Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Where Is Devon Marshall...? Scribbles Update!

 Some while ago, after a long,  long time of being unable to write anything at all, I was graced with the return of The Muse - once more I could write, hurrah! My delight was premature, however. I soon realized that The Muse’s sticking around was to be conditional upon exactly what I wrote.
  Long story short, my inability to write turned out to be based in an ennui with the specific genre in which I was writing. As soon as I tried to restart work on either The Vampires of Hollywood or The New Orleans Mysteries series, my irritation with this genre and subsequently these works increased tenfold, and The Muse deserted me once more.
  I wish I could bring better news to the readers of these series who have been so enjoying them as they progress, but the only solution for me has been to just walk away. To simply put the work aside and not waste my time and energy, not to mention destroy what precious good mental health I possess day-to-day, worrying about something largely beyond my control. I can say that both of these series will continue…I simply cannot say when this will happen. As Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads, says: “There is nothing worse you could do as a writer than try to write something you just aren’t feeling.”
 I could not have put it better myself. Neither is forcing myself to write an option: sitting down to churn out X-amount of words per day only to return and slash it all away next day serves only to increase my irritation, and my desire to ( figuratively speaking ) rip it all up and throw the pieces on the fire. What works for one writer, may not work for another. Different folks, different strokes. And all that.
 All has not been lost, however. In the meantime, I have rediscovered my love of writing short stories. I have spent some time lately revisiting short stories which I had published in my very early days, mostly in magazines and by small presses now ( sadly ) defunct or out of print. I have reworked these stories, had them re-edited, and now they will appear in two collections. The first of these collections, a quartet of spooky/horror stories titled A Night At Castle Kozlak and Other Stories, is available on Kindle here in the UK and here in the US. A second collection titled The Beast of Ben Arden and Other Stories is at present in the second writing stage and shall hopefully be available around Christmas 2015 ( depending on the business of editors and formatters ). These are also spooky/horror stories, all of them based in and around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Furthermore, I have reworked a novella, Down At Pomba Gira’s, and this I hope to have available by early 2016. These stories are general fiction, NOT specifically lesbian or even LGBT fiction, but if you are craving a wee dose of my scribbles, well, it’s better than nothing, isn’t it?
 At present I am working on a general fiction novel and in between this I continue to pen bits and pieces of The Vampires of Hollywood series ( Book 3 ), doing so when and if I feel I can without danger of ripping up and setting fire to things.
 I do offer my apologies to my readers who have had a long wait to see what happens next to Dante, Ellis et al. All I can say to you is this: I would prefer to give you something with which I am happy rather than something with which I am dreadfully unhappy, even if that takes as much time as it is going to take to achieve.
 I thank you all for your patience and understanding. I remain hopeful that by giving myself this complete break from the genre I will be able to return to it, minus the ennui.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Unexplained Orkney Part 1 : Visitors From Above

As I have mentioned before, it was my Dad who encouraged my interest in the unexplained - rather surprising since Dad was a very logic-driven guy, sometimes maddeningly so! As a Royal Navy petty officer and a civilian engineer who, one way or another, spent all of his adult life working for the MoD, it was even more surprising that he had a healthy distrust of taking the word of our government and military overlords…or maybe that's not so surprising! Anyway, he encouraged my interest at an early age when he gave me a copy of Erich von Danniken’s book Chariots of the Gods, and then steered me toward many other such writers including Charles Fort, Zecheriah Sitchin, and Jim Marrs.

I’ve lived for more than a decade now in Orkney ( for the geographically-challenged, Orkney is one of those remote island chains at the very, very top of Scotland, the ones which often look like an accidental ink blot on some maps and most TV weather forecast graphics ) and although I’ve long known of the rich depth and breadth of its mythology - everything from scary sea monsters to the helpful hogboon - I have only recently thought to take a closer look at the area’s history of UFO sightings and mysterious happenings. And there was more of it to be found than I had imagined.

What set me off on my research was an incident occurring in April of 2014 when a massive power outage saw the entire Highlands & Islands regions of Scotland blacked-out for several hours starting around 8.30pm. Almost two-thirds of the country was in total darkness because something hit the power lines at some point along a 55-mile stretch of extremely remote line in the Highlands. The mysterious thing about it was that despite a ‘full investigation’ by Scottish & Southern Electricity no actual cause has ever been found for the disruption. The best anyone has been able to say is that “something” must have hit the power lines - birds, flying debris, lightning. Problem with this is that there were no storms, no adverse weather conditions at all, and birds or debris tend to leave physical evidence in the vicinity, of which there was nothing, despite extensive ground searches. That’s when my mind drifted to other possible explanations… 

Sure, a very earthly military craft could have hit the power lines and the MoD would have calmly and believably denied having any aircraft in the area, it’s not like they haven’t got a track record for such bald-faced denials, right? It is true that as the jet-fighter flies Cape Wrath, one of the MoD's flight-testing sites, is a mere blip on the radar away from the area where the power lines came down. And I certainly have no problem recalling how we spent our second summer in Orkney having our satellite signal constantly and violently disrupted, much to the puzzlement ( and chagrin ) of our local satellite engineers. Everyone knew there had been test flights of new jet-fighters over Orkney, originating out of Cape Wrath, you couldn't miss the regular sonic booms they made, but no one seemed able to explain how those jets would have interfered with our satellite signal...well, what if it wasn't the jets doing the interference but something else that was following the jets, mm-mm...? Anyway, for the MoD to deny that one of their craft blacked-out almost an entire nation and for nobody to have blown the whistle, or at least started a rumor or two…? I have a harder time believing that than I do believing that extraterrestrial craft might have been shadowing the jet-testing and disrupted our satellite signal so badly we ended up being given a brand new dish free of charge by the despairing engineers! So is it really much more of a stretch to ask what if it had been some less earthly craft which got tangled with the power lines over the remote Highlands?

Then, by chance, I found a couple stories in the Yesteryear page of the local newspaper, The Orcadian. Both stories were from 1914 and concerned the launch of local lifeboats after sightings of ‘red flares’ were reported by several witnesses on land. In one instance it seemed to the witnesses that there was “a ship on fire off Burgh Head”. In this case, the lifeboat set off a flare to signal that help was on the way at which point “the light further out to sea immediately disappeared and despite close searches no trace of any vessel was ever found”. Nothing was ever found in either case, in fact.

Fast forward to April 2009, just around midnight, and the thunderous roar of a helicopter flying window-rattingly low over our house disturbed myself and Housemate watching a late-night movie. It was the coastguard helicopter joining a search which also involved a couple of lifeboats and the on-land emergency services, sparked by several reported sightings of “red flares” over Kirkwall Bay. Despite an intensive four-hour search, nothing was found. Sounding familiar yet? Yes, well, unlike the 1914 incidents, after which everyone ( meaning, the Establishment and the newspaper who were likely at the mercy of the Establishment at that war-sensitive time ) just shut up about it as if it had never happened, in 2009 the blame was placed on the reason du jour for any kind of unexplained lights being seen in the sky…Chinese lanterns.

I’m sorry, pardon me, but whaaaat -?

Apparently these days we are to believe that people all over the UK are merrily setting off Chinese lanterns which other people are merrily mistaking for everything from distress flares to UFO’s…because the Establishment assume we’re all dumb as fence posts, I suppose. Also, sorry again, but Orkney is a tiny wee island ( in comparison to, well, just about anywhere else except perhaps Shetland or the Faroes ) and if anyone had been setting off Chinese lanterns that night, you better believe that dozens of people would have known exactly who it was and where they were, and someone of those would have informed either the coastguard or the police or both. So, Chinese lanterns my sharny arse! But hey, too bad the Establishment didn’t have Chinese lanterns to blame in 1914, eh?

Anyway, back to the present and these incidents, put together in my fervid little imagination, set me off on a research quest ( which I haven’t quite completed yet but I have enough to make a start here ) and what I have found is kinda fascinating. First of all, I noticed that there is a [ tenuous? ] link between extreme weather events and meteor events, and rashes of UFO sightings and other mysterious happenings. Severe thunderstorms, blizzards, gale force winds, torrential rain, and at other end of the scale, unseasonable heat-waves. Also earthquakes and other mystery underground rumblings and venting seem to occur in a loose conjunction with other phenomena. I’ll write about this other phenomena in the next post.

In 1913, for a period of about 16 weeks from roughly January to April, there were a rash of what have come to be known as ‘scareship’ sightings all over the UK, sightings of what were assumed to be German airships or Zeppelins. There has never been any verification, either official or unofficial, that what people were seeing were Zeppelins, however, and the descriptions of the behavior of some of these craft make you doubt that they could have been anything as lumbering as a Zeppelin. Sticking to Orkney, there were ‘scareships’ spotted on 28th February, off the isle of Sanday, heading southwards, and again in March, when one was sighted over Sanday again, also heading southwards, seen also by people in Deerness on Mainland ( the biggest of the Orkney isles ). "Considerable importance" was attached to this sighting because it occurred in daylight. Despite this, the report made stated only that "a great aerial craft [was] seen hovering over the island on Monday afternoon, March 3rd". The 9th April sighting was even more descriptive and intriguing. This time the 'scareship' hovered over Stronsay ( and outer isle which turns up time and again in relation to Orkney's weird happenings ) for two hours before midnight, displaying a "bright light seen at intervals" and with the hum of an engine being distinctly heard despite the ship being stationary. It then headed in a northwesterly direction off Stronsay and disappeared.

Moving forward to June 1940 and Hoy, where an anti-aircraft unit member tracked for 10 seconds a “flattened sphere moving rapidly on a horizontal course at an estimated 38,000ft”. Moving forward again to March 1962 when an object with “capabilities and appearance beyond earthly aircraft” was spotted somewhere over Orkney ( not specified in report ) and another similar object spotted “on the sea”. Not over the sea, but on the sea. And the most intriguing one of all…in 1992 there was a well-renowned rash of UFO sightings all across Scotland, including one over Orkney. On December 20th a UFO was tracked on radar near Orkney and an RAF fighter jet sent to intercept and investigate it. The incident was never reported in the media, but if you go to this site and read Tony Dodd’s article you will see that he claims a 'reliable source' to have informed him that at one point the jet fighter and UFO merged on radar and contact was lost with the jet-fighter. A search and rescue plane was dispatched to look for the missing jet and did indeed find it, hours later, intact, sitting in a remote and inhospitable spot in Orkney where landing would have been impossible. And no pilot.

Okay, I find the latter part of this story hard to credit. As I said, Orkney is a tiny wee place and anything like a downed jet-fighter, whether it landed there under its own steam, crashed, or was deposited out the arse-end of an intergalactic spacecraft, would have been bloody well noticed and no amount of government or MoD shushing would have stopped the island residents from jawing about it far and wide.

But what is intriguing about this story is Dodd's claim that another of his 'reliable sources' informed him of heavy UFO activity on the same day along the coast of Iceland. There is rumored to be an underwater UFO/maybe joint-MoD base in that area, and, well, remember that there are parts of England lie further from Orkney than does Iceland. And that makes me believe that the first part of this sighting story at least may be true.

Two last things about Orkney that makes me inclined to take the UFO thing seriously.

One is the rich deposit of uranium ore in Orkney. Many places around the world with deposits of uranium ore are visited by UFO's in noticeably large numbers. Mining for this uranium ore has been blocked for years by the islanders and their MP's. But that wouldn't stop others from benefiting from it, would it?

And two are the mysterious rumblings heard under parts of Orkney. The most widely-reported one of which occurred on 18th November 1955, on the isle of Shapinsay when a farmer there reported three rumblings within 45 minutes and another 6 hours later. The sound, he claimed, was like "a cartload of stones being emptied". His dog, normally a calm beast, was particularly perturbed by the incident. The 'official' explanation given was "venting from a natural gas reservoir running through a geological fault beneath Shapinsay". Funny, but it's either never happened again there, or no one on Shapinsay has ever bothered to report it since and the beasts must have got used to it! But this has not been the only strange underground rumbling heard on Orkney...there are others. Indeed, myself and Housemate have even heard one of these strange events! I can't recall the exact year but I think it was either 2008-09, one early evening we were sitting in the living room of our home when we heard - and felt - a deep, loud rumbling, like thunder but not thunder. We could feel it vibrating through the floor beneath our feet. It went on for maybe 3-5 seconds and then there was a loud, sharp bang that made both of our hairs stand on end. The kind of bang that would suggest ( it certainly did to us ) lightning striking an electrical transformer. However, there was no lightning, no storms, and no transformers went down that evening. Believe me when I say we have experienced the downing of a transformer, during the 'thundersnow' storms of 2014, and the power just goes out like, well, like a light! Some of our neighbors also noticed the phenomenon and it was reported to various agencies, but no official explanation was ever forthcoming. More like a collective shrug of Establishment shoulders was all we got.    

I have yet to finish my trawling through the island’s unexplained history, but so far these are some of the most intriguing stories I have found. Also, they are all ones which could not be easily dismissed as meteors or other fully explainable phenomena, such as the Kirkwall and Aberdeen coastguard’s reporting of a “bright spherical object with tail moving NW to SE, splitting in two” on 25th January 1985, or the “giant fireball” which lit up the skies over Orkney in vivid purple and white, traveling at a speed of 50,000mph from NE to SW on March 5th 1933. So, until next post…keep watching the skies. But try not to trip over any little grey men might be standing in your path!

And while you're at it, go visit this site to read more about mysterious Orkney. You won't be sorry!

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Muse Has Landed

A while back - okay, a long while back - I suddenly found that I just could not write any more. There were several things contributed to this, some purely personal to my life, others that related directly to the reality of being a published writer. The rot began to set in when I was partway through the 2nd book in the Vampires of Hollywood series and I was sensing a strange and distracting discontent roving through my usually creative brain. Then there was the Infamous Computer Crash in which I lost everything I had struggled to write of Dante’s Choice, necessitating a complete rewrite with nothing substantial left to reference, and after that something which I had loved to do since ever I learned to read and write, became the thing I hated most. I could not write at all. What’s more, I had zero interest in doing so. I could have quite happily walked away from the whole business forever and not given a single blue fuck.

In fact I did walk away from it. Eventually I had to walk away or go bat-shit insane. At first the inability to write was depressing, and then it became frustrating, and finally everything about writing just made me so mad that walking away seemed the sanest, most reasonable thing to do. So I took time out and did other things - any other thing so long as it didn’t involve creative writing - and in doing so I rediscovered a liking for ( and a fair talent for ) crafting. I also caught up on a slew of reading. Really whittled down my To Be Read list.

Tongue-in-cheek Gothic goodness!
Then, just before Christmas 2014, I came across a file of short stories, some unfinished, none published, and I began tinkering with those, re-writing, re-shaping, and lo, I began to feel the stirrings of creativity once again. So I dug out a bunch of small press publications in which I’d had short stories appear and I began going through those, looking for suitable ones to include in a compilation, mostly of horror stories which are either a little tongue-in-cheek or poke gentle fun at the Gothic tradition of scary stories. And that compilation, to be titled A Night At Castle Kozlak: Or How I Became A Vampire Hunter! ( And Other Stories ) will be my next published work. This will be followed by a horror novella which I am working on completing at the moment, titled Down At Pomba Gira’s. Reconnecting with my old short stories, the place where I began writing, has rekindled my desire to write, if not quite made me love it again…not yet anyway. But it's a start.
The horror...oh the horror...!

As for the next installment of my New Orleans Mysteries series featuring Willie Rae Flynn & Co., titled Summertime and the Dying is Easy, I have picked that up again in the last week but I have no idea yet when anything will be ready for actual publication.

Book 3 in the Vampires of Hollywood series will hopefully be out in December 2015. I can’t say much about what it will look like except that another major character will die ( but it won’t be Dante, or Lydia! ), and that the powerful enemy of whom Dante was warned by the dying Robin will be revealed. Everything else is still being knitted together, slowly and painfully at times, because there remain certain issues of discontent with this series.

But it’s nice to be able to write anything at all again. One of my own all-time favorite authors, Stephen King, once described writing as being like sitting staring at a blank piece of paper until somehow, magically, a hole opens up in the paper and you fall through that hole into a world of your own creation. Waiting for the hole in the paper to open up can be frustrating and sometimes even frightening, and when it closes for an extended period, leaving you locked out of your creative world, you feel like you’re losing your damned mind. I’m not sure if King said that part but it was sure as hell how I felt for a while after the hole in the page slammed shut on me.

It's said also that everything in life is a learning experience and I did learn some lessons from my experience with this closure of the creative world. I learned to be choosy about which writers I am in contact with, to stay out of writing groups online ( with the exception of one very, very good group to which I still belong, Book Junkies ), to recognize wannabe kingmakers who are using review sites to play their little power games and avoid those like the plague, and to whittle my social media presence down to just the sites that I use most often and which don’t make me want to go out and burn down libraries. More importantly, I also re-affirmed my belief that a writer should just write, and not get involved with the back-slapping and ass-kissing side of the business of writing.

Just write!