reading lamp serve just as well. 

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements 

61busvE+xRL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_This book is dripping with atmosphere. The setting is wild, the characters evocative. The mood is the perfect mix of increasing desperation and just-out-of-reach redemption. It locked me in right away and didn’t let up until the gut-wrenching end. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

‘Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil. 

Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching. 

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can’t see it yet.’ 

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski 

51xHGJVwgVLA new twist on the classic paranormal thriller. Told in the format of a podcast similar to the popular Serial, Wesolowski (as well as being a good chum of mine) is an expert at keeping you engaged whilst slipping sinister details past your guard. He uses multiple timelines and cleverly-timed plot twists so you’re never quite sure what you know. Until it’s too late 

‘1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame… 

As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending.’ 

Collected Ghost Stories by M R James 

61nSDjYBgbL__SX314_BO1,204,203,200_The master of the spooky, sinister and downright weird. M R James has been a favourite of mine for many, many years. There is something about his stories that is just so…out there. There’s a reason these stories are classics and continue to be popular to this day. A must for anyone craving chills and thrills.  

‘Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M. R. James was an eminent scholar who spent his entire adult life in the academic surroundings of Eton and Cambridge. His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of the everyday, in which documents and objects unleash terrible forces, often in closed rooms and night-time settings where imagination runs riot. Lonely country houses, remote inns, ancient churches or the manuscript collections of great libraries provide settings for unbearable menace, from creatures seeking retribution and harm. These stories have lost none of their power to unsettle and disturb.’ 

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill 

91HN+g3fS7LYes, I know there’s a movie with Daniel Radcliffe. Yes it’s jumpy, sinister, atmospheric. But honestly, the book is something else. Lower-key, but the spookier for it in my opinion, and an all-round more sinister conclusion, this one is a must for a rainy evening when you’re alone in the house. 

‘Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.’ 

 

There’s a little to keep you going. And I also have a short spooky story of my own, Cenwick Priory, available here should you wish to indulge your need for creeps and shudders further. 

Later, folks. Stay spooky

 

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SciFi, Romance, Drafting & Grafting

Greetings all.

A general update on all my various goings-on.

First off, I had a simply wonderful weekend at Scarborough Science Fiction festival in April, as usual. Thanks so much to readers old & new as well as fellow fanatics that took

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My stall at Scarborough SciFi Festival. SciFi by the sea always a treat.

the time to come and say hi. Not least, thank you to the reader that told me she keeps the Orbit Series by her bed just to have it within easy-reach for re-reads. Made my day/weekend/year, in fact.

I’m spending the rest of the year concentrating on several all-new projects. I have the first draft of book 1 of a new series, Waste (Indiana Jones meets Mad Max, anyone?), to edit and shop around, whilst I try my hand at something in entirely different genre. Romance, in fact. Well, paranormal/romance/mystery/thriller crossovers to be precise.

Can’t be having it too simple, now, can I?

Granted, at first glance this appears to be a dramatic swerve away from all my projects so far. But as my focus has always been on character and relationships, albeit with an out-of-this-world backdrop, it was a pretty natural step for me. I’m a firm believer in it always being worth trying new things and I enjoy keeping my hand in with drafting whilst editing and shopping round a finished project.

Gotta keep writing, after all!

Stay tuned on Facebook or Twitter for more regular updates. And pictures of cats, most likely.

Again soon, my friends!

 

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It’s the most story-filled time of the year

apple-trees-in-winter-alamy-c3kkb7-580x435One of my favourite things about Christmas is the stories associated with it. It’s a time when we all re-visit many of their favourite stories, films and books. The comforting familiarity of these classics that, for many of us, have been with us since childhood, coupled with the long, dark evenings that provide ample justification for curling up with a book or in front of the TV, make this time magical for me.

So, here again in all its snow-clad glory, is a link to my Christmas-themed Short Story ‘Bleak Midwinter’ – my own re-telling of one of my most favourite festive tales.

Enjoy!

Bleak Midwinter

 

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‘Life Cycle’ performed for #WordsAloud

UntitledHere’s a wonderful video of some lovely people performing my short story ‘Life Cycle’ at Lancaster Fun Palace’s event ‘Words Aloud’ at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster.

So nice to hear it out loud, a completely new experience and most welcome.

To see the video, follow this link: https://youtu.be/iXQHgp3DQuc

To read the original story, click here

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I do enjoy a bit of cross-genre fun

Werewolves howl. Phantoms prowl. Halloween’s upon us now! So let’s settle down with something on the spooky side of crime fiction. Here’s the first of this week’s special selection of chilling thrillers, exploring the mysterious hinterland between hardboiled noir and the beasts which prowl in the far beyond… Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg Let’s kick […]

via Criminal Halloween Reading — MurderMayhem&More

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Lancaster Event – The Orbit Series Turns 3. Book signing and CAKE

It’s hard to believe buy 3 years ago this month Zero, book 1 in the Orbit Series, launched. To celebrate that and the two sequels that have followed, I’m teaming up with Alternative Clothing and Gifts Store Ahoy in Lancaster (which also turns 3 this month!) to celebrate with book signings, raffle, cake and more.

Find out more on the Facebook event here.

See you there!

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Update

Hi everyone!

Just a quickie.

First off, CoxCon was so amazing. Thanks to John and Gen and all you wonderful folks, I sold a record amount of copies. I want to thank everyone who came to speak to me, talked to me about reading/writing/scifi/films, bought the books or made the special effort to come and see me to tell me how much then enjoyed them. Made my year, it really did.

I’m not in this for the sales, I’m in it for the stories. Writing stories that people enjoy, in however small a way, is my Primary Directive. Discovering I’m achieving that never gets old.

I’m channelling all the positive energy into the next project. Draft 1 of Book 1 on the new series is going well. I’m about 1/2 way through, hoping to have a manuscript finished and ready to pitch to agents at the beginning of 2018. Nail biting stuff! But it’s so much fun trying something different.

More details soon!

In the mean time, this October will be the anniversary of book 1 in the Orbit Series, Zero, launching back in 2014. The Orbit Series is 3 years old! To celebrate I’m going to do a local book signing event in Lancaster at the wonderful Ahoy shop.

All covers

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It is also Ahoy’s third birthday too so we’re going to have a joint birthday party: cake, books, sale on awesome clothes. What else could one need at a weekend?

Date and details to be announced soon!

Peace & love, fellow adventurers

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Counting Down to CoxCon 22.7.17

Greetings all.

This week I am mostly beavering away at Draft 1 of Book 1 of a brand new SciFi series (oooooo tease…all I’ll say right now is Indiana Jones meets Mad Max), getting super excited to be drafting something new and counting down to the epic gaming/youtube event that is CoxCon.

CoxCon is Sat 22nd and Sun 23rd July this year at the Telford International Centre, Midlands. I’m excited because it’s always such a great event with great vibes and really friendly people.

Looking forward to seeing faces old & new and getting updated on what’s new in the world of gaming (something I am woefully uninformed on!). Interest in the Orbit Series is always high too and it’s so fun speaking to people who are part way through or have finished the series.

Find out more about the event and order your tickets here

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Guests this year included Youtuber/gaming aficionado Jesse Cox (of course), the lovely couple Sam Strippin & Dodger and the always-hilarious Crendor.

I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, or even know very much at all, about the subject matter of their very popular YouTube stations, but what I do know is they are a kind, friendly bunch and enormously entertaining performers. Though I will miss seeing my good friends John & Genna Bain this year (popular Youtubers/games reviewers/cosplay geniuses and, also, to all intents and purposes my brother- and sister-in-law) but will be seeing them another time very soon, so very pleased about that.

This is my only current booked event in the near future. I have pared it back on events this year to concentrate on drafting the new novel, though I may do an 3-year anniversary event in Lancaster in October to commemorate the day book 1 in the series, Zero, was launched three years ago.

Wow, has it been 3 years? It’s so weird, three years isn’t that long, but so much has happened and the books have come so far, it feels like these stories have always been a part of me. Perhaps they have, and it just took that offer from Dagda Publishing in 2014 to get the ball rolling. It’s been a dream come true, in short, and it’s not over yet.

Stay up to date on Facebook and Twitter for any dates of any more events and news of the new series. And cat pictures and SciFi memes, most likely.

Peace be with you, friends.

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Silence Re-Release & SciFi by the Sea

Good afternoon, all!

I’m very pleased to announce that Book 3 in the Orbit Series Silence has been re-edited and is now slimmer, trimmer & better edited (phew!). Copies of the new edition are currently only available in hardcopy straight from me either in person for £8.99 at the Scarborough SciFi festival 8th & 9th Apr or through the post (contact me through Facebook or Twitter to arrange and order, £10 including postage )

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New Edition Released Mar 2017

 

I am hoping to have the Amazon files updated ASAP so you can get it for your Kindles and/or order internationally.

I’m so happy that Orbit Series is complete and out there, chugging along under its own steam and (hopefully) building its own momentum. It’s been one heck of a journey!

Never to rest on those laurels, I’ve already started drafting a new series. It’s super exciting playing with brand new characters in a brand new setting. That’s all I will say for now.

For now, I’m just getting excited for Scarborough SciFi Festival weekend of 8th April! Always have such fun at that event.

Scifi Poster

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