New Anthology: Switchblade: Tech Noir

Tech Noir list of contributors.
Switchblade: Tech Noir is now available on Amazon.

I’ve always enjoyed reading noir fiction and cyberpunk – so I was excited to find out Switchblade magazine wanted stories for a new anthology called Switchblade: Tech Noir. I was even more excited when my story Bad Score was among the ten tales selected by the editor, Scotch Rutherford.

Bad Score is a mix of hard-boiled crime story and dystopian SF, set in an America where cybernetic advancements have not created a perfect future.

The other contributors to the anthology are Callum McSorley, James Edward O’Brien, Mandi Jourdan, Hugh Lessig, Rob D. Smith, Matt Gomez, Nick Kolakowski, Eric Beetner and Alec Cizak.

Switchblade: Tech Noir contains 222 pages of new fiction.

If you like tough noir with a dark SF edge, I hope you will check it out!

Amazon US / Amazon UK

Killing Sound by Paul Southern Review

Killing Sound by Paul Southern Review

I received a copy of this book for an honest review.

Cover of Killing Sound
Killing Sound by Paul Southern

Killing Sound by Paul Southern

Paperback: 317 pages

Publisher: Chicken House Ltd

ISBN-10: 1909489085

ISBN-13: 978-1909489080

Review by John Moralee

Killing Sound is Paul Southern’s third novel, his first for YA horror readers after writing two gritty books for adults. It mixes fringe science with the supernatural, delivering a creepy, disturbing story about a teenage girl called Jodie, whose parents died in a mysterious, gruesome science experiment when she was only five-years-old.

Twelve years later, Jodie remembers little about what happened to her parents, believing they died in a car accident, but when she finds some of her father’s scientific notes hidden in the attic of her family home, Jodie learns about her father’s experiments with infrasound, the sound hidden below the frequency of normal human hearing. Infrasound can’t be heard – but its ominous presence can be felt by sensitive people, like Jodie.

Soon Jodie starts having frightening dreams and disturbing hallucinations, forcing her to investigate her family history, slowly uncovering the truth about how her parents died.

Jodie’s helped by her boyfriend Luca and her friend Kamran – but her task is complicated by a nasty girl called Laura and her sinister gang of goths. They want to harm Jodie and Luca – putting their lives in danger.

Killing Sound begins with vivid horror and delivers a good, chilling atmosphere throughout, making the grim streets of London and the cold dark tunnels of the Underground come alive in the imagination. The details about infrasound and the London Underground are interesting and well-researched. I had read articles on the effects of infrasound before in The Fortean Times, but I had never read anything about tigers using infrasound as a weapon to stun their prey. Very interesting.

I would have liked to know more about the characters for greater empathy, but Paul Southern writes well and knows how to build suspense. The story reminded me of the classic 1957 horror film The Night of the Demon (US title: Curse of the Demon/The Haunted), as it built up the suspense. You know some bad things will happen – but when they do it is still a shock.

Killing Sound is a supernatural horror story worth reading if you like YA horror with a dark theme and a bleak urban setting.

Most Influential Horror Writer

Most Influential Horror Writer (*)

* contains no spoilers

Everyone has their favourite author – an author so influential he/she makes you not just interested in reading more books by that author, but also makes you a fan of a whole genre. I thought I’d write a little bit about my greatest influence in the horror field, Clive Barker, the man responsible for many dark dreams.

I’d always liked reading horror – but I didn’t become a true horror fan until I read my first Clive Barker book. That was Cabal: The Nightbreed. It wasn’t his first published novel – that was The Damnation Game – but it was the first one I read.

Cabal hooked me from its first sentence, which was powerful, intriguing and poetic:

“Of all the rash and midnight promise made in the name of love none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than: ‘I’ll never leave you.’”

That was an unusual start for a horror novel back in the 1980s.

More often that not, an ordinary horror story started with something stereotypically banal like this:

“When Helen Smith woke up that morning on her thirtieth birthday, she had no idea she would die a horrible death later that day.”

I hate reading beginnings like that fictional one above.

It looks dramatic – but it is a lazy way of starting a story by using foreshadowing.

(What’s the point of telling readers the character is about to die? Why clumsily tell readers her age in the first sentence? You can’t get interested in ten pages about their life after you know they’ll die – so foreshadowing it has the effect of ruining any surprise.)

Mercifully, Clive Barker didn’t do that. He started with something a little different. He wrote about love. Love in a horror story? That was something new back then. Most horror was about death. I was dying to read more of Cabal after reading Clive Barker’s first sentence. It told me it was going to be a love story – but a dark one. It also introduced a mysterious character called Boone. Who was he?

Reading on, I found out Boone was seeing a psychiatrist called Decker. Decker was trying to help Boone recall something using hypnosis. It was something bad. Very bad.

I won’t spoil the book for anyone by revealing what happened next – but I will say that book stunned me with its strong plot, vivid characters and imagination. I had never read a horror book like it. Cabal showed me a whole new world of strange creatures living in our world. They didn’t act like evil monsters in B-movies. The Nightbreed had human emotions. More importantly than his sheer inventiveness, the story was done with such style that it was believable. I didn’t have to try hard to suspend my disbelief because Clive Barker made the characters vividly real.

After reading that, I looked for more Clive Barker books. Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show were fantastic works – but his collections of short stories were a revelation. Every story in the six Books of Blood titles impressed me with his mind-blowing creativity. None of his stories used genre clichés like vampires, werewolves and zombies. They were fresh, new horrors in each, all written in a unique style that was both readable and literary, which isn’t a combination you saw very often back in the 1980s.

The Books of Blood contained many of his short stories and novellas – but one significant one was missing from his six collections. There isn’t anyone on the planet that hasn’t heard of it by now, the legendary novella about a puzzle box that contains secrets …

Of course I’m talking about Hellraiser aka Hellbound Heart.

I didn’t read that until after I had seen the movie based on it because it wasn’t easy to find in my local book shops – but I did find it in an anthology that also included great stories by other superb horror writers that I had not read before. They included Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Tuttle. I probably wouldn’t have tried either of them if I had not been looking for a copy of Hellbound Heart.

Today Clive Barker’s books and films have influenced generations of horror writers and filmmakers. It would be almost impossible to imagine what the horror genre would be like if he had not given us nightmares. We’d all be sleeping in our beds a lot easier without Clive Barker’s stories – but where would the fun be in that?

I’d love to know which horror author is your most influential.

Is it Clive Barker? Stephen King? Anne Rice? HP Lovecraft? Stephenie Meyer? Someone new and as-yet undiscovered?

Please let me know which author made you a fan of the genre.

The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

Giving stories away for free is one method authors can use to boost their visibility on Amazon – but you can have mixed results doing it. It really is a last resort because you never know what will happen.

I have one title that proves this perfectly. It’s a horror collection called The Bone Yard and Other Stories, which reached #3 in the UK Horror Anthology list this week.

The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.
The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.

About two years ago it was not selling – so I signed it up to KDP Select. My first promotion gave away about 300 copies in the US and a 100 in the UK. It started to sell afterwards in a roughly three-to-one ratio – exactly what you’d expect given the number of downloads. It continued to sell steadily for months in small numbers, but it received no reviews in either region. Since the free promotion had worked, I repeated it. Sales received a boost as a result. I started to earn my some reasonable money from Amazon – but sales eventually tailed off.

On Halloween in 2012, I did a third free promotion.

That resulted in my first reviews in the US and UK. Both reviews were five-stars. Great! I hoped that would help sales. I expected sales to be boosted in a 3/1 ratio based on the download ratio – but something very weird happened.

The next day after the five-star review appeared in the US my sales stopped. Completely. Looking at the chart on Author Central, it was like seeing a lemming dive off a cliff. My book’s ranking plummeted. Weeks went by without selling a single copy. Then months. Then a whole year.

I was baffled and dismayed. What had happened?

Meanwhile, my sales were improving in the UK where the first review was by an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. That made me wonder if that first US review had done the damage. Some people think reviews don’t effect sales – but I had solid proof that they did. That five-star review in the US killed my book on the day it appeared. I studied it to figure out why. The US reviewer did not go into specifics about why they liked my book. It was the sort of review you’d be suspicious of because the reviewer had not written many reviews – unlike the prolific Top 500 reviewer in the UK. Though that US reviewer was well-meaning and genuinely enjoyed reading my book, I wished they had not written it because my book would have been better off without it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s US customers assumed my five-star rating was a fake. It certainly looked like it. Cautious customers avoided buying my book at its pre-promo price of $1.99 price and even when I dropped it to $0.99.

Later on, I did another freebie to try to get some more US reviews – but that resulted in a troll posting a 1-star review based solely on the cover picture. They had definitely not read the book when they reviewed it. They posted the review minutes after downloading it. That gave my book an unhelpful 3-star average. Another person posted a four-star review soon after – but that made no difference to sales.

That book has not sold one copy in the US since that first five-star review. It doesn’t even appear on the first page of results when you type the search words “bone yard” into Amazon. Books without those words in the title appear first.

In contrast to that negative experience, the same book did well in the UK thanks to that first five-star review by a respected reviewer. The Bone Yard and Other Stories is currently in the Top Ten UK horror anthologies, where I am pleased to see it reached number three last week. It just proves that reviews matter a lot more than some people think!



The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing

arvon crime book cover

Today a mysterious brown package arrived at my home.  I wasn’t expecting anything – so I treated it like a suspicious object until I’d opened it.  To my relief, the package contained a book and a letter congratulating me for being shortlisted in a competition by Writers’ News Magazine.

It was a pleasant surprise winning the book – The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing – which includes some valuable information about crime writing by two experienced authors, Michelle Spring and Laurie R King.

 I haven’t read the book in detail yet – but I’ve browsed through the chapters.  It looks interesting.  There are sections written by many successful crime writers such as Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid.  The authors have done some excellent research, producing a useful reference book to add to my shelves. They have created a book for crime writers, answering questions specifically in that genre.

 I can’t wait to find the time to read it from cover to cover!

They Wouldn’t Do It With Biscuits – The War of Ratings

They Wouldn’t Do It With Biscuits – The War of Ratings

Imagine what it would be like if your local supermarket started rating the biscuits by manufacturers X and Y using a five-star rating system.

Suppose a customer liked X’s biscuits – but not Y’s.

They’d rate X’s with five stars – but only give Y’s one.

Other customers would not buy one-star biscuits because they would assume they were horrible.

The manufacturers of Y biscuits would lose business – unless they rated their own products with lots of 5-star ratings, which would skew the results of the rating system in their favour.

Then X would not look as good compared with Y.

So, X would have to do the same thing – or lose out on their sales.

Then the consumers of biscuits would start wondering why X has 100 five-star ratings when they didn’t like their biscuits that much – so they would give X some 1-star ratings.

Then some customers would see those 1-stars and disagree with them, giving 5-stars even though they didn’t like the biscuits.

By then customers unfamiliar with biscuits X and Y would see the ratings and start wondering if those ratings could be trusted. They wouldn’t buy a biscuit with only 5-star ratings, even if it was a good product. They’d probably only buy 4-star ones because those products seem more trustworthy.

Manufacturers of X and Y would then give false 4-star ratings to their own products, while giving 2 and 3- star ratings to their revivals, knowing that consumers would believe those ratings over 1-star ones.

To boost their sales, X and Y would give away thousands of their biscuits in exchange for good ratings – or not sell a complete product unless consumers rated it highly before buying it.

They’d have guerilla-warfare campaigns to get more ratings, often paying people with no interest in eating biscuits to give good ratings.

An insane war would break out for ratings that would have nothing to do with the quality of the biscuits.

Inevitably, customers would not trust any biscuit with a rating.

Some would even stop buying biscuits.

People would wish biscuits had no ratings – just like before.

The situation makes no sense for a supermarket to use such an illogical rating system for biscuits – but it is the normal way products are evaluated on-line. Everything can be rated – with the inevitable result that an ugly war has broken out between sellers of everything from airline tickets to zoological equipment. Just a few weeks ago a major manufacturer of smart phones paid for fake, detrimental reviews of a rival’s product – until they got caught. One famous film company invented a reviewer to give their blockbusters great reviews – while trashing other movies. In the publishing industry fake reviews have become de rigueur.

I can think of three possible solutions to the problem.

1) Abandon ratings completely.
2) Remove the right to anonymity from reviews.
3) Punish sellers caught using fake reviews by having their products banned from retailers’ websites.

I’m not sure what the best answer to the problem should be – as all solutions come with additional problems, like punishing the innocent as well as the guilty – but I do think it is time something is done. The current system is bad for sellers and consumers. Something fairer must be possible.

I just wish I knew what that could be.