RE:Enter the survival horror…

It’s hard to believe that Resident Evil turns 25 this year. It seems impossible a quarter of a century has passed since Chris, Jill and the other survivors of the S.T.A.R.S. team burst into the Spencer Mansion for the first time.

Many people have fond memories of those opening moments, and indeed the game as a whole. The live action video sequence of the team pursued by a pack of T-Virus infected dogs. The first zombie chewing on the corpse of your fallen teammate, Kenneth. The maze-like layout of locked doors, traps and puzzles…

I recently downloaded the Resident Evil HD Remaster – a convoluted title, it’s a remaster of the 2002 remake, obviously – and finished playing it a few days ago.

The ‘replay’ came with a heavy dose of nostalgia. However, I soon realised (and remembered) it wasn’t a replay for me at all.

I was ten years old when the original was released and I didn’t have a PlayStation. My friend did, but I don’t remember him having Resident Evil. The first game in the franchise he owned was the second, the punchily named Resident Evil 2.

Then, it came to me. Like a remaster of a remake, the reality was convoluted. It was my friend’s, friend’s dad who owned Resident Evil. We would pile into his house and watch him play it as it grew dark outside. My experiences of the game were second hand. I only watched someone play, I never actually played it myself.

This might be why I remember the game having such a cinematic quality. I had no control over the actions, I simply watched it unfold before me.

Playing it again, for the first time, I was struck by how Resident Evil was still as strong as it had been when I was younger.

The sound of your footsteps echoing, or the banal ticking of a grandfather clock broken by a low moan from a zombie off screen, still held power.

The static camera angles – those low shots of long corridors and skewed views from high corners – are claustrophobic and disorientating.

Every time you pass into another room and have to watch a cut scene of a handle turning and a door pushed inward induce seconds of panic and paranoia.

Of course, these things come with problems. It’s impossible to get anywhere fast in the mansion. You run in circles trying to navigate an odd bend. You’ve been through this dining room how many times now? And – oh god – it’s another door I have to watch open. Or you happen to press on the typewriter for the umpteenth time and are told that, if you had an ink ribbon, you could save your progress…

The game is also famed for it’s bad dialogue. It’s littered with odd descriptive phrases too. I happened upon this one of a statue and thought of the struggling novelist who crafted it.

A large statue stands silently in the darkness.

A struggling novelist

Silently. But surely all statues are… *sighs*

I hope they find an agent soon. Or an editor.

Resident Evil isn’t perfect. That said, all of these things add to the game’s nostalgic charm and the effect is transportive.

Interestingly, I found the initial magic began to wear a little thin and I couldn’t help feeling once you move beyond the mansion the beauty, and the fear, waned. For me, that empty mansion is where the game has and always will shine.

Once we’re below ground – in possibly the grubbiest laboratory ever rendered – some of the power from the earlier parts of the game dissipates.

I do wonder if this has something to do with my memories of the original. I remember the Spencer Mansion. The zombies grabbing you. The dogs bursting through windows. The doors. Oh, those doors… Lighting a fire to reveal a map, opening a door with a collection of bizarre objects hidden in bizarre places.

But then, when it comes to the later stages, my memory fades. Perhaps I never saw those later stages of the game, so that nostalgic pull is lessened. Or perhaps I did, only the weakened appeal of the tunnels and lab wasn’t worth remembering.

I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, after almost 25 years, I finally entered the survival horror and played Resident Evil.

On easy.

Because, deep down, I’m still afraid.

That has to mean something, right?

Stories I Loved 2020…

There wasn’t much to like about 2020. The less said the better. I did however read some great stories. Like last year, I’ve listed my favourites below. You can find the 2019 list here.

Notes: I need to read more novels from independent presses. Not everything on the list was released in 2020 – I’m still behind on a lot of my reading. I’ve only provided links for the short stories and novellas, using links to the presses directly where possible.

I hope you find something to enjoy. Here it is:

Novels

  • Mark Z. Danielewski – House of Leaves
  • Lucy Foley – The Hunting Party
  • Ken Grimwood – Replay
  • Joe Hill – NOS4R2
  • Malcolm McDowell – The Elementals
  • Nic Pizzolatto – Galveston
  • Iain Reid – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
  • Paul Tremblay – A Head Full of Ghosts

Non-Fiction:

  • Derren Brown – Happy
  • Jon Krakauer – Into the Wild

Novellas:

Short Stories:

Finally, if you’re hungry for more story recommendations, take a look at James Everington’s blog. He always puts together a top notch end of year list and his puts mine to shame.

2020: A Year in Review…

Objectively, 2020 has been a terrible year. We all know why. Covid-19. I will spare you my extended thoughts on the sociopolitical discourse which followed. However, I will say I oscillate wildly between anger and despair at the actions of a government who are incompetent and cruel.

That said, I wanted to take a look at my creative successes and failures throughout 2020.

In early 2020 I started writing a novella. The story is one I’ve attempted to write several times before and the initial idea is over a decade old. If you were to compare the original idea to the one I set out to write this year, you would find very little in common. It’s been through a number of iterations, and I’ve made a couple of failed attempts previously. However, this year when I sat down to start work on it, I told myself this would be the time I finished it.

After writing a third of it, I stopped. It was too hard. It was a case of self doubt. It was boredom. I have told myself this story so many times it seemed too much effort to actually write. Whatever the reason, I walked away.

April saw the release of Arterial Bloom which features my story Dog (Does Not) Eat Dog. I know – I’m like a broken record. I’m sorry to the friends and family who’ve had to endure my shameless promotion. That said, it remains a story I’m proud of and I’m honoured to be in an anthology with such heavyweights.

I did a short interview with Tabitha Wood as part of her Ginger Snaps series over at Ginger Nuts of Horror. Go check out the archive.

Though I wasn’t writing much, I did write three reviews for Ginger Nuts of Horror. The Shadow Booth Vol. 4 edited by Dan Coxon was the first. The second was Kit Power’s collection, Voices, from Black Shuck Books and the third was for C. S. Alleyne’s debut novel, Belle Vue.

I was also intervied by Janine Pipe over on her blog. Janine is a champion of horror fiction so to be featured on her blog was a fantastic opportunity. Take a look at her site here.

My story The Forest Abyss was published in the August issue of Aurealis. A horror story set in a haunted forest in Poland.

August also saw a good friend and I dust off an old script of ours and, over Zoom calls, polish it up. We were surprised to find that much of it we were still happy with. We also learned how quickly technology moves (we had a scene featuring a CD player in car for example). Now, we have a final draft of the first episode of a comedy-drama that we’re very proud of and we’re steadily working on the rest of it. So, if there are any producers from Netflix or the BBC or Channel 4 reading this, get in touch.

In October, I started writing again (you can read about my approach here) and returned to the novella. I recently finished it and, though it’s a very short novella, it came in at 16,500 words.

I’ve managed to write every day since the 12th of October which, as of today, puts me at 74 days in a row. I’ve finished a short story and I’m currently working on another.

Most recently, my flash piece All We Endure came joint first in the November Flash competition over on the Crystal Lake Publishing Patreon and will be released in a future volume of Shallow Waters – their flash fiction e-book series.

There has been some dissapointment. My submissions have slowed down somewhat and I’ve missed the deadlines for several open calls this year, but writing every day has softened the blow just a little.

At least I’m writing.

Finally, for the two of you who care, my list of stories I loved in 2020 will be up in the new year. If you’re interested, you can take a look at last years recommendations here. If you read just one of them I would consider it a success.

As the year draws to a close we start looking towards the next. I have resolved not to make any resolutions. They’re crippling, at least to me. It’s just a list of stuff I should be doing or should have done. Taunting me…

To end, it seems only fitting to quote pop heavyweights D:Ream,

“Things can only get better…”

Let’s hope so.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

28 Days Later…

First of all I need to make something clear, this post isn’t about the brilliant 2002 film. There are no references to pandemics – we’ve all had quite enough of that. There are no zombies here…

This is actually about creativity and productivity.

Yesterday marked the 28th day on which I’ve written consecutively. Whilst this might not be a big deal to everyone, it is huge for me. I’ve never been able to find the momentum. I’ve tried numerous approaches and none of them seemed to help.

A little over a month ago I stumbled across an article which talked of how you could approach writing a first book in a year. You can read the full thing here, but the basic idea is as follows…

You write every day for 365 days and you aim to write between 1 and 365 words each day. You tick each number off as you do and, if you stick to it, you’ll have 66,795 words by the end of the year.

So, I noted it. Told myself I would start in the new year. However, this was only an excuse. Procrastination to avoid trying. And that is my problem. If I tried then there was a good chance I’d fail.

I wasn’t aiming to write a novel. The goal, if I did try, was to motivate myself to simply write. Make it a habit. Also, I’ve always been a slow writer. It’s why NaNoWriMo, or targets of X no. of words a day have never worked for me. This approach of little and often seemed like it might suit me better.

On the 12th of October – I mustn’t have been feeling quite myself – I sat down and made myself a spreadsheet (more procrastination) and wrote some words. 337 of them in fact. I wrote the next day too. And the next… You get the idea.

That first week I was on holiday, and not having to go to work certainly helped give me an initial push. But, once I returned, I still tried to put down a few words each day.

There were days when I struggled. Days when I didn’t feel particularly creative. Days when I had no inspiration or motivation at all. Days when I thought everything I wrote was complete garbage. But I forced myself to write.

I use notes on my phone and Word online so I can access my stories wherever I am. I wrote on the bus, lounging on the settee. If I found myself lying awake in bed, doomscrolling (who doesn’t?), I would try and write a few words instead.

My lowest word count was 42. My highest has been 460 (I won’t stop at 365 if the words are flowing). I’ve averaged 226 words a day. It might not be a great deal, but the numbers add up…

I’ve written a little over 6,300 words in 28 days.

I don’t know if I will last the full year. I might not make it to Christmas. But in the past month I have accomplished something and I hope that will be enough to keep me motivated.

Enough to keep me writing.

New Story: The Forest Abyss…

My short story, The Forest Abyss, appears in the August issue of Aurealis, Australia’s premiere magazine for speculative fiction. If you’re so inclined, you can buy a copy here.

The quiet isolation of nature is fertile ground for fear to take root and myths to thrive. With The Forest Abyss I wanted to create a dark legend of my own. You won’t find the forest in this story on any map. But somewhere, it grows…