THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Wattpad Dimensional Hole and How to Climb Out

If any of you are Hedoschism readers on Wattpad, you’ll already know that my main man Ethan Drake has an ability to open up dimensional holes and shove his unsuspecting victims into a void worse than being thrown into an oubliette in Jareth’s Labyrinth.

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If you happen to be a writer on Wattpad, you’ll also know that sometimes posting stories on there can be a bit like throwing them into a void of no return. With over 65 million users, over 400 million stories on the site, and new content being uploaded every minute, it’s no wonder that the idea of just posting on there can be daunting, let alone trying to tackle the fact that you’ve got to somehow make yourself and your story visible in a sea of 400 million.

Users are looking for all sorts of different reads and sometimes, when browsing the hot lists in each genre and checking out some of the more popular stories, it’s often a mystery as to what those stories possess that have earned them the numbers of reads/comments/votes that they have. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a fucking conundrum that can NEVER be explained and is often the reason why Wattpad gets such a bad rap from those in the industry and from ardent book readers who see it as little more than ‘that place where kids write terrible fan-fiction’ (and I’m just repeating here, not confirming, as I know there’s actually some bloody good fan-fiction on there AND some amazing teenage writers who are a damn sight more talented than I am).

The problem here is that when there appears to be no magic formula on why a story has become popular on Wattpad (because bad plot/character development/structure/grammar appears not to be a deciding factor in many cases) it’s difficult to know just how to get the reaction you want. Of course, you could just opt for the easy route and chuck in a few ‘Slave to the BTS Vampire Kings’ or ‘Jungkook is my Step-Brother and My Lover’ (rewind a few years and you could replace with One Direction and Harry Styles) and yes, the chances are, if you appeal to a fanbase, then you could find what you’re looking for. However, there are plenty of writers posting original fiction who are struggling to find their place and, apart from requests for writing advice (to which I rarely feel qualified to give) I would say the number one question many new writers ask me, is how do you get noticed on Wattpad? How do you gain reads? How did I do it?

I’ll be honest. Usually when people ask me this, I send them in the direction of a couple of other trusted writers on the site who have penned some fantastic guides for new users. Katherine A. Ganzel has a great book called simply How to Get Reads, Votes and Comments – A Guide and Lauren Palphreyman has posted a book called 11 Ways to Wattpad Like A Pro. Everyone needs a little helping hand when they join Wattpad and trying to work out how to get off the starting line can be hugely confusing.

The short answer to these questions is: interaction is key.

I’ll never forget one user asking me to check out his work and throwing a passage from his WIP into my DM’s, and when challenged as to his method of going about getting people to read his story and what he does to interact in a more positive way with other users, he very confidently told me he ‘didn’t read’ and therefore didn’t see why he had to read other people’s work, because – I kid you not – he didn’t need to read to be a good writer. I mean, HELLO WHAT?

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Let me tell you something I do know with absolute certainty: refusing to read other writers’ work and believing you’re somehow above that kind of interaction is just plain wrong. I’ll die on this hill. Aside from sounding like a total arse, you’re also denying yourself the chance to be part of an amazing community AND gaining yourself readers along the way. When I started out on Wattpad, I was completely new to the writing community. I’d posted on here a little bit and made a few contacts via Twitter, but that was it. On joining Wattpad, I simply hoped that a few people would read my stories, but what I discovered was there was a whole world of amazing fiction that I just wanted to READ. Forget writing for one second. Put that aside, along with the terrible fiction that no doubt does exist on the site, and think about all the brilliant stories that ARE on there. The first thing I did was add a shit-tonne of books to my reading lists and began reading the ones I loved the look of the most.

Now here’s the thing – some of those writers read my books. Some didn’t. Some of the people who were also reading those writers’ books, began to read mine. Some didn’t. I discovered some of those readers were also writers and I added and read their books. And so on, and so on. It’s a never-ending circle of discovery – you find new writers you love and you gain a few readers along the way.

That kind of interaction – without agenda, just a desire to be part of a growing community of people who just fucking LOVE books was the first thing I discovered about Wattpad and it was also how I accidentally gained my first readers, some of whom are still with me today. It really is all about how much you want to get involved with the community and how much you want to put in to supporting other writers and connecting with readers who love all the same stuff that you do.

But… now here’s the other thing, and it was something I alluded to in my previous post Wattpad and The Art of Letting Go : you can read all the guides that you want, you can listen to advice and follow all the steps to the letter, but it’s no guarantee of success and certainly no guarantee of gaining the number of reads that you want. I say this with conviction, because with over 23k followers and over 6 million reads across my stories, I STILL find it hard to gain new reads. I’ve done most of the things the guides tell you to do. I’ve had successful stories. I’m part of the Wattpad Star program and this year won a Watty award. But YES, I still find it bloody difficult to gain reads.

Take Hedoschism as a prime example. It has 2 Awards under it’s belt, was the Wattpad HQ Read of the Week and was added to the Featured List, but it’s still taken me over a year to accumulate 165k reads. Now, compare that to Playing Dead which gained a million reads in the same amount of time. If you have any idea of how much time I’ve spent agonising over the slow uptake of Hedoschism and wondering why it hasn’t inspired as much reader interest as Playing Dead, I think you’d be surprised. But the truth is, I’ve really bloody agonised over it, so much so that I’ve thought about giving up at least a few times on a weekly basis and have severely doubted whether I should even stay on Wattpad as a result. Even after the Watty 2018 win, which saw very little uptake in readers, I have wondered what the heck I am doing pretending that I’m even remotely capable of writing a story that will hold a reader’s attention. (At this point, I’m completely aware some people will tell me that 165k is still a good amount of reads and there are many people who are on far less, and let me say, I understand that, but rather than focus on the figures, I’m simply making a case for the fact that just because you achieve a certain amount of reads doesn’t guarantee you the same again, and to try and prove that even those of us writers who you might think are complacent about reads or don’t care about stats, still agonise over them and doubt our own abilities just as much as anyone else.)

Rest assured, this is in no way a cry for sympathy. I don’t want that, because I know deep down that thinking in this way is complete and utter bullshit. I know it. And that’s not me blowing my own trumpet, or telling you I think I’m the dog’s danglies, because I don’t believe that either. What I am saying here is that to measure your worth as a writer by the number of reads you’re getting on Wattpad is, quite frankly, a one-way trip to Anxiety Central. Why, you might ask?

I’ll repeat what I said earlier: 65 MILLION USERS. 400 MILLION STORIES.

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Do you have any idea of the likelihood of becoming one of those lucky ones who has millions of reads and millions of followers? Or even hundreds of thousands?

Think logically about it. 65 million users across 400 million stories. Do the maths. Honestly, do it. It might make you feel a bit better.

If you’re not getting that level of reads, it does NOT mean that you’re not a good writer. It does NOT mean that the content you’re publishing is not bloody brilliant. It just means that the maths is counting against you. I know so many amazing writers who don’t get the reads I think they deserve. I know writers who didn’t get those level of reads on Wattpad, but who’ve gone on to have publishing deals, or who have self-published with great success. I’ve known writers who’ve moved to different monetising platforms and gained the traction they never had on Wattpad (disclaimer: I’m not endorsing those sites, but what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another and you gotta do what you gotta do, right?). The point is that the number of reads do not equal your self-worth as a writer nor do they validate your talent.

You want to know the key to writing on Wattpad? Start looking at realistic, personal goals and using the site to achieve those. Maybe your book doesn’t have many readers. Maybe you’re nurturing a small group of dedicated, loyal followers who’ll give you quality feedback. Maybe they’ll be the ones that help you become a better writer, offering advise and support. Maybe they’ll even become your friends – your community. This doesn’t have to be a community of thousands or even hundreds. It could be 5. It could be 20. It doesn’t matter. What matters is building your own community, while also improving your skills, and learning to be a better writer. Maybe you’re looking to try a new genre and want to test the waters? Maybe you have never posted your work online before and want to see if just one person will read it and love it? Start small. Nurture what comes out of that. HONE YOUR CRAFT (I can’t say that enough). Take care of your readers and they will take care of you. Keep those goals with you throughout your time on Wattpad. Remember what it was you set out to achieve and don’t lose sight of that.

Don’t be the writer I became. Don’t chase reads and then beat yourself up when you don’t get what you think you deserve. Don’t crave attention as validation of your art.

You are worth more than the number of your reads. 

 

 

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

Wattpad and The Art of Letting Go

This year marked my 6th year writing on Wattpad, and, it has to be said, it’s been quite a year.

Two of my works were added to the Featured List and saw a burst of reader reaction, one was made the Wattpad HQ Read of the Week and… finally, I somehow managed to win a Watty Award for my urban fantasy standalone, Hedoschism – a win, which was likened by one lovely and very funny reader, to Leonardo Di Caprio finally winning an Oscar 😉

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It’s been a fabulous 6 years, with Playing Dead (the first instalment of The Whitechapel Chronicles) reaching the coveted #1 in the vampire hot list, my short story The Fan getting Featured and hitting #1 in the short story and horror hot lists (back in the day when you could dual-categorise your works) and 3 Wattpad Star program commissioned short pieces for both the A&E TV network and Universal. While these are a drop in the ocean compared to what some Wattpad writers have achieved, to me, these were things I never dreamed I’d accomplish, particularly back in the day where the only place I ever published any of my work was on this very blog (affectionately known as the Tumbleweed Days.)

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However, while all these things are amazing, the best thing Wattpad has ever given me are my readers.

I joke-boast quite a lot on social media about how my readers are better than everyone else’s, but in truth, I do happen to think it takes someone quite special to be a reader of mine.

I’m not an easy writer to follow.

If you read my work on Wattpad, you would have needed a bucket load of patience to put up with my sporadic updates over the years, whether you joined me for The Whitechapel Chronicles – which was a 3 year labour of love, masochism and sobbing – or for my latest work, Hedoschism – which was meant to be my ‘easy-peasy’ standalone, that I was going to crack out in a few months, but ended up taking just over a year to complete.  The thing is, I GET IT. I do. Whether you’re buying a book from the store or downloading onto your Kindle, the chances are you’re not going to take a year to read it, so why wait a whole year for a book to be completed on Wattpad? I’m not even sure I do this, so why expect it from my readers?

The short of it is, I don’t, and I totally understand why I’ve lost readers along the way. I lost some during Whitechapel and I lost more during Hedoschism. I knew it was going to happen. I don’t have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to write as regularly as I’d like and sometimes it can be 3-4 weeks before I manage to upload another chapter, so readers are bound to get fed up waiting. Of course, there are many readers who do stick it out and they make sure they are there every time I update and I’m in total awe of their patience and endurance. They’re freaking superheroes to me. Also, it’s been lovely to see readers waiting for the book to be completed before diving in and then binge-reading until they’ve finished it – I’ll never get bored of seeing that rush of votes and comments and the warm, fuzzy feeing it generates to know you’ve captivated someone so much that they’ve given up a couple of their days to read all the way to the end.

And that, is really the crux of it all for me.

After six years, I still get a kick out of reader comments and a kick out of the interaction you can have with your readers on Wattpad. You upload a chapter and you get instantaneous feedback. After spending hours and hours slogging away at your writing, to be able to upload and get that appreciation and love, is immensely gratifying. It makes you feel like all the hard work was worth it. You might not be getting paid for it, as you would do if you had just made a sale on Amazon or in the bookstore, but for most Wattpad writers, it’s not about the money anyway. You’re on Wattpad to be part of a community, to hone your craft, and ultimately, to be able to engage with your readers in a way you can’t as a published writer. For a Wattpad writer, there’s nothing quite like watching the comments and votes and reads stack up against each chapter you upload. (Of course, this is a double-edged sword for those who aren’t getting the reaction they desire and can lead to a lot of disillusionment about their work as they seek validation through reader reaction, but I’ll leave that convo for another blog post.)  

Reader reaction is addictive and it’s what saw me posting Hedoschism when I was only a very short way through writing it, despite the fact, I SWORE after finishing the Whitechapel Chronicles that I wouldn’t post anything new until I was about 25-30 chapters in. Writing the third and last book of Whitechapel became a slog. The pressure of knowing I needed to update to keep my readers engaged meant that I struggled to write, and when I did, the quality took a nose dive or I would binge-write 5000 words in one day and then spend the next 2 weeks exhausted and sick of the sight of my own manuscript. In truth, writing online serialised fiction is not the healthiest way to write when you need to stick to a decent schedule. I found it harder and harder to dive back into my work each time I updated and it was much easier to lose interest and fall out of love with my story. Procrastination becomes a preferred past-time and I became a bit of an expert at it.

When I started Hedoschism, I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through that kind of writing experience again. I was going to wait. I was going to work offline and then upload only when I had a significant chunk completed, but then, the inevitable happened.

I went through a Wattpad-reader withdrawal.

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Comments and reaction on Whitechapel had started to dry up as readers completed the series and I was left with… well, not much happening, if I’m being honest. Suddenly, I craved the attention again. I wanted to know that I hadn’t disappeared into the void and become a Ghost of Wattpad Past. And, much like social media junkies, I feared becoming irrelevant. Invisible. I worried I’d be forgotten and that when I did finally decide to upload a new work, no one would even care anymore. So, what did I do? Well, I made the fatal mistake of uploading a few chapters and plunging myself right back into the mire of feeling the pressure to update, knowing I couldn’t keep up with any kind of schedule and generally feeling miserable again about my writing.

I love Wattpad. I do. I appreciate everything I’ve achieved there. I appreciate every opportunity HQ have given me. I appreciate every single reader who takes time out of their day to support me, whether they’re vocal or silent. But, the sad facts are, that I have to learn the art of letting go of the buzz of instantaneous reader reaction. I have to let go of my addiction to it. If I am to do anything with my writing, I have to devote time to it. I have to nurture it a bit more. If I am to continue on Wattpad, I have to upload stories in a way my readers deserve and that means regular updates and a more dedicated schedule. I want to be in a position where I can say, ‘here you go, here’s a chapter and there’ll be another tomorrow and then another the next day.’

And, so, I’ve decided – with a bit of a heavy heart – that I’m going to take a step back and write my next full-length piece completely offline. I have a queue of ideas I am desperate to start working on, including one that’s been on the back-burner for months now, plus a couple of genre-swap stories that I fancy trying my hand at. I’m not withdrawing from Wattpad – I could never go completely cold-turkey – as I’m still going to post a few bonus chapters and maybe some short stories here and there, but there won’t be another novel until it’s done and dusted offline and ready to post in its entirety.

I’m hoping – praying – that this will kick start an increase in productivity and will help me fall back in love with the writing process again. I know it’s not going to be easy. Like I said, my readers ARE the best (and this is the hill that I’ll die on) and Wattpad is an addiction I’ve had for 6 years, but I’m determined to be a better writer and provide better content.

If you’re one of my readers, I love you – thank you for an incredible 6 years so far!

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PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The Perfect Family by Shalini Boland

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‘Mummy, she’s gone…’

Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.

The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.

After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.

But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.

And she realises it’s only just beginning…

I always start reading Shalini’s books with a certain amount of apprehension, not because I think I won’t like it, because I know that within just a page or two, she’ll throw us into some horrible nightmare that’ll have me turning every page in anticipation.

The Perfect Family was no exception. I stayed up late to read as much as I could, then made myself late getting ready for work just so I could read another chapter and then I sat in the car outside the office just so I could finish it before I started work.

As always, I spent my whole time trying to work out which character was the villain of the story and was suspicious of practically everyone. Shalini has a knack of keeping the reader glued to every page, with situations that could be so real and I really do think it’s that which keeps you hooked – that sense of believable horror that these things could happen to you.

This was another fabulous page turner and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author. My only complaint is that I read it too quickly and didn’t want it to end!

A definite five out of five stars from me.

horror · REVIEW TIME

The Lingering by SJI Holliday

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This was another brilliant find from the fabulous Orenda Books who seem to have a skill of discovering astounding, talented writers. In fact, these days many of my Kindle buys tend to be from Orenda or Bookouture authors. 

The Lingering intrigued me from the start, the cover is eye-catchingly creepy and the blurb definitely had me hitting that One-Click button on Amazon (how dangerous is that damn button???).

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

At once an unnerving locked-room mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really enjoying seeing a bit of a revival on ghost stories recently. It seems writers had moved away from the good ol’ ghost tale over the years, and I don’t think I’d read many myself since the days of the David Ash series by James Herbert and I couldn’t help but always feel there was something quite sad about the fall of the Great Ghost Story.

Reading tales of things that go bump in the night was probably where many of us gained our first experience of horror stories as children, but at some point, we all became a little desensitised to horror and needed shock tactics to bring about the fear factor – think gory horror movies: Saw, Hostel, turning zombies from shuffling shop mannequins to scary AF monsters that could run at you like Usain Bolt on acid. However, with the Netflix production of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror The Haunting of Hill House, the concept of the ghost story and the horror it can hold has become desirable again. I feel as if I can’t go online or into a bookshop now without seeing more and more ghost stories on the screen and shelves. I’m sure there are those among you who will say the ghost story never went away, it was just overshadowed by vampires and werewolves and Walking Dead rip-offs, but for me, it’s been a pleasant and enjoyable discovery to see that the genre has risen from the dead (pardon the pun). 

Of course, The Lingering could have turned into one big walking spooky cliché. Yes, we can tick the box for ‘haunted house that was once a hospital where ever so slightly dodgy practices took place’ but that’s where the cliché can remain in its box, because Holliday took me back to what I loved most about ghost stories, while giving it a contemporary twist that kept me hooked. It was spooky, twisted, disturbing and definitely had the goosebumps rising on my skin a number of times as I wandered through the creepy confines of Rosalind House.

I must admit, at the start, I was a little thrown by the switching of POV’s between 1st person present tense and 3rd person present tense, but I am, alas a bit old school (I mean, I just said ‘alas’ which is sadly a dead giveaway, right?) and it took me longer than most to get my head around the contemporary trend of present tense fiction and the switching of POV’s. I read a lot on Wattpad where switching POV’s is a BIG thing and unfortunately, only a gifted few seem to get it right, so I’ve always been a bit sceptical, but, after a couple of chapters of this in The Lingering, I actually found myself really liking it – so much so, that I’m considering experimenting with it in my own writing.

Holliday’s use of POV method was a fantastic tool in aiding reader-character relation. It’s almost like reading subliminal messages within the text and once the story began to open up a bit more and I discovered, not everything was quite what it seemed at Rosalind House, that’s when I realised just how clever Holliday had been with her POV structure. The characters I thought I could trust, turned out to have their own agenda and the ones I was instantly suspicious of, were not necessarily the villains I expected them to be. The whole thing was very smartly constructed and helped ramp up the creep factor throughout.

A haunted house with a tale to tell, suspicious house guests and an addictive plot that kept me swiping the screen for the next page, this was a gripping read. Thoroughly enjoyable!

horror · REVIEW TIME

Review: The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

There’s nothing quite like receiving a £50 Amazon voucher. I mean, FREE BOOKS, right?

Gifted with the voucher and with money to burn, I headed to Amazon with no mission in mind, other than to find some great new reads that would captivate me and immediately, the first one I found was The Chalk Man, by C.J Tudor.

The cover itself is simple and striking, pitching a chalk-drawn hangman game against a stark black base, complete with fake chalk smudges, reminiscent of those games we used to play on pavements when we were kids, and I was instantly drawn to it.

At the time of buying, the Amazon posting was full of accolades from the national press, and since I bought it, it’s been updated with a fresh recommendation from the Horror Don himself, Stephen King, who said ‘If you like my stuff, you’ll like this.’ An exhilarating time for a debut author no doubt, and I read Tudor’s reaction to her hero King’s post on Twitter with a big smile on my face, in the same way I did when King also tweeted about Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.

Even without all this, I was already excited for this book from the blurb alone:

You can feel it in the woods, in the school and in the playground; you can feel it in the houses and at the fairground. You can feel it in most places in the small town of Anderbury . . . the fear that something or someone is watching you.

It began back in 1986, at the fair, on the day of the accident. That was when twelve-year-old Eddie met Mr Halloran – the Chalk Man.

He gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages for his friends and it was fun, until the chalk men led them to a body.

Thirty years later, Ed believes the past is far behind him, until an envelope slips through the letterbox. It contains a stick of chalk, and a drawing of a figure.

Is history going to repeat itself?

Was it ever really over?

Will this game only end in the same way?

With Storm Emma in full effect in the UK and a ton of snow outside my house, what better way to spend a Saturday than fusing myself to the sofa with The Chalk Man, a hot chocolate and an endless supply of biscuits?

The result? I devoured everything, but nothing devoured was more enjoyable than the book itself, which is saying something because hot chocolate and biscuits would usually win hands down in any contest 😉

It’s 1986, and Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Hoppo, Metal Mickey and Nicky don’t have much to worry about other than where to hang out at the weekends, having to commit the ultimate faux-pas by wearing a bum-bag or what ride to go on at the fair. When the fair does come to town, however, bringing with it a horrific accident for Eddie to witness, plus a meeting with the mysterious new school teacher, Mr Halloran, events are set in motion that will change all of their lives forever.

The action moves back and forth from events in 1986 to 2016, where Eddie is now a teacher himself with a life that seems mostly grey around the edges, that is until his old school friend Mickey turns up at his door, with a plan to dredge up the past and write a book about the horrors of that eventful year of their childhood.

Back in 1986, what began as an innocent game of leaving secret messages for each other written in chalk, with their own codes and symbols, supposedly decipherable only by members of their own gang, soon takes a sinister turn when the same chalk drawings start mysteriously appearing at the scenes of crimes, culminating in the discovery of a dead body.

Years later, when the chalk men start appearing again, we discover that the gang, all now grown up and moved on from the traumas of their past, haven’t really moved on at all and Eddie is about to be thrown headfirst into a new nightmare of secrets, dead bodies and chalk drawings that terrify him.

Expertly weaving the past and present together, Tudor gives us (older readers) a nostalgic trip back to the 80’s, in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of King and with a kind of Stranger Things UK-style vibe, then flips us right back to 2016 where Eddie is being haunted by things real and not-so-real.

Seemingly unconnected happenings and events are revealed to have a connection after all, and stories within the story that might seem like background noise when reading and a device to draw us in and make it feel more real, soon become pertinent to the whole plot in a way that I never saw coming.

In The Chalk Man, every action has a consequence, and I loved the way how even the smallest, perhaps most innocent of decisions, had far-reaching consquences that sent waves rocking through the lives of these characters and the people around them.

Eddie, on paper (pardon the pun), perhaps doesn’t seem the most exciting of characters. Having remained in the town in which he grew up, he now works as a teacher in the local high school, has never married or had children, and has a rather tragic (by his own admission) crush on his much-younger lodger, Chloe. He looks after his mum’s cat when she goes on holiday (a cat which detests him) and he likes a drink with his mates Fat Gav (now wheelchair-bound) and Hoppo. Nothing too exciting about all of that, right?  But, I have to say, this is what I like about a good thriller: throwing a very normal, veering-on-the-grey-side kind of person into a situation which is anything but normal. In my opinion this just adds to the creep factor, because let’s face it, Eddie could be you or me, or your neighbour, or your teacher, or the bloke who sits in the corner at the pub every Sunday afternoon reading the paper and having a pint and we live every new horror with him, as if it was us.

Reading from Eddie’s POV, we’re thrown into the chaos that starts to overtake his life, wondering who he should trust, whether he’s about to meet a sticky fate at the hands of the Chalk Man, or whether what he’s experiencing is the collapse of his own reality. We start to look at everyone with a strong element of suspicion, trying to predict what horror might be lurking around every corner, and the path in which Tudor leads us, isn’t the one we imagined we would be on.

It was pretty clear to me a few chapters in that I wasn’t going to put this book down until I was done. I devoured page after page, desperate to solve the mystery and constantly getting it wrong every time I thought I’d worked it out, but I LOVE that in a book. This is a cleverly-constructed thriller with the right amount of twists (without being overkill) that kept me glued to the sofa and to the book all day. The creep-factor is tangible throughout without ever being OTT, and there’s no doubt I will NEVER look at a children’s chalk drawing in quite the same way ever again!

Five stars for this engaging, dark page-turner! 

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