When Is A Ghost Not A Ghost?

The Haunting of Hill House, which dropped on Netflix shortly before Halloween, is an amazing achievement, and not because of the scary elements (of which there are many).

Matching the show’s duelling timelines – now and then – it’s gone back to the past, to the age of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, when horror was made for grown-ups, with deep themes and symbolism, where the supernatural was a metaphor for real-world concerns.

And after so many years of dumb, funfair ride horror, it was so refreshing to discover something that had real depth.

What is The Haunting of Hill House about?  Not ghosts, not really.  They sweep by on the surface, terrifying and driving the plot, but it’s what they really mean that is truly horrifying.

A be-hatted spectral figure whose face can never be seen, always a few steps behind you – that’s a scary image.  But as a symbol of addiction, that honestly makes the blood run cold.  Depression, mental illness, family breakdown, childhood trauma, these are the ghosts that really haunt Hill House – and that is why the series is so affecting.  Emotional – sad, uplifting – rather than just creepy.

It talks about the human, not the supernatural.

I could go on at length about Mike Flanagan’s tour-de-force.  It’s a show that people will be talking about for ages, because of that meaning and depth married to a chilling tale.

Some complain about the ending.  I think it’s perfect for a series that is a drama about people.  It’s all a matter of perception, which is one of the themes The Haunting of Hill House plays with so effectively.

And it has an attention to detail in its construction that you rarely see in a tale in this genre (which these days producers cynically think is there for a not particularly discerning audience).  The layering of the mystery, the resonances that leap back and forth across the entire series, the excellent performances (particularly from the three female leads who knock it out of the park in their individual story episodes), these are things you usually find in TV dramas aimed at, well, discerning viewers.

Let’s talk about Mike Flanagan’s amazing direction in the ‘single-take’ (really five takes) episode six.  Or that attention to detail in the clockwork story construction. Ponder for a moment the discarded ‘sinister’ ending and why that choice was made.

But mostly praise the decision to reclaim horror for all those people who prefer a little meat on old bones.

Testimony – An Exhibition Of Haunted Art?

Bill Rich was haunted by terrifying demons. Some that manifested in his isolated home, as I detailed in my non-fiction book Testimony. And some that were firmly embedded in his psyche, as he always admitted.

All of it contributed to the art that he laboured over all his life, all of it, in some way, haunted.  In the book I wrote about the works he completed during the frightening events that swirled around him in his home, Heol Fanog, and which were influenced by the horrors there.  But Bill, who died two years ago, also left a body of work from the years before and after that troubled time.  One of his surreal paintings heads this piece.

Now his widow Liz is keen to stage an exhibition of Bill’s work.

She says, “Bill’s paintings have never been exhibited, which I feel is sad, as he was an unusually talented artist. During his life he dedicated his time to painting what he described as primitive surreal art. Most of his ideas came from dreams or interpretations of what was happening around him. Each painting holds immense emotion and visual stories.

“Bill’s dream would have been that his work could at last be appreciated and understood. I know he would have been overjoyed to see his art work reaching a wider audience.”

I’ve seen some of the art and it definitely deserves a public viewing.  I’m sure Liz would be keen to hear from anyone with gallery space or the wherewithal to make it happen.

If you can help, leave a comment here or send me a message through the contacts page.

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True Horror – Testimony

A quick reminder about True Horror on Channel 4 at 10pm this Thursday April 19, which examines the truly terrifying case that I investigated in my non-fiction book, Testimony.

When Bill and Liz Rich moved into an isolated farmhouse, it already had a reputation locally for being haunted. What they found there was far, far worse than their wildest imaginings…and it threatened their sanity and ultimately their lives.

If you like what you see in the True Horror drama-documentary, read the book for the full story.  You can get it here.

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True Horror On TV

I’ll be popping up on Channel 4 next week in the drama-documentary series True Horror. The first episode on April 19, 10 pm, is a chilling account of the Rich family’s terrifying experiences in an isolated farmhouse, which I wrote about in my non-fiction book Testimony. (You can read about it here.)

Far more than a haunting, this story goes to some very dark places indeed.  Some have called it the British Amityville, but it’s more than that.  I decided to investigate because it wasn’t simply an account of the family at the heart of the disturbing events.  Many other people, all of them unconnected, experienced disturbing, inexplicable events in that place.

Worth a look.

The 21st Century Writer

(Or: I am not a lazy git.)

It’s probably fair to say that about 80% of a writer’s labours are hidden from public view.  They’re the projects that never quite come together, or never get picked up, for a whole variety of reasons.  The pitches that seem to be going somewhere, and then die at the last – and this is particularly true of the TV world, where only a tiny fraction of what is written actually makes it to the screen.  The articles that get bumped from magazines, or websites, or newspapers, because something more newsworthy has just surfaced.

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I work at my writing constantly.  Five days a week, sometimes more.  It’s my job, it’s my life.  A book with my name on it may crop up once a year, sometimes with even longer breaks, so it’s easy to think I while away my hours drinking in the local pub or wandering the world, watching the clouds pass by.  (I do both, just not all the time.)  What you don’t get to hear about are all the pieces of work that never break surface, because: what’s the point?  But here’s what I have been doing:

No ‘Mark Chadbourn’ book recently?  That’s because I’ve been writing a series of books under the pseudonym I’ve reserved for historical fiction (to avoid confusion among readers, booksellers and marketing people) – James Wilde.  These books have made The Times best-seller list, so as people are keen to keep reading them, I feel an obligation to keep writing them.  I’ve just signed a three-book deal with Penguin Random House for a new series which will be of interest to James Wilde readers *and* Mark Chadbourn readers (particularly if you liked Age of Misrule).

I also work extensively as a screenwriter – 26 hours of produced work for the BBC under my belt to date.  I’m currently developing several new series for broadcasters around the world, and working on a film script.  My near-future SF series, Shadow State, is in the hands of a US network.  My book, Testimony, an investigation into a British Amityville, is being developed for UK and international TV.  I have a political thriller and a crime series also in development.  It’s a long road from here to any of these projects appearing on a screen near you, and they all might fall at any one of the numerous obstacles.  But, you know: paid work.

One of my favourite TV writers is Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass, and I’m writing an extended piece about him for We Are The Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale, a new book looking at his life and work in TV and film.  This will be a great book with some fantastic contributors, so definitely check it out if you have any interest in F/SF/H, TV, film, or just the work of a quality writer.

And on top of all the writing and the endless, endless meetings, I do various talks, lectures, and signings here and there.  The next one is a screenwriting workshop at the Derby Book Festival Writers’ Day.

All of which makes an interesting point about what it takes to be a full-time writer in the 21st century.  Only a very,very few writers make a good living from novels.  A publishing industry on the ropes has slashed advances, and the black arts of publishing accounting means royalties sometimes take a while to surface in your bank (most authors don’t even make any royalties).  The choice for many is to hold down a full-time job and scribble away in the evenings.

But I like my freedom.  It’s been a long time since I was a wage-slave, working as a journalist on the national papers in London.  I’m pretty much unemployable now.  But I also like to eat.  And, you know, have an amazing time travelling the world and being louche in new locales.  So the wise thing is to cast my net wide and put my writing to work in different media.  Eggs/baskets etc.

But then, if you’re a writer, why wouldn’t you?  Story telling is the same all over.  Once you’ve mastered the new skill-set for a new medium, you’re drawing on the same natural ability wherever you’re employed: your ideas.

A film script is a palate-cleanser after a novel, and vice versa.  Journalism and comics and TV all have their particular joys, and they all complement each other.  In the multi-media, cross-platform, constantly mutating 21st century, why would any writer want to limit their storytelling to only one area?

 

TV Deal For Testimony

As the word is now starting to circulate, I ought to mention here that I’ve signed a deal with producer Carson Black at Keo Films to develop Testimony as a three-parter for TV.  It’s early days yet and there are still many obstacles to clamber over before it gets to the screen, but it’s a positive step.

Testimony is my non-fiction investigation of a truly terrifying supernatural case at an isolated house in Wales.  You can find the book here, for UK readers, and here if you’re in the US.  (It’s also available in Amazon stores in Japan, Brazil, India, Italy and elsewhere.)

The Most Terrifying True Story Ever Told…Out Now

Easily scared?  Probably best if you don’t read Testimony, my non-fiction account of a truly spine-chilling supernatural event, now available at Amazon.  The publisher calls it The ultimate proof of life after death, or the most terrifying true story ever told? and that’s a fair description.

When Bill and Liz Rich moved into an isolated Welsh house, they thought they were getting a dream home and a new life free from worry.  But within weeks they were baffled by an inexplicable power drain.  The house seemed to be using more electricity than a small industrial estate – even the investigators from the utility company couldn’t explain it.  Then, one night, Bill heard footsteps thundering along the landing.  Everyone else in the house was fast asleep.  That was the start.

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What comes next goes into some very dark places indeed.  This case has been described as the British Amityville, but that really doesn’t do it justice (especially as that story has been widely debunked).  This account is backed up by in-depth interviews with around twenty people who experienced the disturbing events in that house, not just the couple at the heart of it.  And just to re-iterate, it’s not fiction.  I have digital recordings and pages of contemporaneous shorthand notes of all those interviews.  As a hard-bitten ex-journalist, even I found myself at turns baffled and then troubled by what I heard.

The original book sold out in a week and was never reprinted.  There’s a story around that too.  Copies now fetch hundreds of pounds.  This is a new edition, with new material, a director’s cut if you will.  You can get the ebook here if you’re in the UK and here if you’re a US reader.  It’s also available in the Amazon stores in Australia, Germany, France, India, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Japan.  Version for other e-readers will be available shortly.

If you can help get the word out about this, it would be great, and reviews are always welcome too.

Testimony – In Ebook

Coming in July: Testimony in Ebook format.  Of all the books in my backlist waiting to make the transition to digital, this is the most requested.  More details soon, including the new cover.  “Testimony – the ultimate proof of life after death, or the most terrifying true story ever told?” is the description sitting atop the publisher’s release form.

Testimony Revisited

Very shortly you can expect a new ebook which reflects upon my one and only non-fiction book, Testimony.

This was a truly terrifying account of a family trying to make sense of a maelstrom of supernatural experiences after they moved in to an isolated house in the wilds of Wales. The book sold out its first print run in record time – and then disappeared from the shelves completely. Another story surrounds that.

The ebook will feature new content – including a detailed commentary about the case and how I went about investigating it. At the moment, the aim is to include enough to make it, to all intents and purposes, a new book. That’s one reason why I’m planning to retitle it (the other is that several other books called ‘Testimony’ have come out in the meantime).

The book has already been formatted and the new material prepared – all that’s holding it up is the title.

More soon when I have a publication data.