Spooky

(Probably) The Greatest Halloween Signing Ever…

Yes, it’s not quite Halloween, but what’s a couple of days between friends?

Come along to the Great Halloween Signing in the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London tomorrow (Saturday 25th October) and hang out with Actual Proper British Horror Writers (and me. Who will be basking in the reflected glory and trying really hard not to grin like a loon.)

We’ll be signing between 1pm and 2pm, and afterwards there’s a BFS Open Evening taking place in the nearby Bloomsbury Tavern.

I’m there as a contributor to ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! ENDGAME, the third of the ZA! series of mosaic novels.

9781472106421

If you’ve not come across the series – or any other mosaic novels before – think of it as a cross between an anthology of short stories and a novel in dossier form, with each contributor taking one aspect of it. (One of my favourites is the zombie-related app store, complete with developer comments.) My “story” is the diary of a teenager caught up in the zombie outbreak – the catch being that she wasn’t one of the lucky ones. So if you’ve ever wanted to know what goes through a teenage zombie’s mind…

 

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Start losing sleep…

new sleepless

 

If you’re in the UK, have a Kindle and 85p to spare, you can now get hold of the ebook of SLEEPLESS!

Come and meet Izzy and her friends: Grey, Tigs, Juliet, Dom, Mia and Noah – all about to sit some seriously scary exams. If they fail them, their lives are over.

At least, that’s what they think…

The paperback will follow (along with the rest of the Red Eye series) in January – but as it’s October and the nights are getting darker, why not get into the Halloween spirit a little early?

To celebrate, I’ve also unlocked a secret Pinterest board I put together while I was writing the book to give you an idea of what the world of SLEEPLESS looks like.

Enjoy – and whatever you do? Don’t go to sleep…

Green Fingers

A week or two ago, I found myself visiting a garden centre. Like you do. Except… I’ve never been in a garden centre quite like this one before. And unless your name’s either Percy Jackson or you’re a Winchester, there’s a good chance you haven’t either.

I’ll grant you that the very tail end of January isn’t the best time to visit a garden centre with its own nurseries. There were obviously lots of green things hidden behind screens, gearing up for the spring – but that wasn’t really the focus.

No. The focus was…

P rocking horse

… all the scary rocking horses.

Oh, and a frankly terrifying table:

P bear table

Seriously. Look at that table.

IT’S A RABID BEAR, READY TO HOLD YOUR MARTINI.

And that just about set the tone.

Well, that and the tangled heap of wheelchairs and pushchairs just inside the entrance to that particular shed. Were they there for visitors, I wondered… or were they all that remained of unwitting victims who’d met a sticky end while on the hunt for some begonias and a slice of cake in the cafe?

Speaking of which…

P snack booth

Uh-huh. Honestly, that’s one of the tables for the cafe. In there.

Gulp.

While you eat, you can listen to the slightly sinister bird-song piped through the whole garden centre (don’t ask me how it manages to be sinister. It just does, somehow. It’s a bit like the mist in the middle of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) and you can gaze out at what can only be referred to as “PyroRhino”: an almost life-size bronze of a rhino, complete with gas can accessory.

Pyro Rhino

Or perhaps you’d prefer to take a moment to venture into one of the smaller sheds, where you’ll find a giant eagle swooping down on an alien band. Because REASONS.

P eagle and aliens

There was also a miniature Romany caravan, and a selection of reclining women with… shall we say “inadequate” clothing, as well as more animals and several temples.

I can’t even. I just can’t.

And in the middle of it all was an enormous, vaguely Wild West cactus garden:

P Cactus

I say “vaguely” because I’m not sure the two eight-foot tall bronze lions flanking it, nor the several life-size concrete dogs were really part of the whole Gold Rush. Nor was the twisty old olive tree, which must have been ancient, stuffed into a giant pot just out of shot.

The photos really don’t come close to doing it justice. Between the fact it was almost deserted, the creepy birdsong and the general air of… unease to the whole place, I was decidedly freaked out. But in a good way. Once you take a few minutes to adjust, you sort of sink into the crazy and go with it.

At the very back of the largest shed, there’s a heaped-up corner of sand and some benches (and a rusty speedboat in a tree. An actual speedboat. I was too startled to take a photo. And don’t even get me started on the rickshaw…) which is obviously used as a sandpit for visitors’ children.

As I passed, two women sitting on the bench (the only other people I’d seen so far, I should add) stopped talking, looked up and said: “Welcome to paradise.”

I didn’t run… but only just.

Death’s Head Cha-Cha-Cha

Winner of today’s “ZOMG, that’s the most terrifying thing I’ve seen since I looked in the mirror first thing” prize is this:

Yes, it looks a bit like a skull, which is quite scary enough.

However, it’s even scarier than you think: that’s a photo of a nuclear explosion, one millisecond after detonation.

I’m pretty convinced that this is as close to it as I ever want to get.

According to the Gizmodo article which brings us this horror, this fireball is 60-some feet high, and was taken in the Nevada desert in the 1950s.

On a slightly lighter (if no less morbid) note, I recently discovered a brilliant procrastination site: 350 Ways to Die. While none of them are particularly helpful for dealing with the asshat who threw up on my doorstep over the weekend (and, believe me, I’ve got special plans for them if ever I catch them…) the site contains lists of unusual ways that people have met their ends throughout history. Some of them are less than sensible, and some of them are simply sad. All claim to be true.

One of my favourites is this one:

Sigurd I of Orkney was a successful soldier who conquered most of northern Scotland in the 9th century. Following a fever-pitched victory in A.D. 892 against Maelbrigte of Moray and his army, Sigurd decapitated Maelbrigte and stuck his opponent’s head on his saddle as a trophy. As Sigurd rode with his trophy head, his leg kept rubbing against his foe’s choppers. The teeth opened a cut on Sigurd’s leg that became infected and led to blood poisoning. Sigurd died shortly thereafter.
Publications International, Ltd.

Just because.

There’s also cases of suicide by tree and death by bestiality.

The site’s clearly a work in progress, as it has space for more articles than are listed – but if you know of a story that should be on there, they also have a submission form so you can get in touch…

Dem Bones

Interesting news culled from The Londonist this morning (yes, I may well be a Brightonian now, but as I’ve long said, cut me & I’ll probably bleed London) – it appears that the London Dungeon have been harbouring a fake among their skeletons.

As in… a fake-fake.

As in… a real skeleton.

Alarmingly, it may even have been there since the dungeon opened 30-odd years ago, passing as an extremely good reproduction.

Hrrmpph. Shudder. Dislike. (Mostly, admittedly, because I dread to think what they’ve done to the poor thing during that time, blissfully unaware that it wasn’t a piece of plastic. Of course, you’d have thought the fact it was made of bone might have tipped them off a touch, wouldn’t you…?)

Also? I would love to see the offices of the Human Tissue Authority, as mentioned in that article. In my head, I picture them looking rather like this:

For preference, there should be some kind of ominous up-lighting, armed guards wearing goggles and possibly even the odd fluttering banner hanging down the front of the building.

Although they probably look rather more pedestrian.

Why yes, I do have an overactive imagination, thank you very much.

Also: on the subject of Bones, a – possibly even true! – piece of trivia. Ever considered the naming of the main character from “Bones“? She’s called Temperance, making a lovely little Tarot in-joke. In the major arcana, card XIII is (predictably) Death. And card XIV… is Temperance. So after Death, you see Temperance.

Unless, presumably, you’re the poor soul in the London Dungeon. In which case, you see tourists…

 

The Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard

One of my favourite London street names is “Bleeding Heart Yard”. It’s just off Hatton Garden, right at the edge of the City of London – and not far from the Barbican, where I used to live. Its unusual name stems from a particularly grim London legend.

The land was given to Sir Christopher Hatton by Elizabeth I. When he married, his wife’s dances became a high-point of the social season. One night, as a great ball was in progress, a black-robed man with a twisted hand threw open the doors to the ballroom and walked among the dancers until he found Lady Hatton; first, sweeping her into a dance, then leading her from the room.

Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning… and the assembled company heard a piercing scream from outside. Rushing to the aid of their hostess, the party were able to find no trace of her… except for her still-beating heart in the courtyard.

Lady Hatton, so the legend goes, chose to dance with the devil – and paid for it with her soul.

 

Pinch of Salt

I went all quiet again, didn’t I? Don’t panic: I haven’t been clobbered by yet more woe (although I have taken to walking along with one eye on the sky, one looking behind me and one looking at where I put my feet… just in case. You work that one out, because I can’t!) but instead I’ve been involved in a wonderful new project: Genre For Japan.

Driven by Amanda Rutter of Floor to Ceiling Books, the idea is to bring the genre community together to raise money for the British Red Cross’ Japan Tsunami appeal in the best way possible: by giving you a chance to buy Stuff.

And not just any old Stuff, either: thanks to the generosity of publishers, authors, agents and fans of SFF, this is Amazing Stuff. Stuff Which You Cannot Live Without, all with the genre fan in mind.

It’s humbling, seeing how many items have been donated, and also the phenomenal level of interest. If you spend any time on genre-focused websites, or you’re part of the same corner of Twitter as I am, chances are you know all about this already.

And if you don’t, the details are here.

Keep checking the site, too, as more information will be going up over the course of this week ahead of the auction launch next Monday. It’s an awesome cause, and there are incredible people getting involved. Please, please support us, and help us to raise truckloads of money for the Red Cross.

In other news, I watched Salt over the weekend. I was quite looking forward to it – when it was released, much was made of the fact it was a spy-action-chasey-shooty-thriller… but with a woman as the lead. And, let’s face it, there aren’t really as many of those as there should be: particularly given the main thread of the plot (without giving anything away) is a woman trying to outrun spies to protect her husband.

This is a neat reversal of the usual “spy races against the clock to save his impossibly beautiful, elegant, intelligent wife” – but boy, did it frustrate me. It wasted an opportunity to do something really interesting and ended up sort of making a hashed-up, mashed-up version of The Recruit meets Mission Impossible (perhaps not surprising, given that it was written by Kurt Wimmer and – if memory serves – was originally a Tom Cruise vehicle, rewritten for Angelina Jolie).

It could have said so many things about husband-wife relationships, gender-power balance, the role of women in dangerous places and jobs… but it felt like the rewrite went as deep as doing a search & replace, exchanging “he” for “she”.

And the ending just made me cross.

(Interestingly, my Other Half – sitting next to me and watching me seethe in the grip of femrage – laughed as discreetly as he dared, shook his head and said, “You’re getting worse.”)

And he’s probably right.

The Head Collectors

There’s a wonderful news story on the BBC site today about the king’s head. After years of speculation, scientists now believe an embalmed head discovered in France is almost certainly that of Henri IV.

“The human head had a light brown colour, open mouth and partially closed eyes,” said the scientists, led by forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier. “The preservation was excellent, with all soft tissues and internal organs well conserved.”

King Henri IV was one of France’s favourite monarchs. He converted to Catholicism to end France’s wars of religion, declaring “Paris is worth a Mass”, but was later killed by a Catholic fundamentalist. He built the Pont Neuf bridge and the Place des Vosges in Paris. Henri was the first of the Bourbon line of monarchs, which included his grandson Louis XIV, the Sun King.

His head will now be reinterred in the Basilica of Saint Denis after a national Mass and funeral next year.

(My good friend Andie points out the irony of Henri’s head’s resting place: St Denis was, according to legend, martyred by beheading – but he then picked up his head and walked for miles, preaching as he went…)

The fact it was Henri IV caught my attention: he’s one of the most important figures in arguably the best period of French history, tied up as he was with the Huguenots and the ever-charming Catherine de Medici. It’s all fascinating, and made even more so (not to mention sensationalised) by Dumas’ book, La Reine Margot.

After the excitement faded (I’m a medieval geek. It comes with the territory), I re-read the article on the BBC site, and I kept going back to this line:

A head, presumed to be that of Henri IV, has passed between private collectors since then.

Yes, it’s creepy – a bit creepy even for me. Skulls don’t bother me: I grew up in a medical household with a couple of skeletons knocking around the place… but an embalmed head just comes across as being a bit, you know, yuck. And what would you do with it, anyway? Use it as a paperweight? Bring it out as the surprise guest at the end of your dinner parties? Put it on a mantelpiece and lick it every time you pass (and yes, Gary, I can well imagine you doing that)?

Then I started thinking about these “private collectors” – ironically, they made me think of nothing so much as “The Club Dumas” – possibly my favourite book. Who are they, anyway? What exactly are they collecting: weird stuff, relics of the French monarchy or… well, bits of the dead? And what are they collecting them for?

I love the idea that maybe there’s a whole subculture of pickled-head collectors. And that they get together and have conventions: attend talks on preservation, compare collections – perhaps do the odd swap…

And here’s another thought for you: if you could have (or call dibs on) any head, living or dead, to keep on your mantelpiece – licking optional – who would you pick?

The Pumpkin Posse

Remember my pumpkins? Oh, stop smirking. These ones, which I was wittering on about a while back. Yes. Those ones.

Halloween’s been and gone, and you’ll be pleased to know that yes, those brave little pumpkins fulfilled their Halloween destiny. Meet the pumpkin posse:

Muscling in on the action, we have Jack. He’s big, he’s mean and boy, is he angry. (He came from Tesco. You can’t blame him, really)

Next up, Pinhead. He’s got an attitude that could only be described as spiky, and you don’t want to ask him what’s in the box.

And finally, there’s Mr Ouch. Poor Mr Ouch. He had a bit of a run-in with one of the kitchen knives and it’s not looking good for him. Or maybe he’s so sad because Small Boy has christened him “Dot”, for no apparent reason?

So there you go. Pumpkins: nutritious and evil. Round here, at least.

Who says Halloween’s just for the kids?

Ouch

For various reasons, few of which make any particular sense to me, and even fewer of which will make any sense to the rest of the world, I’ve been skimming make-up FX stuff online this afternoon.

And, given the time of year, I figured I’d share some of the fruits of other people’s labours:

Loving the zombie. And that’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying anytime soon… Urk.