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Blog on the motorway

Confessions of a man mad enough to live amongst beasts.

2021 – a few of my favourite things

2021 – a few of my favourite things

Hello there, it is I, your humble bard. Please spare me a moment to wax somewhat lyrical about some of the things I’ve loved this year, as is my want.

Top 20 Albums of 2021:

Much like 2020, it seems that the pandemic is no inhibitor of great music. My shortlist of potential albums of the year brushed up against the number fifty this year, which is frankly ridiculous. As hard as it was to narrow down to just twenty, that’s exactly what I’ve done, because I’m nice like that. Please note, I am not arguing that these are the BEST albums of the year, simply my most favouritest. But of course, my opinion is worth the most around here (on my blog), so they are the best. SUCK ON THAT!

1. MastodonHushed and Grim. I genuinely never thought I’d be putting a Mastodon album anywhere near my end of year lists ever again, such was my disdain for their new directions after Crack The Skye, but then they go and release this. An hour and a half long, and the perfect distillation of their many faces, this never feels anything less than vital and urgent.

2. TurnstileGLOW ON. A great big warm hug of an album by a bunch of American hardcore kids who look so achingly cool that one wouldn’t be surprised to find out they were grown in a GAP warehouse, this takes everything that’s cool about hardcore and marries it to shimmering pop melodies. Their record release gig on youtube is so lovely that it genuinely made me tear up. But then again, I once cried at the trailer for the film Armageddon, so there’s that. I can’t wait to stand in a field and dance like a grinning loon to all these songs in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.

3. Jeff RosenstockSKA DREAM. I’ve always quite liked Jeff Rosenstock’s brand of too cool for school punk, but it wasn’t until he released this, an entirely ska reworking of his previous album, No Dream, that he hooked me in, and I ended up falling entirely in love with everything he’s done. Music is magic, and this is the catchiest magic you’ll hear this year.

4. Black Sheep Wall Songs for the Enamel Queen. Okay, enough nice stuff, this is utterly grim, in the best possible way. Howling, swirling, hate-fuelled bleak metal that batters you about the head with so many riffs that you’ll be begging for mercy, then asking them to do it again. You sicko.

5. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To DieIllusory Walls. Just a genuinely gorgeous melding of whatever-wave emo and college rock, and the two climactic tracks, each weighing in over fifteen minutes, as a staggering finale.

6. Amigo the DevilBorn Against. Murder folk ballads with a wicked sense of humour and a glorious voice. I just can’t stop listening to this album.

7. Sugar HorseThe Live Long After. A band who seem to play all the genres, all at the same time, and somehow manage to keep all the plates spinning right up to the moment they drop them on your head. Post metal, doom, grind, hardcore, shoegaze, screamo, and everything in between. Properly dizzying, brutal as fuck, and epic as a Robert Jordan series.

8. AmenraDe Doorn. Oh looks, it’s Amenra being utterly miserable and brilliant, yet again. The most consistently brilliant band in bleak. If any album is the perfect soundtrack to being a sack of skin suit of meat and offal in these plague times, it’s this one.

9. Genghis TronDream Weapon. If I was expecting Genghis Tron’s return after over a decade to have tempered their digital grindcore tendencies, I would have been bang on the money. But I’m not that prescient, as evidenced by the fact I dipped my toe into the waters of buying bitcoin at what historians will one day recognise at the absolute summit of its value. To be honest, I wasn’t even expecting The Tron to come back at all, but I’m bloody glad they did. This is shimmering digital sad pop of the highest order, and about the biggest about turn you can imagine, even though it’s somehow still undeniably Tron.

10. Every Time I DieRadical. You might know what you’re getting with an ETiD album – breakneck hardcore with a decided party groove all shot through with brilliant pop hooks from one of the best vocalists in hardcore, but it doesn’t make the reliability of their incredibly high standards any less remarkable.

11. Converge: Blood Moon. I mean, it’s Converge meets Cave In meets Chelsea Wolfe. It was always going to work, wasn’t it?

12. King BuffaloThe Burden of Restlessness. I could have picked either album released by these blissed-out stoner progsters, but I got to live with this one a bit longer, so we’ll go with that. A perfect antidote to the gloomy grimness of not just the majority of 2021, but a lot of the bands I’ve listed above. Also, it’s got big fuzzy riffs. Who doesn’t like big fuzzy riffs?

13. IdlesCrawler. I kind of gave up on Idles on their last album, thinking them a one-trick pony whose trick wasn’t that great, after all, but this is a stonking return to form, albeit one they needed to change form in order to achieve. Sleazy goth pop is now draped over their wiry punk frame, and it really works.

14. MØLDiorama. Black metal with a shoegaze twist is hardly a new idea, but I’m not sure it’s ever been done to such a high standard as this.

15. The Hyena KillA Disconnect. It’s about time Britain produced a proper rock band capable of filling stadiums with anything like the regularity we used to in the 90s, and on this evidence we may well have found one, if we can get enough people to sit up and notice.

16. Emma Ruth RundleEngine of Hell. With a stripped back sound from her usual layered haunting brilliance, this is even more haunting and brilliant. Also, if we were including EP’s in this list her work with Thou would have definitely featured. Such a phenomenal talent.

17. DVNEEtemen Ænka. Just the best prog metal band in the world right now, in my humble opinion. Bewilderingly complex, heavier than the weight on Tony Blair’s conscience, and with massive soaring melodies. Proper good, innit.

18. ThriceHorizons / East. There is no way Thrice should be making albums this good this far into their career, but they are. Not only that, they’re showing that it is possible to mature and mellow without losing one iota of your brilliance. I can’t wait to stand in a field and shout all the words to Scavengers back at them in a non-threatening way in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.

19. TeethgrynderHostages. Very weird album this. But I do like it a lot. It’s a whole album, but with an extra album bolted onto it in bonus tracks, and it veers from ambient drone to haunting post rock to MASSIVE RIFFS and big epic vocals.

20. Deafheaven Infinite Granite. Black metal shoegazers drop the black metal and are all the better for it, in my humble opinion.

And there you have it! But wait, there’s more!

I’ve watched a grand total of 168 films this year, which is not bad going. And 107 of those were films watched for the first time. I even watched enough new releases to be able to cobble together a top ten films of the year.

Top 10 films of 2021.

1. Blood Red Sky. A film almost entirely designed to sit in my wheelhouse, a proper new vampire classic.

2. Tick, tick, Boom. A gloriously uplifting movie, with an outstanding performance by Andrew Garfield.

3. Don’t Look Up. I really don’t care how on-the-nose this is as a satire. It kind of feels like on-the-nose is what’s needed for this particular moment in time. And I thought it was brilliant, funny, and utterly terrifying.

4. The Fear Street Trilogy – yes, I know this is three films, you want to fight me? I’ve got a big beard, you know. Good old school slasher films with some great performances, and some of the worst accent work in the final chapter ever committed to film. That they don’t derail the whole thing shows the quality of the films.

5. Tina – this documentary about Tina Turner was absolutely incredible, heartwarming and inspiring and horrifying in equal measure. An icon, in the truest sense of the word.

6. Black Widow. After all the Endgame stuff, it felt nice for Marvel to go back to basics with this. Funny, thrilling, and rattles along at enough of a pace that you don’t see the holes. Oh, and putting Scarlet Johansson, Florence Pugh, AND Rachel Weisz on the same screen? Be still my heart.

7. The Green Knight. Watched this as a Christmas film, which it absolutely is NOT, and I still don’t know what to make of it, except that it was absolutely brilliant, and the best looking film I’ve seen all year. Weirdly ethereal, like a fever dream in places, and with a fantastic performance by Dev Patel, a man seemingly incapable of giving a bad one.

8. Spider Men – Too many spidermens. This really shouldn’t have worked, really, but it did. A film that you can’t really review without spoiling things, so I’ll just say that I really enjoyed it.

9. Encanto – A great big lovely blanket of a film.

10. What Drives Us – In which Dave Growl is A VERY NICE MAN and talks to loads of people about being in a band. A really nice documentary.

Books of the year.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not actually read many books this year that came out this year, so I’ll just say that I LOVED Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig, and that if you want some brilliant short stories, you should definitely check out Dark Missives by Dan Howarth, because it’s brilliant.

THAT WAS 2021!

A day late and a dollar short – 2021 Accountability post

A day late and a dollar short – 2021 Accountability post

Well, that was a stinker of a year, eh? Or is that just my stinking hangover? Quite possibly it’s both, or I’m still seeing double from my gargantuan effort to finish off all the Christmas booze last night so there wouldn’t be any left cluttering up my attempts at dry January. Oh, wait, I’m not talking about this year, yet, am I?

*takes deep breath*

I’m good, I’m good. Let me just lean against this wall for a bit, gather myself.

Every year I write myself a little accountability blog for the year just gone, and another for what I want the year ahead to bring. That was I can look back at the end of the year and see how much I have or haven’t managed to achieve, which is a dangerous game to play in these pandemic plague times, but I’m English, and as such crave disappointment.

Actually, for all that 2021 continued the running trend of being a general dumpster fire for the majority of the population of the planet, if I zoom in just to the bit where I’m trying to be a writer, cock my head and squint, it doesn’t look too bad. Let’s crack open those goals for the year and see what I managed to achieve, shall we?

2021 Goals

1. Launch two books. Aha! I didn’t just release two books, I released nine! IN YOUR FACE 2021! Okay, well, so that’s not quite right. At the beginning of the year I was planning on releasing what was at that point the second book in my Sunset Chronicles series, as well as the first book in a vampire series. Neither of which technically happened. As I was preparing the second Sunset book for release, I looked back at the whole thing and realised that it didn’t really work in its current form, and would lend itself much better to being a serial. So I pulled the first book from sale, spent a few months rejigging everything and rewriting some stuff, and I re-released it as a monthly ebook serial. Season One covered the same ground as the already published first book, and as I write this, I’m two weeks from releasing the last episode of season two.

This has actually worked really well. Loads of people seem to be really enjoying the ride, and as I’m working on Season Four at the moment, with a full nine seasons in the planning, it’s going to be a huge focus of mine for the next few years.

Incidentally, if you’ve not checked out the first episode yet, it’s completely free from this website, and at any of the dystopian hellscapes that pass for online corporate megaliths these days. Why not check it out. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, how about these covers, eh?

2. Focus on my course. I’m currently studying a diploma in creative writing at Oxford, and I wanted very desperately to do well in it, which I duly did, passing my first year so close to getting a distinction that I could practically smell it. If you’re wondering what a distinction from Oxford University smells like, it smells like a mixture of soy sauce and cinnamon.

I actually really enjoyed the first year of this course, especially the social side of it, once the world opened up enough for us to have one. There’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers. But the validation I’ve felt from getting such good feedback from such luminaries has been phenomenal.

3. Launch Hollow Stone Press. What I actually wrote on this was as follows: ‘I’m planning on taking Hollow Stone from being a name I put in the publisher field of my books on Amazon to being, you know, an actual publisher.’ Now I can’t say I’ve actually achieved that, yet, but I’ve put in a lot of groundwork toward it, and I reckon this is a lot closer to being a reality in 2022. So I’ll take that. Oh, and I’ve got a cool logo now, so that’s half the fight. Right?

4. Get more readers. As I said this time last year, ‘I plan on collecting readers like Panini stickers, and I won’t stop until I have a full set, which is equivalent to Stephen King’s readership.’ I’m still many many miles from the King, but I will say that I’ve found a lot more readers this year. In fact, while I’m still a fair distance away from being able to do this full time, this year has been far and away my most successful in terms of selling books, and finding readers. Given that I’ve been able to achieve that without spending any money on advertising, I’m pretty chuffed with that. If you’re one of those readers, I cannot begin to thank you, it really does mean the world to me.

5. Get healthy: An old perennial this one, one that’s graced my yearly goals since I’ve been old enough to have them. And again, this year I’ve done… not too bad. Between April and November I lost just over two stone, and got into a nice exercise routine in the mornings, the first time I’ve ever been able to say that. Of course, that ship got completely derailed in December, but I’m back on it again, the minute this hangover clears, which should be around…. October 17th, 2025.

6. Get a life: A bit more complicated, this one. I still don’t feel at all connected to my new home, Cirencester, even though I’ve been here for over three years. I don’t know anyone here, and while it’s a pleasant enough place to live, the pandemic has completely robbed me of the ability to make connections here. But that’s not to say I’ve not made connections in other places. I joined an online group run by the good people at Hawk & Cleaver, who are very much my tribe. So while I’ve not got a tribe in the meatspace, there’s one that lives in the tiny box in my office, and that one will do.

I also had a wonderful moment earlier in the year when I went back up to my old university stomping ground for a gig with my good lady wife, and got to see a load of, quite frankly, the best friends a person could hope for. It was a wonderful time, the kind of thing that makes you remember what true friendship is, and it’s probably my favorite thing that happened this year.

So there you have it, accountability achieved for another year. I’ll be following up with a separate post about my favourite albums, films, books and stuff of the year, because this is already a good thousand words of waffle. Then I’ll be back again with my goals for the year ahead.

CONTENT!

The Chronicles Are Open

The Chronicles Are Open

Today is launch day for The Sunset Chronicles, my new monthly sci-fi horror serial. Last Light, which is Chapter One (of five) in the first Season, is released today. What’s more, you can pick it up completely free!

The year is 2107. Earth is dying. For Wyn, Lois, and Judd, that’s the least of their problems.

Wyn is the pilot on the ISS Minos. Its mission: a race to the ice moon of Europa to cure the disease destroying humanity’s crops. But not everyone on board seems to have the same agenda.

Lois is an Interpol agent investigating the world’s worst criminals – those rich enough to get whatever they want and powerful enough to murder without consequence – and her cover’s been blown.

Judd is hiding as far away from humanity as he can, working in a cheap tourist attraction on the Moon. But when an old man pries a long-forgotten secret from his head, he can no longer hide from the truth he’d buried even from himself. Because Judd is a telepath, and a weapon badly wanted by both sides of an unseen war.

They might not know it, but each holds a key to Earth’s cure… and humanity’s survival.

If you like pulse-quickening action, blood-soaked science fiction, revelations, and revolutions, you’ll love this first episode in The Sunset Chronicles, the new monthly sci-fi horror serial from the author of the bestselling Blood on the Motorway saga.

Pick up Last Light and start the epic saga of plague, conspiracy, murder, and monsters today.

Following on from writing ‘The End’ on the Blood on the Motorway series, I knew the next thing I wrote was going to be more science fiction, albeit one with a horror twist. My love for sci fi is rooted in seeing Alien and Aliens at an impressionable age, and I wanted to echo the same creeping dread that I felt watching Ripley on screen all those years ago.

But while this saga started with Wyn and a trip to an ice moon in our own solar system, I soon realised there was a whole world around her and the Minos mission that was itching to be told. It’s a global saga of struggle against oppression, about fighting back against those who control our world in the interest of profit to the exclusion of all else.

Over this saga, we will see stories from across the globe and off it, all culminating in the events hinted at in Roman’s letter at the start of this book.

The Chronicles are massive, taking in everything from the crumbling ruins of Europe to an ice moon around Jupiter, all tied together under an overarching plot of corporate power and greed. I can’t wait for you find out what’s in store for Wyn, Judd, and Lois, and the rest of the cast of characters in this epic tale.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey…

Just a quick note – if you’ve read my previous book, Sunrise, then please note that you’ve already read everything substantial in Last Light, and the rest of Season One. You can wait until Season Two, which will start in August, so not long to wait. However, if you have read Season One, what I’d really appreciate is taking a moment to download a free copy of Last Light, as that will push it to more people on each store, and if you did enjoy that tale, any review you could leave would be hugely appreciated. And hey, while the content is the same, I have played around with the structure of the story, so why not give it a read and see what you think? I think it works much better. Each ‘episode’ cracks along faster than before, with the previous chunks of narrative interwoven together in a way that simply couldn’t be done over the course of 100,000 words.

So, pick up your free copy of Last Light today, and start the epic saga of plague, conspiracy, murder, and monsters.

Psst, want a free book?

Psst, want a free book?

For the last few months, everything I’ve been doing has been tied to relaunching. I’ve redesigned and relaunched my Blood on the Motorway series, and I’m relaunching my Sunset Chronicles books as a new monthly serial. Hell, I’ve even completely redesigned this website. But that’s not all. I’m also completely relaunching my reader’s group.

I can’t stress enough just how important to me my reader’s group is. Amazon could close its doors to authors tomorrow, or facebook and twitter could shutter their doors, or a hive of tiny bee/monkey hybrids could send us all into hiding in bunkers hermetically sealed from the world, and I would have no way of letting readers know about my next book. I mean, sure, the whole bee/monkey thing might take up too much of our time to read, but if this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that being stuck indoors with nothing to do does wonders for your Goodreads reading challenge.

The deal is a simple one, really. You give me your email address, I’ll give you some stuff to make it worth your while, and I get to send you an email when I’ve got a new book out. If everyone in the readers’ group does this at the same time, it rockets me up the sales chart, and I get to reinforce the walls of my anti-bee/monkey hideout even more.

Since I’ve been very much in ‘relaunch’ mode, I’ve been thinking a lot about this reader’s group, and how I can make it more valuable to my readers. Not to get all schmaltzy, but I genuinely love anyone who takes the time to read my work, for supporting me as I try to turn publishing from a (very time-consuming) side hustle into a fully fledged business that can support my family.

So, I’ve revamped exactly what you get from me when you sign up. First off, as a member of my reading group, you get 10% off everything you buy from my website. This is a now and forever kind of deal.

Second, I’ve got a brand-new collection of short stories called Come Back Haunted. Seven completely exclusive short stories by yours truly.

That collection is not available anywhere else and never will be. That’s not it, however. As we speak, I’m hard at work on not one, but two more exclusive books. One will be a prequel to the Sunset Chronicles, and the other will be set in the Blood on the Motorway universe. I won’t say too much more on that, but if you’re a fan of either series, you won’t want to miss these. Not only that, but they won’t be anywhere for sale, only for the reader’s group. Pretty cool, huh?
Once you join up, you can expect updates twice a month. Once at the beginning of the month with a cover reveal, then to tell you about each new episode of the Sunset Chronicles on the 15th. Plus, there’ll be competitions, freebies, updates on writing, and much more besides.

So, if that sounds like a pretty good deal, enter your email address below, and you’ll get your exclusive collection of short stories right away.

Cover Stars

Cover Stars

One part of launching the new Sunset Chronicles serial that’s great fun is that I’ve got a load of new covers to design. I got really into digital art and cover design a few years ago when I redid the covers to my first series, and I’d say I almost spend as much time these days in Photoshop as I do in Scrivener. So I won’t pretend that part of the decision to split 9 books into 45 wasn’t partly informed by a curiosity as to what kind of things I could do with a canvas that big.

I find it pretty helpful in terms of procrastination avoidance to have two completely different artistic addictions. If I find myself procrastinating over my word count, for example, I can open up a cover design and pootle about on it and not feel like I’m working, because I’m not doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing. But since I’m still making something, the time isn’t as lost as if I, say, spend the time doomscrolling.

When I thought of the Sunset Chronicles as a serial, I had to have a think about the covers I wanted to make for them. The great thing about writing serialised fiction is that it’s kind of like a bag of popcorn, consumable, disposable. It’s like the old pulp novels which had so much serialisation in them, anyway. So I really liked the idea of making covers that evoked that old style. Except, these are futuristic books, set a hundred years in the future. There’re elements of everything from alien horror to cyberpunk dystopia in there, alongside more traditional sci-fi elements and old-school thriller and murder mystery elements. So how the hell do you try to convey that in a cover?

The first thing I made was a standard template which includes a series logo, and a header that tells people exactly where they are in the series.

Obviously, there are nods in the design here to horror books of the 1980’s, but this kind of design has also been used more recently on a Netflix show that shall not be named. But this design style is kind of exactly where I want the series to be. I want to invoke the nostalgia of how I used to read things as a kid, but then look beyond that.

Once I had the series iconography, I set about playing. I now have nearly a dozen of these covers in various states of completion, but the first three covers are now out in the wild. Check them out.

Each one conveys a distinct element of the first series, and with the final two covers in the first season we’ll see little bits more of the world. Each one complements the episode itself, but also (I hope) is a cool little keepsake of its own, something that’ll look great on your digital bookshelf.

All three books are now available to preorder. Last Light will be available on March 15th, with each new book coming a month later.

check out the books and preorder now

If you like the covers and want to be among the first to see the new covers as they come out, make sure you join my reader’s group, which is where you’ll find out the next cover before anyone else. I’ll also send you a free collection of seven short stories that you can’t find anywhere else, and an exclusive 10% discount you won’t get anywhere else.

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