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Phantom Audition – Inspirations and Influences

My new gothic nail-biter Phantom Audition is out now, and so far readers are leaving rave reviews, which is all very pleasing. The final novel in my “Spooky Quintet”, Phantom Audition is about a widowed actress investigating her late husband’s mysterious suicide, but what books, plays and films influenced this story? Here are six key texts:

9780525541585The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters’s sublime gothic mystery was a key tonal influence. Throughout the promotion of Phantom Audition, I’ve been very keen to emphasise that this isn’t a story that’s interested in terrifying the living daylights out of readers like some of my more overt horror stories. It that respect, it is akin to the psychological drama of this very clever ghost story, which whilst being page-turningly gripping, isn’t necessarily going to cause nightmares. The ghost story here belongs to a more old-school tradition, wherein the protagonist entering the haunted house ultimately discovers themselves within, in a manner of speaking.

41oRRotv2KLJane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece is a clear inspiration in many areas, most tellingly in the way Thornfield Hall intimidates Jane, and has hidden secrets. In my novel, the dark secrets of Steven Yardley (a sort-of Rochester figure) haunt the protagonist Mia from beyond his grave. His Jacobean family mansion also intimidates Mia, and holds a few hidden secrets of its own.

713898Don’t Look Now – Daphne Du Maurier’s stunning short story (and Nic Roeg’s equally stunning film adaptation) were definite thematic inspirations. Don’t Look Now’s themes of grief and obsession are mirrored in my novel, along with certain plot themes (including the mediums). Incidentally, Du Maurier’s Rebecca was also an influence, but then again, that novel has influenced so many of my works that it’s getting a bit tedious to keep listing it.

834354Sleeping Murder – Act one of this Agatha Christie mystery remains a superbly unsettling opener, as a young married woman finds her dream home was once laid out with the exact refurbishments she wants to undertake. Every detail – from garden landscaping, to where she would put a door, to her chosen wallpaper – are already there, beneath the surface. This mess-with-your-head mystery is tonally something I adopted in my novel.

MV5BNGJhNWM4ZjItYWRhYS00N2UzLTg3OWItOGEzOWFmMGQ1ZjlkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_A Fantastic Woman – This Chilean film, which won Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Oscars, might at first appear an odd choice as an influence on Phantom Audition. Nonetheless, it actually provided the initial inspiration. The story concerns a transgender woman dealing with the death of her partner, and finding herself isolated and ostracised by his family. The film has a dreamlike, magical realist quality to it, and even at times becomes a bit like a thriller (there’s a mysterious key which her partner left, for example). Moreover, there is something of a descent into the underworld/death and rebirth metaphor in the film, a story arc which is very much echoed in my novel. One image particularly leapt out at me – that of a ghostly vision of the dead partner staring out at her from a crowded nightclub dance floor amid strobe lights. It’s an image I actually nicked, sorry, “paid homage” to.

0493aaDeath and the Maiden – Another Chilean influence of sorts, in that Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman wrote this blinder of a stage play (later adapted into a film by Roman Polanski). The plot concerns a woman called Paulina Escobar who becomes convinced her husband’s house guest is actually the man who kidnapped, tortured, and raped her several years previously. Paulina’s lawyer husband isn’t convinced, but she is determined to torture a confession out of the man who might be her former tormentor. However if he confesses, is his confession true, or simply a desperate attempt at escaping his predicament by telling her what she wants to hear? How this play influenced my novel, I will not explain, but it will become apparent when you read it.

Phantom Audition is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is available now in paperback or on Kindle. Click here to get your copy.

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Books

Two great new reviews for The Irresistible Summons

Simon Dillon - Irresistible Summons full resMuch of my recent focus has been on my latest novel Phantom Audition. However, I have had two extremely encouraging reviews for my previous novel The Irresistible Summons which I’d like to share here.

The first is from a fellow author, the excellent Galina Trefil (do check out her work here). She amusingly describes the novel as a “poignant story of innocent, young love gone a very gory wrong”, and notes the following:

“Demons, ghosts, witches, high-powered businessmen, this book has almost every possible form of monster… to make the hair prickle on the back of the audience’s neck. The only question is, of all the multiple baddies to choose from, which one will ultimately wind up being the biggest threat and will they be formidable enough to take down Dillon’s badass, axe-wielding heroine? Evil may be powerful, but it’s in for one hell of a fight.”

In my experience, “high-powered businessmen” really are the ultimate monsters. That axe-wielding moment is a reference to something that happens right at the very end, by the way. Check out her full review here.

The second review I wanted to mention is from Aaron Channel. I was especially pleased about his article, because in addition to praise, he also made some entirely valid criticisms. I liked this because 1) it shows my work is being taken seriously, and 2) I am always on the lookout for ways to improve. He sums up The Irresistible Summons in this manner: “A story of letting go… or else!” Very apt. I also like the way he describes my protagonist’s quest: “Naomi believes that she wants to see what is on the other side, but she doesn’t realize that it’s the other side that wants to see what is inside of her…”

Do check out his full review here.

The Irresistible Summons is out now. Click here to get your copy.

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Film Reviews Films

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

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Aardman’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is an absolutely hilarious slapstick animation. Based on the superb Shaun the Sheep TV series (itself a spin-off of Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave), this sequel to the 2015 Shaun the Sheep Movie is every bit as absurd, laugh-out-loud funny, and entertaining as its predecessor. The cliché fun-for-all-the-family isn’t one I generally use, as it normally never applies, but in this case Farmageddon really is a film absolutely anyone of any age can enjoy.

Let’s face it: the title alone made this a must-see for me. You know you’re in for a good time when the opening Aardman logo features a superb Close Encounters of the Third Kind gag. That film and particularly E.T. The Extra Terrestrial are riffed, spoofed, and paid loving tribute to here – along with the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Men in Black, Doctor Who, and several other science fiction classics. But this is so much more than just nods and winks at the grown-ups in the audience. The lovingly hand-crafted stop motion animation (overseen by directors Will Bechen and Richard Phelan) is a delight throughout, and features beautifully conceived slapstick set pieces par excellence. Indeed, the experience of watching this wordless delight is akin to watching Buster Keaton at his best.

The plot – such as it is – involves a cute blue alien getting stranded near Shaun’s farm, E.T. style, and Shaun trying to get the alien home. Meanwhile, for reasons too hilariously convoluted and farcical to explain properly here, the Farmer decides to open an alien themed park on his land to cash in on the local UFO craze (caused by the crash landing of the alien).

Packed with sublime silliness and plenty of heart, Farmageddon will send you out of the cinema beaming. Sometimes all you really want is something absolutely ridiculous to take your mind off the madness of real life, and this delivers in spades.

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Phantom Audition out today!

It’s here! My new gothic mystery novel Phantom Audition is officially released today!

PHANTOM AUDITION

I’m very pleased with this one, to be honest with you. Of all the novels in my “Spooky Quintet”, this one has a very special place in my heart, because I took some big risks with the narrative. Mercifully, these seem to have paid off, in view of the superb reviews I have received so far.

Don’t forget to join in today at 6:30pm UK time (1:30pm Eastern time) for the online launch party for Phantom Audition on Facebook. Click here at that time to catch me and other talented authors celebrating this new release with games, giveaways, a Q&A, and other fun stuff. Talented authors Zoey Xolton, Galina Trefil, and AM Cummins will be co-hosting, and my “headlining” slot is between 8:00pm and 8:30pm UK time (3:00pm – 3:30pm Eastern time). I’ll have a new post popping up every two minutes, so do stick around.

Although this gripping psychological/supernatural mystery is definitely a suspenseful page-turner, it is worth re-emphasising that this is much less scary than some of my previous novels, so much so that I’m reluctant to class Phantom Audition as horror (despite that scarily brilliant blood-splattered cover). To be honest, my notoriously easily alarmed mother could probably brave it, and if she could, anyone could.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Small-time actress Mia Yardley, recently widowed wife of renowned actor Steven Yardley, discovers her late husband’s secret acting diary.

The diary details appointments made with a psychic medium, who advised Steven on which roles to take. It also raises questions about his mysterious and inexplicable suicide.

Seeking answers, Mia speaks to the medium, but in doing so is drawn into an ever- deepening mystery about what happened to her husband during the final days of his life. Eventually, she is forced to ask the terrible question: was Steven Yardley murdered by a vengeful evil from beyond the grave?

Phantom Audition is published by Dragon Soul Press. Click here to get it on Kindle or in paperback.

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Books

Phantom Audition is out tomorrow

My new novel Phantom Audition is out tomorrow! Paperbacks are already available, but Kindle versions can be pre-ordered here.

PHANTOM AUDITIONA gripping, gothic nail-biter, Phantom Audition oozes with mystery and suspense, and has already had some terrific reviews.

If you enjoyed any of my previous supernatural/psychological thrillers, you’ll love this one. Conversely, if you were put off my previous novels Spectre of Springwell Forest or The Irresistible Summons because of the “horror” label, you’re on much safer ground here. This one has plenty of suspense, but it isn’t really scary. For more details on scariness levels in my “Spooky Quintet”, click here.

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Film Reviews Films

Film Review – The Irishman

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Here’s a blast of pure hyperbole: Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman is a triumphant return to the territory he made famous, and one of the best films he has ever made.

Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses (a euphemism for blood splattering on walls), this is the fact based tale of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a Teamster driver who was befriended mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) in the 1950s. Gradually Sheeran is drawn into organised crime, eventually becoming a contract killer. He is then seconded to look after union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and the two become close friends. However, when Hoffa ceases playing ball with the mob, Sheeran finds his loyalties challenged.

This is an epic film in every sense of the word, both in scope (it covers a time period of six decades) and running time (three and a half hours, but worth every minute). Scorsese has employed bleeding edge ILM technology to digitally de-age his cast, a trick which works wonders, and indeed caused me to do a double take when it is first employed. But mercifully it isn’t Uncanny Valley distracting. Instead, we are drawn into the rich narrative which mines familiar Scorsese turf. However, this is also unlike anything Scorsese has made in this genre before. It lacks the youthful verve of Mean Streets or the rollercoaster energy of Goodfellas, but instead, this is also a mature, melancholy, elegiac work, and all the better for it.

Performances are all excellent – especially from Pacino, who has never worked with Scorsese before. The supporting cast is great too, with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Graham, and Anna Paquin turning up in key roles. Steve Zaillian’s screenplay is superb, and provides some hugely memorable dialogue, with one scene (involving an argument about timekeeping and turning up to a meeting incorrectly attired) in the same league as the “Funny how?” moment in Goodfellas.

However, as already stated, this is a very different film to the afore-mentioned gangster classics. On a spiritual level, this is quite a deep and profound work, ultimately concerning the wages of sin, and the appalling toll taken by a life of crime – on Sheeran’s alienated family (particularly his daughter, who fears and shuns him), and on his own conscience. In one sense it reminded me of the Shakespearean conclusion of The Godfather Part II, where Michael Corleone is ultimately isolated by his horrific acts. At any rate, if I’m comparing The Irishman with that stone cold classic, then there’s a good chance this will be regarded in the same way in years to come. My only disappointment is that few people will get to see this in the cinema due to the miniscule release granted by Netflix, when by rights it absolutely deserves a wide, mainstream release (it has a very limited cinema run at the beginning of November). Nonetheless, expect Oscar nominations.

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Books

Phantom Audition is out this week

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My new novel Phantom Audition is officially released this Saturday! Needless to say, I am rather excited.

Also, this week, my publisher, Dragon Soul Press, have organised an online launch party for Phantom Audition on Facebook, on Saturday at 6:30pm UK time (1:30pm Eastern time). Click here at that time to catch me and other talented authors celebrating this new release with games, giveaways, a Q&A, and other fun stuff.

My other hosts include Zoey Xolton and Galina Trefil, both of whom are superb writers, and I highly recommend their work. Zoey opens the party at 6:30pm, and Galina is on at 7:30pm. My “headlining” slot is at 8pm (all UK times).

A gripping, gothic psychological/supernatural mystery, Phantom Audition has plenty of page-turning suspense, but I wish to re-emphasise that I don’t consider it a horror story in the same way as my previous novels Spectre of Springwell Forest or The Irresistible Summons. So if you were put off those because you thought they might be too scary, why not give this one a try?

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Small-time actress Mia Yardley, recently widowed wife of renowned actor Steven Yardley, discovers her late husband’s secret acting diary.

The diary details appointments made with a psychic medium, who advised Steven on which roles to take. It also raises questions about his mysterious and inexplicable suicide.

Seeking answers, Mia speaks to the medium, but in doing so is drawn into an ever- deepening mystery about what happened to her husband during the final days of his life. Eventually, she is forced to ask the terrible question: was Steven Yardley murdered by a vengeful evil from beyond the grave?

Phantom Audition is published by Dragon Soul Press, and is out on the 19th of October. Paperbacks are already available, but Kindle versions can be pre-ordered here.

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Books

First Love: Papercut continues to get rave reviews

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Last February, I had a short story published as part of Dragon Soul Press’s First Love romantic fantasy anthology. This was my second published short story, as I usually stick to novels. What’s more I don’t usually write romance (here’s a rare exception).

My contribution, Papercut, is a poignant, heartfelt love story about a lonely teenage boy living with his ultra-strict Jehovah’s Witness mother. In his dreams, he is visited by a mysterious girl made entirely of paper, leading to a fantastical journey which I won’t spoil.

There have been several rave reviews for this story (and for the collection in general). Papercut also ended up in a top-three short story poll conducted by Dragon Soul Press. Here is the most recent of the unanimous five star reviews on Amazon:

“There are so many fantastic stories in this anthology, all with their own take on the theme of ‘first loves’, that it’s hard to decide on a favourite! I certainly think every story earned its place here, but I was intrigued by, and thoroughly enjoyed Simon Dillon’s Papercut. The gritty, perspective on everyday life in a strict religious household was interesting, and provided a stark juxtaposition to the strange magic that brings the Paper Girl into Gabriel’s lonely life. I’d absolutely encourage anyone looking for a nice mix of genres, and voices, to give this anthology a chance!”

First Love also features stories by AM Cummins, Kathryn St John, AR Johnson, DS Durden, Sofi Laporte, Meg Boepple, Melinda Kucsera, Edeline Wrigh, AD Carter, Zoey Xolton, and Galina Trefil. Pick up your copy here.

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Film Reviews Films

Film Review – Joker

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Todd Phillips’s Joker film arrives amid a flurry of mild controversy. At least, mild compared with the great cinematic controversies of yesteryear (this is hardly The Passion of the Christ or A Clockwork Orange). Yes, there has been some concern, largely in the US, over whether this film makes a hero out of a villain and glorifies violence, but the cynical part of me can’t help but wonder whether the studio marketing department is behind all the fuss. After all, what better way to get people to see a film than by telling them in finger-wagging terms that they “shouldn’t” because it is “dangerous”?

Well, no matter. The film itself is certainly well-acted and directed, featuring a very good central performance by Joaquin Phoenix. He’s been tipped for Oscar success, although quite honestly, I’d rather he’d won a few years back for his more subtle performance in The Master. Here the role is much more awards-bait – physically demonstrative, scenery chewing, and yes, it features extreme weight loss (weight loss or gain being a “committed acting” trope oft rewarded by the Academy).

The story traces a Joker origin story which has nothing to do with what appears in the Batman comics. Liberties are taken, some of which are quite interesting, and for the most part they work. In 1970s New York – sorry, Gotham – we’re introduced to Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a downtrodden man who lives with his mother in a shoddy apartment building at the edge of impoverishment. He has a slightly Norman Bates-ish relationship with his mother, and by day he works in paid clown gigs. However, an unfortunate neurological condition where he laughs at inappropriate moments without being able to help it has made him a social outcast. Following a period of incarceration in a mental hospital, he is seeing a social worker, and is already on a lot of medication, but nothing seems to be helping as, in his own words, “all I have are negative thoughts”.

Arthur Fleck’s ambition is to be a stand-up comedian, despite clearly lacking the talent. However, he pushes ahead in an alarmingly delusional and narcissistic manner that echoes Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. In fact, Scorsese is a key touchstone throughout, with Taxi Driver being another obvious inspiration (particularly in the way he stalks a single mother who lives a few doors away from him in his apartment block). Robert De Niro – the star of both afore-mentioned films – even has a role as a TV talk show host that Fleck idolises, again, echoing the obsession at the heart of The King of Comedy.

Those who have seen Taxi Driver will know what to expect. This is no comic book adventure, but a bleak journey into misery, madness, and violence, seasoned by very occasional moments of dark humour. It is compelling, but not as singular as Scorsese’s classics, nor as bitingly insightful, despite one interesting satirical moment in the finale. Said moment appears to swipe at current PC/woke culture’s sanctimonious, for-your-own-good obsession with legislating what is and isn’t funny. Perhaps this explains to a degree why Phillips (a former comedy director best known for The Hangover) was attracted to this subject, using the Joker to lash out at what he sees as censorship of what is, after all, subjective.

Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Regarding accusations that the film makes a hero of a villain, I think that is most emphatically not the case. Yes, we are given reasons for Arthur Fleck’s transformation into the Joker, and some of the social issues in the background do reflect modern concerns about society creating its own demons, but the violence when it arrives is absolutely horrific. In the same way that anyone who cheered Travis Bickle’s violent rampage at the end of Taxi Driver monumentally missed the point, those who think Joker somehow praises “angry white man” or “incel” culture have demonstrated the same inability to tell the difference between depicting something and endorsing something. Of course, I will concede it is possible for someone to grossly misread the film in that way, but I think you’d have to be mentally ill in the first place.

When it comes to portrayal of violence in films and the responsibility of filmmakers, these concerns are nothing new. We’ve had these arguments before, with much greater vigour, particularly with the great film controversies of the 1970s. No doubt we’ll have them again. In the meantime, for my money Joker is a good, rather than great piece of work; well-directed, with an agreeably retro feel (the old Warner Brothers logo is a nice touch), and featuring a fine central performance, but a lesser work compared with the Scorsese films it clearly idolises.

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All Dark Places: One Year On

Last October, I had a short story published as part of Dragon Soul Press’s All Dark Places horror anthology.

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My contribution, Once in a Lifetime, is a spine-tingling tale of existential dread. It concerns a man who wakes up in a strange London flat, in bed with a woman he doesn’t know, who insists he is someone else. More disturbingly, memories of his former life – including his wife and children – start to fade from his mind, and are replaced by memories of his the life he has awoken inside.

Here are some review snippets for my short story:

This one was WOW. I felt like I was LIVING the story – which is probably not always a good thing. I could feel his desperation, the desire, and then at the end…. Well you are going to have to read that for yourself.” – Rebecca Hill, Gothic Bite Magazine.

“With a combination of psychological and traditional horror… It had a unique spin to it that left me nearly sobbing at its horror and hopeless tragedy.” – Seraphia, Amazon.

“The mystery, the suspense, the strangeness of this story creates something unique… The author twists this story so well, and the ending, for me, is heartbreaking.” – Anna, Amazon.

All Dark Places also features scary and sinister stories by AM Cummins, Anna Sinjin, and Hui Lang. If you fancy picking up a copy, click here.