The final piece of the Sinister Horror Company is Daniel Marc Chant; a writer whose work knows no boundaries. Chant has dabbled with demonic cats ‘Mr Robispierre’, underwater worlds ‘Aimee Bancroft and the Singularity Storm’ and Lovecraftian survival horror ‘Maldicion’. His most recent release is the short fiction collection ‘Into Fear’ which is lurking on my TBR, and I’m really looking forward to digging into it as I am a big fan of short story collections.
Today Dan will be talking about his debut novel ‘Burning House’, and it is another great piece, I really like what Dan did here, and I hope you do. I can’t thank everybody enough for the work they have put into these insights.
Daniel Marc Chant
THE DAILY GRIND
Daniel Marc Chant on the creation of Burning House
Take a look at Dan Chant: an average looking guy of indeterminate age with a smart phone in his hand. As his train rattles through the Somerset countryside to the bustling town of Bath, his boredom is palpable.
Dan has taken this journey more times than he cares to remember. To pass the time, he starts to write on his smart phone. Every now and then, he types in a terse paragraph or fleeting idea. Now, for instance, he is inputting The scream sounded again.
Dan is pleased with what he’s written. It is pithy and to the point.
Way back in October 2013 I left my relatively comfortable and mundane job in Salisbury, Wiltshire (UK) for a new and exciting opportunity working in Bath, Somerset (UK). My old job was working within the insurance industry and it involved working shift patterns, any when from 8am to 8pm, included weekend work and the shifts often involved ten day stints. As much as it might surprise many of you I don’t hold a great passion for insurance (I know, mad huh?!) so after seven long years living and working in Salisbury my girlfriend and I decided that we both needed a new start somewhere else. The shift patterns and general malaise with work life had stifled my creativity, something I’ve long been passionate about. After much soul searching we settled on Bath as a great place to live and work and started to put the wheels in motion.
He settles back in his seat and wonders if the people in whose eye line he happens to be are curious as to what he’s up to. None of them are looking in his direction but many have the sort of furtive expression that suggests they are keeping half an eye on him.
The cute redhead with the nose ring for instance. She’s pretending to read the battered Stephen King paperback nestled on her lap, but she hasn’t turned a single page since she got on and sat down.
She’s here again, Dan thinks. Funny how she always manages to get a seat no matter how crowded the train. Must be a knack.
The train breaks its rhythm as it crosses a set of points. Dan looks out of the window and sees bright green grass, something of an uncommon sight for him over the last few years.
As I began my new role I went from walking ten minutes to work to walking fifteen minutes to the train station, an hour or more commute to Bath, and then another fifteen minutes’ walk to work. And all of that again, but reversed on the way home. Suddenly I had a lot of time to think. To listen to radio and podcasts. To read. Due to the shift pattern of my old job I was often run down, always going in or out of a long shift pattern which meant I often had little energy to get stuck into much of what I enjoy bar the odd bit of Xbox. Now I had the best part of three hours each day to let my mind wander. At first it was odd. I didn’t really know how to relax into the commute, I was also to self-aware of missing a stop to get truly stuck into a book or worried the tinny music from my earphones might piss of fellow commuters (and trust me, when you’re catching a train at seven in the morning your temper is quite short).
The man opposite Dan is engrossed in a crossword. Suddenly, he blurts out ‘Constantinople!’ and hastily adds the word to the grid. His pleasure is short lived when he realises he’s just made a minor ass of himself.
Blushing, he offers Dan an apologetic smile. ‘Just couldn’t figure it out,’ he explains. ‘Then it came to me in a rush.’
Dan nods and hopes that his nod conveys not only forgiveness and understanding but also a desire to be left in peace. Thankfully, the man gets the message and returns to his crossword.
After a few weeks I was into the rhythm of the journey. I knew what stops were when, recognised fellow commuters and had the routine down pat. This gave my mind much needed freedom to just wander, something I hadn’t let it do for a long time to be honest. As I listened to film and game scores as the train rattled along each day I cratered scenarios, concepts and ideas that I’d like to do something with. I thought back to a time when my mate Vince Hunt and I were talking horror ideas and I had come up with a high concept pitch that was basically ‘firefighters in a haunted house’. It seemed like a simple but great idea to me. And to begin with the idea was that a malevolent poltergeist would play havoc with a team of firefighters as they attempt to rescue people from a burning block of flats. With each twist and turn the ghost thing just wasn’t cutting it for me. I wanted something more physical. More visceral. Something capable of tearing them asunder. Shredding flesh from bone. Not just an elusive wisp of smoke in a building slowly filling with it.
The train guard enters the carriage. He is a slim man with a beard that makes him look a bit like Tsar Nicholas the Second. ‘Anyone not got a ticket?’ he asks cheerfully, maneuvering his way through the people standing in the aisle. ‘Ticket anyone?’
Here comes the train guard. I’ve never seen him sell a single ticket and quite frankly don’t believe his ticket machine actually has tickets. He’s always so bloody cheerful.
With a final cry of ‘Tickets!’ the guard passes on through to the next carriage.
A feeling of being watched makes Dan turn his head, just in time to see the redhead glancing away from him. She wets her finger, turns a page of her book and carries on pretending to read.
Recalling when I watched The Thing with Vince at his parents’ house, when we were probably a little too young to watch it, I was suddenly struck with an amazing idea to rip it off. I mean pay homage. The Thing is my favourite horror film. In fact, I think watching that way back on ITV late one night was probably the last night a horror film really got under my skin (bar perhaps watching a dodgy bootleg of The Blair Witch Project and having to walk home in the dark shortly after). I’ve always been a fan of John Carpenter’s work and I wanted to inject my interpretation of his style into my idea. A synth soundtrack was sadly not possible so instead I took some of the story beats, some of the mood and atmosphere and applied that to my story. The team became more human, and the threat more real and dangerous as a result. The other thing that was there from the start was a strong female lead character. Strong female characters have always resonated with me (thanks Aliens!) and I wanted to diversify action horror as best I could.
Throwing caution to the wind, Dan fixes his gaze on his phone screen. The time for making excuses is over. His fingers dance on his smart phone, spelling out his thoughts and committing them to electronic posterity. Suddenly, there in the abyss, came a horrible blood curdling yell. There were the sounds of slurping and sucking, the splatter of liquid hitting stone and protective suits. There were thumping sounds, the sound of flesh hitting flesh.
The screech of metal fighting metal throws Dan out of his reverie. For a moment he seems to be in free fall as the train comes to a sudden and ungainly halt. Standing passengers are thrown against each other. Sitting passengers are ejected half out of their seats before dropping back into them with a complete lack of dignity.
‘What was that?’ someone asks.
‘We’ve crashed,’ someone else replies.
‘Don’t be bloody stupid,’ says a man sitting just within Dan’s range of vision as he carefully places his cup of takeaway coffee between his feet and inspects the brown stain on his shirt. ‘The driver’s an idiot, that’s all.’
The carriage falls silent as its occupants return to their shell and wait patiently for the train to continue on its way.
As I hastily typed up clumsy paragraphs on a Samsung Galaxy S4 I needed to give the character’s names, personalities. I decided it would be easy to use the real names of people I knew and apply elements of their traits within the story. It was intended to use the actual names as placeholders and then change them later on. But I never did. The names remained. Much to the chagrin of those named I’m sure!
On his smart phone, Dan goes into as much detail as he can and stretches the task out to a good quarter of an hour. When he has finished, the train is still inert and he can feel the black dog of boredom stalking him once more.
There’s no telling how long this unscheduled stop will last. Dan wants to pass the time writing on his smart phone, but he can’t think of nothing to add to what he has already written.
Nothing at all.
That black dog is almost at his throat now. Unable to stand the ennui, the sheer tedium of nothing to do, Dan resorts to doing something he has never done until now. He reads what he’s written.
I make no claim to being an amazing author. I don’t think any author should being honest. It’s all subjective. But when I read back my first efforts I was filled with a swell of pride I hadn’t experienced for a while. Ideas were cementing into reality. Concepts coalesced into being. After a good decade or more of tying to write something other than movie reviews I had found something that I liked and was enjoying writing. It was a natural high unlike no other. I needed more.
Dan smiles warmly at his description of acrid stench of rotten flesh. Is that enough he thinks?
Not wishing to dwell on the matter, he reads on.
There was a squishing, thumping sound as something moved in the room, something new and unusual.
What? Dan is puzzled. He has no recollection of writing that last sentence, yet he cannot say for sure that he didn’t. A feeling of deja vu hits him like a thunderbolt as he realises that yesterday, during a particularly rousing moment in a Danny Elfman score, he wrote about a wet slipping, sliding sound that slowly filled the air.
Dan has an image of opposing mirrors, each reflecting the other and each reflection contain an infinity of reflections.
That triumphant cry of Constantinople is an eternal echo bouncing around Dan’s memory. It is joined by the train guard’s, ‘Anyone not got a ticket? Ticket anyone?’
Despair envelopes Dan as he realises he has been making exactly the same journey day in, day out for as long as he can remember.
A question comes to him: Where am I going?
It opens the floodgates to an unstoppable torrent of further questions. What’s the name of the station where I board every day? Where do I work? What’s my job? What do I do when I’m not on this train? When was the last time I wasn’t on this train?
Burning House was finished. It was rough. Raw. And I’m sure plenty of people will still tell you that it remains that way. I don’t care. It was the first prose story I’ve ever written. And I finished it. And that alone made me write the next, Maldicion, and the next, Mr. Robespierre. And so on. It’s almost three years since Burning House was finished and I’m showing no signs of stopping. What I find even better however is the fact that I’m now part of a vibrant and loving indie horror community. And nothing can top the feeling that you might inspire others to finish their work. While I won’t take credit for it Duncan P. Bradshaw (Dunk) started and finished Class Three upon learning that J. R. Park (Justin) and I were working on novellas of our own. I had spent many a night with Dunk in a dive bar in Salisbury talking over his ideas for a zombie opus and he finally put pen to paper. No doubt experiencing the same fears and anxieties over it as I did. As Justin did. As all authors do. And ultimately if the work we do resonates with one other person in some way then I consider that job done. There are plenty of people that like Burning House. There are plenty of people that are indifferent to it. And I’m sure some that fucking hate it. It’s all good with me. I’m just thankful that there’s people out there that are curious to read my clumsy words and some of them even like them. We’re not curing cancer here, let’s be honest. We’re creating escapism. And sometimes some people need an escape. No matter how simple. Whether it’s just to get away from the drama in real life or to pass time on a long journey. If you’ve finished something, be it a novella or piece of art or whatever. You should be proud of your accomplishment. Nobody can take that from you. You did it. And I’m proud of you.
There is a lurch as the train recommences its journey. Dan is soothed by its rhythm. All around him, people look relieved and check their watches to recalculate their estimated time of arrival.
Dan looks at the word count on his notepad document. It’s almost thirty-thousand.
It is what Dan has been waiting for – that one little crumb of encouragement. Come Hell or high water, he’s not going to waste any more time. Life’s too short for procrastination, he tells himself then types it into his smart phone before adding “Come on,” Grace said quietly, tugging gently at her arm. “We have to get out of here.”
As the train enters a tunnel, Dan feels an inclination to read his notes back to himself but decides not to.
The train rattles on.
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