My Free eBook – The Horror in the Library and Other Stories

I’ve finally done it – I’ve gone and self-published my first ebook.

It’s called The Horror in the Library and Other Stories, and it can be found over on Smashwords where it will cost you the princely sum of zero of your English pounds. That’s right, it’s completely free!

Why? Well, there’s only four stories in there – it’s a sampler, a taste of things to come, a sort of literary EP. If I can get people to read it, maybe they’ll enjoy it. And if they enjoy it, maybe they’ll want more. And if they want more, maybe I’ll be motivated to write harder to give them more.

How can you read it if you don’t have a smartphone, a Kindle or other such device! I’m glad you asked! My recommendation is to download a program like Calibre – it’s free and will let you read ebooks of all different types and formats (which means you can take advantage of the Humble Bundle book bundles more often!). I’m reliably informed that there are browser extensions that will let you read ebooks in your browser, but to be honest I’m not sure how much I trust them, so downloader beware.

I’d like to ask you all a quick favour – even if you don’t want to read the stories (which is fair enough), could you please spare a moment to spread the link to the book around a little? That way it might get in the eyes of people I don’t know, which is an absolute win as far as I’m concerned.

If you do read the stories, be sure to tell me what you think in the comments!

creativity, writing

Six Word Stories

Writing is hard. In my experience, it involves squinting hard at a screen then typing a handful of words, only to immediately delete most of them. Rinse, lather, repeat until braindeath. It’s nice when it comes easily, when you get into the flow of it, but that’s pretty rare for me.

That’s where writing exercises come in. I need to engage in these more often. They’re a way of flexing brain muscles that I’ve been letting atrophy. A drabble here, a stream of consciousness there. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write.

One of my favourite exercises is the Six Word Story. The aim is to write a self-contained story that says everything it needs to say in just six words. The most famous one is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though there’s doubt as to whether or not he actually wrote it : “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” There’s a whole story’s worth of sorrow in those six words alone.

I find it difficult to get a whole story in six words, but that’s why it’s a challenge. Here’s a few I came up with :

What goes up sometimes comes down.

I thrash, I flail, I sink.

I aim my gun. Still miss.

Since you left, I’ve been sleeping.

“Please don’t,” she said. I did.

“Please don’t.” I did it anyway.

Do Not Push? What could possibly-

No experience? No job for you.

Play it again, Sam. No? Ok.

Sad songs, empty glass. She’s gone.

Screams. Heart pounding. Crying. Baby boy.

“Look out for-!” SPLAT. “… never mind.”

My stomach hurts. Get it out.

Ate Dad. Could have tasted better.

Got super powers. Jumped. Couldn’t fly.

Dead on arrival. Why’s he moving?

Where’s the holy water? Oh shit.

I loved her. Now she’s gone.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Click.

Now cut the red NO WAIT

I should write. What’s on TV?

The stench of death. How lovely.

The words won’t come. Blank screen.

Plastic bottle, plastic bag, plastic flesh.

I bite down and drink deep.

The hunger burns. I eat more.

Feel free to share your own in the comments!


30 Day Film Challenge – 31. That’s All Folks

So there you have it. 30 Days, 30 blogposts. It was touch and go for a while there as to whether or not I was going to make it. As it is, I changed a few of the topics and juggled the order around at times to make it easier. And of course bent the rules a little here and there. It’s easy to justify a little mild cheating when it’s on my own terms and the stakes are so low.

To be honest, though, this month was partly an exercise in keeping up momentum and partly an excuse to talk about film. As you may have guessed, I love films. I love sitting down and losing myself in another world. I also love letting a less gripping film wash over me while I do other things – yes, shock of all shocks, I am capable of multitasking. Who’d have think it.

There’s something magic in the way you can really get caught up in a good story, It’s akin to the magic that can be found in a good book. It’s about story, and characters, and compelling narratives, and spectacle. Where the magic of books is a deep connection between two people, author and reader, the magic of film is a collaborative effort shared by hundreds.

I don’t really have anything deep to add. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts and I hope that you may feel like you’ve gotten to know me a little better through them. I do think you can tell a lot about a person from their film tastes. For example, you can tell how pretentious they are or how much they love explosions.

Next month I’ll try and update a minimum of twice a week, though who knows what I’ll find to talk about. After that, though… ah, after that.

The nights are drawing in. The shadows are growing longer. The wind has begun to whistle eerily through the cracks in the walls, in the floor, in the fabric of reality itself.

October is coming…

Halloween is coming…

Horror is coming…


30 Day Film Challenge – 30. The Movie That First Made You Realise You Wanted to Make Movies

As you may know (because I won’t shut up about it), I have been known to make short films with my friends. I’m hoping to make this the first step on the road to becoming a professional filmmaker (though that’s a long way off at this stage). It’ll involve a lot of hard work and a lot of compromises – but that’s how you get started.

Clerks is the film with which nerd icon Kevin Smith started his career. He was working as, yes, a clerk in a store. in fact, it was the very store where he shot the movie. He would do his shift and then, after hours, film the movie there. He sold his entire comic book collection to finance the movie – though now he has bought it all back and then some. He cast his friends in bit parts, though he he got actual actors for the lead roles. Unknowns, but still. They also filmed in black and white, not to be arty or edgy, but because it was significantly cheaper.

Is the film perfect? No, not by a long stretch. It’s very cheaply made, and it shows. Some of the shots are clunky, the pacing isn’t always great and the sound quality isn’t great. But it’s made with heart, and that shows too. Everyone involved worked hard and had a good time doing it. The commentary on the Clerks X disc is worth the price of the DVD alone, as they talk about the behind the scenes procedures and so on.

When I watched the special features and listened to the commentary, I thought ‘I could do that’ – it’s a challenge, but it’s doable. I just had no idea how to start, and so I didn’t. Years went by, and then my friend James came up to me and said he wanted to make my short story Jeremy into a short film and would I like to help? And the rest is a well worn cliché.

If you have any interest in making films, you should watch this film and its commentary. You should also watch The Evil Dead and read about the steps they took to get that film made, it’s a real eye-opener. There’s much you can learn from those who came before you, but ultimately the best way to learn is to try and do.

And that’s all, folks! 30 Days, 30 blog posts, 30 movies (more or less). One blog post a day for a whole month, an entire month’s worth of writing! Thank goodness that’s over, all that writing was really getting to me. Now to sit back and return to my regularly schedu-

What? 31 days in August? Really?



30 Day Film Challenge – 29. A Movie You Wish You’d Seen in The Cinema

When you see a film in the cinema, it can go one of two ways. You can be distracted by those around you, as a child kicks the back of your seat and a bored teen checks their Twitter feed in front of you and sweet packets rustle all around you and you just want to go home… or you can be transported and whisked away into a shared state of induced hypnosis along with everyone else. There’s no middle ground.

When it goes right, I love the cinema experience. The swanky chairs, the overpriced popcorn, the sound that blasts you out of your seat. I always feel anxious going in that sitting in a room full of strangers will be awkward and uncomfortable – that’s rarely the case, though, even when I end up sitting next to a stranger. If I had more money, I’d go to the cinema more often.

Of course, you can’t catch every film in the cinema – especially not those from decades before you were born! I like to keep an eye out for screenings of classic movies, because there are plenty of films that I’d love to see at the cinema. I’ve caught Alien, ET, The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I hope to catch more soon.

Of all the films I’d love to see on the big screen, Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns are the ones that would kill me. I would die of sheer joy. His films are so epic in their scope, but I’ve only ever seen them on the small screen. The huge sweeping landscapes were shot for cinema, not living rooms. I want to experience them as they were intended. I want to get lost in that desert West, with gunslingers and duels and haunting melodies. I want to sit in that darkened room and be swallowed up by the grand scale of it all.

It’d be nice to see the Back to the Future trilogy in the cinema, or to be thrilled by Jaws on the big screen, but there’s something about the beauty of the Sergio Leone Westerns that makes me long to see them writ large.

If you ever spot one screening locally, please let me know!


30 Day Film Challenge – 28. A Favourite Documentary

I love telling jokes. There’s a craft to it – you can’t just mumble your way to the punchline and expect to get a laugh. It’s all in the delivery. It’s not even what you say, it’s how you say it – or in some cases how you don’t say it; a perfectly timed eyebrow-raise or sharp look can get just as many laughs as a witty bon mot.

I also love telling anti-jokes. Anti-jokes are in no way about the punchline – if anything, the punchline is usually a letdown. in an anti-joke, the point is the fun you have getting there. If I’ve never told you The Ducky Joke, remind me next time I’ve had a drink and I’ll show you what I mean. I’ve not told it in ages so I’m a bit rusty, but I’ll get back into the swing of it.

The greatest of the anti-jokes is The Aristocrats, the subject of this documentary. A legend from the days of vaudeville and variety, The Aristocrats isn’t so much a joke as a comedian’s exercise. The joke always starts the same way – a man walks into a talent agency and says ‘boy, have I got an act for you!’. He then proceeds to describe a family act, though in some versions he brings the family with him to act it out in the hapless agent’s office. The act is invariably a vile, crude, offensive, lewd, scatological, gross, abusive nightmare, getting worse and worse as the joke goes on, with all sorts of horrendous actions and bodily fluids all over the place. It reaches a crescendo and comes to an end, after which point the dazed and horrified talent agent asks ‘what the hell do you call an act like that?’ And the man says, ‘the aristocrats!’.

I told you, it’s an anti-joke. The point of it isn’t that the punchline is funny, it’s that the joke takes a long time to tell and racks up the horrified laughs. And this documentary discusses its form, its function, its merits and the different ways it can be employed.

The ‘cast’ of the documentary are a whole host of comedians, including the late great Robin Williams, many of whom tell their own version of the joke. It’s a fascinating insight into the mechanics of comedy and a chance to laugh at dick jokes all in one. The comedians discuss punchlines and why the joke works and tell other, similar jokes along the way. Some of the jokes hit better than others, but when someone like George Carlin or Whoopi Goldberg is onscreen, you can’t help but listen and laugh along with them.

As the documentary goes on, you find yourself thinking up your own version. You can’t stop yourself. The Aristocrats is an anti-joke in which you express your innermost squicks, because you inevitably fill the act with the things you find the most offensive. It’s like a game of Cards Against Humanity that way.

Get me drunk enough and maybe I’ll tell you mine…


30. Day Film Challenge – 27. A Movie That Turned its Genre Upside Down

We all know how some films are going to go. It’s not that they’re tired and predictable, though some of them are, of course. It’s just that with certain genres come certain expectations, certain tropes that we see played out again and again. Boy meets girl and they hate each other, so of course they’re an item by the end of the movie. A ragtag sports team of misfits can’t win a match until their unorthodox new coach breathes new life into them. Someone pretends to be something they’re not to win the affections of another, until the liar is revealed and all seems lost until the inevitable happy ending.

And, of course, the inevitable demise of the partying college kids who visit the creepy cabin in the woods.

Cabin in the Woods is a film about a group of college kids who go to party at a cabin in the woods. More importantly, it’s a film about why they go to party at a cabin in the woods. It’s about why you can watch a horror movie and go ‘surely I’ve seen this before, but with vampires?’. It’s about why you find yourself throwing your arms around and screaming ‘don’t go out there alone, what, are you high?!’. Everything happens for a reason, you see. There is a method to the madness.

What’s so great about this film is you can enjoy it as a meta treatise on horror films, or you can just sit back and enjoy it on its own merit. The cast are clearly having a great time, and in the last third the film just sort of goes ‘ah to hell with it’ and explodes in a shower of blood and monsters. It’s also all very funny at times. But if you look only a little a bit deeper, you can appreciate it for what it actually is – a love letter to the form of horror movies.

It’s very difficult to talk about Cabin in the Woods without spoiling its central conceit, which is an excellent framing device for the action revolving around the unfortunate cabin-visitors. It’s really quite clever, and by the end of the film your questions are all answered and wrapped up very satisfactorily.

Now, let’s all split up and go explore the spooky forest alone…


30 Day Film Challenge – 26. A Movie You Used to Love but Can’t Stand Now

As we get older and gain more life experience, we find that our tastes can change drastically. You can go from hating broccoli to realising you’ve just been cooking it wrong (tip: roast it, with garlic. Crunchalicious!). You can grow up holding relatively conservative beliefs only to find them falling by the wayside as you learn more about the world. And you can go from laughing uproariously at fart and poo jokes to shrugging your shoulders and smiling weakly.

There was a time when Jim Carrey was the king of comedy. His madcap shenanigans were the very definition of side-splitting. Those goofy voices! The gurning! The… er… the goofy voices … and the gurning … yeah, the problem is there’s really not too much to his style of humour. A bunch of obnoxious catchphrases, a face made of rubber and that’s about it. It was appealing to pre-teen me because I was the target audience and my tolerance threshold for puerile and childish humour was still pretty high. As I’ve grown older that’s changed – I still enjoy a spot of the puerile (Cards Against Humanity, anyone?) but presentation is more important to me, and I’m just too annoyed by Jim Carrey’s earlier  movies to be able to enjoy them again.

The Ace Ventura films are the worst offenders (although, Dumb and Dumber…) because there’s almost nothing to recommend them. No edge, no interesting story or clever jokes. Just wave after wave of ‘wacky’ antics, followed by oddly-inflected catchphrases instead of punchlines. It was funny to run around shouting ‘alrighty then!’ when I was 13. It’s rather less so now. There’s also the matter of the hideously uncomfortable transmisogyny of the film’s climax, which still makes me cringe when I remember that I found it funny. I like to think I’ve grown as a person since then, though probably not as much as I’d hope. I’m working on being a better person.

I still have a soft spot for a couple of Jim Carrey films; The Mask is still a favourite of mine because all the cartoony gurning stuff actually has a place and a reason within the world of the film, and it’s not just some guy being weird for the sake of being weird. And The Truman Show is a masterpiece, the first time Jim Carrey showed that he could carry a film through actual, you know, acting. Those I can revisit, but the Ace Venturas? No. For me, their time is past.


30 Day Film Challenge – 25. A Film That is the Most Boring Thing I Have Ever Put in My Eyes


Sometimes you need a popcorn extravaganza, with explosions and fistfights galore. That’s fine, there’s no shame in that, we all need something to switch off and enjoy. On the flipside, sometimes you need a good low-key brain-bender, something that you really have to pay attention to in order to get the most out of it. It’s tough going and you loose the thread at times, but when it all clicks into place and you figure out, it’s such a rush, a wave of satisfaction.

Primer is not such a movie, though it desperately wants to be. in it, four young men are hard at work building a mysterious machine in someone’s garage. What’s the machine? What does it do? What sinister plot will unravel? Fucked if I know, I started drifting off halfway through.

The problem with the film is that it completely fails to engage you. There are long stretches where not very much happens at all while characters talk – what do they talk about? Again, fucked if I know. Half of the dialogue is incomprehensible because it makes no sense (chalk this down to me not being highbrow enough for it) and the other half is incomprehensible because you can barely hear it (chalk this down to a shockingly bad sound mix). It just goes on and on until it ends.

I know the plot involves multiple timelines, and so it should be fun trying to tease out what’s happening at any given moment in the grand scheme of things, like untying a particularly tangled knot by teasing out the ends and following the thread. It should be a mystery you want to solve. But the problem is that the film doesn’t give you anything to care about. To me, the characters were indistinguishable and interchangeable. They were just sort of there. it really makes it difficult to care about what happens to them.

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m just not the target audience for this film. As it is, I only know one person who loves it (sorry, Mick) and I still just can’t see why. Watching the film was like watching paint dry, except the paint already dried hours ago and you couldn’t tell because it was just so dull and bland.


30 Day Film Challenge – 24. A Movie That Justifies its Long Runtime

Lawrence of Arabia is a film so long that its trailer lasts nearly 5 minutes. Clocking in at around 3 and a half hours, it’s the sort of runtime that has Peter Jackson salivating. The intermission should have an intermission. If you want to watch the whole film without a bathroom break you might need a catheter, or at least an empty bottle.

It’s long, is what I’m saying. When someone uses the word ‘epic’ in terms of film, Lawrence of Arabia is often the first example they reach for. It’s an account of the British’s attempt to unify the nomadic Arab tribes against the Ottoman Empire and help win WWI, an attempt that worked pretty well in that the Ottoman Empire is no more and said tribes (eventually) got their own countries with borders nicely mapped out by their colonial overlords. And if you buy the film, it’s all down to one man the eponymous Lawrence.

Shot mainly in Morocco, Spain and the beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan, the film is visually stunning. The desert stretches off into the distance in every shot, with all its harsh but elegant beauty. David Lean and DoP Freddie Young have a perfect eye for gorgeous shots – check out Omar Sharif’s first introduction, or the first time we see a figure topping the crest of a sand dune. These are shots that have influenced filmmakers for decades since.

The cast is excellent too, if you can get past the odd bit of brownface (I’m looking at you, Alec Guinness). After all, it’s the film that brought the late great Omar Sharif into the public eye, and of course catapulted Peter O’Toole to superstardom.

If you can get past the fact that your bum will be stiff and your back will be aching by the time you’ve finished the film, I really do suggest that you watch it. It’s slow-paced, but it’s worth every minute.