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Best read in the run-up to Christmas: Spectre of Springwell Forest

Gripping gothic horror mysteries are best read at this time of year, when leaves are falling, and nights are drawing in. As it gets colder in the approach to Christmas, nothing beats snuggling up in front of the fireplace with a mug of tea, and a sinister, nail-biting ghost story.

Concluding this two-part series, I pick the second of my published novels best read in the run-up to Christmas: Spectre of Springwell Forest.

The novel opens in Exeter, 2010. Lily Parker learns that her daughter Olivia is to move to the village of Springwell, near Plymouth. To the surprise of her husband Andy, this sends Lily into terrified despair. She tells him that Olivia must not move to Springwell, under any circumstances. Andy wants to know why, and Lily tells him what happened to her many decades previously, in 1979, warning him that she has a horrifying secret that she had previously hoped to take with her to the grave.

In 1979, Lily and her then six-year-old daughter Olivia, along with her first husband Tom Henderson, move to the sleepy village of Springwell. Here they meet a tight- lipped community of secretive villagers who seem to have something to hide. Lily then discovers a painting of an abandoned railway tunnel in her attic, by a local artist, Alison Merrifield. Lily is strangely drawn to the painting, particularly the dark maw of the tunnel, and ends up hanging the picture in her hallway.

After meeting her neighbour and other mothers dropping their children at the local primary school, Lily is surprised to learn they all have similar paintings in their homes, all of them painted by Alison Merrifield, all of them showing the same abandoned railway tunnel. The other mothers dismiss this as something of a village in-joke, and when Lily visits Alison in her local craft shop, Alison herself insists she cannot understand why the paintings of the abandoned tunnel are so popular. But Lily senses she is being lied to.

Shortly afterwards, when Lily and Olivia go for a walk in the local forest, they come across a fenced off area in the heart of the woods where the barbed wire has been mysteriously torn apart. Investigating further inside the fenced off section, they discover the very same abandoned railway tunnel of the painting and enter the tunnel. A disturbing incident follows (which I won’t spoil).

After this incident, Lily starts to make out a mysterious figure in the painting of the railway tunnel. As time passes, the eerie figure becomes more and more clearly defined, but Lily is disturbed to discover no-one can see it but her. Worse still, as the sinister figure is revealed, Olivia starts to behave in an increasingly alarming manner.

Intrigued? Here’s what a few Amazon reviewers had to say:

“As a horror fanatic, it takes a lot to scare me in writing. Very few books manage to do it, but Simon Dillon’s Spectre of Springwell Forest gave me nightmares! After reading this book, you will never look at a painting of a tunnel the same way again… I can’t recommend the book enough, if you want something well-written, believable, and scary for a cold, dark night.”

“You cannot shake off the feeling that something is constantly watching you… But the biggest pull for the book is the climactic revelation. Here, the author deserves full points.”

“A darkly intense and intriguing horror story full of mystery, Spectre of Springwell Forest will have you on the edge of your seat. My jaw literally dropped in shock. Enter Springwell Forest if you dare, but be prepared for the consequences.”

“A wonderful horror/thriller. Creeping sense of unease starts almost immediately. Even before you know what is to come, you are shouting at Lily to leave well alone. Dillon writes excellently and believably as a 1st person female protagonist. The story is tightly written with little preamble, which has a pleasingly sudden way of throwing you into this strange and disturbing village.”

“Spine-chilling, terrifying, absolutely gripping. A fantastic read.”

Spectre of Springwell Forest is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Best read in the run-up to Christmas: The Birds Began to Sing

Let’s face it: gripping gothic mysteries are best read at this time of year, when leaves are falling and nights are drawing in. As it gets colder in the approach to Christmas, nothing beats snuggling up in front of the fireplace with a mug of tea, and a sinister, spooky thriller.

In the first of a two-part series, I pick two of my published novels that are best read in the run-up to Christmas, beginning with The Birds Began to Sing. It concerns Alice Darnell, a struggling, not-yet published author, who has suffered the usual setbacks faced by wannabe authors, namely rejection from agents and publishers. Yes, I know this already sounds self-indulgent, but bear with me.

Alice is ambitious, but she isn’t an insufferable narcissist. Significant past trauma, including drug addiction, has left her with psychological scars, an occasional tendency to slip into delusion, as well as a peculiar bird phobia. A couple of incidents in the opening act – one involving an apparent stalking on the London underground, and a misunderstanding during a work performance review – underline her potentially fragile psyche.

When Alice finally acquires a literary agent, he enters her into a mysterious writing competition at Blackwood House on Dartmoor. Alice has been chosen, along with other candidates, to write the final act of an unfinished manuscript, penned by the late, great Sasha Hawkins; a bestselling author of popular thrillers, who died at a tragically young age, in a car crash. Blackwood House is the ancestral family home of Sasha Hawkins, and her former publishers have persuaded her family to host the competition.

The winner of the competition will have their ending selected for publication, as well as their own novel. However, a number of peculiar rules must be strictly observed. Competitors have to stay at Blackwood House for two weeks, where they must write the ending cut off from all contact with the outside world. Intrigued and somewhat bemused, Alice agrees to join in, excited at the potential opportunity.

However, once she arrives at Blackwood House, and the competition gets underway, strange things starts to happen. Alice is unsure who to trust, as she is drawn into a labyrinth of deceit, revenge, and perhaps even murder. But the biggest secret of all is more shocking than Alice could have possibly imagined.

The Birds Began to Sing draws inspiration from mystery classics such as Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, to Agatha Christie whodunnits, specifically Sleeping Murder, and also the gothic literature of the Bronte sisters, particularly Jane Eyre. There’s even a bit of Michael Crichton or Dan Brown style conspiracy thriller in the mix, and a dash of Arthur Conan Doyle, most obviously The Hound of the Baskervilles. But The Birds Began to Sing is also a unique and nail-biting thriller in its own right.

Intrigued? Here’s what a few Amazon reviewers had to say:

“I loved this! Absolutely awesome read clever plot and ruddy brilliant twist! If you love a good mystery and a bit of a thriller this is for you!”

“An excellent psychological thriller… kept me turning pages right to the end.”

“A maze of spooky encounters… Full of exciting twists and turns.”

“A memorable lead character, mystery, suspense, eerie settings, a couple of genuine surprises, all sprinkled in with a healthy dose of wit.”

“A terrific read for lovers of suspense and mystery.”

“A great read and I loved the twist. Did not expect it at all.”

I should add that the bulk of the narrative (from act two onward) is set during the run-up to Christmas.

The Birds Began to Sing is available in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Coming Soon, Later, and Perhaps Never: October 2020 Update

A couple of years ago, I posted an article with the same title, expounding on exactly where I was at with my novels, in their varying states of disrepair. Here’s a full update, sort-of divided by genre. Bear in mind one of these will be released very soon, almost certainly before the end of the year.

Fantasy

Ravenseed – This Dark Ages set fantasy novel is now on its third draft, having received largely positive feedback from various sources. It’s a brooding, melancholy tale of knights, sorcerers, and enchantment, simmering with love, lust, betrayal, and revenge. Alongside the Dark Ages story is a parallel framing story set in the present.

The Faerie Gate – My long-delayed, horror-story-for-children is now on its fourth draft. Originally written in 2015, it’s definitely the scariest novel I’ve written that is primarily aimed at children, and it really pushes the envelope in that respect. But this dark fairy tale is also a very compassionate story, about a young adolescent coming to terms with the separation of her parents. I’m also planning an epic sequel which may end up being more than one sequel, set in the same universe. The sequel(s) might be aimed at a more “young adult” readership. I’ll know more once I start writing this next year.

The Deviant Prophet – Another dark fairy tale, but this time for adults. Fantasy and reality clash in a disturbing tale of religious oppression, amid a vivid and surreal world parallel to our own. The initial inspiration for this came from a close friend’s extraordinary dreams. I finished a third draft earlier this year.

Goldeweed – This is an epic, three volume fantasy saga I have been shaping on and off for almost eighteen years. Set in a vast imagined realm on many different planes of reality, it details three love stories that play out against an apocalyptic backdrop at the end of an era. Currently longer than War and Peace, it’s a tale I have rewritten and tinkered with for some time, and I’m still not entirely happy with it.

Gothic Mystery Thriller/Horror

The White Nest – This novel is something of a culmination for me; a summing up of all the tropes, themes, and ideas I have explored in earlier gothic mystery novels. But although there is an element of Now-That’s-What-I-Call-a-Simon-Dillon-Gothic-Mystery about this novel, it is also radically different in two ways. Firstly, it features a male protagonist. Secondly, it is the most intensely personal novel I’ve written since Children of the Folded Valley. Yes, I know all writing is “personal”, but this one really jabbed raw nerves in an ultimately cathartic way, tapping into traumatic fears regarding siblings, parental fears, false guilt, and more. It is also something of a coming of age novel, despite the genre trappings. One more point: The White Nest refers to something sinister in the story, but it’s only a placeholder title. I’m keeping the real title secret for now.

Wormcutter – From something I wrote in 2020, to something I wrote in 2007 (from an idea I had researched on and off since 1996), this detective thriller/horror hybrid begins as an apparently open and shut murder investigation, then escalates into a humdinger of a conspiracy, involving the Freemasons and much more… until it ends up in the most disturbing territory I have ever explored in a novel (definitely 18 certificate stuff). Currently on its fourth draft, and due for another polish.

Miscellaneous

The Balliol Conspiracy – This somewhat old-fashioned, Hitchcockian romantic spy thriller is a conspiracy story of a different kind (much more PG territory, unlike Wormcutter), and proved a real change of pace for me when I wrote it. A strong, suspenseful central mystery results in an historic, fact-based treasure hunt, leading to a new lease of life for the bereaved protagonist. I don’t want to say too much more, except that yes, it does involve Balliol College in Oxford (see above picture). I also wanted to write a grown-up book that, for once, my mother would be able to read without having nightmares. Currently on its second draft, its actually grown on me quite a bit since I first wrote it, and my wife thinks I should attempt more stories of this kind. But I suspect it is a one-off. We’ll see.

Peaceful Quiet Lives – This dystopian tale imagines a bleak American future, satirising the worst fears of both sides in the so-called culture wars. At the same time, it is also a love story, featuring protagonists who fall foul of political extremists of all persuasions. This novel is currently on its fourth draft, and represents a real oddity for me, as it is quite unlike anything I’ve ever written. Like Children of the Folded Valley and The White Nest, it is also a highly “personal” novel.

A Statement of Disbelief – Another satirical novel, this time set in the dubious world of Christian television fundraising. It’s only had one draft, but quite honestly, I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day. However, I will confess it was great fun to write.

Short Stories – It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve written quite a collection of short stories, mostly horror and science fiction (including one of novella length). I may publish a volume of these at some point.

To reiterate, one of the above will almost certainly be released before the end of the year. Can you guess which one? Watch this space for an imminent announcement.

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Phantom Audition: Why I wanted to mess with your head

When submitting my manuscript for Phantom Audition, I told my editor at Dragon Soul Press that this one wasn’t as scary as my previous gothic mysteries. However, her response was, to paraphrase, “maybe less scary, but it messed with my head a lot more”. I was pleased with that reaction, because with this novel, I absolutely wanted to mess with the reader’s head. Unlike the comparatively clear-cut plot twists in The Irresistible Summons or Spectre of Springwell Forest, I felt Phantom Audition became less satisfying the more I tried to spell out answers. Therefore, despite considering several different endings, I ultimately stuck with what I had written in my original outline, which allows for a wide range of interpretation.

Some of my favourite novels (and also films) have a vital ingredient missing: the reader (or viewer). What they bring to the story essentially completes it, although that may make the story different for every reader. The protagonist in Phantom Audition, Mia Yardley, is a small-time actress recently widowed from much more famous actor Steven Yardley, who committed suicide in mysterious circumstances. Her subsequent investigations into his death, wherein she discovers he only took acting roles on advice from a psychic medium, lead her not only deep into a sinister mystery, but also deeper into herself. However, in a sense, the novel is also meant to delve deeper into the reader, and what they bring to the text.

To achieve this, I added a hefty dose of the A-word: ambiguity. However, ambiguity is a dangerous tool that needs to be deployed sparingly, and only in the right context. For example, an Agatha Christie whodunnit would not benefit from an ambiguous ending where Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple never discover the killer. I tested an early draft of Phantom Audition on my wife, who isn’t a big fan of ambiguous endings. To my surprise and delight, she thought the ambiguity in Phantom Audition worked well because to her mind, by the time you get to the ending, the answer to the original mystery is essentially irrelevant, as it has been superceded by deeper questions.

This view is reflected in many of the rave reviews I’ve received. Here are a sample:

“A novel that stole my sleep for two nights. I know I’ll be thinking about so many of the characters, twists and turns, and emotions I came across on this reading adventure… I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything remotely similar to this plot. Originality, being captivating to the reader, and giving me moments of goosebumps and multiple frightened starts, earned all 5 stars.” – Kelli Pizarro, Goodreads.

“I love this story with all of its puzzles and strong emotion. Mia is a complex main character lost in grief after her husband’s death. She is searching not only for answers, but also to be able to own her own skin again. She feels lost in her husband’s shadow, and is determined to come into her own… One of the best mysteries I have read in a long time.” – Rowan Thalia, Amazon.

“Grief does strange things to the mind. Mia mourns the loss of her husband Steven, a renowned actor whose drug-overdose death is out of character for him. But not out of character for the role he’s most recently undertaken. Could it be that the chillingly realistic embodiment Steven gave, an Oscar-worthy portrayal of a famous artist, was so realistic because he received help from beyond the grave? Mia wants answers. But each answer only raises new questions… Some questions are, as she was warned, better left unanswered… A compelling read with an unexpected conclusion. It left me wanting to re-read it right away.” – Sara, Goodreads.

“An extremely well-written mystery thriller novel that kept you guessing at what was going on. After the death of her husband young Mia is left alone and feeling that nothing is truly as it seems. Was her husband’s death an accident or was it something more sinister? The search for answers is haunting and might even come close to being deadly.” – Arien/Sloan, Goodreads.

“Simon Dillon has done it again with this intriguing mystery. You will find yourself caught up in this page turner trying to figure out if the mysterious death of Steven was a murder or a suicide. I had no idea how it was going to end, and I like a mystery that isn’t easily figured out early on in the novel. An excellent read!” – PD Dennison, Goodreads.

“A beautifully written thriller about grief and how it affects the mind.” – Jennifer J, Goodreads.

“A thrilling supernatural mystery that will have you guessing until the very end. Filled with page-turning suspense, jaw-dropping visuals, and spine-tingling events, Phantom Audition grips you from start to finish… I also loved the last chapter, the epilogue of sorts. It was beautifully written, with wonderful detail, and left me thinking.” – RA Rivera, Amazon.

“An excellent thriller that leaves you questioning everything.” – Amazon reader.

Intrigued as to what you might bring to Phantom Audition? Pick up a copy here (in the UK) or here (in the US). It is also available in other regional Amazon sites. To further whet your appetite, here’s a little trailer my publisher put together for the novel.

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The Irresistible Summons: My scariest novel?

“Naomi believes she wants to see what is on the other side, but doesn’t realise it’s the other side that wants to see what is inside of her…” – Aaron Channel, Warhol Publishing Reviews.

Feedback for my supernatural horror/thriller novel The Irresistible Summons has 1) been consistently great, and 2) consistently told me it is the scariest, most disturbing novel I have released. I am surprised, as I personally think Spectre of Springwell Forest is a lot more unsettling. However, reviews suggest otherwise. Here are a sample from around the internet, including a couple from fellow authors Claus Holm and Galina Trefil.

“A wonderful mix of old-fashioned ghost story, religious horror, drama, and a dash of sci-fi. We follow a young woman who, after suffering a devastating loss as a teenager, grew up to become a film producer making documentaries debunking supernatural stories. After an incredibly scary event, she’s re-assigned to a new project – a haunted high-rise in central London. But it’s not just ghosts that haunts the building… Simon Dillon has a wonderful way of describing environments. The Dartmoor landscape, Central London, and the scary underground tunnels of abandoned tube stations are described in such detail that I could almost see them, and at the same time he does very well with action scenes. There are some very cinematic fight scenes, but most importantly, the book is genuinely scary. I loved Naomi, the main character, but I was even more enamoured with Raven, the wonderful cameraperson on her team. I pray she gets a spin-off in her own book, because she was one of the highlights. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – if you’re into horror and spooky stories, you should definitely pick this one up.” – Claus Holm, Goodreads.

“Dillon’s talent for somehow making already-creepy settings, (abandoned tube stations, tunnels, moonlit moors,) even creepier, dirtier, more decrepit, and claustrophobic presents itself proudly in this poignant story of innocent, young love gone a very gory wrong. Demons, ghosts, witches, high-powered businessmen… this book has almost every possible form of monster, (not to mention some gnarly mutilations) 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.” – Galina Trefil, Amazon.

“Regarding horror aspects, the book starts surprisingly slow, sprinkling in a few particularly unsettling scenes here and there, but not pushing the macabre envelope overly. Then… boom! Suddenly, the pace picks up, and picks up fast. Dillon incorporates some of the classic elements that catapulted films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby into horror history, but he does so with a series of modern, technological twists. With surprising ease, when the complete set-up of the plot finally reveals itself, Dillon’s take on these beloved scream queen tropes turns them into something wholly original.” – Aaron Channel, Warhol Publishing Reviews.

“Fabulous creepiness and building feelings of discomfort reaching a delightful peak.” – Daniel, Amazon.

“Legitimately terrifying read, with the great elements to make a scary story.” – Amazon reader.

Curious? Here’s the blurb from the back of the novel:

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.

How far would you go to bring the one you love back from the dead?

Still curious? Pick up your copy of The Irresistible Summons here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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Spectre of Springwell Forest: Recent Reviews

I’m thrilled to see reviews for my ghostly gothic horror mystery novel Spectre of Springwell Forest continue to pour in. Here are a sample.

Increasingly famous horror maestro Neil D’Silva (who I recently interviewed on this blog) had this to say (full review on Amazon):

“I recently had the pleasure of reading Simon Dillon’s Spectre of Springwell Forest, my first from his oeuvre. And I must say, I was quite taken by it… A horror fan like me was impressed by this creepy feeling that the scenes slowly unravelled… You cannot shake off the feeling that something is constantly watching you. The author’s choice to use first-person narrative only helps to boost this feeling… But the biggest pull for the book is the climactic revelation. Here, the author deserves full points. Though there is a good deal of foreshadowing, few might anticipate how the story turns.”

Next up, another fellow author, the excellent Claus Holm (who I also recently interviewed on this blog), had this to say (full review on Amazon):

“As a horror fanatic, it takes a lot to scare me in writing. Very few books manage to do it, but Simon Dillon’s Spectre of Springwell Forest gave me nightmares! That’s saying something! After reading this book, you will never look at a painting of a tunnel the same way again… I can’t recommend the book enough, if you want something well-written, believable, and scary for a cold, dark night.”

Pretty exciting stuff, and wonderful to get the endorsement of such talented writers. Elsewhere, I’ve had a few other recent Amazon five-star raves for Spectre of Springwell Forest, including this one from Alice in Germany, which I rather like. It’s another of those “I don’t like horror but…” variants, which always amuse me a little.

“For someone who doesn’t normally read horror novels, I positively relished reading Spectre of Springwell Forest, which admittedly alarmed me a bit. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a gripping page turner to the very end. I enjoyed the eerie, gothic atmosphere; the first-person narration and how that leaves us guessing as to how reliable the main character really is in her narration. Is she imaging things? Is it really happening? Or is it something else altogether? I enjoy that kind of storytelling, not least because it’s very well-written. And that painting …eek! I will never be able to look at gloomy landscape paintings again without inadvertently checking whether it has that certain something in it…” (Alice, Amazon)

I’ll end with this snippet of another Amazon five-star review that reflects the slow-burn nature of the novel’s central mystery:

“I didn’t expect the twist at the end till it was upon me and I had no escape route!” (Ciaran, Amazon)

Intrigued? Pick up your copy of Spectre of Springwell Forest here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

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I’ve got a trope and I’m not afraid to use it

PHANTOM AUDITIONGenre fiction writers are often accused of writing “formulaic” stories. It may surprise you to know I plead guilty as charged. My children’s adventure novels contain many well-worn tropes. My gothic mystery/horror thrillers likewise. Why? Because the reader expects them, and would be disappointed if I didn’t deliver.

As I’ve said on this blog in the past, following a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Agatha Christie did it, Arthur Conan Doyle did it, JK Rowling did it (until the final Harry Potter book broke with convention). People often confuse “formulaic” with “predictable”. Predictability is bad, but genre expectations are entirely reasonable for a reader of genre fiction. In an Agatha Christie murder mystery, one expects a murder with a fiendishly clever solution. However, if you can predict the murderer before the dénouement, much of the fun is lost. The formula isn’t what’s wrong with the story, predictability is the problem.

simon-dillon-irresistible-summons-full-resIt is vital, especially in genre fiction, to give the reader what they want but not the way they expect it. Genre writers understand this. Agatha Christie’s novels and crime fiction in general is hugely formulaic, but also fiendishly difficult to write well. Like most genre fiction, they are an easy target for literary snobs.

In short, I have a trope (several in fact), and I’m not afraid to use them. However, I aim to use them in interesting and original ways. Here are ten tropes used in my quintet of gothic mystery horror/thrillers.

tumblr_p8fwjgL6LI1sxnnxgo1_400Imperilled heroine – All these books feature a tenacious, insatiably curious, likeable but flawed heroine, who is dealing with some kind of trauma either in the recent or distant past.

Big central mystery – Spooky paintings, sinister writing competitions, inexplicable sudden deaths, apparent messages from ghosts, and murderous cover-ups all feature in these narratives.

Haunted locations – Creepy forests, castles, mansions, or office blocks, are key locations in these stories.

5Supernatural elements – Ghosts, demons, witchcraft, astral projection… These are often (but not always) explored.

Hidden labyrinths – Again, these novels frequently include mysterious and sinister secret passages, caves, mazes, closed off wings in mansions, and – in one case – abandoned tube train tunnels.

Cults and/or secret societies – I seem to come back to this trope time and time again. Obscure religious movements and/or clandestine organisations pulling strings behind the scenes are an important part in many of my narratives. Often said organisations are revealed in secret rooms at the heart of the afore-mentioned labyrinths.

TheAshTreeIllustrationByGeorgeChastain565Villain/antagonist with similar goals to the protagonist – I am fascinated by stories where protagonist and antagonist essentially want the same thing. Of my gothic mysteries, The Irresistible Summons explores this with particular potency.

Melodramatic overdrive – With gothic horror, I have no shame in dialling up the melodrama when called for, with all the blood, thunder, and passion evident in the greats of the genre.

Religious Oppression – My protagonists sometimes have a religiously abusive past, or else the issue is relevant in the present. This isn’t so much a trope, as a theme I find myself exploring again and again, along with abuse of power. I expect this is a result of my background, upbringing, and personal experience of such things. I suppose this is no bad thing, as many famous authors wrote their greatest works around the same theme. For instance, Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt, wrote again and again about lost families and fathers. In my case, I seem to write again and again about oppressive religious environments. This is true of The Irresistible Summons and The Thistlewood Curse, but outside of my gothic mysteries, I explore these themes in novels including Love vs Honour, and particularly Children of the Folded Valley (by far my most “personal” novel to date).

CultBig twist ending – This needs no explanation. I love a good twist ending, but only when it comes off as both inevitable and unexpected. It’s no good pulling out the rug from under the reader without laying the necessary groundwork, or it won’t feel satisfying. I don’t always do this (I’ve always maintained there’s a big difference between a twist ending, and an unexpected plot turn) but twist endings can be great fun to write, when they are appropriate.

Check out my published works here. If you want to try before you buy, to see if you care for my writing style, by all means take a look at a couple of short stories I’ve made FREE to download here.

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Gothic Mystery Podcast Interviews

The release of my last three gothic mystery novels – Spectre of Springwell Forest, The Irresistible Summons, and Phantom Audition – were each accompanied by a podcast interview with yours truly, conducted by the excellent Samantha Stephen – my co-host on The Tangent Tree podcast.

Throughout the three interviews, Samantha grills me on a variety of subjects in her inimitable manner, on everything from influences and twist endings, to why I have a thing for tenacious imperilled heroines creeping around haunted houses, spooky labyrinths, and other don’t-go-there places.

They aren’t too long, so why not head over to the Dragon Soul Press website and have a listen here.

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My Top Five Most Reviewed Novels

Every so often, I write an email, social media post, or blog urging my wonderful readers to please, please, please, take a minute to leave a review of my novels (or short stories) if they enjoy them.

Why do I ask this? Online reviews are absolutely essential to writers, especially little-known authors like yours truly who either self-publish, or more recently publish through a small indie publisher. We don’t crave reviews because we are insecure and require constant affirmation; we crave them because the more there are, the more algorithms show our work to more people. Reviews are an author’s lifeblood, and in many cases help us (indirectly) put food on the table.

Reviews don’t need to be long or eloquent. “I enjoyed it” is absolutely fine. If you can add that on Amazon and/or Goodreads, you will have been an immense help. Thank you very much to everyone who has left reviews. It is hugely appreciated.

With that rather begging (but continually necessary) appeal out of the way, here are my top five most reviewed novels (current combined totals taken from both Amazon and Goodreads). Most of these are four or five star reviews; which is nice, obviously.

PHANTOM AUDITION5. Phantom Audition (20 reviews) – My personal favourite of the novels on this list. A gripping and sinister psychological gothic mystery, it concerns a bereaved actress, who lived in the shadow of her much more famous actor husband, prior to his death. A series of unsettling discoveries lead her to believe her husband may have rather buried himself in his final role. Did it have a bearing on his apparent suicide? Was it murder? Could he even have been influenced by vengeful supernatural forces? Phantom Audition is a page-turner that messes with the mind of the reader as much as it’s imperilled heroine.

SSF cover4. Spectre of Springwell Forest (21 reviews) – A full-blooded gothic ghost story, guaranteed to send shivers down the spine. Easily the scariest novel on this list, Spectre of Springwell Forest concerns a young woman called Lily who moves to a sleepy village near Dartmoor, with her husband and young daughter. Lily discovers a sinister painting in her attic that shows the mouth of a mysterious abandoned railway tunnel in a forest. She is unsettled to discover other villagers have paintings (by a local artist) of the same image in their homes, though they remain tight-lipped as to why. Later, after discovering the real abandoned railway tunnel in a local forest, a mysterious spectral figure appears in the paintings that only Lily can see. The figure gradually becomes visible at the mouth of the tunnel, then slowly emerges, getting closer and closer as time passes. At the same time, Lily’s daughter begins to exhibit strange and disturbing behaviour. Intrigued? Read it if you dare…

The Birds Began to Sing_1600x2400_Front Cover3. The Birds Began to Sing (27 reviews) – Another gothic thriller, this one features a huge twist ending. The story largely takes place in a sinister country mansion that once belonged to the late, great author Sasha Hawkins. Several wannabe authors arrive at the mansion to take part in a mysterious writing competition, to pen the finale to an unpublished Hawkins manuscript. Among these is Alice Darnell, who is hoping this will finally lead to her big break. However, peculiar competition rules, enigmatic dreams, and ghostly apparitions lead her to question her sanity, as she is drawn into a tangled web of deceit, revenge, and murder.

uncle-flynn_cover2. Uncle Flynn (75 reviews) – The first novel I published is an old-fashioned treasure hunt story aimed at the young and young at heart. It concerns an anxious boy called Max who is plagued by fears and panic attacks. He is visited by his archaeologist uncle, and together they set about uncovering the truth behind local legends of buried treasure on Dartmoor, with roots going back to the time of Henry VIII’s sacking of Catholic monasteries. With rival villainous treasure hunters on their tail, can they get to the treasure first? More unsettlingly, why are the police also after Max’s uncle? Dedicated to my eldest son, this novel is first and foremost intended as a gripping and mysterious adventure, but it also features themes of overcoming fear and the dangers of mollycoddling – especially in the twist ending (yes, I do enjoy writing a good twist ending).

Folded Valley cover1. Children of the Folded Valley (259 reviews) – Still my most popular novel by a huge margin, this tale of a man looking back on his life growing up amid a mysterious cult clearly struck a chord among readers. It’s a mysterious and melancholy dystopian tale, with themes of religious oppression, loss of innocence, disillusionment, coming of age, rebellion, uprising, and the haunting power of traumatic memory.

Very loosely informed by some of my own childhood experiences, perhaps it is my most “personal” novel to date. Having said that, all writing is personal to some degree, so regardless of how many raw nerves I decided to jab with this book, I can’t attribute its (relative) popularity to that alone. I also like to think my writing has improved a lot since I penned Children of the Folded Valley as there are one or two sections I’d definitely approach differently if I wrote it today.

I completed the first draft in 2011; a fact I constantly point to, in order to dismiss those who view the novel as a cathartic response to the sudden death of my father in 2012. In fact, my father helped shape the final version. I spoke over the phone with him after he read the initial draft, and he made one particular suggestion that he felt would tip the story from “good” to “great”. Hugely excited at his idea, I thanked him profusely, and told him I would definitely adopt it. He seemed very pleased.

That was the last time I ever spoke to him.

Children of the Folded Valley is dedicated to both my parents.

Categories
Books

Vital Statistics: Phantom Audition

Concluding the “vital statistics” series on my gothic mysteries, here’s a taster of my most recent novel, Phantom Audition.

Title: Phantom Audition

PHANTOM AUDITION

Plot: He buried himself in a part, but never returned. Now she wants to know why.

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?

Expect: A psychological mystery with empowering catharsis, and a rug-pulling finale guaranteed to mess with the mind.

Current Amazon reviews: 6 five star reviews, 1 four star review.

Current Goodreads reviews: 10 five star reviews, 3 four star reviews.

Scariness rating: 4/10. This one really isn’t that scary. My notoriously scare-averse mother could probably read it. But it is suspenseful, gripping, mind-bending, and teasingly ambiguous, with an ending that is very open to interpretation.

Read if you enjoyed: The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Don’t Look Now (Daphne Du Maurier), or the play Death and the Maiden (Ariel Dorfman), and the film A Fantastic Woman.

For your copy of Phantom Audition, click here (for the UK) and here (for the US).