Last night Helen Treharne celebrated the publication of Book 2 in her Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. Death in the Family is set in Cardiff and the fictional town of Bethel. As 1st March was St David's Day - THE day for celebrating all things Welsh - she was joined at her online event by other authors and writers with Welsh connections. As you can see from the evening's timetable above, I was one of them, and hosted the event for an hour. Lots of authors and readers, with fun goings on and chatting throughout the evening. 

St David's Day is one of the few events I celebrate, probably because St David was a vegan like me. As training I got my leek freak on during the day and drank lots of water to tune in to St David's spirit (which is totally appropriate with my surname).

I'll share my contributions from the hour when I was the host. First was introductions and music.
Wine … check.
Cocoa … check.
Cat … (rather whingy from getting wet in the rain outside) … check.

Sut mae, Karl Drinkwater (Yfed Dwr!) dw I, a dw I’n hapus iawn bod ‘ma heno.
Karl here, very happy to be here too!

Here's a Welsh-connected song to begin my hour.

I'll do various posts, so keep refreshing the page. I’ll monitor all my posts in separate tabs, so comment on anything at any time, I’ll spot it! (He says, possibly over-confidently)...

True about the cocoa, wine and cat. Her name is Dolly, this is her stealing my writing desk. Anyone else got an animal with them tonight?

So, I'm Karl Drinkwater, I've been in Wales for nearly 20 years after I finally escaped from Manchester. When I'm not writing or editing I love exercise, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice and zombies. Oh, and playing the guitar (not very well!) when I get together with friends to make music.

I do the worst of all things for a writer: writing in two genres! Terrible for splitting your audience. I write horror and literary/contemporary fiction, and most of my fans only read one or the other.

What about you? Who, where, and what's your favourite animal? Favourite type of cake?
Cue discussion. There were humans, cats, and dogs in attendance, from all corners of the world (including Wales, England, the US, Spain). Cats and dogs got votes as "favourite animal". Despite living with a cat, I prefer dogs (don't tell Dolly). I have probably always got on better with dogs than people: it's the unconditional love combined with mutual companionship. When I meditate I include a visualisation section where I am exploring a totally isolated forest or beach with a dog; it always makes me smile.

Some very tasty cakes were mentioned, including coffee walnut, brownies, apple pie, cupcakes, and chocolate orange. I believe that any cake with chocolate in gets +3 automatically. It really is the Queen of Ingredients.

Then I did a post about Turner.
Time to talk about writing a bit. My first novel was a horror. I wanted to set it somewhere creepy: unfriendly locals, dangerous, wet and grey, uncivilised, scary and so on. So I thought of the most horrible place on Earth.

Then I decided that I couldn’t be bothered writing about Manchester, so set my book in Wales instead. [Ba dum tsch] [Groan]

It's called Turner, set on a remote Welsh island where things go badly wrong during a terrible storm. Cue all my favourite tropes, including zombie-like killers, chainsaws and so on.

Feel free to ask me any questions about it or my writing..

More info here.

By the way, it sounds pretty horrible but isn't really overly gory/gratuitous.
This led to discussion of how horror is often more effective in the imagination when hinted at than stated or portrayed outright. To my mind it's similar with book-to-film adaptations: sometimes the book is scarier because when you see the monster on the screen it looks small/plastic/conventional or some other thing that is less scary than you'd pictured. Horror exists in the vagueness, the shadows.

This led on to a discussion of horror in general.
Let's talk about horror and the paranormal. Question: what is your favourite horror book and film?

I realise that this is a question where the answer could change weekly! For films I'm really torn between

Alien (1979)
Halloween (1978)
The Thing (1982)

For books, there are loads, but it's been novellas that have impressed me recently.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954) - so much better than the film
The Mist (1980) by Stephen King
I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream (1967) Harlan Ellison

Let me know yours and I'll see which I've read/seen!
Many great books and films were discussed. I'll link to them and include my thoughts. In each case we agreed that the originals were better than remakes.

  • Black Christmas (1974) - I saw that for the first time a few years ago, the bleakness of the final twist really stuck with me.
  • The Evil Dead (1981) - as a teenager I watched The Evil Dead again and again. I'd heard about it long before I saw it, and it had built up into this massive thing in my mind. Thankfully it was scary, but not as terrifying as I'd expected. Once again, imagination is worse than reality.
  • The Omen (1976) - I used to be nicknamed "Damien Omen" when I was a kid...
  • The Haunting (1963) - older horror movies are often scarier than "the new blood and guts ones"
  • An American Werewolf In London (1981) - I used to love this. In fact I referenced it the other day when I was asked to write promotional text for some Shakespeare re-releases.
    "Keep clear of the moors", they said in The Slaughtered Lamb. Unfortunately Desdemona wasn't given the same advice.
    Othello is a man of power, a masterful strategist, who uses language with intricacy and authority: "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them." Yet he is also prone to suspicion and pride. Good and bad qualities, a mix all the best characters share. But the subtly evil Iago spreading poison from the wings illustrates how weak the foundations of life can be. Modern horror and thrillers have a debt to pay to Othello.

    (I was asked to do one for Macbeth too).
  • Alfred Hitchcock movies - some of the Alfred Hitchcock films are so dark and horrible they should be required watching for horror fans.
  • Any movie with Vincent Price. "He just makes everything spooky" - I have respect for Vincent Price, but the occasional hamminess meant I probably favoured Peter Cushing in the old Hammer Horror films. There's a connection there, because Vincent Price starred in a film version of one of my listed horror favourite stories.
  • Stephen King movies
  • Walkers by Graham Masterton (1991) - a pleasing suggestion because I'd read it years ago but totally forgotten who it was by and what it was called! Now I can read it again. I remember a creepy old mental asylum, and people trapped in the walls.
  • Z For Zaccariah by Robert C. O'Brien (1974) - a great book, though I feel very sad about one of the scenes in it.
  • Renegades by Shaun Hutson (1991)
  • Various books by Stephen King and James Herbert - King, Koontz and Laymon were probably my biggest influences for horror.
  • Roald Dahl books - (he was Welsh, after all) - I'm currently watching every episode of "Tales of the Unexpected" (from the 1970s/80s). I love the older episodes where he did the intro, sat in his armchair with a glass of sherry. Very dry humour.
  • S.E. Rise got a mention too.
Then a post about writing:
Here's another video. Writers need imagination and craft. Part of the craft is getting foundations right (plot, conflict, character), and then polish (style, grammar). This video makes me smile for pointing out some of the very basic elements.
Followed by a discussion of place and setting.
I think place is really important to all genres of fiction. You have to believe it's real. What would Jane Eyre be without Thornfield Hall? Stephen King's "The Shining" without the Overlook Hotel?

Most of my life has been in Manchester and Wales, and they both appear in all my books.

Turner: set in Wales; I made sure some Mancunians got killed.

Cold Fusion 2000: a literary love and growing-up story set in Manchester; but at the end the main characters talk about going on holiday to Wales.

2000 Tunes: the main characters are a Mancunian nerd and a feisty Welsh girl, both with family issues.

My next book is a collection of horror stories, and I've just skimmed the titles to confirm that, yes, there are Wales and Manchester in there somewhere!

Do you pay much attention to the setting when you read books, or do you just care about the characters and story?
The general conclusion of the discussion was that place is really important, and many readers pay attention to it, sometimes rating it as important as character (particularly if it is a place they are familiar with - though then the details have to be spot on or you suffer a "credibility drop"!). Places also define and reflect the characters. Descriptions of places we haven't visited can also be really evocative (especially if the author captures the colours, smells etc well) - like being able to travel across worlds from the comfort of your own armchair.

Then I realised my time was up! Only an hour to go until the witching hour and we all turned into pumpkins. I had intended to play with first sentences from books, pasting in some from my favourites and getting participants to do the same so we could see which openings were compelling, but instead I had to wrap things up by sharing my locations in the virtual world (blog, Facebook, Twitter, newsletter). I always encourage people to say hi. I am very friendly and house-trained.

I took part in the other authors' sections too. In one we had to say what our vampire name would be - as a vegan I'd make a pretty rubbish vampire, but my name would be Johnny Stabtooth The Reluctant Sucker. The whole event was fun to take part in, hopefully for visitors as well as the authors who contributed. I hope to see you all at the next one!