The Thistlewood Curse – cover design

The cover for my latest novel, The Thistlewood Curse, was designed by my wife Zara, derived from an image taken by her photographer mother, Frances Belsham. Frances’s original image showed a rugged Lundy cliff-face overlooking the Bristol Channel. Zara took this image, and made it appear as though the island itself were bleeding.

THE THISTLEWOOD CURSE Cover (JPG Print version)

I particularly liked this visual concept for multiple reasons. Firstly, it speaks of the initial death which puts the main plot in motion. Also, on a metaphorical level it hints at the dark, brutal, secret history gradually uncovered in the story, as well as the bloodbath that ensues in the finale.

I cannot say too much more, for fear of spoilers, but needless to say I am very pleased with the result. This is the first cover Zara has prepared for me, and I expect it will not be the last. Incidentally, she also designed my current blog header and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

Here is the blurb from the back of The Thistlewood Curse:

From the author of Children of the Folded Valley and The Birds Began to Sing

Can a ghost murder the living?

Lawrence Crane’s powers of astral projection are put to the ultimate test when he and his lifelong friend Detective Laura Buchan investigate a mysterious death on Lundy Island.

Sensing a dark power at work, they attempt to identify a human assassin under the control of supernatural evil.

But can they escape a terrifying, centuries-old curse?

You can download or buy print copies of The Thistlewood Curse from Amazon here.

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Film Review – Colossal

new-poster-anne-hathaway-in-colossal

The biggest surprise of Colossal is that despite it’s bizarre premise, it actually works very well.

After being dumped by her boyfriend and kicked out of his New York apartment, alcoholic Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her home town to try and rebuild her life. Here she meets up with old childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who runs a local bar and offers her a job to help her get back on her feet. In the meantime, a gigantic, kaiju-style monster appears in Seoul, and starts trashing the city. Gradually Gloria begins to realise that she and the monster are inexplicably connected.

Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has crafted an offbeat, blackly comic and frequently surprising work that feels genuinely different. It’s initial setup seems like familiar indie romantic comedy territory, but it then confounds expectations with some very dark turns. There’s a great central performance from Anne Hathaway, the rest of the cast are good too, and visual effects are limited but well done.

Despite the surreal laughs, Colossal feels unusually serious. A monster is always a metaphor, and in this case the various monster movie metaphors represent not only the damage caused by alcoholism, but also controlling, abusive relationships and the role played by enablers who keep addicts trapped in their cycles of misery. It’s also worth adding the usual warnings for strong language, for those who appreciate them.

To be fair, there are a couple of minor, less convincing moments near the very end, but for the most part Colossal remains a vibrant and unique experience. It won’t be for everyone, but I liked it very much.

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Another excerpt from The Thistlewood Curse

Here’s a second, slightly longer excerpt from my new supernatural thriller The Thistlewood Curse.

THE THISTLEWOOD CURSE Cover (JPG Print version)

Once on Lundy Island, Detective Sergeant Laura Buchan and her paranormal investigator friend Lawrence Crane are joined by Sally Thistlewood, another old friend, exploring the terrain, quietly looking for clues regarding the mysterious and sudden death of Sally’s husband Charles. They begin to sense an evil presence.

“As soon as they left the castle, Laura was glad she had wrapped up warm. Although the wind had dropped an icy chill lingered. Thick dark cloud covered the skies, and great rolling mists moved like ghosts through the cottages of Lundy village. They walked for a while in silence, trudging along the path past the Marisco Tavern and shop, past holiday homes and farm buildings, and out into open country.

Sally led Laura and Crane along a path that passed the Old Lighthouse, the airfield and Ackland’s Moor to the left. They reached the Quarter Wall shortly afterwards and passed through a gate into the fields beyond. Seagulls cawed amid the sounds of waves crashing against cliffs in the distance, and as they continued the mist gradually cleared, leaving only occasional patches of coastline gripped by thick fingers of fog.

Shivering, Laura once again sensed the same oppressive presence she had felt the previous day at the Old Lighthouse. As they continued their journey north along the paths and cliff tops, that presence seemed to get stronger. She glanced at Crane, who nodded silently, confirming that he felt the same.

To distract herself from the feeling of being watched by an invisible, malevolent entity, Laura made light conversation with Sally; mostly reminiscing about their past together, their time at school, University, old friends, places they had visited, parties they had been to… anything to distract from the present. There was a feeling of desperation in the exchanges, particularly on Sally’s part. No doubt she felt trapped both by her grief and her belief that the death of Charles was merely the start of something that was only going to get worse. Talking about the frivolous, care-free past wasn’t merely friends recalling good times. It was a dedicated, concerted effort at deflecting the oppression of the present.

But in spite of such efforts, the intangible feeling of malice inherent in the atmosphere only increased the further they walked… Lundy was a bleak but beautiful place, yet something had taken possession of it.

‘Can you feel it?’ Laura asked presently, giving up all pretence at light conversation.

Sally nodded. ‘It’s getting stronger all the time.’”

You can download or buy print copies of The Thistlewood Curse here.

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Film Review- Alien Covenant

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The Alien series is now officially on my list of franchises that must be humanely put down (along with the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers series, both cynical cash cows devoid of any artistic merit that will continue as long as people are stupid enough to go and see them). It is such a shame that Alien and Aliens, both stone cold classics, have had their hallowed reputations sullied with subsequent sequels. When Ridley Scott returned to the franchise to direct Prometheus, I had hoped for a Casino Royale or Batman Begins type rejuvenation, but that proved a crushing disappointment. Now, with Alien Covenant, the disappointment continues, and it’s time to draw a veil over the whole sorry business. Sorry Ridley, you’ve blown it once too often.

Even though there are a few superficial changes to the format (for example, this time the fresh alien meat is a group of colonists searching for a new world) the plot plays out like an Alien bingo sheet. Crew awakened from hypersleep early? Check. Mysterious distress call from an unknown planet? Check. Foolish blundering into said unknown planet? Check. Stupid disregard for quarantine procedure? Check. Dodgy androids? Check. Bloody, body-ripping carnage ensues? Check. You get the idea.

All of which is fair enough in one sense, given that this is an Alien film. But the script is so painfully on-the-nose, with every plot turn so obvious, that what was once mysterious, unpredictable and terrifying is now merely bland, regardless of how much blood and guts is chucked onscreen (and there is plenty, believe me, along with strong language to turn off the faint of heart). Ostensibly we are meant to sympathise with recently bereaved Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and be intrigued by Michael Fassbender’s robotic duo (one of which is the same character from the previous film), but neither they nor any of the other characters develop beyond mere plot devices.

As with Prometheus, every so often the film threatens to evolve into meaning-of-life sci-fi. Certain cast members, such as the recently promoted Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), tease intriguing character arcs (Oram is set up as someone who worries he is not respected due to his religious faith). The very first scene, where Fassbender and corporate big cheese Weyland (Guy Pierce) ponder life’s big questions in a stark, white, minimalist room sparsely decorated with religious artworks and grand piano (all the better to pointedly play Wagner’s Entry of the Gods into Valhalla on), is more Blade Runner than Alien. But as with Prometheus, all such threads are lost once the carnage kicks in. Besides, quite honestly the Alien franchise has always been ill-suited to attempt the hoary old Who-made-God question. The more Ridley Scott insists on clumsily shoehorning existential musings into the franchise, and explaining the xenomorph backstory, the less I care.

On the plus side, Scott is far too talented to make a film that looks bad, and Alien Covenant is visually fabulous. The design, art direction and special effects are superb. Jed Kurzel’s music score neatly apes elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic original, and once again Scott is furnished with an overqualified cast, all of whom do pretty well with sorely underwritten roles. But not even a two-for-the-price-of-one Michael Fassbender can save this, and how I longed for the presence of Sigourney Weaver.

Quite honestly, if you really want a half-decent post 1986 Alien movie, try this year’s Life instead. It might be shamelessly derivative, but at least its slick, nasty, unpretentious and consistently gripping.

 

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An excerpt from The Thistlewood Curse

Here’s an excerpt from my new supernatural thriller The Thistlewood Curse.

THE THISTLEWOOD CURSE Cover (JPG Print version)

Following a particularly difficult and traumatic case, Detective Sergeant Laura Buchan goes on leave, only to hear via email about the sudden death of her friend’s husband on Lundy Island. This is the event that sets the main plot in motion.

“Laura immediately grabbed her phone to give Sally a call. She hadn’t known Charles very well, but obviously she wanted to be there for her old friend. However, she then noticed the email was very long, and that there was a great deal more she ought to be aware of first before making any calls. As she read it she felt increasingly disturbed. Sally wasn’t merely bereaved, but she seemed quite beside herself with what appeared to be the most extraordinary paranoia.

Dear Laura,

I’m very sorry to have to tell you Charles has died. He was visiting his parents on Lundy Island and literally just dropped dead. According to the doctor it was a sudden heart attack. Very unusual for someone his age, and very unlucky. The funeral is next week. He’s going to be buried on the island.

  As you can probably imagine I’m going through a lot right now, but there is something else I have to tell you. I know you’re going to think I’m mad, but I think Charles was murdered. In fact, I’m sure of it. The worst thing is I can’t prove anything. I haven’t got a shred of evidence. I’ve got nothing more than a really, really horrible feeling. I’ve not said anything to anyone else, but I need you now, more than I’ve ever needed you before. I need you to help me prove Charles was deliberately killed. Please help me Laura. I’m really, really scared.

You can download or order print copies of The Thistlewood Curse from Amazon Kindle here.

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Film Review – Free Fire

free-fire-brie-larson

Having missed its brief multiplex run I finally caught up with Free Fire, the latest from writer/director combo Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, at my local arts centre. Definitely one of their more accessible films, it’s slick, violent, sweary and funny but one can’t help leaving with a certain much-ado-about-nothing taste in the mouth afterwards.

The film is almost entirely set in a disused factory warehouse in the 1970s, where a gang of IRA terrorists attempt to purchase guns from a South African arms dealer. Things begin to go south when one person in the arms dealer’s party recognises someone from the IRA party, against whom they have a rather large grudge. After that, the drama degenerates into a protracted shootout.

In many ways, this is simply the finale of Reservoir Dogs drawn out to feature length. However, the film is livened considerably by a darkly funny screenplay, and great performances from a talented cast. Brie Larson in particular is terrific, and she gets the best eye-roll in recent memory (if you see the film, you’ll know what I mean). Elsewhere there are strong roles for the likes of Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley, the latter of whom is I always find particularly good value in any movie.

Ultimately even if the film eventually feels rather monotonous, it does its thing and sees it through effectively, if pointlessly. Diverting but empty.

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The Thistlewood Curse – now available in print!

My latest novel The Thistlewood Curse is now available in print, as well as an Amazon Kindle download.

A gripping supernatural thriller, The Thistlewood Curse already has it’s first, five-star review from this Amazon reader, who claims it will “leave you with ‘novel hangover’, still reeling from the emotional storm that just picked you up and spit you out… Engaging, captivating, and immersive from the very beginning, and the plot twists were a pleasant surprise”.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

From the author of Children of the Folded Valley and The Birds Began to Sing

Can a ghost murder the living?

Lawrence Crane’s powers of astral projection are put to the ultimate test when he and his lifelong friend Detective Laura Buchan investigate a mysterious death on Lundy Island.

Sensing a dark power at work, they attempt to identify a human assassin under the control of supernatural evil.

But can they escape a terrifying, centuries-old curse?

Check out The Thistlewood Curse, and let me know what you think on Amazon.

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The Thistlewood Curse – out now!

My long-awaited new novel The Thistlewood Curse is now available to download from Amazon Kindle.

 

A gripping supernatural thriller, The Thistlewood Curse is an unashamed, page-turning mystery. It is akin to my earlier novel, The Birds Began to Sing, although darker and more frightening, particularly towards the finale.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting articles giving background on the novel, my inspiration, details on the writing process, the cover image, extracts, my thoughts on genre blending, and more.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Can a ghost murder the living?

Lawrence Crane’s powers of astral projection are put to the ultimate test when he and his lifelong friend Detective Laura Buchan investigate a mysterious death on Lundy Island.

Sensing a dark power at work, they attempt to identify a human assassin under the control of supernatural evil.

But can they escape a terrifying, centuries-old curse?

Download your copy of The Thistlewood Curse here. An announcement will be made regarding print copies soon.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The first Guardians of the Galaxy has steadily climbed in my affections on repeat viewings, to the point that it definitely ranks in my top three Marvel movies, mainly because of the poignant subplot involving Peter Quill’s mother. I suspect the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is unlikely to grow on me in the same way. There is enough goodwill from the first film to make it an enjoyable experience overall, but the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play here.

We’re reintroduced to Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt) and his motley gang of alien weirdos – Gamora (Zoe Salanda), Drax (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) – in the midst of an adventure involving a huge tentacled monster and a peculiar, snooty, vaguely fascist alien race. As ELO’s Mr Blue Sky plays over the opening credits, we’re back on familiar turf, with well chosen pop songs punctuating the action just as effectively as in the original.

Where the film is less effective is in a somewhat plodding and predictable narrative, which follows similar plot beats to the first film, but ends up being a tad overblown. For example, the use of Yondu’s arrow is dialled up to 11, but this makes it less clever and fun than in the original. There are still plenty of laughs, as old characters such Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) turn up again. An amusing if pointless Sylvester Stallone cameo liven proceedings, along with new characters including empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Ego (Kurt Russell), with the latter turning out to be… Well, I won’t say, even though it was spoiled by the trailer.

Director James Gunn outdoes the visuals of the first film with some truly spectacular planets, aliens and monsters, but whilst this is undeniably bigger, it isn’t really better. Certainly in the finale, visual effects fatigue begins to kick in, and five (count ‘em) post-credit sequences punctuating the credit roll feels a tad excessive. I’d have axed at least three of them.

Themes of family, including absent fathers, sibling rivalry, adoption and so forth, crop up too. But they are less subtle and emotionally satisfying than in the original film. Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lacks the light touch of its predecessor, and even though flashes of anarchic irreverence do break through, it is largely a case of treading water.

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The Thistlewood Curse – out tomorrow!

My new novel The Thistlewood Curse is released tomorrow on Amazon Kindle.

Set almost entirely on Lundy Island, The Thistlewood Curse is a nail-chewing, page-turning supernatural thriller with a gripping central mystery that will keep you guessing to the very end.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Can a ghost murder the living?

Lawrence Crane’s powers of astral projection are put to the ultimate test when he and his lifelong friend Detective Laura Buchan investigate a mysterious death on Lundy Island.

Sensing a dark power at work, they attempt to identify a human assassin under the control of supernatural evil.

But can they escape a terrifying, centuries-old curse?

You can pre-order The Thistlewood Curse from Amazon Kindle here. An announcement will be made regarding print copies soon.

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