Terraforming [Creating my fictional world]

Terraforming [Creating my fictional world]

As I work on the Carsun book, I need a strong sense of place in order for the story to work. Tilwick was always meant to be a town, with laws, rules and religious factions of its own, but my ambitions have grown somewhat over the years and having the town of Tilwick alone is not enough. In order for some of the plans I have to work, Tilwick needs to be more of a district, with a main town – Tilwick itself – and fishing villages, mining communities etc dotted around it. How best to keep track of all this? Well, how do you find your way around anywhere?

Google Maps, of course!

With some nifty use of the snipping tool on my PC (in case you don’t know, it’s probably on yours too, and it’s way better than just taking screenshots), I can manipulate fragments of maps to create a rough outline of what the area is supposed to be like. Take a look for yourself.

start of map

Okay, so that may not look like much at the minute, but what’s good about this, what’s fun about it for me as a writer/creator is that what you see above on this starting point of the map, is a whole bunch of places brought together at once.

Up in the top left, that’s the mausoleum from High Wycombe (about 30 miles west of London), with the town centre of my hometown Alnwick nestled up against the village of Alnmouth, which is really 4 miles away. In the bottom right of the image, you have pieces of Hartlepool, which is about 50 miles away from Alnwick in reality, crudely slipped alongside Alnwick and the port village of Amble (8 miles from Alnwick).

Top right you have some of my favourite beach bays, so I can finally capture both the natural, and the industrial areas of Tilwick with greater accuracy. As I build this map, I’ll maybe share it some more, so you can see how it’s coming along.

I hope this is useful to some of you writers out there who balk at the cost of some of the map creating software out there. Just remember, you’re not trying to be a cartographer, you just need it stitched together enough for it to make sense to you.

Now… how am I going to map the tunnel network under this town?…

Preview: Opening Scene to Carsun, by Jack Rollins

Preview: Opening Scene to Carsun, by Jack Rollins

I’ve been threatening to resurrect this project for a while now, and I think it’s time to dust it off again. Carsun is set in the fictional town of Tilwick, and is a rewrite of work I wrote in the early 2000s. I revisited Tilwick in the story Home, Sweet Home, in the Kill For A Copy anthology by Dark Chapter Press. In the coming weeks, Dark Chapter Press will also release my one-shot Hard Man, as part of their A-Z collection. This story too is set in Tilwick, but takes place later in Carsun’s chronology.

Before long, I’ll introduce you to the wealthy young entrepreneur Matt Carsun, but in the meantime, I thought you might like to read the opening scene of Carsun. Let me know what you think in the comments.

John Dillon closed the farm office for the night and locked the door behind him. He walked across the courtyard to the farmhouse door and entered the porch area. There he took off his Wellington boots and cap before stepping into the reception area.

“Penny,” he called.

Penny called back to him from the cozy, lamp lit lounge, prying her attention away from an American crime drama, “You ready for your dinner?”

“Aye, please. Sorry I got finished late. I thought I would have been able to eat with you all.” John tore open the Velcro fasteners on his green overalls. He slipped his broad, muscular shoulders free of the work clothes, revealing the grey t-shirt beneath.

Penny appeared in the reception and kiss him as she passed on her way to the kitchen. “You get any further forward?” she asked.

“No. You know me, I’m not brilliant with numbers.”

“Just go and ask him outright, then.”

John left the overalls gathered at his waist and followed Penny into the spacious kitchen. “It’s not that easy, Penny. Frank’s worked for me for years. I mean, what if I’m wrong? He’ll take some replacing.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Penny said, retrieving the plated dinner wrapped in foil, from the oven. “Maybe he’s been here so long he thinks he’s owed a little bit extra.”

Outside, the farm dog Finn howled.

“What’s wrong with that bloody dog?” Penny asked.

“He’s just having a howl,” John said. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Haven’t you heard him barking all night?”

“I’ve been in the office; how would I hear him?”

Penny took the foil off the dinner and placed it in the microwave oven. “Go and get him in while you have your overalls on. The kids will end up awake all night with him carrying on like that out there.”

John rolled his eyes and grumbled on his way back to the porch. He stepped into his wellington boots and pulled them until his feet, clad in thick, woollen socks, sank into place. “Bloody dog,” he muttered. Finn was an experienced working animal. It was unlikely that he had become excitable over a few rabbits in the fields. Maybe he’s losing it, John thought.

John fastened his overalls up and walked around the side of the house and descended the long concrete slope past the sheds, heading for the fields. “Finn!” he called.

The dog howled again, long and low.

“Finn! Come by!” he called. “Stupid bugger.”

John could hear that Finn was in the nearest fallow field, but could not see him through the utter darkness.

Finn continued to bark as John opened the gate a couple of feet, but stayed there, hoping he would not have to give chase across the field. “Finn! Come by!”

John heard Finn’s paws padding over the dry ground. He was sprinting by the sounds of it. The border collie suddenly appeared and ran through the gap in the gate John had made for him. He didn’t stop. John reached out and managed to get a hand to the dog’s coat as he shot past. He drew back his fingers and could see that they were covered in a dark liquid. He sniffed.


In the field behind him he heard something thudding across the ground, heading in his direction. What could it be? It sounded too big to be Scratchy the farm cat. It sounded too big to be a hare or a fox. This sounded like a man running towards him. He strained his eyes and moved through the gate into the field. “Who’s there?” he called.

No answer, just footfalls.

“Who’s that? Answer before I get the shotgun!”

Suddenly, his mind raced with paranoid thoughts that Frank was laughing at him, bragging to the rest of the men about how easy it was to steal from him. John’s no good with money. Help your bloody self! “Bastard!” he muttered.

With the distraction of the image of his old friend, he stopped concentrating on the rushing footsteps, until ice-cold fingers grasped him and pulled him down to the grass.

Finn barked and howled and Penny cursed the dog from the comfort of the lounge.

John screamed as fingers clawed his mouth wide open. Nobody heard except Finn, whose instinct to protect his master was overcome by the urge to flee in terror.


Want more action from Tilwick? Check out Home, Sweet Home in Kill For A Copy.

Book Review: Jeremy, by Matt Hickman

Book Review: Jeremy, by Matt Hickman

A book of two halves and a boy of two sides

You know I always like to disclose any connections I have to the author of the books I review, and to remind you that when I read something other than in the capacity of an editor, I read and review in the capacity of a customer, who either enjoys it or doesn’t. My writer friends know this, and I expect honesty from them and they can expect it from me. AtoZ_singles_Brazen Cover Amazon CompatMatt Hickman and I have become friends via Facebook and are set to meet in person around Em-Con 2016. Matt has placed stories with my publishing house Dark Chapter Press, including Brazen and the Kids anthology.

Still here?… then let’s begin.


Jeremy is the story of a young lad picked on at school, who sticks close to his little group of pals who mostly live in fear of a school bully who adores tormenting them. He learns to stand up for himself, but in turn suffers a horrific injury, and emerges very different to the shrunken, frightened creature he was before.

This is quite a short novella, Hickman’s first, I believe. I don’t want to blow the plot by dwelling on it too long, but the premise and characters are great.

Matt Hickman conjures up such a realistic portrayal of the loneliness of latch-key kid Jeremy, who is comfortable and wants for nothing save the attention of his too-busy parents. The shortness of the story does not leave it without its twists and a couple of angles took me by surprise.

Something annoyed me though. I would have been much happier with more. The book feels a bit like two episodes of something, or a novel where the second act is missing. We skip time at one point, and I have a feeling the time that is skipped could have been very interesting, if not focussing on Jeremy, perhaps those around him. In saying that, I know that many people might disagree with me – and they’re right to in a way, because this story structure is the one we got, the one Hickman wanted us to read, and who knows, maybe there isn’t enough story to fill that bridging piece I described. Perhaps the two distinct halves of the story we get increase the story’s strength. We’ll never know, but I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to want more of the story, and more of the writer’s style. I was right into the tale, and I don’t know, it just seemed to skip and the changes seemed sudden.

12765799_10156582904670451_731848862_o.jpgThe odd thing is I’d read a story by Matt Hickman before I actually read this, his first release, so I already know how fast the writer is honing his craft. It was nice to see where he started too, with this great little book. I’m excited to see what Hickman will do next and if Jeremy stands to be your introduction to the writer, I’m confident you’ll find plenty to enjoy here and what’s even better news is, from this writer, you’ll find the best is yet to come.

So, can I tempt you to pick up Jeremy? Click here and grab your copy today.

Review of The Dichotomy of Christmas

Review of The Dichotomy of Christmas

First things first: the Disclaimer. I am the Jack Rollins who has a story in this book, and since contributing my story to the anthology, MBLA, who published this piece, are now my literary agents. So, this anthology presented a great opportunity to me as a writer. However… my reviews are based on what I read and how much I enjoyed it, pure and simple.

Still here? Okay, let’s crack on.

The book opens with information on International Animal Rescue, the charity to whom the proceeds of the book sales will be donated. We then get into the introduction from Keith Chawgo, which goes into the darker Christmas traditions. I really liked the introduction, it reminded me of some things I had forgotten, and introduced me to some aspects of the holiday with which I was previously unfamiliar.

Cassandra Swan‘s poetry is threaded throughout the anthology. I’m no fan of poetry and have seen some poor examples in horror anthologies. I really enjoyed Cassandra’s contributions to this volume and in particular Pocket-Sized Wreath and Christmas Disease made an impression on me.

Next up, Fiona Dodwell‘s story The Wassail takes back the idea of the stranger knocking at your door at Christmas, as a disturbance, a wassail, as opposed to our more modern dilution of the tradition – Christmas caroling. This is the first story I’ve read by Fiona and it won’t be the last. She sets the scene perfectly – a wonderful period piece, of a wintry night interrupted by a panicking stranger. The story plays out to a chilling climax, involving a story within the story. I don’t do spoilers, so you’ll just have to find out all the details for yourself!

Then, Kealan Patrick Burke brings things up to a more contemporary setting with Visitation Rights. This is the story of an estranged father granted… well… visitation rights with his children, drawing up bitter memories. The agony of the estranged father is captured with painful, acidic realism as he tries to please these children who have spent so much time without him – they seem like strangers to him, unresponsive to his efforts. The direction the story takes will sting your eyes, as it did mine, I feel certain of it. Excellent.

Matt Hickman is an author I have enjoyed some authorly social networking and discussion with in recent months. The Naughty List was the second story I’ve read by him and he brought great atmosphere, tension and plays out like a modern day cautionary fairy tale.

Andrew Lennon brings us Killing Christmas… a Christmas story set in October! A grumpy office worker makes it on Santa’s naughtiest list by basically being a miserable bastard as the world around him prepares for the festive season. His name is marked, and old St Nick is NOT happy with him! Short, punchy and vicious. Like a psychotic elf.

Next comes Marjorie, by Brooke Lerma, one of the more thought-provoking stories in the book and, in some ways a neat companion to my own entry. By that I mean, the central characters are dealing with a real-life problem represented in as accurate a manner as possible, but whereas my story sees the horror intermingled with the real-life problem (dementia, in my case), Marjorie lives in a world where horrific things are playing out around her, and she is blissfully unaware, isolated in her own tragedy. There is a literary quality to the story and the protagonist that non-horror fans probably wouldn’t expect from a horror tale (or any genre fiction, for that matter). I guess what I’m saying is that without the horror, there is a story here that would work as literary fiction, too. This one caught me off-guard and surprised me.

Michael Bray‘s With These Hands is a fantastic piece of work. Set at Christmas in a hot, sweaty Tobago, tragedy strikes a couple of holidaymakers who take a trip to get their marriage back on track. Arcane powers reveal that sometimes it’s better that some secrets remain hidden!

Next in the book is Ghosts of Christmas Past, by Jack Rollins– little old me. I’ll let other people tell you if it’s good or not, but I certainly enjoyed writing it, and drew upon my experience of working as a carer to portray the impact of the onset of dementia on the characters as the horror unfolds around them.

Stuart Keane‘s On The First Day of Christmas really gets into the childhood excitement and sleeplessness of Christmas Eve and it’s all as lovely as candyfloss… then you remember this is a Stuart Keane story and we are soon dragged into the realm of childhood fears and wondering if even our parents can take the bad things away…

Then we have Graham Masterton, and I’m having difficulty not saying “who comes along and shows us all how it’s done”, because the stories are all excellent in their own rights, but you know… Graham just sort of turns up in here and shows us all how it’s done. Anti-Clause is incredible. So atmospheric, so cool, so wish I’d written this.

Finally, M.R. Sellars brings the final story of the book, Merry Axemas – A Killer Holiday Tale. What starts as an investigative thriller, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, builds into a compelling horror chiller. I say investigative thrillers aren’t usually my back to read, but I do like some movies in that genre and the character Sheriff Carmichael is absolutely unmissable. He’s like Sam Elliot, merged with Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men, plus Sherlock Holmes. The main character Constance Mandalay is drawn into the mystery of a gruesome series of Christmas-time murders, with Carmichael as her jaded guide. This story is flawless, and I mean that. Characters sit around and talk to each other for most of the time, but everything they say makes everything they do all the more gripping. The closest thing I can liken it to is the TV show True Detective, where it’s about the characters, not the action, but when the action pops up it’s goooooood!

So, okay, I’m writing this after Christmas has faded, and if you’re reading this in late autumn or winter approaching Christmas, pick a copy up. If it’s earlier in the year, stick it on your Christmas list, or buy it now and have it on your shelf or in the kindle, ready for advent. This collection is totally unmissable.


Beware the Fearful Fathoms

Beware the Fearful Fathoms

Moments ago, I received some fantastic news. My story Once Tolled The Lutine Bell has been accepted to feature in next year’s Scarlet Galleon Publications release: Fearful Fathoms.

To say I am thrilled is the understatement of our age. Their Dead Harvest anthology is a fantastic tome of horror tales and I must admit to third degree burns of envy, in the knowledge that my friend and colleague Stuart Keane got himself a story in there, and I was far too late!

However, I made bloody sure I was ready for this one, with a Victorian tale of greed, betrayal, honour and revenge. There are some aspects of the story that connect to my other works, as those of you who have been with me for a while know, I do love a little Easter egg!

I’ll be sure to post more on this as I get more information from the publisher. But for now, I think a bottle of Broadside is in order!