The Irresistible Summons: Themes

Over the last few weeks, I’ve posted various blogs about my latest horror/supernatural conspiracy thriller novel The Irresistible Summons, often delving into inspirations, the writing process, and so on. In this article, I’m going to talk briefly about the themes and ideas it explores, whilst as ever attempting to skirt around spoilers.

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Firstly and most obviously to anyone who has read the book, there is definitely an inherent warning about the dangers of playing God. The frightening possibility of morally and spiritually catastrophic technological innovation isn’t necessarily a new theme, but here I offer my own take on a subject that has proved increasingly of interest to those with half an eye on scientific developments. I can say no more about the specifics, for fear of spoilers.

Secondly, I wanted to explore some of the more outlandish ideas contained in both the Bible and other religious texts (the Book of Enoch for instance) involving what supposedly took place between mankind and supernatural forces in the First Age, pre-Flood era. Anyone familiar with the mischief the fallen angels caused in this era will already have an idea of where my story goes.

Thirdly, in keeping with my fascination for niche religious movements, I wanted to write a protagonist from a fairly strict Messianic Jewish background. My protagonist Naomi has since turned her back on the beliefs she was brought up with. The confusion and alienation she experiences trying to come to terms with what she actually believes is a recurrent theme in much of my work.

Finally, like all good ghost stories, for all the spine-tingling spookiness, The Irresistible Summons is actually a meditation on grief and it’s potentially far-reaching effects. Many of the finest ghost stories are about comfort and catharsis, beneath all the scares, and those lofty ideals are what I aimed for in this novel.

If that all sounds terribly worthy or even preachy, it certainly wasn’t my intention to grind an axe when I wrote the story. My primary motivation was simply to write a really gripping supernatural conspiracy thriller that took gothic horror haunted house tropes and transferred them to a more modern setting. I sincerely hope readers will primarily read The Irresistible Summons to be entertained by a page-turning, nail-biting, ghostly, emotionally resonant mystery.

The Irresistible Summons is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is out now. Paperbacks or Kindle downloads can be ordered here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Film Review – Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s much anticipated Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is an interesting watch and certainly a must-see for the Tarantino faithful. The more casual viewer is likely to be less impressed, and in honesty this lacks the vital fire of his early work, but there are still definite pleasures to be had.

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Set in 1969, the plot concerns has-been/never-quite-was actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is informed his Hollywood career is on the skids by producer Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino in an extended cameo), since he is gradually being moved from action lead to bad guy heavy. Rick’s stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) spends much of the film trying to cheer him up, whilst driving him around, and generally looking after his affairs. However, it so happens that Rick lives next door to Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), so an inevitable feeling of “uh-oh” simmers quietly in the background, as the Manson family begin to intersect in their lives.

Saying too much more about the plot would be foolish, suffice to say this being a Tarantino film, things are never entirely straightforward. Many of Tarantino’s trademarks are present and correct: extended sequences with a “hang-out” vibe, a well-chosen pop soundtrack, a Mount Everest of nerdy forgotten pop culture references, and – it goes without saying – f-word strewn dialogue, and some vicious bursts of violence. On that level, this doesn’t disappoint.

On another level (and here I skirt around spoilers), there’s are elements that feel a lot less fresh or outrageous because Tarantino himself has used them before, in his earlier work. The climax in particular isn’t as audacious as some might think, even if it is arguably appropriate and in keeping with the revenge theme that often crops up in his work. I was also disappointed by how little Sharon Tate had to do in the film, although Margot Robbie manages to imbue the character with an angelic energy that is testament to her considerable talents.

Against that, the performances of DiCaprio and Pitt are both superb, and their friendship at the heart of the story strikes an agreeably elegiac and poignant tone. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is glowing and nostalgic, making the film very easy on the eye. Also, if you know the films and history concerned, there is a lot of fun to be had with some of the cameo roles from the likes of Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). It is also worth noting a few other minor roles from the likes of Bruce Dern, Lena Dunham, and Dakota Fanning.

Ultimately, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is an indulgent film with plenty of longueurs that perhaps could have been trimmed, but it is undeniably entertaining. Precisely how entertaining will depend on your level of devotion to the Temple of Tarantino.

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The Irresistible Summons: Deleted Scenes

In the process of writing and rewriting my latest horror/supernatural conspiracy thriller novel The Irresistible Summons I cut or rewrote a substantial amount of material from draft to draft.

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The initial draft weighed it at around 109,000 words, with the final version pared down to just over 93,000. The polishing of this novel proved a particularly interesting process this time, in that whilst the mechanics of the main plot didn’t change, key scenes, subplots, and sometimes entire characters were removed. The epilogue was also entirely rewritten. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the more interesting elements of what was cut or changed (I shall skirt around spoilers).

Naomi’s ex-fiancee – During the opening act, after the disastrous prison interview but before Naomi’s visit to her parents and her brother, we are introduced to Naomi’s depressed alcoholic ex-fiancee Richard. He features in two chapters where he turns up in her flat, attempts to commit suicide, and is saved at the last moment by an apparently supernatural premonition. This spooky incident is subsequently linked to what is going on in the top secret Persephone corporation experiments. It also turns out Richard’s mother Hilary has links to the coven which comes into the story later on.

Originally I wanted the character of Richard to suggest that Naomi had a compassionate side that was drawn to “broken” people that she thought she could fix. However, this compassion was a mask for her own grief resulting from losing her teenage lover Toby, whom she couldn’t “fix”. In the end, I decided this character development was unnecessary so deleted Richard, Hilary, and the entire subplot.

Murders in Persephone – I have to skirt around spoilers a bit here, but there are certain characters that come to a sticky end that did so much earlier in the story, precipitating murder investigations that complicated the main plot. In the end, I felt the police aspect of the story cluttered the narrative, so I removed these murders, and instead restricted police involvement to the first mysterious disappearance.

The Left Luggage Official – This funny scene I was very reluctant to delete, since it was inspired by something that once happened to me in Paddington station. Naomi loses a vital piece of luggage on her return from the West Country, which is important to the plot. In the finished version of the novel, the interactions with the left luggage official are brief and to the point. However, in earlier drafts, a lengthy comic sequence ensued, in which Naomi gets into a hair-clutching, Basil Fawlty-esque argument with an imbecilic, those-are-the-rules, officious jobsworth. Although amusing, the scene belongs in a much more comedic narrative, and not in this novel.

The Dove Society – In earlier drafts, those from Persephone investigating the mysterious disappearances and apparitions have formed themselves into a secret society of sorts. They use a few peculiar “dove” gestures to greet one another, which a baffled Naomi witnesses. Eventually I decided these people didn’t need to be in a secret society. They just needed to be concerned individuals with a shared goal, and there was no need for superfluous mystery where plenty already existed.

The Finale – I have to be careful what I reveal here, but in earlier drafts, the finale involved a great deal more detailed explanations that screamed “Look, I’ve done my research”, along with more getting lost in dark tunnels and corridors, and generally gruesome mayhem. Even full-on thrills and scares can get a bit tiresome and repetitive, plus I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with my research credentials, so I eventually cut these chapters down a great deal.

The Epilogue – On reflection, the epilogue in earlier drafts was absurdly optimistic, and tonally felt like it belonged more in a romantic novel. For the final version, this was replaced entirely, closing on a much more melancholy note that brought the novel full circle.

The Irresistible Summons is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is out now. Paperbacks or Kindle downloads can be ordered here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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The Irresistible Summons: Settings and Research

Simon Dillon - Irresistible Summons full resWhilst writing my latest supernatural horror/conspiracy thriller novel The Irresistible Summons, I researched a number of paranormal, religious, and scientific subjects, as well as locations that were crucial to the narrative. However, in this article I’m going to skirt around some of what I delved into, for fear of spoilers.

One of the primary reasons I wrote the novel was because I wanted a haunted house story that wasn’t set in a traditional gothic house, but instead in a modern office building. The seeds of this idea came as far back as my university days. One particular building where I attended lectures had been designed in such a way that when lights were mostly switched off, the lobby, corridors, and staircases looked very sinister indeed. I even partially shot my dissertation film – a vampire short – in that building. The late, great Ken Russell himself saw a rough cut of the film, and rather liked it. But I am digressing (and showing off)…

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When it came to write this novel, setting it in London became a no-brainer, because I wanted the climax of the film to take place in the labyrinth of abandoned and disused London underground railway tunnels. I often joke that the only thing I need to write a good story is an imperilled heroine and a sinister labyrinth. To that end, The Irresistible Summons features a haunted office block on Canary Wharf, where a software company and various other businesses are based. Underneath this building are secret lower levels where nefarious top secret experiments are taking place, which in turn connect with the passages that lead into the old railway tunnels, and even darker ancient secrets.

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It’s not all set in the city. Some locations in the south-west are important to the story too, especially Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor. This ancient and atmospheric forest of stunted dwarf oaks has now featured in several of my novels, and one short story. However, this novel features, in my view, my most vivid, memorable, and emotionally resonant use of the location.

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As to the scientific fields I researched for the novel, I must remain tight-lipped so as not to spoil the surprise, but let me just say that one major theme of the story is far less outlandish than it sounds. Indeed, experiments and research into this particular field are being conducted and have advanced to an alarming degree. That’s all I’ll say, in the hope that it arouses curiosity about the novel.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the main protagonist in the novel, Naomi Levinson, is from a messianic Jewish background (although she is certainly what you might call “lapsed”). A minority religious group often derided by both Christians and Orthodox Jewish communities (especially in the Middle East), this proved an interesting subject to delve into, as I personally know a number of people in these groups. I used my own background in television as a knowledge base for the characters involved in documentary productions, but other obscure subjects touched on in the novel required more detailed research (Kabbalah exorcism, for instance).

In short, as ever, the research process for this novel proved fascinating and illuminating.

The Irresistible Summons is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is out now. Paperbacks or Kindle downloads can be ordered here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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The Irresistible Summons: Influences and Inspirations

Which books and films influenced The Irresistible Summons?

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Here are five key texts that informed the telling of my latest ghostly mystery novel.

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Pet Sematary – Stephen King’s bleakest novel is also concerned with how far people are prepared to go to bring back their loved ones from the dead, regardless of the cost. His novel is very different to mine, but the themes – desperately grieving individuals who lose sight of reality in the pursuit of their macabre goals – definitely share DNA with my story.

indexFatherlandThe Irresistible Summons isn’t just a modern gothic horror but also a conspiracy thriller. In fact, I’d argue the tone throughout is more conspiracy thriller than horror. For that reason, I’ve included this novel, by Robert Harris, in my list of influential stories. The plot – set in a parallel universe where the Nazis won the war – has no bearing whatsoever on my novel. However, the tone of investigation into a gradually uncovered conspiracy was certainly something I strove to emulate in my telling.

220px-Robin_Cook_-_ComaComa – Both Robin Cook’s novel and Michael Crichton’s film adaptation are key inspirations. The premise – a possible conspiracy in a Boston hospital whereby patients are being deliberately placed in irreplaceable comas – is a masterclass in escalating unease and paranoia, building to full blown suspense set pieces that are pure modern gothic. The film in particular is terrific, with Genevieve Bujold making a fantastic imperilled heroine. Michael Douglas is also good as her is-he-or-isn’t-he-in-on-it boyfriend. A real nail-biter, and a major tonal influence on my work (not just this novel either).

51PC4TRP1VL._SY445_Riget (The Kingdom) – This Danish TV miniseries, partly directed by Lars Von Trier, was edited together for an epic cinema release in the UK, which I caught sometime in the mid-1990s. I’ve never forgotten it. Think Casualty/ER meets Ghostbusters/The Exorcist, with a healthy dose of Twin Peaks thrown into the mix. Quirky, mysterious, funny and frightening, I cite this as an influence mainly for the notorious segment where a woman’s pregnancy is gradually revealed to have a disturbingly supernatural origin.

MV5BMjA5NzQ1NTgwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjUxMzUzMw@@._V1_The Descent – This brilliant Neil Marshall directed horror film, about a bereaved woman and her friends discovering more than they bargained for on a pot-holing expedition, was considered so disturbing that the ending was actually censored in the US, ending a few minutes before the version we see in the UK, and thus blunting the true horror of what has occurred. Said censored ending was certainly a key influence on one moment during the finale of my story.

The Irresistible Summons is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is out now. Paperbacks or Kindle downloads are available here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Three of my “Drabbles” have been accepted for the Curses and Cauldrons anthology from Blood Song Books!

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I recently had three “Drabbles” – micro-fiction tales of exactly 100 words – accepted for Blood Song Books’s Curses & Cauldrons anthology, edited by Zoey Xolton. My three witch related tales are entitled The Burning, Losing my Religion, and More Than She Bargained For.

Quite honestly I found writing Drabbles a fiendishly difficult challenge. Sticking to exactly one hundred words is horribly tricky, and a discipline in making every word count. I am much more comfortable working in short stories or novels, but nonetheless it was a very interesting writing experiment.

My three tiny tales are very much in keeping with themes and sensibilities inherent in much of my longer fiction, but to find out more about exactly what I’ve written, you’ll have to order a copy of the anthology.

Curses & Cauldron is available for pre-order here: www.books2read.com/Curses

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Recent Interviews with yours truly 3 – The Tangent Tree

Here is the third of a recent batch of interviews given around the subject of my newly released modern gothic mystery/supernatural conspiracy thriller novel The Irresistible Summons. This time, the interview was conducted by Samantha Stephen, as a spin-off mini-episode of our film podcast The Tangent Tree. She asks some very thoughtful questions, including why the protagonists in my thriller/horror stories tend to be female. Listen on Spotify, Podcast Addict, or iTunes, or simply click here.

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The Irresistible Summons is out now on Kindle or in paperback. Click here (for the UK) and here (for the US).

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Recent Interviews with yours truly 2 – Dragon Soul Press

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In the second of my recent interviews promoting my newly released novel The Irresistible Summons, I spoke with my publisher, Dragon Soul Press, about various things, including the writing process, avoiding predictability when working within genre formulas, what books make me cry, and my “writing kryptonite”. Click here to read the full interview.

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Recent Interviews with yours truly 1 – Galina Trefil

Over the next three days, I’ll be posting links to recent interviews conducted with me about my writing. These are mostly about my new novel The Irresistible Summons, but in this case, the interview was conducted by the excellent Galina Trefil, regarding my short story Papercut, written for romantic fantasy anthology First Love.

Galina asks incisive questions about fascinating subjects including literary symbolism, religious cults, loss of faith, and dream interpretation. I have to be honest and admit I was a lot more forthcoming about one or two rather personal subjects than usual. Check out the interview here.

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The Irresistible Summons – Out Now!

It’s finally here! My new novel The Irresistible Summons is officially released today! Check it out here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

Also, don’t forget you are invited to the Facebook release party for this book, today at 5pm UK time to 9pm UK time (12pm to 4pm East Coast time). Just click here at the appropriate time to join in the fun, games, giveaways, and so on.

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I will be hosting between 8:00pm and 8:30pm UK time (3:00pm – 3:30pm East Coast time), but my publisher, Dragon Soul Press, has cunningly invited other talented authors to co-host as well, at different times, including Zoey Xolton, Galina Trefil, Stephen Herczeg, Kevin J Kennedy, Anna Sinjin, and Charles Reis.

Here’s the blurb from the back of The Irresistible Summons:

The nail-biting new novel from the author of Spectre of Springwell Forest

Television producer Naomi Levinson makes documentaries debunking the supernatural.

When asked to film a promotional video for computer game company Persephone, she considers the task beneath her talents. But as production gets underway at the Persephone office block on London’s Canary Wharf, a mysterious disappearance, ghostly sightings, and lingering tragedy from Naomi’s past lead her to believe she might have stumbled into a genuine haunting.

As Naomi continues to investigate, past and present collide in a horrifying conspiracy. Cutting edge technology and ancient evil meet, leading to the discovery of a shocking and terrifying secret that could change the nature of life and death as we know it.

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