2017: A reflection.

I often have my most profound thoughts and reflections at the oddest of times. There’s the cliched ‘eureka’ moment in the bath of shower of course, but for me, nothing beats the good old commute. Whether on a train, in a car, or on the bus, you can be surrounded by other people yet lost in thought. And as this year trundles to its final stop, it seems a perfect opportunity to reflect on the journey I’ve taken as a writer this year.

My second novel, The Daughters of the Darkness, came out in June. It continues the adventures of Thomas Walker, the wildlife biologist turned monster hunter, whom we met in Shadow Beast. The book is getting some lovely reviews from readers, and is slowly making itself known among the Amazon charts.

A few readers were surprised to find Thomas facing his past rather than picking up exactly where the first story ended. However, there is method in my madness. Firstly, given that Thomas is a hunter of man-eaters, I couldn’t resist pitting him against what are arguably the most famous duo to have ever developed a palette for people: the Tsavo lions. The legend and historic record of the man-eaters features strongly in the narrative, and as we learn in the first book, Thomas has unfinished business with a pride possibly made up of their descendants. There is of course something a little more cryptic (or perhaps cryptid), to their nature too. But, secondly, I also needed some time for things to…shall we say grow? Without giving any spoilers away, Phantom Beast, the third instalment, will see a return to the animals we met in Shadow Beast, and things have certainly…developed!

So, obviously Phantom Beast will be a major project for 2018, but getting stuck into my third novel was also a major part of this year.

But, there are a few other things on the go too. I’ve made progress with a science fiction story, and some headway with a rampaging bigfoot as well. And a recent achievement to my 2017 was mapping out what I see as my “novel universe”. Connecting characters, books, and storylines proved a really interesting exercise and gave me considerable clarity on where to take the stories. It also gave me a considerable to-do-list, so 2018 will be a busy year! Like many writers, I collect notebooks and journals, jotting down everything from vague thoughts to one-liners I’m yet to fit to a character, plot, or storyline!

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One of the funnest experiences in 2017 was joining Shannon Legro of Into the Fray Radio for an episode of her excellent podcast. If you’re interested in the paranormal, strange goings-on, cryptids, serial killers, UFOs, and other worldly things, you should definitely check it out. You can find my episode here, and you can find Into the Fray on all good pod catchers.

Another lovely aspect of 2017 was receiving reader mail from all over the world. From a gentleman in Florida, to a horror fan in Germany, I have been amazed and touched to find my books have spread so far, and pleased so many. If you’d like to get in touch, you can drop me a line via luke@blackbeastbooks.co.uk.

So, 2018 beckons, and of course, there’s plenty of things I didn’t get round to doing. I still haven’t set up a website, or started a mailing list. I don’t promote my books enough. Writing and a full-time job do take their toll, but I’m going into the next twelve months a little more prepared and determined. Christmas has seen aids, such as a social media planner from the brilliant Lucy Hall added to my resources, so I’ll hopefully be a little more proactive and less reactionary on my channels.

And along with everything else, I’ll keep writing too. Here’s to 2018!

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Howl of a Halloween

Ruebus sighed. The mountain air chilled him, and he pulled the thick blanket more tightly around him. He had already removed his clothing and placed them in a bag in the back of the pick up. He was miles out of town, and the scent of pine assured him of the closeness of wilderness. Night was falling and a few stars were already peeking out at the retreating day. His heartbeat had slowed and he was comforted by the methodical thud in his chest as he looked up to welcome the night.

He had found it amusing that the full moon had fallen on Halloween this year. Earlier in the day, he had even kidded himself that he would be able to stay in town, as everyone would think he was just wearing a costume. The smile had soon faded though. He could never completely remember the full effect of the transformation, but he was certain that it would be all too convincing. He could never even remember if he walked on two legs, or ran on four. In fact, all he ever remembered was what we saw and felt in his dreams. The chasing down of a deer or the bloodlust thundering through his veins just before terrible jaws snapped shut.

This was his fourth full moon. If he had known that the dog he’d hit that day was a wolf, he probably wouldn’t have even got out of the car. But that was old news now. One of the benefits of being a lycanthrope was a remarkable ability to heal and the scar had disappeared after his first full moon. He had been on the ranch, bringing in the horses when he had begun to change. The horses had been spooked all day. The next morning, he had found what was left of the two that hadn’t fled fast enough. Ever since then, he had made sure he was no-where near a human on the night of the full moon. He was never going to risk that.

The noise of the engine snapped him out of the trance he had slipped into. A car was coming up the road. It was still out of sight, far round the bend. But it was getting closer. His heightened senses took over, his ears, already slightly narrower and more tipped than a few minutes ago, seemed to prick up and follow the sound as it drew nearer. He was poised to run. But something held him there.

The car screamed round the bend, almost out of control. It was a black SUV, with tinted windows, and even his eyes couldn’t see the driver. The popping sound from the wheel arch came unexpectedly. The car was already sideways when the blowout shook the chassis, lifting it into the air as it spun wildly out of control. It crashed down onto its side and slid along the road in a shower of sparks and grinding metal, the sound so loud in his ears that he lifted up his hands to cover them. He could feel his hands and palms tingling as thick fur threatened to sprout from his pores, and his fingernails thickened and hardened as they rested against his skin.

The night descended still, and Ruebus knew that only a few seconds of his humanity remained. He didn’t look behind him as he heard the family scramble from the car. He ran in the opposite direction, driving himself further and further from the sounds and smells of the accident. He began to head for the tree line, hoping the wolf in him would carry on in the same direction. It was not to be.

The snapping sound in his knees drove him to the ground in a crumpled heap. As his leg bones broke, shattered and reformed into a new shape, he let out a blood-curdling scream of agony. It only ended when there was no air left in his chest. His eyes bulged in their sockets as they changed shape and colour, seeping blood as they did. The thick, dark brown fur erupted from every pore in his skin, as steel-like talons, as black as the oncoming night, curled from his fingers and toes. His spine cracked as it curved, sending him into a spasm of renewed agony. The changes hit him in waves, re-shaping his legs into powerful back limbs. His arms bent and buckled as they became heavy and hard. His skull flattened and fractured as long powerful jaws extended into place. As if in triumph of overcoming the frail human form it had been only moments ago, the wolf roared into the night air, and held its head high in a single, chilling howl.

The scents were what came to it first. The leaking oil from the upturned engine; the spilling gasoline, the wisp of perfume from the mother’s neck, the sweat and blood on the hands of the man. They all tempted it back towards the road. It slunk silently towards the brow of the hill where it already knew the car lay. At the ridge, it paused as it saw three people huddled against the underside of the upturned car. The wolf allowed them to see him as it took a few careless steps towards them, sending loose stones down the bank in their direction. It savoured the sounds of the screams and the smell of fear in the air as the two females stood up. It fixed its eyes on the man as it parted its lips and narrowed its eyes as it thought with evil pleasure of the nightmare its human-self would wake from the following night. And then it leapt.

~

If you like the short stories sometimes featured on this blog, you can find novels by the author here and here.

Junking the junk.

Junk mail. Meh.

Sometimes, it feels like the stuff being stuffed (see what I did there?) through your letter box, has already been given up on. They’ve already accepted that its headed to the recycling box, but for some reason, they felt it deserved a visit to your doormat beforehand. Like it should see more of the world, because damn it, they spent whole minutes putting it together.

So, they spent their valuable marketing budget letting some intern at a print shop get their big break writing and designing their flyer for them. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything.

Let’s take this amazing piece of work that hit the mat just this morning.

I first wanted to pull this thing apart on the simple fact that, despite 2018 being nearly upon us, there are businesses out there till thinking that marketing yourself as ‘female friendly’ by making material pink and incredibly patronising is going to work. Or should that be patriarch-onising?

Are you a woman? Have you forgotten your MOT date is on the certificate? Do you have no idea that an MOT centre that had a commission based service on MOTs, a dedicated sales team, or middlemen would be really weird, or at the very least overkill? Then come to us! We’ll even tell you to put this reminder on your board or fridge in the kitchen (as that’s where you spend all your time right?). And best write the appointment down – after all, all the space in that pretty little head of yours is taken up by shoes.

Come on guys (I’m presuming they’re guys), let’s raise the game a little here. I mean, some of this is actually quite useful and helpful – but surely regardless of gender?  I forget stuff all the time. Ironically, I wish I could forget this flyer, but that doesn’t seem likely now.

It doesn’t matter that there are four stars in front of the words ‘five star rating’ (I know, there is another star on the flyer, but really?), or that there are so many sales messages here, the only thing standing out is the misogyny. Or that there is a completely superfluous dotted green line (am I cutting something out?), or that it looks like they’ve given each individual word its own typeface.

What matters, is that they’ve paid for this junk. Presumably, this met their standards of excellence. It nailed their brief. They were happy to pony up the dough.

Which surely means, under no circumstances, should you ever take your car to them? Honestly, it’d be like going to a doctor who lets their house plants die.

If you’re thinking of putting together marketing material, less is always more. Fewer words. Fewer images. Fewer messages. White space does not have to be filled. You do not have to write war and peace. And you do not have to convey your entire manifesto. Choose one key message and stick to it.

Below is probably the most perfect advert Porsche have ever created.

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No images. No need to fill space. And a perfect headline that’s also a punchline. This shows that Porsche not only know their audience, but also how they are perceived as a brand beyond it. And that lets them communicate effectively to both.

So, next time you’re headed to the lowest bidder for all your marketing needs, I ask you to consider one thing. Should you cut out the middle-person and head straight for the recycling centre?

Okay, two things then. Could you spend your money more wisely and make your budget deliver a better ROI by going somewhere else?

The final point? Junk mail is only junk mail if you make it so.

National Poetry Day – Smiling at Strangers

It’s National Poetry Day, and as I look forward to an autumnal walk this weekend, I am also looking to coming across friendly folk offering smiles and hellos as we pass.

Smiling at Strangers

Like leaves that have fallen from the same bough

That meet in clustered embraces about the root

Guided by wind and season, we are the same.

Sunlight and streams beckon us to visit and stroll

Alongside, beyond and beneath, we meet.

Here among the grass of meadow and swaying bough

Our paths cross for the first and last of times.

Sudden moments of unexpected union

Seconds to share a spirit of wonder

All whilst out for a little wander.

Smiling at strangers, a fleeting greeting

Amongst ramblers, walkers, uncounted unknown friends

A sign we know why each is here.

Even though we do not know from whence each has come or go

To know that to be out and about under sun or star

When compared to indoors, is better by far.

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The Daughters of the Darkness – Pre-order Now!

So, after over two years of waiting (and working hard at the writing desk in my case), I am very pleased to announce that The Daughters of the Darkness is now available to pre-order on Amazon. You can find the details here.

For the moment, only the eBook is available to pre-order, but I am hoping to be able too add the paperback by the weekend, after some formatting issues have been resolved.

It’s also a great time to catch up with the first book in the series – Shadow Beast. As a celebration of the release of Daughters, I’m currently offering it as a free download until Monday. You can get your free copy here, if you haven’t yet had the chance to meet Thomas,  Catherine, and of course, the beast.

There’ll be lots more exciting news and updates in the next few days and weeks, but for now, head to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Daughters of the Darkness today. Content will be delivered automatically to you on Monday.

And one last thing. Thank you. Thank you for reading my books, keeping me going, and for supporting an independent author.

Oh, and one more last thing. Reviews are really important, so please, if you have the time, remember to leave an honest review of what you think. It’s greatly appreciated, and helps get the books even greater levels of exposure. After all, the more books that go out – the quicker I have to write the sequel!

The Daughters of the Darkness – a villain’s tale

With the release of The Daughters of the Darkness now only weeks away, it’s time to introduce you to one of the key new characters, Kanu Sultan.

~

Kanu Sultan stepped out into the courtyard of his compound. The sun was all but gone and he let the warmth of the last few rays linger on his skin as night crept slowly from the east. He had chosen his new home well; a dense marshland nestled between the three national parks of Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills. Several other smaller wildlife conservancies were on his doorstep but like the one he now occupied, they had been abandoned following his arrival in the territory. It was a hunter’s paradise, benefiting from the movement of animals between the parks and being close to water. At thirteen miles to the nearest road, the remote location gave him privacy and security but was still central enough for him to have a wide influence over much of the area. Roughly equal distance from his native Mombasa to the east and the more tourist-friendly Nairobi to the west, much of southern Kenya was within his reach, as was the border of Tanzania.

Kanu walked past one of his men, a former Kenyan Army Paratrooper who remained statuesque at his post as he went by. Kanu hand-picked most of his men from either the paratroopers or the Presidential Escort Regiment, Kenya’s best. He also made up their number with some local Maasai, and he paid all of them well. Although relatively small, the force was elite enough to make his reputation formidable and kept his activities safe from government interference. Out here, he was the authority. And it was that authority he was about to exercise now.

At the far left corner of the courtyard he turned, making his way down a flight of stone steps that led to a makeshift prison block. Weeks before, it had held expensive wines and brandies for the paying guests of the game lodge, now serving as his personal quarters. He walked down the dimly lit corridor to the end cell, the only one occupied. He stared in, the flash of his white teeth against his dark face alerting the dishevelled man on the other side of the iron bars to his presence.

“I respect a man who takes risks in business,” said Kanu. “It’s why I asked you, with respect, to go elsewhere. Unfortunately, like most Afrikaans, your greed and disrespect have brought an end to your good fortune.”

“Stepped on your toes did I, kaffa?” the man leered, easing himself up onto his feet from the floor, using the wall to support his weight.

Kanu stiffened slightly at the insult, glancing down the corridor as he heard the hurried footsteps of one of his men. His eyes told the young Maasai to stop where he was, only momentarily glancing at the sack the warrior held out in front of him, its heavily twisted top held firmly between both hands.

“Racism is born of fear Mr. Van Zyl, and fear is natural when facing death. Did you know the kingdom of Kaffa was once a state of what is now Ethiopia? Its first capital was named Bonga, as was the district around it. It was one of the prime trade routes for slaves, which is why both Kaffa and the term Bonga Bonga land came to be used by the whites in such a derogatory way. It was where the slaves came from.”

“Getting back at the whites is it then?” Van Zyl sneered. “Bit late don’t you think?”

“Hardly. You are a dealer of drugs. Instead of plying your trade to wealthy visitors in Nairobi as I suggested, you targeted the poor and vulnerable on the streets of Mombasa. The same streets where I grew up and watched men like you destroy whole families and neighbourhoods. You did not do as I asked Mr. Van Zyl, and that situation demands nothing short of my full attention,” Kanu replied.

“You’re a fucking hypocrite Kanu. You’re a dealer too. Admit it, this is about shutting out the competition,” sneered Van Zyl.

Kanu stepped closer to the bars, his eyes fixed on his captive.

“I don’t mind you selling drugs Mr. Van Zyl,” he said in barely a whisper. “But I do mind who to. And you are wrong, I am not a dealer like you, I am a trafficker. I organise, sell and allow safe passage of product, be it arms or narcotics, through the territory. What I don’t allow is for those items to be used against my people. There are plenty of opportunities outside of Kenya, and even a few within its borders. You were urged to explore them. Now you must face the consequences of not doing so.”

Kanu carefully stepped back, taking a large iron key from his pocket. Van Zyl watched him as he slowly placed it in the lock of the door and turned it. As a heavy sounding clunk signalled the release of the door, Van Zyl shot forwards and pulled it open as he attempted to dart between the two men in his way. Kanu was ready for him, pouncing forward and punching him in the chest with both fists, his forearms straight as spears. Van Zyl was knocked head over heels backwards. He crumpled onto the floor by the back wall.

Before Van Zyl could get up, Kanu quickly took the sack from the Maasai. In one flowing movement, he took the corner in one hand and pinched the top open in the other as he upended it and flung it forward. Van Zyl screamed as an enraged snake leapt towards him, its open mouth and two inch long fangs all he saw before he instinctively raised his arms to shield his face. He was surprised at the heavy impact he felt as the snake hit him. He panicked and threw the snake aside, but not before its teeth sank into the bicep of his right arm. The snake hit the floor with a thud and immediately made for the darkness underneath the cot bed. Once there, it coiled and lay with its eyes fixed on Van Zyl. It made no noise, but its forked tongue tasted the air every few seconds.

“My apologies for the theatrics Mr. Van Zyl,” Kanu said. “The gaboon viper has to be somewhat provoked into delivering an envenomed bite. They’re actually quite docile. But I find them hard to resist being the largest of their kind. The fellow who just bit you weighs 20lbs.”

Van Zyl spat. His mouth tasted dry and his tongue felt heavy and swollen.

“Not exactly common in this part of Kenya, people might get suspicious don’t you think?” he said, beginning to feel slightly faint.

Kanu smiled. “Oh we’re not quite finished yet Mr. Van Zyl. When you’re found, I doubt they’ll think to check for a snake bite. I just needed to slow you down.”

Kanu nodded to the Maasai, who had been joined by another of his men. They both stepped into the cell and picked up Van Zyl, dragging him out and back along the hall towards the stairs. Kanu slipped into the empty room behind them and picked up the snake with ease by the tail. It sought out the open sack as soon as he offered it, and he knotted the top as he walked out. At the top of the stairs, he handed the Maasai the sack.

Van Zyl was thrown across the flatbed of a large green Toyota Land Cruiser truck. Kanu climbed into the open back with him. He looked the man over as the truck pulled off, passing quickly through a large archway made up of the black volcanic stone of the region. The truck ploughed forward into the African night.

Kanu smiled down at the pale sweat strewn face that looked back up at him from the bed of the truck, the eyes bulging and bloodshot.

“I would have allowed you a slightly more luxurious last ride Mr. Van Zyl. I personally would have preferred the air conditioning. But your body is no longer in control, and I couldn’t have you shitting and pissing yourself over my leather seats,” Kanu explained.

He brushed aside the dying man’s shirt. The welted, swollen purple flesh of his shoulder and neck were already beginning to blister. The man could no longer talk from his enlarged tongue. Soon his eyelids would also be too heavy to keep open. Kanu knew the man’s pulse would be racing and slowing with complete irregularity. If simply left, his death could still take up to an hour. He looked up and began to peer into the darkness.

After driving for nearly thirty minutes, Kanu finally thumped on the cabin roof of the old Land Cruiser, giving the signal to stop. The driver pulled over into the long tussock grass.

“My pets are close Mr. Van Zyl, you will not suffer much longer,” Kanu laughed, towering over him.

Van Zyl barely felt the rough grasp of the two men who picked him out of the flatbed and threw him to the ground. The impact of the dry, rock strewn earth on his blistered and swollen flesh sent a wave of agonising pain through his body. He continued to writhe and struggle as he heard the truck pull away, but he no longer had the strength to stand. The sound of the engine dulled, faded and then disappeared altogether.

He lay stricken. His arms and chest felt like they were on fire, and his skin felt tight, like it was too small for him. With great effort he opened his bruised and tumid eyelids and gazed at his hand. His arm had ballooned. Its purple and yellow colouring was punctured by burst cracks that streamed with thin, cherry red blood. He knew he would not stop bleeding now. He closed his eyes, knowing he would not be able to open them again. He gagged and choked on the froth filling his throat, turning his head to the side to try and vent it. His strength left him and he waited for death. Just as his thoughts threatened to fade, a sound piercing the night stabbed him with a momentary surge of adrenalin and renewed panic.

The diabolical laughter crept closer on swift, padded feet. It made the animal sound nervous, but it was a sign of pure confidence. Van Zyl convulsed involuntarily as the hyena sniffed at his head. The animal let out a yip of excitement, leaning in closer to lick the man’s forehead and scalp.

Another sound penetrated the night. A low, deep rumble of warning. The hyena gave a scream of fright, only pausing to snap off one of Van Zyl’s ears as it loped away. Blind and half deaf, his body shutting down in shock as his flesh was putrefied by the snake venom, Van Zyl still had time to sense the presence of the large heavy animal as it came closer. The press of its paw on his chest was the last thing he felt as he slipped into unconsciousness. Moments later, a pair of five and a half inch fangs smashed through his temples.

~

She dragged the body further into the grass, seeking the cover of scrub and thorn. Deep in a thicket, she lifted her head and let out a thunderous roar, calling in the rest of the pride. She listened to them slink closer as she began to feast on the body.

~

A breath of wind carried the whisper of the roar to Kanu’s ears as the truck rolled through the night back towards the compound. He smiled.

The Modern Day Man-Eaters

When you get to pick up The Daughters of the Darkness, (hopefully sometime in the next few months), and begin to weave your way through the story, you may be surprised to find the theme of active man-eaters a little surprising and out of place in a modern age. However, the truth is that predators haven’t stopped doing what they have always been capable of when the opportunity and right circumstances present themselves.

The statistics show that man is still very much on the menu. In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 3,000 people are taken every year by crocodiles. 1,500 Tibetans are killed by bears. 600 Indians are preyed on by leopards whilst another 85 are taken by tigers. The king of beasts naturally tallies the most kills, with lions taking 700 people on average annually.

Some of them become revered and infamous. The Tsavo Man-eaters who feature in the legacy of the fictional lions of the book, were very real, as is the tigress in Nepal known as the claw. A lion given the name of Osama killed more than 50 people in Tanzania between 2002 and 2004. He was less than four years old and suspected to be part of a local pride that deliberately targeted humans. The story you will read is not as far-fetched as you think.

Another Osama, this one a crocodile, ate its way through 83 villagers in the waters of Lake Victoria before being captured in 2005. After sixty years of snatching victims from the banks, capsizing boats and even boarding the wooden vessels to find his prey, he now lives out his days as breeding stock for Uganda Crocs Ltd, makers of fine leather handbags.

Human-predator conflict isn’t restricted to the more far flung places of the world either. Hans Kruuk, a carnivore zoologist for the University of Aberdeen concluded that wolf predation on humans is still a factor of life for Eastern Europeans after a lengthy study of death records.

In the U.S, although rare, predator related death is a possibility too. Mountain lions take an average of one person every four years. Bears (polar, brown and black species combined) take to man meat about twice a year. Wolves barely register, with one human fatality every five years in the last twenty. Only a total of three fatal coyote attacks ever have been recorded.

The risk is minimal, and I do mean minimal. You are eleven times more likely to win your state lottery than fall victim to an American predator taken to a palate based on people. Death by dog is fifteen times more likely, and death by cow or horse 32 more times likely.

But there is one killer that just can’t even begin to be compared to – us. Americans kill over 3,000 mountain lions every year. In the last two decades, over 100,000 black bears have been killed in the eastern United States alone. About 1,750 wolves are culled or simply hunted across North America annually.

The story you will read is fiction. The facts are very different. I hope you enjoy the book and find a new respect for our predators in equal measure.

In the meantime, if you need your fill of man-eating before the arrival of The Daughters of The Darkness, why not catch up with Shadow Beast first?!

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