Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
Writing has been an interest of mine for decades, one that has slowly developed and matured over time, ever since my seven-year-old brain took the seed and planted it, storing it for a later date. I started reading young, and there are many catalysts responsible for my journey into the creative landscape of writing, but there's only one book that spoke to me, one book that I have read several times throughout the years and thought, 'man, it still has that oomph.' The book responsible? Before we get to that, first, a little background.
Fact is I've always loved to read, and if I weren't writing for a living, I would spend every spare waking moment reading books. As a child, I picked up anything I could get my hands on. Whether it’s the insanely popular Mr Men collection, Puddle Lane, Spot the Dog pop-up books, or Dr Seuss, my reading education started young and simple. It was only a matter of time until the interest piqued, and I began reading on a more fluent basis.
I mentioned in a recent interview that the best gift I received as a child was a library card. This would build the solid foundation for my reading, but let's not forget I was also a young boy; comic books were an integral part of my childhood from the age of three. I was an avid reader of The Beano, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a short-lived magazine from Marvel called It's Wicked (you may remember this Beano clone; Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters – another of my regular reads – was the main character), and this led me to Roald Dahl. The Witches, The Twits, Matilda, Revolting Rhymes, The Enormous Crocodile, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were all firm favourites at the time. These all helped me find the interest to read actual books, ones without pictures. That's when Enid Blyton came along.
The Famous Five and The Secret Seven were the first series – in their entirety – that I read from beginning to end. The library had the entire bibliography of both, which took a few trips back and forth, and before long, I was browsing bookshops and boot fairs to start compiling these for my own collection. To this day, many are stored in the cupboard beside me, but Enid Blyton introduced me to a completely new genre: the mystery thriller. Now, Blyton writes for children, but anyone who read the above books in their youth will tell you one thing; there was a tantalizing thrill, and a subtle fear buried deep in those innocent adventures. To this day, I remember those lazy summer days fondly. Maybe, when I retire, I will reenact them all over again.
After Blyton, I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. These books added a horror element to proceedings, and elevated my interest; I wanted more, something more adult, and the library card was no longer satisfying that craving (at this point, it was two years in, and hundreds of books down). Then, one fateful day, I walked to my mother's bookshelf, picked up Flesh by Richard Laymon, and the rest is history. Flesh is the reason I pursued a career in writing. Although the career came along some years later, that book opened my eyes to the horror genre for the very first time. I'd seen the occasional horror movie from behind the sofa, and read about spooky urban legends, but this book not only terrified me, it introduced me to the feeling of being truly scared – and I loved it. Seven-year-old me will not admit to that at the time, he was too busy cowering beneath the bed, eyes glued to the pages, but the book really hit home, and it’s the main reason I am a writer today.
I'm thirty-four, and I was seven when I started reading. Many books have passed through my hands since my childhood, and this will continue to happen long into the future, but most recently, I have been revisiting old classics. Books that, in hindsight, might not have resonated with me as much as a child, a stroppy teenager, or a young adult with other things on his delinquent mind. When I discovered Laymon as a child, the natural progression led me to Clive Barker, James Herbert, and Shaun Hutson; three of the best authors in the genre, and three of Britain's best, if not the greatest, horror talents.
After Flesh, I moved into Laymon's back catalogue – Island, Quake, Endless Night, One Rainy Night, and Body Rides are still firm favourites – but every reader gets the itch to read more, and expand the horizons. I picked up The Rats and The Fog by James Herbert, and my horror education blew wide open. Lair and Domain followed. Soon it led to Shaun Hutson's Spawn and Slugs, not to mention one awesome weekend in which I read Renegades, Assassin, and Shadows back to back. The Hellbound Heart was a couple of hours I will never forget; where Barker's unique style of writing actually gave me goosebumps, the first book to do so. I remember seeing Hellraiser for the first time, as if it was yesterday, and realising that, although it was a decent movie, it wasn't a patch on the novel. All of these books were awesome as a child/teenager/young adult (delete where appropriate), but reading them the second, third, fourth time around, within the last five years, was a phenomenal experience, and testament to why books, especially your favourites, should never be taken for granted.
However, I'm not purely a horror fiend. Much as I did with the above authors, I have read the entire Jack Reacher series by Lee Child thrice, except the most recent entry, Make Me. Meeting Lee Child some years ago was a bucket list moment, and getting a personal endorsement from him was the reason I began my writing career. Other authors I read on a regular basis – when time permits it – include Richard Montanari, Robert Crais, Brett Battles, Chris Carter, and J.A. Konrath.
One book I am currently reading is Battle Royale by Koushan Takami. Better known as a 2000 film on this side of the globe, the book is the original source material for the movie. Where the movie was excellent, the book – thus far – is simply phenomenal. It's surprising how the violence and tragedy is somewhat enhanced by your imagination. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, and I'm only a third of the way through.
I am also revisiting the Batman comics where possible – Knightfall and The Killing Joke, not to mention A Death In The Family and Hush, are all firm favourites of mine. Again, Batman was cool as a kid, but even cooler as an adult who can understand the more mature themes contained in the artwork and the storylines.
One thing is certain; the future of horror is very promising. Over the past two years, I've seen several talented horror authors emerge from the murky depths of the genre, and they all have a bright future in the industry. As an editor for Dark Chapter Press, I have the honour of working with many budding authors; honest, genuine people who have a passion that sears the digital pages, a love for their craft that will only push them to a great future. To name them all would take an eternity, but if you've worked with Dark Chapter Press, this is a shout out to those writers. Keep doing what you're doing, and you will go far.
From my own imagination, I have several projects in the think tank, and 2016 is already shaping up to become very productive, but writers who have impressed me recently are the ones who show originality in their work. People like Jack Rollins, who crafts and articulates a Victorian horror novel like no author I've read before; he really brings to mind the classic Hammer horror of yesteryear, and reading his work is a sublime treat. You have Kyle M. Scott who, on the surface, resembles a modern-day Richard Laymon, but deep down his stories speak of a familiar fractured society, one that hides a dark truth that can emerge at any time. No one can replace Laymon, but he comes mighty close. You have Matt Hickman, who is a new face on the block, and isn't even a year into his career, but is already making waves of the terrifying, horrific kind. The guy can write a story that will make you vomit and cry in equal proportion, and is definitely one to watch for the future.
There are a number of other authors honing their craft today – and they all know who they are, to mention them all would take days – but the future is definitely bright for horror. Keep doing what you're doing, and keep building your legacy. The only person who can ruin your career is you, so chin up, keep working, and keep the passion burning.
As for myself? I hope to continue reading, continue finding inspiration in the written word. I want my passion to stay alive, to burn forever, to result in a hundred books by 2020. Can it happen? Maybe, but only I can decide that. I am certainly looking forward to writing the Grin sequels; the first book was very well received, and Dani is a character that has an extensive story to tell. With three sequels already prepped and mapped out, 2017 will definitely be a year to watch.
Do I have any hopes for the future? Well, my colleague Jack Rollins beat me to it in a previous Confessions post; but I want to write a Batman story. It would be a dream come true. Who knows, maybe Jack and I can collaborate on one…
I have people tell me that my style is slowly developing into one I can call my own, and if this is true, I will continue to do this. We all have dreams, hell, writing books was mine for thirty-two years, and as fate would have it, dreams can come true. I'm looking forward to my future, it terrifies me and excites me in equal measure, and I don’t know what it will hold, but being scared is a good thing, as any horror reader will attest. One thing is for sure; I have my dream firmly in my hand, and I'm not letting go anytime soon.
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People ask me why I enjoy books. Sometimes I remain speechless. I know many people who have never read a book - they do exist - and trying to explain this simple, yet amazing pastime to them is never easy. It's pretty difficult in fact.
I read my first adult book at age seven. This was years after seeing my first film but the experience, where new, was something else entirely. I remember being stuck on one page (for those who are curious, the book was Flesh by Richard Laymon, an excellent, yet under-appreciated horror writer) for half an hour because the detail in the scene was so vivid. I actually remember him describing an abandoned restaurant and I didn't want to continue. It was THAT real to me that I felt I was actually there. Continuing to read would take me into the restaurant and because of previous events in the book, you knew it was a very bad idea.
This was my first memory of the written word. It's remained with me since and probably always will. Many authors have that defining moment when they realised they wanted to write fiction for a living. This is mine and has shaped my life ever since.
So who is Stuart Keane?
Just an ordinary guy who likes to write thrilling, compelling stories. For thirty years, people have enthralled me, entertained me and provided me with many, many adventures. And inspiration. Now, I want to return the favour.
And for more about Stuart, visit his site or find him on social media:
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