Throw some heavy metal on the turn table, crank the volume up to 11 and strap yourself in as I take you on down the long and winding path, which led my most recent book.
Where do I start? Like any story, the best place is to start at the beginning, however, in this instance; the beginning isn’t necessarily the best place to start.
In February 2010 Electronic Arts released a video game named Dante’s Inferno, developed by Visceral Games. As the title suggests, this was a video game based on the first poem in Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, The Inferno. Armed with a scythe, you navigated a heavily muscled and bronzed incarnation of the Italian poet through the nine circles of Hell. After completing the game I thought to myself, that would be so cool in a contemporary setting. I therefore made it would one my ambitions to write such a book. But where would I begin? At that time getting the concept to work in a modern day setting seemed problematic. And so, the project was scrapped before I even put pen to paper. But the idea that had been sparked remained and the flames burned steadily in my mind.
Now let’s rewind to the late 90s. 1997 is probably the approximate year, but I wouldn’t put money on it.
A friend of mine received a video camera from his uncle. Even then, it was 10 years old – a relic of the previous decade; bulky, heavy, not very user friendly and the sound quality on playback left a lot to be desired. But our little gang still had fun, goofing off in front of the camera and watching ourselves being played back on TV.
Then, someone (I’d like to say it was me, but I honestly can’t remember) had the idea to make a movie.
It was at this time, perhaps fate in retrospect, a friend from outside my usual social circle (see my earlier blog post On Horror Movies), a friend who sadly passed away in November 2017, introduced me to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. The original movie was made by a group of friends, who at the time of filming almost 20 years before hand, were not much older than I was in 1997. This was inspiring to say the least and we jumped at the chance to make our own film. But what sort of film to produce? The success of Scream the year before had rebooted the Slasher sub-genre of horror, and as this style of movie didn’t require much in the way of story line or any credible acting ability for us to pull things off, we took a stab (if you pardon the pun) at a our very own Slasher flick.
We spent every weekend for the next three years churning out Slasher films, using anything we could get our hands on for free to make props and special effects. My friend Alex, who owned the video camera, still has some of these films on video cassette tape. It’s on his to do list to transfer these to a digital format, so watch this space.
In 2000 my mum bought a brand-spanking new video camera for a trip to New Zealand. It was small, compact and light weight. The sound quality still sucked, but it had various effect features and the ability to add credits and captions. Once the camera returned from New Zealand it was boxed away. I asked if I could use it to make our movies and was told “No!” With a little bit of stealth I “borrowed” the camera. I say borrowed because I always put it back after use.
Movie making on the “borrowed” camera was unfortunately short lived, as by this time beer and girls had taken priority.
In 2013 Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead was released and when the red-ban trailer dropped I was impressed with how the movie looked. This became the topic of conversation with one of my old movie maker friends over a few beers one night and we got to reminiscing about how we used to make films on Alex’s old video camera. After analysing the movies we recalled making, we felt there some real untapped potential, what could be achieve if we made a movie now we were stepping into our thirties and had the ability to raise a modest budget?
I had been playing with an idea for a story in which the creature feature was the characters’ own shadows, taking on a life of their own and running amuck. With this in mind, and the budgeting restraints, the idea of the supernatural entity being a shadow would be, in theory, easy to pull off. My idea was to dress people in black-morph suits and have them run around the woods to achieve the effect of the shadowy creatures. I actually make a subtle reference to this in Within the Dark Places.
So, I set about writing a screen play entitled Of the Shadows. I wrote about a third of the first draft before the project was called off. Shortly after this I was approached by Rowanvale Books who asked if I had considered self-publishing.
into a novella and submitted the manuscript to Rowanvale for editing.
The feedback was positive and filled me with confidence; other than the title, very little changed between the submitted manuscript and the finished book.
Within the Dark Places was written as a stand alone novella. Although it ends on a cliff-hanger, at the time of writing I had no intention to follow this up and wanted a shock, open-ended finish to the story. It wasn’t until I had submitted the manuscript that I had a dream about the protagonist Joe (who didn’t eve have a sur-name at that point). Joe was trapped in a woodland cabin, but he was heavily pregnant and in labour. Alone and miles from civilisation, Joe had to perform a c-section on himself with a piece of broken glass. Sound familiar?
As Joe made the first incision I woke up with a jolt and an urge to write about what I had just dreamed. In the weeks that followed the ideas for a new book came thick and fast. Not only was Where the Darkness Hides strongly developing but it was clear a third instalment was going to follow. I didn’t have the idea to end Where the Darkness Hides with Joe being sent to Hell until two or three drafts in, but I knew early on I wanted to end part two with him being transported to another world or dimension – a nod to the ending of Evil Dead 2.
Through the various drafts of Where the Darkness Hides it became more and more prominent that at the end Joe was going to end up in Hell, and this seemed like to perfect opportunity to write my contemporary version of The Inferno.
For the record, there are so many alternative versions, beyond the base story, of Where the Darkness Hides and so many alternative methods of how Joe was sucked into Hell. It would be a shame to lose these and I may well reboot the series in future with these alternatives.
I now knew what the third instalment would entail, but a new problem presented itself. In The Inferno Dante is guided through Hell by the ancient Greek poet Virgil. Joe needed his very own Virgil, but I still had no idea who this person would be or how they would fit into the story.
To solve this issue I had to take a few, large steps backwards.
Since the late 90s I have been writing tales of the supernatural set in my home town and surrounding areas of the Aire Valley. In 2005 I took these tales, merged the geographical locations into one town, calling it Raven’s Peak and began plotting a series of novels. This has evolved considerably since 2005 and it wasn’t until the last couple of years that the plot for the first novel in the series has been fully fleshed out.
The yet to be written series of Raven’s Peak novels will focus on the adventures of Chris Silversmith and Alexis Zukovsky, who solve supernatural mysteries. The duo will often be assisted by the medium Layla Throne.
The plan was to write Where the Darkness Reigns between the first two Raven’s Peak books, serving as a link between the two. But the more I wanted to explore Joe’s Hell, the more I needed to write it. So I made the decision to switch things around and use Where the Darkness Reigns to introduce the characters of the Raven’s Peak series. And as such, the final part of the Darkness Trilogy was born.
So where do we go from here… The plan is now to commence writing the first novel in the Raven’s Peak series. So far I have ideas for a minimum of three novels and God willing, I at least want to write a series of five books. The Darkness Trilogy was a tribute to independent horror moves of the 80s, the Raven’s Peak series will be a tribute to sci-fi/fantasy television shows of the 90s such as the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In an earlier blog I mentioned a sequel to The Church of Freyr. I did start writing this, but the magic just wasn’t there. It didn’t flow like my other book and felt forced. With regret I scrapped this after writing roughly a third of the first draft. That said, I haven’t completely abandoned the idea and will no doubt revisit this in the future. And besides, the character of Cage Roberts has received a glowing reception and is worthy of his own series.
As for Joe Costello, at the risk of sounding like the end credits of a James Bond movie… Joe Costello will return.