Showing posts with label High Moor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label High Moor. Show all posts

Friday, 4 May 2012

Review: Graeme Reynolds, High Moor (Horrific Tales Publishing, 2011)

High Moor is the debut novel by UK writer Graeme Reynolds. The book – told in three parts – tells the story of John, Michael and Marie (though mostly John), three friends who live in High Moor (near Durham) in the North East of England. Part 1 (set in 1986) begins when the protagonists are children, spending their time making camps and dens in the woods, and being terrorized by Malcolm Harrison and his gang of sadistic little thugs. One night, when Michael and Marie’s older brother David returns alone to their treehouse to retrieve some tools, something awful appears from out of the woods...

That’s right (in case you hadn’t guessed, given my usual material), High Moor is a werewolf novel. And it makes no bones about it. Before we even get to Part 1, the prologue, set in 2008, reveals a man who struggles to keep himself contained during his monthly transformation, an attack on a man out walking his dog, and a news report about the return of the ‘legendary High Moor Beast’, thought to have been killed over twenty years earlier. As we are taken back to 1986, we can’t help but feel a certain sense of fear for the children who play in the woods. And sure enough, it’s not long before one of them falls victim to the ‘High Moor Beast’. As the story unfolds, we find first David, and then Michael and John having to face this lycanthropic foe.

Added to this, High Moor has a policeman who goes against his superiors after realizing they are dealing with werewolf attacks, and the grizzled ‘expert’ he drafts in to help him, but who is haunted by his own past experiences with werewolves. Cue lots of silver weaponry and tethered goats used as bait.

Make no mistake, Reynolds’s werewolves are old-school: good old-fashioned, rip-your-throat-out lycanthropes. These are the creatures we know from The Wolf-Man and An American Werewolf in London, and the book has echoes of both films throughout. Only at a couple of points are we led to feel any sympathy for the attacking werewolves, though we identify with the humans who are turned following a bite.

It’s actually been a while since I’ve read this sort of werewolf story. I think I put that down to the fact that I read more female werewolf fiction, and female werewolves have a tradition of their own (which is a subtle plug for the book I’m putting together on this very subject, of course). But I think I’d also forgotten how much I enjoy this type of story. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a good ‘sympathetic werewolf just wants to find love’ tale. And I’m fascinated by all the stories out there about werewolves living (passing?) amongst humans. But, sometimes, you just want a creepy ‘there’s something lurking in the woods’ book. And Reynolds doesn’t disappoint on this score.

High Moor is a well-written adventure/horror, with a believable cast of characters and a nice dash of local colour. I have to admit, being in my early 30s, I enjoyed the 1980s setting of the first two parts of the book. It was evocative without being cloyingly nostalgic. Some writers do tend to go a bit overboard with presentations of the 80s – loading paragraphs with too many references to TV, technology, celebrities, music. Reynolds is a bit lighter in his touch. I loved the reference to the kids copying Spectrum games onto cassettes for one another, but these little period details didn’t detract from the overall story.

More seriously, Reynolds also includes some details that allow the story to avoid certain genre clichés that can be more problematic. Specifically, this comes in his inclusion of ‘gypsies’ in the narrative. Some people who have read some of my other reviews might know that the ‘gypsy’ in werewolf and vampire fiction is something of a pet peeve of mine. They are often used in a lazy way that panders to certain racial stereotypes. Now, the gypsy characters in High Moor have a lot in common with those in other werewolf fiction – particularly in their role as ‘keepers’ of lycanthropic knowledge. However, Reynolds adds just enough ‘reality’ to offer a bit of a challenge to the cliché. For example, when a character encounters the ‘gypsies’ for the first time, they (specifically the woman he meets) seem to be of the usual sort: ‘Dark, curly hair flowing down her back, curves in all the right places, and amber eyes that looked straight into your soul.’ Nevertheless, the man’s reaction seems more ‘real’, given that he is meeting the woman in 1944: ‘To tell you the truth, I was surprised to see anyone of Romany origin in the area. Most of them had been rounded up by the Nazis and sent to the death camps at Jasenovac.’ Back in the UK, ‘gypsy’ camps are presented more as our familiar ‘travellers’ camps’, rather than a romanticized version common to werewolf/vampire fiction. This causes one character to wonder whether people are suspicious of them because they know there are werewolves around, or because they are just generally suspicious of travellers.

If I had one criticism, it would be that the ‘bad’ werewolf that appears in the third part of the novel is a bit too powerful. In the world that Reynolds has created, werewolves can build up amazing power and skills, but this appears to be the result of years of living with the condition. The final showdown, though, features a newly-made werewolf who comes pretty close to defeating lycanthropes who have had a couple of decades to learn how to fight like a werewolf. I understand that this is necessary for a good climactic showdown (otherwise the fight would have been over pretty quickly!) but it seemed a bit hard to believe that this werewolf had become some a formidable foe so quickly. Nevertheless, perhaps I am being a bit unfair here, as the earlier parts of the novel had definitely set up that this character was pretty nasty as a human, maybe this would account for his brute strength as a werewolf? There’s a line in another werewolf novel (I think it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, though I could be wrong) that states ‘angry people make bad werewolves’, and I think that certainly holds true in High Moor.

Overall, High Moor is an accomplished first novel. The writing is well-paced and enjoyable, the characters engaging and the ending intriguing (and definitely points to a sequel). This is not the most original take on werewolves. But though the reader is on familiar ground, it is well-loved ground, and this is no bad thing. For a first release from a (very) small press, High Moor is really promising, and I hope to see more from Graeme Reynolds and Horrific Tales Publishing.

Read my interview with Graeme Reynolds here

Monday, 23 January 2012

Interview with Graeme Reynolds

Graeme Reynolds' first novel, High Moor (a werewolf novel set in the North East of England), came out in November 2011. I’ll be reviewing the book soon, but, in the meantime, I caught up with Graeme to talk writing, werewolves and publishing…

She-Wolf: Hi Graeme. Thanks for talking to us. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself…

Graeme Reynolds: I’m originally from the North East of England, but moved to the Bristol area when I was 18, with the RAF. After a brief military career that lasted a whole year and a half, I stayed in the area. These days I break computers for money, and I moved into an isolated smallholding in Wales last year, in readiness for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I’ve been writing for just over three years, and some people even like my work. My first novel, High Moor, came out in November.

SW: Tell us a bit about High Moor – what’s the book about?

GR: The book is split into three parts. The first part is very much a coming of age story, set in North East England in 1986 and also conforms more closely to the “classic” werewolf tale. The children in the first part have to deal with some pretty traumatic events, and that sets things up for the rest of the book.

Part 2 is very much about coming to terms with change. In this instance, it’s about how the characters deal with loss, and how their lives change as a result of the events in the first part of the novel. Specifically, how a family reacts to the fact that their ten year old son is now a werewolf. I like to think of part 2 as being the “what happened next?” part of the book.

SW: Sounds intriguing. What about the third part?

GR: The last section takes place in 2008, and the theme is how your past actions can have unforeseen consequences, sometimes years later. John, the main character returns to High Moor after a long absence, when he hears reports of what could be another werewolf in the town. He races against time to find the beast before the next full moon, when he will turn into a werewolf himself.

SW: So how did you get started in writing?

GR: Writing is something that I always wanted to do, but never really got around to. I used to write horror based role-playing games in my teens and twenties, and had a couple of false starts where I would write a chapter of a novel then consign it to the bin because I wasn’t happy with it. Then, in 2008 I discovered flash fiction and wrote about 30 or so short stories that were published in a few electronic and print venues. I started High Moor not long after I started writing shorts, but it sat gathering dust for a while. All things considered, that wasn’t a bad move in the end, because it gave me time to learn the craft, try different styles on and develop my own voice.

SW: Where do you get your inspiration from?

GR: High Moor was inspired by events in my childhood. There were reports of a big cat in the area, attacking livestock in fields. There were some sightings, and even a photograph of “The Durham Beast”, and we had the police coming into schools, warning us not to go into the woods alone. I was around the same age as the characters in the book at the time, and it left a lasting impression on me.

SW: So is High Moor a bit autobiographical then?

GR: There is an awful lot of autobiographical stuff mixed in with part 1, in terms of what the kids get up to. My mother has already chastised me for a scene involving the school VCR.

SW: So there are a few stories from your childhood then?

GR: One scene in particular – the climax of part 1, has been with me for years. I remember being at a scout camp and being told around a campfire, under a full moon, about a book that had a werewolf attacking a cub scout camp. I got so scared that I packed my stuff and walked home at 2 in the morning. It turned out later, when I read the actual book, that none of that stuff happened, and it was just kids being nasty. That mental image of that scene stayed with me though, and that was in many ways, the starting point for me when I sat down to write High Moor. It’s been a story that I’ve wanted to tell since I was ten years old.

SW: Tell me a bit about the werewolves in High Moor. Did any particular traditions inspire you?

GR: I started off with the standard, common and garden wolf man stereotype, and found in many ways, the twist to the mythology that I came up with grew organically from the story. I’ve always loved the fact that werewolves very much represented man’s struggle with the bestial part of his nature. I tried to really build on that, so while there is only one “curse” as such, depending on the mindset of the individual, they become a different type of monster.

SW: So what sort of werewolves do they become?

GR: The classic wolf man is called a moonstruck in the story. These are the people that fight against the wolf and keep it suppressed. When the moon is full, the wolf becomes too powerful and they change, but because they fight it, they end up caught between man and beast. All pain, rage and instinct.

The afflicted that accept the wolf side of them become more fully wolf, and retain their personality and intellect. The two sides work in harmony, although even in human form, they have strong wolfish instincts as they are in a symbiotic relationship with their animal side.

The last type is somewhere between the two. When a victim gives themselves over to the wolf. They retain their intelligence to an extent, and can change at will, but even in human form, they are more animal than person.

SW: There’s been a bit of a boom in werewolf fiction lately, why do you think they’re so popular?

GR: I think that werewolves have always been popular. A great deal of the recent interest comes from the paranormal romance genre, where the werewolves are considered primarily as a love interest for a human character. The same thing happened with vampires, and while it may make for a nice teenage fantasy, it gets away from what is interesting and frightening about the monster, taming it, if you like.

There are more horror themed werewolf stories coming out as well, though. Maybe with vampires and zombies saturating the market, people are turning back to the werewolf as another option. I can only hope that it continues, and we get some real quality werewolf fiction coming out. There are not that many truly great werewolf novels, when compared to other sub genres. Not that I have found anyway. It’s about time there were more.

SW: You have some female werewolves in your book – tell me a bit about writing them.

GR: I have a couple, but the main female werewolf character was very different to write than the others. She’s probably the most assured character in the book – certainly the most comfortable with herself. She has a playful, tender and quite mischievous side to her, but has her own agenda and won’t think twice about making a mess of anyone that gets in her way. By the time I finished the book, she was probably my favourite character. She’s almost certainly going to be the main protagonist in the second book.

SW: Was she any harder to write than the male werewolves?

GR: In some ways, she was the easiest to write, but also the most frustrating. She had an uncanny knack for turning my plot on its head and ruining my chapter plans, because she would go off and do something that I’d never even considered. It’s strange when things like that happen, but also great.

SW: Outside of your own (of course), who’s your favourite female werewolf?

GR: While I’ll always have a soft spot for Kelly Armstrong’s Elena, my favourite she-wolf has to be Laura Greenacre, from Thomas Emson’s brilliant Maneater and Prey novels. She’s smart, withdrawn in many respects, but is absolutely loyal and vicious when she needs to be. Both books are among my favourite pieces of werewolf fiction, and Laura’s character is a big part of that.

SW: Let's talk about publishing. Once you’d finished writing High Moor what happened next?

GR: When I started High Moor, I was intending to go down the traditional publishing route. Unfortunately, the more I saw of traditional publishing, the less I liked the idea. I’ve met people who have sold 100,000 copies of a book and made almost no money from it. I’ve also spoken to people who have been given a dreadful cover by the publisher that has hurt their sales. I wanted to retain creative control over the book. I’m proud of it and didn’t want an editor chopping out the interesting parts to make it fit a niche.

SW: You started your own small press to publish your novel. Tell me a bit about that decision.

GR: The decision to form Horrific Tales Publishing came fairly easily. I understood enough of the market to know broadly what else I needed to do once the book was finished (little things like paying a cover artist and getting a professional editor involved). As I started getting these things done, the costs started mounting up and it occurred to me that, as I’m intending to start a business (albeit with one product) I might as well run it like a business. That way I can put things down as a business expense, for example. Also, while people will read something that a small press has put out, they won’t always consider something that’s “self published”. There is still a great deal of stigma attached to the term, and people who submit their first draft to Amazon without so much as proof reading it are not helping.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, and I may have to eat my words and go crawling to a traditional publisher if no one buys it, but for now, I’m happy with my choices.

SW: Will Horrific Tales be publishing any more titles?

GR: There is a chance that I’ll expand into publishing other people’s stuff. I have a couple of writer friends that have some great books in progress, and it may be that, because I’ve dealt with a lot of the paperwork and other business parts, that they may want me to put their stuff out through the imprint as well. It all costs money, though, and takes a lot of time, that will invariably take me away from my writing. I’ll have to see how it goes.

SW: And what about a sequel to High Moor?

GR: I’ve already started on the sequel, and there is an “in continuity” short story out in an enhanced eBook anthology called Tooth and Claw through Liquid Imagination Publishing. I’m hoping to have the sequel out by the end of 2012, and at the moment, I’ll probably publish that one through HTP as well. There are going to be at least three books in the High Moor series, maybe more. I’ll have to see where the story takes me after the first three.

SW: What sort of books do you enjoy reading? Any favourites from the last year?

GR: I’ve had a very werewolf centric year. I started off with Wolfen, by Whitley Streiber, which scared me as much a second time around as it did when I first read it as a child. Then I read the fantastic The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon. It’s an amazing novel – especially the parts dealing with Michael’s life in the forest as a newly turned werewolf. It’s not really horror, but it’s one of my favourite reads of the year. This week I finished The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan. Parts of the book blew me away. Other parts went on a bit, I thought, and I wasn’t keen on the ending. Finally, today, I finished a book called The Squirrel who Dreamt of Madness. It’s a very odd book, but hilarious in places and quite thought provoking in others.

SW: How about films? Any favourite werewolf films?

GR: Decent werewolf films are few and far between. American Werewolf in London and The Howling remain the all time classics. I loved Dog Soldiers and liked a few of the Ginger Snaps series - especially the one set in the Middle Ages [ed. – Ginger Snaps Back, actually set in 19th-century Canada]. Other than that, I would struggle to think of any really good ones, although I did enjoy The Wolfman remake. I just wish that they’d stuck to practical effects instead of the CGI.

SW: I always ask this question…vampires or werewolves?

GR: Do you have to ask? Werewolves all the way. I mean, what is scarier – some angst-ridden walking corpse that seduces teenage girls, or a seven foot tall mass of muscle, claws and primal rage? No competition really.

SW: Thanks for chatting to us Graeme. Best of luck with the book.

High Moor is out now for Kindle (UK and US) and in paperback in the US. The UK paperback is planned for early 2012, as are other eBook formats.

The first five chapters of the book are available for free on Graeme’s website.