Sunday, November 16, 2014

"I'm David Court. Author. Dreamweaver. Visionary. Plus actor. You're about to enter the world of my imagination."

I have a new blog to keep the writing separate from the angry, swearing rants or essays on how I hate bosses in video-games. I'd love it if you'd take a look...

(Thanks to Simon Myers for the Garth Merenghi title quote)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Space no one can hear you shriek like a child

There have been precisely three occasions when I have been known to shriek whilst using a computer or video-game console.

Incident #1: It's the summer of 1987. A pale-faced teenage David Court squints at the lines of a computer program on an old portable colour television as a shaft of sunlight dares to penetrate this fortress of solitude from the gap between thick curtains.  He's approaching the end of a marathon nine hour programming session and decides he needs a cup of tea. In an incredible demonstration of dexterity he manages to get his foot caught in the power cable and manages to both crash into the closed bedroom door and switch the ZX Spectrum+2 off. A shriek is heard, and a valuable lesson is learned. He never programs without saving regularly ever again.

Incident #2: It's very late on a summer evening in 1998. A pale-faced and long-haired headphone wearing David Court squints at the post-apocalyptic Raccoon city on a new portable colour television as he plays Resident Evil 2 on his relatively new Playstation. All seems quiet – too quiet, in hindsight - as he picks up the ROOK PLUG from a small room inside the Raccoon City Police Department.  A licker suddenly bursts out through the one way mirror inside this room, a shriek is heard and the  heart rate of David returns to normal roughly six hours later. He never plays a Resident Evil game late at night ever again.

Incident #3: It's early one morning in the Autumn of 2014. David Court is sitting way too close to his 40" telly and playing Alien Isolation. Ripley has spent the past five minutes hiding inside a closet and the motion detector isn't returning any signal. The alien can't be heard – through either the familiar sound of it stomping around searching in frustration for prey, or the echoing metallic clanging of it wandering around in the vents.  Ripley throws open the closet doors and it's standing there in the doorway having waited patiently for her to emerge. David gives a shriek just as the alien is on him at the same instant as Tara is walking into the living room with a cup of tea. She sniggers.

So, after nearly thirty hours of gameplay I've just finished the new game Alien: Isolation (developed by the British software team Creative Assembly and distributed by Sega).  I'd say how it's one of the best uses of the Aliens license in an age but if you've ever been unfortunate enough to either play or watch somebody else play Aliens: Colonial Marines (and I use the term "play" loosely) then you'll know that’s not exactly difficult.

Set 15 years after the events of the first Alien film, you play Amanda (the daughter of Ellen Ripley).  Having never watched the movie Alien or having read the tie-in comic or the novel by Alan Dean Foster, she's trying to find out what happened to her mother on board the ill-fated Commercial Towing Vessel "The Nostromo". She hears that the flight recorder of that self-same vessel has been located and is being held at a remote free port space station ("Sevastopol"), so Ripley Jnr. and her companions travel to the space station to find it damaged and communications dead and they space walk over to the station to investigate.

To say that there's an alien on board the space station is as much a spoiler warning as letting you know that the new Call of Duty game contains guns, killing and nine year old American children calling you a faggot. This game is even scarier than those nine year old children.

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of both Alien and Aliens.  Alien³ and Alien: Resurrection not so much, but at least Alien: Resurrection made Alien³ seem brilliant by comparison (Much as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom suddenly stopped being the worst in the series when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released).

It's clear that the game was made by fans. It oozes atmosphere and everything about it feels spot on – from the worn-out and lived-in environments to the technology that looks modern but still has a definite seventies vibe.  Big clunky CRT monitors show green-screen displays, tape reels whirr on their spools and everything bleeps and flashes lights to remind you that it's still on.  Even the loading icon is a tape cassette.

The Sevastopol is a huge space station with three main towers and you'll often find yourself retracing your steps as newly discovered equipment opens avenues previously closed to you. You'll scavenge for equipment to construct makeshift pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, noisemakers and medical kits and your movement through the station will be slow and terror-filled because of that bloody Alien.

Alien: Isolation is an outstanding "hiding in cupboards and hiding under tables" simulator. You'll become very familiar with certain walls of the space station as you stare at them from behind the narrow slots in a locker door as that hiss is heard.

This game has made the Alien scary again after ColonialMarines turned the acid-bleeding razor fanged and clawed xenomorphs into nothing but cannon fodder. It's smart and if it spots you you're dead. You can't outrun it and you can't hope to fight it – all you can do is avoid or distract it.  I've never known a game quite as terrifying – the sound design is exemplary and you're forever straining to listen for the tell-tale signs of its movements - either the creatures heavy feet stomping across the floor of the complex or the sound of a vent opening or the familiar hiss as it desperately searches for you.

The Alien isn't the only threat on the station – huddles of survivors and  SPOILER  will confront you as you make your way around the claustrophobic environments of the station. 

If I have any issues with it - and this a tiny gripe - it's that it drags on a little too long. This may feel like an odd complaint from somebody who regularly moans about the brevity of single player campaigns in games, but the endgame goes on for ages and also features my arch-nemesis of a quicktime event to conclude everything - but at least that's still infinitely better than a boss fight, eh?

So, Alien: Isolation. Buy it, play it, be as shit scared as I've been. It's a survival horror game done right.

Final report of the remote free space port Sevastopol, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew are dead. I should reach the corridor in about six weeks once I've summoned up the courage to come out of this locker.   This is Court, signing off.

Hang on, it looks relatively safe. I'm coming out n-

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Final Plug

My new collection of short stories "Forever and ever, Armageddon" is now available from Amazon in both physical and kindle versions (which will work on any kindle or the free kindle app available for most kinds of Smartphone and tablet).  It contains 24 stories (three added just before the deadline) with themes ranging from satire to horror and science fiction and I'd love it if you'd give it a read.  I'd love to know what you think.  If you liked "The Shadow Cast by the World", and a few of you seemed to, it's more of the same - although I think my writing has improved considerably as a result of finishing the novel and honing my craft, as it were.

On a personal note, I'm really pleased with "Forever..". The physical copy looks great and it's nice to have something that looks more like a book (with writing on the spine and everything) than the essentially very thick pamphlet that was "The Shadow Cast by the World".

The short story below, ThriceSlain, is one that just missed the deadline for publication as there simply came a time when I had to stop work on it.. Now I know how George Lucas feels when he can't help but keep tinkering with Star Wars.


The door flew open and Prince Braxis fell into the room and collapsed against the wall, clearly exhausted and in some distress.

"Wizard-" he spluttered, a tired trembling finger pointing at High Magus Winslow.

"Get your breath back first, boy" the Mage interrupted. He looked at the door to his chamber which had been pierced by a volley of a dozen or so arrows. Winslow shook his head mournfully and sighed – it had only been varnished a few days before. With a gesture from the mages' hand, the door slammed shut.

"I can clearly see from the damage to my door that the enemy are at our gates. In your father's absence tradition dictates that you should be out there leading the charge to repel them, but instead here you are in my chambers. Why is that, exactly?"

The Prince looked up at the mage with an expression of both guilt and sorrow. He looked to the wizards feet, ashamed of himself.

"My father was a great fighter," he muttered, "whereas I am not. I'll be honest with you, sorcerer, in that I am
scared. In this, our cities darkest hour, I have need of your assistance. There are rumours of a magical arsenal in your chambers – weapons or armour with enchanted qualities that could help those such as I with.. less combat experience."

The Mage looked down at the terrified boy and smiled, patting him on the shoulder. He stepped towards a ornately carved wooden chest that sat in the corner of the room and flung the lid open. He reached down into it and with a glint in his eye, his hand re-emerged holding the grip of a mighty silver blade.

"On your feet, Prince" said the Wizard. The young man clambered up to his feet and stepped towards the wise old man.

"This is the fabled blade ThriceSlain" intoned the Mage, "a blade said to be forged from the very metal of the armour the War God wore in his final battle against the Obsidian Mass. It grants the wielder the bravery, strength and stamina of the fabled War God himself."

He handed it to the boy with the care and reverence one would pass the most fragile and valuable of porcelain. The Prince stared at the gleaming silver blade, its reflective surface inscribed with the most arcane and eldritch of forbidden runic symbols.

The mage stared the Prince in the eye and placed his hands on the boys shoulders.

"To war, my Prince."

A look of determination formed on the face of Prince Braxis. With gritted teeth he opened the door to the chambers and stepped outside into battle, the sword gripped tight.

The cold winds of the Northern wilds that would freeze the blood of a normal man meant nothing to Braxis as his hands grasped around the hilt of ThriceSlain. His assembled soldiers in the courtyard of the castle looked on in awe as this boy prince walked towards them with the bearing of a true warrior. Howling a powerful and terrifying battlecry Braxis held the sword aloft and ran towards the enemies at the gate, his soldiers following suit – all suitably inspired and bloodthirsty.

Winslow stepped out onto the battlements and watched as the Prince tore into the front ranks of the enemy. Severed heads bearing surprised faces arced through the air as ThriceSlain sliced and stabbed a bloody path through the overwhelming forces.

The Mage smiled as the triumphant shouts from Braxis and his men drowned out the screams of the dying. The full moon glinted off the perfect silver blade as the Prince stood his ground as the enemy captain – a beast of a man – strode defiantly towards him. Blade met blade and Winslow gasped in horror as ThriceSlain was knocked from the boy's grasp, spinning its way into a pile of bodies.

"My prince!" screamed Winslow from the top of the castle. "Use any sword! I lied to you! ThriceSlain has no magical properties at all – the power was within you all along!"

His heart racing, the Prince grabbed the hilt of another sword that lay at his feet. With a howl of defiance he leapt towards the surprised enemy captain who, with a single swing of his sword, sliced the Princes head clean off his shoulders.

The battlefield fell silent.

"Oh," said Winslow to nobody in particular. "That might have been a magic one after all then. Whoops."

Monday, September 29, 2014

What a difference 14 months makes

The following post is a guest submission from a good friend who wishes to remain anonymous and is a follow-up piece to a post they made last year. It's once again a raw and painful read - depression is a cruel, cruel thing but I'm again humbled that they've chosen this blog as a forum to post this.

What a difference 14 months makes??

I apologise for the headline, but for those of you who read my previous one and only blog entry on here, I thought you might have expected some progress on the road to recovery. You may as well be disappointed now. WARNING this does contain triggers. See, aren't I good to you?

For those of you who didn't have the pleasure of my company it was a tale of depression due to bereavement, stress due to workplace bullying and an afternoon session with one of the crappest craft knives I've ever bought.

If you have no time for heartfelt ramblings then you had probably better stop reading now and go surf some porn or something. I'm sure the FoldsFive normal blog service will resume in a few days. If you would care to indulge me however, at least for a few minutes, I'll try and bring you up to speed on my life.

As I left the tale last time I was heading off for a long weekend in Essen with some friends, indeed the previous blog was finished whilst on the train to a friends house in Birmingham. Essen was characterised by copious quantities of alcohol, and changing bandages twice daily to clear an infection in the wound. It was only thanks to a couple of very special people agreeing to keep an eye on me that my wife let me go.

Essen was fine, it was better than fine, it was a complete break from reality, it was what I needed, now however I'm back in the real world.

After Essen I took redundancy, I simply didn't feel capable of returning to my job and certainly didn't feel wanted, my career was over by this point anyway, too flaky, can't cope when the shit hits the fan.

The break was good initially, my head cleared, but one month became two and then two became six, six has become twelve. I must have applied for 100 jobs, got 2 interviews, one of which was even for the right job. JSA stopped, the redundancy package shrank and disappeared.

In a last roll of the dice I opted for self employment and turning my back on an IT career I looked at franchises and in the end opened a small shop. Master of my own destiny, not beholden to the bullshit of others.

Except it's not that simple is it? It never is, in the crappy world we live in you don't get to ride off into the sunset. I don't get to live happily ever after. I know I'm not coping, stress triggers raise their head daily and it's as though nothing has changed. I had a delivery the other day of a pdq terminal, except it was bigger than I expected when it arrived and that reduced me to tears. I physically couldn't finish unpacking it to install it.

I know I should make an effort to seek help and I am, but how do you keep it quiet when your partner is in the process of losing a parent? Someone has to be strong, and for most of the time I can wear that mask, at least in public. In private however it's a different story, a far different story. It's a part of my psyche, to try and fight peoples battles for them, to give everything, to die for a cause somewhere.

For most of the last week I've been staring at my old friend the knife. After the first time of trying this the sense of fear is greatly diminished, I know from last time how not to make the same mistakes, cut across rather than up the vein, there won't be any calls to hear a friendly voice. Besides its a shitty selfish thing to do, to expect someone to listen to you while you die. I just wish someone would take this black dog for a long walk and never bring it back. I want someone to make it all better, to give me a hug and make all the bad go away, to take away this emptiness.

As a trained scientist, and I have the bit of paper to prove it, I've been looking for studies that indicate recovery from severe unipolar depression is possible, the best conclusion I can draw is that it is like cancer and the best you can ever really hope for is remission, for many that will be good enough, for those of us who don't make it that far it's just a pipe dream. To be better, to be well, to be "normal".

Maybe it's simply that I've forgotten what it feels like to be well. In the last 14 months I've had two people I'd like to call good friends attempt to take their own lives, and when, like me, you ideate suicide most of your waking day, that's a hard thing to deal with. You feel cheated that you weren't asked to join in. You really do. The bastards, I never get invited to parties. Not their fault, its my problem not theirs, it's not something you normally do in this situation, it's not the socially polite thing to do, "hey I'm going to top myself, do you want in?"

The more I write this the more unsure I become what my purpose is in writing it, but then again my life has lacked purpose and self esteem for so long now that doesn't surprise me.

I guess, without trying to sound to depressing, that recovery from depression is much harder than I thought, and maybe for some it is too hard. Currently I'm spiralling out of control and sinking, taking on more risky activities in an effort to self destruct, to destroy the few remaining bits of good left in my life. Even though I recognise this I keep getting drawn like a moth to a candle, I know they are wrong, but I just can't break this cycle right now. In a typical fashion the depression is making me isolate myself, no more facebook, friends lists severely limited, blocking people on my phone, if I can cut myself off from the world I no longer have to act. It's a basic defense mechanism, and certainly in the beginning it works.

I'm weighing my options and honestly I'm undecided. SSRIs when and if I get them will take about 4 weeks to start kick in, if I can make it that far there's a better than 50/ 50 chance I'll see Christmas. I have no intention of seeing a crisis team this time though, there are more worthy people out there than I who need their help. Besides I know the stats, I will have a far higher probability of ending my life if committed against my will, and I dont want to be responsible for hurting others to make sure that detention doesnt happen. If you have never been to a secure unit they are scary places. But thanks to health and safety they still have overrides for the electronic door locks, you just need to know what you are looking for.

My biggest remaining decision then would be to either go out in a blaze of glory or simply slip away. Both have their pros and cons. A jump is easy, so is suicide by cop, god knows that is simple enough to achieve, a wonder down the high street with one of the replica props could make that happen in minutes. But they involve others, to either pull the trigger or to clean up afterwards. And that simply isn't fair, but fairness may not be an issue. An exit bag at least is clean and less stressful for those dealing with the aftermath. Don't get me wrong, there are calm moments, they are just getting fewer and harder to hold on to.

A very few very special people have offered to be there for me to talk if I need it. And that's sweet, it really is, but I dont want to share my pain and drag others down, especially those who have their own struggle. Believe me when I say I'm not trying to reject you, I'm trying to save you from me, from this empiness that rages inside me.

If I can't make it through those weeks and things procede to what is for me, their natural conclusion then please remember that it's my decision and I'm comfortable with it. I've always been comfortable with it. I've said all along that it will be an inevitability for me, a when, not an if. Don't fight it for me, don't fight me, just wish me the peace, the escape, which I so desperately crave right now.

If I ever bought a smile to your face, made you laugh or brightened your day, remember me that way, I don't want to be remembered like this. Sometimes you just have to be a freebird.

If you suffer, or are the partner of someone who does, just know that it is hard, so very hard. We don't mean to hurt but we do, to me right now I seem to be able to do nothing but hurt people. No prospects, no future, no point. And it's never about a lack of love, if anything it's always about too much....

So this isn't my suicide note, but it is me, my life, my mind, me. My friends deserve to know this much, I love them all. Read this or don't, it's all the same to me. If you comment then please be kind, share if you wish, but don't laugh, I really couldn't cope with that right now.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Forever and Ever, Armageddon

Apologies, but it's been a while.  I've been busy beavering away on finishing off the second draft of Version Control which I'm still ambitiously hoping to have released before the end of this year. I've had another one of my short stories ("Undercurrent") published in a new Horror anthology called "Terror At The Beach" - I'm sharing the space between front and back covers with some other terribly good writers and it's available by clicking the linky here.

On an ever-so-slightly smug note, I think Undercurrent (along with "The Everywhere Song" in the new book) are the best shorts I've ever written.  A little longer than the usual stuff I write - other than the 111k word novel, obviously - and all the better for it.

I've also been putting the finishing touches to the unofficial follow-up to "The Shadow Cast By The World" which I've called "Forever and Ever, Armageddon".  It's another collection of short stories - 21 of them this time spread over about 100 or so pages - which are a selection of some of the tales I've posted on ReadWave but are mostly brand new material.  The titles of the stories are as follows;

  1. Lucky Penny
  2. Once a pun a time
  3. Komraid
  4. Good Dog
  5. For Ever and Ever, Armageddon
  6. You v2.0
  7. The Bogey Man
  8. A Change of tactics
  9. Red Tide
  10. Keeping up with the Joneses
  11. A Sick Sense of Tumour
  12. BattleSuit
  13. Qil
  14. Undercurrent (as previously printed in "Terror At The Beach")
  15. A Certain level of understanding
  16. Adlib to fade
  17. Tipping the scales
  18. Double Dare
  19. Three Divided by one
  20. The Muse at Ten
  21. The Everywhere Song
 I also have to thank you for your kind words - in lieu of any decent blurb on the back cover of the new book - out October 6th - I've done that self-congratulatory thing of having a "Praise for Shadow Cast By The World" and have chosen some choice paragraphs from the nice things you've been sticking in the Amazon reviews.

So, catch up with you soon with some normal bloggery. Hope life is treating you well!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Proofreader of the Dead

This blog post was going to be all about how I've finished the first draft of "Version Control" in which I've moved on from the "Fucking hell - how many words? I was aiming for eighty thousand" stage to the "benevolent time traveller" one in which I'm revisiting stuff and foreshadowing stuff I should have done properly first time round - as well as removing some particularly clunky dialogue and tricks and techniques that make parts of it read like a pompous comic from the mid eighties.

But then something came along earlier today - something wonderful. (Our definitions of "wonderful" may vary, just to set your expectations).

I was in our local library this morning for some peace and quiet doing some editing and writing some new stuff as well when I popped outside to grab something to eat and a quick drink.  I popped into the British Heart Foundation (next door to Greggs) first to have a look through the books and films and the following book caught my eye,

I'd seen it before in our local Waterstones and for the princely sum of two quid it seemed like a bargain.  However, upon skimming through it on the way home I noticed that a great chunk (the first bit) of it had annotations.  Now, whether these annotations are from the frenzied sharpie of a frustrated proof-reader, a retired English teacher who simply can't let the job go or from a dangerous psychotic I have no idea.  But I've photographed and printed them all out below for your dubious pleasures.

To make this whole process slightly less formal, I'm going to imagine our fictional annotator is a retired headmaster called Colin Dunstable. He wouldn't ordinarily consider reading novelised versions of horror movies from the eighties but he didn't have the right glasses on in the charity shop and thought it was something about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which he saw a documentary about on the Discovery channel.

Take it away, Colin Dunstable...

Well done, George and Susanna Sparrow.  We're off to a flying start.

It's all looking very promising.  That IS a good way of introducing a characters life, Colin Dunstable.

Oh, and it was going so well.  Susanna and George are switching bloody viewpoints now,
and it's confusing Colin. He doesn't like using exclamation marks
because the determination and symmetry of them
upsets him.  Now look what you've made him go and do.

"Bother" said Colin Dunstable. "If you can't be bothered doing it right,
 I'll correct it for you. Nice character insight though."

The first appearance of "AVOID!".  Colin is very insistent on this.

NPC is a non plot character - have you got that?  Colin isn't going to use the acronym again but he'd like to make that clear.

HORRIBLY passive.


Is Fran a generous person?  I do hope we find out later on in the novelisation.



It's all going right to pot.  Colins not happy.  He's had to take one of his blood pressure tablets.  The blue ones.

A brief glimpse of hope.  An excellent character arc. At last.  Or it could be that Colin
is just a mini bit racist.


You can fuck off with your jargon or colloquialisms on Colins watch, sunshine.  It's radio or nowt.

I'm feeling sympathetic already.


Don't try to articulate  affricate consonants on Colins watch without
using the word sibilant, sunshine.

I think we're all in agreement there, Colin.

I agree, Col.

You tell 'em, Col.  "Horses".  The fucking idiots.

Bloody hell!  You're not even using jargon now!

You fucking tell 'em, Col.

Remember what I said earlier about jargon?  Colin is on to your little game, fucker.

And that is sadly it.  With that capitalised "TERRIBLE" on page 82 out of a total 302, Colin could take no more.  Either he quit in disgust or the book was no longer blotting out the voices in his head and went out to kill again.

Thanks for the entertainment, Colin.  I hope you one day find a book that you like so much you don't feel the need to annotate it.