The Secret



This is the trailer for THE SECRET, a black and white short 'film noir' horror movie by Hydra-X Films. It's based on my short story of the same name, written in the 'Industrial Gothic' style that I coined way back when; with the ghosts of M.R. James, Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton looking over my shoulder.

Produced and directed by Andrew Leckonby, it co-stars myself and (Big) John Raine - fresh from a stint in Billy Zane's gambling movie FLUTTER and being shot in the back of the head by Tim Roth in a gangster movie filmed at Blyth. Actors Terry White and Will Haughan also feature. The movie had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012.

Taking the Plunge

There's a delicate balance in creating a 'suspension of disbelief' when writing a supernatural horror-thriller novel. To really establish any kind of believable supernatural threat, then it's vital to develop that threat against the background of completely 'real' situations, with real characters living real lives in the real world. Without that backdrop, it's impossible to seduce a reader into believing the threat when it eventually emerges. Research therefore becomes a vital component in creating that sense of reality, more so perhaps in supernatural fiction that in any other genre. That's why I've always taken the research elements of my novels so seriously. That commitment to research really got me into hot water (or I should say 'foul water') when I was researching my seventh novel - MACABRE.

A friend of mine, a marine biologist, asked me if I was working on anything at the moment. Normally, I'm reticent about discussing burgeoning ideas. But what the hell, we were both at a mutual friend's wedding reception, the booze was flowing and the atmosphere was great. So I told him that I was working on a new novel, but needed some research on what it must be like for police divers having to search for missing persons in canals. My pal was quick to bite. Next time we came to stay with him, he'd arrange for me to go on a controlled 'dive' at the local swimming pool - all decked out in the scuba gear. We'd both go in, and he'd put tape across my face mask. An experienced scuba diver himself, he'd met and discussed just such working methods with police officers before. It was literally a case of not being able to see more than three or four inches in front of your face, and having to do everything by touch. If I was game, I'd find out for myself just how claustrophobic it could be. Was I game? Hell, yes. There at the wedding reception, full of good whisky, I was certainly game for anything.

But when we arrived at his house a few weeks later, I was less than sure. Particularly when he met us at the front door with his left foot swathed in bandages. He'd sprained his foot playing football and couldn't go on the dive with me. Also, it was Sunday - and the local pool was closed. Ah well, maybe some other time ... But it didn't present a problem, apparently. He had made different arrangements. That latter statement was made with a certain twinkling of the eye. Now in the course of researching numerous short stories and novels, I've learned among other things how to drive a locomotive (GHOST TRAIN), and how to climb an elevator shaft (DARKFALL). It may be that such research seems to present the researcher in a macho mode and maybe what followed - just maybe - was a test to find out how tough these so-called horror writers are.

On Sunday afternoon, I was taken down to one of Stockport's canals and kitted out in a scuba suit. My wife stood by, watching anxiously, as I suffered my first claustrophobic attack just wearing the suit. The tanks on my back weighed a bloody ton, and I felt sure they'd send me straight to the bottom, full of oxygen or not. I don't know if you're acquainted with Stockport's canals. But the one I faced was composed of two thirds effluent and one third excrement. I stood there, looking at the 'water' like some rubber monster from an episode of Dr Who, sucking in air through the aqualung and sounding like Darth Vader. A guy out for a run along the canal side passed me with a great grin on his face, and with a thumb's up sign. We both knew that I looked like a complete dork.

With the rubber balaclava on, it was impossible to hear what my 'friend' was saying to me so earnestly. What he actually said was: "Now, just lower yourself over the edge of the canal, down into the water. Then stand up, get used to breathing through the aqualung - then slowly sit down in the water and let it come up over your head." But what I thought he said was : "Okay, off you go then!"

So, not wanting my cowardice to show, I did just that.

I plunged directly into the canal, sending everyone into shock.

He was right, you can only see three or four inches in front of your face at the bottom of a canal. But believe me ... believe me ... you don't want to know what's lying on the bottom of a canal. As I flurried underwater to the other side, I could feel myself hyperventilating. Not pleasant.

There were weeds up ahead. Weeds?! Growing in this water? As I floundered through them, they entangled in my legs, slowing me. Suddenly, I was upright, looking at the air bubbles bursting on the surface about a foot above my head. The weeds had slowed me, but now they had dragged me down and I was sinking. In a matter of seconds, I was knee deep in the sludge at the bottom of the canal. And now, as I raised one foot to pull myself out, the other seemed to sink deeper. This was it! A newspaper headline flashed before my eyes:

'IDIOT HORROR WRITER KEEN ON RESEARCH ENDS UP DROWNED IN SHIT.' "I KNEW IT WOULD END LIKE THIS," SAYS DISTRAUGHT WIDOW. "IF ONLY HE'D WRITTEN NICER BOOKS THIS WOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED."

Suddenly, I could feel something under one foot. God knows what it really was, but it felt like a chair without the seat/cushion in the middle. I braced my foot on it and shoved. Thank God, it propelled me out of the slime to the surface. After thrashing around trying to get my bearings, I headed back to the canal side. Floundering to the side in record time, I hung on the concrete lip, trying to calm my breathing.

Then, my wife said: "Oh God, your hand ..."

When I looked, my left hand was pumping blood from a cut across the palm. I'd obviously slashed it on whatever it was that had helped me to escape from the bottom. What a beautiful, glorious sight. Well, I wanted to carry on in the canal, didn't I? But ... you know, with that hand and everything, I'd just have to get out of the water, get it seen to straight away. Oh dear, what a shame.

I'd been in the water for about eight minutes.

Ever had injections for Weill's disease? It's a nasty infection, potentially fatal, caused by rat's urine. Naturally, canal water is full of it. Tell you what - I'd rather have a hundred injections for that than go back into a canal again.

So there you have it. Macho horror writer reduced to quivering wreck. Now why is it that whenever I tell this story at conventions, people just fall about laughing?


And here's the evidence. Recently rediscovered photo of the author prior to 'The Plunge'. Zoom in close to the face-mask. Blurry though that is, you may see real terror. If there'd been a photo of me climbing out of the canal at the end of the 'research', you might see something - despite the injury - like real 'relief'.

Stephen Laws talks to Sandy Auden

A combined interview taken from 'Trauma' magazine and from the Horror Writers Association bulletin, courtesy of Nicki Robson.

What's your background, Stephen?

I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1952, where I still live with my wife Melanie and our two children, Eve and Jonathan (I have an older daughter - Ellen - by my first wife) After twenty years working in local government as a committee administrator, I became a full-time novelist in 1992. Notwithstanding my local government career, I've been a number of other things in my time: a parachutist with a fear of heights, an accounts clerk who can't add up, a skin diver with claustrophobia and asthma, an actor with stage fright, a pianist with a slightly wobbly left hand whose compositions have been given the full symphonic treatment on pre-Civil War Yugoslav television and a pseudononymous cartoonist in a national magazine whose identity, if known, could lead to charges of libel.

What started you on your career as a writer?

I began to write at a very early age, probably about seven or eight years old. I suffered very badly with asthma and spent most of the winter months in bed. So I suppose I 'escaped' by reading and writing stories a great deal, when most of my peers were out on the football pitch. The urge to create stories never left me after that, and I kept on scribbling on various bits and pieces over the years. But I began to take it more seriously in the late seventies, when I attempted to write for radio and television. After a major disappointment with the BBC, when one of my plays was not produced on 'grounds of cost' (i.e. the outside location work was too expensive), I decided to concentrate instead on something close to my heart: supernatural horror thrillers. My first short stories in the genre in the early 1980s won a number of awards, leading me to attempt my first novel - GHOST TRAIN - which was published in 1985 .

But in terms of what 'started' me as a creator of 'horror' stories,I believe this goes back to my father. When I was very young, he used to give me detailed re-tellings of the horror movies he'd seen at the local cinema on the previous night, and the scary television shows that I was too young to stay up and watch. He was a superb storyteller, and really got me hooked. Later, at school, I used to sneak in to the cinemas underage to see the latest Hammer films, for example, and then end up telling the stories of the movies in just the same way in the schoolyard. Pretty soon, I'd have a crowd of twenty or thirty kids listening to me telling the horror-movie story. Sometimes, the bell would ring for us to go back in for classes, and no one would notice! I think that's when I was bitten by the story-telling bug. That special 'buzz' of being able to hold a crowd enthralled with a story was really inspiring. Sometimes, if the movie was a real let-down or hadn't been scary at all, I'd 'jazz it up' a little with embellishments of my own. So, if not for my father - maybe I would be doing something very different today. I've had a great love for the genre since I was about seven or eight years old. Peter Cushing remains my Number One hero - and it was very special to me when he got in touch, following a dedication to him in my second novel SPECTRE. We corresponded regularly after that, but unfortunately never met up face-to-face before his sad passing.

Your work has a very 'cinematic' quality. Bearing in mind what you've just said, were you heavily influenced in your writing by the horror movies you saw when you were younger?

Absolutely. My second novel, SPECTRE, was set in and around a real-life fleapit cinema that I used to frequent: The Imperial, on Byker Bank in Newcastle. The novel contains a number of homages to the movies which influenced me, and was written in a very 'linear' way; in other words, written very much in the way that you'd expect a movie to unfold (together with various 'flashback' techniques).

For instance ... I saw two movies when I was a kid that put me off ventriloquist's dolls for life. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) and DEVIL DOLL (1964). Both featured dummies that could move around on their own, and had unpleasant anti-social habits. I decided to take it a step further in SPECTRE, by trying to create an even scarier, more dangerous doll. I was subsequently delighted when the French edition of the novel (La Nuit des Spectres - Night of the Spectres) featured that doll prominently on the cover. (See SPECTRE section of the website for cover reproduction). However - this is important - books aren't films, and vice versa.  So whereas it's true to say that the horror movies I saw as a youngster certainly influenced me, I'm not writing 'movie-books'. Celluloid isn't literature. Celluloid puts pictures into your head. Literature puts words and ideas into your head - and you create your own pictures from that, which is much more potent.

Having given a 'tip of the hat' in SPECTRE to the horror movies I loved, I took this a great deal further with my novel, DAEMONIC which is a supernatural/horror/thriller fantasy set very much in the world of the B-Movie horror film. I had a great deal of fun creating a monstrous villain who's a cross between Citizen Kane, Howard Hughes and Roger Corman. Without giving too much of the plot away, this character - Jack Draegerman - is a fabulously rich recluse who once made a series of infamous horror movies back in the Seventies. He invites a number of people to the huge Gothic tower which he inhabits in the middle of the city. Once there, they're trapped inside and hunted by Draegerman's own B-Movie monsters come to life. You'll have to read the book to understand the whys and the wherefores, but I had the chance there to draw on the whole horror movie genre and drop a few in-jokes on the way. One of the dedications in the novel is to Roger Corman, and it gave me great pleasure to let him have a copy of the book when I interviewed him at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films.

Is it true that you nearly drowned while researching MACABRE?

Yes, that's true. I'm committed to researching my projects thoroughly - but almost drowning in a Stockport Canal made me wonder if I should spend more time just looking stuff up in the library or going on the internet (See Articles). For the record, I've also nearly blown my head off with a Browning Automatic .38 researching firearms, been behind the wheel of a runaway bulldozer for DAEMONIC, dangled eight-storeys high on an elevator shaft maintenance inspection for DARKFALL and personally assisted in the destruction of Killingworth town centre for CHASM.

What 'fires' you to work in the horror genre?

My over-riding passion in the horror genre is 'ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances'. I like writing about 'ordinary' people who suddenly turn a corner in their lives and - wham! - find themselves in the Twilight Zone. And it's a genre where you can have fun breaking the rules. For instance, in THE WYRM, I wanted to create a completely new monster that has its own modus operandi. Something that had never been seen before. Here in the North East of England, we have a very specific legend about the 'Lambton Worm', which isn't a 'worm' or serpent n the usual sense, but more dragon-like. I hijacked the legend, and used it to create that new monster. In Olde English, 'wyrm' means 'evil spirit' - nothing to do with serpents or snakes, at all. As to GIDEON, I'd always wanted to write a vampire novel. But I also wanted to experiment with it. In the process, I took everything that we know or have read about vampires - and threw it out. So, in my novel, Gideon can't be stopped with a stake through the heart, he doesn't fear the cross, or daylight, or garlic, or running water. He can't transform into an animal, he can't fly, he doesn't have pointed teeth - and he doesn't drink blood. How's that for a new vampire? I'm pleased to say that my new 'take' on the legend must have had something, because it won the 'Children of the Night Award' (and a rather neat little Bela Lugosi figurine) from the Count Dracula Society of England.

If you'll pardon the cliche, where do you get your ideas from?

This is always the most difficult question to answer. For me, story creation is a little like making wine. One idea may hit me, and I put it into this 'belljar' in the back of my mind, then later something else strikes me as unusual, and that goes into the jar as well - apparently unrelated. Then something else, and something else - all unrelated but fascinating 'What if?' ideas. After a few months, I give the jar a shake and see what's fermenting. More often than not, I begin to see that all of these ideas are related after all, and that they've coalesced to form the beginnings of a story. So there's never just one idea for a story, it's usually an inter-related series of ideas that spin around in the back of my mind.

Are your characters based on real people?

Yes and no. I guess that any writer stays 'sensitive' to the people he or she  encounters, and that fictional speculation on character types (and interaction) all goes into the creative mix. It all feeds speculation on your own emotions as you might apply them to fictional situations. However, I never do what HG Wells did. He most definitely based his characters on real and identifiable people, and caused terrible trauma for everyone involved.

Which subjects do you find difficulty in writing? Why? How do you cope with them?


Sexual abuse of children. Why? Well, because I come from a strong family background and I have children of my own. The whole issue fills me with loathing, dread and horror. But as a writer, you'd be a coward to shy away from anything that is a legitimate literary and dramatic issue. It featured in my novel GHOST TRAIN, and is one of the central themes of SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT - where one of the characters, Mercy, goes on a quest for vengeance against her abuser. How do I cope with it? Well, if it's an issue that is central to the drama, the character interaction, and the essential point I'm trying to make - the honesty of purpose sees me through. In MIDNIGHT I was not only trying to harness my personal sense of outrage, but also the readers' - through the prism of Mercy's experience. I had a story published in CEMETERY DANCE a while back (entitled 'Outrage') which deals with rape, its consequences and the poison it spreads. It was turned down originally by a major genre editor for being too horrible, and I can understand why. It was intended to be hard-hitting on a number of levels, and whereas I expected it to be misunderstood and reviled when it appeared, it wasn't.

Is there any area of your writing, if you could go back and change, you would?

Only the product placement aspects of my early work. References to then popular rock bands, household brands and popular dance-styles, aLl of which now date novels I wanted to be un-datable (is that a word?). Back when my first novel was published, I wanted to ground my supernatural/horror/thriller style in reality - with Richard Matheson, Stephen King and Peter Straub as my gurus. It worked very well at the time - but God, I hated that break-dancing reference in SPECTRE. So when it was republished by Telos, I had the opportunity not only to reinstate text that had been excised (and the reasons for that are detailed in the introduction to the new edition) but to take it out those dated references altogether!

What type of music are you currently into?

My musical tastes are eclectic: although I adore Sixties pop (Beatles etc). But my passions are with the film music of Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Basil Poledouris, Elmer Bernstein … and many others. The marriage of drama, celluloid, emotion and the heartbeat of music that can often emotionally transcend the medium for which it was created. Quite simply, wonderful - and inspiring.
Your favourite books, and films?

The list could go on and on. I take it we're still talking about horror? (There is so much other stuff non-horror related that I love). If so, then I'd cite Richard Matheson's novel 'I Am Legend' as being one of my favourites. King's 'Salem's Lot'. The ghost stories of M.R. James, Peter Straub's 'Ghost Story' was a huge influence on me. Films - 'The Haunting'(The Robert Wise 1963 original, that is), 'Night of the Demon', 'Them!', Hammer's 'Dracula'. Believe me, my list could go on and on.

Does anything frighten you in the genre?

I find myself less and less horrified by books and movies as time goes by. Maybe I'm getting used to it all! Being a novelist, you become aware of the creative' tricks of the trade' as you're reading a book or watching a movie, so it takes something really special to take you by surprise. I tend to find myself more 'impressed' by the story telling technique of a good horror novel or movie these days than 'horrified'.

Why have you stayed in the horror genre?

Because the genre is so wide. Just as westerns are not just about 'Cowboys and Indians', the horror genre is not just about blood and guts and gore - or at least, in my view, it shouldn't be just about that. There's such a wide range of stories that can be told in the 'horror' spectrum. I love it, because it's dangerous fiction; it presents situations which are not only dangerous physically and literally, but also psychologically, intellectually and even spiritually. Within that range you can tell stories of alienation, confrontation, subversion or even tales of redemption, bravery and rebirth. As it deals with the things of which we're most afraid, then the genre is wide open. I've always been attracted to the horror field, strangely enough, because of the amazingly 'positive' charge that it can give, when ordinary people face up to the most terrible situations. Above all, of course, the horror genre is - dangerous! And people like to play with fire sometimes. The difference in reading a horror novel is that you may well be terrified out of your wits, but your fingers won't literally be burned. For the time that you're turning the pages, you're in dangerous territory.



Oil painting by Eve Laws - using an old, black and white, forgotten photograph found in a charity shop (circa early 1940's). Subject and photographer unknown, but inspired by the image, Eve has combined the found realism of that photograph with her own surrealism. I should point out that there is no Photoshop here - Eve worked purely from a small 3 x 4 photograph, using oils straight to a full size canvas.

Ferocity

Something is stalking the Northumberland moors, slaughtering sheep and other livestock. There have been sightings of a big cat, a huge, feral creature that has so far managed to elude capture. Some of the locals are terrified, while others scoff that it’s only a legend. Still, the killings continue.

Cath Lane is a young novelist and mother, eager to explore her new home in rural Northumberland. To her the legendary beast of the moors is excellent fodder for a new novel. How could she know as she begins her research that the beast is no mere myth?

How could she foresee the terror that waits for her, crouching in the dark…?

HORROR READER Ferocity draws on horror's history. I was particularly reminded of the style and worlds of Cornell Woolrich. Both Woolrich and Laws share engaging writing styles; incorporating the worlds of crime and horror. Stephen Laws' prose generates suspense with exquisite simplicity.

CREATURE CORNER This is a wonderfully involving and truly frightening tale that brought to mind the ancient Grendel story that so thrilled me as a child. Mr Laws is a masterful writer of great intensity and immediacy, drawing the reader into the narrative from the opening scene to the last. Beautifully conceived and beautifully wrought, this is scare fare of the highest order - perfect for a cold winter's night.

JOE KROEGER Stephen Laws breaks the traditional horror mould with his new novel Ferocity. Flawlessly blending the rich atmosphere of a finely crafted horror story with the action packed ride of a well thought out thriller, Ferocity is a novel that grabs a hold of your every last nerve until well after the final page is read. A novel that takes off like a shot and does not let up until the final pages. Laws' writing is tight and rich with atmosphere making this a pleasurable reading experience as your nerves go into overdrive. His prose switches effortlessly from the quiet horror sequences to the all out action giving the reader a smooth ride through the nerve-wracking story. With the fusion of horror and suspense, this novel is sure to satisfy any lover of a great thriller as well as the most discerning horror fan. I highly recommend getting your hands on Ferocity by Stephen Laws to experience a fresh outlook on the classic horror novel.

The Ferocity of Beast and Man by Stephen Laws

Although the idea that Big Cats are prowling the forests and mountains of America isn’t such a ‘big story’, since puma and mountain lion are an indigenous species to many regions of the States – the idea that they, or something like them, may be prowling the English countryside is a recurring ‘big story’ in the UK – because there are no indigenous Big Cats, and they’re just not supposed to be there.

And yet, newspaper reports have appeared regularly here over the years of a decidedly un-English species; which occasionally appears from nowhere to take livestock from local farms – and also scares the hell out of fell-walking tourists.

The most famous mystery-cat of all, which makes regular appearances not only in the English local press but also nationally – is The Beast of Bodmin. This predatory Big Cat (or Cats) - which some say is a puma, others a ‘black leopard’ to use the proper term – is claimed to regularly savage livestock in and around Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Of course, there’s an ongoing argument about whether or not there is such an animal, or whether – like the infamous crop circle phenomenon – some mischievous locals are involved in a deliberate hoax. But although the Beast of Bodmin gets the (ahem) lion’s share of press coverage when it appears out of nowhere, takes a sheep, scares the tourists or takes a bite out of a farmer – there are many other instances of other such appearances and reports all over England. (‘The Puma of Durham’ for instance – not far from where I live in the North East of England. Of which, more later). Of course, really hard and definitive evidence hasn’t been forthcoming over the years and one of the big questions that remain unanswered is – why haven’t these ‘reports’ and rumours been confirmed or dispelled? Could it be that these animals – if they exist – have some kind of power of camouflage that keeps them one step ahead of the humans who have hunted them?

I guess I’d always wanted to write something that would feature one or more of these mysterious English Big Cats – and that desire was further fueled by a visit to Hound Tor on Dartmoor. The ‘Tor’ is a crag of rock on the bleak, mysterious and beautiful moorland that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. However, I didn’t want Ferocity to just be a Big Cat of the Baskervilles. I’d intended to write a novel that was part-thriller, part-character study, part crime-novel and answering all the ‘What ifs?’ that had occurred to me in the process of outlining the novel – and with the Big Cat phenomena interwoven through the fabric of the story literally, metaphorically and, of course, physically.

Physically? Well – that was the first research aspect that had to be addressed. If I wanted a core of reality to the novel, I had to find out for myself if there really was something to the Big Cat phenomena. If I wanted to create an edge-of-the seat, hard-edged ‘crime thriller’ with just such an animal posing an added threat to an already dangerous and desperate fictional situation, it seemed like a good idea to go down there in person and see if there was anything in these ‘true stories’.

Which is how I found myself on a southbound train, heading for Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. On the following day, I had a meeting at Newquay Zoo with the then Managing Director, Mike Thomas - an acknowledged expert on the Beast of Bodmin Moor. He showed me a great deal of evidence to support the case for a pride of Big Cats (probably pumas, panthers or ‘black leopards’) living wild down there. There have been interesting disagreements with the Ministry of Agriculture over the years – and there’s a view held by some that there’s an official refusal to acknowledge the existence of Big Cats in the wild, because if they were acknowledged, the government would have to cough up compensation to farmers for livestock that has been killed over the years.

While I was chatting to Mike, he took a telephone call to say that a horse on a farm in a village called Troon had been attacked by something - would he investigate? Mike looked at me, raised his eyebrows in enquiry– and suddenly, I was part of the official investigation. I was Land-rovered up to the remote hamlet with zoo worker Les Bishop, another expert.

The farmer showed us the horse, which had some pretty convincing slashes on either side of its neck. Four straight horizontal gashes (which the vet couldn't explain, although he dismissed barbed-wire and sadistic kids playing pranks). Also, the horse's coverlet was slashed, and its back legs clawed. The frantic animal had jumped the fence and galloped two miles before being caught again.

Surprise, surprise. There was a television camera crew waiting up there for us. They'd got wind of the fact that a novelist was on a research trip - which presumably made it more newsworthy for them. So, they interviewed me, while an icy wind nearly froze everyone to the spot. After they’d interviewed the farmer, another guy I’d never seen up until that moment suddenly emerged. I guess the phrase ‘local character’ might apply. He said that he'd seen the 'Beast' two years ago. He had lived in the same remote farmhouse without electricity or gas for over forty years.

Suddenly, Les gave a yell and pointed out some tracks he'd found in the field - bloody great prints which looked like ... well, like a big cat. He took a plaster of paris cast for analysis, and we headed back to the zoo - the local television people telling us that they might or might not use it on the six o'clock news, depending on the print findings.

Les and Mike found that it compared to a large panther print they'd taken at the zoo, but there was a human boot mark on the upper edge - which meant they couldn't give a complete confirmation.

So, after another lengthy 'research' meeting, I thanked them all and was driven back to the pub at St Austel where I was staying. At six o'clock, I sat with my pint of beer at the bar, underneath the television; thinking that if anything came at all it would be a one-minute job shoved in at the last moment after the real news of the day. But it must have been a slow news day in Cornwall that day because, as the news fanfare music began, the headline was announced: "Big Cat Hunter Novelist from The North has Close Encounter with the Beast of Bodmin!" And there I was - on a remote hillside, freezing to death and adding my own views to the legend of whatever it is that prowls Bodmin Moor.

Just days after the journey back and - closer to home - I’d arranged another trip to the Derwent valley to meet up with police Sergeant Eddie Bell, who's also an acknowledged expert on the Durham Puma - another Big Cat or Cats, which are supposed to be roaming the wilds of the North of England.

Eddie has an animal sanctuary in Whittonstall. Lynxes, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, eagles - you name it – and he pretty much corroborated everything I'd learned from the Newquay people.

So – although I didn’t actually see a Big Cat on my trip to Bodmin Moor, and there was no human blood spilled during that research trip (although a horse in the village of Troon shed more than a little), I saw enough evidence to support the fact that they’re there (and elsewhere in the British Isles), and heard a pretty convincing theory which suggests that … well, that the possibility of such animals living wild in England isn’t as far-fetched as some would have you believe.

That theory is outlined in the novel.

I said that no human blood was spilled during my research trips for Ferocity.

That’s not quite true.

While I was visiting Sergeant Eddie Bell and his animal sanctuary in Whittonstall, I’d only just stepped through his front door – when something small and hairy jumped onto my shoulder and scampered around my neck. He said: "Don't move! It bites!"

So I bloody well didn't move. I was convinced it was a tarantula. He leaned across, and grabbed whatever was there.

It was a marmoset.

Sweet little thing.

But he was right.

It took a chunk out of his finger before I left.

So – a small spilling of human blood during that visit, then.

But in Ferocity, the novel – I suppose I should point out that there is a great deal more spilling of blood, both animal and human. There is also a great deal of fear, and terror – and death.

And face to face encounters, not only with something out there that shouldn’t by rights exist – but also with the bestial and ‘animal’ violence that lies so close to the heart of humankind.

When it comes to actual ferocity, it's the old, old story - which is the worse: Beast – or Man?

Chasm

An ordinary town full of ordinary citizens going about their everyday business.

Then the earth tremor hits. Glass shatters, concrete crumbles, buildings fracture and collapse as everything disappears beneath choking clouds of dust.

The few shell-shocked survivors emerge to be met with a terrifying, impossible sight. Most of Edmonville has disappeared into an enormous crevasse; the semi-demolished buildings which remain are perched or a series of peaks, crags and pillars of stone - many of them separated from each other by hundreds of feet, and a perilous, bottomless gulf below.

Without electricity, heating or water, the few remaining citizens of Edmonville wait for rescue - which doesn't come. As starvation threatens, the best and the worst of human nature come to the fore in the struggle for survival. Their only hope lies in their being able to make contact with one another.

Then, one by one, people start to disappear without trace ...

What exactly has happened to Edmonville? And who - or what - lurks in the hideous Chasm below? The macabre imaginative genius of Stephen Laws is at its best in this phenomenal tale of an ordinary town caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

DAILY MAIL An awe-inspiring study in desperation and the supernatural, with excitement lasting without respite to the final page.

SFX MAGAZINE: Laws tells an imaginative story with verve ... and lashings of suspense and gore. Thumping good entertainment.

STARBURST: CHASM is author Stephen Laws 10th novel, and to mark the occasion he has delivered his most powerful, most commercial and most engaging work to date, and has securely cemented his reputation as the most exciting British Horror author working today. I have not been as thrilled and as moved by a book for a great many years. I missed stops on the train because I was reading it. I found it hard to put down and, once I had, I only wanted to pick it up again. Laws has created a nightmare scenario and peopled it with a rag-tag bunch of survivors who must overcome all odds to protect their own. An earthquake unexpectedly hits the small town of Edmonville. The ground shakes and shudders, buildings collapse and great gaping cracks open in the earth. Plumes of dust and debris surround the town and, in the aftermath, the survivors emerge to see what remains. Shockingly, the rest of the world seems to have vanished and selected remains of Edmonville are lying, scattered, across numerous pillars of rock and stone, between which is an apparently bottomless, inky black chasm. The sky and the horizon is simply a grey unearthly blank. The survivors marshal their resources and wait for help to arrive, but help is not coming, as Edmonville no longer exists in the real world. It has been pulled through the fabric of reality and now resides in the domain of The Vorla, an intelligence that manifests itself as a fluid and mobile tar-like substance. The Vorla manipulates the dead bodies of Edmonville's residents and uses them as weapons against the survivors. It is intent on feeding off their terror and confusion and attacks when they least expect. What The Vorla is, where Edmonville now resides, and the struggle by the likeable group of survivors to simply make it through each day unscathed is the tale told in CHASM. It is also about human nature, love and survival. It is about man's inhumanity to man, terror and despair. It is without doubt the best Horror novel I have read for ages. Laws manages to engage the reader on an emotional level, which both exhilarates and derails. As each horror befalls our group of survivors, so the novel gathers momentum until the events take a turn for the worse - if that were possible. The stakes are raised not only in the battle against the wily Vorla, but also against another group of survivors, ones who view human life as being totally expendable...

CHASM is a huge, rolling, blockbuster of a novel. It would make an incredible film or television mini-series, and deserves to be snapped up for this purpose immediately. It is far more than just another Horror novel. It is a story of power and impact, which resonates with human emotion and spirit. This is seriously good stuff. If you want to read one of the best and most entertaining novels of the year, then seek out CHASM. You won't be disappointed. (Starburst magazine rating 10/10).

SHIVERS: If you only read one horror novel this year, then make it CHASM by Stephen Laws. From his very first novel, GHOST TRAIN, Laws has always delivered the goods, and with this, his tenth, he delivers them in spades.

The small town of Edmonville is hit by an earthquake which destroys property and kills many of the residents. When the shock waves subside, the survivors emerge into a grey and bleak world. Edmonville no longer exists in reality and has been dragged through into a parallel dimension. The remains of the town are perched atop craggy spires of rock, and between the crags is a vast and apparently bottomless chasm.

The survivors form a bond and try to make sense of what has happened. Then the dead come back to life and attack the living. This is the work of The Vorla, a formless and deadly entity which lives in the chasm. It feeds on the terror and despair of the humans and will stop at nothing to generate it. It is wily and manipulative and is determined to wring every last emotion from the survivors.

Laws uses this scenario to explore human relationships and to try and understand how people can come through under immense pressure. His characters are likable, and as they try to come to terms with the horror that has befallen them - and that help is not going to arrive - so too does the reader. The book pummels along to one climax after another, and just when you think that there are no more twists to be revealed, Laws pulls off a cracker and pits our heroes against not just The Vorla, but against another group of humans, who have embraced The Vorla and its ways. It makes for a nerve shredding climax.

CHASM is easily one of the best Horror novels I have read recently. Have a look for yourself and see why Stephen Laws is one of the most exciting and original writers currently working in the field.

BRADFORD TELEGRAPH & ARGUS: One of the most descriptive and terrifying books I have read, this is pure horror. It starts with two earthquakes, after which there is darkness. A whole town has disappeared into a bottomless ravine. The few survivors realize that they are cut off from the rest of the town, and then the horrors begin. Something is making the dead walk and there is no way out. What is it that comes out of the chasm? In a frightening and totally believable tale, this author makes true evil come to life.

EVENING MAIL: The author's best outing yet. A law unto himself.


SHROPSHIRE STAR: Newcastle-upon-Tyne author Stephen Laws has created a truly terrifying future in this epic horror novel.

NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE:   A master of horror. Definitely not for the squeamish. If you like your novels scary but believable, you will love this one.

The Crystal Queen has a little chat with Stephen Laws about Chasm...

Stephen Laws takes the research aspects of his work very seriously, believing that to produce a really effective supernatural horror-thriller, the down-to-earth everyday aspects of a novel should be rock solid to give the supernatural "intrusion" greater effect. In the past, this research has led him into some interesting situations; climbing an elevator shaft on a maintenance inspection for Darkfall, scuba-diving (and nearly drowning) in a Stockport canal for Macabre, behind the wheel of a runaway bulldozer for Daemonic. For Chasm, in which an English town is devastated by an earthquake, Steve was actually allowed to participate in the destruction of a town centre! The demolition experts Bradley Hall and Scotdem were only too pleased to give Steve as much information as he needed, even bringing him in for the actual demolition work itself.

"Chasm is my tenth novel," says Steve. "As such, I wanted it to be my 'block-buster'. It's actually been about two years in creation, and has given me a chance to pull all the stops out, with guest appearances by The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse; The Cherubim (nasty little naked angels with sharp teeth who hunt in packs and can tear you to pieces in seconds); an army of the living dead; a feral tribe of homicidal, cannibalistic survivors bent on the destruction of anyone over the age of sixteen, and The Vorla: a living, crawling black sea composed of everything evil that mankind has ever experienced. And to add to the fun, I even got to blow up a shopping centre in person!... all for research purposes and all in the name of art!"

Somewhere South of Midnight

The place where terror and insanity lie in wait for the unwary traveller. The place on a long dark road, where our reality ends and the unknown beckons. Where our world ceases, and the Darkness begins. Where some can find the answers to their darkest questions. Where others find their worse nightmares come true.

One fateful, hot summer's evening it's a place on a motorway, miles from anywhere. Just after midnight, something collides head-on with the southbound traffic, creating a scene of the most terrible carnage, leaving eighty-seven people dead in the burning, twisted wreckage. And only seven survivors. Survivors who emerge unscathed from the catastrophe, but have somehow changed.

For Harry Stark, mourning the loss of his family, even suicide cannot end his torment. There is no release in death from his pain, only a new and hideous ability to kill with a simple touch. The other survivors have inherited different powers. A long-distance lorry driver suddenly has the power to heal by the laying on of hands; an unscrupulous business man can now eliminate anyone who stands in his way; a woman is able to wreak revenge on the man who abused her as a child; while another can now escape from her brutal husband; and an artist finds he possesses the hideous power to drive men mad. Meanwhile, the Seventh Survivor is caught between two worlds, an agonised monstrosity stalking the night.

As Harry seeks to end the horror, it soon becomes apparent that his quest will ultimately take him back to the place where the nightmare began. A place Somewhere South of Midnight.

THE TIMES One of the most inventive young writers on the British horror scene

STEPHEN GALLAGHER At the forefront of his field, Stephen Laws shows us horror's most valuable function - the use of great darkness to point up and define, in spectacular fashion, that which is truly humane

EVENING CHRONICLE Home grown writing talent Stephen Laws has done it again with his latest in the nasty and decidedly unfriendly nightmare world of horror, where if the meek are going to inherit the earth they'd better get on with it or something nasty will get there first. Laws, who gave up work as a local government officer for full-time writing several years ago, has added yet another richly-embroidered and superbly crafted novel to his output. Although Laws occasionally strays from his native North East for his backdrops he invariably returns home eventually, and Somewhere South of Midnight is set on the doorstep.

Laws has been called one of the most inventive young writers on the British horror scene, and he certainly qualifies for the description with this tale of searing heat and untimely death.

STARBURST The ninth novel from the blood-soaked pen of Stephen Laws and continues the tradition of superb Horror fiction that we have come to expect from him. This time, however, the novel is constructed on a broader canvas and is perhaps more mainstream than his previous work …. 'Somewhere South of Midnight' is an entertaining and gripping tale of ordinary human beings caught up in something they don't understand. That they do ultimately make sense of it, and that the explanations make sense to the reader is an accomplishment in itself. As seems to be normal with a Laws novel, the ending brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. There's not many authors who can do that, and I heartily applaud any that can. This is a brave and complex work from an author who consistently delivers the goods.

DRIFFIELD POST You will place Stephen Laws in the first division of doom merchants after reading this yarn.

I'm delighted to announce that SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT is now available as an ebook from Samhain.

Daemonic


Mr Draegerman requests the pleasure of your company. If you come with us, this fifty thousand is yours. You get another two hundred thousand when you get there.

Jack Draegerman loves deals.

He made his first fortune in the fields of architecture, engineering and design, with a reputation not only as a ruthless business man but also as an infamous director of some of the most extreme horror movies ever made.

No one has seen Jack Draegerman for ten years. He lives in a huge fortress he designed and built himself. Known as The Rock, its interior is a crazy structure of labyrinthine, descending corridors. With no way out.

But now, a band of uniformed henchmen is approaching a selection of unconnected people on Draegerman's behalf. he wants them to visit him, and he's prepared to pay for the privilege.

Because Jack Draegerman has made contact with a Daemonic force. A Daemonic force who also loves a deal.

SHIVERS Laws is a master craftsman and this novel takes him into new and uncharted territory. The prose and description is superb. Daemonic is a hugely satisfying and entertaining read. the characters are an interesting and resourceful bunch, and the daemonic forces out to get them are suitably horrific and nasty. The triumph, however, is The Rock. This monstrous edifice is a masterful creation, a towering temple of evil and hate that swallows its victims alive. I dare you to venture in alone.

SAMHAIN  In his previous seven novels North-Eastern author Laws has proved more than adept at mapping out the horrors of the city (or in his first novel 'Ghost Train', the inter- city railway line between London and home town Newcastle). Streets are dangerous, buildings can be possessed, vagrants may be hosts for the demons of Hell, and a terminally seductive vampire could lurk anywhere from the local library to the car park. In 'Daemonic' Laws fuses his taste for modern urban Gothic with a personal passion for the cheesier sub-categories of fantastic films ('She Wasp', 'Swamp Water Woman', invented titles so wonderful that I'm amazed Jonathon Ross hasn't rediscovered them) and effectively erects a fortress of manufactured horrors amidst the more mundane atrocities of inner-city life. This is The Rock, home of reclusive millionaire Jack Draegerman ( a heady fusion of Howard Hughes and Roger Corman). More than a home, though, this enclosed, forbidding edifice is an externalisation of Dragerman's murky imagination, where heavily-armed henchmen aren't the worst thing that the unwitting visitor has to contend with. Cheerless corridors, variously slimy, cobwebby and video-enhanced, lead to reconstructed film sets - complete with in-house monsters given a little cinematic buzz by the powers of daemonic possession. So it's little wonder that the seven people graciously invited into The Rock are more than a little anxious to get out while they still can.

This is a direct, punchy and action-packed horror fuelled, I'm sure, by an authorial youth happily misspent in the flea-pit cinemas of Tyneside. Fans of the genre will enjoy picking up the movie references, (including a cod quote from a British critic/author not entirely unrecognisable to afficionados), while anyone at all who enjoys a thumping good chase through a murky architectural nightmare with murderous security guards and/or pit-bull daemonic entities in hot pursuit is guaranteed an enthralling read.

Macabre

MACABRE is a terrifying blend of modern urban paranoia, nightmarish visions, and supernatural dark fantasy, where the contemporary issue of homelessness and missing persons takes on a new and altogether more chilling dimension.

More people die at four in the morning than at any other time.

It's 3.30 am. It's starting to rain. And cabbie Tony Dandridge is cruising the dark streets of the big city. Is it his imagination, or do there seem to be more lost souls wandering the alleys and sleeping rough these days? Suddenly he catches a figure in his headlights. A desperate young woman and her baby, flagging him down. Tony's about to pick up the first fare of his shift. And the last.

(Cover design for paperback re-release: Jon Blake).

EVENING TELEGRAPH Great contemporary British horror writes are few and far between - James Herbert, and that's it. Now another has emerged from the shadows. Stephen Laws is hardly a newcomer - Macabre is his sixth novel - but the quality of this modern tale of urban terror reinforces his growing reputation and pushes him into the first division of doom merchants. The book is a terrifying account of street life as seen by those who experience it at the sharp end - the homeless. They are the prey of a religious cult whose leader has struck a deal with the dead to ensure his own eternal life. Bedtime reading it may not be - compelling reading it certainly is

STEPHEN GALLAGHER At the forefront of his field, Stephen Laws shows us horror's most valuable function - the use of great darkness to point up and define, in spectacular fashion, that which is truly humane

DARK ASYLUM Stephen Laws, the real thing. For me he's the classic horror writer. His work operates as a salutary reminder to the rest of us, rooted as it is in the traditions of the genre: back to basic in the truest sense, it draws its strengths from his deep knowledge of the forerunners who first broke this ground, while remaining totally contemporary and always surging forward. Neat trick if you can do it; and Laws is one of the few who can. (Macabre) ... is harsh, in-your-face horror ... strong meat, as it should be. Kept me awake late reading it, and then awake some more re-living it when I wanted to be sleeping

TIME OUT Stephen Laws provides plenty of wintery chills... keeps the shocks coming thick and fast

BOOK WORLD (Maureen Willis): This horrifying new novel from the best-selling author of The Frighteners, Darkfall and Gideon combines stark realism and unimaginable horror to devastating effect. You won't be able to put it down - but after you're finished you may never be able to walk a dark city street again ...

DAILY MAIL Strong characters, grippingly addictive plot, and a mountain of supernatural bloodshed and mayhem - all the right ingredients for a top-notch tale of terror.

THE JOURNAL This is a gut-wrenchingly tense and nasty horror story but with a lot of humanity and social conscience.

SAMHAIN Laws writing style more resembles the thriller mould than any horror writer and it is this that makes his books so entertaining. Mixing social commentary with out and out Gothic horror Laws has created one of the must-read books of the year.

CRAIG CABELL (A FEAR OF RATS) The balance between fantastical horror and real-life horror is what all good horror writers should strive to achieve. Some of the greatest horror novels in the last decade of the 20th century had their feet firmly planted in reality: (including) Stephen Laws' much under-estimated social statement.


(The above cover is from the first UK hardback edition, with painting by Mark Taylor, after a design by myself)

STARBURST How all the elements fit together into an exciting and coherent adventure is a joy to behold. Laws lays the jigsaw pieces before us,and slowly moves them together. Piece meshes with piece until a picture about the reincarnation of an ancient evil forms and then,with the placing of the final elements, the novel is confirmed as a masterpiece of storytelling and characterization.Laws keeps it all under control,and we are involved in the story from page one onwards.The imagery of dank, dripping streets, silent canals and desolate inner-city deprivation is skilfully meshed with themes of gang warfare, drug abuse, racial tensions and the constant threat of the unknown. 'Macabre' is an excellent novel and a gripping read.Another classic from one of the top names in the field.


(French book club edition by Presses e la Cite. Cover by Liliane Mangavelle)

TRASHOTRON (Rick Kleffel) Laws delivers well-written, truly terrifying scenes of supernatural menace and mystery. The prose and plotting join together seamlessly to create a believable netherworld, contained within our world, where the more-than-human and the human, the supernatural and the everyday, give both the despicable and the endearing the power to change lives - or end them, slowly. Laws is a master of carefully revealing the exact nature of his plot, of casting shadows that loom larger then the reader's reality, eventually subsuming it.He's obviously learned from Lovecraft that sometimes, less is more, and from the splatterpunks as well, that sometimes more is more.


 (Cover from the French paperback - Pocket edition Presses De La Cite. Artwork by Pierre Olivier Templier)

Gideon

The man who loved women - to death.

Until the day when three women disobeyed him.

The day they came to him - with vengeance in their hearts for the depravity they had endured.

Leaving him shot to death, in a pool of his own blood. Leaving them free.

How could they know that Gideon would return to seek his vengeance for denying him the flesh? How could they know that their own deaths would not be enough - that everything and everyone they loved must now also be destroyed?

THE TIMES Compelling... Smoothly handled and tautly plotted.

Cover artwork above by Jon Blake, for second paperback publication.

STARBURST A sleek and sexy book, laced with horror and triumph, 'Gideon'is an incredible and memorable being. We have seen many variations on the vampire myth appear recently, but none have the sheer power and imagination of Laws''Gideon'. His books combine the scope, emotion and characters of Stephen King, with the roller coaster plots of Dean Koontz and an imagination that defies comparison. Book by book, Laws has improved, refining his craft. With 'Gideon' he steps up onto the pedestal reserved for the greats. No other author writing today is writing Horror as effective and as powerful as Laws, and in my eyes, he is now the undisputed King of Horror for the Nineties.



THE JOURNAL
There’s something nasty at large - seductive, irresistible and capable of violence beyond the dreams of a Saturday night. The traditional black-cloaked vampire has metamorphosed into a tall, dark stranger who fulfills your wildest sensual dreams at a terrible cost – and Tyneside is his stalking ground.

Once again, North-East author Stephen Laws puts the North-East on the map of Hell with a gripping tale of supernatural terror designed for readers strong of nerve and stomach. The deadly figure of Gideon links the lives of three women, a seedy detective and a parson’s son who is unaware of his own macabre destiny.

The pleasure of the plot is in watching the author weave together these threads, but the strength of the writing derives as much from the soundly observed characters and situations as from the murky revelations of the undead; the pitiful household where Yvonne copes with yowling dogs, drunken husband and domestic violence scarcely needs a vampire to turn it into a living nightmare.

A sizzling climax in a thinly-disguised Newcastle theatre cries out for cinematic adaptation. Perhaps some enterprising film company will take the hint.


First paperback publication in the UK used the same painting as the hardback cover, with different colouring in the titles. The quote by 'Time Out' prompted novelist Christopher Fowler to remark that I must have a very loud pen. Who am I to argue?

THE TIMES Laws updates the vampire story, weaving a compelling tale that is all the more effective for ditching the standard stake-and-garlic trappings. Very well done.

THE DRACULA SOCIETY Winner, Best Novel of the Year!


Cover for French book club hardback edition, published by France Loisirs. Painting by Yves Thos. I've always liked this cover - which looks as as if actor David Carradine is making love to singer Dusty Springfield!


Excellent cover in surreal style by P.O. Templier for the large paperback format French edition by Presses de la Cite. As mentioned elsewhere on the site, GIDEON won the Count Dracula Award for best novel - and this was presented to me by the actress Caroline Munroe at their annual awards ceremony. I've often bumped into Caroline over the years at various conventions and signings and she is one of the truly nicest persons I've ever met in the profession.


French paperback edition published by J'ai Lu. Cover again rendered by P.O.Templier.


Full cover for American edition, published in paperback by Dorchester/Leisure Books under re-title of FEAR ME. The change of title was at the request of the publisher

INTERZONE A big, ambitious book, eloquently written, inventively plotted, perfectly paced. Great stuff.


Double-bill flyer issued by New English Library/Hodder and Stoughton to publicize the paperback release of Darkfall in paperback and the hardback release of Gideon.

Darkfall

A STORM IS COMING

Christmas. And an entire office block of revellers has disappeared into thin air.

A STORM IS COMING

DI Jack Cardiff and his investigating squad are about to discover the Hell that is 'Darkfall'; where bricks, plaster and stone have a life of their own, where the inexplicable and the insane become horrifyingly real.

A STORM IS COMING

And for those trapped in the block and cut off by the violent weather, a terror beyond imagination is about to descend from the howling tempest.

First cover above from USA paperback publication of the novel by Dorchester/Leisure Books. Next cover by Jon Blake from the UK paperback re-release, published by New English Library


VECTOR One of Britain's masters of terror

PENTHOUSE Makes the reader distinctly uneasy about touching any walls or doors when the thunder rumbles.

THE TIMES A slam-bang paranormal thriller, Laws is one of the most inventive writers on the scene.


First hardback publication in the United Kingdom by New English Library

MILLION MAGAZINE A powerhouse of a book that hooks you immediately and never lets go. Exciting, relentless, gory and hugely entertaining

NORTHERN ECHO Truly barnstorming supernatural horror from a writer of tremendous pace and energy. A veritable roller-coaster ride.

STARBURST A brilliant horror novel. An imaginatively potent brew of visual and visceral terror.


(First English paperback cover, published by New English Library)

CHAZ BRENCHLEY (writing in DARK ASYLUM magazine) Stephen Laws, the real thing. For me he's the classic horror writer. His work operates as a salutary reminder to the rest of us, rooted as it is in the traditions of the genre: back to basics in the truest sense, it draws its strengths from his deep knowledge of the forerunners who first broke this ground, while remaining totally contemporary and always surging forward. Neat trick if you can do it; and Laws is one of the few who can.

MAXIM Laws' work typifies a new generation of horror writing: (It) inhabits the world as we know it, and is all the scarier for it.


(Publicity flyer produced by New English Library for the paperback publication of DARKFALL and announcing the forthcoming first hardcover edition of GIDEON.)


French paperback cover, published by J'ai Lu. Artwork by d'Oliviero Berni (Schluck).

BRECON AND RADNOR EXPRESS DARKFALL has all the style and graphic detail of any Stephen King book. This is a cracker of a book - up there with the best of them.

VECTOR One of Britain's masters of terror.

BOLTON EVENING NEWS A fear-packed festive roller-coaster of terror.

SAMHAIN Laws' flair for punchy, white-knuckle action set-pieces.


German paperback edition, published by Knaur. Artwork by Dewa Wawerka.Title translates as 'Bloodfest or 'Blood Feast'

THE JOURNAL This book follows in a line of compelling sickeners. Not for Laws the small and nagging horrors of the individual mind; his scary monsters come with global aspirations and implications. A rattling yarn.

STARBURST The plot twists and turns, presenting false leads and dummy menaces while all around the real danger lurks in the simple touch of a hand. All I can say is that Laws has done it again! A new heir to the horror throne!


Polish edition, published by Przedsiebiorstwo

Given that all of the international editions, other than the German publication, depict the office block that features so prominently in the story, I thought it might be of interest to mention that in the good old tradition of 'write what you know about', I used the layout, interiors and exterior of an actual office block for the novel. I worked for Tyne and Wear County Council for seven years in Sandyford House at Archbold Terrace in Newcastle upon Tyne. I got to know the place very well, as you can imagine - and this is the 'location' for DARKFALL. In the year that the novel was published, I became a full-time writer.

The Frighteners


Eddie Brinkburn's doing time for a botched garage job that left Sheraton's brother very badly burned.

HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE?

When Sheraton's gang burn his wife and kids to death, Eddie soon learns the meaning of hate.

HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE?

And that's how the prison psycho transfers his awesome power to Eddie. A power that Eddie reckons he can control. A power that will enable Eddie to put the frighteners on Sheraton...


FEAR His strongest story to date... Laws' leaping talent demands an even greater audience

STARBURST A new heir to the horror throne... Laws' strength lies in building atmosphere, suspense and tension. The Frighteners is unrelenting and a powerhouse of suppressed emotion

ORACLE The bloodletting is plentiful, blatant and graphic and the end result is a compulsive read.

NEWTOWNWARDS CHRONICLE Laws creates a vision of evil so powerful that it surges forward in a shattering crescendo of blood-curdling terror, sweeping the reader to its explosive climax.
 

First hardback publication by Souvenir Press, artist unknown. This was my third and final novel with Souvenir Press, and my attempt to push the boundaries; but also contextualize extreme horror sequences within the narrative. At the time, I was railing at the use of horror purely for horror's sake - and whereas on the surface this is a supernatural gangster horror novel (as someone at the time described it: 'Get Carter' meets 'The Exorcist'), there's a hidden but strong political sub-text in the novel which also reflected my anger at what was going on in English society at the time. Not so you'd notice overtly - since I don't write 'message' fiction; but I was bloody angry back then.

Apologies for the poor resolution of the picture, but this interior artwork which appears at each section of the novel (in this case, Part One: Carve-Up ) is the work of artist, Ray Laws - my brother.

Shameful nepotism, I know. Ray now co-runs an advertising/graphic realization company in Australia and has been responsible for rendering ideas and artwork on lots of famous goods and products, which I can't list here because that would be taking nepotism a tad too far!


MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS If you like NASTY - then this one is for you.

BOOK REVIEW The writing is truly horrible - indeed, it makes your flesh creep as victims succumb to their fate. The Frighteners is definitely not a book to read just before you go to sleep - but for lovers of horror it's a must.


First paperback publication by New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton). Terrific painting for the cover, representing 'The House on Lime Street' which features in the novel (and is one of the sub-headed sections in the book). Lime Street is an actual location down by the Ouseburn in Newcastle upon Tyne, but nothing like the location painted on the cover. Another bit of artistic license on my part, using real locations for my fiction. NEL also used my brother's interior artwork for each section, as per the Souvenir Press edition, but unfortunately credited it to one 'Ray Lewis' rather than 'Ray Laws'. I'm happy to put the record right here!


German paperback edition - ('The Dimension of Hatred'). Published by Knaur, and with artwork by Klaus Thomas. Klaus was also responsible for a superb painting, used for the second paperback publication of GHOST TRAIN (again by Knaur, which I'll be posting in that section in the new future). Given the slightly Hammer-Horror aspect of the cover, it's probably worth mentioning here that the character of Sir James Callender in THE FRIGHTENERS is based, purely physically, on the demeanor of the superb actor Andre Morell - as 'Sir James Forbes'- in one of my very favorite Hammer movies: THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (for which I wrote an in-depth appreciation in CINEMACABRE and Dick Klemensen's MAGAZINE 'Little Shoppe of Horrors'). Not a lot of people know that ...



Recent (2011) publication of THE FRIGHTENERS in Poland. Elsewhere on the site, you'll find foreign edition covers where the artwork doesn't seem to relate to anything that's going on in the novel. Sometimes, the effect is very odd - but at other times (such as the Italian edition of SPECTRE - I FIGLI DELLA NOTTE - with the woman walking on the beach, her hair on fire) it can be very pleasing. Such is the latter case here, with a tranquil beach scene - and a seagull going down in flames. The fact that the artwork has been minimised in this way seems to make it so much more subtle. Perhaps 'subtle' is not a word that you can apply to the ultra-horror aspects of THE FRIGHTENERS (despite the sub-textual stuff), but I hope the cover appeals to Polish sensibilities.

The Wyrm

For more than three hundred years the old gibbet has stood at the crossroads, its stark outline silhouetted against the sky.

To the villagers of Shillingham it is a local landmark, a reminder of the sterner justice of a bygone age - nothing more.

So why does Michael Lambton feel a sudden shiver of apprehension as he gazes across the harsh Northumbrian landscape in the dusk, and why are the children Karen and Graham drawn repeatedly to play around the gibbet, as if called by a silent voice? Why does Frank Warwick place fortnightly offerings of food and fuel at the crossroads, and why, when a new plan for a motorway means the removal of the gibbet from its site, does he become almost insane with fear and desperation in his frantic efforts to stop the development?

A dark and terrible evil slumbers beneath the gibbet. Slowly it is awakening, and in its mind burns revenge against mankind. Michael Lambton, in his lonely isolation at Split Crow Farm, has sensed its presence, but only Frank Warwick knows the true nature of the horror that could engulf, not only Shillingham, but the very fabric of existence, and he is powerless to halt the advance of the bulldozers. Soon, soon, it will be too late. At all costs, he must pass on to his daughter Christy the dreadful knowledge that has haunted the Warwicks for three hundred years. With Michael Lambton to help her, she may be able to challenge an evil that seems impervious to attack.

Stephen Laws is possessed of a rare talent which has already attracted millions of readers to his previous books, Ghost Train and Spectre, both masterly explorations of supernatural horror. In The Wyrm he probes the fragile core of our emotional armour, bringing us face to face with our deepest fears.

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL A fresh, chilling voice.

CITY LIMITS Fast, clever and full of zombies.

STARBURST Horror which is both truly frightening and dangerously unpredictable. A brilliant book, full of characterisation , horror, and a creature so frightening that most others pale beside it.

THE BOOKSELLER Laws' remarkable talent for credible horror has already brought comparison with the best selling masters of the genre. This riveting and haunting story confirms his place.

SAMHAIN Laws achieves a truly oppressive atmosphere as this awesome pariah is unleashed on the town. He is at this time unquestionably our most promising genre writer.

FEAR An excellent, breathtaking, morbid read.If his first novels vibrate with dread, then his latest drips it from every page.

WESTERN MORNING NEWS Keeps the suspense gripping until the tense thriller reaches its chilling conclusion.

LIVERPOOL DAILY POST Hair-raising horror that pulls no punches.

YORKSHIRE EVENING POST A marvelous read - full of pace, action and imagination.



Stephen Laws, freezing to death in mid-winter at Winter's Gibbet, just outside Elsdon in Northumberland. The gibbet was one of the inspirations behind the novel. At the time the photograph was taken, there was a tendency for the wooden head hanging from that gibbet to be stolen by local rascals - so the parish Council had a special budget head for replacement heads.

Original photograph taken by Terry White. Subsequently re-edited and formatted by Keith Durham.



Cover for first hardback edition, published by Souvenir Press. The gibbet as central 'feature' would appear in one form or another on most of the subsequent publications both here and abroad; with one exception - J'ai Lu's French edition (see later). The artist isn't credited by Souvenir, but if you're still around and want to get in touch, please do - and I'll be more than happy to give credit where credit is due.


First paperback cover for the Sphere edition, with another great painting by an uncredited artist. Once again, I'm happy to give credit if someone gets in touch. I particularly like the dead owl lying in the foreground, which references a sequence when all the terrified wildlife trying to get out of the cursed, sealed-off village are killed by the Wyrm's deadly and impenetrable fog-barrier.



Cover of New English Library's paperback re-release, with painting by Steve Crisp, who also produced paintings for the re-releases of GHOST TRAIN and SPECTRE.I was so enamored of Steve's work that I bought all three paintings, and they're on my study wall. THE WYRM painting had to be reformatted for the text on the front cover, and unfortunately the horde of approaching zombies featuring prominently at the bottom of the painting can't be seen on the book cover itself.


Dutch edition, with cover painted by Gerard Schriemer. Love the little girl in the foreground, very much like my own daughter when she was that age.This is another one which has been framed and hangs on the Laws study wall.


Cover of the Dorchester/Leisure paperback edition in America.


German edition, retitled 'On the Trace of Evil/On The Track of Evil'. Surrealistic painting by Marion and Doris Arnemann.

PIECES OF MARY: Laws maintains a feeling of dread and horror throughout, and some excellent manifestations of the creature make this a real page turner.


Wonderfully lurid cover for the French paperback edition released by J'ai Lu. Unlike some of the strange representations that have appeared on other international editions of my novels which seem to have no relation to the events being depicted in the narrative, this is based on a scene that actually takes place when villainous Billy Rifkin is possessed and metamorphosed by The Wyrm. Artwork by Matthieu Blanchin.

MAKING MONSTERS by Stephen Laws. (An article for Dorchester/Leisure Books - who published the novel in the States).

In the North of England, there's a small village called Elsdon—and on its outskirts, on lonely hills, there stands a gibbet.

I first encountered it many years ago, and discovered that it was known as Winter's Gibbet. In 1792, William Winter (and his accomplices, Jane and Eleanor Clark) were hanged there, having been found guilty of the murder of one Margaret Crozier. Winter himself remained hanging there until he rotted. For more details, see - http://www.rothbury.co.uk/around/winters_gibbet.htm

The gibbet is a remarkable sight. If you head up into the hills by car, pass through Elsdon, you suddenly crest a hill—and there it is. A stark reminder of the past. I knew that at some stage I'd end up writing about it, or something like it. But for many years, my research notes and details remained on file—waiting for that further inspiration.

I'd decided when the time came for my third novel, that I wanted to create a unique supernatural threat—something that was my very "own"; something that didn't confirm to traditional monster "lore." On the basis that every reader knows the horror cliches, I decided that I wanted to create my own evil monster-spirit; something that had its own code of behavior and with a completely different modus operandi from anything else I'd read.

At some stage in the early stages of collating notes for that new novel, I was reminded of a North of England legend about a creature called The Lambton Worm. The monstrous creature laid waste to the countryside until the young heir to the Lambton estate returned from the Crusades and killed it. In some versions, the "worm" is a serpent and in others, a huge reptile.

Looking into the legend a little further, I discovered that in the North Of England—indeed throughout the United Kingdom—there are dozens of such legends about man-eating monstrosities called worms, or more precisely in old English—wyrms. I was also fascinated to discover that the word could mean "dragon" or "evil spirit," and those legends are many and varied, with wyrms of all shapes and sizes behaving in all kinds of anti-social ways.

It was then that I decided I could use just the word, the fact that these legends were so prolific in English mythic history—and go on to create my monster. Part of my research drew me back to author Bram Stoker's novel The Lair of the White Worm, and in the realization that he too had drawn on the same legends and created something distinctively his own from that raw material, I knew that I was on my way.

Three other key factors suddenly clicked into place. I read that in some folklore, a stake is driven through a vampire's body not to destroy the heart, but to actually keep the thing pinned down in its grave. Also—that in some parts of the world, suicides were buried at crossroads so that if they came back as vampires, they wouldn't know which road to take and would be stuck there. Tying those things into my strong desire to also write a novel about the sealing off of a small community from the outside world, and its struggle against a monstrous threat, I suddenly remembered the gibbet at Elsdon. What if that gibbet was actually performing the same function as a kind-of giant wooden stake? And what would happen if that stake was removed...?

That's when everything started to come together.

And the result is—The Wyrm.

Spectre

They called themselves the Byker Chapter...

They were inseparable: six boys and one girl who'd grown up together in the back streets of Newcastle. Now the terraces are long gone, but Richard Eden has his memories - and one special photograph. All that is left of their joy - and betrayal...

Suddenly, impossibly, one by one the images begin to fade, as if his friends had never existed.

Something is stalking the Chapter - closing in for the kill. With each hideous death, another image fades from the photograph. Some spectre from the past, some horror they have unwittingly released, is out there on the darkened streets. Hunting them down.

They can run, but this time there is nowhere they can hide...

DAILY POST An awe-inspiring study in desperation and the supernatural, with excitement lasting without respite to the final page

STARBURST Has a sense of brooding menace that really makes it unputdownable

YORKSHIRE EVENING POST Chilled at just the right temperature

ED GORMAN  Structured like a formal mystery that has at its centre a truly ominous secret. But even more special than the story is the writing. Laws is already unique and is destined to be major. This is a spellbinder

INTERZONE In terms of sustained tension and hysterical panic this book works, and is well grounded in its physical locations


This is the first edition hardback cover, published by Souvenir Press; depicting the entrance to 'The Imperial' nightclub - where the main action (and horror) takes place. The real-life Imperial was a fleapit cinema that I haunted as a kid, just round the corner from where the Laws family lived. (Photos of the cinema will follow later). It closed for business as a cinema in 1963, but in SPECTRE, I reopened it fictionally as a night-club - so what we have here is a cross between an old cinema entrance and a disco-lit foyer. That club is actually called 'Spectres' in the novel - but hey, what's an 'S' between friends?


The first English paperback release (by Sphere) has a striking faceless visage from a shock sequence that features in the novel. 'Loss of identity' is one of the central themes in the narrative; with people fading and disappearing from photographs, faces not appearing in
mirrors and - as with the cover - a person's entire face being wiped away. The scene in the novel was supposed to be a shocking visual metaphor made real - and it was a very visceral surprise to see it rendered here so graphically. My original suggestion on cover art to Souvenir, and then later to Sphere, was that an exploding mirror containing a screaming face within the flying shards might be an effective cover and metaphor. They didn't go for it - but I thought that Sphere's cover was pretty damned good.


Tor's paperback publication has one of my favourite covers ever, with a special effects photograph using real actors (and actress) to depict a key scene from the novel. This is the group photograph from which members of the 'Byker Chapter' mysteriously begin to vanish one by one as they are stalked and killed by a malicious and unknown 'spectre' from their past. This was created by the great Jeffrey Potter. I was stunned when I first saw it - since the guy with the beard standing in the centre holding a can of beer is exactly how I envisaged the character of Stan 'The Man' Shaftoe. Tor did a great job with GHOST TRAIN, but I think they really excelled with this group portrait cover and its two fading images.


Cover from the Norwegian edition. The circular centrepiece is a cutaway on the front of the book which, when opened, reveals the complete painting and black and white 'Byker Chapter' photograph.


The French paperback publication of SPECTRE was retitled THE NIGHT OF THE SPECTRES ('La Nuit des Spectres'), and the cover is another of my favourites.  J'ai Lu decided to concentrate on the malevolent ventriloquist's dummy which features in the book, and I was deeply pleased with the result. I've always felt the same way about these dolls that I feel about circus clowns. They are not cute and funny. They are deeply, deeply scary. As mentioned elsewhere on the website, there are a few cinematic homages in SPECTRE - and my own creation here was an intention not only to reference the horribly creepy dummies of DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) and DEVIL DOLL (1964), but to go on to create a frenzied, possessed and murderous ventriloquist's dummy that would be difficult to forget.


Second paperback publication by Hodder and Stoughton/New English Library. This is a stylised interpretation of Byker Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, with 'The Imperial' in the background (in actuality, the cinema was situated further off to the right and out of sight on Byker Bank). The artist is Steve Crisp, who not only painted this cover (superbly) but also the paintings for the re-released paperback editions of GHOST TRAIN and THE WYRM in similar style. Steve really did a wonderful job here. In fact, I loved them so much that I bought the original paintings from him and they're hanging on the Laws study wall. The lone, spectral figure on the bridge is also an excellent touch - and mirrors a photograph of yours truly which appeared in an interview in the late, lamented FEAR magazine.


When Telos approached me about a possible, definitive republication of the novel, I jumped at the chance. Although The Imperial had been demolished a matter of days after the novel was published , it gave me a chance to write a special feature for this edition about the old cinema, the genesis of the novel, the writing of the book and a real-life strange event that happened after the book came out. It also gave me an opportunity to restore some material to the narrative that had been cut at editorial stage, to which I had conceded at the time but had always regretted.


And here's the full painting for the Telos release, minus the script. To celebrate publication of this definitive edition, a republication launch took place at The Cluny, a venue nestling in the cradle of the Ouseburn Valley - the actual 'location' for the events that take place in SPECTRE. Not only did I give a talk about the novel and its creation, but also organised a tour of the locations on the night. Writer/director Steve Gallagher was a guest of honour, and kindly wrote a feature on that event for the Telos website - which will be reproduced in this section in the near future.



Newspaper photograph of the derelict Imperial cinema itself, only a few days before its demolition. Not quite as scary as some of the book covers would suggest, but my very own Haunted Palace. Along with Byker Library, this is where I had my first real thrilling encounters with lost worlds, ghosts, monsters and children of the night. For details of my real-life scary encounter here check out the special feature in the Telos edition.



A closer view of The Imperial, and its 'Coming soon' notice board. Check out the remaining fragments. Back then, there was a double bill Monday to Wednesday, another double bill Thursday to Saturday, a kids' matinee on the Saturday afternoon - and a 'For One Night Only' on the Sunday (usually horror). The Laws family lived just behind the cinema. I could be home via the back exit in about 40 seconds. Some weeks it might have been easier for everyone if I'd just moved into the cinema and lived in a tent in the back row.



Talking of 'Children of the Night' above - here's the Italian edition of SPECTRE under that very title ('Figli Della Notte'). You'd be forgiven for wondering just where in the novel you'd find a sequence that involves a woman walking along the beach with her hair on fire - since there's no such sequence. I was advised, although I've never had this properly confirmed, that European editions of novels often used pre-existing artwork from available sources - legitimately - for book covers, and that this is an example. Despite the fact that it doesn't relate to the narrative at all, I've still always liked its striking, dreamscape effect.



Hardback Italian edition of I FIGLI DELLA NOTTE, with artwork by E. Musciad. Having Medusa The Gorgon on the cover is a bit of a spoiler for the plot, with the first murder victim in the novel watching a clip from Hammer's 1964 movie THE GORGON on television when something nasty happens to him. There was some consternation about the nastiness of the murder scene in the original manuscript, and I agreed to tone this down for original publication. However, I wasn't completely happy about that - and so reverted to the original text for the restored publication by Telos,which can now be read in all its gory glory in that edition.(Frankly, I still don't think it's that gory - but I leave readers to judge that for themselves).



And finally, cover art for the German edition of SPECTRE. It took me a while to work out that the snake has swallowed someone here - and left the slippers behind. I don't recall a scene like that appearing in the novel. But hey - what the hell do I know? I'm only the author.

Further covers to follow in due course, plus related articles and material.