The Corpse Bride’s Recommended Reads for Halloween 🦇

I am honoured! Turner has been included in The Corpse Bride’s Recommended Reads for Halloween 🦇. I'm a huge fan of Noelle and her Banshee Irish Horror Blog, so this means a lot. Even more so because the list also includes some of my favourite books, such as Stephen King's IT, along with books by Owen King, Anne Rice, James Herbert, Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Richard Laymon, Richard Matheson, and many other writers I respect and have been terrified by over the years. If you are looking for some brilliant scary books then try anything from Noelle's list - I'm sure you won't be disappointed.


Back Catalogue Books - Q&A With Karl Drinkwater

A couple of days ago I answered a Q&A on Rachel's Random Reads. Here's a backup of the post.

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with Karl Drinkwater

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 
If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 
I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, going to aim to read books that have been out for at least 6 months, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for half his life. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.

He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.

When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.

1) Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place

Chronology in a writer’s mind can be a fluid thing. My first released book was the horror thriller Turner; but before that I had written a long literary novel that wasn’t working, so I put it in a drawer to ferment. After Turner I went back to my first book, worked with various editors, chopped it up, rewrote it about three times, changed from first person to third person, and eventually split it into two books – Cold Fusion 2000, and 2000 Tunes.

Or, if you wanted to go back further, my first book was a choose-your-own adventure I wrote when I was sixteen and falling in love for the first time.

I have always written because I have to. Mental steam escapes as squiggles on a page. I fall through it into other worlds of escapism. Stories nag and demand to be told. Who am I to resist?

2) How many books have you written and what are they?

Five books published, another two written and almost complete.

In the horror/thriller genres (also available as audiobooks):

Turner – “Stuck on a Welsh island where the locals turn to murder – will any of the visitors survive the night? The Wicker Man in Wales.”
Harvest Festival – “Woken in the night by terrifying visitors. They’ve come for your family. Welcome to the Harvest Festival.”
They Move Below – “Fifteen horror tales. Horror lives in the shadows: in caves, the sea, the forest, even in our bodies. No-one is safe.”

In the contemporary/literary genres (my “Manchester 2000” novels):

Cold Fusion 2000 – this got a new edition this week! “A science nerd meets the girl who dumped him, and who he blames for ruining his life – and falls in love with her again.”
2000 Tunes – “A nerd obsessed with Manchester music. A chaotic Welsh woman who rocks his world. Can sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lead to love and a new life?”

3) Which book are you most proud of writing?

I’ll pick Cold Fusion 2000. My reasoning is that it was one of the first long things I wrote; and although early versions didn’t work, I never gave up on it. I honed, I polished, I replaced, and I eventually made it work. Fixing a broken thing teaches you more than throwing it away and buying a new one. Plus the book has a lot of heart, and a deceptive depth that has made a number of readers get to the end, have an “Aha!” moment, then start reading it again.

Having said that, when Harvest Festival was placed on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award last year, I was practically buzzing and glowing with pride, and saw it as one of my career highlights so far.

4) Which book was your favourite to write?

Ah, that has to be my next book, Lost Solace. It wasn't a fully planned project. I’d just finished a literary collection of relationship stories in NaNoWriMo 2016 but had a few thousands words more to write. So I started this sci-fi story, just thinking it would pass the time but be nothing special ... but I couldn’t stop! Another month on and it was finished at over 55,000 words. I've never had such fun writing before, or been so excited by a project. I really couldn’t wait to get started on it each day, and find out what was going on in Opal’s life. I think part of the reason is that I was writing exactly the kind of book I love to read, and tried to trigger a number of emotional responses. Fear, sadness, humour, suspense, compassion – I’m proud of it.

5) Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

I love the two protagonist nerds from Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes. Alex is the “hero” of Cold Fusion, a physics geek, and I sympathised with how difficult he made his life, and how he gradually learned that life is more than your obsessions. Whereas in 2000 Tunes I could feel for Mark – he is obsessed with music, and wants a better life, but is being ground down by family and circumstance. But that novel also introduced one of my favourite female characters, the Welsh woman Samantha Rees. She is so feisty yet also vulnerable; tough yet loving; emotionally confused yet also strong … huh, I couldn’t help falling in love with her.

6) If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

I revisit my books fairly regularly, hence the new edition of Cold Fusion 2000 which has just been released. I see creation as iteration. Nothing is ever perfect, and over time we can polish things further. As such there is no single thing I’d change; in reality, I have changed hundreds of things. 2000 Tunes is getting a new edition, probably in early 2018. Even after that, a few years down the line, I’ll probably find other small issues I’d like to change. After all, life is ever-changing.

7) Which of your covers if your favourite and why?

Probably the cover to my collection They Move Below. It is difficult for a cover to represent a whole collection of short stories, but I feel that one does it, since it hints at corpses and being buried alive; dreaming; alien lights from the sky; the depths of the ocean; and many more motifs from the stories within.

8) Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

I am already a multi-genre author, because my primary focus is telling a good story – genre becomes irrelevant to me. I write horror, thriller, literary, contemporary, and now sci-fi. I also mix elements in to each other. Some of the horrors are also literary; some of the contemporary stories have elements of romance, and so on.

9) Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

After Lost Solace is published I’ll be working with my editor on a literary collections of short stories I am really proud of. Some of them were emotionally difficult to write, but it’s important for a writer to be able to tap in to deep veins in order to give depth to the work.

10) I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

It may seem like a cliché, but Stephen King. He doesn’t just write horror – Last Rung On The Ladder is one of my favourite short stories of all time. I grew up reading his books, and they shaped a lot of my interests.

11) Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your back catalogue of books?

I really like the idea of this feature because so often there is a pressure for NEW NEW NOW NOW UPDATED CONTENT which totally misses out on the best of the past. When I read, the only factor I care about is whether it is a good book and a good story. When it was published is irrelevant to me. Half of the books I read last year were 10-100 years old. The main criteria should be related to quality, not chronology.

Thank you so Karl for this lovely interview. I must say I'm loving the new cover for Cold Fusion 2000 and do agree that the most important thing about a book is that its a good story, as opposed to how new it is.

Karl Drinkwater's all important links so you can find him! 
Or just visit my Pronoun page and pick a book!
social media links


Stock Photos And Book Covers With Similar Images

There are many sources of images, but one of the dangers of using stock photos is that they can be sold multiple times. If it is a good image, chances are that someone else will have used it. As a result, spotting re-used images and designs has become a kind of hobby for many people. It involves perception and memory, and I play the game myself.

As an example, here are two covers I spotted
a while ago that use the same base image.

I first got into the hobby after reading Dark Echo, then spotting two other books with similar covers, using the same core image:

The three above are published by Hodder, Penguin, and Harper, respectively. This is obviously an issue for all publishers, including big trade publishers. It's also why good cover designers always make an effort to check if stock imagery has already been used (e.g. by doing reverse image searches).

By the way, I’m sure they're all great books, I'm not saying anything bad about the interiors. The authors probably had no say in the covers either, since it is a rarity in trade publishing for the author to be involved with those decisions. At most the authors are usually just asked for their blessing and to share it on social media when they see the final version. The actual cover is likely created by a design team based on genre expectations, trying to make the book look like others in the genre that have sold well in the past – hence book covers often go in cycles, and you will see lots with similar designs. I see this with many genres – psychological thrillers, chicklit, serious women’s fiction, epic sci-fi, horror, crime etc. We see repeated fonts, layouts, colour schemes, and effects.

I decided to write this post because I spotted some more covers yesterday (I can't share them because they were works-in-progress that my fellow author hasn't released yet, but the central girl on a motorcycle had been used on another post-apocalyptic book cover which I just happened to have on my Kindle already, making it easy to check the match! Both were cool covers.)

If you are interested in this phenomenon, or just in book cover design and trends, then here is some further reading.

Updates since the original post:

Different stock images this time, but very similar overall styles. It's likely to be a genre thing rather than one designer aping another, but it's often surprising how similar the end result can be.


Lost Solace - Cover Options

For a while I've been saying "Wow!" about my cover designer's work on the Lost Solace cover. (Lost Solace will be my next release.) I had seen Matt Hill's work on other books and was really impressed, so the chance to work with him has been great. We've been trying out different things, but as you can imagine, when you are close to a project you dither about every ellipsis spacing, every variant of title placement ... but sometimes it's handy to step back and let other people give their first impressions of different options. So that's what we'll do, with a temporary blog post aimed at getting some feedback on which variants people prefer.

Let me just point out that these are draft designs, not finished, so they are not meant to be perfect! But even for drafts I have been impressed with their quality.

I've numbered the images - you'll need to click on them to see the larger versions.

You can respond in the comments below, but here are some questions to consider.

1. Which title treatment ("Lost Solace") do you prefer?
2. Which tagline treatment ("They're called the Lost Ships" etc) do you prefer?
3. Which version of the main character, Opal, do you prefer? (Differing levels of close up.)
4. Do you prefer the all blue designs, or like some orange (as in 2)?
5. Anything else? (E.g. the design for 1 was originally going to have a spaceship in the background.)

I also welcome any comments on the blurb for the back of the book:

Sometimes spaceships disappear with everyone on board – the Lost Ships. But sometimes they come back, strangely altered, derelict, and rumoured to be full of horrors.

Opal is on a mission. She’s been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship.

Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship, in a lonely nebula far from colonised space.

The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star, and will soon be truly lost … forever. Legends say the ships harbour death, but there’s no time for indecision.

Opal gears up to board it. She’s just one woman, entering an alien and lethal environment. But perhaps with the aid of Clarissa’s intelligence – and an armoured spacesuit – Opal may stand a chance.

Can she face her demons and survive?


Bias And Politics In Books

A while ago I read this (verbatim) comment in a discussion forum about writing:

"I don't like when an author injects their agenda into a book. If I want to read a political opinion, religious argument, IdealogicalX feminist, LGBT or race related diatribe, I'll buy a book on the subject and willfully seek the author's voice on the subject. But I don't like when an author uses geurilla tactics to sneak their argument for their agenda into a work of fiction that is being marketed as genre fiction. i have read a lot of stephen king, richard laymon, dean koontz. They all have opinions about thinks, if you follow stephen king on twitter, he is more of a political commentator than a fiction author. But, his personal agenda is never shoved on the reader in his published work."

I pointed out that all authors have viewpoints, and it's impossible to separate them from the book. Everything's political - everything we do, everything we buy, everything we believe. Politics is not just about the rare times we get to vote on a limited number of choices that may be equally bad; politics is about everyday values and how they are expressed by our actions. They are all the life choices we think are "best", with the implicit understanding that we think other people should agree with us, or follow our example.

Obviously any plot elements in a story should be relevant to the plot, but what's excluded from a book - or not mentioned in it - is as telling as what's included. The books that, at first glance, seem "least political" are often those with the most entrenched biases; it's just that they're the mainstream biases, so most people who accept them don't see them as "politics". The book that seems to be about a young woman finding happiness through a combination of shopping for brand names, finding a man to love her, and settling down to have a baby? That's as political as anything else, even though many people won't read it that way.

To take another example: if an author has a lot of main characters who feature/seek monogamous (heterosexual) relationships and marriage as part of their stories, then that won't be an issue for someone into monogamous (heterosexual) relationships and marriage, but might feel like politics being rammed down the throat of someone who doesn't believe in those things, who might be asking "Why are they injecting their agenda into the stories? They could have included anything in the world, but this was their choice?" My point is that there is always another side to it.

I usually feel the best approach isn't to take offence (which is fanning flames of negativity within oneself, then projecting it outwards), but to think "It's not for me, but I'm glad there's variety, and something for everyone" and just move on. Part of the challenge of being a reader is to find authors you're happy with (style and content); those you're not happy with aren't necessarily bad books though.

Obviously it's different if you buy a book and don't enjoy it, since you have spent some time and money for little gain, but that's always a risk with any purchase. :-)

I have come to accept that the viewpoints of many authors are opposed to my own in many areas, just as the viewpoints of the random man on the street may be opposed. We just have to be aware that the values adopted by mainstream culture are just as much of an agenda as any other, even when we agree with them.

Am I right? Or am I misguided fool? I'm sure you'll tell me either way.


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