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Blog on the motorway

Confessions of a man mad enough to live amongst beasts.

Old blood, new blood

Old blood, new blood

Blood on the Motorway is nearly five years old, which blows my mind a little. What blows it even more is that, even five years on, people are still finding it and getting into my curious tale of murder at the world’s end.

During that time, there’s been some incredible highs. Over the full trilogy there have been over three thousand copies sold, and the first book has been an Amazon bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic for British Horror. The three books have over two hundred reviews between them across all the stores, with well over half of those being five star reviews, and over 85% being four star or higher, and they have sold copies in over twenty countries. Not bad going for my first books.

Since I’ve been revamping things around here, and in honour of Blood’s upcoming fifth anniversary, I’ve completely redesigned the covers for both ebook and print, and set the first book to be a free download across all the stores, which is how things will stay, now and forever. Check out the new covers below.

So, if you’re yet to complete the full epic trilogy of murder and mayhem at the world’s end, why not pick up a copy of the new updated trilogy today?

In order to celebrate these new covers, I’ve teamed up with 50 fantastic authors to give away a huge collection of Science Fiction to 2 lucky winners! Oh, and did I mention the Grand Prize winner gets a BRAND NEW eReader? Plus, I’m giving away two free copies of the COMPLETE TRILOGY, plus there are books from authors like Iain Rob Wright, Frank Kennedy, and Becca Brayden to be won.

Let’s get Serial

Let’s get Serial

Sunrise is no more. Long live the Chronicles.

I had been intending to release book two in my Sci-Fi horror epic series this month, but the more I got it ready, the more something wasn’t sitting right with it. I’ve been thinking of these as great big sci-fi horror epics, and the overall nine-book plot definitely is epic, but 100k+ words per book just doesn’t sit right. Each one ends up feeling more like a TV series… So I’m making a change. From now on, the Sunset Chronicles is going to be a monthly serial, with five ‘episodes’ per series.

As such, I’ve pulled down Sunrise – it no longer fits with the serialised concept, and I’m completely rejigging the order, but Series One, Episode One of The Sunset Chronicles launches on March 15th, with new instalments each month. Now, if you’ve already read Sunrise, don’t worry! You’ll be able to wait for series two, and you won’t miss much more than cosmetic changes. But if you want to read right along again, you can pre-order episode one on Amazon and Google Play now for free, and it’ll be available to get from all bookstores from March 15th. Check out the new cover…

Last Light will be the first part in the new monthly serial, The Sunset Chronicles

So, why so serial? Sunrise, the intended first book in the Sunset Chronicles, came out a year ago, and its launch didn’t exactly go to plan. The people who read it seemed to really enjoy it, but sales over its first year have been… slooooow. Which is a real shame, since it’s the first book in a planned 9-book arc. It’s pretty hard to gee yourself up to write book three when nobody is reading book one. But the books are so big, getting each one ready takes quite a bit of time. And the truth of modern publishing is that momentum counts for a hell of a lot.

One comment I heard a lot was how it seemed quite… episodic, like the entire book was a series of some epic sci-fi show rather than a single novel. And it’s true – the story for The Chronicles is massive and sprawling, 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.

When I was growing up, I loved serialised fiction. I became a Stephen King fan at exactly the right age that going and getting a new episode of The Green Mile every month turned into that year’s highlight for me – the thrill of getting each new episode, of each fresh cliffhanger, I loved it. I remember Hugh Howey doing something similar with Wool, and there are countless other excellent examples (such as Twice) in recent years where people are making serials work really well for a modern, digital market.

So I went back and looked at Sunrise. I rejigged things around, took it all apart like a mechanic and stared at it for a while, sucked the air through my teeth, and shook my head. Then I put it all together in five separate books and stood back in wonder at my creation. The story – previously in chunks of narrative with each character – came alive in a way it hadn’t before. And so a serial was born.

I had already written the next two books (or seasons, as they now will be), so I went back and went through the same exercise again. It was huge fun, and reinvigorated my love of this epic tale.

So now I have a serialised tale, the first episode of which will launch on my birthday, March 15th. Then there’ll be a new episode every month, with a month off after each 5-episode season when I’ll release a paperback-only collection of the season. The individual episodes will only be available as an eBook, so you can choose your poison, so to speak.
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that if you were one of the few who picked up Sunrise, please don’t worry. You won’t have to re-read the first series to get what’s going on – just hold off and re-join on series two. Although, if you just really really like the story, I’m not going to tell you not to enjoy it all over again.

You can find out more about each of the first three books in the series here. Each book page contains links to where you can pre-order (book one is only available on Amazon and Google Play as it’ll be a free download on release). And if you want to be among the first to get your hands on a copy when it comes out, why not sign up to my reader’s group, where you’ll also get a free book with seven exclusive short stories, and a 10% discount on all books bought direct from this site.

My top 20 albums of the year

My top 20 albums of the year

2020 seems to have been one of those years where the whole world seemed absolutely terrible, but we got almost unfathomable amounts of good new music. Way back at the start of March I put out a call on Twitter saying I hadn’t heard a single new album from the year, and got inundated with recommendations, and the new albums haven’t stopped flowing ever since. Not only that, but the quality this year has been absurdly high.

For the last few weeks my twitter feeds have been filled once more with end of year lists crammed full of music I’d not even heard of, even though the playlist I put together with all the new music I’ve listened to this year extends to nearly 2000 songs and nearly 150 hours.

So, why not add to that endless sea of best of’s with my very own top twenty of the year?

Top Ten

1.     Spanish Love SongsBrave Faces Everyone: My album of the year by some clear margin, the joyously raucous nature of its music undercut constantly with narrowly honest lyrics of alienation, addiction, loss of purpose, and grief. If that doesn’t sound much fun I can tell you it absolutely is, a cathartic blast unlike anything I can think of since Handsome’s self-titled debut.

2.     ThouBlessings of the Highest Order: A covers album, at number two? Yep, it’s Louisiana’s favourite bleak sludge metallers covering a range of Nirvana songs with all the weight and heft of a molasses factory. Crushingly heavy, this pays deference to the brilliance of Cobain’s song writing while adding lashings of Thou’s own totemic sound.

3.     Greg PuciatoChild Soldier: Creator of God: The ex-Dillinger frontman’s solo album shows every facet of his tastes, as diverse as his extraordinary voice, and shows that there’s very little he can’t pull off, from chillwave electro pop to snarling hardcore. It’ll be fascinating to see what he does over the coming decades.

4.     Black WingNo Moon: The second album by Have a Nice Life’s despondency king Dan Barrett’s electro-gloom side project only came out last week, but it’s so good it secures near top billing on this list.

5.     Higher Power27 Miles Underwater: Sounding like Snapcase jamming on peak-era Deftones material, Higher Power were always going to tick a lot of my boxes, but while this bathes in mid-90s nostalgia, it does so in a way that’s always looking forward. Really hope that I get to see them at next year’s 2000 Trees.

6.     King BuffaloDead Star: King Buffalo have been a band that seem to get better with every album, and Dead Star continued that impressive streak. A luxurious spaced-out stone rock odyssey. Incidentally, their four Quarantine Sessions videos, where they played the highlights of each album, is my favourite of all the many quarantine performances I watched over lockdown, and not just because the bassist looks like a young Simon Mayo.

7.     All Them WitchesNothing as the Ideal: After a few albums that were enjoyable enough but never quite hit the heights of their third album, by this, their sixth, they’ve recaptured some of that mojo by paring things back to blues-rock basics.

8.     LoatheI Let It in and It Took Everything: Using metalcore as little more than a base ingredient for a sonic pot that takes in nu-metal, shoegaze, ambient, old school hardcore and much more, Loathe also brought the songs and hooks to round it out. A strikingly confident slice of modern British metal.

9.     Emma Ruth Rundle & ThouMay Our Chambers Be Full: A collaboration seemingly designed to tickle my particular taste buds, this didn’t disappoint. The gothic grandeur of Rundle’s voice matched to Thou’s scorched black riffs like two parts of a bleak whole. 

10.  Pearl JamGigaton: Even after thirty years they’ve still got it. Sure, the glory years are all in the rearviewmirror at this point, but they’re still capable of crafting excellent songs, with the lead single Dance of the Clairvoyants arguably up there with anything they’ve ever written.

The rest

Elephant TreeHabits: Like taking a bath in a sea of fuzz.

SvalbardWhen I die, Will I Get Better?: A stunning development by one of British metal’s best.

Elder Omens: Stone-drenched space prog.

Palm ReaderSleepless: Fast becoming an essential part of an amazing British scene.

Touche AmoreLament: Punk rock that pulls on the heartstrings.

Causa SuiSzabodelico: The sound of a band drifting ever spaceward.

Milk TeethMilk Teeth: In March they released a brilliant slice of grungey emo pop, and in September they broke up, in what has to be the most 2020 narrative of any album on the list.

DeftonesOhms: Again, this never hits the heights of Deftones on full power, but it’s still a fascinating and highly enjoyable listen.

OhhmsClose: Yet another incredible British metal album, it’s so lovely to see the scene in such rude health, and I can’t wait to start going to gigs again so I can see them all.

SliftUmmon: A spaced out proggy stoner odyssey unlike any other.

Transformations

Transformations

The cataclysmic shitstorm that has been 2020 makes the whole idea of a ‘look back’ blog post a bit of a pointless exercise, but I’m nothing if not committed – I’ve been doing these accountability posts for about a decade now, I think, and just because I’ve been stuck in my house the whole time doesn’t mean I can let myself entirely off the hook for them. So, let’s take a look back on what goals I had, and what I’ve done with them.

Writing Goals:

1.     Release three books: Ahem. I did release one new book, but due to *ahem* circumstances, the others didn’t get out into the wild. Which was a shame, what with this apparently being the biggest year for digital book sales ever. I’m great at riding trends, me. Still, this means the other two I had planned are even more oven-ready than Boris’s Brexit plan.

2.     Write one more: I did this! Not only that, but I also actually wrote two more! Look at me go!

3.     Build, build, build: My aim for this year was to work on my ‘brand’ which has been something of a mixed bag, mainly because of the whole ‘one book’ thing. I’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work on this in the last year though, most of which should hopefully pay off in 2021, if we’re ever allowed to go outside again.

4.     Find my tribe. This was all about going out and finding like-minded writers and genre-types that I can build lasting friendships with, enjoying beers in a pub garden as we dissect tropes and talk about ways to overhaul the entire publishing industry. Turns out, that’s not so easy to do IN THE MIDDLE OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

Life Goals:

1.     Get healthy. Let’s just agree not to even think about that one, eh?

2.     Buy a house. I did this one! I have an office and everything. And, boy did we get that in time, given that I would immediately spend the next nine months surgically grafted to my office chair.

3.     Love our new home. This time last year I had yet to connect with Cirencester, and a year on that’s not really changed. I guess it’s a nice place to walk a dog, but given we’ve not even been able to go to the pub all year, it’s been pretty hard to make any deep connections here. I miss people.

The truth is actually a little more complex that the above would show. Over the course of this year I’ve drastically re-evaluated my approach to publishing, what I want to get out of it, and how I’m going about, well almost every aspect of it. I wrote a bit about that, but the key change came about in September when Oxford University rather foolishly accepted me onto their Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing.

Sadly, the social aspect of that course (which would go toward taking care of that fourth action point) has been curtailed by the pandemic, but I’ve been really enjoying the course, and was relieved to find that my first assignment wasn’t met by an email explaining that they’d made a terrible mistake and they meant to give the place to some other Paul Stephenson.

2021 Goals

Normally I’d write a whole separate blog post for the year ahead, but since 2020 was a year of stagnation, of life on hold, I’m just going to go right on ahead and roll over the goals I didn’t achieve this year. There’s absolutely no point beating myself up for not hitting entirely arbitrary targets in the midst of a global pandemic. So, here are my goals for 2021.

1.     Launch two books. Sunburn should be out in February, and the first book in my new vampire series, Darkness Comes Alive, will be out in Q3.

2.     Focus on my course. Ideally, I’d like to pass the first year with something approaching flying colours.

3.     Launch Hollow Stone Press. I’ve been doing a lot of work around this (more on which soon) but 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.

4.     Get more readers. 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.

5.     Get Healthy. Ah, yes, hello darkness, my old friend. But seriously, though, I’ve put on so much weight in this pandemic, I need to turn that around before I float off like Violet Beauregarde.

6.     Get a life. I have to admit to myself that this lockdown life suits me far too much. I’m an introvert at heart, or lazy, possibly, but when the world opens back up again, I need to make a conscious effort to get back out into it.

So, there you have it. Accountability achieved!

The hope that gets you through

The hope that gets you through

I never particularly thought of myself as an optimist, certainly not as a young man. The world was terrible, and most of those who sailed in her. But that was a front, an affront to the reality crafted out of some strange notion that despair was the cooler option.

There’s always been so much to find despair in, after all. Hope is the harder thing to find, especially in the face of such reckless hate as we’ve seen these last five years. Ten years. Twenty. And yet it was as the world took each of these dark turns, I found myself more buoyed by hope than I was before.

I’ve often wondered how much of the psychic scars faced by the western world start with the events of 9/11. Sure, there was plenty to despair of before then, but how much of the great divide, the schism that seems to have cleaved all discourse in two can be traced back to that moment, and the reaction to it? The reckless headlong rush to war in an orgy of flag waving and corporate contracts, and the normalisation of islamophobia that gave cover to the great reframing of the immigration debate.

In the years that followed, I had my first professional writing gig, first as a writer for an Asian magazine and then editor of an Asian newspaper covering Leeds and Bradford. If I think back to the roots of my own turn toward hope, I trace it back to that time, to seeing disparate Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities rally to each other, to seeing how different each of those communities and the people within them were to the people you saw in other papers, on the television.

In recent years, hope has been harder to come by. The schism widened, as did the gap between those who have, and those who have not. The former rallied enough of the latter to their cause with lies and fear, and we found ourselves sewn into chaos. Brexit. Boris. Trump. Fox. Tommy Robinson. National Rally. Nigel Farage’s grinning maw. Q-anon, and, finally, Covid.

Part of my own internal battle between hope and despair shifted when I started writing my first book, Blood on the Motorway. Strange that an apocalyptic thriller with a serial killer at its heart should prove that catalyst, but it wasn’t until I’d written the book and looked back at the central themes of it that I realised – I’d written a book about hope. About ordinary people overcoming despair to find a way forward. The same with the next book, and the next. When it came to my new series, The Sunset Chronicles – I found the same thing. I’m writing hopeful horror.

I’ll admit, for a few minutes last week, that hope faltered, and I thought all was lost. There’s not much about 2020 that any of us have been able to find much hope in, so far, and the thought that Trump might just have found his way around the will of the people once more, that he could have used all the levers of institutional power to cling onto power, that so many millions of people could look at such a clear liar and a fraud and think, yep that’s my guy… it was too much.

But then the votes kept coming. By the time the race was called I was stood in a supermarket aisle staring at videos of celebrations in the street, getting messages of joy from American friends, getting slightly misty-eyed in the bread aisle. And today news of a Covid vaccine, and the prospect of a world made normal (whatever normal is) by next year.

Sure, there’s a lot to despair about. The great schism remains. But so does hope, and as long as we have that, there’s nothing we can’t achieve if we don’t put our minds to it.


For the last six years, I’ve been a participant in something called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a global undertaking by thousands of authors worldwide, all striving to write 50,000 words in one day.

Almost all of my novels have had their first drafts conceived in the fiery cauldron of NaNo pressure, and it’s been one of my highlights of the year for many a long year. Not this year, however – my writing course is taking precedence, and given that it could last up to four years, I’m wondering if my NaNo days are over.

I miss it more than I thought – from the write-ins in coffee shops with handfuls of other writers, to the stickers each year that now adorn my laptop lid in a cluster thick enough to rival the laptop itself, to the sheer thrill of crossing the finish line. I’m sure it’s all very different this year, what with the whole nobody-leaving-their-home thing, but I do miss the community aspect of NaNo. Maybe I will be back, one day.


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