Bat Globe

I bought myself a bat globe
A long long time ago
It's full of tiny plastic bats
Instead of flakes of snow

A haunted house sits in the centre
Waiting for the storm
I shake the globe. The bats rise up,
A small and happy swarm.

But when the morning comes
Instead of roosting in the eaves
They lie upon the plastic ground
Like fallen autumn leaves

I'd love to crack it open
And set them free to fly
To swirl like bonfire ashes
Up into the evening sky.

Trick or Treat

Trick or treat!" the creature shrieked
At the old woman who had opened the door
Its costume was very convincing:
A smart suit and shiny shoes
To show how professional it was
And a human mask tugged into a frown of concern
Though its eyes glittered behind. 

"Treat, please," she begged.

"You don't know how hard it's been.
The bills keep getting higher
And I can't afford to heat my home. 
My grandchildren eat from food banks
And I've been waiting a year for a doctor
To investigate this ache in my belly. 
The plague took my husband
While you played your party games
While the sky filled with poison
And the rivers filled with shit
And the roads filled with potholes
And your pockets filled with money
And the things you said you'd build to make it better 
Never got built
And the things you did build
Fell down 
And to add insult to injury
Someone cut down my favourite tree."

She waited for it to answer, 
With tears welling in her eyes
For some sign of empathy
Or just a human-sounding reply. 

"Aw, poor you," it said

And with a nearly human claw
It patted her on the head.
"Tell us one thing we can do." 

For a single glowing moment 
She thought maybe this time
would be different
And she whispered "I need..." 

"HA! TRICK!" it screamed
And spat in her face
While its gang of little suited friends 
Emptied her bins into the road. 

We're The Folk in Horror

We're the folk in horror but you'll find no cultists here.
We worship the same gods as you: Love Island, sports and beer.
The parish church hides no satanic rituals or rites
Just jumble sales and bingo drives alternate Thursday nights.

We're glad you've bought that run down cottage high up on the moor.
Ignore the silly stories of what happened there before
There's no reason at all to think that you will go berserk
And anyway, the local builders really need the work.

Don't worry if you hear a strange and far-off rumbling sound
Like something huge and hungry stirring deep beneath the ground
No buried monsters, grabazoids or troglodytes a-snacking
It's tunnelling for HS2, or else more bloody fracking.

No, we're the folk in horror working hard to keep our farm
We're too clapped out with milking cows to do you any harm.
There's nothing in t'woodshed, nothing summoning the crows
No clowns hide in the cornfield, no-one walks between the rows.

And as for wicker statues, do you honestly believe
We've got the time, the labour or the resources to weave
A fifty foot high cage to sacrifice a virgin cop
When we haven't enough volunteers to staff the village shop?

It's hard to fraternise with squamous horrors in the ocean
When home is falling off a cliff thanks to coastal erosion.
And though our kids aren't frog-eyed hybrids, shambling and squat
With teenage boys the differences are sometimes hard to spot.

So we're the folk in horror, sick to death of your anxiety
The butt of all your pent up fears of urbanised society
It's easy to portray us all as sullen, inbred yokels
But please come and spend your cash; this shop's not just for locals.

The Thing Under the Bed

Well this is starting to become something of a pattern isn't it? Putting sod all on this blog for months (or in this case, YEARS) on end only to pop up again in time for Hallowe'en with some random weirdness. Ah well, who am I to fly in the face of tradition.


For some reason known only to my brain, this year it's come up with poetry. Well, doggerel for the most part. I'm not laying claim to any kind of artistic merit here. Little fragments of strangeness that get lodged in my brain, too small for a story, too itchy to ignore. If you like them, cool. If you don't - meh, go buy some of my books so that I get another novel contract (because it has been a GRIM three years, let me tell you), and I'm forced to do something more productive with my time.

I've got, like, ten or so of these things, and I'll post them throughout the month until Hallowe'en. Collect the set!

Here's the first.

The Thing Under the Bed

I can hear it breathing:
Long, slow, snuffling in-breaths
And the occasional giggle

I can smell it
Stale, cabbagey farts
Sewer breath
And something sugary
Like old sweets found in a coat pocket
Sticky and furry with lint. 

It's scratching lightly on the underside of my bed
Not because it's trying to get through
Just to let me know it could if it wanted to
It plucks at the springs:

I can't move

I feel something pulling the edge of my mattress down
And I know that it's reaching up
From underneath 
And its hand or claw or whatever 
Is crawling like a spider towards me
And any second now
It will touch my face
And I open my mouth and I scream


So hard my throat hurts. 

There's running footsteps up the stairs 
And the bedroom door opens
And light streams in from the hallway, 
Making me blink 
And my mum says

"For God's sake, James, stop terrorising your brother!"
And my big brother in the bunk bed below me says
"But I wasn't doing anything!"

He always says that.

Happy Hallowe'en 2020

This, as I'm sure you can see, is my Master Painter t-shirt from the inaugural 1987 Golden Demon Awards. Strangely, there exists no photographic evidence of me wearing this prestigious garment, which is probably just as well. I was 17. The word 'gawky' may have been coined especially for the occasion. Nor is there evidence of the miniature with which I won the regional heat that earned me this, but I can picture it clearly: it was a dark-elf archer armed with a crossbow, and I spent bloody HOURS shading those knife-edge cheekbones. Presumably it was fairly decent for the time but compared to what I've seen in the cabinets of Games Workshops today it wouldn't even merit a glance, and that's as it should be. Standards improve. Each new generation raises the bar for the ones that come after.

Look, I know we're only talking about painting gaming miniatures, okay, but like I say, I was 17. It was a big deal. My family had moved to the windswept wastes of the Cumbrian Borders from Australia barely two years earlier and like a lot of nerdy and socially maladjusted teenage males who weren't into sport (or in the case of the Borders, chasing tractors and wrestling highland cattle) gaming was a both an escape and a lifeline.

Which is kind of why getting a story published by the Black Library is also a big deal now that I've blossomed into a nerdy and socially maladjusted middle-aged man. The gawky 17-year old is still inside (believe me, there's room for him, and a few of his mates), and he's currently bug-eyed with happiness.

Have a great Hallowe'en season, everyone.


His First Change

 Okay, we're past the dead of the moon. I think it's safe to post this now.


Youngest was of age and the time of his change had come upon him, and he was excited but also afraid.

Will it hurt? he asked his mother, and Mother said yes it, will hurt, but you will learn to bear the pain. Eat well and make yourself strong. So he ate well to strengthen his flesh and bones. Will I hurt others? he asked his father, and Father said yes, you will hurt others, but only if you are careless. We have a place, far away from the others, where they know not to go and from which we cannot escape while the change is upon us. His father showed him the place, far beyond the forest on an island in the middle of a fast flowing river. When will it happen? he asked his brothers and sister, for he was Youngest and they had all been through their first change. They said Watch the moon. So he watched the moon as it dipped from the bright glory of its fullness, becoming a little darker each night. When it was three nights away from full dark and nothing more than a claw’s edge slicing the night sky, Father gathered them together and said It is time now for us to hide away from the others that they may be protected from the curse of our affliction.

So for the first time Youngest went with his family far beyond the forest to the island in the middle of the fast flowing river, where they waited as the moon died.

When his change began he thought Oh this isn’t so bad. There was an itching in his limbs that was easily cured by some vigorous scratching, but he found that the scratching took not just the itch but most of his fur with it. Soon it was falling out in clumps on its own until it was entirely gone and he was naked and pale as a worm from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. I am cold! he howled to his brother Eldest, who just barked a laugh in reply, as naked as himself.

Then his flesh filled with fire and the spasms began, and he screamed. His limbs convulsed as they twisted, sinews snapping, bones elongating with his muscles stretched and spasming along them. His tail retreated and the pads of his paws became long, squirming, grub-like things. His muzzle shrank back into his skull with a horrific grinding of bone and his entire head swelled until he was certain that his brain was about to explode. Through his torment he watched Mother and Father and Sister and his brothers all change, and totter up onto their hind legs to laugh and jabber at each other with their blunt round faces. He tried to stand on his hind legs too, but could not get his balance and fell like a newborn deer, clumsy and wet.

Mother smiled and placed something large and flat and soft and warm over him. He thought it might have been a bear’s hide but he couldn’t smell it to be sure. He could smell virtually nothing! His hearing was muffled too, and he could see little more than shadows in the dark. Blind, deaf, and bereft of the glorious rainbow scents of the world, he whimpered ‘What has happened to me?’

‘It is your change,’ said Mother, using the jabber of her mouth.

‘Let him lie and find his strength,’ said Father. ‘There is work to be done and not much time.’

Youngest lay and and watched them crack stones together and fire flowered. He had only ever seen it in the dry summer storms, and it had terrified him and he had run from it, but here he found its warmth comforting. He watched as his family took long sticks and went into the woods of the island’s interior, and come back later with a deer that they threw down by the fire – but instead of falling upon it with teeth and claws they took it apart with sharp rocks, and he found himself marvelling at their skill. He flexed the long grubs that grew out of his paws – hands, he must remember to call them hands – and wondered if he would be that skilful.

Then Sister passed him a large, flat stone, a smaller and rounder and harder stone that fit comfortably in his hand, and one of the deer’s long bones. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘As long as you’re lying there you might as well make yourself useful. Get the marrow out of that.’

Ordinarily he would have seized it in his powerful jaws and cracked it open with his teeth, but his teeth were just square, blunt pegs, useless for anything like the rest of him – except for those hands. He placed the long bone on the flat stone, took the hammer stone in his fist and brought it down hard. The wet bone splintered with a delicious crunch! and he was rewarded with the ooze of sticky pink marrow. He dipped a fingertip in it and tasted, and his mouth came alive. He laughed and pounded again and again and again, pulverising the bone, crushing it to fragments, loving the sound and the force of his blows vibrating up through his arm.

After the meal his family turned to the work that Father had said they had little time for. Three nights of the dead moon each month was not much with which to make progress on the large structure that they dragged out from the protective cover of leaves and bushes. It looked like a bundle of tree trunks tangled together with twisted vines and he couldn’t understand how such a thing had grown until he saw his family working on it and he realised that it had not grown this way but had been made with the cleverness of hands. Father called it "boat" and told him that when it was finished they would use it to cross the fast flowing river to the wider forest where they would be able to hunt whatever they wished and use their stones to smash the world into shapes that pleased them. They laughed and sang as they worked, and on the second night, when Youngest was feeling stronger and had got his balance, he joined them.

And the wolves of the deep forest, hearing their laughter, cowered deeper in their dens, afraid.

Here's One I Prepared Earlier

Hello, what's this?

(Blows dust off lid, opens it. Hinges creak. Something falls off.)

Cripes, I haven't been in here for a while. Look at the state of this place.

(Clears cobwebs out of the corners. Something small and scuttery scuttles away.)

Sorry about that. Let me offer you something by way of apology for keeping this blog so badly. How about a free scary story for the Hallowe'en season? Here's one I prepared earlier.

Taken from the website: A Hundred Amazing Activities to Put a Spook in Your Hallowe’en!

What you will need: the cardboard tube from inside a toilet roll (microwave it for 30 seconds for hygiene’s sake); a disposable glow stick, the kind you snap and shake to activate; scissors; tape; somewhere to hide your fiendish creation!

How to make it: cut two spooky eye holes in the side of the cardboard tube. Activate a glow stick and put it inside. Seal both ends with tape. Now place it somewhere it is sure to be seen in the dark, such as beneath a bush or, if you don’t have an outside space, under a bed.

Take your Hallowe’en party guests on a tour of your haunted house, telling them to beware of the bloodthirsty creatures lurking in dark corners!


Mary shut the back gate behind her and walked up the garden path towards the house, enjoying the damp chill of the October night. Around her the silhouettes of trees and bushes were dimly visible in the streetlight from the alleyway, and scattered amongst them were dozens of slitted, glowing eyes. They gleamed at her from behind the swing set, underneath the decking, and even halfway up the hedge. She chuckled. Jon and the boys really had done an excellent job.

She unlocked the back door and stepped into the kitchen, then stopped, puzzled.

‘Jon?’ she called. ‘Why are all the lights off in here?’

She flicked the lights on, dumped her bag on the breakfast bar and crossed to the sink to fill the kettle.

‘You guys are amazing!’ she called. ‘It looks fantastic! Really spooky out there!’

It had been a late shift at the hospital so she’d left them to get on with it. As a stay-at-home dad, Jon was always good with the boys when it came to craft activities, but this year he had excelled himself. It was odd, though – normally Ed and Tim were throwing themselves at her knees by now. Mary left the kettle to boil and went through into the living room, expecting to find them glued to Paw Patrol, father included.

The lights were off in here too.

Maybe they were upstairs. Still, the standing lamp behind the settee should be on.

‘John?’ she called. ‘Timmy? Ed?’

A small whimpering noise came from the direction of the dining table.

As her eyes adjusted she saw the table covered in loo rolls, packets of glow sticks, scissors and tape. Crouched underneath, safe behind a cage of chair legs, were her husband and sons, their eyes wide with terror. It looked like Jon had a hand clamped over each of their mouths.

Mary laughed. ‘Oh sure, right, nice one. You almost scared me, you lot.’

Jon shook his head violently. ‘Shh!’ he hissed. ‘Keep your voice down! And turn the bloody lights off!’ It was hard to tell, but it looked to her like little Ed was actually crying.

‘This isn’t funny any more,’ she told her husband. ‘You’ve had your fun, made your spooky things, now get out from under the table and stop sodding around.’

‘You don’t understand,’ he whispered hoarsely. ‘We haven’t made them yet.’

Mary ran back into the kitchen and looked through the window again, but the bright glowing eyes – the ones that she had walked straight past only a few moments ago – were gone. The only thing she could see was the reflection of her own fear-stricken face staring back at her, swimming in the dark. Then she heard the cat flap rattle and bang, and They swarmed into the house.


PS: You can actually make these. Here's the link. It seems only fair since I nicked their picture.


Beneath the Dragon's Mound

I've just stumbled blinking into the light of October, having shut myself away all summer to finish the next book for Titan ('The Bone Harvest', out next May, kiddies!), and I've been able to enjoy a day out - which in my case means wandering about in some underground tunnels. Of course.

About half an hour's drive from my place is a village called Drakelow, which is an Anglo Saxon name meaning the Hill of the Dragon. It's called that because, well, there's a hill there, and like a lot of the old hills around Worcestershire it carries the remains of an Iron Age settlement. I haven't been able to gather a lot about the local folklore, but the remains of the settlement walls are a long curving mound, so maybe the Anglo Saxon newcomers thought there was a dragon buried under it or something.

I don't know about dragons, but there are a hell of a lot of tunnels. Three and a half miles of them.

With the outbreak of World War 2 a series of underground 'Shadow' factories was built, and the complex at Drakelow was designated Rover 1D, the idea being that parts made there would be dispersed to other sites for assembly. The tunnels were dug into the soft sandstone underneath Drakelow hill - sandstone which had already provided natural caves in which people had been living for centuries already. After the war turned Cold it was re-tasked as Regional Seat of Government 9 in the event of a nuclear attack; the workshops were turned into dormitories, armed forces C&C, a hospital, a GPO exchange, and even a BBC broadcasting studio. It was mothballed in '79 and eventually sold off in '94, and in recent years a small group of quintessentially mad English enthusiasts have been volunteering their time and energy to renovate it into a Cold War museum. For this they need money, and for that they sell guided tours. Which is where I come in - my and my mate Dan, a fellow searcher of things under hedgerows and strange lumps in the landscape.

Naturally there are all sorts of stories about paranormal phenomena in the tunnels - ghostly music, spectral monks and whatnot - and to be fair there were some pretty gruesome deaths involved in the construction, including three in a ceiling collapse and two factory workers who were killed when they decided to hitch a ride out of the tunnels on a conveyor belt but couldn't jump off in time and were dragged into the machinery and mangled. I'll be honest, I didn't see anything supernatural. The remnants of the complex's past lives were spooky enough for me. I'm just going to leave a bunch of photos here to speak for themselves.

Speaking Frankly

I don’t get out much. I’ve never been much of a gig-goer (gigger? Giggist?) so when I do it’s a bit of an adventure for me. On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to get to a book launch for an anthology of short stories called ‘Ten-Word Tragedies’ inspired by the lyrics of a song by Frank Turner, who was there to sing a few songs and sign copies of the book. It was a fun event, quite a small audience, I bopped a bit, yelled the words (often wrong) to the songs I knew, and got to meet an artist I admire who signed some of his work for me.

Anyway, the stories in the anthology are based on the lyrics of a song called ‘Mittens’, in which the narrator discovers a box of old postcards where he reads the stories of long-dead strangers and reflects on his own broken love affair. So far, so break-up song. The twist here is that Turner did actually have such a box of postcards and when he was approached about the anthology he sent some of them to the editors who in turn sent them out to the writers for inspiration for the stories.

Now Turner’s latest project is an album called ‘No Man’s Land’ on which the tracks are all true stories of historical women, and he’s getting some grief about it (which you are more than welcome to read if you want to delve into the cesspool of carefully curated outrage that is Twitter), because how dare he, a white dude fronting a band made up of other white dudes, presume to appropriate the stories of marginalised women? How dare he, especially without having first apologised for writing break-up songs in which hurt men say Hurtful Things, because of course we all know that everything a writer puts down on the page is exactly and precisely what they really agree with, and the only way forward is for everyone to continually apologise to each other for having written Hurtful Things and abase ourselves until we’re all crawling around in the mud like worms because then we’ll all be equal, just all in the shit.

And breathe.

It makes me question my own creative decisions – as it should – because I wrote a book called The Hollow Tree (no, this isn’t a stealth promo) about a murdered woman known only as Bella in the Wych Elm. I questioned at the time, and still do now to an extent, what my position was as a white dude trying to write the story of a female victim of male violence. Did I have that right? In the end, the fact that my editor was woman who was not telling me ‘James, you’re a misogynistic bastard, stop it’ made me think that it was probably okay.

Because it’s about ownership. When you start to make pronouncements about who has the ‘right’ to tell another person’s story, you’re making a statement about ownership. You are saying ‘this subject’s story belongs not to your group, but to our group’, and when you start to talk about people as things to be owned you’re on very dodgy moral ground. Surely, isn’t the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do here to stop treating people like objects? Cultural territory to be fought over?

One of my favourite Frank Turner songs is called ‘Rivers’. It’s a lovely celebration of the beauty of the English countryside, but I must confess that I have never once called into question his credentials as a geographer.

The stories in ‘Ten-Word Tragedies’ are also based on fragments of the lives of real people, taken from those postcards. I haven’t seen them, I don’t know what they look like, but presumably there isn’t any information about who the original owners were. What if one of the white male writers inadvertently ended up basing his story on a postcard written by a black woman? Should he have checked? Should a rigorous process of historical research been undertaken to ascertain, as far as possible, the correct ‘ownership’ of that story? If you’re going with the idea of ‘owning’ a story, why do any of those writers have the right to appropriate the fragmentary detail of a real person’s life?

Here’s why.

My father-in-law died in March and I’ve been doing my best to support my wife as she has dealt with not just the emotional fallout but also the mountain of legal and bureaucratic practicalities surrounding his death. I’ve only read the first story in the anthology so far, but it’s called ‘I Am Here’, by Michael Marshall Smith, and it’s about a woman dealing with not just the emotional fallout but also the mountain of legal and bureaucratic practicalities surrounding the death of her mother. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s beautiful and haunting, and it’s gone straight to the heart of a grief which has touched my family closely. If anybody had said ‘No, Mr Marshall Smith, you may not write that story for it does not belong to you’, then it wouldn’t exist, and that small piece of haunting beauty would not be in my world, and my world would be the lesser for it.

I understand the imperative to give marginalised people their voices, but at the end of the day a world with fewer stories in it cannot be a good thing.

(Honestly, I had nothing to do with this project, but it's really good!)

Y Pestis Say Hi!

I wrote this for the blog tour of 'The Plague Stones' but I don't think it got used, and it's good not to waste things, isn't it?

Greetings from your Friendly Neighbourhood Plague

Hello. My name’s Yersinia Pestis and I’ll be your disease for the next few days. You know why they call me that? Well have yersinia doctor recently – because you really should!

Just a little plague humour for you there to take the edge off. I mean if you haven’t got your sense of humour what have you got? I figured that since we’re going to be working very closely together – at least for a while - I’d start by telling you a little bit about myself while you’re still able to concentrate.

I’m a simple, down-to-earth rod-shaped bacterium who likes spreading virulently, killing millions, and destabilising whole civilisations. I’d like to take this opportunity to say how great it is to be inside such a large organism for a change. I’ve been cooped up in that bastard flea for ages, stuck behind a plug of slime in its gut (which is exactly as much fun as it sounds) until it decided to take a bite out of you. Then because it was already full of me it – well, just look at the pavement outside a nightclub in the early hours of a Saturday morning and you’ll get the idea. I reckon that flea must have vomited somewhere between ten to twenty thousand of me into your bloodstream. That’s fleas for you. All class.

Uh, nope, looks like I’m here for good now. Well, not good, obviously. Not unless you’ve got some antibiotics handy. You haven’t? Shame.

And your immune system? I’m sorry but that’s just not going to happen this time. You know how normally when you get an infection you’ve got those immune cells, the macrophages, the ones that envelope and eat foreign organisms like me? Well, no – I’ve got me a type 3 secretion system to take care of them. And you know those other ones that burst open to alert the other immune cells and to stop me from having somewhere to spread, and that’s why you get all inflamed and puffy? I’ve got a hack for that too – a special protein I like to call Yop. All my little yoppies are going to disable your immune cells’ auto-destruct sequences, and they’re going to do precisely nothing except carry me straight to the lymph nodes in your throat, your armpits and your groin.

Where we are going to par-tay.

By the time your immune system has got it together those nodes are going to be up like fuckin' zeppelins. I’ll be in your spleen and liver and you’ll feel like you’ve got the worst case of flu in the world, and if I’m able to get into your bloodstream you can add septicemia, abdominal cramps, vomiting blood, and gangrene in your extremities. The presence of so much of me will cause your system to go batshit crazy, triggering septic shock where your veins and arteries haemorrhage, your blood pressure drops through the floor and your organs die quicker than the characters in A Game of Thrones.

But hey, it’s not all about me. I’m a social animal, really; I just love getting out and meeting new people. I can’t wait to get into your lungs, because then I can go full-on pneumonic and spray myself all over your loved ones every time you cough. Hundred percent fatality rate, baby, that’s what I’m talking about.

In the absence of antibiotics I suppose you could always try some of the old-fashioned remedies like eating crushed emeralds, drinking mercury, or covering yourself in human excrement. If you’re really desperate you could even try praying. Hahahahahaaa!

No, seriously.