October 2018


img_6575Well, this is the first time I’ve had cause to use the “short story” category when writing a new post, but would you look at this! It’s a post about a short story!

The short story in question, The First Week in July, has gone live over at Jersey Devil Press this morning. I wrote it towards the end of 2017 but it had started it in the summer of 2016 while on holiday in the Cayman Islands and I basically saw the opening scene of the story play out in front of me. I knew there was a story in there, I just didn’t know what that story was and it took me the best part of eighteen months to figure it out.

It was the first story I’d finished in years, so it just lay in my DropBox until August this year when I took it to my real life writers’ group and it read far better than I remembered. Having been published there a few times before, it kinda felt like a Jersey Devil story. They agreed.

So have a read, let me and them know what you think if you feel compelled to do so, and I hope you enjoy. Who knows when the short story category is going to get used again?

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Halloween_(2018)_posterI love Halloween movies. I loved the Return / Revenge of Michael Myers sequels as I can appreciate them for what they were. I loved the Rob Zombie remakes, sort of. I even loved Season of the Witch, and that’s not even a real Halloween movie. I guess I just enjoy the universe these characters inhabit, flaws and all.

This Halloween is, in essence, the new Halloween II. In this new continuity, Michael, now 61, has been locked up for forty years under the supervision of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer, who was Mehmet Osman out of off of EastEnders — that bugged me until I got home to check) following the death of Dr. Loomis. In that time, Michael hasn’t said a word. But, and this surely should have got the authorities to second guess themselves, he’s due to be transferred to a new facility on October 30. Yeah, how about we wait until the next run on November 6?

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (a brilliant Jamie Lee Curtis) is reclusive mess. Her life changed the night he came home forty years ago, and not for the better. Twice divorced, estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who blames her for projecting paranoia and fear on her throughout childhood, and struggling to maintain a relationship with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak, Orange is the New Black). For the last four decades, Laurie has built herself a physical and mental fortress and is just waiting for the night he returns.

So in short, yes, I loved lots of the new Halloween. I loved the fact that it had the guts to say forget everything that happened post 1978. I loved the little nods back to the original that were peppered throughout the 106 minute running time. I loved the dynamic shifts in the relationships between Laurie, her daughter, and her granddaughter. I loved that this movie was #MeToo before #MeToo was a thing. Director David Gordon Green does a pretty good job at keeping things moving, and there’s a familiarity in the cinematography that was a nice touch. I also spotted a little nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre that may or may not have been deliberate.

But. There’s a certain chill that goes down my spine whenever I see the name Danny McBride, particularly when it appears on the same credit that also contains the word “screenplay”. It’s a Pavlovian response that makes me expect disappointment. And the disappointment, I’m afraid, didn’t disappoint.

For all that the film gets right — the cast is great throughout, Jamie Lee Curtis is obviously fantastic, and I thought Bill Patton put in a great shift as the sheriff; also the continuity of Michael having an injured eye was a lovely touch — it just let me down every so often.

The podcasting team of investigative reporters gave us a great way into the story (loved that they were podcasters rather than TV journalists) and deserved more meat on those bones.

And this is a complaint that continued throughout. The reason Halloween worked so well in the 70s was that it took time to develop the characters so that we cared about them as individuals. We expected things to happen that didn’t happen … yet. In this sequel, much like the original sequel (that makes sense, right?), nameless, featureless characters are dispatched in creative ways almost before we get a chance to see them take their first onscreen breath, never mind their last one and none of it is surprising.

Michael’s ability to track down the whereabouts of key characters and his mask at will is a continuity issue that I’m prepared to live with. He’s Michael Myers. It’s Halloween. I can deal with it.

How a certain character managed to get into a certain location puzzled me.

All this said, it does do a lot very well. Allyson being gaslit and then having to fight off unwanted advances couldn’t be more 2018 if it tried. The care that’s gone into building Laurie’s character is so believable that we’re cheering for her more than ever. We know exactly how the last forty years have been for her. And for a sequel, we’re never cheering for Michael in the same way we started cheering for Jason or Freddy … well, maybe there was one death that I was quite pleased to see. The whole concept of fate and its certainty was spot on.

Coming out of the movie theater, I was kinda meh about the whole thing. I hadn’t been as thrilled as I’d wanted to be, although there is a section in the denouement where I did find it difficult to keep watching the screen, but that was the exception. On reflection, I enjoyed it far more that Danny McBride really should’ve allowed.

A triumph? No. Better than the original? Don’t be silly. But the best addition to the Halloween franchise since 1978? Yeah, probably.

 

23C1C236-0B83-43C0-9F5C-18AC08E83906Some big news that I haven’t shared on the blog as part of this campaign of neglect, but in the last couple of days, my debut novel, The Scottish Book of the Dead, has been released. You can find it on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.

It’s published through Island City Publishing, a small indie press from my area of Michigan. Given that the story is set (mostly) in Scotland and has sprinklings of Scottish dialect throughout and is probably a tougher sell to a Mid Western population than some of the other titles in their stable, it speaks volumes and I’m hugely grateful that they’ve taken a punt on me. Celeste Bennett has been great to work with on this.

Back in 2010, I became interested in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I did some reading on them, learning that they were a collection of stories to guide a departed soul to the afterlife. I wondered what a Scottish version would look like. Turns out, there’s lots of swearing in it.

Initially, this existed as a short story, dealing with a man struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s dead and his unscrupulous brother-in-law’s intent to steal a silver photo frame. It was written entirely in Scots dialect and was published on the McStoryteller’s website and eventually featured on the Edinburgh eBook Festival.

I was driving home one from work one night with my then wife and I remember we were just coming into Alloa when I wondered aloud if I could stretch the idea out into a novel. Given that the Egyptian Book of the Dead was split into four sections, the idea of four intertwined novellas quickly developed. I wrote quite extensive notes, mapped the whole thing out, and basically wrote the 70,000 word story in seven weeks over the summer. It’s pretty much all I did that summer.

It wasn’t until the next year, through the help of a counselor, I realized how much of this story was me dealing with the death of my grandfather in 1990 and my dad in 1998. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious but at the time this came as a bit of a shock.

After one encouraging rejection from Canongate, every other publisher and agent had a problem with the dialect. Deciding that I’d rather be understood and the story was more than the dialect, I’ve toned it down quite a bit but hopefully left enough to give it that Scottish feel.

So there we have it. The book’s eight year journey to publication is over and now it’s a thing that exists in the world, on people’s Kindles and will be on people’s bedside tables, and that’s a pretty cool feeling. I’m a novelist. Wow.

Oh. Please buy my book.