Gods and Insects: New Gothic Novella

gods-and-insects-cover-9by6-thumbnailMy new gothic horror novella, Gods and Insects, is out today. This is a sequel to Love is the Cure. To celebrate the new release, I’m offering the first book free for 5 days (until next Tuesday).

If you’ve read the first one, this one is a little bit different: it’s all from one point of view, Asher’s, with a more traditional narrative structure, and more than twice as long. Asher is the youngest vampire from the first book. This new book follows his ill-fated attempts to find his place in the vampire world. There’s more horror, freaky blood trips, gay and bi characters, a trans vampire (yay). At its heart, the story is a tragedy, and a fall (in the biblical sense).

Here’s the first chapter of Gods and Insects to whet your appetite. You can buy the ebook on Amazon (and download the first one for free until next Tuesday). There will also be a paperback edition to follow soon. I hope you enjoy the read.

1.

I should have fed before my shift. Now my skin is on fire with the need, my nostrils full of the scent of my co-worker’s blood, as I try to keep my distance in the enclosed space of the coffee shop counter. The tick of the clock on the wall echoes round my head, mocking me. Still forty minutes to go. And then I have to feed somehow. I botched the last one four nights ago; lost control of the guy I was feeding from. I’m no good at mind tricks. He tried to run and I had no choice but to—

The door opens to the night and the swish of tyres through the spring shower. My eyes are drawn to the man who enters. I can tell he’s one of my kind straight away. He has that presence the older ones have, somehow bigger than his physical body, straining against the limits of geometry. And the absence of the animal scent that mortals have, which most people don’t even notice. He joins the queue behind two drunk students and a weary looking woman in surgical scrubs and a coat. My eyes flick to him constantly, as if magnetised.

When it comes to his turn, I’m on my guard. He walks up to the counter and flashes me an amused smile, dark eyes twinkling. His skin is light brown, his black hair short, and he looks a little older than me. He has killer cheekbones. Even in this confined space, he moves like a dancer. He pulls a note from his pocket and that simple gesture is elegant, the rise and fall.

“So it’s true,” he says softly enough that only we can hear.

I’m not sure what to say, but I don’t want to look like a fool. Images of Sebastian and Kerrick flash through my mind, spattering blood across my thoughts. My creator and his other child. I try to push this fear aside, these violent memories. They can’t all be monsters. We can’t all be monsters.

“What?” I ask, trying not to show my nerves.

“One of our kind working in a coffee shop.” He chuckles and I bristle.

“Can I get you something?” The irritation sounds in my voice, but at least it hides my fear.

“Why don’t you choose for me? It doesn’t matter what, after all.” He gives me a conspiratorial grin.

I turn and prepare the machine to pour a double ristretto, the most expensive drink I can make. My tiny piece of revenge. His eyes bore into the back of my neck, as the dark liquid trickles into a cup at an agonising rate.

When it’s finally done, I place the cup in front of him and risk eye contact. His eyes are a rich dark brown. Permanently amused.

“When do you get off?” He slides the note towards me.

I try to read his face for some clue to what he wants from me, but he seems so relaxed. “Half an hour.”

“I’ll wait for you.” He lifts the cup to smell the coffee, eyes full of humour. His amusement doesn’t seem malicious, but I’m pretty sure I’m the joke.

I go through the motions for my last half hour, my eyes constantly flicking to the back of his head, as if I’ll find answers there. Contrasted against the dark of the night outside, the harsh electric lighting seems to spotlight me, picking me out for scrutiny. I wonder if he can see my hunger written across my face, as my co-worker nudges past me to clear the tables. If I could just taste her— I force the image back, though it seems more real to me than my surroundings. I can control this.

He’s sitting in one of the far booths, facing away from me, staring out into the night. That presence he has, I wonder whether I have it too. I’m sure it’s just the older ones. I’ve no intention of returning to Sebastian or Kerrick to ask them for advice. Kerrick offered me this escape from him, this chance to make my own way. At the time, I’d been afraid to be alone, but now I’m determined to make it work. I got this job far away from Spitalfields and Kerrick’s other haunts. Far away from Kensington, and Sebastian’s sphere. Somewhere central and neutral, where I thought no one would ask questions or even notice me. But clearly there’s nowhere to hide.

When I’m done for the night, I untie the apron from my waist, fold it into my satchel, and grab my coat from the back of the shop. The visitor is still waiting for me in the same place, his cup of coffee untouched. He turns as I approach.

“Sit yourself down,” he says, with that same sparkling smile. He gestures to the bench opposite.

It’s getting close to 2am. I work the night shift, of course. The graveyard shift.

“I’m Xavier.” He offers his hand. He has the trace of an accent, though I can’t place it.

His handshake is brisk and business-like and I try to ignore the pang of loneliness that hits me with his touch.

“Asher,” I say, though it’s right there on my badge. I slide into the booth.

He tilts his head to one side, examining me. “You don’t look like an Asher.”

“I changed my name when I left home. It used to be Alex.”

He nods. “You look more like an Alex.”

I stifle a sigh. This again. “You mean, I look Greek.” Kerrick and Sebastian both held fantasies of gods and heroes from ancient times, and somehow I was in them. It seems to be an obsession with these older vampires.

He shrugs. “There are worse things to look. Don’t be sorry for your roots. I’m from that part of the world myself. From Venice, originally.” Venice. That was the accent. “Long time since I was there,” he continues. “But you’re quite new. Who made you?”

I tense at the question. Was this information I should share freely? There were so many rules, and I hadn’t paid enough attention to Kerrick’s lessons. Or, rather, some of them had overshadowed the others.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he says in answer to my silence. “I’m just curious. I heard a rumour one of our kind was working in a coffee shop off Tottenham Court Road. I wondered, how does such a thing happen?”

I’m a rumour. Perhaps other vampires have seen me too; perhaps they were here and I didn’t notice. I feel on display in this glass box with the night pressing in all around. But I force myself to answer. “I needed a job.”

“Alex, this isn’t a job for one of our kind.”

“Asher.” I shouldn’t have told him my old name.

He waves his hand as if it’s nothing. “As you like. Asher, where’s your creator? They should be taking care of you. You should still be by their side.”

“Kerrick,” I say. There’s a flicker of recognition on his face. He has enough mastery of his emotions to hide whatever else he’s thinking, but I can guess. “George Kerrick made me. But I left him.”

“Ah,” he says, and revolves his cup around. “Well, that’s a hefty legacy.”

“You know him, then?”

“Everyone does. I don’t know him well. Just by sight. He keeps his own society.”

Beyond Kerrick, and Sebastian’s little closed, incestuous world, I’ve never met any others of our kind. But the way he talks makes me think there’s a whole lot more of us. I suppose it was just a matter of time that they’d crawl out of the woodwork.

“Maybe I could find you work,” Xavier says.

I shift in my seat, my skin prickling. Why does he want to help me; why the interest? I take a breath to steady myself. “What kind?”

“Something better suited to your nature.”

I’m not sure what that means. All I’ve seen of our nature is violence. Xavier doesn’t seem like the violent type. Then again, neither did Sebastian.

“These are dangerous times, Asher. Ancient powers are on the move. You need the company of your own kind. Do you even have a safe haven?”

 I live in a shared flat in Stratford, above a seedy club. It’s a dive. Barely habitable. I don’t even have my own room. My dad said he would send me money, but it hasn’t arrived. I keep checking the cash machines, hoping the balance finds its way a little further into the black. I don’t want to beg. I want him to think I’m doing okay.

“You need to learn to guard your thoughts, as well,” Xavier says. “Those of us who’ve been around a while, we tend to pick things up if you think so loud. Listen, I’m going to a club. Why don’t you come? I’ll get you in.”

I look at my watch, trying to focus on that and not my heart pounding in my chest. I don’t know how to refuse him, or even if I want to. I don’t even want to think in case he hears me. I stare at the second hand ticking away, paralysed with indecision.

“Plenty of time, yet,” Xavier says smoothly, as if I haven’t just frozen. “Besides, they have rooms if we get stuck at dawn. It’s a special club.”

In the bright light of his smile my worries appear foolish. Those eyes of his warm me through, relaxing me. I want to trust him. I’m sick of being alone, sick of the frail existence I’ve built for myself, so insubstantial I could knock it over with a breath.

“All right,” I say. His smile grows into a satisfied grin.

***

The club is walking distance from work, in Soho, but it’s easily missed. There’s a little gateway in one of the buildings. No signs. It’s been recently painted in black and gold. We walk through the entrance into a small courtyard enclosed on all sides by high buildings. Neat little topiary bushes sit about in pots. A gold plaque by the door says ‘Varney’s’ in a modern italic script.

“Just a little joke.” Xavier gestures to the sign. I must look blank, because he says, “have you never heard of Varney the Vampire? I guess you’re pretty young.”

“Twenty-one,” I say.

“Jesus. You weren’t one for gothic literature in your mortal life, then?”

“I don’t really read much.” I shift awkwardly, my hands in my back pockets. I always end up feeling like a dumb kid around others of my kind.

“Don’t worry,” Xavier says. “I was an ignorant fuck in my mortal days, as well. I just happened to be living in Renaissance Venice, so I couldn’t help but fall into some culture now and then. Cheating, really.”

Ignorant fuck. His words sting. He smirks and this time the joke’s at my expense.

“The owner of this club is one of us. Nathaniel Hook, he’s called. Did your creator explain the rules about young vampires?”

I shake my head.

Xavier brings his thumb and forefinger up to the bridge of his nose and massages it. “All right. Here’s the thing. You shouldn’t really be out without your creator, not among other vampires. I’ll vouch for you tonight, say you’re under my protection. You don’t have any quirks I should know about?”

My mind races for an answer, but in the end I shrug. “I don’t think so.”

“Funny feeding habits? Propensity to fly into violent rages?”

I shake my head. I’m not sure if he’s joking now.

“What are you good at?”

I shrug again. “I’m fast. Strong.” My list falls short.

“You don’t have a bloody clue, do you? Never mind. Perhaps it’s too soon for you to know. Follow my lead. You can trust Hook. Be careful of the others.”

I follow him through the anonymous black door. A bulky bouncer nods to Xavier as we enter. On the other side is a modern looking bar buzzing with people. They all seem to be mortal, including the bouncer. The smell of their blood overwhelms me.

Xavier puts an arm on my shoulder, and pulls me closer. So close I can smell the sharp tang of his cologne, feel his body press against mine. Bolstering me against the pull of that scent. I realise how alone I’ve been.

“This is just the public section. The club is out back,” he whispers hot into my neck.

We pass the bar which stretches the length of the room. It’s carved from golden wood, cut into waves and polished to a shine. A small man leans at the end, watching us approach. He has a long face, with a long nose, and, as I draw near, I realise he’s one of us. That strange trick of space and presence again.

“Hook!” Xavier exclaims. “Good to see you. This is my friend, Asher. I’m showing him the sights.”

Hook smiles at us with his thin lips and looks me up and down. “He seems a little fresh, my friend.”

“I’ll vouch for him.”

“See that you do. Welcome to Varney’s, Asher.”

“Thanks,” I say, and he gives me a brief nod.

We go through a door behind Hook, marked ‘Private’, into a cloakroom dimly lit by a red bulb.

“What does he think I’ll do?” I ask.

“Lose control,” Xavier says. “Act inappropriately with the guests. But I think you’ll be all right, as long as you stick with me. Okay?”

“Yeah.”

“When you meet someone new, just bow your head and keep your eyes on the floor. Don’t address them as you did with Hook. Most of our kind are very concerned with seniority and good manners. Do you understand?”

I nod, a lump rising in my throat. I’m no longer sure I want to meet anyone. I’m not in the mood for bowing and scraping. It sounds like the sort of game Sebastian would enjoy.

We go through a set of double doors. My feet sink into thick carpet. The light is golden, glistening from chandeliers and wall sconces, all electric, but with a muted tone. It shines off the gilt-edged decoration and furniture. I can’t help but think of Sebastian’s beautiful antiques.

The place is nearly empty. A middle-aged woman reclines on a couch in one corner. She wears a colourful patterned robe and a turban, and fingers a long string of beads around her neck. With the other hand she smokes a cigarette in a long holder. Two men lean against a small bar in the corner, regarding us. They’re both smartly dressed in suits, their ages difficult to guess, perhaps somewhere in their forties. They nod at Xavier and I look down as he’s told me. His hand presses against my back, guiding me to a couch on the far wall.

“Good,” he says, his breath against my ear. I crave that closeness. “You’re doing fine. It’s very quiet tonight.”

We sit on the couch. The woman in the corner is watching us with interest. Xavier smiles and nods at her, a respectful gesture of acknowledgement, but he doesn’t seem to want to engage. His focus is all on me.

“Have you fed?” he asks.

I shake my head, ashamed, picturing my last victim running across the park, me driving him down to the ground, before he could escape. He’s not the first I’ve messed up. I’ve tried so hard not to kill like Kerrick. Each victim is etched in my mind, a tally marked across my soul.

He strokes my cheek with his hand. “What did they do to you?”

I meet his eyes. I don’t have the words to tell him my fear and I’m not sure I want to, but I feel the brush of his consciousness against mine. It’s the softest touch, not like Sebastian’s force. I soften and melt towards him. His arm wraps around me and I rest my head on his shoulder.

“Evening, Xavier.” It’s a woman’s voice. I raise my head to see, but it feels heavy; my whole body is like lead. It’s easier not to fight this strange, sleepy feeling, but to release myself to it. My eyelids flutter, allowing me a glimpse of the slender young woman in front of me. She wears a long deep blue satin dress, which drapes over her hips and flows down to the floor like water, pooling at her feet. Blonde hair falls to her waist. I don’t look up to her face.

“Do you have any guests tonight?” he asks.

“Of course,” she says. “Would you like a room?”

“I think that would be better,” he says. He turns to me. “Come on, little sleepy head. We’re going to get you something to eat.”

Somehow I rise. It’s as though I’m floating, pulled by an invisible string. I bob along beside him in the gentle stream he’s made for me. We leave the room, following the woman. The satin of her dress whispers to me, as we move along the corridor. She opens a door for us and ushers us in. The room is modern, a wash of pale cream with touches of red. It has a Japanese feel. There are no windows. A large bed dominates the room.

“We’ll take the room until tomorrow night, if that’s all right?” he says.

“That’s fine. Shall I put it on Mr Sforza’s account?”

“Yes.”

I sink onto the bed, the covers softer than anything I’ve felt. What’s he done to me? I can’t control my body, but my senses are amplified a thousand times. The cream blankness of the ceiling is comforting, as I stare up at it and imagine myself floating up to meld with the nothingness. The woman leaves us. The door hisses across the deep carpet and clunks neatly into place.

“Are you a messy eater?” Xavier asks me. He towers above me. I see Sebastian ripping chunks of flesh away with his teeth, blood pouring down his shirt.

“No,” Xavier says. “You need to stop thinking about that.” His consciousness holds mine a little tighter. “You’re afraid to feed. You must understand you need the vitality to function. Do you want to die?”

Once I did. Now, I’m not sure. Can he see that uncertainty in my mind? I can’t speak. He must know I can’t speak. My throat tightens as my panic rises.

“Shh,” he says. “Stop fighting me.”

I didn’t realise I was. I’m not sure how to control it. I sense him probing my thoughts. I imagine my mind like a flat blank plain, like the ceiling. A vast expanse with no walls. Everything fades bright white around me, until I’m floating in that nothingness.

I remain there for a long time, enjoying the peace of that empty space. The uncomplicated blank. Then there is red, a dribble at first, across the whiteness. It’s hot in my throat, as it blossoms into a bloody flower. I reach out with my mind and touch a petal. It’s soft-fuzzed and delicate. I stroke it, savouring the velvet surface.

Xavier’s voice comes from very far away, calling me back, and I float up into the room. There’s a man kneeling beside the bed, a mortal man. He doesn’t look much older than me. He smiles as I open my eyes. He’s holding his wrist out to me, two clean puncture marks where I’ve fed from him. I pull myself up onto my elbow and lick the wound. It heals.

“Thank you,” Xavier says, from behind me.

The man nods, and stands. He pads out of the room, barefoot. I roll over to find Xavier sitting beside me, leaning back against the bedstead.

“That was very nicely done,” he says. “The flower, and everything. They love that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t—” I begin.

“I controlled your panic, the traumatic responses you’ve learned. But you created the vision and he shared that as you fed from him. These are the things your creator should have taught you.”

“Who was the man?”

“One of the mortals, who visit here. They call them guests. Some people enjoy being fed from. They find it pleasurable. Hook provides a specialist service, in two different senses. A complementary arrangement.”

“They actually enjoy it?”

“Sure. Why not? It can be a rush for some of them. And, of course, there’s the thrill of danger.” His lips draw into a slow smile and I catch the glimpse of his fangs.

“Can we feed here all the time?”

Xavier shakes his head. “Sadly, not. Hook just can’t supply enough. He must be very careful who he invites here, for our security. And it’s not a good idea to depend completely on another for your sustenance. You make yourself a slave to them. Understand?”

I nod. “Just like we can’t feed from each other.”

“Not quite. It’s simply unwise to trust everything to others. That’s all I mean. What you said isn’t quite true. We can feed from one another and it isn’t always bad. There are different bonds we can create with our blood. But you have to be careful. My lover and I, we’re bound to one another. It’s a mutual bond, but created over a long time.”

I feel a pang at the mention of a lover. Stupid. We’ve only just met but I don’t want to share him.

“What did you do to me, before, when I lost control?”

“It’s a mind-trick, baby boy. Did you like it?”

“I’m not sure.” My confusion is real. I know, somewhere at the back of my mind, that I should fear this, but I can’t find my fear. I want to trust him so badly.

“Would you like to spend the day here with me? I’ll keep you safe.”

“Yes,” I blurt out, far too eager.

“Would you like me to teach you?”

I nod, too afraid to speak in case I spoil something. It’s too perfect. He’s too perfect.

“I need to make a phone call, Asher. Perhaps tomorrow night you can come home with me. I need to check. I share my safe haven.”

He slides off the bed and disappears through the door.

 

(c) Ambrose Hall, 2016

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Love is the Cure Excerpt: The Crow King

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Detalle de Sepulcro en el cementeriode High Gate by Carlos Ramos Alar, from  WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

This is an excerpt from my gothic novella, Love is the Cure. This part is from the point of view of a very ancient vampire, Bren. It’s the most gothic point of view, so the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. You can download the whole ebook for free this weekend. There are 56 other ebooks available for free here as part of the promotion.

The paper dolls dance and play, their consciousnesses tugging at my own by the bond I made with them. My world, dull grey, is peopled with transparencies. They light a thousand candles each night for me, but not one nor a thousand can light this place. My empire of ash. They call this mausoleum my court; they cannot tell a grave from a throne.

It comes, first the scent. Unmistakable. Hot trickling red, thick with heady power. Her force, her essence, running through their veins. The pull, after centuries, is still irresistible.

Mortagne, the parasite who inhabits my shadow endlessly, approaches me. His is a pestilence, an infestation of which I am never rid. Bathsheba too ascends the dais, lurking, sliming, funereal, dragging her mothball scent. I do not recall which chest I pulled her from, so that I may put her back.

Where did they come from, these wraiths that hang from me like so many tattered garments?

“Hic est ignis,” I hiss at them, raising one finger and pointing at the two strangers who have appeared at the bottom of the stone stairs to my vault, and now await official entry. My Latin is not strong, but Mortagne and Bathsheba do not understand my own tongue. It is long dead to them. It does not matter; words are not needed. I have my hooks in their minds. They can feel my will without my voicing it, though they little comprehend my desires.

These two strangers glow with her flame, taking on her substance, her strength, and the scorching fatal colour of her. “Ena,” I mouth, but I will not sully her name by speaking it in the presence of my parasites. I recognise him, the dark one. He is her child. She laid her kiss on him when he ran through the shadowed tunnels under Londinium, and stumbled near her realm. It marks him like a burning brand, drawing me to him.

“Quis sit qui venit?”

“It is George Kerrick, my Lord,” Mortagne says.  “And his get, Sebastian Talbot. You recall, my Lord, that we won Talbot’s soul for you dicing but three nights ago. He is yours by right.”

I let out a low rattle. It is something like a sigh. I care not for their foolish games, or the other one—the soft, preening blond they call Talbot. “Kerrick,” I say, tasting the name, savouring it. He is the one I want.

Mortagne and Bathsheba ooze down the stairs and across the room, but I do not wait for them. I point a finger once more towards Kerrick and beckon him to me. In his shadowed eyes there is understanding. He comprehends my purpose, even before it is known to me. He has come to barter.

(c) Ambrose Hall, 2016

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Gothic/Horror Month Review: The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

theloney-coverI’ve seen The Loney described as both gothic and folk horror, and also literary fiction, and all those labels fit. It’s the story of the Catholic Smith family and friends who take a pilgrimage from their church in London to a desolate patch of coast in Northern England. They stay at the Moorings, a rental house once home to a taxidermist. But it is the stretch of coast itself, The Loney, with its deadly tides, and the mysterious Thessaly, an abandoned cottage on the tidal island of Coldbarrow, which are really at the heart of the mystery. For years, the group visited the nearby shrine with their old priest, Father Wilfred. But on their previous visit, Father Wilfred mysteriously changed, and soon after died. This time a new priest accompanies them.

The story is narrated by one of the boys from the Smith family, now grown-up. His older brother, Hanny, was mute and had learning disabilities when they were young, and the narrator often acts as his protector. Every pilgrimage, the family hoped that Hanny would be cured, though the narrator knew what a strain that expectation placed on his brother. The story begins by looking back at that time, at the final pilgrimage, but from an adult point of view. In the present, we know that adult Hanny has somehow recovered from his condition, but not how, and we’re told of a baby discovered in a landslide at Coldbarrow. Though it takes the book to explain why, this event prompts the narrator to tell the story of the final pilgrimage to The Loney. The retrospective style builds the sense of mystery.

The Loney is fantastically atmospheric. The bleak and deadly landscape is a character in itself, and there’s a brooding sense of doom that overlays the whole story. From the start, there are hints of folk magic, of the dark history of the place, and of something not quite right about the locals. As the story grows, this becomes increasingly apparent, but it takes a long time to discover the truth. I can’t stress this enough, this book is a slow burn, so if you like a fast pace, this isn’t for you. However, I’m not the most patient person in the world, and the rich characterisation and atmosphere were enough food to keep me going.

Catholicism plays a big part alongside the folk magic, and there’s brutality there as well, mostly in the form of the older fire and brimstone priest and the legacy he left. There’s a lurking question that seems to hang over the story about the fate of those who are cast out by The Church. But it’s not a complete trashing of religion. The new priest is much more open minded, and genuinely caring, and the story also stresses the comfort and hope that faith provides, as well as some of the darker excesses of religion. There’s no one single message about belief, but a lot of ambiguity.

The biggest ambiguity comes at the end. I won’t give it away, but it’s an ending that stays with me, that haunts with its lingering questions. The narrator, who I don’t think is ever given a first name, plays his role of protector to the end.

Gothic/Horror Month Guest Interview: What is Gothic Crazysauce?

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I invited Jack Swift, my writing group buddy and vamp muse, to talk about gothic crazysauce.

(1) What is gothic crazysauce?

“Gothic crazysauce” is an informal term that was getting thrown around on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I thought the phrase was a hilarious and apt description of everything I am about.

To me, “gothic crazysauce” describes the ridiculous, melodramatic, yet gloomily atmospheric happenings in certain gothic literature. Not all gothic qualifies.

Keeping a mentally ill wife locked up in an attic a la Jane Eyre is pretty gothic.

Marrying someone you hate, and then abusing her and her child, all just to get revenge on someone else, Heathcliff-style, is approaching crazysauce.

Literally summoning Lucifer to help the man you love enjoy another, as Matilda does in The Monk? That, my friends, is full-blown gothic crazysauce.

Gothic crazysauce is when your characters never experience being happy, sad, angry, or horny—instead they are ecstatic, hysterical, murderous or deranged with lust. Your plot twists are well beyond byzantine. Everything takes place in a mouldering haunted castle, with a double order of bats. Outside is a thunderstorm. There is always a thunderstorm. You flee into it, from the man you both adore and despise, clad only in your diaphanous white nightdress, and lose yourself and your mind on the moors.

Gothic crazysauce is generally used as spice for the dish, rather than as the meat of an entire work of literature. More rarely, brave souls set out to pen entire novels and plays utterly drenched in the crazy. My hat is off to them.

(2)  Do you have some recommendations of this from literature?

I already mentioned the classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Monk, in ascending order of crazysauce. The Monk is literally all crazysauce, all the time. Nothing that those characters do really makes sense—unless you are Lord Byron high on laudanum trying to get into the pants of both Percy AND Mary Shelley at the same time.

Speaking of laudanum-fuelled Byron/Shelley orgies, the novelization of the Ken Russell film Gothic, written by Stephen Volk, is another fine example of non-stop crazysauce. I am not going to say it’s actually a good book—but it sure is fun, if you just want to marinate in aesthetically pleasing batshit insanity.

Shakespeare’s tragedies, though they obviously pre-date the gothic movement, have plenty of crazysauce to go around.

King Lear springs readily to mind, especially the scene where Edgar erroneously convinces the blinded Gloucester that he has actually attempted and survived suicide by jumping from a cliff—all without revealing that he is actually his estranged son.

Othello has plenty. (“Blood! Blood! BLOOD!” Sounds exactly like a Christian Death song. Also, if you become so upset that you fall into a “trance” or “epilepsy” from sheer emotion, you are probably staring in some major gothic crazysauce.)

Julius Caesar, my personal favourite Shakespeare play, is a lot more gothic than people give it credit for. In an oft deleted speech, Cassius describes how he “bared [his] bosom to the thunderstone,” daring the gods to strike him down with their lightening. (Trying to be struck by lightning for deity-defying reasons, or indeed for any reason at all, is like the Tabasco of gothic crazysauce—a dependable, classic standby.)

And of course, there’s Titus Andronicus. Crazysauce slathered on your sons, who are baked in a frigging pie.

The delightful play Irma Vep is an extended parody of gothic crazysauce, and as such, hits pretty much every ridiculous note you can imagine. Vampires! Werewolves! Mysterious dead wives who might not be dead but instead locked in the attic! Secret passages! Betrayal! Passion! Murder! You get the picture.

(3) How have you injected gothic crazy sauce into your own work? (feel free to plug anything you’re doing here, including music).

My main work in progress at the moment is a novel called The Conspirators, concerning Cassius and Brutus, the assassins of Julius Caesar. I have been working on this novel in some form or another for more than ten years. Originally it was conceived as “serious historical fiction,” and you’d better believe I did a lot of serious historical research.

But eventually, I admitted to myself that I wanted it to be a gothic novel.

Why a gothic novel? Well, honestly, a lot of the crazy is already there. Plutarch reports very seriously that Brutus conversed with the ghost of the murdered Caesar, on more than one occasion. Brutus’ wife Porcia supposedly committed suicide by swallowing hot coals. You can’t get more gothic than that! Cassius’ greedy mentor Crassus had molten gold poured down his throat after he was beheaded, and his head was used as a prop in a play. The orator Cicero had a hairpin stabbed through his tongue, after he was also beheaded. Brutus’ father-in-law Cato disembowelled himself with his bare hands, after being stitched up from a previous suicide attempt. Not to mention the assassination of Caesar himself! Sixty plus senators converging on one man, who fought like a wild beast up until the very moment that his beloved friend Brutus stabbed him, right in the crotch!

The deaths, as reported by the ancient historians, are just wild. You can’t make this stuff up. It doesn’t just beg for crazysauce. It is crazysauce already—real life, canonical, historical gothic.

Of course, being me, I couldn’t resist pouring even more crazysauce on top of already nutso history. One thing I knew, which will likely drive the Serious Historical Fiction buffs mad if I ever publish, is that I wanted to take the homoerotic tension between the Cassius and Brutus of Shakespeare, and make it explicit. Extremely explicit. And ferociously sadomasochistic, and pathologically intense.

So it was that my Serious Historical Fiction turned into a gothic romance/ghost story/work of erotic horror. Imagine mashing up Shakespeare’s Caesar with The Monk, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Story of O, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I am going with this.  I should probably be ashamed, but strangely, I’m not.

One of the biggest challenges of writing extreme gothic crazysauce is maintaining the proper atmosphere and tone. Everything should be dialled up to eleven, at all times. This is probably why the book is still in its first draft.

If you try to write gothic, you will get self-conscious. You will second guess yourself. You’ll think your prose is too purple, your metaphors too dense and ridiculous, and that your characters are acting like Bronte heroines on a bad acid trip. That is as it should be. Write from the heart, the gut, and from your sense of melodrama. Anything that just plain doesn’t work can always be deleted later.

Wow, that’s some good advice.  I should probably take it. And I will.

As soon as I finish up this swooning fit.

(4) Do you think the gothic genre has a place in the modern world, and how would it differ from more traditional gothic?

Really good question.

Of course, “gothic” originally emerged from the Romantic Movement, which came out of a specific moment in history, and was a reaction against the Enlightenment. So it would be easy to assume that no, gothic has no place in the modern world, divorced as we are from that particular place and time.

But let’s dig a little deeper. The Romantic Movement was about breaking away from the overly restrained, intellectual, and reasoned approach of Enlightenment-period art and poetry. Romantic literature was about instinct, emotion, spirit—the heart and the gut, rather than the head. Gothic just takes all of that further, striving to plumb the darkest, nastiest depths of human experience. Gothic is about madness, bliss, extremes of feeling, the sundering of societal taboos, and reaching some visceral, something primitive. I think that impulse will always exist in humanity.

Right now, some people feel alienated from the easy answers of science and materialism and the legacy of the Enlightenment. But many of these alienated souls have no desire to follow the equally pat and easy path of conventional religion. I think a Gothic revival could be upon us—and I am not just referring to the influx of black lace and dark lipsticks to mainstream fashion, although that too is symptomatic and related. There has been a rise in interest in witchcraft and paganism among a certain set of young people, similar to what happened in the 90’s. The Satanic Temple in America has been steadily gaining followers and popularity. Pop stars are aping gothic looks and themes in their songs and music videos—and more importantly, it’s selling like hot cakes. All of these things point to individuals seeking a third path, a dark path, where sentiment, mysticism, intuition, instinct, and desire can be valued.

I might be talking out of my ass a bit now, because of course I love writing gothic fiction and would like to think people will read my books. But honestly, I am convinced that as long as passionate, sensual and imaginative souls exist, gothic will always have an appeal.

So go forth, my friends, and chug that sweet spicy gothic crazysauce, right out of the bottle. Wash it down with absinthe. And then cry.

Jack Swift is a rock musician and wannabe novelist. As Johnny Truant, he fronts The Truants, and plays bass for Cardiac Dream, two deliciously dark San Francisco-based post-punk bands. He is also a queer, trans, polyamorous, polymorphously perverse pervert, general wastrel, and androgynous source of sexual confusion. He resides somewhere in his native San Francisco Bay Area, with his boyfriend and three black cats—Wednesday, Babs and Dorian. Look for his novel Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape sometime next spring, which isn’t very gothic but does have a ghost in it. Look for his novel The Conspirators sometime in the next hundred years or so (fingers crossed).

Newsletter

I’m going to start a newsletter about my writing, and other related noodlings. I have a link up on the contact page, but thought I’d flag it up here as well.

If you’re interested, you can sign up here.

And you can unsubscribe whenever you want. I definitely won’t be spamming you regularly, so don’t worry.

I’m currently working on a sequel to my vampire novella and editing my 1920s occult mystery novel; that’s the sort of thing I’ll tell you about in the newsletter.

[Vampire Month] Mythic Proportions and Howling Voids by Ambrose Hall

My guest blog post for Vampire Month…

Lurking Musings

Ambrose Hall is here now to talk about his favourite stories and how they have influenced his writing… Be prepared for sticky ends and maggots.

I’ve always enjoyed stories told on a grand scale, with the emotions writ large, the stakes high, and the amp cranked up to eleven. That’s why I enjoy the gangster genre in film—because everything is so big, so extreme, so much larger than reality. The emotionsBFD Wool Exchange and the motivations have the quality of myths; they have that do or die edge to them. It’s possibly why The Wire is one of my favourite TV shows, and Omar my favourite character in it. With a clear nod to Achilles, he pushes his revenge to the edge of insanity for his Patroclus. Characters in these stories tell themselves they have a code, that their world is run according to rules, but in the end, no one else is…

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[Vampire Month] Ambrose Hall Interview

Here’s my interview for Vampire Month.

Lurking Musings

Our second victim in the Vampire Month interrogation chair is Ambrose Hall… find out more about their life in the questions that follow…

  • What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

I did a lot of writing and drawing as a kid. I think most of my writing was fantastical orBFD Wool Exchange magical in some way. I remember being obsessed with witches, as well as Narnia and Robin Hood. I think I was a bit of a goth, even then. I had a secret magic club in my mum’s garden shed, which I shared with my friend. I wrote a lot of poems as a kid, and in my teens, but I’ve lost my bottle for it as an adult.

  • When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

I studied English and media with the intention of…

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Novella Promo: Love is the Cure

loveisthecure small

I have a promo running on my gothic novella this week. You can get the ebook for 99c/99p until Saturday in the US and UK.

Linkies:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Blurb: Love is the Cure

There’s a knack to eternity. Not everyone has it.

Kerrick’s come a long way from the gutters of Victorian Spitalfields, but he’s still rash, violent, and a demon with a knife. He’s also desperately alone. When he turns Asher, a young homeless man, he thinks he’s found a companion, but their relationship quickly turns sour, and Asher refuses to feed. Through his desperate attempts to save his new child, Kerrick attracts the attention of an ancient vampire who dwells beneath Highgate Cemetery, and he is drawn into an old feud that spans centuries.

A gothic novella told in fragments, from the points of view of five very different vampires.

You can read an extract here.

Inspiration: Dionysus and Ampelos

Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914) Ampelos and Bacchus

Bacco e Ampelo, Giorgio Sommer

One of the most entertaining things about writing vampires, especially if you’re a bit of a history geek like me, is drawing on all sorts of different historical inspirations. As I have a character from the 1920s, I wanted to reflect a preoccupation with classical myth, and the ideal of “Greek love” that some gay men of the time drew on to define their own feelings. The character is a sensualist, and indulges in his pleasures without much thought to morality. I took inspiration from the myths of Dionysus, and the practices of his raucous, and sometimes bloodthirsty followers, in his section. He also references the myth of Dionysus and Ampelos.

There are two different myths about Ampelos. Ampelos was a satyr youth, beloved of Dionysus, Greek god of wine and ritual madness.

In Ovid, the story goes that Ampelos fell while picking grapes from a vine hanging on an elm, and died. Dionysus lifted him up to the stars, and he became the constellation Vindemetor, the Grape-Gatherer (also known as Bootes).

In Nonnus, Ampelos was riding on the back of a bull. He boasted to Selene that he was best, as he could drive cattle and had horns. Selene, jealous of his claims, sent a gadfly to harass and chastise him. The gadlfy stung the bull all over, sending him wild. He threw Ampelos off, and gored him to death. Distraught about the death of his beloved, Dionysus transformed him into the first grape vine, and made wine from his blood.

Sources and additional art:

http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/SatyrosAmpelos.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampelos

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/dionysus-bacchus-ampelos-silenus-and-a-maenad-

Ovid, Fasti

Nonnos, Dionysiaca