Dennis Wheatley

The Best of Dennis Wheatley.Well, it was my birthday at the weekend and I received some great books. I also received a bit of birthday cash which I promptly turned into CDs and yet more books. The most exciting of these new acquisitions is definitely  a volume entitled Classic Black Magic from Dennis Wheatley. I found it in the horror section of Waterstones and was immediately drawn to the dramatic red and black Satanic cheesiness of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to read it and not just keep it on the shelf. It’s just that I haven’t read any of his stuff since I was about fourteen years-old when I read The Ka of Gifford Hillary. This new book reprints The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter and Gateway to Hell – the first two of which I also read back in my teen years.

The trouble for me is that being an atheistic/agnostic/skeptic type of person, the appearance of Satan in horror stories does little for me. I think that some interesting things can be done with him as a fictional character (as I’m hoping that my forthcoming novel will show), but as a character of fear and absolute evil, he adds as much tension to a book as The Grinch.

When I was a lad and still on the cusp of Catholicism, Wheatley’s version of the devil scared me witless. I had the suspicion or perhaps vestigial belief that such creatures were real and potent somewhere in the world. It was the same concept that made The Exorcist such a shocker to me at the time. Yes, I knew that it was a horror story, but was some of it based on some sort of twisted reality?

This unease was compounded by the fact that reading horror novels was discouraged both by my parents and by my school teachers. There were always tacit indications that such literature might be a gateway to – if not Hell itself – then to something more sinister.

I laugh now imagining that my reading of The Omen novels, of Stephen King and even the Armada ghost story anthologies might have been the first steps on a ladder that led to a top shelf full of esoteric tomes that might have been used to summon Lucifer himself.

I’m looking forward to looking backward; reading Wheatley’s dark stories again, just to see if they can conjure up any long-lost chills.

Happy birthday Bill!

William ShakespeareIt’s The Bard’s birthday today (something much more worthy of celebration than St. George’s Day!).

I assume that this is why the publishers chose to release Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy at this time. I’ve had this book on pre-order since learning of it in a Guardian article a few months ago, and it arrived yesterday. It’s a collection of academic works pulled together to, supposedly, once and for all lay to rest the Oxfordian theorists idea that William Shakespeare wasn’t in fact the author of the works attributed to him.

Now, I generally have three or four books on the go. But I’m setting them all aside just to read this book. I’ve never been convinced by the conspiracy theories posited about the man and it’s going to be good to have something which (I hope), will shut up the nay-sayers once and for all.

Of course real life doesn’t work like that does it? We’ve seen it time and time again with everyone from religious creationists to 9/11 paranoiacs, that even the most compelling evidence just forces them to entrench their positions.

So, I’m getting ahead of myself and declaring victory before even reading a word. But what I’d really like, is not for this book to reignite the debate on the subject  – as there is no really serious debate. It would be nice for it to just lay the whole matter to rest and for this fringe group of deniers to climb down off their soap boxes and just let us enjoy the literary legacy of this incredible man.

We all know that this won’t happen though…

The Last Bookshop

I found the link to this charming short film in my Flipboard news feed this morning. It’s ironic, as I was reading it on my Kindle and the story involves explores a possible future where books are no longer read and all literature has become copyrighted by the ‘Gamazon’ corporation (geddit?).

After viewing, I almost felt guilty for owning the device.


Iain M. Banks

I came pretty late to discovering the work of Iain M. Banks (Transition was the first of his novels that I read), and I’ve had Surface Detail sitting the shelf since its release and still haven’t gotten around to reading it. So it was particularly galling to read that he now has a terminal cancer and might not even see out the year. Hot on the heels of James Herbert’s recent death, it feels like a low period for British writers.

But Banks’ stoicism shines through in the message posted in his website. He jokes of recently asking his girlfriend to marry him and to ‘do me the honour of becoming my widow’. And, then he goes on to praise the ‘heroic’ efforts of his publishers to bring forward the publication date of his latest novel, The Quarry, in order for him to be able to finish it and to see it released.

It all led me to wonder whether being a writer would make it easier to be faced with mortality than for others – what with our inclination for self-examination and constant rumination on life. Or, would one’s imagination make the prospect of demise so much more terrifying by being fleshed out in all its final detail and possibility?

Mrs A asked me what I’d do if I learned that I only had six months to live. And having my own morbid streak a mile wide, I was able to answer with some certainty that in some ways the prospect would provide some sort of relief. I’d know for sure where the bus ride was going to end and it would remove the fear and uncertainty to a great degree. Of course, I’m not in that position and would probably shift from that sanguine view if really faced with my own Sword of Damocles.

I decided that I’d pack my bags and head for my favourite holiday destination of Fethiye in Turkey. I’d spend my days there in the sun, saying farewell to friends, drinking the local beer, growing fat on the local cuisine and wandering among all the ancient ruins. Then, just before my travel insurance ran out, I’d throw myself into the bay and end it all on my own terms.

Perhaps by that time, there’ll be a frustrated writer blogging somewhere bemoaning that he’s just heard of the imminent demise of Aiden Truss. He’s had his first and only novel on his shelf for months and hasn’t even gotten around to reading it yet. But he’ll praise the stoicism of the author who was determined to go out on his own terms. But then laugh at the inadvertent comedy of the whole affair where the dramatic suicide was undermined by the fact that the author had grown so fat that he just floated across the harbour and had last been seen drifting out to sea in the direction of Rhodes.

Mr Banks, may your remaining time be peaceful, fulfilling and free from the slapstick of my own imagined ending.

A USB typewriter anyone?

I remember writing with a mechanical typewriter. My mum had one when I was younger and I used to write my dodgy horror movie scripts on it.

None of them have survived to this day (I was only ten or eleven years-old), but what has stayed with me is the sheer unpleasantness of the  experience of bashing away on the stiff and unforgiving keys. So, why anyone would want to invent a USB interface for typewriters is beyond me. In fact, I thought that this was all an April Fool’s joke until I saw the amount of websites offering to sell them.


I suppose that these might appeal to the kind of people who see Steampunk as a lifestyle choice, rather than as a literary sub-genre, but otherwise I’m a bit befuddled by the concept.

Final draft

Scriptorium.At last, the full editing process is at an end, and my editor has informed me that my novel is ready for ‘formatting, cover art and publicising’.

This has followed a couple of days of frantic final edits, corrections and back and forth with comments and clarifications. I still have no idea of the publication date as yet, but I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to tell me soon.

The strange thing is that after all the writing, editing and waiting I’m now more nervous about the fact that it’s all completely in someone else’s hands. I assume that I’ll have some input on the cover design, but other than that the process and machinery of publication will now take over and it’s all out of my hands until the book is launched.

Further progress…

While visiting the folks in Wales I had an email from my editor to say that the comments and suggestions from the beta readers had come back. I’ve now got 250 pages of tracked changes to wade through.

At least page one didn’t say ‘What a load of bollocks!’

Once I’m done with accepting and commenting (or perhaps even defending against some changes), they are going to start formatting it for publication. It’s been seven months since I actually finished the first draft of the manuscript and it’s good to see things moving slowly toward being published.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more details about the novel soon.