Monday, 28 November 2011

Third Prologue: Wendy (Part Two)

Hi there. So, as I'm sure you're aware by now, this is the third instalment of a series of prologues I'm putting up for your consideration. This is Wendy's Prologue: Part Two. If you didn't read Part One, you can and should do that here. This a long one, but there's some actual plot here (yes!) so I hope you enjoy it.


Wendy woke up to the sound of running water. Panic gripped her as she struggled to remember where she was. She got out of bed quickly and found some clean clothes in the suitcase that she had been too tired to unpack. As she left her room the bathroom door opened and Madeline stood in a white robe, drying her hair with a thick blue towel.

“Good morning! Fancy some breakfast?” she asked, the size of the smile on her face belying the time of the morning. Wendy told her that she would indeed, and Madeline stepped to one side.

“Shower’s all yours; there should be plenty of hot water. I’ll see you downstairs in a minute.”

Wendy didn’t realise how hungry she was until she stepped out of the shower and the smell of frying bacon came wafting up the stairs. In the kitchen Madeline was standing over the frying pan, pushing the crisping bacon around with a wooden spatula. She wore a plain white apron. Thickly cut brown bread sat on a plate next to a bottle of brown sauce.

As Wendy ate she became aware of Madeline watching her. She looked up and saw that her new housemate was beaming at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to share my time with. It gets very lonely. You’ll see that. More bacon?”

After breakfast Wendy made her way out of the house as Madeline pulled a formidable set of keys from her purse and locked up. She then followed Madeline’s instructions to sit down in her little red Punto. While they waited for the frost on the windshield to clear she looked up at the house. It seemed a lot less intimidating in the daylight. Madeline chatted about various things on the drive into the village. Wendy listened to about half of her conversation. Before she knew it, Madeline was taking the keys out of the ignition and opening the door.

“Here we are, then,” she said as she stood up.

Wendy got out of the car and looked up. They had arrived at an old brick house. It had been painted white long ago, and plant pots adorned the various windows. It looked like a home rather than a doctor’s office, and she told Madeline so.

“That’s sort of the point,” Madeline replied with a grin. “I’ve worked hard to make this place look friendly. We’ve got to be as friendly as possible in our line of work. Be a love and grab that bag out of the back and I’ll show you around.”

Madeline got her jangling keys out again and unlocked the front door. Wendy paused in the doorway as Madeline bustled off, turning on lights. Shortly after she went out of sight Wendy heard the sound of a running tap followed by the flick of a kettle’s switch.

Before long she was sat in Madeline’s office at the back clutching a steaming red mug of tea. Madeline had settled in her office chair and was staring intently at Wendy.

“So I was thinking we should just run through things again,” she said.

Wendy nodded with conviction. The nerves that she had forgotten about had returned. She looked up at the clock on the wall. Surely it couldn’t be long before the first patients started to arrive. Madeline saw where she was looking and chuckled.

“Don’t worry too much about that,” she said. “It doesn’t exactly get busy around here. We probably see between ten and twenty people a day. We’ve had some days where nobody comes in at all. Most appointments are made well in advance, check-ups and things like that. What we mostly deal with is people coming in with the sniffles, kids with their parents mostly. It’s pretty boring but it’s important that we’re always here and always ready.”

Wendy was listening intently. “Everything you will need is in the files,” Madeline continued. “I know you’ve been through the procedure a hundred times or more back at the head office, but I’ll make sure that I’ll be there to help you through them today. As far as people are concerned you’re a friend of the family who I’m looking after. You’re doing work experience.”

“What if I stay here for a long time?” asked Wendy. She thought, too late, that her question was a bit presumptuous but Madeline didn’t seem to mind.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, sweetheart. Now I need to get some things ready in here, do you want to go through to your desk and get acquainted with the files we have? The first appointment is for ten past nine, Mrs. Shelley. She’s a regular, just get her to tell you what she’s here for and wait for you to tell me that she’s here before you let her in.”

When Mrs. Shelley had been and gone without saying more than a few words to Wendy, Madeline came back out into the reception area and made a cup of coffee.

“It’s the parents that we need to deal with, to be honest with you,” she said. “The children will basically do what they’re told, and if we can get the parents on side then it’s just that much easier. It’s not too difficult to convince them that something’s wrong with their child, the trick is convincing them that we can deal with it rather than having them cart the little boy or girl off to a hospital. Where, of course, they would be told that there’s nothing wrong with them at all.”

“And we only take blood,” said Wendy. She knew the answer but she wanted reassurance anyway. Madeline seemed like a very nice lady but she had learned from past experience that nice didn’t always mean good.

“Yes,” she smiled. “What’s more, we only take the blood we’ve been told to. No more, no less. I assume you heard about the Fishers?”

Wendy had heard about the Fisher sisters. They had been a popular story back at school, a warning about what would happen if you overstepped your bounds and stopped listening to the ones in charge. But she was curious to know just how much of what she’d heard was rumour. Madeline had been around for a while, maybe she knew something closer to the truth.

“I’ve heard the name,” she told her. No need to embellish beyond that, might as well let Madeline start at the beginning. Madeline walked around the desk and drew one of the chairs closer.

“The Fisher sisters were called Isobel and Roberta. They worked together in a clinic just like this, down south. They weren’t really called Fisher, you know. They belong to the Génessier line. But Isobel didn’t want to keep the name, she wanted to be judged on her own merits. Which, to be honest, was fair enough. Isobel was phenomenally talented. But she didn’t do well with people, which was where Roberta came in. Roberta wasn’t as bright but she was incredibly beautiful and knew how to handle people. So Isobel did the work, while Roberta handled the parents and the kids.

Only Roberta wasn’t following orders. It turns out that someone had got to her and convinced her to sell some blood on the side. She was taking blood from all of the children in the village. It wasn’t too long before the parents found out. The sisters were spirited out of the village and Émilie Étienne figured out what to do with them. But Roberta escaped, she ran off. Étienne thought that Isobel knew where Roberta was and gave her a choice: give up her sister or give up her powers. Isobel choose to keep quiet, and she was sent away. No one’s found Roberta yet, but I hate to think what Étienne would do to her if they ever did.”

Madeline stood up, her story finished.

“So, that’s why we follow the rules. And that’s why families or old friends can’t work together any more. Do you have any family, Wendy?”

Wendy shook her head. Madeline’s eyes widened slightly and she clicked her tongue.

“I’m sorry, that was a completely tactless question. I was born into this; I forget that a lot of us had to come into it the hard way.”

Wendy shook her head and smiled.

“It’s not a problem, honestly. I’d just prefer not to talk about it.”

Madeline put her hand on her chest.

“I promise that I won’t say another word on the matter. Now, shall we have a look at the paperwork?”

Madeline was slightly less lively over dinner that night. They had covered everything at the office, with Wendy remembering more than she thought she had. Wendy looked down at the slightly burned pork chop on her plate and tried to think of something to say. How were they going to live together if they couldn’t even have two nights of conversation? She wanted to put Madeline at ease. She knew that she hadn’t meant anything by asking about her parents. But that awkwardness just hung there like the smell of a dead rat under the floorboards.

As Wendy opened her mouth to say something nice about the food the telephone rang. Madeline hopped up and lifted it from the cradle.

“Hello? No, it’s fine. Well, yes we were having dinner but it’s fine, honestly. I understand. And how long has he had it for? OK, give him some Calpol and bring him in tomorrow. We’ll take a look at him. Yes, it sounds like the flu but I agree, it never hurts to make sure, does it? Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She returned the phone to its resting place and smiled at Wendy.

“Looks like you’ll be having your first time a bit sooner than expected,” she said. Wendy nodded. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not.

The next day Wendy woke up to the sound of the shower running again. Madeline was singing something that sounded familiar, but only vaguely. A golden oldie. Maybe the Shangri-Las.

Before she knew it she was sitting at her desk in the clinic. She clicked her pen nervously, trying not to stare at the clock. The appointment had been made for nine but Madeline had told her that parents were often at least half an hour early bringing their children. She could hear Madeline singing, the same song, from her office. She was doing questions and responses. It was definitely the Shangri-Las.

The doorbell rang. “Get that, would you?” called Madeline. Wendy stood up and walked over to the door, smoothing the dress that Madeline had recommended she wear instead of trousers. She opened the door just a crack, as she had been told to do.

A man and a woman, both in their late twenties, stood just outside the door. When they saw Wendy they opened their mouths to talk at the same time, and the first word out of each of their mouths was “Sorry.” They laughed nervously at the overlap, and the father deferred to the mother.

“I know we’re early,” she said, “But we were really anxious. George has been up all night with this cough and his fever hasn’t gone down.”

Wendy looked down at the small boy who was holding tightly to his mummy’s hand. He was certainly pale, and she noticed a thin trail of snot running from his right nostril to his upper lip. He saw her notice it and wiped it with his sleeve.

“George, really, use a tissue,” scolded his mother, but patted his head to let him know that she wasn’t really upset.

“Of course you can come in,” said Wendy. She opened the door of the clinic and the family moved quickly but politely inside. “I’ll just check with Dr. Hill, I’ll see if she’s ready for you.”

She left the family on the sofa and knocked on the door of Madeline’s office before slipping inside. Madeline gave her a little nod before she could even open her mouth to ask the question. Wendy waited for what she thought was an acceptable amount of time before returning to the waiting room.

“It’s fine,” she said, “She’s ready to see you now.”

The parents nodded gratefully at her and ushered the son through the door. Wendy heard Madeline’s warm greeting, then asking one of them gently to close the door behind them. Wendy felt a tiny bit hurt before she remembered that it was for their sake. The sense of intimacy between the parent and the doctor was vital. They absolutely had to believe that Madeline had their child’s best interests at heart.

Wendy busied herself with preparing the paperwork. She ordered the papers together, filled in all the relevant boxes herself. Of course, the paperwork was never really going to go anywhere.

After about ten minutes the family came back out again, both parents with a hand on their son’s shoulders. He looked slightly paler than before but was sucking on a lollipop. Madeline appeared behind them.

“I’ll send the sample off for some work and get back to you as soon as I hear anything,” she told them. “In the meantime, make a start on the antibiotics and keep him out of school until you come back and see me on Friday. Alright?”

The parents nodded happily. Wendy could see it in their faces. The strange comfort of having their fears confirmed. They were right; they were attentive, careful parents. Thank God they caught it in time, whatever this was. Madeline smiled back at them, happy to give them this degree of reassurance. “And is that alright with you, George?” she asked him.

George looked up at Madeline and Wendy saw something in her colleague’s face that she had not seen before. Benevolence, yes. That had been expected. But standing there, she saw quite how beautiful Madeline was. And the look on the young boy’s face showed that she wasn’t the only one who had noticed it. He was staring at Madeline in a way that bordered on worship.

Once the family were out of the door, Wendy turned to Madeline.

“Did it all go alright, then?” she asked. Madeline nodded.

“Yes, it was all fine. Let’s get that blood sorted, shall we?”

Wendy followed Madeline back into her office. She shut the door behind her. It wasn’t necessary but she had been told time and time again how important it was that what they did here remained secret. Madeline sat in her chair and leaned under the desk. When she straightened back up she held a small vial in her hand.

“Day one,” she said, “Sample one. George Murphy. AB negative.” Wendy wrote the information down as neatly as she possibly could. “Parents have been informed that they are to bring him back for a further check up on the 14th. On that date they will be informed that further blood tests are required.” Wendy ticked boxes and wrote in dates. “My guess is that they will be amenable to further blood taking. They are very concerned.” She looked up. “Alright. That’s it. We take it home at the end of the day and send the information off to head office.”

In the car on the way home at the end of the day, Wendy decided to ask Madeline what she thought of her job. Madeline nodded as if she'd been waiting for this.

“I had questions the first time I saw it done too. It does seem cruel, at least from the outside. But what we do here is a big part of what keeps us going. Keeps us where we are in the order of things. Obviously the most important thing that you need to know is that we’ve been told to do it. And if you back out of it, or try to tell anyone what we’re doing, well, you know what happens.”

Wendy did know, and if she was being honest with herself, she would have to admit that the possibility of not doing what she was told hadn’t crossed her mind. Not seriously, anyway. This was who they were. As Madeline steered the car into the driveway she smiled at Wendy.

“Look, here’s what I’ve learned. This thing that we’re doing. We’re being given a chance to practice our craft. We’re doing it in small ways, but it’s the small tricks that keep us from being caught out, keep us from being questioned. You saw the way that family looked at me this morning. You don’t think that was just because of my natural charm, do you? A little spell and they think that you’ve been sent from on high to deliver them from whatever nasty bacteria and virus they’re convinced they’re being persecuted by. So stick it out. Flex your muscles a bit. See what you can do.”

So, on the 14th, when the Murphy family returned with their son, Wendy tried something. Nothing big, nothing flashy. She just shook their hands when they came in the front door. If you had asked Mr and Mrs Murphy if there was anything unusual about that handshake, they wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything. But they would have told you that they felt very reassured by Miss Wendy Bright. They trusted her. She was good.

And every successive time that they came in, Wendy could see the relief and reassurance on their faces. They felt that they were in a safe place. And Madeline continued to take blood from their son. And so it went on for three weeks, until the day when the quota had been reached.

“Time to finish,” she said. The next time that the Murphy family brought George in, Madeline gave them a bottle of nondescript white tablets, and told them that they had finally uncovered what had been plaguing their son. They only came back once after that, when the parents came in to give the two of them a box of chocolates and some flowers. That was that.

Wendy felt settled with Madeline. It may not have been particularly exciting, but that was what she wanted. And there was a spark to her housemate, a twinkle in her eye that showed that she did enjoy what she was doing. Wendy was as certain as she could reasonably be that the two of them were getting on naturally, without any tricks from Madeline.

One night she sat in the kitchen as Madeline stood over the hob. She was cooking a pasta sauce in a pan, she’d made it from scratch. Wendy was leaning back in her chair, the front two legs ever so slightly off the ground. She rubbed her temples. A sudden headache, not too bad.

“Ow,” said Madeline. She turned to look at Wendy. “Sorry, think I might be getting a migraine or something.”

Wendy was worried. “Erm, this is weird, but...”

A flash of blinding pain stabbed its way through her eyes and to the back of her skull. Her legs pushed down hard on the floor, propelling her chair backwards and over. She didn’t notice the pain from landing on her back on the ground, her head felt like it was about to explode.

Madeline screamed, and her flailing arm tipped over the frying pan before landing on the hob. She had reflexes enough to move her hand away but not before burning most of the skin off it. She collapsed on the floor, now in too much pain to make any noise at all.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it was over. They lay still on the kitchen floor for a while, both sobbing. Wendy saw blood on her hands and panicked, thinking she’d hit her head badly. She was relieved when she realised that it was only a nosebleed. Madeline lifted up her left hand and mewed in pain. Wendy rushed to the freezer and yanked a bag of frozen peas free. She clasped it to her friend’s hand.

It was about half an hour before either of them spoke.

“What was that?” asked Wendy.

“That was the witches in the Paris coven screaming,” said Madeline. “That was them dying. They’re gone. This is very, very bad.”


Hello, hope you enjoyed that. There's a bit of exposition dumping which I'm always a bit worried about, and I was also worried about bringing up the Fisher sisters, who I wrote about in The Novel That Nobody Wanted. This new one isn't about them, but you need to know who they are. Hence the heavy-handed "Let me tell you a story" bit.

Next week may be some writing about writing as there's quite a bit of work to be done on the Fourth Prologue, but we shall see. Things have been quite stressful with the writing at the moment as it seems to be difficult to find any sort of time, but I'm trying to make it work. I've had words of encouragement from friends and mentors lately, normally combined with words of more realistic "It's difficult and insanely stressful". I won't quote them directly, but it is swings and roundabouts. If you feel like you're losing it, you know you care enough, but there's so much fun to be had, so why would you stop?

Oh, I recommend that you see Take Shelter. It's a great film, and here's the trailer:

And I've been a bit obsessed by this song lately, so here you go:

So, next week is either The Killer and a bit of The Witch, or a bit of writing on writing. Hope you enjoyed this, and hope to see you back next week.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Second Prologue: Wendy (Part One)

Hello there. So, as you probably remember, this week we have the second in a series of character prologues for the project that I'm working on. There will be around six or seven of these and I'm interested to see people's reactions to my characters. Last week's was The Monster, which you may want to read if you haven't already before this week's. This week's is actually part one of two, as there's a lot to establish with Wendy. Anyway, here we go. Hope you like it:


Wendy hugged herself tightly as the car made its way along the dark country roads through the dark. She was trying to prepare herself as best she could. She knew that it made no sense to be nervous; she had been well prepared for this. This was what the last few months had all been building towards. And how many other girls had taken this journey before her, over all the years? In an attempt to calm her nerves she tried to anticipate the questions that might be asked of her. She had no concerns about any questions relating to the work. She knew what she had to do, although she was still a little nervous about actually dealing with people face to face. But most of all she was afraid of being asked anything personal. Personal meant tricky. It might make it difficult to get off on the right foot. She would be living with this woman for the foreseeable future after all. It was very important that they get on well. Very important indeed.

It had just gone ten o’clock when Wendy arrived at her destination. The man who had been driving the car hadn’t said a single word to her for the whole trip. They pulled to a stop alongside a small cottage that had one light on downstairs. Wendy saw the thick beige curtain twitch before the front door opened a moment later. She stepped out of the car, straightened her coat, and went to the woman at the front door with her hand outstretched.

“Miss Hill? I'm Wendy. I’m sorry that we got here so late, I’m...not really sure what happened.” She forced herself to sound more confident than she was. She wanted to project strength of character, trustworthiness, and wisdom beyond her years. As it was, she was happy that she just manage to get the words out in the right order. The woman looked her up and down. Wendy would have guessed that she was in her late forties. She wore a white woollen cardigan and blue jeans. Wendy noticed that her black hair had streaks of grey and white as her face creased into a smile. She stretched out her arms and wrapped Wendy in a warm hug. For a moment Wendy was stunned. This wasn’t typical behaviour from a superior. She could say with all certainty that this had never, ever happened to her before, at least not since she'd started school. But she composed herself quickly. It would be rude not to reciprocate. She put her arms around the woman’s back. She remained awkwardly pressed up against her for a few seconds before she was released. Her host took a step back. The smile hadn’t dropped. Wendy reassured herself that she seemed to have passed the test.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wendy. Please, call me Madeline. Let’s get you inside, shall we?” She looked past Wendy to nod at the driver, who was pulling a large suitcase out of the car boot. “Is that all of your luggage?” she asked her. Wendy told her that she didn’t have a lot of things. Madeline ushered Wendy inside. She took the suitcase from the man, who muttered a word that was very probably goodbye before leaving, closing the front door behind him. Madeline led Wendy up the narrow staircase to an open door on the left hand side on the landing.

“This is your room,” she said. Wendy looked around. It was small, to be sure, but it could definitely be classed as cosy. Wendy had stayed in a lot of bedrooms in her time, but she would never have classed any of them as cosy. The bedspread was covered in illustrations of pink and purple flowers that Wendy recognised but didn’t know the names of. A sturdy bookcase stood by the wall opposite the bed, nearly fully stocked. “There’s a charity shop in the village,” said Madeline by way of an explanation. A healthy-looking spider plant sat on the windowsill, while the radiator gurgled into life as the boiler kicked in. Wendy turned to her new housemate and smiled.

“It’s lovely,” she told her.

After Wendy had unpacked, she sat with Madeline in the kitchen downstairs as they waited for the kettle to boil. There was silence. Wendy had many questions, but didn’t want to appear forward by asking any of them. Wendy wrapped her hands around the warm white mug of orange tea that Madeline had set in front of her, but before she could worry too much about breaking the pause Madeine smiled and leant forward.

“So I expect you’ve been told what it is you will be doing here,” said Madeline.

“Yes. Well, that is, I know the general idea. Of what my job will be,” answered Wendy. She had, in fact, been told in some detail, but she was reluctant to seem too confident. She didn’t want to sell herself too short, but she certainly didn’t want to appear cocky. So she had decided to say as little as possible.

“Well, we’ll go over the basics now, and the rest we can talk about tomorrow. I get up at seven. I suggest that we take turns making breakfast. I’ll do it tomorrow as I imagine you’re very tired.” Wendy opened her mouth to agree with this, she was sure that it would be fine, but Madeline had not stopped talking. “We should aim to be in at the clinic by half past eight. This will give us plenty of time to set up and get you acquainted with the place before anyone arrives. Now, I’m sure that I don’t need to remind you that we are a functioning doctor’s office. I am a fully trained physician so don't you worry about a thing. There will be days when our sole responsibility is to treat patients. Well, I say our, it will be my responsibility. I'm guessing that you've been trained in the admin? Filling out the paperwork?”

Wendy thought back over the last few months. It had been painfully dull, but the importance of what she had been doing had been drilled into her by her teachers. It was vital that nothing appeared strange or unusual. And boring was nothing if not normal.

“Yes, they taught me about it. I finished the training just before I came here.”

“Good, so it’s all fresh in your mind then.” Wendy had a brief moment of panic where she wondered if this was in fact the case. Madeline must have seen the panic on her face as she reached across the table and put her hand over Wendy’s.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’ll all make sense in a day or two. And, if you like, I’ll let you observe after a little while. Now, I’ve told everyone that you’re my niece, doing work experience. The people here are very friendly, and some of the friendlier ones are very excited to meet you. Generally speaking, I think it’s for the best if we maintain a distance from the locals, but conversation in the clinic is absolutely fine. Also, I think going to the bigger social events on the calendar is fine, so long as we’re careful.”

Wendy nodded. This made sense. Madeline cocked her head to one side.

“I’ve sort of come to the end of my little speech, do you have anything that you’d like to ask me, Wendy?”

Wendy thought about it. She couldn’t think of anything. She was very conscious of Madeline watching her. She realised that she couldn’t really say anything. Madeline pushed her chair back and stood up.

“There’s something that neither of us have mentioned. Follow me,” she said, “It might just be easier if I show you.” Wendy got up without a word and followed Madeline to the staircase. Madeline opened the door under the staircase and pulled a lightswitch. Wendy saw a set of linoleum covered steps that went down into a basement . She followed her down the stairs and pulled her jumper tighter around her. It was distinctly cooler down here.

A single long fluorescent bulb lit the basement. The grey linoleum stretched out along the room that was the size of the ground floor of the house itself. Madeline put one hand on Wendy’s shoulder and used the other to point to the end of the room.

“Now, Wendy, tell me what you think is in there."

Wendy moved closer to the end of the room. Standing against the wall was a large fridge. Wendy didn't know if that was what making the humming noise. Maybe it was the flourescent light. Or maybe the fridge was working overtime. She took a moment and answered Madeline’s question.

“Blood,” she said.

“Quite right,” answered Madeline. “It’s a little ominous, I agree, but frankly it’s the best way of storing it. The basement's so cold that there's nothing else I'd want to keep down here. You know, a friend of mine told me that they tried keeping it in tupperware back in the late '40s.”

She paused for a moment and turned to look at Wendy. “Are you alright?”

Wendy nodded. She’d been told what this apprenticeship would involve. She’d been told that, in order to do her work properly, she would have to set aside some moral issues and some reservations that would perhaps be expected from a normal person. It wasn't as if she considered herself normal but this was something else. She wondered if Madeline kept anything else in the fridge.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m fine.”

Madeline smiled. “Good, good,” she said. “Let’s get back upstairs. The tea will be getting cold.”

They sat together in the kitchen for a little while, making polite conversation about her training. Madeline seemed to know a couple of the tutors and told a couple of stories. Finally she stretched and yawned.

“Well, it’s late; I think that we should probably get to bed. If you need to know where anything is, just let me know.”

As Madeline got up out of her seat, she paused for a moment. “Unless, you want to stay up...” They way that she had phrased the question made it very clear to Wendy that it was time to go to bed.

“No, that’s fine. It’s been a long day, and it is late. Busy day tomorrow!” said Wendy, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Madeline smiled. Wendy knew that she had answered correctly. Wendy followed Madeline up the stairs, then paused as she turned to look at her.

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

Wendy smiled and nodded. She didn't know what else to do.

After Madeline had finished in the small, brightly lit bathroom, Wendy dug through her suitcase until she found her toothbrush and the almost empty tube of toothpaste she had brought with her. As she stared into the almost blindingly clean mirror of the bathroom cabinet above the sink, she admitted to herself that she was incredibly nervous. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t what normal people did. But there was nothing normal about her. There didn’t seem to be anything normal about Madeline either, but at least she hadn’t asked any awkward questions. Not yet, anyway.

It’s a question that witches ask each other. Not always right after they meet, although some are less restrained than others.

“When did you first know that you were a witch?”

Wendy had found that the typical answer would be “As long as I can remember,” accompanied by a slightly wistful smile and a coy cocking of the head that implies that they've always known.

But Wendy was different. That is, if the others weren’t lying. Wendy knew the exact moment she knew that there was something wrong with her. She was eight years old. She was standing in the kitchen watching her parents make dinner. Wendy had had a bad day at school. She didn’t want to go back the next day. She was listening to her parents making sympathetic noises but making it very clear that staying at home all day tomorrow was not an option. Wendy tried to make her parents understand but they weren’t listening. She remembered hearing the sizzle of fish starting to burn in the pan and her father swearing, moving quickly past her mother. They started discussing the fish. How it could be fixed. They weren’t listening to her at all. She felt something well up inside her, anger didn’t describe it, it was something more primal. It was so loud. As she felt it build she had clenched her eyes shut and put her hands over her ears. She opened her mouth, hoping that whatever it was would just escape. And she remembered shouting for it to stop.

Wendy heard a series of thumps. Then a clatter. Then nothing. She opened her eyes. Her parents lay on the floor, crumpled at odd angles, her mother partly on top of her father. Both were face down. The frying pan was still in her father’s hand, the fish about a foot away from it. Wendy didn’t move. She was afraid to. She was afraid that her parents would wake up and realise what she’d done. They would be so angry. But they didn’t move. They just lay on the floor. Finally Wendy opened her mouth.


There was no movement. One of her mother’s eyes had gone red. Her mouth was open, her lips pulled back, exposing her teeth.


Her father’s face was pressed onto the linoleum floor, his glasses pushed to a crooked angle. His knuckles had gone white around the pan.

Wendy didn’t move. She stayed rooted to the spot. After about fifteen minutes the doorbell rang. She stayed where she was. There was a brief rattling and she heard the familiar creak of the front door. In the back of her mind, the part that was still working in a way approaching normality, a little voice told her that it must be the police. The police were here, to punish her for what she’d done. She’d murdered her parents, they would lock her away forever.

So she was a little surprised when a figure in a dark blue dress came into view. Another followed, wearing a long black coat.

“Goodness me.”

“I told you.”

“You said there’d been a surge; you didn’t say it had killed two adults.”

“I told you it felt strong. How old do you think she is?”

“Ask her.”

The one in the long black coat squatted down in front of Wendy, trying to make eye contact with her. She had freckles, long blonde hair that was in need of a brush, and her blue eyes were ringed by dark eye liner. She smiled at Wendy.

“You alright, sweetheart?”

“Jesus, did you just ask her if she’s alright?”

The blonde turned her head, and the smile dropped.

“What the hell was I supposed to ask her? Look at her!”

“Ask her how old she is.”

She turned back to Wendy and stretched out her hand before thinking better of it.

“How old are you, love?”

Wendy wanted to answer. But nothing was working. No part of her was doing what she told it to.

“Can you hear me?”

The blonde stood up and walked over to Wendy’s parents.

“She’s not there at the moment. I think we’re just going to have to get her in the car and see what they want to do with her.”

“We’re going to have to shift these, too. At least they’re skinny.”

There was a slight pause where Wendy assumed that the blonde was supposed to laugh. She was glad that she didn’t.

“Get her in the car. I’ll make a start on Mum and Dad.”

This time the blonde did put a hand on Wendy’s shoulder, and she tried the smile again.

“Listen, sweetheart. My name’s Lisa. That’s Alice, over there. Now, you need to come with us. It doesn’t look like you’re up to moving, so I’m going to pick you up, OK? Don’t worry about all this, we’ll take care of it. We'll take care of them. Come on, love."

Wendy knew the exact moment when she had realised what she was, and realised that nothing would ever be the same again.


So, there's Wendy (Part One). Hope you liked it. Part Two will reveal a bit more about what the plot of this actually is, and the week after we'll move on to another character. What Wendy does is something that happens to the lead character of The Novel That Nobody Wanted, and I really liked the idea of approaching it from the other side. But more of that next week. Putting these character prologues up has really got me excited about this again. I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with these characters.

Otherwise, the project I'm working on with Ben Sheppard (of Treppenwitz fame) continues to continue. Excitingly, a horrible first draft was finished last night, which now means I get to go back and fix things. I used to hate going back over first drafts, it's such a horrible feeling to see just how bad a writer you can be, but now it's something I actually look forward to. I like the fixing. Anyway, I hope it's going to be good. It could be. Apart from myself and Ben, we've got Paris' second favourite adopted Sheffield-ian Martin Parsons and Dr. Iain McGibbon (Phernalia_I) committed to helping us. There will be more people in the future, there will have to be, but I'm getting excited about it now, even though it's a very long way off still. So much drafting to do. I can just see all this terrible writing that needs fixing....

But I can reveal the title!



How about some music? I kind of feel like I should offer you something for getting through my ramblings, so let's do that. I've been listening to a lot of Tegan and Sara and Amanda Palmer recently. Both have really grown on me since I first heard them. First, here's Amanda Palmer with Astronaut:

She gets a lot more big, baroque, cheeky, provocative, and fun than this, but this is the one that's been in my head lately.

And here's Tegan and Sara:

I don't have anything clever to say about them. They're just good. Honest, catchy, and good

OK, that's it for this week. Next week we'll have Wendy (Part Two)! Hope to see you then.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

First prologue - The Monster

Hello there. Now, I believe we discussed last week, or possibly the week before, the idea of excerpts from some of my longer writing. I was going to do some writing about writing this week, but I got a bit attached to the idea of showing you lot what I'm working on currently. Well, one of the things. The other project has taken first priority at the moment, which actually works nicely as it gives me some time to think about this.

So what is this? This is part of my novel. There'll be further explanation after the fiction, but for now all you need to know is that this is where I think it's going to start. Please enjoy.


She's awake. It takes her a while for her eyes to adjust to the light. The light's not the only thing that's new. She's lying down. Her hands and feet are free. No ropes, no chains, no nothing. This has not been the case for some time. She rubs the bruised skin on her wrists, enjoying the feeling of blood circulating freely. She gets up carefully, finding her balance. She can stand firmly on the ground without dangling from the ceiling. This is bliss. But there's more. She looks up and sees that the door at the top of the steps has been left open. She has been down here for too long to assume that this is any kind of mistake. She knows him too well now. They've been through so much together.

She moves slowly towards the bottom of the steps, stifling a coo as the pleasurable sensation of mud slipping through her toes shocks her. She makes her way up the steps and into the room above. She has to shut her eyes. It’s bright up here. There are windows. She has not been in a windowed room since she arrived here. She stops short and listens carefully. After two minutes of standing perfectly still she is satisfied that she is alone in the house. She walks into the kitchen and puts her head under the sink. She fills her mouth with icy water from the tap. She is not as thirsty as she thought, though she manages to gulp down a few mouthfuls.

Her eye is caught by a piece of paper on the otherwise bare kitchen table. She gingerly picks it up. There is a message on it.


She goes over the piece of paper again to confirm the details. When she is confident that there are no hidden messages or clues that she could be reprimanded for missing when she returns, she returns the paper to the table and walks to the front door. On the right hand side of the door is a chair. There is a pile of clothes on the chair, with a note sat on top of them.


Abruptly, she remembers that she is naked.

As she steps out of the front door she enjoys the crunch of snow under her boots. They are too big for her, the boots, but she supposes that it doesn’t matter too much. The large woollen jumper makes the dried blood and mud that coats her skin itch, but scratching it creates great pleasure. She sees her hair hang down in front of her face and knows that the colour has changed. It was once black, but she made that happen. Now it's brown, the same shade that all colours in that basement eventually became. Looking around now, everything seems white. Without thinking about where she is going, she walks into the woods. She does once wonder whether she is going in the right direction. She knows that she is.

She can smell the people before she hears them. There is the familiar smell of car exhaust. Of burning coal and fuel. She can smell meat cooking. It is a matter of moments before she places the meat as cow. Then she hears the noise of cars. Of chattering people. She moves slower through the woods before crouching. She can see that she has come to a road. The road is wet, but clear of snow. It would be easier to walk along it, her feet are unused to the boots, but she does not want to be seen. She retreats into the trees, making sure that she does not lose sight of the road. She walks parallel to it, keeping one eye on the sky. She sees that the sun is getting low on the horizon, and she knows that it will be night soon. Part of her is anxious to fulfil the commands that have been given to her. Part of her wants to keep enjoying this freedom. The cold, fresh air is intoxicating. She feels like whirling around in the snow, or climbing a tree. She can’t remember ever hearing birdsong quite so clearly. She briefly remembers a garden, but only briefly.

She reaches the town almost without realising it. Or the outskirts. Perhaps she's not even there yet, but she can see a large house not too far ahead. She hears the squeaking of tires and drops right down to her knees. Through the undergrowth in front of her she can see a silver car pulling into the driveway. She creeps closer.

A man gets out of the car, before going to the back. He opens the back of the car and takes out some plastic bags full of shopping. She can't smell the food but she knows that it's there. A woman gets out of the other side. She opens the door behind her and stands back, allowing a small boy to hop out.

She inhales sharply. There it is. This boy cannot be more than five years old. He takes his mother’s outstretched hand and together they walk to the front door. The mother turns and says something to the father, and they both laugh. The father throws the keys to the mother, and they jangle in her hand as she catches them. They enter the house, and she moves closer.

She waits there, crouched in the snow. She knows that she cannot simply walk in and take the child. She has to wait. She waits while the sun finally drops down and the dark arrives. She moves around the outside of the house, careful to stay out of the warm light of their home. She watches as the mother and father prepare dinner. She watches as they summon the boy to eat with them. She watches as the boy shovels his food into his mouth before moving into a different room on the ground floor. She watches as the parents take the boy upstairs. She makes a note of the room which is lit up when the three of them enter, and is darkened when they leave.

She waits for all the lights to go off. And then she stands up.

When she reaches the house she slips off her boots. She doesn’t think about how to climb up to the second floor window. She just does it. She reaches the boy’s window. She briefly considers smashing the glass, but then she looks at the child lying asleep in the bed. She realises that there is an easier way.

She knocks on the glass. Very gently at first, then a little louder. The boy’s eyes flutter then open. He gasps and sits up in bed. She tries a smile. It’s difficult. She is out of practice. But she manages it. After a moment the boy smiles back.

“What happened to you?” he asks.

She considers the question. She had forgotten the blood. And the rest. After a certain point she’d just stopped thinking about it. She could tell him the truth but she doesn’t want to scare him. “I was in an accident,” she tells him. “I need to come in.” Her voice is slightly gargled from lack of use.

The boy is young, but he’s not stupid.

“I’ll get my parents,” he says. She puts a hand to the glass.

“If you help me,” she says, “I’ll reward you. But...just you. It has to be just you. Your parents don’t need to know about this. Wouldn’t you like to see what happens in the woods at night? It’s magical, wondrous.”

Her words seem to be working. She almost believes it herself. He’s out of bed, and approaching the window. She mustn’t scare him now. She’s so close. She can hear his heartbeat. She mustn't drool.

He opens the window. She climbs in slowly.

“I knew there were magic people in the woods,” he says, his eyes shining. It could be hope, though she wonders if it might be greed.

“There are,” she answers. “There are lots of them. And they told me to get you and bring you along.”

“They asked for me?” he asks.

“Well, I imagine any child would do. They weren’t specific,” she says. He’s close enough. His gaze falters, and he opens his mouth wide.

She doesn’t waste time. She grabs the duvet off the child’s bed and wraps it tightly around his head and arms. He starts to scream. The noise is muffled but it won’t be long before the parents hear it. He’s starting to struggle. It’s time to go.

She steps onto the window ledge. No time to climb down. She jumps. To her surprise her legs bend perfectly with the impact. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to do that. She carefully slips on her boots and starts to run, the child held against her.

It doesn’t take too long to get back to the house. She considers covering her tracks but the weather is on her side. Snow has started to fall heavily. Her new clothes are soaked to the bone, and the bundle is getting heavier. It’s not too heavy, however, which she supposes is a bit strange. She makes the journey quickly, almost without thinking. Back at the house, the front door is open. There are no lights on inside. She takes her shoes off by the front door. It feels like the right thing to do.

In the kitchen she puts the child down in the corner by the sink. It pushes the duvet off its face and sits staring at her. It’s been crying but now it just looks scared. Something tells her that she should feel sorry for it. But she doesn’t. She puts her finger to her lips and the child stops sniffing. The quiet tells her that nobody is in the house. But there is another note on the table. She turns on the light to read it properly.


There's a humming in the kitchen and she's not sure if it's just in her head. The boy in the blanket mews quietly and her belly gurgles.


Right, so. Hope you enjoyed that.

She is the first of the characters in this book. The characters are, in no particular order, The Witch, The Wolf, The Vampire, The Monster, The Killer, and The Fool. The Fool may be changed to The Parent, but I'm letting myself go over the top at the moment. They do, of course, have names, but I'll save those until I introduce them properly.

For those of you who've heard me discuss, or possibly even read, The Novel That Nobody Wanted, you'll know who She is. This novel is a of spin-off from that one. The idea is that you can read this and understand everything that's going on. Whereas the prior novel was a personal journey through a horror/fantasy world, this novel opens that world up and pursues a bigger plot-line through several different characters. Basically, I like the world and the rules and the things I created so I want to approach it from a different angle. Whether it will work or not is unknown. I will talk about Her and what She is at some point, but this will have to do for now.

At present, these excerpts are all subject to change so opinions are welcome. I'd also like to know if you'd like to keep reading. The next one will be The Witch, and will actually start introducing the plot. I hope you look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Story: Winding

Hi there. This week's story is a non-horror instalment of the further adventures of Gina and Francis. Yes, Gina was called Sophie last time, but that's changed. She's Gina now. The explanation is two-fold...and I'll explain after the story. If you read the last two stories featuring them (here and here) you'll know what happened previously, and what Gina's feeling guilty about. If not, well, it's not essential. Or is it? Is there a twist? Probably not. But enough of my rambling. Enjoy the story.


Gina’s skin was itching. Behind her ears, on her hair-line, on her wrists. It happened when she was irritated. She was always somehow hurt by the fact that for most people the idea of someone getting under your skin was just an expression, but for Gina it was a very real symptom of being incredibly pissed off. She’d thought about seeing a doctor about it in her teens but had since dismissed that idea as probably a bit excessive. He’d have only told her to calm down. And she didn’t want to calm down.

It didn’t help that she knew that she didn’t really have a very good reason for being pissed off, or at least for being pissed off with Francis. Francis drove in silence. He knew she was upset. He wasn’t stupid. He was also not stupid enough to give her an opening to yell at him. He didn’t want to have their first big argument; especially not while trying to navigate the ridiculously narrow country lanes that were the only way from her irritating parents’ house back to the motorway and back to London. If he could just get through this drive in silence then maybe he could postpone dealing with whatever was upsetting her to a later date. Any later date.

And she knew that he was pissed off with her as well, though he wasn’t saying anything. He hadn’t said anything, and probably wouldn’t unless she prodded him. And yes, she had killed his gerbil. She hadn’t meant to snap that little rodent’s spine like a fucking toothpick but if it hadn’t bitten her in a fit of absurd psychotic terror she wouldn’t have brought it crashing down on the kitchen surface and ended its sad little life. He had accepted her apology but she knew, she could tell that he was still angry.

But she knew it was ridiculous to be angry at him for trying to be nice. She wasn’t angry at him for repressing his feelings and telling her that it was OK; because she knew that he wanted it to be OK that she’d murdered his pet. She knew it was ridiculous to resent him for trying to smooth things over. But her parents had sensed that something was wrong, they must have done, otherwise they wouldn’t have acted the way that they did.

Francis had a couple of ideas why her parents had behaved the way that they had. They had seen him shuffle in, tired after a long drive and not much sleep. But he wasn’t hungover. He’d resented the fact that Gina’s dad had winked at him and muttered “rough night?” like he was in on some imaginary secret that involved shots of sambuca and music that Francis had no interest in. Gina’s mum had taken one look at him and smiled politely, and had remained very polite for the whole day. Any questions that had been directed at him had been so impossibly bland that Francis had only really established that his name was Francis, he lived and worked in London, he had parents, and had two brothers and a sister somewhere else in London.

Gina had noticed that Francis hadn’t opened up. And she knew that it wasn’t really his fault. He was nervous; of course he’d been nervous. But he could have made more of an effort. But why had her mum been so...quiet? Dad had at least made an effort to be friendly but it had been in that painful way where he was so clearly trying to be matey. He’d completely ignored Mum as well. Hadn’t said word one to her, hadn’t helped in the kitchen at all.

Francis hadn’t wanted to visit Gina’s parents, especially when he had found out that she was an only child. He knew that he would walk in as the person who was doing terrible sweaty things with the light of their life, their reason for getting up in the morning, their precious little child. But of course he had to go, he knew that. It was only fair. To their credit, they hadn’t said anything. But they hadn’t quite made him feel at home, either.

They had invited them up for a visit. They’d rung Gina the Sunday before and told her to bring her boyfriend up for a visit. They’d said that they liked the way she talked about him. They had said that they thought that they should meet him. So why had they been like that? Mum had been so quiet and Dad had seemed determined to talk about everything apart from how things were going at home. She felt her skin itching again and felt the urge to say something, anything or she’d start scratching the window glass.

“You’re still pissed off that I killed your gerbil.”

“I’m not. I told you.”

Too quickly. They both knew he’d answered too quickly.

“Then why were you so...why were you like that today? Why were you so rude to my parents?”

Now that was going to have consequences. She’d opened herself up there, that was untrue and he could prove it.

“Sorry, in what way was I rude?”

She turned her head and looked out of the window. He stared straight ahead. He didn’t want to argue but it had been a shitty day and she clearly wanted to get into it. But they were supposed to have gone to see his parents first, before she’d got the jump on him. He’d been in the room when she’d got the phone call. He’d seen the expression on her face, that expression she made where she was clearly trying to decide whether something was a good idea or not. But that was what had happened.

“You didn’t say anything to my mum.”

“And she said fuck-all to me.”

“You could have made an effort.”

“I did make an effort, actually. But your dad was too busy trying to get me to go for a pint for me to actually get a word in with her.”

She giggled. She didn’t mean to but she did. He didn’t hear it. It sounded like she was coughing in that way she did when she found something both surprising and irritating. So he pressed on.

“And thanks for inviting me to such a delightfully awkward family Sunday dinner. If it's any consolation it doesn't seem like there'll be too many more.”

He stopped. He’d gone too far. He'd had more to say, worse, but that was horrible enough. Too horrible. He knew it, and regretted it. She was looking at him and he could see that he’d struck a nerve. He had to smooth this over; he hadn’t wanted to do that. She hadn’t wanted to do that either, but she didn't want to argue anymore. She could only think of all the other places she would rather be than here.

“Gina, I'm sorry. Are your parents OK?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know. I’m sorry too. Can we both just...shut the fuck up for a bit?”

So they sat in silence as Francis drove and tried to decide how long it would be before she would be alright with him telling her that he was lost.


Hello there. So, hope you enjoyed the story. I'd planned to write another Gina and Francis story but I was thinking about putting something else up. But I wanted to write an argument and they were due for one. I liked the idea of a couple having an argument despite not wanting to, the argument really needing to happen. I also wanted to show them both being childish and impetuous. I was just in the mood for writing a childish, nasty argument. However, because it's characters I want to continue with, I couldn't write it so nastily that they couldn't recover so it made sense for the argument to be covering something else. There'll be another short story with stand-alone characters who take their argument to the worst possible conclusion coming at some point I'm sure.

Right, the name change. Well, if it was a novel, I'd have hung onto it, but while I'm still getting to grips with characters, the names change quite frequently until they become properly fixed in my mind. Francis and Gina are still sort of in flux, less so than they were a few weeks ago, but there are a lot of details that I haven't pinned down yet. Basically, I plucked two names I liked out of the air. Then a few days passed and I started to worry that I plucked the name Sophie out of the air because of similar characters. So out goes Sophie, and Gina came in. Gina fits a bit better, I think. The name-change actually helped.

The project I'm working on with Ben Sheppard is going well, though there's still quite some ways to go before the next stage, which will be finding people to help us with it. I think it could be really good, but it requires a lot of attention, effort and a hell of a lot of hard work. Which is only right, really, if you think about it. But we're still near the start of the process. Exciting times.

Oh, I did actually have a question for the people who read this blog. I'm thinking of putting up a few excerpts from my longer writing. I was going to put a bit from the sequel to (although I think in current terminology it would be a "sidequel") The Novel that Nobody Wanted. It would be stuff that I think would make sense out of context, but I was wondering whether that would interest you, or if you just want short stories. I may put one or two up anyway, just to see what kind of reaction they get.

Anyway, see you next week with some writing about writing. Hope you liked the story.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Let's hear it for Poppy Z. Brite, or, love is the guts

Hello! Welcome, welcome. No story this week, no, this is one of those alternate weeks where I just ramble about writers and writing. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s difficult to tell what works with this blog, so let’s just chat for a bit and if you’re not interested, then no hard feelings.

This week I’m going to ramble a bit about an author that I discovered only recently. Poppy Z. Brite is best known to me as a horror author, as that’s the only stuff of his that I’ve read. That’s certainly the genre in which Brite came to fame, with two supernatural horror novels, several short stories, and a horror novel that isn’t supernatural but contains some of the most gruesome stuff that I’ve read, all of which were published between 1992 and 1996. So, I suppose if you’re not interested in horror then it may be time to close this window and think “Maybe there’ll be a non-horror story next week” (There might be.)

But Poppy Z. Brite is also known and respected as the writer of dark comedies set in restaurants of New Orleans, which he's been writing since the late 90s. From what I’ve heard, he seems to have abandoned, at least for now, the horror genre entirely. But what he did in that genre with those three novels is so potent that it’s interesting that I don’t know any authors who’ve even attempted to go down the same path, let alone had any success with it.

The three novels are Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Exquisite Corpse. The first two are related by virtue of the fact that they share the same town (the wonderfully named Missing Mile) and some of the same inhabitants. However, while the first is a vampire Gothic romance, the second is much more of a classical Gothic exploration of inherited insanity, mixed up with a dash of William Gibson-esque cyberpunk. The third is, to put it simply, about two necrophiliac serial killers who find each other in New Orleans, and the young Vietnamese man who crosses their path with very unfortunate consequences. All three feature homosexual relationships between men as their main romances and are very light on female characters (Drawing Blood's female lead fares better than any of the women in Lost Souls).

Fittingly, all three of these gothic horrors (and they're heavy on the black clothes as well as fitting the literary style) are based around love stories. Lost Souls has a teenage boy called Nothing leaving home to search for his favourite band and falling in with a group of vampires instead, tumbling into a love affair with their leader Zillah. Zillah and Nothing are tied to each other in many different ways, but it’s a compelling mix of shoe-gazing teen angst (everyone in Lost Souls and Drawing Blood listens to Bauhaus) and debauched mayhem. Brite’s careful to sprinkle fragile characters in amongst all the transgressive sex and wet pools of blood, and the book keeps hold of its connection with the reader even as it repulses.

A little lighter on the gore but still heavy on the angst is Drawing Blood, in which hacker Zachary Bosch (yep) falls in love with Trevor McGee. Aged five, Trevor was the only one spared when his father killed the rest of his family then himself. Trevor’s returned to stay in the house his family died in. Needless to say, the house is...unquiet. What’s interesting to me about Drawing Blood is what Brite keeps and what he discards. The town’s the same, the band from Lost Souls (called Lost Souls?) are out of town but referenced. But there’s no discussion of vampires. I really like the idea of keeping this basic setting but switching the sub-genre. Drawing Blood is violent but it doesn’t luxuriate in spilled guts quite so much as its predecessor. However, it’s just as caught up with pop culture. Bauhaus, William Gibson, etc, both novels are loaded with early 90s Goth-culture. The characters in these novels dress in black, listen to exactly the music you’d expect them to. Parents are absent, or worse, killers, or worse...but that would be telling. Reading these books after the genre has gone through some changes, it's tempting to view this as dated posturing. But what’s interesting and what makes it work is the fact that it doesn’t feel like Brite is writing to pander to that audience, he’s writing it because it what he knows and what he’s interested in. Posturing, you suspect, it ain't.

This subject of Brite writing about what he's interest in writing about comes to the front with Exquisite Corpse. This is not a novel written by someone who’s concerned about what the audience thinks. It’s a gruelling if fairly brief read, with long and graphic descriptions of necrophilia, cannibalism, murder, torture, and all of that. It’s also probably the weakest in terms of plot, with a British serial killer faking his own death and travelling to America to continue his work, where he meets his American counterpart. But it’s certainly atmospheric. If it was just gory and gruesome, the novel wouldn’t quite have the same lingering effect. There is also a love story, with young Tran attempting to distance himself from his HIV-positive lover Lucas that is unfortunately timed with Tran's meeting the two villains. The point I'm trying to get at is that if it just went for shock value, it wouldn't be nearly as shocking. You get suckered into the world of the story whether you like it or not.

All these novels are identifiably Brite’s. Yes, they’re perhaps a little too in love with themselves but that’s a frequent consequence of writing that’s so incredibly confident. Brite tells the stories that he wants to in the way he wants to. There is absolutely no concession to a mainstream audience. From the pop-culture to the sexuality to the gore, all three novels (though Exquisite Corpse does stand alone, both in subject and tone) have that gripping feeling that you’re being shown a distinctly personal worldview. Both Lost Souls and Drawing Blood have dated but the atmosphere Brite manages to conjure up is still incredibly powerful. And I suppose that's finally what I'm most impressed with. The feeling that those books leave you with.

My knowledge of current horror literature isn’t as strong as it should be but I can’t think of any authors at the moment that produce work that manages the tightrope walk between nauseating and beguiling. There are times when these three novels stomp across that line, but if you’re at all interested in exploring some more gruesome, sexualised horror novels, Poppy Z. Brite is worth your time. I would be very, very cautious in recommending them, though. Now that I think about it, Jack Ketchum may be the closest point of comparison, if Jack Ketchum was interested in skinny goths hanging around New Orleans bars and what they were listening to. Hey, I rambled about Mr. Ketchum a few weeks ago. Here's the link to that.

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that no one has made a film of these three books. This is unsurprising as it would be difficult to imagine any sort of audience beyond fans of the books. However, having seen Kaboom recently, I would very much like to see Greg Araki’s vision of Lost Souls or Drawing Blood.

Hope you enjoyed this, see you next week with a short story. On a personal note, I saw PJ Harvey twice in two days this week, the second time was on Halloween. Not scary, but just as thrilling and moving as anything I've seen or read recently. Obviously we all love Let England Shake but I'm going to be revisiting White Chalk a lot now.