Sunday, 15 March 2015

Beyond Twilight (2010 short story collection)

Where you can buy Beyond Twilight:
Smashwords (eBook version):

Cover artwork for Beyond Twilight

My first short story collection Beyond Twilight contains most of my earlier writing. I wrote my first group of short stories between 1997 and 2002, and these were mainly horror, fantasy and SF stories, but there were even a couple of children's stories. 

This first group which were written in this period consisted of the following stories: 'Death Head'; 'Martin'; 'The Baron's Cheesecake'; 'The Question'; 'The Lost Boy'; 'The Prodigal'; 'Electra'; 'Garden of Illusion'; 'Moonlight Bay'; 'Requiem'; 'The Book of Witchcraft'; 'The Fenland Witches'; 'The Legacy of Steeple Hill' and 'Bloodlines'. I also had the title for the first collection- 'Beyond Twilight'- in mind right from these early stories and writings from the late 1990s. I liked this title, in terms of the concept of transitioning from half-light to darkness, and I was probably thinking of The Twilight Zone or Dean R Koontz' novel Twilight Eyes. There is no connection whatsoever with the Twilight saga vampire books, which were published later than 1997-2002, but obviously before I was able to eventually create this collection. 

Five of these tales appear in Beyond Twilight in what essentially amounts to their original forms (Death Head, Garden of Illusion, Requiem, The Book of Witchcraft, The Fenland Witches, The Legacy of Steeple Hill). I made one alteration to 'Death Head' in 2010 prior to publication, changing the setting from the British Midlands to London.  'The Lost Boy' was effectively swallowed into the opening chapters of my novel 'Copper Moon Rising', and 'The Prodigal' was a variation on the same theme. 'Electra' was a sci-fi story about a female space salvager, but in 2009 I re-wrote and re-worked the story as 'Red', which also does appear in Beyond Twilight. Cheyenne Electra remains as the main protagonist. 'Bloodlines' was rewritten and reworked for inclusion in my second short story collection, The Splendour of Shadows. 'The Question', a playful fantasy-vignette aimed at young readers, was inserted within the story 'Veronica and the Men', which I wrote in 2009-2010 and was also included in Beyond Twilight. 'Martin' (which owed something to the monochrome visions of comic book artist David Hine) has since evolved into a new short story of mine, entitled 'The Vacancy', which readers can expect to see soon when it appears this year.

So far the children's story 'The Baron's Cheesecake' and the story 'Moonlight Bay' are unpublished in collection/book form, but along with 'The Vacancy' they will be included in my forthcoming new collection of stories, Echoes and Exiles.

In 2008-2010 I started work on a new group of short stories to complete the Beyond Twilight collection: these were 'Epiphany'; 'Hell Hath No Fury'; 'The Birthday Box'; 'Under Foreign Skies' (begun in 2002/2003 and completed in 2010); 'City By The Sea'; and 'The Last Days of Verity Jamieson' (which was written as a companion piece to 'Death Head' to bookend the collection, and so bring the reader full circle).

Some comments about the background to the stories in this book:

Death Head
This is the companion piece for the ‘Verity Jamieson’ story. I thought of the concept for the story after reading about rock musicians like Marilyn Manson and Norwegian death metal bands that were into Satanism and alternative cultures. This seemed like a good premise to introduce the idea of demonic entities living and moving amongst us.

The idea for Epiphany came from a dream that I had. The dream was simply that of a man and a woman in a car, speeding across a desert and being pursued by unknown forces. From that simple concept, the rest of the story wrote itself. There’s obviously influence from post-apocalypse stories and films, like Mad Max, The Postman, and others.

Garden of Illusion
Like Epiphany, the story came from a dream I had, of a woman alone in an apartment block, while a menagerie of animals was active in the gardens below. The virtual reality concept and the stalking assassin idea wrote themselves after that initial thought.

Hell Hath No Fury
I had an idea about a man who wakes up alone, trapped in a room, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. I didn’t really know where to go with it or what would happen afterward, for a while. Then one day, I sat down and wrote the story pretty much in its entirety. For some reason I had The Avengers TV series from the 1960s/70s in my mind when I wrote this one. Every episode I've ever seen of that show seems to involve some grand British stately home; a paranoid demented plot possibly inspired by psychedelic influences; and random coincidence. I had the show in mind when the main character is lost in the maze, and goes from being in pursuit to the pursued.

I took up a writing challenge for updating a classic fairytale in a modern or futuristic setting. ‘Red’ was the result (yes, it's 'Little Red Riding Hood'), and it was the quickest to be written of all these stories, in about two days, based on an old fragment I scribbled down in the 1990s, which was called 'Electra'.

This is the oldest story included in the collection. I originally started it around 2001- perhaps before. It’s been rewritten several times before you see it in the form it is here. I just wanted to write a classic supernatural short story, and this one is heavily influenced by the likes of James Herbert. Horror writers such as Stephen King, James Herbert and Clive Barker were my favourite authors as a teenager. I also wanted to write a haunted house story based around a witch and witchcraft theme, and as you have seen, it isn’t the first time I’ve used this typical horror staple.

The Birthday Box
I absolutely hate spiders. If they were big enough, I think they would devour the human race and take over the world.

The Book of Witchcraft
They always say ‘write about what you know’. Some might read this and believe there are autobiographical elements to this story. I couldn’t possibly say. It is perhaps a story about self-realisation, and wishful thinking, from the author’s point of view. From the reader’s point of view, it is an updated Faust. Again, I returned to the themes of Satanism, demonology and witchcraft.

The Fenland Witches
This is another story heavily influenced by personal experience and also a story involving witches and witchcraft. The inspiration for some of the aspects of this story probably come from my late grandmother…thanks Nan.

The Legacy of Steeple Hill
I have always been very interested in the history of the paranormal, and the study of it. My knowledge of people like Aleister Crowley and the paranormal investigator Harry Price were the main inspirations for this story, as well as the descriptions of what happened at Borley Rectory, the ‘most haunted house in Britain’ during the early part of the twentieth century. I also wanted to write a classic Victorian/Edwardian-era ghost story with Victorian characters. Along with ‘Requiem’ and, in a sense, ‘City by the Sea’, it’s one of three ‘haunted house’-style horror stories in this collection. An abridged version of this story (the Victorian section) was published in Litro Magazine in July 2013 (#Issue 127).

Under Foreign Skies
The opening paragraphs to this story were written in 2002. In a PGCE teacher training session we were shown a black and white photograph of an old lady pushing a pram outside a decaying shop in a desolate city. The tutor asked us to respond to it by writing a work of fiction. What followed was probably the most enjoyable half hour I ever spent while doing teaching training. I am not sure what it had to do with teacher training but it was valuable creative writing experience. I wrote the opening paragraphs but I wasn’t sure where to go with it afterwards, so it stalled there. In 2008, I came across the opening written on note paper while sorting my things out. I thought that it would make a good opening for a new short story, and so the paranoid spy plot that followed, essentially wrote itself.

Veronica and the Men
Originally called ‘Veronica’s Shadow’, this one is a curiosity. For the author, it is an experiment. Originally, it was going to be a typical paranoid horror story with a woman being stalked by a madman but after a while I found the plot predictable, unsavoury and boring. ‘Garden of Illusion’ is another version of that story anyway. I worked on this one a little and it mutated into something else entirely. It now serves as a piece of comic satire, and forms a little bit of light relief amid the dark stories in this collection. Rather than ending with something horrible happening like so many of these tales, it ends with someone getting a date! I have played around with some deeper meanings and some observations upon life and our society. It’s heavily influenced by Will Self, after I discovered his fiction and was thoroughly entertained by his style of writing. The title is a twist on the title of the film Dr T and the Women. Actually, that film and this story have something in common.

The story-within-the-story that Richard Gadman-Hoyte has written and shows Veronica is actually a piece of juvenilia that I wrote when I was eighteen, a comic short story called ‘The Question.’ So in fact, that’s the oldest piece of writing here in this collection, rather than ‘Requiem’ (it was definitely written as far back as 1997). That story was kicking around, and I didn’t know what to do with it. In the end, it became part of ‘Veronica and the Men’, simply because I thought it suited the tone of that story.

As with 'The Legacy of Steeple Hill', an abridged version of this short story was published, this one in Roadside Fiction (Winter 2014, issue #6).

City By The Sea
The idea for this story came from a dream (or nightmare) I had, about a strange ancient city built upon a faraway coastline. The idea of evil lurking deep within came a little bit afterwards. This one has a little bit of Lovecraftian atmosphere about it, it’s one of the most sinister stories in this collection. There’s also a little bit of inspiration from Erich von Däniken's theories.

The Last Days of Verity Jamieson
I already mentioned the general author's advice that you should write about what you know, and I have never been to Tennessee, USA. So, I broke that rule. Nevertheless, this is my own piece of Southern Gothic. I once remembered reading articles about the FBI investigating devil worship and the sacrifice of cattle in the American Deep South, and these influenced my concept for the story. I also think I had aspects of Twin Peaks in mind, the feel of the Laura Palmer narrative. It is the companion story to ‘Death Head’, revealing Verity's back story and her eventual fate, and it is appropriate that both bookend the collection.

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