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FREE BOOK!!!

If you now subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll instantly receive a free ebook of my short story collection, Quintessence of Dust. It’s a painless process, and as mentioned in my previous post, I won’t be spamming every hour of the day. So to get the free Kindle book, simply click on this link – I want to subscribe and get my free book – Then, just enter your email and submit. You’ll be directed to a page where the download will commence. It’s that easy!

Ah, yes, but I hear you asking; “Is Quintessence of Dust really worth me sharing my email?”

Here’s the blurb and you make up your own mind:

Quintessence of Dust delivers a world where the Minotaur exists in modern society, drinks in bars and is scared of the dark. Where to lose memories and extract all the pain you’ve brought on others is easily achieved by pulling twine from your rectum. It is a world where the Devil is an old man digging a hole to Hell in his garden, and romance is nurtured by spearing an umbrella through the chest of a winged demon. Here, there are talking camels, and should you ever want to crawl back into the womb and begin a fresh, birth can be reversed. Wishes can be granted, ugly can be erased, and those without ardor or enthusiasm can be nymphomaniacs by pinning a photograph upon a wall. In this world the girth of a neck can bring on suicide, sleep can summon death and people can live within the inner ear canal of others. The streets are always crimson. People are broken. Lust is a commodity measured out in chocolate, and love is lost more than it is conquered.

In this world, the dust bites and never settles.

Here’s the link to Goodreads too, which will give you a fair idea of what other people thought of it. Even if Quintessence of Dust doesn’t float your boat, by subscribing you’ll receive information about my books, promotions and news before anyone else.

Thanks for your support. Stay safe. Craig

Session 10 is now live!

As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.

Sorry, not gangster. Movie director. My love of film crept in at a very early age when my parents took me to the local cinema to watch Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger in 1977. To see the fight between the Trog and the sabre-tooth tiger, and the grand vision of the bronzed Minaton, was spellbinding to my five-year-old self. That same year, I watched Star Wars and became obsessed, like most of my friends, in collecting the Kenner action figures. For a single child raised in a rough area of Manchester, movies became a way of escaping the violence, fear, bullies, and caustic environment of my home life. They were the dependable friends helping lift my spirits, making me laugh, or sometimes permitting me to cry without thinking too badly of myself. They also taught me how to use my imagination, which, many years later, I would lean on when writing my novels.

As my bones grew and hair turned darker, my taste in movies changed. Forever the hopeless romantic wishing for a movie romance where the geek ends up with the pretty girl, John Hughes became my go to director in the 1980s, as well as all the other pastiche teen romcoms around at the same time. There was also a spike in ghost-related movies in the early 90s like, Always, Truly Madly Deeply, and of course, Ghost, that piqued my interest. But the one genre I would always return to was horror. 

I’ve spoken before about how my father introduced me to this genre at a very early age. One Sunday when eleven years old, having contracted a severe case of earache, we watched a pirate copy of Evil Dead to help ease the pain. I celebrated my tenth birthday by watching Dawn of the Dead. Even as a child, I owned toy figures of Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula that I kept beside my bed. I never feared horror movies as much as real life as a child. There was so much that scared me outside my door: gangs, cars, wild dogs, sickness. I felt too vulnerable and too scared to fight any of them. But horror allowed me to explore the darker side of life in safety without experiencing pain, injury, or even death. This wasn’t something I could depend on happening in the real world. This is maybe the same reason Contagion saw a surge in interest during the pandemic. Or why books like Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song did not see a drop in sales when we were all isolated. Horror movies pull us into places where we don’t want to go, but they also allow us the experience of surviving those places unharmed. I believe I always return to horror because of this reason. That, and they’re sometimes damn fun too.

This love of horror pushed me recently to start a podcast. It was something I wanted to do for a long time but felt it would leave me exposed. When you write a book, it’s easy to hide your true self behind the words. You can be clever, funny and articulate. Speaking in front of a microphone is like that moment Dorothy pulls back the curtain and exposes Oz peddling frantically on his bicycle. But I knew we must come outside our comfort zone to grow. Sometimes we must reveal who we really are, good or bad, so we can be accepted. So, the podcast idea became a test. I wanted to see if I was brave enough to sound half as clever, funny or articulate as I do in my books. I wanted to see if I was prepared to grow and be accepted. 

Session 10 is a weekly podcast where myself and co-host Boff Island talk about horror movies, life, and our past. The format is simple enough. We concentrate on one decade per season, beginning with the 1970s. Each episode looks at a horror movie from each year within that decade. Boff and I walk through those movies, many of which we have never seen, and hopefully you haven’t either, desiccating, ruminating, and generally trying to avoid sounding like Bevis and Butthead. Currently, it’s available on Podbean, but will be also accessible on most podcast streaming platforms including Apple, Spotify and Pandora. As a cinephile, and horror fan, it’s been an incredible journey watching these movies with a more critical eye. The banter between Boff and I have left me in tears, and I can honestly say that I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. I hope you jump into the season one when you have time. In doing so you’ll discover new horror movies, and maybe see a different side to me. We’ve recorded the first season, but there are currently two episodes available. Each one drops every Friday. I’d probably encourage you all to jump into episode 2 first as I think we start find our rhythm more in that one.

We’ve currently compiling suggestions for horror movies from the 1980s too, so if you have any suggestions, or you just want a shout out on the podcast, drop us an email at session10podcast@gmail.com

Thanks for listening, and in the words of Boff Island, stay scared. 

What’s Your Pleasure?

When is porn a turn off? There are probably multiple ways to answer this, depending on your proclivity and morals. I’m not here to judge. What I am here to talk about is a movie that, like Lovelace, Boogie Nights, and Wonderland, made me ask that question, and re-evaluate porn in the 21st Century. That movie is called Pleasure, and it’s directed by Ninja Thyberg.

 Let’s rewind for a moment. As a red-blooded teenager in the 1980s, porn was a worthy companion in helping me discover my sexuality, as well as understanding more about the female body. Circa 1984, hardcore movies weren’t as accessible as they are today. It took grit, determination, and a father (or friend’s father) with a poor hiding regime which allowed the more industrious teenager to stumble on an eighth generation VHS copy of Swedish Erotica, something akin to watching a sex act take place in a snow globe. Now, porn is instant. It is no less difficult to access than Facebook. And more worrying is that everything and anything is on offer. I make no apologies for saying this, but growing up in the 1970s/80s, porn seemed more wholesome. It was less about extremes and more about regular sex. I’m sure there were copies of Animal Farm circulating in pubs or maybe movies involving paddle boards, but generally porn pertained to places like Dallas and girls named Debbie. Not latex-wearing dominatrix pegging a man in a gimp mask. Or maybe I was too guileless back then to release there was more shocking material in circulation. I recall attending a house party when I was about fifteen. A few older guys in their mid-twenties turned up and thought it was a good idea to put on a porn movie involving lesbian prisoners. I was shocked. The lesbian prisoner thing wasn’t the reason, or that three men gate-crashed a house of thought it acceptable to watch porn in front of teenagers. What I found shocking was seeing another person lick an arsehole. I remember letting out an audible gasp, which courted the attention of the older men who offered me a look like I was the pervert in the room. Such acts these days are commonplace. As I say, I’m not here to judge, nor am I a prude. But it was a moment in time that stands out because, had that party been today, and I was fifteen now, I would have probably just shrugged it off and eagerly awaited some extreme fisting. So how does this all tie in with the movie Pleasure? Simple—that movie made me reflect, which I hope was Ninja’s intention.

The story of Pleasure is about a Swedish young woman named Bella Cherry trying to break into the porn industry. She arrives in LA and sets her eye on becoming the next big thing. Not the most original of stories, and if you transpose that to just breaking into acting within Hollywood, it’s been done to death. But what makes this movie resonate is how harrowing, dangerous, and traumatic Bella’s story is. Sofia Kappel plays Bella and is the only non-porn actor in the movie. Having landed in LA, Bella signs up to an agency. The formalities of this seem professional enough—the agent asks questions pertaining to what sex acts she will engage in, and those she isn’t. As a result, offers are given to appear in movies that treat the actors accordingly. But here’s the rub—to make it big in the porn industry, there can be no saying no. You must do anything, something crystallised when Bella sees a Spiegler girl at a modelling shoot. Mark Spiegler, who plays himself in the movie, owns one of the most coveted agencies in the industry, and to be on his books almost guarantees stardom. To the young, and fame-hungry Bella, Spiegler is the apple dangling from the tree ready to be plucked (yes, that’s plucked). Determined to make her mark, Bella realises she feels comfortable in the submissive role during a rough sex scene. The director and male actor involved in said scene, and supporting crew, were very caring and compassionate toward Bella. They discussed safe words, even physical prompts to curtail the male actor’s performance. If Bella felt uncomfortable, or was in too much pain, she just had to let them know and the filming would stop. Stripped naked, and harnessed in rope, we then see Bella subjected to a trial of degradation. The actor repeatedly slaps her in the face, chokes and spits on her, sometimes directly in her mouth. Moments earlier, prior to filming, this same actor is showing Bella photos of his dog and asking if he smells of onions, a simple remark that purveys his own insecurities. Now he exudes all the male toxicity that leaves me, as a man nearing fifty years, horrified and angry. It’s acting, sure, but I couldn’t help wonder why the actor agreed to treat a woman this way. But it also led me to ask why Bella found it acceptable, especially following the MeToo movement. In that one scene, and, in a more brutal subsequent scene involving two men who, though it’s never shown, rapes her, it felt like porn had yet to address the severity and damaging affect this would have on young men and women watching porn. I tried to imagine the consequences of my son and daughter exposed to scenes of this nature. For him, he may come away thinking it was acceptable to hit a woman. To spit in her face. To choke her. Why wouldn’t he? The woman in the scene enjoyed it. She didn’t complain. And for my daughter, maybe she would come away thinking that if a man placed his hand on her throat and restrict her breathing, or called her a whore or bitch, it’s just part of love making. It’s what men do. Ninja offers you this moral dilemma intentionally, I think. She wants you to question Bella, and yourself, as you watch these scenes play out. She wants you to question the porn industry and why it’s still not taking responsibility for its actions. The following day, still reeling from seeing a woman humiliated and hurt on screen, I went to a café and spoke about it all with my wife. I asked the same questions aloud that I had internalised when watching Pleasure. Her forehead remained pleated throughout. Her mouth never fully closed. She, like I, was trying to process it all. Maybe being a parent adds this gravity, or pushes you toward questioning more the intent and purpose of rough sex, but at the end of it all we were both in agreement that neither of us had an answer, and that no matter what happens, women will continue to be the human pinata in the porn industry. Even if they all agreed to take a stand and refuse to be hurt, this would push the filmmakers to maybe exploit more vulnerable girls, because it seems there is an audience who needs to see this.

All of this reminded me of that scene in the movie, The Worst Person in the World, when Renate Reinsve’s character Julie recounts a conversation she had with her friend. The story goes her friend asked of herself why she still enjoyed gagging when performing oral sex on her boyfriend, especially during the MeToo era. In the movie, this becomes the catalyst to Julie writing an essay on the subject, which gleans much interest and plaudits. But in my time of reflection following Pleasure, I did not consider that women will accept certain aggressiveness because they enjoyed it too. Where exactly you draw the line is down to the individual, but for many, regular sex isn’t enough. They need the push. They need to feel a little pain or experience aggression. Bella Cherry said herself she enjoyed the submissive role. She didn’t mind a man slapping or spitting on her. She realised double anal penetration was a good way to get noticed in the industry, and so we see her lubing up various sized butt plugs in the bathroom, and literary stretching herself like a runner would before a marathon. Pain is an occupational requirement, so you either accept it and move on, or get out. For this reason, Bella is the embodiment of all that is wrong in the industry, but also all that is normal. She is the vessel for men to abuse, but also the empowering force of determination and ambition. It’s hard to chastise her reasons or behaviour, in so much as it is difficult to understand the industry and the demands it places on young women.  

I will say this, Kappel’s performance never wavered nor shied away from the demands placed on her in any scene. The only non-porn actor in the movie, she went through a lot. You would never see Meryl Streep or Anthony Hopkins take a mouth full of spit, yet for them an Academy Award is commonplace, whereas for Kappel it will never be in the offing because Pleasure is a movie that many won’t embrace. But that’s not to say she doesn’t deserve recognition for her portrayal of Bella. She, and the director Ninja, did something that very few movies do these days; it made me reflect, re-evaluate, and recalibrate. Whether the porn industry will do the same is highly unlikely. But I hope the actors involved remain safe, that what they consent to is what happens, and more than anything else, the youth of today grow up understanding that pleasure is different for everyone.

Pleasure is available to stream on Mubi.

Giveaway – THE GHOST OF STORMER HILL!

I’m giving away one proof (the only one) signed paperback of THE GHOST OF STORMER HILL. Because it’s not long before the book is released, and postage is a killer, this offer is limited to the U.K. only, sorry.

How to win. Swing by my Twitter or Instagram page. Respond to either post and tag three other people who love horror/thrillers to be eligible. Winner announced Friday 17th June.

Blurb: It should have been perfect. Detective Nolan had found a beautiful woman to love him. The serial killer known as the Doll Maker was dead, and the court of law had served justice to corrupt police officers within his department.

But still reeling from his encounter with the cult known as the Brethren, Nolan was anything but happy. The nails the Brethren had driven into his hands were daily reminders that one day they may return to finish what they started, and that the life he had built may soon crumble around him. So, when an Internet sleuth contacts him with news about the cult, Nolan’s need to understand who is truly controlling things pushes him down a rabbit hole, one inhabited with a new serial killer who is disembowelling their victims and fashioning their intestines into a noose, and where within the shadows lurks the ghosts of his past.

In this final thrilling instalment, Tom Nolan will have to go against his boss, his girlfriend, and his better judgement to end the reign of the Brethren. But at what cost?

You can also pre-order the Kindle version now. Paperback and hardback land on day of release.

Good luck!

The Ghost of Stormer Hill Cover Reveal

It’s official. The final instalment in the Tom Nolan series will be released on July 1st under the title THE GHOST OF STORMER HILL. Many thanks go to Night Worms and Sadie Hartmann for doing the official cover reveal yesterday on their blog.

But what happens to Tom Nolan in this new book? Here’s the blurb to whet your whistle:

It should have been perfect. Detective Nolan had found a beautiful woman to love him. The serial killer known as the Doll Maker was dead, and the court of law had served justice to corrupt police officers within his department.

But still reeling from his encounter with the cult known as the Brethren, Nolan was anything but happy. The nails the Brethren had driven into his hands were daily reminders that one day they may return to finish what they started, and that the life he had built may soon crumble around him. So, when an Internet sleuth contacts him with news about the cult, Nolan’s need to understand who is truly controlling things pushes him down a rabbit hole, one inhabited with a new serial killer who is disembowelling their victims and fashioning their intestines into a noose, and where within the shadows lurks the ghosts of his past.

In this final thrilling instalment, Tom Nolan will have to go against his boss, his girlfriend, and his better judgement to end the reign of the Brethren. But at what cost?

Though it’s sad to say goodbye to Nolan, I think it’s the right time. Bad People began as an experiment to see if I could push myself into an unfamiliar genre. I never saw it extending beyond that one book. But while writing about Alex Palmer and Nolan, I quickly realised there was more to squeeze out of the populace of Stormer Hill. To quote De La Soul, three is the magic number. Two years later, and the trilogy is complete. That’s not entirely true. There is a fourth book that dovetails into the series. Heart of Glass includes two characters that play a big part in The Ghost of Stormer Hill. Prudence and Jack Glass are lovers, and serial killers. Their history is rich and I felt it could be extended into Nolan’s world. While Heart of Glass stands on its own as a novel, questions are left at the end, and Stormer Hill allowed me the opportunity to answer them. Even Tom himself appears in the novel, albeit briefly. To this end, if you read The Ghost of Stormer Hill, and wish to know more about Prudence and Jack, then definitely seek out Heart of Glass. That’s not me trying to sell more books. I just believe Heart of Glass contextualises their narrative and adds to the experience of the saga.

So, mark your calendar. July 1st. Pre-orders for the Kindle version of The Ghost of Stormer Hill is available now. Paperback and hardback versions will be available to buy from July 1st. Heart of Glass is currently available on all formats. I’ll also be releasing Bad People and Labyrinth of Dolls for free on Kindle during the run up to The Ghost of Stormer Hill being released. If you’ve not read either, or you just wish to tell your friends and family to grab the first two books in the series for free, then spread the word.

Again, thank you for your support and for reading my books. I’m always interested to hear feedback, so if you want to contact me, please drop an email to paperbackwriter72@gmail.com, and I’ll answer your queries and questions as soon as. For now, take care and stay safe.

Craig

Happy Easter

It’s mid-April already? Well, this update is long overdue. Firstly, there’s been a slight delay in the release of the third, and last, Tom Nolan book. However, it is now with the editor, and I’ll be awaiting the verdict of the red pen in the coming months. There’s no scheduled release date yet, but it’s likely to drop around summer this year. I can offer you the title though to keep you going. The third book is now called THE GHOST OF STORMER HILL. It had a tentative title of Apotheosis, and while apt for the content, I worried that searching the title may cause issues. The Ghost of Stormer Hill is still a good fit, and will make more sense when you turn its last page. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Tom Nolan. He proved one of those characters that nestled into the chambers of my heart, and I’m glad I walked with him through many a crime scene. But I need to move on and walk through different pools of blood. Which leads me to the following.

This year I was fortunate to have editors approach me to write for their incredible anthologies. The first was Terror in the Trench, an anthology of aquatic horror edited by Jay Alexander and all proceeds going to the Shark Trust UK. My contribution, titled THE MANY GHOSTS OF THE DEEP, is about a mother trapped on a sinking aeroplane with her young daughter. It is a story that began many years ago when a hypnotherapist asked me to articulate why I had a fear of flying. If you read the story, what the mother goes through was partly the reason. The anthology has a great lineup of talented authors too, including Laurel Hightower, Kay Hanifen, Joshua Marsella, Thomas Gloom, Mocha Pennington, Nicola Kapron, Nikki R. Leigh, Spencer Hamilton, Matthew Stevens, Megan Kiekel Anderson, Andrew Cull, Catarina Prata, Hannah Hulbert, Craig Wallwork, and Jack Harding. It’s out now and can be picked up here on paperback or Kindle.

The second charity anthology they asked me to write for is Shattered and Splintered. My contribution is THE WEIGHT OF VINEGAR and tells the tale of a young boy who, to help his grieving mother, builds his dead sister from mud. It’s a sad, but beautiful little story about innocence, and how our best intentions sometimes come back to haunt us. All proceeds from this anthology go to the Glen Haven Area Volunteer Fire Department and is edited by Laurel Hightower and James Sabata. Writers included in this anthology are Stephen Graham Jones, Gabino Iglesias, Gwendolyn Kiste, Eric LaRocca, Hailey Piper, S. H. Cooper, Donald R. Guillory, Rhonda Jackson Garcia, Daniel Barnett, Stephanie Evelyn, Mike Thorn, Gemma Amour, Vincent V.Cava, Tom Deady, Donyae Coles, Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo, and S.A. Bradley. The book is available for pre-order here, and James and Laurel are running a pre-Stokercon event to mark its launch, too.

The third anthology I can’t talk about yet, but it’s going to be mega. Keep tuned.

Finally, if you’ve not already done so, grab a copy of Slice of Paradise: A Beach Vacation Horror Anthology by Darklit Press and edited by Ben Log and Andrew Robert. It features stories by Philip Fracassi, Scott J Moses, Mark Towse, Spencer Hamilton, Aiden Merchant, Drew Starling, Ashlei Johnson, Rowan Hill, Simon J. Plant, Alyson Hasson, Sheri White, Denver Grenell, Kay Hanifen, and Nick Kolakowski. My contribution, called MISERY GUTS, is not for the squeamish. Imagine the worst food poisoning experience of your life, then times it by one hundred, and what you get a sweet revenge story that’ll have you running to the bathroom, or maybe even away from it. Available in paperback and Kindle now.

So that’s the first quarter of the year nearly done. I hope to drop another letter before the release of The Ghost of Stormer Hill, but until then, stay safe, be true, and keep supporting indie writers. And let me take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful Easter too. Even if you don’t celebrate it, I hope you get to consume a copious amount of chocolate and spend time with those you love.

Craig

The Long and Winding Road

Photo by Matthias Heil

As we entered the millennium, Scottish writer Laura Hird had dedicated half of her website to pageant new stories by established and fledging writers. The website has now gone, and with it my very first published short story titled Autumn Leaves about a little boy seeing his grandparent go through dementia. I can’t recall when exactly I got that first acceptance. I believe it was about 2003. When I read the email from Laura, I almost wept. Someone, not an editor or friend, but someone who was a writer themselves, and had books published by the very cool Rebel Inc label, responsible in the day for reissuing some of John Fante’s novels, thought I was worthy of publishing meant the world. In 2003, I had arrived, and I wanted the world to know about it. What happened next is the usual fodder of fledging writers. I had my arse handed to me on a plate by more established editors and magazines.

Some twenty years a later, it’s still happening.

I wish I can say that writing is a life-defining journey. The road is long and winding, that’s very true, but on every bend, there is misery and dejection. Around every corner there are surprises that will bloat your heart, and some that will crush it. Last week I received the news my horror collection didn’t make the preliminary ballots for the Bram Stoker awards. This is a book that has an average rating on Goodreads and Amazon of 4.5, and has been endorsed by best-selling authors like Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones. Readers proclaim it to be one of the best horror collections they’ve ever read. But it didn’t even make the list. I’m happy for those writers that did. And whoever wins within each category, I wish them every success. But Jesus, it hurt knowing I wouldn’t be there. Since Saturday, I have taken a huge step back regarding my social media footprint. I have spoken to my wife about my future, and how something that brings me such happiness can still leave me so very sad. And though the Stoker thing hurt, what hurts more is hearing that I deserve better, and that I’m just as good as some of those who are getting book deals today. Rejections, not landing an agent, that is par for the course, but knowing other people think you’re good, and you’re still self-publishing, is a third-degree burn to the heart. I think it comes down to the fact I don’t belong. For whatever reason, whatever I’ve done to piss off people of influence, I will remain always on the fringe of this industry looking in. So, I’m going to take time away from social media. Someone I trust is managing the Underbelly Books side of things, and will champion me in my absence. This will allow me to get some distance and evaluate. There are a few writing commitments I must honour, and I still plan on releasing the third Tom Nolan book before summer, but after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll write under a different name. Maybe I’ll just be less present on social media. All I know for sure is, the road has taken it out of me and I need to rest my feet.

But I want to thank those that have read my work and continue to see what others are blind to. You are the reason I will continue to write, in some form.

 Love, Craig.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.

Damn. I didn’t know what to expect when I went into this movie. Shot in a restrictive aspect ratio, you instantly feel the claustrophobia experienced by the family the movie orbits. There’s no spoilers here. Thomas is a vampire being cared for by his sister and brother, Jessie and Dwight. The story is a slow burn, but it tenders a glimpse into the practicalities of having to feed someone whose diet consists on blood alone. Picking up hobos to drain them is a nightly occurrence, and the only form of entertainment is via karaoke, or playing guess that tune on a organ, a musical instrument faithful to the horror genre. The banality of their existence, combined with a lack of visible fangs, leaves you wondering whether Thomas actuality is a vampire, or just a victim himself, trapped and forced to feed from the throats of vagrants by a sister suffering with Munchhausen.

In attempt to connect with someone outside their sick little family unit, Dwight turns to a sex worker and dreams of running away. But Jessie, the matriarch, keeps pulling him back to the life they’ve become accustomed to. And while you feel for each sibling, and understand their motives and aspirations, it’s Thomas that truly steals your heart. Sheltered from life outside his home, he covets the simple things like school and friends. And in a sweet, but creepy scene, we witness Thomas clumsily engaging with a kid his age. Actor Owen Campbell pulls off that Boo Radley come Sheldon Cooper with aplomb. In one moment you want to hug him, and in the next, run a mile. The tension builds slowly. Maybe too slow for some. But the ending, should you make it that far, will pierce your heart like a wooden stake.

Attic Archives

Photo by Mika Baumeister

I should explain that I don’t have a bookcase at home. I have a shelf where I put my most recent reads, but I incarcerated all my rare first editions and collectibles in yellow straight jackets in the attic. Visitation rights are limited, but I sometimes go up there and allow them some air from time to time.

This batch was purchased back when Will Christopher Baer made up one of the Holy Trinity of writers in a forum I frequented named The Velvet. The Poe Trilogy begins with Kiss Me Judas, then Penny Dreadful, and finally Hell’s Half Acre. I have the last book in the series, but presumably it’s in a different box skulking in the attic shadows with other works from Craig Clevenger and Stephen Graham Jones, the final two in the aforesaid Trinity.

Living in the U.K. meant getting hold of signed U.S. first editions was hard back in the early 2000s. Unprotected proofs were even harder. But it proves when you love a writer’s work, you’ll sell your soul to the Devil to peel back the pages and hear the gentle cracking of spine. Will’s writing is wrenched from a place few dare to venture. He fleshes out his characters with hearts as dark as the words printed on the page they occupy, and long after you put the book down, you’ll hear it calling out to you again and again. Even some 20 years later. The Poe trilogy stands as one of the most influential Noir series of its time, and Will carved such a deep impression into many of us fledging writers that to this day the scar tissue still reminds us we can always be better.

If you can, go find a copy of Kill Me Judas. It’ll stay with you. And I recommend reading it in the bath, one filled with ice-cold water.

A few rarities by Stephen. For those who loved MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW, seek out DEMON THEORY, a kind of precursor to that horror homage he writes so well. This annotated signed copy is one of my favourite books by Stephen. I landed it after hand delivering a limited edition of Conan the Barbarian to Stephen’s then agent in Soho, New York. If you want to curry favour with Stephen, Conan is the way to go.

ALL MY BEAUTIFUL SINNERS was probably my first foray into his work. I recall reading it whilst wearing surgical gloves because my hands were sweating and ink was bleeding into my skin from the backboards. Someone really needs to reissue that book. It sits more in the thriller genre, but still has that unique Jones voice.

This may have escaped most of you, but Chemical Pink blew up for a while due to the rumour that Chuck Palahniuk was going to write the screenplay and David Fincher was going to direct. I know! So, what’s so good about this book that two masters of their associated disciplines gravitate to it?

Blurb: “Aurora Jeanine Johnson is an unwed mother from Savannah, Georgia, desperate to sculpt a new life–and a new body–in California, where the quest for the perfect butt or bicep reaches religious intensity. Spending every spare moment training at the gym, Aurora is barely getting by–until she meets the man who will offer her everything she most desires. Charles Worthington is a wealthy eccentric, rich enough to indulge his every decadent whim and fantasy. Aurora is his sexual ideal, the raw material from which he will shape his masterpiece. He will transform Aurora into the woman of his dreams–and fantasies–no matter the cost. To achieve their common goal, Aurora hands over complete control of her life to Charles. He dictates her diet, her lifestyle, her training–and when and how much she’ll take of the body-altering drugs he “prescribes” for her. He decides whom she sees and where she goes. And what kinky games of his own devising they will play. For Aurora, everything that Charles asks is a small price to pay to become the woman she’s always dreamed of being. Or is it? Chemical Pink is a gothic duet that explores the boundary between obsession and pathology.”

This book is bonkers in all the best ways. The detail and research is unmatched, and Arnoldi’s voice strong throughout. I got to see Palahniuk at a reading of GUTS in the U.K. back in the early 2000s. I asked him what was happening with the adaptation. He said Fincher was struggling to get it off the ground because his last movie didn’t do well (Panic Room). I often wonder what Fincher’s vision of Chemical Pink would have been like. I guess I’ll never know.

Every now and then a writer comes along that leaves you in complete reverence. Craig Clevenger is one of those writers. Contortionist’s Handbook, Craig’s debut novel, landed around 2002 (cripes, has it been 20 years?!). At the time, it was spoken about in the same way music lovers speak of The Clash’s London Calling, or The Stooges’s Raw Power – something that will resonate and influence for many years. I discovered it when Chuck Palahniuk proclaimed it as one of the best books of the past decade. That comment, and further endorsements by Irvine Welsh, and Donnie Darko Director Richard Kelly, helped propel Craig to the upper echelon of contemporary writers. The Handbook was everything and more. Craig’s technical knowledge surrounding a forger running from his past left me breathless. As a writer starting out, reading his prose was like taking a masterclass in show, not tell, and how to avoid the dreaded “I” often tethered to first person narrative. Believe me, no matter how well you research for a book, Craig will have you beat.

The release of Dermaphoria saw him return to the streets of LA and its seedy underbelly of drug rings, broken characters, and mysterious women. It was also adapted into a movie staring Ron Perlman in 2014. The photo is a first edition of said book. Many moons ago I approached Craig to see if he would sign the books. His correspondence back was as beautifully penned as his prose. He even offered to pay for the shipping back. I never took him up on it. Not because I didn’t want the books signed, but because I was afraid they’d get lost in Shanghai, or some long forgotten port in the back end of postal Hell. I had hoped that one day a book tour would be in the offing for Craig, and I could hand my copies to him personally. I’m still hopeful that day will happen.

If you get the chance, seek out everything Craig has produced. He also runs online workshops (Goleta Valley Library) where he helps new writers navigate the literary speed bumps many fail to scale. And at time of writing this, they’re free.

Scream if You Want to Go Faster

With every ear to the ground (hopefully that phrase is still politically correct), keeping something secret these days on the Internet is akin to understanding what’s politically correct and what isn’t. But with recent movies like James Bond’s No Time to Die, and Spider-Man: No Way Home, it proves that embargoes, and just plain old-fashioned decency, are still rife within the movie loving community, and as such, those pesky spoilers remain, for the most part, unspoilt. That said, I have not checked every No Time to Die review posted to see if any expose the truth to why James Bond’s social calendar is so choke-full that even a heart attack isn’t in the offing. That I went into that movie knowing nothing of the ending means the moral compass is still steadily guiding many. Thank god. This leads me (using said compass) to Scream 2022.

Having loved the original, being strangely impressed with the sequel, left indifferent and nonplus to what happened in the third, and horrified more by the hairstyles in the fourth than the gore, I didn’t know where the fifth instalment (without Wes Craven behind the wheel) was heading. Fortunately, one of my favourite movies of recent years is the horror comedy (horroredy?) Ready or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. The aforesaid directors got the Scream gig, but in doing so had some big boots to fill. And with a hardcore fan base thirsty for blood, and not just that issued by Ghostface, it had every chance of being a poisoned chalice. So, having cajoled by family into watching Spider-Man for the second time, I slipped into the next cinema to watch Scream, leaving my expectations, and Ghostface mask, at the door.

Going back to my original point – how do you keep a who-dun’it-spoiler-infested movie secret and still talk about what worked and what didn’t? It’s difficult, I can tell you that. I have written this paragraph five times because I keep leaning into spoilers, and though I’m champing at the bit to talk about another movie that came out a couple of years back that, had I not seen it, would have made the end of 5cream (screw it. I’m using it) a much more jaw-dropping experience because of poor “casting”, I can’t talk about that movie because it’s a fricking big spoiler! Okay, maybe I overstated the term “jaw-drop”. 5cream doesn’t reinvent the wheel. There’s a formula used in the franchise that leaves your mouth less agape and more twisted with cynicism. But that’s by the by. What I’m getting at is the first rule of spoiler free reviews is that you can’t talk about the spoilers, but when your decision to give the movie a respectful, albeit average, rating of three stars, you feel you’re doing a disservice to the franchise, the directors, and the legacy that is Wesley of Craven.

But what can you tell us, Craig?

I’d suggest re-watching the original. It’s not too dissimilar to 5cream. In fact, I recall JJ Abrams getting a lot of flack for Force Awakens because it didn’t move too far from the New Hope tree. I present this example as exhibit A in the trial of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett versus the horror geeks. When picking up a huge franchise beloved by fans aplenty all waiting to see Ghostface again, are you really going to shake that tree to see is something fresh falls out? No, keep it simple. Borrow from the master and put a slight twist on it. Call it an homage to the original. Say you’re respecting the spirit of Wes. But what you’re seeing play out before your eyes when you watch Scream 2022 is no different from the three sequels (or dare I say it… go on, I dared myself… Scary Movie). Moving on swiftly. Direction was competent. It felt that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett were trying to avoid horror tropes as if it was a dose of COVID. Case in point – composition. We all know if a character opens the bathroom medicine cabinet, sure enough when they close it, in the reflection will be the killer standing behind them. There is one scene in 5cream where such tropes were avoided on at least three occasions. Presumably this was done to lure us into a false sense of security and build some much needed tension, which it did, but inevitably, as with all Slashers, there has to be a confrontation. So as much as you dodge the fat stinking trope of a jump scare, it’s coming (ready or not). That said, it was noticeable enough I had to give them props for trying. Casting was a big one for me, but I can’t talk about it for at least another five years, so I’ll set a reminder on my phone and come back to amend this blog to include why it irked me so.

In short, 5scream didn’t break the mould. It just recast it. Is that bad thing? Yes and no. Ardent fans get their Ghostface fix. There’s plenty of gore to turn a butcher’s stomach, and it ensures Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett get to do another movie of their choosing, which I’m all for. Will I remember who the killer is in ten years? No. Will I care? No. But will I watch it again? Most probably.

The Big 50!

Checked in on Goodreads recently and saw HUMAN TENDERLOIN had hit 50 reviews, with an average overall rating of 4.5 out of 5. Thank you so much to those who have read the book and posted up a rating/review. It doesn’t take long to leave a review, but it truly makes a difference.

“These stories don’t just leave you moving through the world differently, they leave you moving through your own head differently. And don’t look behind yourself, either. There may just be bloody footprints.” Stephen Graham Jones, author of My Heart is a Chainsaw.

“Human Tenderloin features a wide range of stories from old school in-your-face horror to quiet dread-fueled chamber pieces. Through it all Wallwork infuses a uniquely absurd, macabre sense of humor as well as a sense of the humane. Bon appetite.” Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Survivor Song.

“These stories will slice through the skin, slip into your bloodstream, and shape your nightmares.” – Tyler Jones, author of Criterium and Almost Ruth.

“Craig Wallwork’s Human Tenderloin will carve new paths in your heart. Straight through the meat, to dark pockets you didn’t even know were there. It will change your emotional geography, and there’s no changing back.” -Sarah Read, Bram Stoker Award-Winning author of The Bone Weaver’s Orchard.

“There is a dark immediacy to the worlds within this collection – a bony finger beckoning us into Wallwork’s haunted mind. A compelling blend of bleakness, grief, horror and hope.” – Laurel Hightower, author of Crossroads and Whispers in the Dark.

“Wallwork has the ability to crawl inside your head and deliver the horror of his tales in such a beautiful way. He chills with the art of a preying mantis, oh so calm before administering the killing bite.” – Beverley Lee, author of The Ruin of Delicate Things.