Ginger Nuts of Horror
I remember it distinctly. Odd how of all the things I’ve forgotten over the years, this one memory has stayed with me and is as clear as ever. It was in March of 1992, and I was on a mission. My sister had just bought much hyped Guns N roses albums Use your Illusions I &II, and also had a shiny new CD system to play it. Separates no less. She was out, and it was my mission to go and Steal those CD’s from her and give them a listen.
I crept into her room, intending to head straight for the CD’s when something caught my eye. It was a book. A THICK book. Most of my reading up until then had been spotty at best. A couple of James Bond novels. A movie adaptation of Tim Burton’s batman. Nothing on this scale though, nothing so chunky. I walked over to the bottom the bed where this giant of a hardback sat and looked at the cover. There was a scythe holding full body skeleton on the front standing atop three tarot cards. The upper half of the cover was dominated by the author’s name.......
Forgetting about listening to the Shriek of Axl Rose vocals of the blues riffs from Slash’s Les Paul guitar, I picked the book up, wondering how a single book could have so many pages. I opened the inner cover to the contents and saw the book was actually a collection of short stories. The titles alone screamed at me to read them. What on earth did Survivor Type mean? What could be so bad about Uncle Otto’s Truck? And what the hell was a Word Processor of the Gods?
I sat on the bed, not even really concerned about being caught in the no man’s land of the sister’s bedroom. The first story was called The Mist. Interesting.
Did I mention I’d never read horror before this? If not: I’d never read horror before this, and so went in not quite knowing what to expect. I started to read, immediately getting lost in the exploits of David Drayton and his son, as a mist containing all sorts of unspeakable things descends on a small town in Maine. The way the author (Who I had heard of but never felt the urge to read before) effortlessly wove very real, very human characters in amongst the chaos and kept the reader turning the page was a revelation. These felt like real people. I read on, and reached that place.
Anybody who has ever lost themselves in a book will know it. I was lost in the world the author had crafted. David Drayton and Brent Norton were as real to me as the old lady who lived next door to us in our three bedroomed Semi Detached house in Leeds. I was sharing in their lives, I was living their experiences. I was asking myself the big ‘What if.’
What if something like this could really happen?
If there was a defining moment which steered me on the insanity of trying to be a successful author, then that was it. It didn’t happen immediately. Not by any means. For those first couple of years the idea of trying to write anything of length myself was insane. I think deep down I saw the sheer size of that Hardback edition of Skeleton Crew in my mind’s eye and how many pages it was. No way could I do that. It was impossible.
So I read. Like a sponge I soaked up anything with Mr King’s name attached. Horror had hooked me, and I started to look at other authors to see what they brought to the table. I started reading James Herbert, Dean Koontz. For a time I read everything Brian Lumley, his wonderful Necroscope series leaving a lasting impression to this day. I discovered Peter Benchley’s Jaws which was much better than the move.
Horror novels had become a part of me then I think, and with it, the idea of trying to write my own stories. Not with any intent of getting them published (There was no such thing as Amazon or self-publishing back then) but just to see if I could do it.
I sat down to write, confident I could produce work as good or better as Mr King and all those other fantastic authors. I knew I would be good, I knew I could do it. I sat down and churned out roughly 8,000 words over a month long period.
Later, I sat down to read it, excited for whatever the future held. I’d done it. Committed my first words to paper.
The only problem was that it was awful.
My words didn’t sing and flow like King. My Prose wasn’t tight and clever like Herbert.
My dialogue was clunky and unrealistic, spoken by wooden characters who did stupid things in non-scary situations. My prose was….well it wasn’t good.
I remember looking up at that copy of Skeleton Crew in my bookcase (which by that time I had permanently ‘borrowed’ from my sister) and promised myself that I would do it. I would make it. I would write a book. However, as is life, it never happened.
Life got in the way. I went to Art College. I started a band which went on to do quite well. Got married. Had a child. I still read, but the idea of writing a novel of my own had become a distant memory as the daily grind of working life took centre stage. Besides, with my band commitments to tours and the like, I wouldn’t have time anyway. Even so, like a phantom hiding in the shadows, that Skeleton Crew book cover lived on in my mind’s eye. Almost mocking me and daring me to try again. Time went by. My hair got thinner, my stomach got bigger. And still no book. And still that skeleton mocked me.
It was only when chance intervened and my band decided to split that I waved that shadowy book cover into the light. I was at a creative loss. The energy I used to pour into my guitar in the band looking for an outlet. Looking for something to express itself with.
I’m going to write a book.
The idea was clear. No excuses. None of the old I don’t have time / I plan to write a book/ I have a great idea for a story crap either.
I was going to do it. I half imagined that Tarot walking Skeleton nodding its approval.
In March 2012 I sat down and started work on a manuscript. In September of that same year, my first book, Dark Corners was released by Dark Hall press. Like Skeleton crew it was a collection of short stories.
Sure enough, it wasn’t anywhere near the sheer size of Skeleton Crew, but it was mine. I’d worked myself into the ground and fought it every step of the way, but I got there. As hard as it was to push through and complete the book, I knew it was just the start for me. It had taken over 20 years to get there, but I had finally found what I was meant to do.
Since releasing Dark Corners, I have released two more novels and a second volume of short stories, simply because that one novel I stumbled on back in 1992 had such a profound effect on me. It’s early days in my career yet, but the future is looking bright. I’ve been fortunate to have had some really strong sales and meet some wonderful people along the way. I also now get paid for my books in advance, which is pretty amazing considering how long it took me to sit down and actually start writing!
In December 2013, my novel Whisper, which was selling like hot cakes, found itself at #3 in the overall Amazon best sellers list for horror. At either side of me in the chart were releases by none other than THE Stephen King. It was a nice feeling.
I still see that Skeleton Crew cover lurking in my mind’s eye, although it doesn’t mock me anymore. It’s no longer there to serve as a reminder of things I haven’t done. Instead I like to think it watches me and nods its approval now, and in those times when I’m struggling for motivation or creative ideas, I think about how it influenced me. I think about that magic place the words inside transported me to, and eventually compelled me to try as best I could to create that magic myself for other people to enjoy. That alone makes it all worthwhile and reminds me that this was what I was meant to do no matter how long it took to get there, and it was all thanks to that one book discovered completely by chance.
About Michael Bray
Michael Bray is a Horror author based in Leeds, England. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, and the trashy pulp TV shows like Tales From The Crypt & The Twilight Zone, he started to work on his own fiction, and spent many years developing his style. In May 2012, he signed a deal with the highly reputable Dark Hall Press to print and distribute his collection of interlinked short stories titled Dark Corners, which was released in September 2012. His second release was a Novella titled MEAT ,which was quickly followed by his first full length novel, a supernatural horror titled Whisper was also initially self-published, and following great critical acclaim, was sold to Horrific Tales publishing - his first Advance paying sale.
FILE UNDER HORROR NOVEL REVIEW