Book review: 4 Hours – John F. Leonard


Apocalyptic horror novels and novellas are a frequent sight when traversing the pages of Amazon. I’ve read a lot. In fact, I’ve read a Hell of a lot. My love of apocalyptic horror started a few years back with King’s ‘ The Stand’ and it is an area of the horror genre that I still enjoy reading. I’m always searching for apocalyptic horror that steers clear of zombies and John F. Leonard’s ‘Four Hours’ is a great take on the end of days.

‘Four Hours’ features a London tearing itself to pieces by its former inhabitants whilst a secret underground bunker in Whitehall houses a contingent of survivors. Among the survivors are Pearcy and Gallagher; two friends who set off on a deadly mission across London to rescue Gallagher’s daughter.

The ‘city flu’ that has swept through London turning people into mutant monsters is horrific. The virus is well depicted and the people it affects mutate into savage beasts where there are some great descriptions that are sure to test your gag reflex. Leonard doesn’t overload the novella with characters, instead choosing to focus on the two main ones in Pearcy and Gallagher. There are a couple of others, one of which a girl who says very little and doesn’t add a great deal to the story progression, though perhaps she will return in later books?

The pacing is perfect for the novella form and there is plenty of action and narrow escapes. The characters are well drawn and engaging, and with the introduction of the slightly odd gas mask wearing survivalist, things take on a troublesome and unpredictable turn. A quite sad and surprising ending left this reader a happy man, despite the grim content of the book. I look forward to reading more from Mr Leonard.

Pick up a copy of this apocalyptic novella from here.

BTB Storytellers episode 7: Duncan P. Bradshaw talks HEXAGRAM


The weeks seem to be going by quicker and quicker, or maybe it’s just me? Well, here we are yet again with another intriguing look behind the scenes on BTB Storytellers. This week the excellent Duncan P. Bradshaw stops by to talk about his most recent novel ‘Heaxagram’, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading a couple of months back and you can read my review of it here. But wait! there’s more. I also had a bit of fun with Duncan via an interview and Zombie quiz and If you want, you can check that out here.

Anyway. ‘Hexagram’ is a very different horror novel. It’s actually quite pulpy in its execution and travels across a huge timeline where the interruption of an Incan ritual sets off a bloody chain of events. It shows that Bradshaw isn’t afraid to experiment with his writing and I thought he did a stellar job.

Bradshaw is also one third of the Sinister Horror Company, a UK based press specializing in genre fiction and I highly recommend you check out their books. Duncan has also released other horror books including ‘Class Three’, ‘Class Four’, ‘Prime Directive’ and his first foray into Bizarro fiction ‘Celebrity Culture’. Find out more with links to everything Duncan P. Bradshaw at the bottom of this article. And check out Dunc’s forthcoming collection of Zombie shorts called Chump.

Thanks to Duncan for providing this great essay on ‘Hexagram’.





Duncan P. Bradshaw


Hello there, and welcome to Jazz Club, mmmmm, nice. Oh wait…wrong write up. Anyhoo…I’m here today to give a bit of background to my latest horror novel, time-spanning epic, HEXAGRAM. It is six stories, set across five hundred years, charting the history of an ancient ritual changing hands.

Like most of my stories, HEXAGRAM spawned from one rogue thought, and the saying, ‘We are all made of stars’. What if there was a way that this stardust could be extracted? If so, what could it do, could it summon a god? Or worse? Originally, I had a provisional title, of STARDUST (which, let’s face it, sucks for a horror title), and it was going to be a novella, based on a pair of twin sisters. Using the whole star motif, I had a search and found that both Stella and Esther, were translations of the word star in other languages, so it fit perfectly. I started off, and the pair were merrily mashing up organs, scraping the dust from the pulp as they went.

Typically, after a few days, my brain began to nag me, “Buy milk,” or, “Quit touching it at work, it’s weird,” but mainly, “How did the sisters get this information?” Luckily, the last question was a lot more helpful with this story. So it got me thinking. Straight away, I made the Inca connection, mainly due to their storied history of sacrifice and organ removal, but also the mystical element. After all, there has to be a point to what they’re doing, else it would make a pretty rubbish book.

I then thought it would be cool to somehow link the original ritual, back in the 16th century, to the modern day. After a few days of research, I began to come up with a timeline, and the number of stories I’d need.


Same amount as the degrees of separation, or…the points on a hexagram. All roads led back to the original star theme, which was a weird moment when I realised it.

Now I knew where the story started, and where it would end, but how in the name of Satan’s underpants, was I going to be able to link them together? Luckily for me, it was all down to the Spanish, god bless ‘em.

One of the central themes became how knowledge can be hidden away, sometimes for decades, even centuries, when it is found again, in a time period which has moved on drastically from when it was created, how is it viewed? The second story in HEXAGRAM, is nearly two hundred years later, and I utilised the 1715 Treasure Fleet, which sunk in a ferocious storm, off the coast of Florida.

With each story, I wanted to use an historical event, even if it is considered a footnote in the grand scheme of things. The 1715 Treasure Fleet gave me ample room to work in.

Three ships have never been discovered, so I was able to base the story on one of them. The tale of an unnamed man, recounting the sinking, and his attempt at salvation, to a priest. Throughout his story, you can tell that what he found changed him, and that his mental state was an ideal receptor for the macabre instructions.

Now that I had managed to move the trail up into America, right at its birth, I was able to link the next story into one of its most famous events, the Civil War. There were hundreds of battles, so choosing the right one was key. I didn’t want to use a major engagement, as, like the treasure fleet, I wanted something which I could have some wiggle room to do my own thing in.

The Battle of Kolbs Farm is not a well-known battle, but as soon as I saw pictures of it, and maps showing the ebb and flow of the fight, I knew that I had found my setting. Right at the back of the war, with the South on the canvas, a Confederate soldier is wounded, and is taken in by members of the Church of the Saviours Star. This cult, and its inception, is linked to the earlier stories, one of many threads which join history together.

From Kolbs Farm, I needed to get the action across the pond, and would you believe it, it was perfectly set for a little dabble into the Whitechapel murders. A retiring detective catches up with the head honcho in charge of the case. Given the unknown identity of the killer, I was able to throw in a little curveball of my own.

The way the victims were mutilated, and organs removed, dovetailed perfectly with the ritualistic process of getting the stardust. I loved writing about Detective Norton spinning his tale. Done in first person, it mixes whimsy with a sense of British stiff upper lip.

I was one step away now, from getting to terminus, so needed to bring it to the near present. The Jonestown massacre has left an indelible mark on me, but whereas the settings before gave me enough blank canvas, that wasn’t the case here. So instead, I used it as a basis for Pastor Jim Gimbal and his increasingly erratic ways.

Then I was there, through various twists of fate, the story was woven through five hundred years to the present day. When I was writing it, I came up with an idea of how to link it all together, to apply the outcome to something larger than the characters, larger than all of us, you, me, the reader. So I wrote a wrap-around story, not much, you could skip it and you wouldn’t notice a thing, but it draws everything together, and gives you a hint at the wider universe, and how we are all connected.

Finally, every chapter gives a countdown, telling you that the world is going to end, saying how long is left. My final mystery, when does it countdown to?

Now…that is truly a story for another day.


Hexagram v2 tour graphic (1)

Duncan P. Bradshaw at Amazon.

Duncan P. Bradshaw Official website.

The Blog of Duncan P. Bradshaw.



Book review: Rare Breeds – Erik Hofstatter


I think that this is my third review of a book by Erik Hofstatter in as many months and ‘Rare Breeds’ has Hofstatter’s stamp all over it; Nice easy writing, sprinkled with some beautiful passages, a couple of kinky scenes and of course some twisted horror. One thing I like perhaps more than anything else about Hofstatter’s writing is his ability to surprise, to surprise in a way that each of his releases is so different from the last and ‘Rare Breeds’ is another fine example of his work.

I love Erik’s characters. They are always very human, they have faults and little traits that keep there image inside of your mind, leaving you wondering where they are going and what they are doing. ‘Rare Breeds’ is another example of this. It is the story of Aurel and Zora. One the face of it, a fairly ordinary family, only Aurel sleepwalks. When young Livie (Zora’s daughter) witnesses a strange occurrence, a chain of events are set off and lead the story down a very dark and quite odd path. The story builds steadily, becoming more and more strange until we find out the truth about Aurel and his dark past. This leads to a frantic chase for Zora and a macabre ending. I really had no idea where this story was going, so kudos to Hofstatter for coming up with yet another fascinating and creepy tale.

The artwork by Jack Larson is great and his accompanying pictures inside add to the story. The pacing is perfect, with no fluff, interesting characters, a great plot twist and overall it’s just a great story. I have no hesitation in recommending this fine novella from Erik Hofstatter and Dark Silo Press. Great!

Pick up a copy of ‘Rare Breeds’ from here.

Book review: Finnegan’s Field – Angela Slatter


I really enjoy a break from my novel reading, and the Tor singles are a great way to pass 45 minutes. Angela Slatter’s ‘Finnegan’s Field’ is a superbly dark tale set in South Australia, where the sudden reappearance of a child, missing for three years, provokes a lot of sideways glances and speculation.

This small-town horror novelette is beautifully written and has an air of quiet unease hovering malevolently above its pages. Slatter’s story touches a nerve through its subject matter of missing children and the discovery that young Madrigal is not what she once was is quite unsettling. Where has she been? why is she so dirty? why does she appear to shimmer? all these questions are soon answered as the story progresses.  Madrigal’s existence in the other place is both harrowing and sad and as a father of two I made the point of holding my children a little bit longer before bed that night. I found the use of Irish folklore works superbly well and the story builds towards a satisfying and quite gory conclusion.

There isn’t really that much more to say other than this is an excellent story and if you haven’t read anything by Angela Slatter before, then this is a great place to start.

Pick up a copy of ‘Finnegan’s Field’ from here.

Book review: Mercy – T. Fox Dunham


I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy read when I became aware of Dunham’s own battle with cancer and how this book was written as a kind of metaphoric representation of his own struggles and journeys into the darkness. The cover art also paints a grim picture, but this is a very good book and one that any fan of horror fiction should take a look at.

‘Mercy’ is a brutally honest story that follows the misfortunes of Willie as he returns to Mercy hospital; a place where nightmares are very real and the staff are not quite what they seem. The hospital is a suffocating place, a miasma of death hanging heavy over its head and rising deep from within its bowels. The only beauty within this story comes from Dunham’s writing, which is often poetic, but never too much so. The narrative flows seamlessly, taking the reader through a series of dark corridors and unpleasant settings as Willie is probed, zapped and injected with all manner of instruments. Although only a short novel, it is quite exhausting to read and left this reader feeling drained at the end. Willie isn’t the most likable of characters. He’s made mistakes (haven’t we all?), though his constant torment and suffering provides you with an emotional attachment.

There are some truly vivid and unsettling settings within this book. Like Barker at his best, Dunham crates a world within the hospital that is full of imaginative and surreal horrors, evil machines, crazed beasts and insane staff. I couldn’t help but think about some of the scenes from Hellraiser II when reading this, and that’s a good thing as it is one of my favorite movies. ‘Mercy’ should be on every horror fans TBR. It is brave, bold and beautifully written and has enough darkness within its pages to keep you from turning off the lights.

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Winter Raven – Adam baker


It’s been a heck of a long time since I read a novel by Adam Baker. I picked up ‘Outpost’ a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. My next read was ‘Terminus’ which was also very entertaining and earlier this year I read his Year of the Zombie novella for Infected Books. I saw ‘Winter Raven’ pop up on social media somewhere and I loved the cover. I had a read of the synopsis and was sold. This isn’t the sort of book I’d usually read but I know that Baker can spin a good yarn and I was keen to see what he does with this epic Japanese tale.

The plot is fairly straightforward, a captured samurai is sent on one final mission by the emperor he set out to assassinate. He is joined on this mission by his last remaining charge (a young girl) and a group of convicts who fight for their chance to join the samurai on this mission to avoid execution. What follows is an epic tale set in feuding Japan, one that is soaked in culture and has rich characters and settings. I had a great time with this novel. I felt fully immersed in the culture and the way of the samurai. It is clear that Baker did a lot of research for this book by the descriptions of the clothing, weaponry and the scenery. The samurai is a great character; a man of honor, pride and great strength despite his disability (which I won’t spoil for you). His travelling companions are all well realized and particularly the young girl whom I feel will have a much bigger part to play in later books.

The pacing is excellent and the dialogue was smooth. I was a little concerned how the dialogue would work but Baker does a fine job in keeping it authentic. the battle scenes and confrontations are excellent, with many a decapitation and there is a particularly gruesome  torture scene quite early on in the book that would make most hardened horror fans squirm.

All in all this is a fantastic book. I think fantasy fans would get a real kick out of this along with Baker fans and historical fiction readers. I for one am glad that the story doesn’t end here. More please Mr Baker, and soon!

Pick up a copy of ‘Winter Raven’ from here.

BTB Storytellers episode 6: J. R. Park talks UPON WAKING


Well, for starters I think Mr Park wins an award for the best author pic so far!

This week, and the following two, we will be spending some storytelling time with the three gentlemen from the Sinister Horror Company.

Justin Park is up first, talking about his extreme horror story ‘Upon Waking’. Mr Park is on a sort of upward curve with the extremity of his writing, it seems. It all started with ‘Terror Byte’, a techno-horror thriller that showed glimpses of where he might eventually take us. Park then took us to the seaside with ‘Punch’, a story that showed a gorier side to his writing. But it wasn’t until last year, when we saw the release of ‘Upon Waking’, a story that has its feet firmly planted on the extreme side of the horror genre. As a disclaimer, it might be good idea to read the book before you peruse this piece as there are spoilers ahead!

J. R. Park has recently released his latest novel ‘The Exchange’ which he says is “a little different for him”. I will be reading and reviewing this one in the not too distant future. Mr Park has also contributed stories to the two charity horror anthologies, released by Sinister Horror Company called ‘The Black Room Manuscripts’, alongside authors such as William Meikle, Graham Masterton, Shaun Hutson and Matt Shaw!

Thanks to Justin for a great piece, and I hope you check out this book and his others.


Upon Waking


J. R. Park

Like most of my stories the inception of Upon Waking came from a number of different ideas bubbling around in my brain that came together to form a union of concept and execution that ignited my imagination.

I began drafting the initial ideas of this round the same time as I completed the Punch script, so sometime in 2012.

My first plan was something that I’d always wanted to do, which was to invert the general form of the slasher.  In almost all slasher tales we see a hulking brute of a man running around slaughtering pretty, young girls.  My idea was to simply reverse this and have a hulking brute of a woman running around slaughtering pretty, young men.  I figured it was time for the women to have their revenge.

It was important to me that not only did womankind get their turn behind the knife, instead of in front of it, but they went further than the men proceeding them.  I wanted them to do it better.

The ‘human dildo’ scene was my initial starting point, hopefully this could be a water cooler moment that really set the stall out, hitting the guys where it hurt.  It’s for this reason that this is the first death scene in the book. Giving the story time and space to build before we reach this point, and making it as shocking as it could be.

Of course from there on Cassie really goes to town…

Secondly, there was an idea I’d had since watching Wolf Creek a year previously.  In that movie there is a point where we follow one person as they try to escape.  Unsettlingly they get captured (I think they might even be killed), then we jump to another victim who had been unconscious.  She wakes up and we follow her.  She tries to escape and through her experience we learn a little more about the psycho kidnapper.  The film then continued in traditional fare, but it left me thinking what a film would look like if the story was told completely in this way.

So for Upon Waking the story would be told through different people’s accounts and viewpoints; each account would begin with the person waking up/coming into consciousness and end with them losing consciousness/dying etc.  Each account would be individual to them but would tell a developing story, each one giving us further details about the killer, her actions and her motives.

I then began jotting down different scenarios in which people could wake up and where they might find themselves to help progress a story.

The killer needed a name, which came to me rather quickly.  I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d based her on them and as I didn’t know anyone called Cassandra it seemed pretty safe.  I shortened it to Cassie as I liked the way it sounded; a name you can say with a lot of venom.

Cassie needed a motive and a satisfactory way of killing and remaining undetected.  I thought that vacuum packing body parts seemed like a clean and smell free way of disposal.  In order to do this you’d need to use a hoover.  This got me thinking: in the initial concept I didn’t want to make any point about her gender, but then I thought, why don’t I take some of the sexist stereotypes and turn them in her favor.  Make her even more empowered by these things rather than being weakened. And so Cassie became, on the surface, a house proud, cleanly-obsessed woman.  But there was more than meets the eye here; we could think she was hoovering when actually she was sealing a body part for disposal in the rubbish.  What you initially thought was one thing turned out to be something else.

But how did she get her victims and what was her motive? 

I had given internet dating a first and decidedly unsuccessful attempt at this time and I had thought about just how you could make fake profiles and lie to people very easily.  This seemed like a great way to lure our young men, again showing something that in actual fact was very different to its initial appearance.

As a quick aside: This concept of ‘things aren’t what they seem’ became a strong theme throughout the book. ’ I hammered this point home in the early chapter ‘Adam’, when he launches into a stoned conversation about The Shining having deeper levels of meaning and even paraphrasing Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven with the line ‘sometimes things have two meanings’. (I didn’t quote the line exactly for fear of any copyright issues).

The theme continues with Cassie appearing as a sweet, kind host, her house appearing as a normal place of residence. Kathryn is first seen as a figure of evil intent by Emily, and the Private Investigator’s phone call to Henry’s Dad, Gary, at the very beginning of the book comes across like a threat. Of course later on we understand she was calling with news about his son, and his reaction was for his son, not about the caller.

Kathryn appears in this theme again as we discover right at the end of the book that she is Charlotte, the woman captured and forced to watch as Cassie indulges in her sadistic pleasures.

The book itself also follows the same theme, revealing not to be what it first appeared; the timeline not being as linear as you first assume. But more about that later…

So my notes sat in a file for a couple of years.  When I started writing books I knew I wanted Upon Waking to be my third book.  It was a little more challenging in concept and so I hoped that by then I would have enough experience to give it a go.

So after Punch I dusted off my notes and began looking at them, picking through the scenarios and finding the best ones with which to hammer out a progressive plot.

Whilst in the midst of doing this I was in conversation with two of my friends.  It was my housemate Jake that listened to my first ideas and gave me the idea that Charlotte should blind herself.  I loved the idea.

Secondly I was visiting Daniel Marc Chant and talking through where I had gotten to so far.  He liked the ideas but when I talked about Henry I explained I wasn’t happy with my idea for his torturous death. I don’t know if he’ll thank me for letting you all know that it was his warped mind that suggested Cassie bite his bollocks off!

As I began building the plot I realized that a great twist would be to mess with the timeline so although you would think it’s running in order you realize when you get to the end that it’s not.  That Stuart could never have escaped as we had already passed his account right at the beginning of the book. In order not to trip myself up I created a chronological timeline of when each chapter happened, something I have toyed with releasing in print at some point.

I finished my first draft and realized that it was not only woefully short (containing 7 chapters), but also seemed to be a bit one dimensional. I needed another story in there, a second layer that weaved throughout it.  The idea came of a private investigator looking for a missing person.  With that Kathryn was born.  Gary would be the lead in to her and made for a more satisfying and cryptic start to the story.  Emily’s chapter was then written in order to introduce Kathryn and I felt this fitted nicely with the ‘things aren’t want they first seem’ theme as she is considered a threat, but of course we later learn that she is the exact opposite.

It was whilst I was writing these I was wondering what was going to happen to Kathryn, and then the idea came to me: let’s really mess the timeline up and have Kathryn as Charlotte. This meant the book was going to have a second twist at the end and one that was even more satisfying for me. (interesting little fact – Kathryn and Charlotte are identical twins that I know, so the naming of the characters was a cheeky little in-joke to the fact they would look the same)

By the time I’d got to the end of draft 5 I really didn’t know if it had worked or not.  Fearing I’d written an incoherent mess I sent it to a few friends to read over and see if they ‘got’ it.  To my delight they all came back saying that they really enjoyed it.  I quizzed them about the twists at the end and they had all understood.  My joy was hearing that it had momentarily confused them and then all made sense, and of course I loved their disgusted reactions to the more extreme scenes.

The cover, like the book, was constructed in parts. The basic design was sketched out by my housemate, featuring an alarm clock with blood dripping down it. A trip to the shops to buy said alarm clock and we were visiting a friend’s house, who graciously let us pull apart their living room whilst we took various photos. After deciding on the best image I treated it in photoshop with a red wash and sent it to Daniel Marc Chant. He in turn passed it to Vince Hunt (creator of the Sinister Horror Company logo), who hit the roof that I dared use the font ‘Chiller’. Within hours he sent back a mock up of his design, using the photograph, but with a layer of split, skin-style texture over the top.


The design was pure grindhouse, and I loved it.


Before its release I was worried about the reaction people might have to the book and almost thought about pulling it. I wanted a reaction, but what I wasn’t expecting was the praise it has received from a wide spectrum of the horror community.

And nothing beats the glee I feel when I know I have disgusted someone.

Alternative Titles

Originally I was going to call it The Waking but found a film with the same name. I trialed a few other titles before I stuck with Upon Waking.  Below are some of those titles:



Don’t be fooled

Don’t answer that email

Don’t go on that date


A Woman Scorned

Hell Hath No Fury

Unused scenes

In my first plans Cassie was going to take Henry’s penis and slice it in two, length ways, then let him bleed to death.  This is a horrific image and would have been shocking but as we already had penis mutilation with Benjamin I thought the testicle scene was a more varied and better fit.

Fi was a babbling mess, a character that spoke in a demented stream of consciousness from a mind twisted and warped. Through her I was able to suggest the backstory and motives of Cassie. I had toyed with devoting a whole chapter to Fi, having the prose written in the same circular babbling as her speech. This would have provided more details of her own history and experiences in Cassie’s clutches. Whilst this would have been great fun to write, scratching that James Joyce itch, it would have slowed the pace of the story. I felt I had already given enough breathers. Although I still like this idea, and might use it for a sequel.

A sequel you say? I’ll only do it, if I can it get it exactly right, but there are ideas floating around in my mind, just waiting to come together to form a union of concept and execution, igniting my imagination.

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