Notes from the peninsula

Thoughts on writing, literature, film
and living a creative life

Bright window with glass cabinets on the left.

The joy of making things up

It took optimism to enrol on a creative writing MA — I can be a writer! I can be published! — but as I get older, I've also developed a pragmatism, tipping into cynicism, which can easily become procrastination, or even complete avoidance.

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Cover of The Complex

The Complex

Michael Walters

My debut novel, The Complex, available direct from Salt Publishing, from Amazon in the UK, and of course BOOKSHOPS.

Piles of books on my father's sofa.

Back to the path

I spent the weekend before my father’s funeral sorting through his books. He had them on shelves in different rooms, but they were also tucked in drawers, stacked at the bottom of wardrobes and piled behind old televisions.

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Dad

My father died

Dad died last week. He was eighty-eight. Looking back, it was a miracle we got him home from hospital for one final Christmas. He had a long life, he was loved, and he left peacefully.

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The corner of a brown brick old cinema and a painted white brick wall with an interesting mix of guttering and vines.

Nostalgia

I’m in Wales at short notice because Dad’s been admitted into hospital. The co-morbidities have gathered and decided to strike. He’s in bad shape. Around visiting times I’m looking for peaceful, distracting activities.

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A stone path in rugged countryside.

Fidelity

I’ve deleted my Patreon creator’s account, which was beginning to feel like I was cheating on my website (or the other way around, I’m not sure). Two places for almost the same words.

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Some film stats in the abstract.

Best film discoveries and fiction of 2023

My favourite ten film discoveries (ranked) and ten favourite fiction books (not ranked). (Letterboxd is a hella sexy website. I wish GoodReads made more of an effort.)

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Christmas tree lit up in a window with closed white slatted blinds behind.

Reflections

Somehow the year has tightened all the bolts on my rickety life, and I’m hitting the Christmas holidays in a good place.

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Keep the ghosts happy

I was celebrating a new job, looking forward to an unexpected week’s holiday, when my father fell at home, so I’m spending that week in Wales.

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autumnal tree

Brief bliss

I was caught in a work storm for a few months over the summer. Things settled enough for me to take a small risk, which paid off, which means I can finally tack for calmer waters.

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A man in a white Halloween mask along a suburban street staring at us.

Halloween (1978)

It has a purity that other slashers don’t have — the crisp cinematography, Laurie’s naive, nerdy charm, the simple (perfect) motif of the score. I can’t fully explain it.

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Someone in a motorbike helmet watches the street with apartment blocks behind.

Enemy (2013)

My favourite discovery of the month. Barely ninety minutes, looks beautiful, has a startling final image, and I’m still thinking about it a day later.

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The head of the Statue of Liberty on a Manhattan street.

Cloverfield (2008)

Feeling insignificant in the face of a fictional disaster, whether natural or alien, has its psychological comforts. Sometimes you just want something big to fuck shit up.

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Someone in an animal mask stares blankly ahead.

You're Next (2011)

It’s bleak fun with some good twists. Everyone apart from Erin, our survivalist heroine, is awful. Is this where the current trend of violent final girls began?

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A man in a dusty phone booth making a call.

Duel (1971)

I watched Duel dozens of time on television as a kid, as well as it’s rip-off cousin The Car, so it was a treat to revisit it. I didn’t remember the crisis of masculinity.

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A woman shivering in a graveyard in the rain.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The gang of punks hanging out in the graveyard are everything I wish I’d been as a teen — vibrant, trashy, horny, loud, and sometimes naked in public.

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Ash looks up, face covered in blood, and wonders what he has to do to survive.

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

A man who wanted to have a romantic weekend in the woods with his girlfriend is instead made to fight for his life against demon-possessed corpses.

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A woman holds her son and looks disconnected over his shoulder.

Invaders From Mars (1986)

A pastiche of black and white science-fiction films, but subverting them by having the aliens turn people into conformist fifties stereotypes instead of communists.

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Two zombie-like creatures with lightning between their mouths.

Lifeforce (1985)

Naked space vampires hidden in Halley‘s Comet, you say? I’m in! Plays on a much bigger canvas than I expected and owes a debt to Quatermass.

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A half-smiling woman on a deckchair looking across at someone.

Infinity Pool (2023)

A man pays dearly to escape his writer’s block when he accepts the malign attention of a woman who wants to test him to destruction.

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A man in a black hood with a woman in a white dress half-smiling at him.

Crimes of the Future (2023)

Graphic body mutilation, big ideas and knowing performances that lead to some surreal laugh-out-loud moments. A raised eyebrow at all that he has made before.

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A cinema with a bright sign that says the film is called Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

Messiah of Evil (1973)

People bleed from the eyes. An artist’s studio is painted with staring faces. The citizens of Point Dune dress respectably but do terrible things. The four protagonists share a bed. (Groovy.)

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Laura with the smiling blind psychic reflected three times in mirrors.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

A masterpiece — ghost story, sort of, psychological thriller and family drama, certainly — a magical exploration of a marriage under the strain of a tragic loss.

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Lady Sylvia Marsh in a white suit holding a glass of red wine and laughing.

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Camp horror fun with a nasty edge. Ken Russell was a genius. I taped this off the TV back in the day and watched certain bits over and over... naked nuns and Amanda Donohoe.

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Man bleeding from his face screaming.

Slugs (1988)

It’s silly — it’s called Slugs! — but as lots of these cheap 70s and 80s horrors were, it’s creative, fun and weirdly sexy.

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A captain looking down from the bridge at the camera below.

Death Ship (1980)

Keeps a steady pace as a ghost story, making the most of the spectacular empty ship as a location. The final act really dials up the horror. Also - KINDERTRAUMA!

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Ghostface in a... lair.

Scream VI (2023)

The surviving friends from Scream 5 go to college as a pack, and in New York the franchise finds some fresh energy.

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Ghostface

Scream (2022)

Ah, the plot. It’s a whodunnit, but with lots of stabbing. Twas ever thus. David Arquette’s Dewey is the best thing about it. I think I’m finally too old for Scream films.

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Green slimy alien with glowing green eyes.

There’s Nothing Out There (1991)

A mix of Cabin in the Woods, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead and Scream, but with no budget. It’s fun, a broad horror comedy that isn’t afraid of the horror. Cheap but clever.

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A creature approaches a woman in chains who looks at it with fear.

Castle Freak (1995)

The Reilly family arrive in Italy to inherit a castle left to them by an elderly Duchess. The creature she’s been keeping in the dungeon breaks free. Gothic melodrama and cannibalism ensue.

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Two men look aghast at something out of sight.

Re-Animator (1985)

A gory take on Frankenstein with a psychopathic scientist, an evil academic, and a morgue full of reanimated corpses. The ever-present syringe of neon green liquid is iconic.

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Adam Driver in the dark looking moody.

65 (2023)

An alien gets stranded on Earth when an asteroid hits his ship. There is a fellow survivor. There are challenges. There are dinosaurs.

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Christian Bale as Augustus Landor, looking moodily to the right.

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

A nineteenth century murder mystery set in the snowbound US military academy at West Point, where a cadet is found hanged with his heart removed from his body.

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A statue with Jesus’s head replaced with a grinning joker.

The Exorcist III (1990)

A flawed film filled with wonders. More of an existential downer than I expected — yes, it’s about a demon bringing hell to earth, but it goes strong with what that might mean.

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A zombie wife is chained in the kitchen and looks angrily at us.

Survival of the Dead (2009)

An exiled patriarch tempts four soldiers to his island with a hope of settling an old score. Tonally weird — part western, part comedy, not much zombie threat — it’s a clunker.

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A woman looking angrily at the camera because her boyfriend is filming her during a zombie apocalypse.

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Found footage Romero style. A student film crew try to stay alive as the dead come back to life, but the director decides to film everything putting pressure on the people around him.

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Sunbathing actors look at the camera.

Eye in the Labyrinth (1972)

Julie is looking for her missing psychiatrist (hard relate) and travels to a Greek island to search for him. There she stays at a clifftop villa with a commune of shifty artists.

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A woman nervously walks around a deserted photography studio.

Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975)

Sometimes the algorithm wears you down, and the familiar cover art catches you in a vulnerable moment, and you choose a film that you know will be bad... except it’s good!

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An older man looks at himself drinking a glass of whiskey in the mirror

The Broken (2007)

A mirror falls off a wall during a party, releasing cold-hearted döppelgangers from a mirror world who begin to replace their counterparts.

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A line of men on horseback holding torches along the horizon of a field.

The Cursed (2021)

Kelly Reilly plays another mother, this time on a remote estate in nineteenth-century rural England, and is visited by a ‘pathologist’ instead of Poirot. A curse is made, werewolves ensue.

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Venice from the air.

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

I started this year’s #31DaysofHorror with a classic whodunnit mashed with a ghost story. Kenneth Branagh plays around with spooky children, Viennese masks and fish eye lenses to fun effect.

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Two book covers, partially hidden.

Envy

Picked up Brother of the More Famous Jack. Barbara Trapido is an incredible writer. Nagging envy made me put it down after the first five pages.

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An abundance of apples on an apple tree with a greenhouse behind.

Worth and work

I’ve been reading more this month. I decided to read a novel for thirty minutes uninterrupted at least once every day. I had to dig around to find the motivation to do that because I’d fallen out of love with reading (again).

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Three distant dark figures on the lawn of a bright garden.

Duality

I’m deep into my summer break, which has not gone to plan. We’ve cancelled our holiday to care for a sick parent. Ironically, I’m feeling better than I have in a while. Life can be both.

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Eastmouth and other stories

Beautifully crafted, easy to read stories by Alison Moore that are intricate studies in helplessness and despair. The characters find themselves enmeshed in situations that keep getting worse until often they are crushed. The environment shackles them. Language holds them. Revenge arrives, soporifics are deployed, the decay is in all things. They are drawn to that which will damage and destroy them.

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My groaning to-read shelf

Pick something

In the bookshop I let my eyes drift over bright modern covers and serious-looking classics. I didn't buy a book. I have books. My problem is I can't choose one to read.

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Poster for Meg 2:  The Trench

Meg 2: The Trench

Teeth and tentacles chomp, devour, squeeze and rip through submarines, boats, research stations, and eventually a holiday resort. People die. Lots of people having fun die.

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Blue skies

Open roads and blue skies

I’ve arrived at an approach to posting online that I’ve been resisting for years, but has become inevitable with the slow death of Twitter: one place for my stuff, that I control.

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Moody shot of empty tree-lined street

Go gently

I hit an emotional wall a couple of weeks ago. Looking back, it’s been coming for months, but when you’re in a storm for long enough it begins to feel normal.

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Angles, curves and spin

he year barrels on and tomorrow we hit July. It’s the halfway point. The summer solstice has passed and the hottest months are ahead. Time doesn’t take a break, even when I ask politely. Dad gave me some of his old golf clubs. He took me to the Steelworks golf club when I was twelve and taught me to play, but then when I was fourteen I chose tennis over golf, and I haven’t played since. I still play golf video games though, because I’ve always loved the curve of a ball through a landscape.

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Exterior of an Everyman cinema

Everyman

Heat. During the final chase, I could feel the rumble of planes in my stomach, and my wife now has the hots for nineties Pacino. He’s a very sloppy kisser on a big screen.

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Bluesky

A fellow writer on Twitter sent me an invite — it’s still in a pretty combustible beta — and I immediately feel much more at home there than on Mastodon, which has an awkward user interface and an established culture I don’t chime with. Mastodon is very... conversational. I don’t want to talk with strangers particularly, but I do want smart voices saying interesting things in as few words as possible. Bluesky is like Twitter used to be in that way.

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Author speculation

I’m reading Cinema Speculation, Quentin Tarentino’s non-fiction celebration of key American films of the seventies—Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz, The Funhouse. I heard about it through the Pure Cinema podcast, which is connected to Tarentino’s Los Angeles cinema, the New Beverly. The prose voice is exactly how Tarentino sounds in interviews and podcasts.

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A dalmation giving me the side-eye

Inspiration

With everything going on in my life, the only way I’m going to write is if I have a clear purpose and a plan. This is always true I suppose.

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Attractive building in Swansea

Walking with ghosts

An elegantly dressed woman is with me and a man on a balcony in a nightclub. The man is very drunk. She whispers to him that they should go on somewhere else.

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Puzzles

At the start of the day a deployment of code went awry and at the end I was a go-between over my still-hospitalised father’s boxer shorts. Life can be ridiculous. On Monday I went to see John Wick 4 and ate a terrible hot dog. The person serving sprinkled it with dried (!), crunchy onions. Then yesterday I watched the first half of Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte. The two films serve different parts of me. Michelangelo Antonioni — I am Michael, my uncle was an Anthony who is now with the angels.

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Matrix

Walked to Southside for a coffee. Why? I’m thinking of Gwen Bell, then Neo/Keanu. I deliberately left my notebook at home. I need some time without a pen in my hand. Re-balancing... something. Gwen, Neo and Keanu are seekers of different kinds. I told myself yesterday to put the writing weight down. There is too much else going on to add the pressure of writing a novel. Life before art. Life is an art, yes, but you get my drift. I’m chaining myself to a rock when I need to be swimming.

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Hospitals

My father is in hospital again. Both his legs are swollen, which is fairly common with heart failure, which we’ve known about for a few years, but one of his arms has also swelled up, and he’s out of breath doing the slightest things. The practice GPs thought it was better to treat him at home, but the lymphoedema nurse was adamant it was something else. My moderately stressful trip shoehorning Dad into a VW Polo for an assessment in an inaccessible part of one hospital became an eight-hour wait with the triage team in a bigger hospital.

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Content apocalypse

This is the tipping point. I’m fifty in two weeks. I’ve watched fifty percent of the 800 films I own, and even less of the books. The amount of time I have left is constricting, but the number of books and films I own keeps expanding. Something has to give. I need a new philosophy. What I consume (bleurgh) must feed (this is family trauma speaking) whatever I am creating. I envy those who have perhaps always done this. Collecting and list-making is the hoarder’s comfort.

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Grey waves on a sombre beach

Emotional weather

I’m staying with Dad for the weekend, and because he’s having some new health problems, it’s quite hard work. My mother was always the anxious one. Now it's me.

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Scene from a table with people in a cafe

Writing jiggle

I’m pleased with how consistently I’ve posted to Patreon, but I feel guilty that I’m not giving enough value to people, so I’ve jiggled things around.

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Elisa Gabbert on why writers write

Twitter shines at surfacing what I need, when I need it, in this case Elisa Gabbert’s 2022 book list, within which a link to an essay she wrote, Why Write? That essay sings to me. Gabbert says that Joan Didion wrote fiction to find out what the pictures in her mind meant, and she give several examples of other famous writers who start their stories with an image, or a dream, and chase it down in words, including Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis and William Faulkner.

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Christmas tree reflections on wet streets

Bedrock

Going into the new year, I’m going to do some gentle excavation into my beliefs about writing, because I’m realising I’ve lost touch with what fiction means to me. If there’s no meaning, there’s no purpose.

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Adieu, 2022

In time-honoured fashion, here are my favourite discoveries of 2022, in chronological order of publication or release. It’s been a year of three big creative adventures: getting a new job (first in fourteen years); a family holiday in France (first to Paris for a week, then to Morzine in the French Alps); setting up my Patreon (experimenting with a patrons-only podcast). There was very little fiction writing, but plenty of reflective writing.

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Love and breakages

I’m excited about 2023. There’s a lot I want to do next year. (This is the case every year.) I’ve just broken a wine glass. I’m at my father's house, and it feels auspicious, although I don’t know why. He has cheap glasses because we are his only wine-drinking visitors. He rarely drinks alcohol anymore, and when he does it’s either lager or a glass of whatever we are having. Anyway, the glass broke neatly at both the top and bottom of the stem, so there were three pieces of glass on the tiled floor.

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A dream with Bob Dylan

I don’t remember my dreams that often anymore, but when I’m particularly anxious, or there’s a lot going on, they tend to stick. Last night, I dreamt I was in a hostel of some kind, and I was feeling threatened by a man-child, who was also my host. A boy crawled into a jacuzzi with me, and there really wasn’t room for him, but then Bob Dylan arrived and started warming up with his band.

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Frankenstein book cover

Chaotic reading

This morning there was a thin crust of snow on the ground. The car park was empty, and the lines were hidden, so I chose a spot near the meter and hoped.

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Daily words

These daily words are a prayer of sorts to gods I cannot name.

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Digest

A digest of tweets shaped only with line breaks from two weeks in December.

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Website updates

I’ve made some tweaks to the styles and layout of this website. I’m thinking about the future.

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The future of my online shizz

I don’t know what to do for the best with my social media. Twitter is all I have. Zuckerberg is worse than Musk in many ways, so I’m not going to those places. Mastodon is not a replacement for anything, it’s a unique flavour of online community that will take effort from everyone who goes there. Blogs are the obvious answer, but who will have the taste for that these days? It’s effort. Twitter removed the work of posting and consuming, a bit like fast food, and now we’re all a bit flabby and useless, technologically speaking.

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Image of a wave

In my notebook this morning I was thinking about how tempting screens are. Just having one near me makes me want to look. Today it was a wall of water, either a tall wave viewed from a ship at sea, or a tsunami from shore, I couldn’t tell. It was mesmerising. I was mesmerised by a photo of a painting of a wave on my laptop screen, but the overwhelming fear and awe it created in me was real.

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The most important thing to do is

It’s Halloween. My daughter had friends around for a spooky-themed tea, and now they’ve gone out to ask for treats. The door knocking has begun.

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Microblogging

I tweet way too much. Longer form pieces go here or on Patreon. Recording the podcast was fun, but not structured enough to stay interesting. I still write in my notebook every day, but recently that’s been less creative writing and more organising the job move. It’s been an amazing year for my software career, but it’s driven my writing practice into a ditch. However, I am still rolling that boulder of a novel up the mountain.

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Kardomah

When I visit my father, I always love to walk around Swansea and get an early morning coffee. We used to come as a family when I was growing up, so with my existing morning coffee and writing habit, it’s a double comfort.

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Trust your enthusiasms

After fourteen years in my day job, I am finally leaving. My new role is still coding, but instead of being in Higher Education I'm going to be a consultant with a subsidiary of a global corporation. The PRIVATE SECTOR.

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ChillerCon UK 2022

ChillerCon emerged from the ashes of the Covid-struck StokerCon 2020, miraculously held together by the heroic organisers who dealt with cancelled hotel rooms, refunds, and much else I’ll never know about.

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Kindness in retrospect

My internal critic says I’m being lazy, or disorganised, or just not up to the job, but kinder voices reassure me that there is a season for all things.

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An oblique strategy

I’m in Wales with my dad today, Good Friday, taking him for a Covid test before he has a cataract operation Monday. He’s been waiting six years to get both eyes treated

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Patreon: one month in

The initial idea for Patreon was to explore publishing short stories behind a paywall, to try to motivate myself to finish smaller pieces because there was an expectation, and to put a symbolic stake in the ground.

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Writing short stories on Patreon

I’m thinking about what people might like to see in a writer’s Patreon, and what would be exciting for me to publish.

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Films, dreams, fiction and writing

I’ve come to think that films are intrinsically linked to my writing practice, but I’m worried my film-watching habit is more of a distraction than an inspiration.

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Farewell, 2021

As 2022 comes into view upriver, the final days of 2021 flow past, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to reflect on what I’ve read, watched and written this year.

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The great adjustment

Between January 2018 and December 2021, I watched 569 films. I know this because I track the films I watch on Letterboxd. That’s a lot of films.

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Keeping the story alive

I’m looking at my work-in-progress, and it seems to be asking how we got here. It’s a patient and wise creature.

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In the Earth (2021)

A fascinating, horrible, blackly funny film about Covid, nature, group dynamics, and how humans exist in relation to other forms of life.

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Ghostbusters II (1989)

To finish my parade of eighties sequels, I went with this, which I can remember seeing in the cinema at a birthday party. The chemistry isn’t the same, and Bill Murray is... unpleasant.

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Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Five years after the killings of Crystal Lake, a new camp has been created, and a killer again picks off the counsellors one by one.

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Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Ten years after the Haddonfield killings, Michael Myers escapes, forcing Loomis to return and protect Laurie Strode’s daughter, Jamie.

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Halloween II (1981)

When Michael Myers’ body goes missing, Dr Loomis continues his search on the streets of Haddonfield, while Laurie is taken to hospital and sedated.

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Planet Terror (2007)

An accidentally released biochemical weapon turns soldiers into a pack of marauding flesh-eating mutants. Soon the local population swamp the hospital creating a relentless circus of cheesy dialogue and amusingly extreme violence.

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Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1987)

Clowns on screen have never frightened me, not even Pennywise, although on the page he was a different proposition. This film isn’t trying to scare you.

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Scream 4 (2011)

Sydney returns to Woodsboro on the fifteenth anniversary of the original killings to promote her new bookbut her niece, Jill, is in the High School, which presents another Ghostface with new victims.

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Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)

Gonzo decides to miss his friends Halloween party to take up an invitation by The Great MacGuffin, his favourite magician, to stay a night at the most haunted mansion in the world.

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Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

An abusive husband has writer’s block. When a killer murders a woman he has agreed to meet, and then others are found dead, he forces his wife to help him.

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Censor (2021)

Enid Baines is a censor at the British Board of Film Classification. Her parents decide it is time to have her long-missing sister declared dead. Enid’s daily life, the films she has to watch, and memories of her sister, begin to bleed together.

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La Llorona (2019)

A former general found guilty of genocide is trapped in his house by protesters, and strange things begin to happen to the family as the ghosts of the past insist on being heard.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Ana, a nurse, wakes up to the start of a zombie apocalypse, and manages to hook up with a police officer, Rhodes, and three other survivors and hide in a nearby shopping mall.

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Night of the Demons (1988)

A disparate group of misfits are tormented by a demon after a seance-like party game on Halloween night. The second half of this film rips.

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Saw (2004)

Two men wake up chained by the ankles to radiators on opposite sides of a locked room. There is a dead man between them with his brains blown out, clutching a tape recorder.

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Triangle (2009)

Triangle is this year’s first such nugget of gold. It’s about the patterns of thought, feeling and action we find ourselves in, the bad habits we can’t break, especially with the people we love.

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The Crazies (1973)

A military developed virus is accidentally released into the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania, and the military attempts to impose martial law to contain its spread.

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My Bloody Valentine (1981)

A unique film set in a small mining town, with the young male characters mostly miners. It was exciting to see working class characters and locations in a film like this.

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The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)

I though The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail would be a giallo, or at least a proto-slasher, but it is far more a crime-thriller. A wife inherits a million dollars and becomes the focus of a killer.

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Nosferatu (1922)

The oldest unseen film in my collection. I appreciated the original Dracula and Frankenstein, but they were pretty dry in places. Nosferatu is ten years older again. This did feel like homework.

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Salem’s Lot (1979)

Salem’s Lot has a special place in my heart. It was the first scary book I ever read. The film is the two part miniseries I remember from the eighties stitched together.

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Nightmare Beach (1989)

The late eighties, Spring break in Florida, and thousands of young people are in bars and cars along the seafront, drinking, sunbathing and having sex. But this is Nightmare Beach.

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A Quiet Place (2018)

Krasinski displays a touch of Spielberg in the way he shows the children’s lives, as well as in the adrenaline-inducing set pieces.

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The War of the Worlds (1953)

I recently watched the cleak Spielberg/Cruise War of the Worlds, so I thought I’d go back to the original 1953 adaptation, whose bleakness is softened by the folksy charm of small town America.

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The Thing (1982)

A perfect film. A shape-shifting alien picks off the crew of an Antartic research station. Suspicion turns to paranoia, and the remaining humans have stop the alien from taking over the world.

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The Thing From Another World (1951)

A report of a crashed aircraft, a remote scientific outpost, a prickly doctor — and an alien whose unique biology threatens humanity.

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Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

Horror stretches across many genres, and you can’t always know in advance how horror-y a film is, so with Shadow in the Cloud we are in war-action-horror territory, in that order.

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Lisa and the Devil (1973)

One of the lesser-known corners of the Mario Bava-verse. Telly Savalas as the possible devil Leandro is an amusing presence, and if he is not particularly devilish, the dream-like plot definitely is.

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The Addiction (1995)

This is a film thick with social commentary, philosophy texts and existential ideas. The first images we see are piles of dead bodies from the Holocaust and Vietnam.

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Jakob’s Wife (2021)

The irrepressible Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden star in this story of a woman’s mid-life crisis being super-charged by an encounter with a vampire.

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Werewolves Within (2021)

To kick off this year’s #31DaysofHorror I chose Werewolves Within, a comedy-whodunnit-horror based on a Ubisoft video game. It sounded like a fun October opener.

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Horror AND sex!

Here we go again, with my fourth #31DaysofHorror. I’ve talked about this before, but watching these sorts of films makes me feel like I’m hanging out with my dad. This year I just want a reason to watch a lot of horror films.

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Stop rushing

Time isn’t real. The future is an abstraction. So says Alan Watts. I do rush things to get to the end of them — not always, but often enough for it to be a thing I’ve noticed over and over again throughout my life.

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A seat in the sun

I’m sitting in the sun. August isn’t going to plan, but I’m doing the best I can with it.

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Auguste

The Three Colours trilogy marked my move from July into August, and amusingly the fledgling judge in Red is called Auguste.

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Inland Empire (2007)

An unusual and meta experience, but after three hours, as the end credits roll, I find I’m crying, because of the joyful music, yes, and because I’m exhausted.

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Mulholland Drive (2001)

Events organically unfold, the images are striking, the narrative is confusing, characters are not who they seem to be, and in the last twenty minutes he reveals what’s really going on, sort of.

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The Straight Story (1999)

If David Lynch were trying to somehow redress all the darkness of his earlier films in one go, then he would make The Straight Story.

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Lost Highway (1997)

Lost Highway is a puzzle. It opens with a jealous husband who thinks his wife is having an affair, and ends with a deadly resolution, but what happens in between is ambiguous and complicated.

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

A howl of pain from Laura Palmer, the murdered girl that opened the story of Twin Peaks. It’s difficult, heavy, hard to watch in places, and grapples with incest, rape, drug-taking, murder and domestic abuse.

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Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at Heart is a series of deliberately melodramatic, hyper-violent and sexual scenes stitched together into a road movie, with a tenuously-made connection to the Wizard of Oz.

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Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet has a fearsome reputation but is also culturally beloved. Dennis Hopper’s over-the-top performance has become iconic, and its themes foreshadow those in the massively popular Twin Peaks.

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Dune (1984)

I went into Dune thinking I would see something the critics were missing – I mean, how could the director of Eraserhead and The Elephant Man direct a complete dud? – and... it’s so over-the-top, it manages to not be awful.

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The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man is as traditional and straightforward as Eraserhead is surreal and obtuse. Both are black and white, and Lynch does use some dream imagery in The Elephant Man, but they’re at opposite end of the narrative spectrum.

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Eraserhead (1977)

So imaginative and pure and watchable and laugh-out-loud funny, which I didn’t expect at all. A psychosexual puzzle about the horrors of unplanned parenthood, marriage, intimacy, capitalism, poverty, dreams – you can take it any direction you like.

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Why read?

It’s been a tough year, and in the tumult of it, I stopped enjoying reading (again). Instead, I watched films, which are just as wonderful, but do a fundamentally different job.

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Swimming with David Lynch

Spring arriving has given me a creative kick. April has been pretty meta literature-wise. I’ve been reading about reading, reading about writing, writing about reading and, of course, writing about writing. It’s all good.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

I bought it three years ago in a bookshop sale, in spite of the cover, which honestly put me off reading it for a long time.

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It’s Spring

This time of year is always strange. There is a drumbeat of family birthdays, including mine, and the pandemic has heightened the sense of time passing. My mother died at the end of February 2014, so this is seven years, unbelievably, since then.

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A flotilla of metaphors

Lying in bed this morning, between the alarm going off and pulling back the duvet, it occurred to me that sentences can capture the high-level aspects of a story as well as the nitty-gritty.

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Writing gland

Time to stimulate my first draft writing gland and get my novel moving again. I’d run aground at twenty thousand words. Stephen King’s advice? Write every day and keep going.

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Slippery surfaces

Am I doing weekly summary posts now? Perhaps I am. It helps me notice what impact the week’s books and films have had on me. Hand-written notes just get lost in the stream of ink on paper.

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Autumn and The Long Goodbye

In Ali Smith’s Autumn, when discussing a piece of art, Daniel Gluck asks the young Elisabeth, ‘And what did it make you think about?’. I love that question.

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My 2020 in books

I’ve had a tough year reading books. I fell into the trap of seeing reading as work and lost the joy of it. Writers aren’t supposed to admit to not enjoying reading.

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Language muscles

This week I watched: Heart of Midnight (1988), The Grinch (2018), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), De Palma (2015). This week I read: Equilibrium, by Tonino Guerra; The Art of the Novel, by Milan Kundera.

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Why do I write here?

I’ve written more posts on my blog in 2020 than ever before. It was tricky to start with — I had to find a new voice and get in a groove. As the year ends, and I begin to think about 2021, I find myself wondering, are they worth the time I put into them?

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London Gothic, Nicholas Royle

The protagonists of London Gothic are walkers, art lovers, film buffs and train nerds. They are loners, in the main, fascinated by urban spaces and routes between places.

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She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

This isn’t a horror film, though it is marketed as one. The camera is often still as figures move towards us, faces blurred by lights or shadows, which creates a sense of dread.

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To the Ends of the Earth (2019)

I couldn’t resist another film by my new favourite director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, care of my Mubi subscription. Knowing a film I fancy is going to disappear in a few days makes me create the time to watch it.

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Exit Management, Naomi Booth

The term ‘exit management’ is a euphemism for firing troublesome employees. Lauren is exceptional at it, and is highly valued by her monstrous boss, Mina, for her emotional control and ability to get the worst jobs done.

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A Short Film About Love (1988)

Tomek is nineteen, lonely and living with his possessive godmother in a Polish apartment block. Every evening he spies on Magda through his telescope when she comes home from work.

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Creepy (2017)

The films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa were a revelation to me in October’s #31DaysOfHorror — I started with Pulse (2001), then went back to Cure (1997), and both were masterpieces.

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November culture

It’s good to play around with your projects and try new things. I still suffer from a degree of imposter syndrome, and I probably always will.

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Jigsaws

My mother loved to do jigsaws. She would stay up late, after every one else had gone to bed, and do them on the dining table, which is also where she would do the book-keeping for whichever company she was working for at the time.

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Creativity 2.0(.21)

I wonder what next year will bring? I wonder how I can make my craft feel more fun? With those questions in mind, we enter a season of change.

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Lockdown, Part 2

This is a pep talk to myself as I go into another lockdown. It’s shit we have to do it, but we do, and better late than never. These are tough times and periods of lockdown are hard on the spirit.

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Doctor Sleep (2019)

Danny Torrance is an alcoholic, but finds a place of peace and sobriety in New Hampshire, where he uses his shine to ease the deaths of the elderly people in a local hospice.

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The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein contains some of the most iconic images in cinema, but it opens with a scene I really didn’t expect — Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praising Mary Shelley for her book, Frankenstein.

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The Exorcist (1973)

A cultural behemoth. It’s an astonishing film and deserves the plaudits. As I watched it, the question that kept coming up in my mind was, why Regan?

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Tenebre (1982)

Tenebre is set in Rome, but we could be anywhere, because the story stays in hotel rooms, suburban streets and modernist buildings made of concrete and glass.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

People in the background of shots look directly at the camera. A windscreen is a web of cracks that we struggle to see through. The score is spidery and jarring, and the camera is often off-kilter.

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Land of the Dead (2005)

I’d been so careful in choosing the films up to this point, but for one night I thought I’d just go with something random, and here we are. Land of the fucking Dead.

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Christine (1983)

Stephen King is brilliant at weaving vivid teenage experiences into his novels. Christine was one of the formative books of my childhood. But this is a horror film first and foremost.

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Prom Night (1980)

Like Scream’s Ghostface, the killer in Prom Night can be dodged and knocked over. This is not Michael Myers. There is a lot of disco.

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A Cure for Wellness (2017)

The vampiric financial services industry meets the parasitic wellness industry in a fairy tale where an ambitious young man is sent to a Swiss sanitorium to bring back his company’s rogue CEO.

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The Dead Center (2019)

In a Nashville morgue, an unnamed man comes back to life and walks out. A short, sharp film, less than ninety minutes, and it zips along.

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It Follows (2015)

The film opens with a wide shot of a leafy suburban street, and we look closely for whatever we think the director wants us to see. Like Jay, we are trained from the start to scan the horizon for trouble.

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The Beyond (1980)

There is a portal to hell in the basement, and people get mysteriously hurt while working in the house. Like Hellraiser a few years later, the dead return to claim the ones that escape from hell.

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#Alive (2020)

After Fulci’s barely moving dead, these running zombies are a bit of a shock. Technology is an ally, but the adult Joon-woo seems to be in a semi-infantile state.

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The Mummy (1932)

The original Universal horror films are a bit of a blind spot for me. Imhotep has many magical powers, including mind control. Boris Karloff’s stare is a thing to behold.

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City of the Living Dead (1980)

Zombies really bothered me as a kid. Seeing the insides of the human body spill out was as pure a vision of horror as I could imagine. Guts should not be outside of your body.

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Blade (1998)

Blade is like a magical source of future movie ideas. The opening sequence is brilliant. A fun, if empty, blockbuster

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Cure (1997)

Takabe, a detective in Tokyo, investigates a series of murders, each by a different killer, but all carving a cross into their victims throats.

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Spring (2014)

If Guillermo del Toro shot a film scripted by David Cronenberg, based on a story by HP Lovecraft, then had it edited by Richard Linklater, you would get Spring.

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Jacob’s Ladder (1991)

Jacob is beset by visions and fever dreams. We constantly switch between realities, from the Vietnamese jungle, to his home in New York City, and it’s bewildering, for him and us.

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Noroi: The Curse (2005)

This mockumentary is made from grainy handheld video and low-resolution clips of Japanese televison shows. It revels in its fragmentary, low-fi nature. It feels cursed.

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Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Gilderoy is a fish out of water in a remote Italian sound studio. He thinks the film he's working on, The Equestrian Vortex, is about horses, but in fact is an Italian horror film about the torture of witches.

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Piranha (1978)

Being nibbled to death by a swarm of piranha is a different agony, I imagine, to being bitten in half by a great white shark. It’s fun, with a surprisingly dark heart.

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Fascination (1979)

Marc, a thief, steals a bag of gold from a gang, and is chased by them to a nearby chateau, where two women, Elisabeth and Eva, are waiting for the arrival of their marchioness.

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Vampyres (1974)

The first of my #31DaysOfHorror choices this year that I would say is exploitation cinema, I chose Vampyres, naturally, because of the cover art.

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Knife+Heart (2018)

Knife+Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur) is a modern giallo film that plays out in a gay porn production company in the summer of 1979.

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Death of a Vlogger (2020)

A bang-up-to-date social media horror mockumentary. Twenty years on from Pulse, people still feel empty and disconnected, but now everyone has a webcam. Affecting, funny, and unnerving.

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Pulse (2001)

The Tokyo in Pulse is empty and eerie. People are lonely and disconnected from each other. The characters are all young and, in one way or another, alone.

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The Crow (1994)

Eric and his fiance Shelly are murdered by a gang of men on the night before their wedding. Eric’s soul cannot rest until he gets justice.

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The Fog (1980)

The Fog is an old favourite. I watched it over and over again on VHS as a kid, recorded off the television, and it embedded Adrienne Barbeau’s radio DJ, alone in a lighthouse on the edge of town, as a lifelong crush.

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Atlantics (2019)

Atlantics is art house, and it’s a romance, but it’s hardly a horror film. It is, however, fascinating.

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Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

I wanted to start this year’s #31DaysOfHorror with a classic. I’m trying to watch only films I haven’t seen, and Creature From the Black Lagoon was the oldest unwatched horror film I owned.

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October beckons

I love October. I love September too, but October is the favoured child.

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In the foothills

Graham Swift once said, ‘All novelists must form personal pacts with the pace of their craft.’ Now I am in the foothills of my second novel, that quote is a comfort.

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31 Days of Horror, 2020

With 2020 being a demented shitshow, I did fleetingly wonder if I wanted to do #31DaysOfHorror again this year, but then I remembered why I love horror films — they are an escape from reality.

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Reality Bites

Reality Bites is still surprisingly affecting. I had low expectations. I’m not sure why. There is something about your early twenties that is particularly painful and potent.

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Writers on lockdown

I miss the opportunities to write in a coffee shop, with the ritual of a double macchiato to get me into the groove, especially on my way into work.

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Leaving Rebecca

It’s hard to pinpoint when I stopped reading Rebecca. I started in the middle of April, and I chose it for many reasons. There were so many little cues from the universe that it felt rude not to read it.

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Website as digital garden

I’m doing okay in my little lockdown bubble. We live in a relatively rural spot, we have a garden, and we are working remotely pretty successfully. The days are going really fast.

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The inner Wonder Woman

Last night, I had a deep dream of stasis and being held. I seemed to accept it, though there was a suggestion of pressing against constraints. I can’t remember any details. It’s a feeling from a fragment.

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My favourite five books of 2019

In 2019, on Goodreads, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books. Here are my favourite five.

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A walk around my writer’s block

It took me thirty years to get from wanting to write a novel to finishing one. I walked away from writing several times, but I always came back...

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Escape room

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us back into our homes, and my writing room is now where I also do software development work for my employer.

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First post, best post

I find it liberating to write whatever is next in my thoughts. The train doesn’t ever stop, not even for sleep.

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Minimalism

I’m into minimalism this week. It’s been a useful concept as I try to solve some tricky problems.

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Writing and reviewing

I’m a writer not a critic, but I have critical thoughts about other people’s books — what does it mean if a writer is a critic too?

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Blogging with Jekyll

I’ve updated this website, hopefully in ways that aren’t obvious to the reader, but that let me have more control (and fun) in the months ahead.

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On writing ‘The Complex’

The first shoots of the ideas that would combine to become The Complex appeared way back in November 2012, when I was fascinated by Lars von Trier’s film, Antichrist.

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Anomalisa (2015)

Everyone looks the same to Michael Stone. He is in Cincinnati to give a talk at a conference. He is desperate for something real in his life, an authentic person who is not like everyone else.

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Point Break

It’s tricky to find films that my fifteen-year-old son will want to watch with his forty-something parents, but this seemed to sit in the sweet spot — surfing, armed robbers, a cocky young hero, skydiving, a love interest and lots of banter.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Siblings Sally and Franklin come to a remote part of Texas to make sure their relatives remains haven’t been dug up from a local cemetery in a bizarre, gruesome local crime. But Franklin’s curiosity gets them into trouble.

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Exhibition (2013)

A married couple, D and H, have created their own emotional ecosystem, balancing intimacy and distance, in a big modernist house somewhere in Central London.

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High Rise

I read several Ballard books in the late nineties — my mid-twenties — starting with short stories, before being entranced by the original shiny silver paperback cover of Super-Cannes, and then going back to his earlier work.

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I like being at home

Woke up late. My son is in Sydney for three weeks and when I walk past his bedroom the quiet inside makes me sad. I'm trying to be more mindful as I go about my low-key morning.

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Red cabbage

It was mid-afternoon. I ate some of the cabbage wrapped in a slice of bread. It felt like a treat. Red cabbage. Simple pleasures.

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1: Written on the Body/Let the Right One In

Week 1. I'm going to try to read a novel and watch a film each week in 2018. In time, I'll work out what I'm doing with it. We'll see if it sticks. I love the idea.

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Habits

My mind is circling the same wishes for the New Year that it circles every year, to do with health and writing. Each year I make some progress, never enough to make the desire for change to go away.

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Blogging v2018.0

I remember when blogging was something people did to express themselves without worrying too much about quality. It was a daily thing, a quick thing, something informal and loose.

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It Follows (2014)

I avoided watching It Follows because the idea was so unsettling. Like most unpleasant things avoided, the reality was nothing like as bad as I imagined. It’s actually genius — a really great film.

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Winter

Winter is when I want to retreat to my burrow. The garden becomes inhospitable, but often beautiful to look at from indoors. Simple things please me when it is cold outside.

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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of exercising your ability to pay attention: when you can focus on something, the critical thoughts quieten down. – Ruby Wax, Frazzled

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