Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
From a young age I suffered from an undiagnosed form of narcolepsy; this would mean my days felt like I was walking through treacle as my brain attempted to shut down. Doing anything at school was a challenge, paying attention, a Herculean task. It was only when I got to go to bed that I would get a burst of energy which would mean I would struggle to get to sleep.
But, I have to look at the positives, it was during this time that I learnt to love horror. Now was the time I would sneak the spare TV into my room to watch shows like Stephen Volk’s amazing Ghostwatch. I became schooled in late night TV and as a teenage boy this didn’t mean flicking through channels for a bit of late night side boob. Instead I was drawn to horror. Mostly, I seemed to be drawn to B-Movie horror, Them, Basket Case, Piranha, Frogs, these were my night time treats. Occasionally at 3am BBC would put a re-run of M.R James’s Whistle and I'll Come to You. Those nights were the best.
When my Dad caught on and took back the spare TV I turned to books. I was always a reader; my Mum drilled it into me from a very young age that books are vital to a young mind. I had read things like Lord of the Rings and most of the Sherlock collection but these books (love them as I did) were the books that my parents owned, they weren’t my choice. Sure, I had other books; it wasn’t like I was left wanting. I owned the entire run of Goosebumps and Point Horror, I had picked up every Dick King-Smith book I could find, Roald Dahl overflowed from my shelves. But now, now I had a taste for adult Horror.
I had some money left over from a birthday and with it I decided to venture to the nearest Waterstones and buy something that would scare me. I wanted to be afraid; I wanted to fear the darkness. This wasn’t like 1000 Leagues Under the Sea fear, no sea creatures could ever reach me in my bed; this was a fear of human nature, a fear of anything and everything in my daily life.
I picked up two books.
Shaun Hutson’s Slugs and Richard Matheson’s I am Legend.
Now Slugs was fantastic. It was B-movie, it was terrifyingly fun, it made me fall in love with Shaun Hutson.
But what I really want to talk about is I am Legend.
Anyone who knows me has probably had me shove a copy in their direction at some point; I must have bought this book nearly 30 times by now, each one a replacement as I pass on my own to others as I try and invite them to see what I truly love about horror. Even now, my heart is racing just thinking back to the last time I read it.
Matheson wrote about the human condition, about loneliness. Sure, the vampires were frightening but what really terrified me was the nothingness, the monotony of his life. The fact that this was all he had now, everything he had loved had been taken from him and forced him to live out a hollow existence surrounded by people he once knew. People who wanted to kill him. Ben Cortman, our hero’s neighbour, taunts him from his front lawn, tempts him to come outside as women flaunt themselves before him.
Robert Neville was human, he was everything I was and this was his tale of how he struggled to survive. He wasn’t rich, he wasn’t military, he wasn’t special, he wasn’t a gun toting hero, he was me. He fought depression and battled against alcohol, he let it all get on top of him like a normal person. Everything that was happening to him could happen to me.
There are three things about this book that every reader should take from it. (Warning here be spoilers!)
1 – His relationship with his dog. Neville longed for companionship; he spent his time slowly trying to befriend a stray dog in an attempt to give him some sense of normality. Unfortunately, after all his hard work the dog becomes infected and dies. This scene destroyed me, as I read it I felt that I had befriended this dog, I had warmed to Neville so much that I wanted him to have this dog. Matheson created this safe place, this familiarity; he toyed with Neville and readers alike in such a beautifully manifested way that when it gets taken from us it tears out a piece of the reader with it.
The dog was more than just a dog; Neville had created a safe place; his home was where he had control. Beyond those walls he had some reminiscence of control during the day but lacked it by night. It was his daytime excursions that lead him into a false sense of security, it led him to believe he had some essence of control. At least some of the time. By bringing in this dog he proved himself wrong. The dog was infected, he couldn’t ever have stopped it; but by having the dog die in his home meant he invited in failure, invited in his lack of control.
2 – This is a non-violent novel. There is no real gore; no cheap shots which would make the reader feel repulsed. Of course Neville is killing vampires but it’s subtle, it’s efficient. Matheson takes the reader through a realistic approach. Hollywood has tried (and in my eyes, failed) to replicate this novel on the big screen. The fact is that this isn’t your typical blockbuster; this is a story that eats away at you slowly. His life is stagnant, of course it is, he can’t take risks like Will Smith does by launching a car around a crumbling city. He has to take care of himself, he has to brush his teeth because there are no dentists, he can’t take stupid risks. You put this on the big screen and you have two hours of a man repairing his guttering. But you keep it as a novel and you have something we can fall into, something we can all relate to. If a story absorbs the reader, then the fear cuts much deeper.
3 – Neville’s weaknesses. As I have said before, Neville is human, he is everyman. He isn’t a hero. Everything that has happened to him has scarred him deeply, just like it would do to you or me. He has lost his family, his world, his sense of purpose; this in turn drives him into depression and to alcohol. He often thinks of ending it all, of walking out among those he fights and becoming one of them. He longs to feel the touch of a woman; despite their deformities (and longing to kill him) he wants to hold these women who tease him by night as he watches through his peephole. It is such a simple element, a man’s natural instinct, but it is so much more, it is human nature fighting itself.
Richard Matheson was, in my eyes, the greatest writer of our generation. He was prolific; he crossed so many mediums, from TV, to Cinema, magazines, novels and short stories. I can’t honestly think of something he wrote that I didn’t love. I have even tracked down copies of Playboys from the 1950s that he featured in, stories I have read a hundred times just seem so much richer from the original outlet.
The odds are you have seen or read something by Matheson himself, if you haven’t, I suggest you start with I am Legend.
One name…Garth Ennis.
Garth Ennis has carved a nice little area for himself in the comic book world. Usually when I say horror, people do that eye roll and sigh. They give you that pitying look that makes you feel ten inches tall. Most horror writers probably know the look; but imagine that look, when you say horror comic, yeah! That’s right, feel the contempt from everyone in the room; women throw themselves onto couches in blubbering heaps as the locals gather their pitchforks. (Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration but you get the point).
But, you know what? Comics are awesome, horror is awesome, you combine the two and you end up with the beautiful bastard child that is Crossed.
I need to say it now, before we get into things, I am a fan of the originals, I like Garth’s first outing with Crossed. Don’t get me wrong the others are good, but the originals were just, just fucking horrific!
I don’t usually like gore, I prefer narrative, but Garth Ennis gets it down perfectly. The story arc follows a group of survivors after a global pandemic. A virus has infected the population and is driving them to live out their violent tendencies as the infected (shown with a cross like rash across their face) hunt down survivors in an attempt to kill all.
I won’t go too much into plot as you really do need to get into this series, but rest assured what ensues is a frantic tale of survival in a dying world. With characters such as Horsecock what’s not to love!?
Crossed is illustrated by Jacen Burrows, quite possibly the only artist that manages to mimic Garth Ennis’s passion and fury by creating a smorgasbord of chaos with every pen stroke. I love covers, whether it be a book, CD, poster, comic, I love the attention to detail that creates a story in one single frame. Crossed hit the nail on the head every bloody time. Even with the variants they pulled out all the stops. (Hence why I went to the effort of tracking down every single cover they did)
It is my love for Crossed and my love for covers that drives me to make a cover that screams at passers-by. I am currently taking submissions for an anthology I am editing, this means that soon, very soon, I get to talk to people about designing a cover. And to be honest, I’m pretty damned excited. I want to create something that will do each of the authors proud, I want something that people want on their shelves, something they want to pass around to their friends and say ‘I need that!’. Writing is a work of art and each author is contributing a piece of their vision with every story, this cover will need to echo their passion and I hope I can find someone who can pull it off.
If you want to be a part of it, please give me a shout, the call will be going up on www.horrortree.com shortly, have a read and see if you can make it in our little town.
Well the future is always tricky, on one hand I have what I want and on the other I have what is realistic.
What I want is a world full of novellas, little books that you can tuck into your pocket and take with you. I’m not a fan of Kindles or tablets; I prefer to hold a physical book, so travelling with a beefy novel is always an issue. Sure, getting into a massive novel has its perks but I find most of my reading is opportunistic at best, those five minutes before a doctor’s appointment or whilst you wait for the wife (although to be fair I could probably read several novels with that example).
As I have mentioned before, I love covers, so I regularly pick up books that look good on my bookshelf (of course I read them, but the cover is what draws me to it). With a Kindle you lose that, it’s just an image on a screen that vanishes after you buy it. There is just something that is impersonal about a Kindle. It’s not that I hate them and everyone who publishes through them, far from it, but it is just my opinion, my taste. I guess you could say I’m old fashioned. With my photography, I held off for as long as I could using 35mm film, digital was long established before I finally gave in. Although that was also in part to 35mm becoming redundant. Maybe that will be the realistic future, no more paper books, but I will hold off until the end again.
With the Vampire and Zombie market seemingly coming to a close my money is on the Supernatural or more likely the Kaiju scene taking prime place. However, with so many genre shifts I’m excited to see where we will be ending up in thirty years. Wherever we end up, let’s keep the sparkling to a minimum.
Finally, what is realistic? Come the future I may have finally finished my first solo novel, something that I have completely re-written around five times in the last three years, maybe another twenty years and I will be happy with it. I will certainly not have finished writing; this is something I love, something therapeutic that will keep me sane(ish). I just hope that my stories keep enticing readers and there is still a demand for me.
You can read Confessions review of Death by Chocolate here:
You can buy any of Calum’s books here.
If you would like to help support Confessions of a Reviewer, then please consider using the links below to buy any of the books mentioned in this feature. This not only supports me but also lets me know how many people actually like to buy books after reading my reviews.
Calum Chalmers is relatively new to the writing game and as such is featured in only a few new anthologies; however, this is not to say he doesn’t have bigger plans. More books are on the way, novellas and anthologies alike will soon be hitting the shelves. He is a member of the newly formed Rebel Skulls, a writing collective who are pooling their skills to help one another reach their full potential and with it some new Rebel Skulls anthologies will follow. Anthologies like the horrific take on the 12 days of Christmas (something he is personally very excited about).
The Rebel Skulls consist of;
Charlie Morgan (Cut and Run: Sticks and Stones 2)
And of course Calum Chalmers;
‘The Eater Egg’
Edited by Matt Cash
Edited by Steve Shaw
Black Shuck Books
‘Cosmic Unicorn Thunderfuck’
Edited by Christine Morgan
Fossil Lake Anthologies
And for more about Calum, visit his page or find him on social media: