<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FEATURES]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 09:49:44 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[QUIET HORROR, UNQUIET HORROR, DISQUIETING HORROR BY PAUL STJOHN MACKINTOSH]]>Sun, 21 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/quiet-horror-unquiet-horror-disquieting-horror-by-paul-stjohn-mackintoshby Paul StJohn Mackintosh
I read a lot of weird fiction and weird horror. Since I was drawn into reviewing the stuff for Teleread.com and elsewhere, I’ve been reading it not only constantly, but semi-professionally. A while back, I was lucky enough to land a detailed interview about my own new book, and horror in general, from John Linwood Grant on his greydogtales blog, where I came out with some statements, largely inspired by all that reading, which I’d like to qualify and clarify. I also digested some extended comments on the interview on the Facebook group for Thinking Horror, which nudged me towards saying more...
Primarily, I want to go into more detail on my previous comments about quiet horror, compared to other types of horror. This isn’t intended as a blanket criticism of quiet horror as a sub-genre (whatever my reservations about pressing any definition of a sub-genre into service as a marketing category), but more as a prophylactic against lazy, pedestrian, or otherwise imperfectly realized quiet horror, as well as a reminder that other styles of horror do exist, with reason. If anything, it’s a plea for some – but not all – quiet horror writers to spread their wings and raise their game, as well as a cautionary note about the sub-genre’s shortcomings.

This is also an inquiry into the influence of Robert Aickman, who seems to be becoming as much of an exemplar and model for current horror authors as H.P. Lovecraft was a decade or two ago, and into just where that could be leading (or misleading) some writers. In his introduction to the 2014 Faber & Faber edition of Aickman’s first collection, Dark Entries, Richard T. Kelly claims that “he was the finest horror writer of the last hundred years,” and that “at times, it’s hard to see how any subsequent practitioner could stand anywhere but in his shadow.” So it’s obvious that some savants have great expectations, at least, of his influence.

Many, many delineations of quiet horror seem to lean on what it isn’t – which is usually much more clearly defined than what it is. As Selena Chambers said in a recent round-table on quiet horror, “when we think of Horror, we think of the visceral: gore, blood, mutilation, slasher, demons, devils, and monsters.” Against this, she contrasts “the more implicit aspects of the horrific that to me are more spiritual, philosophic, symbolic, mythological, metaphysical, etc.” This isn’t to pick fights with Selena Chambers’ fine body of work, but merely to highlight this heavily underlined contrast. And here’s Paula Cappa in 2013 extolling quiet horror: “Quiet horror stories do not feed you blunt visceral violence: no gore-is-more philosophy; no bloody slasher meisters, no cheap thrills. Quiet horror hits a high key when it stimulates the intellect (sometimes even to the point of being a tad cerebral).” Once again, she weights her definition of quiet horror heavily towards what it isn’t, rather than what it is. And, she continues, “often, this quiet darkness will hold a message that is not only cleverly hidden but also symbolic. That ‘Ah-ha’ moment is one we all love to experience.” And elsewhere on the Kboards, she says, “I just can’t handle all the blood gore that’s out there.”

Blunt visceral violence? Blood gore? Sounds like the Old Testament to me. Or tragedy – Greek or Jacobean style. Or Zola. Rabelais is visceral. So is Tom Jones. More on that below, but in summary, why privilege the exclusion of blood and viscera from horror, when they slop and slosh around the commanding heights of Western literature?

The obvious, no-brainer argument cited in 2016 in Publishers Weekly, “links many readers’ reflexive disinterest in horror fiction to their dislike of slasher stories and movies.” One consequence is the shuffling aside of horror into other genres that you’re more ready to be seen in public with. Look at Tor’s 2016 Halloween reading list of “9 Horrifying Books That Aren’t Shelved as Horror.” But once we move past the presumed kneejerk reactions of a broad reading public, which many writers and literary folk appear to presume on without actually checking that kneejerk reflex, is that really the end of the story about a preference among writers and committed horror/weird fiction fans for quiet horror, or even the emergence, or re-emergence, of that category?

One other reason, which Joyce Carol Oates kindly put on the table in her October 31, 1999, New York Review of Books article on H.P. Lovecraft, “The King of Weird,” could be the principle of tacit contract. There, Oates affirms that: “Readers of genre fiction, unlike readers of what we presume to call ‘literary fiction,’ assume a tacit contract between themselves and the writer: they understand that they will be manipulated, but the question is how? and when? and with what skill? and to what purpose? However plot-ridden, fantastical, or absurd, populated by whatever pseudo-characters, genre fiction is always resolved, while ‘literary fiction’ makes no such promises; there is no contract between reader and writer.”

Actually, I don’t think that’s so. With some literary fiction, at least, and its readers, there is an all too obvious tacit contract – a social contract. Look at Jonathan Franzen, and his advocates and promoters – who apparently weren’t that ready to sign up for Paul Beatty’s brilliant, subversive satire, which still managed to win the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the Man Booker Prize. As The Guardian’s writeup of Beatty’s win asserted, a large swathe of America’s supposed literary reading public “have little patience for work that plays with their own expectations of what a book might be.” The tacit contract which that swathe signed up for appears to involve grooming their intellectual vanity, while reinforcing and validating their felt social pre-eminence by flattering their sensibility and refinement. Not all literary fiction is guilty of that bad bargain – but then not all genre fiction is guilty of reaching a mechanical resolution in obedience to its own tacit contract. And I’d shudder to think of horror, or any other genre for that matter, signing up to the Franzenesque social contract, for its particular set of deliverables. Even if it is the contract insisted on by some supposed gatekeepers of the walled garden of serious literary status.

Robert Aickman fits into that quiet-versus-nasty dichotomy in more ways than just the most obvious one of being an almost caricature snooty Brit, as man and writer. M. John Harrison, a fellow Brit cut from a very different cloth, came up with a penetrating insight into Aickman in a 2015 interview with Twisted Tales, that his “obliquity and reserve” amounts to “symbolism that doesn’t quite mesh with – or even entirely admit to – its own subject matter. For me the Weird was always a kind of perverted or broken Imagism.”

What does Harrison mean by that? Short of asking the guy, here’s my interpretation. Central to Imagism was the Ideogrammic Method, “a technique expounded by Ezra Pound which allowed poetry to deal with abstract content through concrete images.” In Aickman’s case, the concrete images are his often extraordinary and ambiguous situations and occurrences. And the perverted or broken part? The underlying abstract content or subject matter that Aickman doesn’t want to admit to, or coordinate his images with.

How does this personal and stylistic issue chime with the Franzenesque bargain of supposed literary seriousness? Well, one way is that if you have a knack for a certain tone, a certain feel for significant omissions, it can be surprisingly easy to produce mysterious, allusive, cryptic fiction. You can even seem profound. You can win kudos for being, as China Miéville dubbed Lovecraft, “a neurotically acute barometer of society’s psychic disorders,” without having the number-crunching nous to actually graduate from barometrics to models and simulations of those disorders. All you need do is project a vague obscurity that readers can beam their own imaginative projections on. It’s a technique, maybe even an artful one. Is it actually that… uh… deep?

Aickman himself provides a justification for his obliquity and reserve, which I haven’t seen bettered anywhere else in his writing, in the first story of his first collection, Dark Entries, published in 1964. In “The School Friend,” he puts these words into the friendly, sympathetic mouth of the protagonist’s father: “‘Mel,’ said my father, ‘you’re supposed to write novels. Haven’t you noticed by this time that everyone’s lives are full of things you can’t understand? The exceptional thing is the thing you can understand. I remember a man I knew when I was first in London . . .’ He broke off. ‘But fortunately we don’t have to understand. And for that reason we’ve no right to scrutinise other people’s lives too closely’.” I can’t imagine anyone except perhaps Robert Fordyce Aickman seriously advocating that conclusion as a worthwhile position for a writer to hold, never mind a writer of the inexplicably strange, but I strongly suspect that Aickman did adhere to it. There’s plenty more in his critical writing along the same lines, which I’ll go into below. But how can a writer be hailed, as Peter Straub did, as “this century’s most profound writer of what we call horror stories,” when he implicitly and explicitly refuses to inquire explicitly into the mysteries of the human heart? Where’s the profound in that?

Aickman did at least work around his lacunae with tremendous, conspicuous, artfulness, but more subsequent quiet horror than I’d like to see seems to me to be stylistically unambitious, in a way that much current horror writing, gloriously, isn’t. And I’m not talking about subtle shifts of perspective or narrative voice, I’m talking about full-on experimental prose. I’ve tried not to mention too many current names in this article so as not to press-gang perfectly good writers into either side of an argument they probably won’t want to take sides in, but I can think without effort of at least three modern weird horror authors I’ve read in the past month alone who produce fantastic original prose that is conspicuously unquiet. (And yes, to be fair, I can think of one equally gifted writer of quiet horror – who promptly polevaulted midway through a shortish collection from quiet to utterly disquieting unquiet.) Some quiet horror writing, alas, looks to me to be in too much danger of striking the Franzenesque bargain of not upsetting expectations.

Or let’s hear China Miéville on a different kind of tacit bargain: “One of the ways of panning for credibility in the pulpstream is to nod and wink at the reader that one is far too sophisticated to not know what one is doing, using all these popular devices. At its worst, this becomes a tedious nodding at the audience: I’ve called this the postmodernism of philistines.” In contrast, he advocates “retaining the firefights and cliffhangers,” precisely “because the tradition of page-turning storytelling is exciting and interesting.”

Quiet horror, unlike those firefights and cliffhangers, seems to me too often to be just written in a quiet tone. This isn’t just a matter of setting, drama or lack thereof, or presence or absence of incident, or gore, or scale, or scope. I’d hesitate to describe any of Poe’s classic horror tales as quiet, even when they contain no massive dramas, no cast of thousands, no earthquakes, simply because of their sustained hysteria, the compacted breakneck style that does such a good job of acting out as well as describing insane frenzy. Plus, intimation (not imitation) makes for poor differentiation. If you are writing in the same general milieu and register as your peers, and excluding certain imaginative resources and literary devices from your work, keeping to the same tonal palette of muted shades, the same pianissimo dynamic, you are going to need very distinctive personal gifts and ideas to be able to stand out from the crowd. Not all quiet horror writers possess those – or perhaps, their individual gifts could flourish better outside quiet horror.

That’s one instance of what we might be missing out on when we keep quiet. I also spoke in my greydogtales interview about Lovecraft’s espousal of The Cult of the Capital Letters. What I meant by that was his success in world-building, all those proper nouns for improperly improbable Things. China Miéville outlined what’s at issue here in his grudging tribute to Tolkien: “His genius lay in his neurotic, self-contained, paranoid creation of a secondary world. That act of profoundly radical geekery reversed the hitherto-existing fantasy subcreation … It’s precisely this approach, the subject of most scorn from the ‘mainstream’, which is Tolkien’s most truly radical and seminal moment. His literalised fantastic of setting means an impossible world which believes in itself.” The fabulous fabulisitic vigour to build worlds across multiple stories, or forcefully enough in a single tale to detain readers within that imagined world, seems too often lacking in much quiet horror. Even Aickman does it – for example, in “The Wine-Dark Sea” or “Niemandswasser.” And yes, world-building is all about fulfilled tacit bargains – even more so when those worlds are reamed out into entire franchises. But I don’t have an issue with bargains as such – so long as they’re open and honest ones. And much of the best fiction in any genre always teases, plays with the reader’s expectations, threatens to unpick that grand bargain, keeps the audience on tenterhooks by artfully withholding the bargained-for resolution. Escapist bargains? Snobbist bargains? Take your pick.

M.R. James is another horror writer who’s an escapist world-builder in a different, very charming way. And what lies beneath his delightful unity of tone and period colour? A surprising diversity of period, setting, and subject matter. A series of suggestively sketched schemata that outline the supernatural premises of the stories without killing off the sense of mystery and wonder. A crawling thing of slime. A tentacled monster that sucks your face off. A Bluebeard who cuts the beating hearts out of living children. Was that really what genteel Edwardian readers signed up for? Regardless, that’s what they got. Some quiet.

Another aspect to the quiet-versus-unquiet debate, picking up from that point about M.R. James, is the intellectual content of horror stories – in the sense of the actual working out of overtly articulated ideas or premises. Personally, I do love fantastic horror that typifies the definition articulated by Tzvetan Todorov, where “the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural or supernatural explanation of the events described.” That hesitation and ambiguity creates a delicious push in a story towards a resolution that may or may not actually come, and the doubt around the basis of events can reach to the deepest levels of existential or philosophical doubt. But that isn’t in any way to decry more overtly supernatural horror, and horror of any kind that hinges on an armature of explicitly articulated ideas. And yes, horror that too explicitly spells out the supernatural rationale [sic.] for its uncanny occurrences, or the various rules that vampires or ghosts are or aren’t constrained by in this particular story, often loses the imaginative nimbus of wonder, but writing that works out new implications of ideas, and even uses ideas to inspire the imagination, can often gain more than it loses, as well as exhibiting a mind that genuinely does have the power to reason, well, a little bit profoundly. Look at John Langan’s The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, for example. (And yes, that’s breaking my own embargo on living examples, but it’s too good to miss.)

Development of ideas can obviously be done in a quiet context, even through a datadump, but often it fits just as well into a more physical, dramatic exploration of those ideas. You absolutely can have unquiet horror that’s more than a tad cerebral. Fiction without such a skeleton of ideas isn’t necessarily lacking in depth or value, but fiction with it definitely has unmistakable solidity and substance. And fiction that hints at underlying prophetic profundity through sleight of hand, but never actually delivers on deep insights, despite the many hints and nudges, disconnects and void spaces, in its narrative? Weeelll …

Aickman might well not have agreed. He certainly spent much ink in his series of introductions to the Fontana Books of Great Ghost Stories arguing against any intellectual approach that seeks overt explanation and articulation, eulogizing the submerged nine-tenths of unconscious mental experience, and declaring that the ghost story “need offer neither logic nor moral,” and that “everything that matters is indefinable.” That may or may not be so, but it definitely indicates what we might lose if we stick too closely to the mode of Aickmanesque quiet horror. H.P. Lovecraft, meanwhile, produced some of the most philosophically provocative modern horror – provocative enough to have inspired works of actual philosophy – in a pulp fiction ambience of tentacled jellies from outer space.

Then there’s the question of truth to personal experience, which situates a fair share of the quiet horror I’ve read within the same social setting, and even the same area code, as the author. What informs and inspires each writer’s imagination and talent is always a personal matter, but why feel any obligation to Stick To What You Know, when for one thing, mainstream literary fiction no longer heeds that obligation, and for another, what you know, at the most immediate remove, consists of real horror probably far beyond what you could dream up from first principles? Aleppo. ERs. Drive-by shootings. Social disintegration to match any horror seen in Dunwich. The great dying of over 50% of all animal life within the past half century. If you live the kind of quiet life where quiet horror is the only kind you are ever likely to personally encounter, then you are very lucky. And I don’t mean just lucky in the personal sense, though that certainly helps. I mean lucky in the social, economic, geopolitical, even historical sense. Unquiet horror, or at least horror with a broader compass, is one of the genres that might help your imaginative sympathy with, and understanding of, the other, very real, horrors outside your immediate comfort zone. Aickman would probably not have agreed: among the bad reasons he lists for choosing to read ghost stories, “the worst is the quest for a sadistic thrill, something that is better sought in a daily newspaper.” But there are far more positive reasons than sadism, despite Aickman’s repeated assertions, to read unquiet horror.

Writing of W.B. Yeats, Edmund Wilson referred to the literary style of the 17th century as a “personal thing” which “fitted the author like a suit of clothes and molded itself to the natural contours of his temperament and mind.” Aickman to me seems a self-conscious artist to a degree that perhaps even now still isn’t fully appreciated, but no great thinker, and I fear that some of his fans encounter the one, but come expecting or hoping for the other. And his style I find cut far too tight and narrow for my taste. It cramps my style, period. And I’d hate to think of other writers fitting themselves into that mould unless it really does suit them personally, or unless they have very clear and well-thought-out reasons for doing so. Mere awe at his artistry really isn’t enough.

Thomas Ligotti, a horror writer profound enough to have written an entire work of pessimistic philosophy, insists that “literature is entertainment or it is nothing.” For most of literary history in the West at least, the canonical literary forms, the exemplars, were the epic or the tragic. Neither of those was remotely quiet. And horror is one of the genres that can still tap into the resources of wonder and terror, visceral entertainment and sublime pathos, that fuelled those forms. Only since the Industrial Revolution has quiet literature stepped to the fore. If literature, for most of the time that literature has existed, whether written or recited, didn’t feel any onus to be quiet, why should we now?

Paul StJohn Mackintosh, 25 February 2017; updated 11 May 2017

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<![CDATA[BOOK EXCERPT: EMERGENCE BY R.H. DIXON]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 05:05:15 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/book-excerpt-emergence-by-rh-dixonBY R.H. DIXON 
Today's book excerpt is from R.H. Dixon's latest novel Emergence R. H. Dixon is a horror enthusiast who, when not escaping into the fantastical realms of fiction, lives in the northeast of England with her husband and two whippets.

When reading and writing she enjoys exploring the darknesses and weaknesses within the human psyche, and she loves good strong characters that are flawed and put through their paces. Her favourite authors include: Shirley Jackson, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Joe Hill, Susan Hill, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King and George R. R. Martin.

When not reading and writing she enjoys travelling (particularly wildlife-spotting jaunts involving bears, wolves and corvids), painting and drawing pet portraits, collecting skulls and drinking honey-flavoured Jack Daniels.

R. H. Dixon primarily writes horror fiction, but also has a set of three light-hearted paranormal fiction novels published. The Sunray Bay Trilogy is a foray into the whacky world of vampires, werewolves and zombies, each episode coloured by her cheeky sense of humour. (See under ‘Paranormal Books’ tab)

Her debut novel, Amazon UK Best-selling Horror Comedy ‘Slippery Souls’ (Sunray Bay Trilogy, Book #1), was short-listed for the Writing Magazine’s Self-publishing Award 2012.
 

If you enjoy dark, psychological horror – inclusive of disturbing nightmares and ghosts – don’t miss this haunting story of a father’s downward spiral into despair and questionable madness. 'When his six-year-old daughter Seren starts talking of a ghostly woman who visits her room each night, young widower John Gimmerick isn’t too concerned. After all she already has an imaginary friend. But when his own nightmares begin to merge with reality and when unexplainable things start to happen around the house, he realises that by revisiting the home of his childhood he’s stirred up things he’d tried hard to forget – as well as something that should never have been stirred in the first place. In order to save his little girl from an evil that speaks only of death, reclusive John must now face up to the horrors of his past. And what he discovers runs deeper and is far more terrifying than he could ever have imagined…'
Emergence Excerpt
 
John slid the hot baking tray onto the middle shelf, looked at his wristwatch and set the oven’s timer for forty-five minutes. He slung the checked tea towel over his shoulder and called, ‘Coming, ready or not.’

Tiptoeing into the hallway, he listened. There were no creaking floorboards or door hinges. No creeping footsteps or muffled laughter. When a thorough search of each downstairs room and cupboard proved fruitless he went upstairs, checking first the sewing room. Emily’s large holdall was lying on the floor, items of her worn clothing and underwear scattered about the carpet next to it. The spare duvet he’d found in his mother’s airing cupboard was a messy heap on top of the futon. A perfect hiding place. He lifted it. 

Seren wasn’t there.

Next he went to his mother’s room. ‘I’m closing in on you, kidda.’ His voice broke the brooding presence of the house which buzzed in his ears; a susurration of expectancy. He looked under the bed. She wasn’t there. Inside the mirror-fronted wardrobe. Not there either. Creeping back out onto the landing he went to the final room, the room with the mould, the room of his childhood, and put his hand on the doorknob. 

‘I wonder where she can be.’ He grinned, expecting to hear a stifled giggle. 

None came. 

He opened the door and was confronted by a brashness of black, grey and red. Barcoded wallpaper wrapped the room on all sides, an attack on the senses, and bedding on two single beds, as black and degenerate as the Devil’s moustache, smelt of teenaged boys. His brother’s red Tamiya Hotshot was sitting in the middle of the room, facing him. He remembered it well because he’d got one of the biggest poundings of his life for having broken it, back in the nineties. He’d taken it without permission and accidentally smashed it head-on into Stuey Griggs’ Clod Buster.  Stuey’s monster truck had survived the collision but the shiny plastic casing of Nick’s Hotshot had splintered and the front wheel alignment had been damaged beyond repair. Yet now here it was, good as new, purring beautifully as though talking to him on some animistic level.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

John gripped the door to steady himself and looked up. In place of the tasselled light shade there was a rectangular hole in the ceiling. A black opening into the nefarious oblivion of the loft, which had no business being in this room. The hole was wrong in its simplistic nature, it was too deliberate and square to be an accident. From this angle it was impossible for him to tell what horrors were living up there, or indeed what might come down to stay.

But that’s okay because none of this is even happening.

He rubbed his temple, not taking his eyes off the hole for a second in case it should change or disappear or swallow him whole.

Just another episode. It’ll pass.

The sound of scurrying overhead denoted small feet on wooden joists.

‘Seren?’

A short burst of excited laughter announced she was still playing hide and seek.  

‘What the hell are you doing up there?’ he demanded.

She didn’t answer.

Clambering onto the bed, concern overruling any hesitancy he might have felt, John put his hands through the hole in the ceiling and gripped wooden boards at either side for leverage, managing to resist an almost insurmountable urge to pull away when grit and cobwebs settled around his fingers. He took a deep breath, bent his knees and sprung off the mattress, hoisting himself upwards. Old dust caught at the back of his throat, a layer of dry staleness that made him cough. Darkness greeted him wholly as he settled onto his hands and knees on unseen joists. All around him was a blackness that seemed to have substance, like the insidious dark inside the cundy. A blackness he thought might consume him if he stayed still for too long.

‘Seren?’ His voice came out an urgent whisper. He hoped it wasn’t loud enough to make grim things in the dark stir. He held his breath and listened. Nothing stirred. His eyes tried to adjust, desperately wanting to see, and after a while he thought he could make out the blacker silhouettes of rafters above him. Then he decided he was probably wrong and that his brain was playing tricks as it was wont to do of late.

Then a light flickered on. 

He blinked rapidly against its abruptness. A small orange flame that tinged everything round about with insipid colour and texture blinded and disorientated him all over again. Seren was crouched in the corner furthest away from him, her face a sullen mask of shadows above the large burning candle she held in her hands. 

‘What are you doing?’ he asked, afraid to move away from the hole in the ceiling in case he got lost in the dark, dusty chamber that shouldn’t even be there. The toe of his right shoe was hooked below the ledge, anchoring him to the ceiling of the black and grey striped bedroom below.

Seren didn’t answer. 

‘Come on, kidda, let’s go,’ he urged, rubbing his face where silvery spider trails, imagined or not, tickled.

She made no attempt to move and held firm to the candle even though hot wax ran down the backs of her fingers.

‘Our fairy cakes are almost ready.’ He held out his hand to her. ‘Come on, let’s decorate them together.’

Her face tilted downwards so the flame chased away some of its shadows, and John saw her handicap: she wasn’t wearing glasses. Groaning at the prospect of what he must do, he brought his right foot fully into the darkness and began to shuffle along the two parallel joists towards her. ‘Stay there, sweetheart. I’m coming for you.’

‘No. I have to stay here now.’ Her voice was eerily monotone, almost as expressionless as her face.

‘Stop playing games, it’s not funny.’

‘It’s not supposed to be. I belong to Her now.’

John stopped crawling. It felt like an intrusion of insects was scattering beneath his skin, as though a stone in his mind had been disturbed, thus revealing their hiding place. He shivered. ‘Who?’

‘You know.’

‘I don’t.’ He started inching forward again, his arms leaden, knees hurting and the wood rough against his hands. 

‘You should.’

‘Pack it in, Seren, this really isn’t…aaargh!’ As John put his hand down something spiky pierced his skin and drove straight through the meaty flesh of his palm. For a moment he couldn’t move. The sensation of metal scraping against his bone rendered him paralysed. Then adrenalin kicked in and he slowly, quickly, agonisingly prised his hand away from the protruding prong in the joist. Hotness welled in his eyes and white flashes of pain blotted out the dark. Losing his balance he fell sideways, clutching his wounded hand to his chest. Blood poured freely, coating him with sticky warmth and dripping into darkness, feeding unseen monsters. He thought he might crash through plasterboard and into the bedroom below, but thin wooden slats supported him as he landed on his side in the groove between the two joists. He sucked in air through clenched teeth and looked up. 

Seren was still hunkered in the corner. She made no attempt to go to him and he watched in terror as she brought the candle up to her face and puckered her lips.

‘No, Seren. Don’t.

She blew. 

The candle’s flame went out and John was surrendered again to a darkness that touched his soul with all the horror of loneliness. At almost the same time cold breath swiped his cheek in hoary swirls of rancid decay, and, as he retched at the smell, wet corpse lips brushed the outer rim of his ear. He thought he might die. Curling up tightly he willed the plasterboard beneath him to give out, wanting to see the noisy walls of the bedroom below because, even though they were wrong, he could deal with them better than he could deal with this. But the boards remained intact. He couldn’t imagine that he’d ever make it back to the hole, not without the halitosis of death breathing on him again. And he didn’t dare move in case witches’ fingers snagged his hair and clothes to pull him even further into their domain. This time, because of the noise he’d created and the excitement he’d caused, monsters had definitely stirred. He could feel the presence of evil just as surely as he could feel his own heart exerting itself, offering his blood up freely to the unknown. Clenching his eyes shut, preferring the darkness inside his own head to the darkness surrounding him, he waited and listened. Not daring to move. Not even to swallow. 

When nothing had breathed on him or touched him for a long while, finally he unfurled and opened his eyes. ‘Seren?’

But she wasn’t there. He could sense that now. Perhaps she never had been. He was all alone, with the scritchy-scratchy darkness that teased him with its swelling magnitude and threatened him with new horrors. He reached out and grabbed the joist his shoulder was wedged against, planning to use it to feel his way back to the hole. He had to get out. But as his hand gripped old, dry wood a crackle like that of a Geiger counter erupted, an animalistic growl that made his body shrink back and his skin bristle painfully. The throaty sound came from everywhere and nowhere, swooping down from somewhere amongst the rafters perhaps and bringing with it a strong smell of rot and decay. John found he could no longer breathe and was beyond all comprehension when a sickly, decrepit, old-woman voice croaked into his ear: ‘She’s mine.’
 
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If you enjoy dark, psychological horror – inclusive of disturbing nightmares and ghosts – don’t miss this haunting story of a father’s downward spiral into despair and questionable madness. 'When his six-year-old daughter Seren starts talking of a ghostly woman who visits her room each night, young widower John Gimmerick isn’t too concerned. After all she already has an imaginary friend. But when his own nightmares begin to merge with reality and when unexplainable things start to happen around the house, he realises that by revisiting the home of his childhood he’s stirred up things he’d tried hard to forget – as well as something that should never have been stirred in the first place. In order to save his little girl from an evil that speaks only of death, reclusive John must now face up to the horrors of his past. And what he discovers runs deeper and is far more terrifying than he could ever have imagined…'

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<![CDATA[COMPETITION TIME: WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES OF XX]]>Thu, 27 Apr 2017 10:21:52 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/competition-time-win-one-of-two-copies-of-xx
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To win one of two copies of this horror anthology film all you have to do is leave a comment in the comments section telling us which horror icon you would love to give a kiss to.  

                                              This Competition is open to Residents of the UK ONLY

XX is a new all-female helmed horror anthology featuring four dark tales written and directed by four fiercely talented women:
  • ̈  Annie Clark (St. Vincent) rocks her directorial debut with “The Birthday Party”
  • ̈  Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight) exorcises “Her Only Living Son”
  • ̈  Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound) screams “Don’t Fall”
  • ̈  Jovanka Vuckovic (The Captured Bird) dares to open “The Box”

  • Award-winning animator Sofia Carrillo (La Casa Triste) wraps together four suspsnseful stories of terror, featuring a cast including Natalie Brown, Malanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool and Christina Kirk. 

XX is a new horror anthology featuring four murderous tales of supernatural frights, thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay. Written and directed by four fiercely talented women the film stars female leads and is framed around innovative animator Sofia Carrillo. Vigorously challenging the status quo within the industry, this collection of tightly coiled short films by some of horror’s most influential women offers a refreshing jolt to the senses.

“Wildly entertaining cinema.”
Bloody Disgusting
“Rich, interesting, and rife with surprisingly fresh perspectives on the genre.”
Collider
“A ghoulish chronicle of the monstrous, the mysterious, and the morbid”
Paste Magazine 

Special features: Director interviews Genre: Horror
Language: English
Runtime: 78 mins (approx.) 
RRP: £12.99
Cat no: SODA369 
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<![CDATA[Video Game Review:  Resident Evil VII   Biohazard]]>Wed, 26 Apr 2017 12:14:08 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/video-game-review-resident-evil-vii-biohazardBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
​Good God. Good, sweet Azathoth, Baphomet; whatever demon and/or divinity you hold dear...
 
To think I'd be sitting here now, about to sing the unambiguous praises of a new Resident Evil title...barely a year ago, I would have proclaimed it an impossibility, the franchise one of the many beloved dead littering the wastelands of video gaming's murdered from within, by their own creators, no less.
 
Arguably since Resident Evil 4, the series has arguably been in decline; a victim of the constant, corporate desire to cater to the widest possible demographics, thereby alienating established audiences and diluting their own product and reputation. The urge to draw in the “Triple-A,” Call of Duty crowd finally culminated in the chimeric, frictionless abomination that was Resident Evil 6, what many believed (and even more hoped) would be the final nail in this zombie's coffin.
 
Then, sometime mid last year, the first trailers hit. Not only the first trailers, but a playable demo.
 
To say that we perked up and cocked our heads like wolves scenting blood is an understatement. Stylistically, what the trailers and demos betrayed were a far, far cry from anything that had gone before. In terms of atmosphere, this was not the hokey, B-movie japery we'd come to expect from the franchise. In their place, a dingy, depressive, foetid atmosphere; a sense of decay and genuine threat more suited to the franchise's contemporary and long-time counterpart, Silent Hill. A first person gaming perspective, imagery more redolent of films like 7 or Jacob's Ladder than Night of the Living Dead.
 
A genuine spark of excitement, of hope.
 
Then, the revelation that the game would be one of the first to utilise the new VR technology; a peripheral tailor made for horror. Hope becoming fervent, almost desperate; a new Resident Evil, the benchmark for a new and burgeoning state of video game immersion; perhaps, perhaps the title that would lift mainstream video gaming horror from its doldrums and set it high once more.
 
Then, at last, release, first exposure. 
​For the purposes of this review, I must make it plain that I'm writing from the perspective of someone who experienced this game via the Playstation's VR helmet; a factor that is far from essential to appreciate it (at least, according to the testimonies of those who've played it without) but that enhanced the experience so much for me, it was almost virginal: for the first time in as long as I can recall, a piece of media made me genuinely scared; tense and trembling and paranoid, heart racing, hands slick with sweat...all this in the first few scenes and chapters.
 
First of all, the VR experience, which could have so easily been just another empty gimmick like so many similar efforts before it. I find it difficult to describe how much this adds to the experience; the degrees of depth and shade and dirt; the shadows you feel you could tumble into, the dust and grime in the air, the physical, adrenal terror you experience when something lurches out of them wielding knives or chainsaws or their own severed arms. It is, potentially, the way forward for horror; nothing after this will do that doesn't provide the same facility; the same depth and range of immersion, the same heart-bursting sense as of being sealed off and alone in this dismal, hideous world with some of the most threatening characters and creatures I've ever encountered in a video game.
 
There is more here than a mere 3D effect; the helmet has a capacity for isolating you as the player; locking you off from waking reality, tricking your mind into projecting you into the virtual world you are exploring. In the case of Resident Evil VII, that world is a dismal, cockroach-infested, polluted, cannibalistic Hell-hole populated by characters and creatures that, unlike in previous titles, are no longer confined to their particular areas: it is no longer a case of working your way through this set of rooms and corridors, avoiding the familiar patterns of zombies and Hunters and chimeras; most of the entities in the game can and will follow you, the more human able to open doors and windows, to burst through walls, to come up through floors and manipulate the environment in all manner of insane and lunatic ways. Others are randomised, appearing according to their own peculiar algorithms in places that might have previously been safe or secure. Unlike previous Resident Evils, the familiar “safe rooms” are gone, deliberately undermined throughout the game so as to keep the player in an almost constant state of tension (a side note on this: playing the game in the VR made me so tense, I had to take very regular breaks in which I could physically feel myself trembling, my joints aching with stress, temples throbbing with anxiety. I would advise anyone wishing to experience the same to take regular breaks, and to avoid the experience altogether if you happen to have heart conditions or nervous issues). 
​It is terrifying. Absolutely, gut-wrenchingly, soul-shudderingly terrifying, and not in any way that I've ever encountered in a video game before: even in the likes of System Shock 2 or Silent Hill 2 (two of the most distressing titles in existence), I never felt as though I did not want to open doors or explore particular corridors; the horror and tension were always of a more distant kind, no matter how intense, outweighed by the knowledge that I was playing a video game, and therefore was obliged to explore the environment or simply stop.
 
Resident Evil VII, at least via VR, is a different beast: I did not want to open doors, to leave whatever temporarily safe little hidey holes I found; I did not want to go and explore that noise or that shadow glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, that flicker of movement. The immersion of the VR headset inflamed my animal sense of self-preservation, tricking my imagination into making the world and its threats more real than I imagined it ever would or could. If you ever wanted experience a semblance of what it would actually be like to be trapped inside a horror story; to wake and find yourself physically immersed in a nightmare, this is it.
 
The game itself is immediately a far cry from anything else under the Resident Evil banner, so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a reboot of or alternative to the established universe (it isn't; there are some loose connections to the original games and their mythology, though the game is more than capable of standing on its own, story wise). The tone, the focus, the rhythms of storytelling...all different; more redolent of certain contemporaries and competitors of Resident Evil whose parent companies have recently embarassed themselves by undermining and potentially aborting through their incompetence, their lack of understanding of the material they have in their hands (rest in peace, Silent Hill). This is a highly deliberate and necessary move; in order to thrive again, Resident Evil had to necessarily divorce itself from what had gone before; to reinvent itself with close reference to the quantum leaps that have occurred in independent video game horror since its last instalment. Thus, the game boasts certain familiar elements (enough to make it very much a part of the franchise) but is sufficiently removed from all predecessors to be its own, unique entity: all of the faintly silly, overly baroque lock and key puzzles are here (finding certain emblems and icons to unlock doors, solving puzzles to open secret passageways etc etc), but the environment that frames them is entirely unique, as is the sense of atmosphere in which they occur: no longer expansive mansions and unlikely, secret research complexes, much of the action takes place within a single household (albeit suitably expansive): a derelict, seemingly-but-not-quite abandoned plantation manor in the depths of what look to be dense swamplands as one might find in certain locations in Louisiana. The “Resident” portion of Resident Evil had long since ceased to have any significance whatsoever in the franchise's last instalment, but here is restored and revitalised, arguably more significant than it ever was before: not only is much of the game set within the same, small location, but much of its threat and central tensions derive from a single, consistent source:
 
The Family. If you've read or heard anything of this game, you may have come across quite a few tales concerning these guys: a Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired family of inbred cannibals (keep an eye out for those horror movie references, by the way: everything from Alien to The Blair Witch Project has its moment), they make their debut in the game's early chapters as the denizens of this Hell hole; not only unpredictably insane and uniquely violent, they also seem to have the unusual capacity to survive the most unlikely traumas, such that an early dinner scene (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all over) sees the patriarch of the family sawing off his own son's forearm as though it's nothing, the boy reacting as though he's doing nothing more than pinching him. Not much later, the true extent of their immunity to harm not only do you bury axes in shoulders, impale and burn and blow their brains out, they still keep coming back, and, after a few set pieces and appearances, become randomised, active entities within the house: they can appear almost anywhere, they follow and stalk you, giving their own little clues as to their proximity (most often fleeting glimpses; sounds, stray chords of music), the player having to learn the lay out of the house in order to lead them astray; to find hiding spots in which to curl so that the family members grow bored and wander away. These moments are the most hideously tense in the entire game, especially since the classic gameplay of Resident Evil has been turned on its head: barring a few story-essential set pieces, the game does not expect you to stand and fight; it wants you to run, run and hide; to practice stealth, to use the environment to your advantage. This is a far cry from how the original games were played and the nature of their horror, which relied upon a similar sense of vulnerability, but encouraged you to fight your way through; that increasingly equipped your character to the point whereby early enemies became almost redundant.
 
That is not the case, here: whilst the house contains numerous other genetically modified monstrosities, the family are the ones who will keep coming, no matter what you do to them: they will follow and chase and harass until you are dead or they can no longer find you, requiring the player to get used to the lay out of the house; to keep in mind certain safe spots and hidey-holes (none of which are completely effective; all of them can be violated, depending on a variety of factors in game). This makes the entire experience one of escalating tension; you don't know what is going to be waiting behind any given door or down any given corridor, even if you've walked it before. Sound plays as much a part in this as the game's visuals (which are gorgeous, by the by); the player has to pay attention to ambient and environmental cues, to the minimalist soundtrack (which only kicks in when something significant is in the offing; another removal from the original games), attempting to pre-empt what is going to happen; which direction threat is likely to strike from. Even then, the game still surprises, with characters and creatures bursting out from beneath the floors, seeping through walls, falling from the ceiling...every effort has been made to avoid any particular area within the house from becoming “safe;” to give you time to catch you breath or calm your nerves. 
​This is, perhaps, the point at which the game differs so markedly from its predecessors, all of which were based around similar structures of reaching particular “safe points” from which to procede or spread out and explore. That is not the case, here; spaces you might assume to be safe are not, or become areas of activity and threat in short order. You must be constantly aware, active and dynamic in order to survive, and be able to utilise your environment in ways never seen in a Resident Evil title before.
 
Certain familiar mechanics are still in place; the menu and item system is a refined version of that from previous Resi titles, with similar mechanics of examination, combination; minor puzzle solving, utilising the right item at the right juncture etc. Most of the logic puzzles that Resi fans havve become familiar with are still very much in evidence; pleasant callbacks to a somewhat more innocent time, that serve to enhance the horror of the situation by contrast rather than detracting from it.
 
The most significant changes refer to how you conduct yourself as the player; before, Resi titles relied upon a certain degree of familiarity; you would wade through the same corridors and rooms and hallways over and over until you'd gotten the placement of enemies, traps, doors and hide-aways down pat, rendering those spaces somewhat less threatening or impassable than they previously were. Nullifying those areas usually consisted of wasting the enemies that occurred there, with variations on that theme found throughout the series as it progressed.
 
Here, the emphasis is entirely different: though some enemies occur in pre-determined places and patterns (mostly for the sake of initial introduction), they are no longer confined to those areas, able to either open doors and climbs ladders etc (in the case of the more human enemies) or seep through walls, vents, ceilings and floorboards in the instance of the more...abstruse monstrosities. They are also all far, far more threatening than most enemies in previous Resi games; it is no longer a matter of emptying a set number of bullets into an enemy and watching its head explode: here, standing and shooting will get you murdered very, very quickly. More akin to Silent Hill, Amnesia and any number of independent titles (from which Resi VII draws more than a little inspiration), the most effective way of dealing with most enemies is by not dealing with them at all; running and hiding, making use of the environment, mapping out the house and its surrounding environs so as to make use of “safe spaces,” hidey-holes and the like...there is a greater sense of immersion and natural occurrence when it comes to the enemies in this game; they are not merely presented as roadblocks to progress or even as potential hazards, but as parts of the environment itself. In order to succeed, the player is going to have to familiarise themselves with how the environment works; to know where they are running and into what, so as not to flee one terror only to hurl themselves headlong into the arms of another or a dead end. Combined with the natural tension of the situation, the shock of enemies bursting through walls, doors and falling from the ceiling, this is heart-attack material of an entirely other order, especially with the enhanced immersion provided by VR equipment.
 
Again, I cannot emphasise enough how visceral and evocative this experience is in VR; the sense of depth and dirt, of darkness, decay and physical grime is uniquely oppressive; you imagine you can almost smell the dank and rotting wood, the filth in the air, feel the cockroach carcasses crunching beneath your feet. It is a dirty, filthy, moribund and nihilistic piece of work, enjoyment of which will largely derive from the player's ability to appreciate those elements. For those who find such things too oppressive, who like a promise of hope or potential redemption in their horror, this is not the game for them.
 
Flaws? Like all Resi games, it does tend to run out of steam in its latter chapters; when everything is finally established, the mysteries of the setting plot, characters and the mechanics of play unravelled, it loses some of its ability to shock or surprise; as is a consistent flaw in every Resi game to this point, the latter sections of the game are somewhat unsatisfying, as it doesn't quite go where you'd hope it would and the actual mechanics that have been established up to that point are almost entirely abandoned for something much more generic and familiar. 
​ 
 
That said, the experience as a whole and for the majority of its play time is so novel, so tense and fascinatingly unpleasant, these are the most minor flaws in an otherwise sublime resurrection.
 
Resident Evil, riding high in (arguably redefining) the echelons of horror once more.
 
Who would have ever believed? 
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<![CDATA[HORROR FILMS REDISCOVERED ON THE BFI PLAYER]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:43:58 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/horror-films-rediscovered-on-the-bfi-player
In 2010 the BFI published their Most Wanted list, a tantalising countdown of 75 British films classified as ‘missing, believed lost’. Of all these forgotten gems (which ranged from silent Hitchcock to '60s pop), nothing excited horror fans more than the inclusion of José Ramón Larraz’s 1974 little-seen cult classic, Symptoms. Selected for the 1974 Cannes Film Festival before promptly falling into cinematic obscurity, this claustrophobic Repulsion-esque chiller, which tells the uncanny tale of a young woman’s descent into madness at a remote English country mansion, was long confined to the blurry terrains of VHS bootlegs and online rips. Now lovingly restored and looking better than ever, Larraz’s infamous curio is available for all to enjoy on BFI player. And so, to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of a neglected genre classic, here are 5 more horror gems waiting to be discovered on BFI’s online platform. Let the nightmares begin...
The Night Has Eyes (dir Leslie Arliss, 1942)
One of only a handful of British horror films produced during WWII, this delicious slice of gothic melodrama (think Jane Eyre meets The Old Dark House) stars James Mason as Stephen, a reclusive composer living in an isolated mansion on the perennially misty Yorkshire Moors. When two lost women stumble on his property, Stephen offers shelter and a place to stay. But as romance blossoms between the taciturn recluse and one of his new guests, so too does the macabre truth of Stephen’s dark past. Also released under the more salacious titles Terror House and Moonlight Madness, this atmospheric chiller was given the BBFC’s dreaded H-for-Horror rating when it was released in 1942, possibly thanks to its surprisingly nasty conclusion. As ever, Mason makes for a broodingly effective leading man, while special mention should also go to Tucker McGuire for her scene-stealing role as man-hungry schoolteacher Doris. But the real stars are the Moors themselves – evocatively captured by Gunther Krampf (famed cinematographer whose work included Pandora’s Box and The Hands of Orlac) – which reek of dread and dark foreboding.


Fiend Without a Face (dir Arthur Crabtree, 1958)
Something of a cause célèbre when it was first unleashed in 1958, Arthur Crabtree’s low-budget monster mash was deemed so outrageous, and so morally reprehensible, that it actually sparked debate in Parliament, where questions were raised as to how a work of such supposed depravity had passed through the censors in all its gory glory. Years later, and of course the shock value has diminished. But while the film may not still possess the power to appal with quite the same ferocity, it remains one of the most wonderfully twisted little sci-fi shockers of the period. The plot (typical of the atomic obsessed sci-fi pics of the time) concerns an army of nuclear-powered flying brains (complete with spinal cords) who attack a US military base. Naysayers might dismiss this off-kilter British production as little more than a mindless (!) special-effects showcase – but when the climactic scenes are so unhinged and the stop-motion effects so glorious – who cares? If it all sounds frankly preposterous, that’s because it is. And wonderfully so. 


The Night of the Hunted (dir Jean Rollin, 1980)
Of the 50-odd films directed by Euro-sleaze connoisseur Jean Rollin over the course of his illustrious career, The Night Of The Hunted might stand as his most idiosyncratic, and, in many ways, most beautiful effort. A far cry from the saucy vampire pics he is perhaps best known for, this anomalous head-scratcher blends erotic horror with austere science-fiction (not unlike the early works of David Cronenberg) to tell the story of a young amnesiac woman being held in a strange asylum seemingly against her will. As perversities and murders begin to mount around her, she must make sense of why she is there and how she can escape. As with most of Rollin’s films, the end result is by no means perfect - the leisurely pacing can be testing at times (the lengthy sex scenes in particular feeling unnecessarily drawn out) - but for those of a more patient disposition and an keen eye for the perverse, this clinical shocker is quite unlike anything else, replete with scenes of abject terror which will not be quickly forgotten.


Heartless (dir Philip Ridley, 2009)
The long-awaited third feature from Philip Ridley (following his extraordinary sun-drenched slice of American gothic The Reflecting Skin, and the lesser-known, but equally fascinating backwoods allegory The Passion Of Darkly Noon) saw the London-born filmmaker return to his home turf with a Faustian morality tale set in the East End. Jim Strurgess plays Jamie, a socially awkward teenage outcast born with a large heart-shaped birthmark on his face, who discovers a gang of demons are plaguing the streets of his hometown. As one would expect from one of horror cinema’s true visual poets, Heartless is a feast for the eyes, steeped in fertile symbolism and menacing atmospherics. But perhaps most memorably, it is a richly empathetic piece of work, which succeeds as much as an unconventional character study as it does an unnerving and eccentric horror film.


The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dir Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2013)
An audacious exercise pure, unadulterated style, this modern day giallo from the gloriously twisted minds of directing duo Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer) is one of the most visually imaginative horror films of recent years. Following the unexplained disappearance of his wife, a man is thrown into a web of mystery and intrigue as he attempts to uncover her whereabouts. Traversing the labyrinthine halls of his ornamental apartment building, he encounters its various inhabitants, whose tales of sensuality and sadism play out before him. In this dreamlike (or should that be nightmarish?) world, traditional narrative gives way to a more sensory, instinctive approach to storytelling, resulting in an experience which can be as perplexing as it is hypnotic. For those with a taste for something different, this truly singular work delivers devious surprises with every blood-splattered frame. Watch it loud. On the biggest screen you can.




Michael Blyth




Symptoms is available on BFI Player, here


 
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<![CDATA[BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: A RETROSPECTIVE.]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:41:32 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/buffy-the-vampire-slayer-a-retrospectiveBY LEX JONES 
1997 was twenty years ago, apparently. Which means so was the dawn of a new show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It wasn’t a new idea, exactly. The concept had already been used to make a not-so-brilliant movie, but creator Joss Whedon was quick to point out that the failings of the first adaptation of his idea were down to studio interference rather than his own work. Which, anyone who knows anything about Hollywood will surely agree, is entirely believable. So Joss had another crack at it, this time in the form of a television show. The result became a pop-culture phenomenon, playing a huge part in the lives of many people’s adolescence, myself included.

There’s still a lot of supernatural drama shows on television today, but I don’t think any of them drive their way to the heart in quite the same way that Buffy did. Yes, that’s a staking joke. Live with it. Buffy managed to make you care about the characters aswell as the situations. To make a relationship breakup seem as tense as the possibility of the world ending is no mean feat, yet Buffy managed it time and again. The writing was tight, the cast was perfect, and even the special effects hold up. I personally feel that the latter is due to the reliance on practical effects, which always date much more slowly than their CGI cousins do. That’s why horror films like The Thing and Evil Dead still look alright, whereas more recent CGI-Heavy films from the nineties look dreadful. Buffy managed to try a lot of things like this and get most of them right.

With this being the twenty year anniversary, you’re sure to see a lot of articles like this, each trying to tell you something you don’t know and reveal that your favourite cast members actually hated each other. So I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to list my five favourite episodes and the reasons for each one, and then you can all argue about it in the comments section until the next apocalypse comes along. The following list isn’t in any particular order, it’s just the five that I’ve always thought of as being my favourites. Also, I’m not going to explain the mythology of the show or who the characters all are, I’m basically assuming prior knowledge for anyone who’d bother to read this far. Also, incase it’s necessary to point out, there will be spoilers (if you can still call them that when the show came out two decades ago.)



“Amends”
I never think of Buffy as being the sort of show that had Christmas episodes, and for the most part I don’t believe that it did. This one stands out in that regard, but also because it’s really powerful. It introduces the closest thing in the series to the Devil himself, but more importantly than that, it really drives home the concept of forgiveness. Particularly how, more often than not, the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Here, tormented by visions of his past, good-guy vampire Angel decides it would be better for his love Buffy (and everyone else) if he was no longer here. To that end he goes to the top of the tallest hill in Sunnydale and waits for the sun to rise. The whole episode is great and leads up to him standing on this hill at the break of dawn, with Buffy desperately trying to convince him that he matters, that suicide is never the best way. That strength is carrying on, not giving up. What happens next remains one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen on a television show.


“Passion”
Throughout the first season and a half of Buffy, we’re constantly told how Angel was pure evil before he got his soul back. But we don’t really see anything that makes us believe it until this episode, where having recently lost said soul once again, he goes back to his old ways. And how. It’s not simply that he kills more people, including Giles’ girlfriend Jenny. We’ve seen him kill people by now, we get the message that he’s not our Angel anymore. No, it’s not the murder itself, it’s the display that goes along with it. Candles, roses, romantic music, all setting the scene for a moment of horror that leads Giles to foolishly launch his own attack on Angel (which goes pretty well, actually.) Here we see the true Angelus for the first time. The passion he puts into his work, how he treats it as an art. He makes us hate him when previously all we wanted was for he and Buffy to work things out. That’s an impressive feat of writing and acting, and it makes for a glorious episode.




“Lovers’ Walk”
Spike (everyone’s favourite vampire) comes back to town looking for ways to win back his old flame Drusilla. The method that presents itself is to get up-and-coming witch Willow to cast a love spell. Of course, Spike being Spike, he doesn’t just ask politely. This episode is a perfect example of what Buffy does so well, which is to balance action with drama and humour, without it all getting muddled. There’s some great one-liners from Spike as always, but also some genuinely insightful comments that are difficult to argue with. In later seasons we see a lot of this from Spike; he becomes the guy who cuts through the naïve American Teenager bullshit and tells it how it is in true British fashion. The episode also features Buffy, Angel and Spike back to back in a fight for the only time in the entire series’ run, which is fantastic but also a bit of a shame. We get a lot of Angel and Spike fighting together once Spike moves over to his grand-sire’s own series, but we never have the three of them on the same side of a battle again after this. Of course, this only serves to make this episode all the more special as a result.


“Hush”
Bit of an obvious choice really, since this is often voted as the best Buffy episode ever. Expected or not, though, I stand by it. The plot is that a group of fairytale monsters steal the voices of everyone in town, so they can’t scream when their hearts are cut out (of course.) This means the entire cast has to do the entire episode without speaking. Or grunting, or making any kind of noise with their vocal chords. Which, according to behind the scenes featurettes, was incredibly difficult for all concerned. We may all think it’s the one of the best episodes, but the cast apparently remember it as the most stressful. All that effort pays off though, because it’s a master-class in story telling. Again, strong writing and acting come together here and the result it something that’s worth watching whether you’re a fan of the show or not.


“Becoming, Part 2”
I acknowledge that choosing one half of a two-part episode is a bit odd, but really the first half of this double is all set-up, the payoffs are in the finale. And what a finale it is. So much happens here, but what really stands out for me is that it can be summed up as “consequences.” The things that happen here have a lasting effect, in particular for the first time you see the hard choices Buffy has to make and how that can impact her life. Sure we’ve seen her die, but that was resolved in about five minutes as are most of the things that happen in season finales. But this one stands out. Angel would never move to LA and kickstart the apocalypse were it not for the events of this episode (he goes to Hell so the Powers That Be bring him back, which makes him realise he has a grander purpose, so off he goes to LA where he learns his part in a prophecy etc etc). Spike and Dru breakup for good which leads to Spike having a very different role in the show than anyone might have anticipated (and also being side by side with Angel at the start of said Apocalypse.) Buffy’s mother learns what her daughter does at night, Kendra dies which gives birth to Faith, Willow starts using magic. There’s probably more moments I’ve missed, but even after another five season finales, I don’t think any have the lasting impact that this one does. It really does change everything.


    So that it, my top five. And now I am just glancing out of my window to see the approaching villagers marching up my hill with the chants of “why did you miss out Once More With Feeling?” Well, this is only going to get said villagers to raise their flaming torches all the higher, but here’s the answer; I don’t like it. It’s a novelty episode, like the puppet one on Angel. And whilst yes, they are both fun and memorable, I take both shows pretty seriously and episodes that are clearly done as a “why not?” rather than actually adding anything to the series don’t sit well with me. I totally understand and respect that I am probably in a minority here, as the other polls of this type that I’ve seen would seem to suggest.  And that’s fine, I’m just saying that for me, I don’t think of a musical episode or one where the main character becomes a puppet can hold a candle (or a stake) to the ones I’ve listed above.
    There’s a comments section below so feel free to list your own top fives, and we’ll see what kind of crossover we all have. Get it? CROSSover. Because vampires don’t like crosses. Alright I’m not a pun person. Like most things, Buffy did those the best.
Lex.
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Lex H Jones is a British cross-genre author, horror fan and rock music enthusiast who lives in Sheffield, North England. 
He has written articles for websites the Gingernuts of Horror and the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog on various subjects covering books, films, videogames and music. Lex’s first published novel is titled “Nick and Abe”, and he also has several short horror stories published in anthologies. When not working on his own writing Lex also contributes to the proofing and editing process for other authors.


His official Facebook page is:
LEX JONES 

Amazon author page :
LEX H JONES 
Twitter:
@LexHJones
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<![CDATA[PUBLISHER SPOTLIGHT: CROWED QUARANTINE PUBLICATIONS ]]>Mon, 17 Apr 2017 09:42:31 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/publisher-spotlight-crowed-quarantine-publications
 The Small / Indie Press is a tough place to be for not just the writers but also the publishers.  Profit margins are tight, in fact,  many of these presses operate at a loss and both the press and the writers who work with them struggle to get noticed, unless the spotlight of drama is focused on the small press.  

With that in mind Ginger Nuts of Horror's semi-regular column on the small presses, we should all care about returns with a look at Crowded Quarantine Publications, run by the instantly recognisable and damn fine author in his own right Adam Millard.  

Founded in 2011 by horror author, Adam Millard, and his wife, Zoe. Their goal was to release only the best in horror and speculative fiction, and work closely with their authors to bring their visions to fruition. In the short time since the company was formed, they have released close to thirty titles, with an ever increasing roster of great writers and books.  

In the short time since they opened their doors, they have published such fine authors as Rich Hawkins, Chris Kelso, Craig Saunders, Jen Haeger, Aaron J. French, Kevin Walsh and Luke Walker.  

Since their inception, they have always been a press that both their writers and contemporaries in the genre have always spoken highly of.  Their professional attitude to both their authors and their readers has seen them gain a reputation that is hard to beat.  

Last year saw the release of Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso, a twisted, fractured horror novel that found its way onto many best of the year lists, and won The Ginger Nut of Horror's novel of the year award.  

Read on to find out what are our favourite books from CQP publications and which of their books we are most looking forward to reading this year.  

ASCENT BY LUKE WALKER

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When terrorists threaten to detonate a nuclear device outside RAF Lakenheath, Kelly Wells races for a nearby office block, frantic to find her sister in their last moments. At the same time, a handful of others do the same—all desperate to make it to loved ones before the bomb goes off barely fifty miles away. In the frozen second of the explosion, Kelly, her sister, and three strangers are trapped in that instant and trapped in the building. But they are not alone. A sleeping evil from the deepest pits of the earth has awoken. Stalked by a creature that knows their most private secrets and fears, the group are lost in a world of their individual Hells.



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Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His novel Hometown is published by Caffeine Nights while his novella Mirror Of The Nameless is published by DarkFuse. A new novel, Ascent, will be published summer 2017. His collection of horror fiction, Die Laughing, is also available. Several of his short stories have been published online and in print.

Praise for Die Laughing 

Dark, fun, and very inventive, Die Laughing is a memorable collection of short horror fiction that will unsettle you as much as it will surely entertain
 - Lee Wilson 

THE LAST PLAGUE BY RICH HAWKINS 

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A pestilence has fallen across the land. Run and hide. Seek shelter. Do not panic. The infected WILL find you. 

When Great Britain is hit by a devastating epidemic, four old friends must cross a chaotic, war-torn England to reach their families. But between them and home, the country is teeming with those afflicted by the virus - cannibalistic, mutated monsters whose only desires are to infect and feed. 

THE LAST PLAGUE is here.

Praise for The Last Plague 

Taking the tired trope of a zombie apocalypse and refreshing it with a palpable tension, genuine horror and a legion of nightmarish entities. Daniel Marc Chant 

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Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter's THE THING. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel in 2015. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, was released in the autumn of 2015. The final novel in the trilogy, THE LAST SOLDIER, was released in March 2016.

Of Devils & Deviants: An Anthology of Erotic Horror 

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The French don't call orgasms "the little death" for no reason. La Petite Mort-the post-orgasmic state of unconsciousness that some people have following a sexual experience. But what if that "little death" became more permanent? What if, in the throes of passion, you suddenly realized your lover was not, in fact, human? What if one of the games you played to spice up your love-life went horribly wrong? What if you realized you were having sex with the Devil himself? Between these pages you will find tales of sex-bots, cosmic goddesses, and crazed lovers. Twenty-three authors are waiting to seduce you with tales so hot and erotic, so macabre and chilling, you'll pray you are sleeping alone tonight.

Featuring: Graham Masterton, Taylor Grant, Maynard Sims, Ralph Robert Moore, Claude Lalumiere, Aaron J. French, Adam Howe, John McIlveen, C.W. LaSart, Lucy Taylor, Jeff Gardiner, Christian A. Larsen, Shaun Meeks, Mandy DeGeit, Cameron Trost, J. Daniel Stone, Kenzie Mathews, Eric LaRocca, Stacey Turner, Jenn Loring, Kenneth W. Cain, Ken MacGregor, Bear Weiter.

Praise for 
Of Devils & Deviants

The result is an erotic romp through nearly every deviant behavior imaginable.- Frank Errington

Aberrations of Reality by Aaron J. French

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Do we always walk in two worlds? Our own we know, or think we know, and another we only glimpse? These twenty-two tales exploring occultism, religiosity, spirituality, existentialism, metaphysics, and the supernatural will attempt to answer that question. From the mind of Aaron J. French, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Discoveries magazine and noted Lovecraftian, comes Aberrations of Reality. Enter the New Age of weird fiction.

"Throughout this fiery modern grimoire of mystical horror, we're conscious of the restless urgency of the writing, as if the author is working against time to conjure onto the pages a sequence of transformations that must be seized and fixed before they dissolve again. Indeed, the task for the acolyte of the literary Mysteries today is to convey strange possibilities in a modern tongue, one which responds to the ceaseless now with news of a different eternity. They must have a need at least to suggest that there are aberrations in the world we usually take for reality. And, as the title of this book suggests, Aaron J. French is one of those willing to respond to that task."-from the Introduction by weird fiction critic and author Mark Valentine

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​Aaron J. French is the author of weird, occult, and dark fantasy fiction. His debut novel, The Time Eater (JournalStone), is available now. He is the author of Aberrations of Reality (Crowded Quarantine), The Dream Beings (Samhain), and many more published short stories. In addition to writing, he works as a book editor for JournalStone Publishing and the Editor-in-Chief for Dark Discoveries magazine. He has edited several popular anthologies including The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, Songs of the Satyrs, and the Monk Punk & Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus. Aaron is currently pursuing a PhD in The Study of Religion at University of California, Davis.

UNGER HOUSE RADICALS BY CHRIS KELSO 

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When aspiring and nihilistic film-maker Vincent Bittacker falls in love with mercurial serial-killer Brandon Swarthy they decide to embark upon a bloody journey to re-define cinema and create their own sub-culture - Ultra-Realism.

Praise for Unger House Radicals 

The writing is dark yet exquisite, exploring uncomfortable horrors of mankind in a compelling, unique way. - Phil Sloman 

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Chris Kelso has been printed frequently in literary and university publications across the UK, US and Canada.

Chris Kelso’s publications include -
“Schadenfreude” (Dog Horn Publishing) 
“Last Exit to Interzone” (Black Dharma Press)
“A Message from the Slave State” (Western Legends Books)
“Moosejaw Frontier” (Bizarro Pulp Press)
“Transmatic” (MorbidbookS)
“The Black Dog Eats the City” (Omnium Gatherum)
“Terence, Mephisto & Viscera Eyes” (Bizarro Pulp Press)
“The Dissolving Zinc Theatre” (Villipede Publications)
"Unger House Radicals" (Crowded Quarantine)
"The Folger Variation" (Shoreline of Infinity)

He and Garrett Cook are the co-creator of ‘The Imperial Youth Review‘

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<![CDATA[COME TOGETHER IN THE GENRE:  HOW YOU CAN HELP A WORTHY CAUSE ]]>Sun, 16 Apr 2017 10:02:37 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/come-together-in-the-genre-how-you-can-help-a-worthy-cause
There is one thing you can count on the genre for, well after petty fights, and fall outs over submission guidelines, and that is once you get past the silly stuff it is a great community, people look out for each and help each other out without a second thought, even when the person in need is not one of your favourite people.  It's what makes us a community rather than just a bunch of fans. 

So when one of our own finds themselves in a situation, that can only be described as heartbreaking and unimaginable, we come together and help them out, it's what we do.  Kyle M. Scott is need of our help.  When I first heard of what had happened I stared at my screen for ages in disbelief, I couldn't understand how this could happen to someone living in this country.    It's heart breaking and it will make you angry.  For full details on this click here to read Kyle's account of what happened. 

Shocking isn't it.  I wasn't the only one who thought this, fellow horror Matt Hickman felt the same way, and he decided to do something about. Read on to find out how you can help Matt help Kyle.... 
Matt was spurred into action to do something for his friend this is what he had to say on the matter 

Kyle is a friend of mine and a well respected author within the independent writing community. Upon reading his story, it was a no-brainer for me to make a donation to his cause, but my humble offering was barely enough to make a dent in the cost of a transatlantic plane ticket. As a father myself, I couldn't begin to comprehend the torture that he must be enduring. I wished I could have done more.

Then, I had an idea.

I decided to reach out to my friends and peers in the independent horror writing community with a view to raise funds to donate to his cause. The idea was simple. I asked whether any author's would be willing to contribute a book of theirs, either a paperback or ebook to collated as a prize for readers to enter into a draw.

The response was phenomenal.

I was truly blown away by the immediate show of hands that responded to my appeal. Not only were these authors kind enough to donate their work, in cases there were multiple prizes offered. It's truly an inspiring show of respect, admiration and generosity of people within this community for one of their own. Upon review of the total number of books collected, we decided that there was a big enough prize to be split randomly into three equal winning prizes.
The three prize draws will be conducted on 30th April 2017, at which point every name that has donated will be entered into a random name generator and THREE winners will be drawn at random. 

As well as the potential of winning a fantastic prize, you have the chance to be a part of something that could really affect the lives of this man and his young daughter. Please donate, and please share. Let's get this thing all over Facebook and Twitter. Lets see if together, we can smash a massive hole in that target!!

So, what are the prizes that are up for grabs? They are listed below. Any other authors who wish to donate further to this prize, please contact Matt via his Facebook Page 
Signed paperbacks of Meat & The Dark Place by Michael Bray.
Signed paperback copies of Charlotte, Awakening, All or Nothing, Three's Company, Whispers 1 to 3, Outbreak, Gemini, Cine and Grin by Stuart Keane.
Ebook copies of Evil Embrace collection and TWENTY mystery titles exclusive to this event by Ian Woodhead.
Signed paperbacks of The Human Undead War I and II by Jonathan Ondrashek.
Signed paperbacks of Class Three, Prime Direcetive and Hexagram by Duncan Bradshaw.
Signed paperbacks of GodBomb and Breaking Point by Kit Power.
Signed paperback of Under the Red Meadow by Rich Hawkins.
Signed copy of Z Claus by Marc Moore.
Signed paperback copy of The Hobbsburg Horror by Thomas  Flowers III
Signed paperback of National Emergency by James Jobling.
Signed paperbacks of Dr. Blessing and the Seance by Jack Rollins.
Signed paperback of Every Twisted Thought, Audiobooks of Life to Waste and Keith, and ebook copies of Twisted Shorts and A Taste of Fear by Andrew Lennon.
Signed Paperback of The Tower and the Eye, and ebook copies of The Heir of the Dragon, Darkness in Mind, Blossom and Kitsune, and The Necklace of Harmony by Mandy Ward.
Signed paperbacks of Wind Up Toy, Broken Plaything and Chaos Rising by David Owain Hughes.
Signed paperbacks of The Exchange and Punch by JR Park.
Signed paperbacks of Celebrity Hell House, Larry, Larry II, The Marionnettiste of Versaille, and Peter Crombie, Teenage Zombie by Adam Millard.
Ebook copies of Dobson Lane and Skee-Bo by Dale Robertson.
Signed paperbacks of Mr. Robespierre and Maldicion by Daniel Marc Chant
Signed paperback of Driftwood From the Specific by Tony Gilbert.
Signed paperbacks of The Grays Anatomy and Life With Boris Karloff by Rob Shepherd.
Signed paperback of I Am Karma, and ebook copy of VS by Dawn Cano.
Signed paperback of The Shadow Fabric by Mark Cassell.
Signed copies of Hellspawn and Infernal by Ricky Fleet.
Signed copies of Tales of Blood and Sulphur, Peace and Quiet, Time and Space and a rare first edition of Tales by JG Clay
Signed paperback of The Doors by Alice J Black
Signed copy of Woom by Duncan Ralston
Ebook copies of Even Hell Has Standards - Pride and Wrath by Chantal Noordeloos
Signed paperback copies of Amnesia, Jeremy, Gemini, and Bound by Matt Hickman
A limited first edition Signed paperback of Subterrestrial by Michael McBride (Donated by Becky Narron)
Signed paperback copies of Nick & Abe, and VS by Lex Jones
That is a pretty awesome set of prizes and one that will surely grow in the coming weeks, so come on folks what is quid / dollar, it's nothing to us but it could mean a huge amount to Kyle and his daughter.    Please share  this and the other links around and please help a a loving father get back with his family.  

    To enter the draw please click here it's simple and will just take seconds.  
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<![CDATA[EXCLUSIVE IMAGE REVEAL: THE MONSTER CHARITY PROJECT 2017 ]]>Thu, 13 Apr 2017 07:20:17 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/exclusive-image-reveal-the-monster-charity-project-2017
In the second of our exclusive reveals today (click here for our cover reveal), Ginger Nuts of Horror is honoured to be given the opportunity to reveal a very special  Frankenstein's Monster  bust as you have never seen him before, completely customised in unique designs by some of the UK's top artists from the prop-making and movie Special FX make-up industries.  The Monster Charity Project has commissioned the creation of these unique busts so they can be auctioned off for the Make A Wish UK Foundation, with 100% of the proceeds going to the charity.   

Twenty five  of the UK's top prop-making, sculpting and SPFX make-up artists have been brought together to take part in a unique charity project. Each artist has been given a bespoke Frankenstein-inspired monster bust, created and supplied by SVFX University of Bolton Special & Visual Effects team, with the simple instruction: Customise him into any design you like.

Read on for our exclusive reveal of what is a rather special bust... 
Once customised, the artists then donate the finished bust back to the Monster Charity Project organisers who will auction them off via an online auction site. 100% of the proceeds raised from the auction will be donated to Make-A-Wish UK. All the artists and the back room project crew donate their time and skills totally free of charge.

Last year the same project team raised a staggering £28,000 for Make-A-Wish at Star Wars Celebration London with a similar project featuring an iconic Star Wars Helmet. 30 artists took part creating such custom designs as Deadpool, Judge Dredd , Batman and a Studio Ghibli inspired design.

The busts will be going on a UK tour during 2017 taking in such conventions as Horror Con UK,  finishing the year at Creaturegeddon where many of the featured artists can be seen sharing their work and also available for a chat. The Monster Charity Project is also in talks to have the display featured at the very popular Grimmfest event in Manchester.

People will be able to start viewing the completed busts from May 2017 via various social media outlets and the above mentioned conventions, the project busts then go to auction on October 31st 2017, ending November 5th 2017


For Further information and updates you can follow the project and all its progress at:


 https://www.facebook.com/The-Monster-Charity-Project-2017-1154419357915280/
Twitter -  https://twitter.com/monsterproj
https://instagram.com/monstercharityproject
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<![CDATA[THINGS A WRITER SHOULD NEVER DO TO GET THEIR BOOK PUBLISHED ]]>Thu, 13 Apr 2017 05:31:43 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/things-a-writer-should-never-do-to-get-their-book-published
In the fallout from last night's Facebook discussion  about a submission call   run by an author, (who for some reasons claims they  aren't  a publisher and is just a writer despite PUBLISHING ANTHOLOGIES) where upon acceptance to the anthology the  writer was expected to pay $40 for the anthology to use their story, here is a little handy guide to things a writer should never do / be aware off when finding a home for their story.  This list is by no means comprehensive, and if you have any more things to avoid please leave a comment in the section below.  

Here is the submission call 


Seven Deadly Sins Anthology Sign up.
The Seven Deadly Sins Anthology will consist of 3 anthologies. Each anthology will be published separate, but all in the same month.- Minimum word count for each story is 3,000 words and maximum is 6,500 words.
- I'm looking for 18 stories, 6 stories for each anthology.
I will be writing one for each.
- If selected, $40 is to be paid in full by July, this price includes Cover, Formatting and Promotion.
- Each participant must have their own Editor and Proof Reader if you feel you need a proofreader.
- The anthology will be published to E-Book and will be available for 6 months on Amazon. The anthologies will also have a one year paperback shelf life-the paperback is subject to change. After the 6 months on Amazon, each participant can re-publish their story if they so wish.
- The Anthologies will be published in December. Publishing 1 a week. (This is subject to change)
- Each story will need to be turned in at the beginning of October.
- Each author will be paid by PayPal and the royalties we earn will be split equally.
- Open to all genres.



1.  Pay any publisher for the privilege of publishing your book.  

This includes submission fees, reading fees, editing fees, cover design fees You should never have to pay to get a publisher or an agent to read your work. Never, ever, ever. Get this through your head. Many scammers will try to lure new writers in a “small reading fee.” A reputable agent and publishing house will never ask you to pay for them to read your manuscript.

The bottom line is that a real publishing company does not get paid until your book is published. That’s why they are so interested in selling your book.


2.  Give your story away for free, unless it is a charity anthology

There are still presses that offer "For the Love Of" submissions, the only thing an author gets from exposure is a cold arse.  

3. Submit your story to a piss poor publisher.

                                    How do you spot one I hear you ask?  

Here are a few handy tips 

I. The submission call application form is a burner google docs form with no contact info.  

II. Their website has a very vague contact / about section.

 If a small press is proud of their work and above board, you won't need to dig to find out who runs it.  

III. Look at their covers

do they look like they were done by their kid with zero artistic talent?  If so walk away.  Despite that adage, you can judge a book by its cover

IV. Author-unfriendly contracts

including rights grabs, taking copyright, restrictive option clauses, sub-standard royalty provisions (including reverse-accounted royalties), inadequate reversion clauses, draconian “defamation clauses,” and a host of other inappropriate and abusive contract terms.

VI. Deliberately misleading advertising 

if they are making bold claims about winning awards or publishing Amazon Bestsellers ask for proof of the awards, and sales rank.  Unless the award is from an industry recognised source, then the award is bollocks.  Just having your book on a top ten list from some blogger, no one has heard from is not winning an award.  

And an Amazon bestseller is not a book that was number one for something like this 

Books > Fiction > Science Fiction > Adventure>aliens>spaceships>I wonder how many more subcategories I can add until I hit a top ten ranking 


VII. Lack of editorial gatekeeping

if it looks like they publish any old shit chances are they publish any old shit without actually reading it 


VIII.  Lack of editing

check out a few of the books they publish, use the "Look inside" function on Amazon it is your friend. If the books look as though they have had no editorial eye on them, again chances are the publishers dodgy.  


Remember now more than ever; the term author brand is king.  And if it gets out that your brand is "half-arsed author who puts any old nonsense with edits" you are going to sink like a stone.  

IX Breaches of Contract

use sites such as Writers  Beware, and Facebook author groups, use Google research the publisher and if there are repeated accounts of them not fulfilling their contracts walk away.  Of course me reasonable, sometimes the claims are unjustified and come from a single  disgruntled author, but if there are a load of authors complaining about them, and they have made their way onto the Writers Beware website, then the chances are they are totally dodgy.  



It's hard getting published, but the worst thing you can do as a writer is publish your book through a publisher that won't do their best to sell your book, and if they are making money of you before they even publish your book then they really don't care if your book is a success.  

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