Tag Archives: writing

Quick and Dirty

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william-feather-author-quote-some-of-us-might-find-happiness-if-we

1: At my first horror convention, I attended a two-day writing course, one of the few things our teacher told us never to do is to bang on about the weather. No one cares. Never open with the weather, never wax lyrical about the sunrise. Lazy and boring.

2: Stephen King talks about this in his excellent guide, ‘On Writing’. When writing dialogue only ever use the tag: he/she said. Avoid things like, ‘he said quietly’, ‘she laughed’, ‘he coughed’, ‘he mewled’, ‘she sighed’. Actually, I try to avoid the ‘he said, she said’ all together and show simple body language and movement instead.

3: Only experienced writers with proven track records can say their writing is good, for the rest of us, zip it until you’re a best selling author.

4: There’s nothing worse than an over-inflated ego. Angels will not weep at your prose and you seriously have to get a grip. The amount of authors I know with a god-complex would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

5: Grow thick skin. You will have to deal with rejection and critique. It’s essential for growth. Submit your work and prepare the pile of rejection letters. Nobody will love you at first, but that’s okay, you don’t need someone else’s love to define you.

6: Write everyday. Even it’s only for five minutes.

7: Read lots. Read everyday. Not just books, but articles, poems, essays. Read. Read. Read.

8: If you’re just starting out, then remember this, if nothing else. It takes time. And I mean years.

9: Active voice, baby. Bin the passive.

10: Always write for yourself, to hell with anyone else. Someone, somewhere, will get you. Just keep on tying.

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2012 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 44,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Gary McMahon

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Recently, I managed to nab an interview with the legendary Gary McMahon for Starburst magazine. Gary McMahon is responsible for some of the darkest and disturbed horror that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.  I’m talking real twisted. I’ve included part of the interview below.

 

 

Starburst: If we could start with the idea behind Pretty Little Dead Things. How did it come about? Where did this idea first take seed?

Gary McMahon: Initially, I wrote a bunch of short ghost stories featuring the character of Thomas Usher. After a while, it became clear that he wanted his own novel, so I started sketching out a few scenes which then grew into the book. At that point I didn’t have a publishing deal, so when I approached Angry Robot I had about half the novel written. By the time they got back to me that they liked the synopsis and chapters, the book was finished.

Thomas Usher is a complex character. The victim of so much tragedy and horror, yet he still desperately tries to do the right thing. What was it like to create such a compelling character?

Oh, it was great fun. I love flawed characters. I can’t write – or read about – any other kind. Flaws make us real, they highlight who we are, what we are. I’m more interested in people’s flaws than any other part of their personality. I find it easy to create complex characters, because aren’t we all complex?

The mature adult themes this book explores are of the darkest nature. You have a talent for forcing a reader to look at parts of the human condition we would rather hide from and pretend wasn’t there. To write about so much corruption of the human spirit must have been a difficult thing to do. How do you cope?

Thank you. I believe that horror fiction can be a great way of facing what’s unpleasant about the human condition. I’m not really one for cheap scares. I like to get right under the skin of my characters and find out what makes them tick, then dismantle them piece by piece and see what happens. I like works of art that leave me scarred, and so I tend to lean this way when I write. To be honest, writing about dark subject matter is what helps me cope with the terrible stuff that happens in real life.

Of course, every hero – if that’s what we can call Thomas – needs his villain, and the Pilgrim soon makes his presence known. How much fun was it to write about an entity such as the Pilgrim?

I loved writing about the Pilgrim. He took on a life of his own, growing bigger and bolder on the page as I wrote about him. He’s an evil bugger, of course, but he’s also fascinating. He has his own agenda, and he doesn’t necessarily see what he does as bad. He’s indifferent to human suffering most of the time; the rest of the time it simply amuses him. Most evil people don’t realise they’re evil. They don’t look in the mirror and think “Wow, I look really evil today.” They do whatever it is they do for their own reasons, and I made sure that the Pilgrim was the same. He isn’t just evil for evil’s sake.

Follow the LINK for the full interview.

 

Pick up a copy og Gary’s book from here. Pretty Little Dead Things

Conrad Williams talks horror, sparkly vampires and childhood fears of the dark.

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Occasionally my work with Starburst magazine allows me the opportunity to interview famous authors. I caught up with Conrad Williams at last year’s fantasycon, nice chap by the way, and he agreed to an interview.

Below is a small excerpt.

Starburst: If we could start with a little something about your early career: where you come from, school, influences, and as a child what scared you?

Conrad Williams: I was born in Warrington in 1969. From a pretty early age I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was lucky in that every English teacher I had supported and encouraged my ambition. It’s not enough, though, to have people on your side. You have to do some grunt work too. I wrote a lot of short stories and pestered people to read them. I remember getting in touch with Ray Bradbury, an early influence, and being a complete fanboy. But he was incredibly nice, sent me a note and a signed photo (which I have framed in my room) and picked out one of my stories for praise. It’s little pats on the back like that over the years that give you help to carry on. Early influences also included the double bill of horror films on a Friday night (BBC2, I think), where they would show one old black and white film (one that stayed with me was Night of the Demon) followed by a lurid colour. I remember how I felt watching these, being moved in different ways within the space of three hours: discomfort and dread followed by deep horror – the colour films that bothered me most (in the best possible way) were the two Dr Phibes movies, Theatre of Blood and The Ghoul. The level of acting in these films often goes unmentioned, but there is some top talent here. The Price films are pretty camp and filled with black humour, but The Ghoul is played with a straight bat. It was an effort to get myself up the stairs in the dark to bed afterwards. I was deeply unnerved by the dark when I was little, probably all the way up to 11 or 12, I would ask for a light to be left on. I definitely felt smothered by the dark; there was a physical weight to it, I thought. I believed I could feel it press in around me.

For the full interview with Starburst, follow the link and enjoy: http://www.starburstmagazine.com/features/feature-articles/1342-interview-with-conrad-williams

Waiting on the Road to Palladium

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I don’t want to be out here after dark. Hell, I don’t want to be outside anywhere after dark. No one does unless their plain crazy or bug-eyed stupid. It’s the way of life since anyone can remember. For some it’s too much. They walk from the Compound when the sun is highest and there’s barely a shadow upon the ground. They don’t return. Sure, you’d see them three nights later at the wall, calling for their loved ones, but it’s not really them.

Not anymore.

It was the same for Mikhail. My brother hated being caged. He used to dream about flying. Said he’d spread his arms like wings and launch across the dunes. And I would ask, ‘What type of wings?”

His yellow teeth glittered in the bright daylight. “What type would you like, little sister?” 

“I like the wings of a swan the best.”

“Swans it is.”

Then I would always say, “What’s on the other side of the dunes?”

To which his voice became little more than a whisper. ‘Palladium’.  

It made me cry.

In the distance, I can hear the dull rumble of an engine. If I close my eyes, I see Mikhail as he was on that last day: pale, thin, scalp dry and flaky, hands shaking as he lifts a cup to bloodless lips. The memories return unbidden and I’m powerless to resist, swept in their pull, a hapless passenger adrift on the ramblings of my mind.

Zero Hour. The bell chimes. It’s safe. The sun is a watchful eye, no escape, no shadows.  We hurry to Mum’s marker (no graves, anymore) and lay flowers – made from tin foil and coloured plastic.

In the brilliant sunlight, Mikhail blinks and says he wants to die.

“It won’t be an end if I walk past Dead Man’s Trail.” Mikhail leans in close as he speaks; his breath coming in ragged gulps.  “I saw a maple tree there once, split near clean in half by lightning. I could stand in its shadow. I wouldn’t have to wait long before they came. Then I’d be safe.”

“You’d be dead.”

He crouches by  the marker, no longer trying to hide his discomfort.  With a vague smile, he traces the inscription in the weathered stone with a long distended finger. “I can’t end up like Mum. She gave up on us. I won’t choose that fate.” He stands with difficulty. “If you’re honest, you don’t want that either.”

“Don’t leave me, Mikhail. You’re all I have left.” I hate the desperate whine to my voice.

“If I stay, it won’t be for long. There’s nothing they can do. I’m fucking riddled with it. Don’t deny me the dignity of choice.” He pauses and stares out across the dunes; a wind whips sand across the plains and for a moment I think I hear laughter. “There’ll come a time when you’ll need this as well.”

“Never.” I clench my hands into fists, until my knuckles whiten and my nails draw blood. “What will I do; where will I go?”

“You’ll find a way through.”

“You’re giving up on me, just like Mum.”

“It’s going to happen anyway.”

“You’re being a selfish bastard. Don’t do this, Mikhail. Please, please don’t do this.”

“We’ll see each other again. One day. Perhaps, one day soon.”

In the end, I have no choice but to kiss him upon the cheek and let him go. Mikhail strolls out to the dunes without a backwards glance and disappears into the shadows.

I am alone.

Three nights later, the border patrol whisper that Mikhail was seen digging in the pits of Harmony Hill. My brother has got his wish.  Does the thing that wears Mikhail’s face understand that? Do the memories of the man remain, or is he a savage beast: immortal, immoral and uncaring.

 I can hear the bus’s engine, feel the vibration through the soft earth. The number 46 glows pink neon in the half–light. Up close, I see its dented steel plating, the barrels of guns though the roof, the faded cross of Christ painted upon its side. Red stains that might be blood mar its surface. It rolls to a stop, its engine a deep murmur and the doors creak open. A priest in armour regards me, his face lost behind a plastic visor.

He hawks a mouthful of spit into the dust. “A new life waits. You’ll work the caverns, it won’t be easy, but if you survive, you’ll be rewarded. Life isn’t the same beyond the Compound walls. Out there, in the caverns, you have to earn your keep. If you know what I mean?”

I shuffle past, peering at my fellow passengers: men mostly, young boys desperate to get away or old men escaping the inevitable. They seem alone, lost in their troubles.

“Are they all like that?”

He grunts as if he’s heard it all before. “Sweetheart, they’re breathing,  isn’t that enough?”

Upon the horizon, the sun is now a small slice of brilliant orange.

My mouth has turned dry; it’s difficult to swallow. Ice needles my back and when I speak my voice doesn’t sound like my own. “I heard they dig on Harmony Hill. Together in groups. That they talk and it isn’t all bad.”

The priest sighs, he fondles the hilt of his wooden knife. “Nothing living on that hill. Or rather, nothing that has a right to life. You’d best forget it.” He jabs a thumb over his shoulder. “Take a seat, there’s a long way to go. It’s near dark and we can expect trouble before it’s over.”

I hesitate and catch the glance of a passenger, a young boy, surely, no older than me. His eyes are pools of unfettered horror, his face a dark smudge. I wonder what he’s running from: is it the same as me?  Would I always be running?

Outside, across the dunes, laughter floats in the evening air.

The priest cringes. “Come on in, if you’re coming.”

My stomach churns, sweat beads my palms, my hands. This is no life for me. No life at all.

” I’ve . . . I’ve changed my mind.” I stumble away from the bus. “Go on without me.”

“You’ll never make the Compound wall before nightfall. They’ll find you,” the priest explains with a weary tone, as if he’s said the same thing a hundred times before.

“I know.”

“Go then, you’re no good to anyone.” The doors slam shut and the bus rolls away into the dark.

For what feels like the longest time, I watch the last stab of day vanish from the sky and night settles upon the land like a funeral shroud.

It’s their time now.

Will I find Mikhail on Harmony Hill or will they’ find me? Perhaps, I’ll serve another purpose. A breeze stirs the sand and I hear laughter, high pitched and child like. But far, far closer than before.

God help me, they’re coming.

In the end, I don’t have to wait long. Mikhail stands by my side, his cold hands in mine, a thousand stars shine behind his eyes and I feel as if I’m drowning in blood.

 I am no longer alone . . .

http://themiskatonicarchive.com/lovecraftian/steampunk/exhibits/eliza-gauger/

 

 

Conrad Williams talks horror, sparkly vampires and childhood fears of the dark.

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Occasionally my work with Starburst magazine allows me the opportunity to interview famous authors. I caught up with Conrad Williams at last year’s fantasycon, nice chap by the way, and he agreed to an interview.

Below is a small excerpt.

Starburst: If we could start with a little something about your early career: where you come from, school, influences, and as a child what scared you?

Conrad Williams: I was born in Warrington in 1969. From a pretty early age I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was lucky in that every English teacher I had supported and encouraged my ambition. It’s not enough, though, to have people on your side. You have to do some grunt work too. I wrote a lot of short stories and pestered people to read them. I remember getting in touch with Ray Bradbury, an early influence, and being a complete fanboy. But he was incredibly nice, sent me a note and a signed photo (which I have framed in my room) and picked out one of my stories for praise. It’s little pats on the back like that over the years that give you help to carry on. Early influences also included the double bill of horror films on a Friday night (BBC2, I think), where they would show one old black and white film (one that stayed with me was Night of the Demon) followed by a lurid colour. I remember how I felt watching these, being moved in different ways within the space of three hours: discomfort and dread followed by deep horror – the colour films that bothered me most (in the best possible way) were the two Dr Phibes movies, Theatre of Blood and The Ghoul. The level of acting in these films often goes unmentioned, but there is some top talent here. The Price films are pretty camp and filled with black humour, but The Ghoul is played with a straight bat. It was an effort to get myself up the stairs in the dark to bed afterwards. I was deeply unnerved by the dark when I was little, probably all the way up to 11 or 12, I would ask for a light to be left on. I definitely felt smothered by the dark; there was a physical weight to it, I thought. I believed I could feel it press in around me.

For the full interview with Starburst, follow the link and enjoy: http://www.starburstmagazine.com/features/feature-articles/1342-interview-with-conrad-williams

Four Non-Rules of Writing

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Four Non-Rules of Writing

It would be, I feel, hyper hypercritical and a little conceited if I were to offer any advice towards writing. I’m a short story writer. Made my pro sales, got the badge to prove it. All that type of stuff. But I certainly don’t qualify to give advice. What I can do however is point out a couple of ‘rules I’ve noticed along the way.

Rule one of writing: There are no rules, or is it don’t talk about writing?

Just over two years ago, I decided to start writing with a view to publish. Before that I’d messed around, written a little here or there, but made no attempt to better myself as a writer or do any of the half-dozen things we’re told that writers should do. Anyway, I took the plunge joined a writing group and realised exactly where I stood in terms of quality and skill. In short: it’s a big pond and I’m a little fish.  It didn’t stop me though. And I largely suspected that nothing could – short of blindness and my hands being cut off.

I love telling stories, love it, regardless of how crap they may be.

Now the great thing about joining a writing group is that sooner or later you’ll receive an honest critique of your work and unless you’re the next Shakespeare – you’re not, you know – the glaring mistakes will be pointed out. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to be honest. But toughen up, if you want to be published.

So taking a deep breath, I listened to what people had to say, and I mean really listened, and continued to write. Not long after, I realised that all advice was contradictory at best and damaging at worse. Use adverbs: don’t use adverbs. Remove all instances of ‘was’: leave ‘was’ in. Do as I say, not as I do. Ugh. I ended up taking what worked for me and binning the rest. My stories got better, and the sales started to come in. Last year, I set my goal for three pro sales and made it with change. Not bad for a newbie. I also got the gig working for Starburst interviewing famous folk and reviewing books – which is the best job ever. Fact.

So what else did I learn?

Rule two of writing: The publishing world isn’t fair.

Just like life isn’t fair.  Which sounds like me whining. I’m not. No, really . . . well, just a little. In this game, the end product is all that really counts. If you’ve got great work that has win all over it, you’ll go far. If you haven’t, then back to the drawing board. That said, I’ve known plenty of great writers who still struggle to make a sale. Their time will come. I’m sure. Just not yet. The thing of it is, yes, you might have an awesome manuscript or a clever short story that will knock the reader’s socks off, but so does the next guy and the guy after that. Which I guess takes us back to the toughen up comment.  Grow a thick skin.

Rule three: Writing is subjective.

Some people will love your work. Others will hate it. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Only really worry if everyone hates it. Corps Cadavres sold to pseudopod – thanks guys – they believed in that story enough to turn it into an awesome podcast. But when handed to the forums, it’s fair to say the response was divided. What’s that old adage: you can’t please all the people all the time. Well, in writing that’s definitely true.

Rule four: Read like it’s going out of fashion.

The theory being that the more you read, the better you’ll become. Is it true? You know, I think it is. I currently spend hours reading a day. When I can, wherever I can. I like it, makes me feel good. You should do the same.

oh, so dead eyes

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oh, so dead eyes.

Johann waits in the shadows and watches the killer pass. His heart claws at his chest. His breath comes in small, ragged gulps. His palms are slick with iced sweat, and he blinks furiously, desperate to see every minutia of the man with the red blade, the hot gun, and the, oh, so dead eyes.

He secretes himself into the bombed-out house, presses into the darkest corner, the blackest patch. A wardrobe missing one door, upended and hinge broken like an impromptu coffin becomes his hiding place. He scuttles in like a malformed crab, squeezes into a space so impossibly small, confined, and narrow that the man would pass it by. Pass him by. It is a nowhere space. An inconsequential space. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

Please.

“Coming for you, Franz.” A voice in the hall, all-American. The drawl and tone means a New Yorker. Johann immediately thinks of Liberty Island, the Empire State, Humphrey Bogart, and Ingrid Bergman. But these are clean, bright images, not associated with the killer in the house. Thoughts like a flock of murderous crows fill his mind with their dark wings. The Empire State becomes a fat leech upon the land. Lady Liberty transforms with gore-drenched sword, bloodied robes between her legs, the abortion that is America sliding out still-born and wet. Bogart rapes the children in the streets. Ingrid opens her legs wide and wishes all good cheer as they dive and tear and rip free her squirming, diseased maidenhood. God, help him. God, help America. This is its distorted youth. And they are coming for him.

“I can smell you, Kraut,” a voice teases, so small and frail, so young and lost. Barely the voice of a man. A child in soldier’s clothes.

A scream from the hall, or is it the lounge? Johann almost bolts, scrambling from his hole in a fit of energetic, death-driven fear. Almost. Not quite. The scream starts and stops him like a misfired engine. Long and drawn out. Too high and too long, the desperation, the resigned, abysmal wail of it grounding him to the wood of the wardrobe, to the earth beneath.

A voice deep, pleading the words, “Nein, nein.”

Karl’s voice, wasn’t it? Images of the big man with an easy smile, cigarette wedged in the gap between his teeth. Is that really him screaming and crying – no, weeping – in the house? It can’t be.

But it is.

It is!

 

Gunshot. Boom. Loud like thunder, in one room only. Flash of its artificial light reflected in the dark. The screams drop down an octave. Karl is taking singing lessons. A wet, gurgling sound: he’s clearing his throat ready for another round. More thunder. A series of cracks and whips, lightning leaps and sprays, jumps and twists, the shadows flee throughout the wardrobe.

Silence.

“We’re still coming for you, Kraut.”

It is not enough to hide in the darkness; he must become the darkness. He is the wood, the empty space, the smell of pine, mothballs and old clothes. He is the air, the emptiness, the nothingness that dwells between the spaces. No thought. No action. Nothing.

A door creaks open. Shuffling footsteps. The hot smell of iron.

“Gutted your pal like a fish on my pa’s boat. Whew, opened him up all good and proper. Seen a man’s insides spill out: hot, steamy shit I haven’t got a name for. Seen plenty of sausages, though. That something you can relate to, huh, Kraut. Whaddya say?”

Nothing. Silence. Become the dark.

The footsteps enter the room; a darker oily patch slips into view. A shadow stands by the shuttered window, breathing hard. A knife flashes vermillion, a gun still smoking. Can he feet its heat, even from here?

A figure. A boy: face scarred, eyes so dead, so black, without edge. Could lose yourself in those eyes, like the boy, fall for ever. Never stop.

Ever.

“Can smell you, Kraut.” Those dead eyes look to the wardrobe, to the space between. They look; they stare. The boy waits, fingers twitch, tap the trigger. Eyes of dark search the dark. The boy can see him: watching, waiting, playing a game of cat and mouse. Killer vs. prey. Well, Johann doesn’t want to play anymore. Give up this game of soldiers. The American won. Let him have it, take it all. He doesn’t care. Berlin, the fatherland, Hitler, the little bastard, have the FUCKING lot. Just not him. Not him.

Please, not him.

 

The boy stares. He considers. He smiles. Then the ground trembles. The very floor shifts, building slowly like an earthquake that can’t be bothered to come. It rises in volume, grows in intensity, until plaster falls from the roof, and the wardrobe bounces across the floor. The boy holds the wall, then turns to a window and prises the shutter apart. Slanted grey sunlight spills like an unwelcome visitor into the room. A tank rumbles past, its metal sheen reflected off the kid’s scarred face. Dead eyes watch it pass. His smile becomes a savage grin. Then the boy is gone like smoke in the wind, out into the corridor, whistling without tune, without remorse. His voice further and further away: receding down the hall into silence. The tank has passed, and the boy has gone, America’s dream flutters across his soul like a one-winged butterfly and dies.

Johann doesn’t move. Can’t move. He hides in the dark and watches the sliver of light fade to blue then drain completely to black. He waits a little longer, listens to the silence of the house, the dead town beyond, the wind that stirs the crabgrass, shifts the stunted trees, and flitters across the corpses of his countrymen.

A dog howls in the night, and Johann slithers from his hole as if born from it.  He lies upon his stomach, face pressed into the floor, breathing deep, greedy gulps of air. Never tasted so sweet. So good. So nice.

He gets to live a little while longer. When he laughs it is like the harsh cawing of crows.

Takes a moment to recognise the sound for what it is.

Madness.

Concerning Hobbits, The Indifference Engine, and a Quick Update

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Just to let you know that Pseudopod have given me the release date for the audio version of God Complex which will be available from their site in late March. Pretty cool. Also, if you’re a comic book fan and fancy something a little different to read this chrimbo then check out The Indifference Engine. An alternative take on alternative realities. My review at Starburst magazine spills the beans.

http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/comic-reviewscomics-a-graphic-novels/1624-comic-review-the-indifference-engine

And as an extra christmas treat, the Hobbit trailer is now out and looking sweet.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Tooth and Claw: an enhanced eBook concerning werewolves.

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Don't get on his bad side

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

Alfred Lord Tennyson

In Memoriam A. H. H.

1850

Tooth and Claw has finally arrived. Oh yes! The site having opened for business this very week. Tooth and Claw is a collaborative work of collected artists, writers, and musicians to produce an enhanced eBook about Werewolves.

Offering so much more than a simple book, Tooth and Claw is a dark and twisted look at the world of werewolves. Collecting several short stories by both established and up and coming authors, Tooth and Claw binds them into an unholy marriage to be downloaded at your mortal peril.

An original score by Brandon Rucker introduces the site alongside powerful, thought provoking art by the esteemed Jack Rogers.  The stories are beautifully crafted, darkly moving, and tense as the mood dictates. Plus they don’t shy away from the gore when called for.

As an extra bonus, Tooth and Claw boasts a short, untold story from Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor – currently ranking in the top 100 books of occult/horror in 2011. High Moor has received critical praise of late, and if you like the look of Tooth and Claw then check out High Moor for an truly excellent read.

Tooth and Claw is available over multiple platforms, stories can be downloaded individually or as part of the collective whole. Take a look at Werewolf Contingency Plans while there and Werewolves are Real, both are free and a damn good read.

http://liquid-imagination.com/toothandclaw/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/High-Moor-ebook/dp/B0068NOYM8

You won’t be disappointed.

Enjoy!

He did.