So sad to hear of the passing of Joe McKinney. Joe was one of the first fellow zombie authors I got to know well, though I hadn’t spoken to him for a number of years. Way back when I was starting out (when the zombie sub-genre was first starting to become established, actually) Joe’s books were everywhere, and rightly so. DEAD CITY, FLESH EATERS and his other novels were hugely popular. Our paths crossed quite a few times, and I was honoured to write the foreword to DEAD WORLD RESURRECTION – an outstanding collection of his zombie short stories.
Rest in peace, Joe. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
The title of this post is part of a line from an old PETER GABRIEL song, and the fact I’m thinking of it as an old song just highlights the point I wanted to make. The song’s called ‘Downside Up’, if you’re interested, and the full line is “The only constant I am sure of, is this accelerating rate of change”. It was released over 20 years ago, but it doesn’t seem 5 minutes. All of a sudden, time seems to have sped up rapidly in my little corner of the world.
I’m telling you this for writing-related reasons, so bear with me.
A couple of weeks ago was the one year anniversary of my heart attack. Last November I turned 50. In March I became a grandfather for the first time. Now, I don’t feel any older or any different than I did at the beginning of 2020, but clearly time is marching on!
Long story short, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reassessing; working out what I want from life for me and my family, and what I’m hoping to achieve. The first step happens this week, when I return to full-time writing for the first time since 2014. Those of you who’ve been following me for a while might remember that I had a bit of a ‘falling out’ with writing back in 2014 and I got myself a real job because I was in desperate need of a) human contact, and b) a reality check. I happened to find a job that I really enjoyed and that was suited to my skills, and in what felt like the blinking of an eye, the 12 months I’d planned to spend in employment somehow became 6 and a half years. I continued to write throughout, but the time I had to promote and talk about my work dried up. I love what I write, and I’m very proud of the body of work I’ve so far produced, but I regret not being able to make more of a noise about it recently.
That all changes with AUTUMN: DAWN. The book is going to be released on 31 May 2021 as a paperback, ebook and limited edition hardcover. Limited edition pre-orders will be opening within the next week, and ANYONE WHO PRE-ORDERS THE HARDCOVER WILL BE ABLE TO DOWNLOAD AND READ THE EBOOK VERSION OF THE NOVEL STRAIGHT AWAY!
Seriously, I can’t wait for you to be able to dive into the new trilogy. I’m planning on doing a Facebook Live thingy (or similar) shortly before release so that I can answer your questions about the new books.
Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any news. There’s a LOT of stuff on the way.
Some sad news to share. STEFAN CUSH from THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG died suddenly last week from a heart attack. He was 60. As many of you may remember, TMTCH made a memorable appearance in the first HATER novel. While I was writing the book back in 2006, I was in touch with Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers from the band who’d enjoyed the AUTUMN books. We got chatting and he made an off-hand comment about adding him as a character in a future book. I’d just written the scene in HATER where Danny and Lizzie are at a rock concert and all hell breaks loose when one of the band members starts attacking the others, mid-set. Cut a long story short – the band in the book became TMTCH, and it was Swill who did the attacking, but the rest of the lads were very accommodating and they all made an appearance. I was lucky enough to see the band a few years later, and they were magnificent.
There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about how lucky I am to still be alive after my heart attack last April. Since my illness, I’ve been in contact with many people who’ve either had a heart attack themselves or who’ve lost loved ones. Very sadly, a member of my family passed away unexpectedly last weekend after suffering a massive heart attack. Without wishing to preach, I’d urge everyone to be aware of their own heart health. I know that health services around the world are under unprecedented strain right now, but please do seek advice if you have any concerns. If I’d not received such brilliant treatment from the NHS last April, I doubt I’d be here today.
When the lockdown began, I promised visitors to this site more regular updates. Things started well, and I gave away a load of audiobooks and ebooks and recommended a decent short film. And then it all came to an abrupt halt. I wanted to write a brief post to explain my sudden absence, and to thank the people who’ve helped me through it.
Two weeks ago today, I had a heart attack.
It came out of the blue. My dad suffered years of heart-related problems at the end of his life, and I was determined my life would take a different route. I did everything I should – I sorted out my diet to reduce my cholesterol and lost weight, I exercised several times a week, I took steps to sort out my high blood pressure… At 8:00am on Tuesday 14 April, I can honestly say I felt in better shape than I ever had. Ten minutes later, though, it was a very different story.
I’ll cut to the chase. My family are incredible, and our NHS is second-to-none. Within an hour or so of suffering the attack, I was in hospital and undergoing treatment. Within three hours I was sitting up in bed in the coronary care unit of the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, feeling well enough to be able to send my wife and kids the picture below.
I’m doing well now, all things considered. Because of the quick response time, there’s barely any damage to my heart, and I’m hopeful that within a few months I’ll be back to normal (whatever normal is these days). But there’s no question that this has been a life-changing experience. I was very fortunate, but when something like this happens, it’s easy to think ‘what if…?’. Things could have been very, very different. The outcome could have been much, much, much worse.
So I just wanted to let you know I’m still around and I’ll be back at work soon. The real purpose of this post, however, is to publicly thank some folks. Firstly, to my wonderful wife Lisa and my amazing kids. I’m a very lucky man. I put you all through hell that morning, and I’m sorry. Thank you from the bottom of my (now improved) heart for your love and support. I pride myself on usually being able to string a few words together, but I could never express how much I love you all. Also, to my extended family and friends – I will never forget the outpouring of emotion and the deluge of good wishes I’ve had from so many folks. It’s enough to bring a tear to this grumpy old bugger’s eye. Actually, who the hell am I kidding? I’ve been reduced to tears on many occasions since my ‘mishap’ (as my youngest daughter Zoe has labelled it).
I also want to pay tribute to everyone at the QE hospital, and to the NHS as a whole. I received incredible care, delivered at astonishing speed. In normal circumstances that would be remarkable enough, but I had a heart attack at the peak of the most serious and wide-reaching health crisis in living memory. I am simply in awe of the NHS and will be forever grateful for the treatment I received.
So there you go. It’s been a tricky couple of weeks. If my 2020 was a novel, no one would publish it because it would be too far-fetched! In all seriousness, though, wherever you are, please give your loved ones a hug and also show your appreciation for the many thousands of healthcare workers keeping us all safe and well at this unprecedented time.
All my recent talk of book launches and anniversaries has left me thinking about what I’ve achieved as a writer and what I still want to achieve. If I think of my career in terms of how a farmer manages their fields, then I’d say I’m currently in a fallow period after a couple of pretty decent harvests. I caught the crest of two waves originally when I a) started publishing independently before most others, and b) wrote about zombies just as the living dead became massively popular. And then, a few years later, I enjoyed another prolonged purple patch when Guillermo del Toro somehow stumbled on a copy of HATER and, for a time, everyone wanted a bit of me.
For those of us who just happen to love writing and who hate self-publicising with a passion, being an author is not the easiest of career choices. You keep doing it because you can’t stop, and with every page you write you convince yourself that this could be the next big thing, even though you know that competition to actually be the next big thing is impossibly fierce. And then when you’ve finished writing and you hand your work to someone else to read, all the confidence you’ve built up evaporates and turns to crippling self-doubt. Well it does for me, anyway.
A frustrating amount of this is completely out of the writer’s control. You don’t control the market, you have no influence on current trends, you can do little to make sure yours is the right book seen in the right place at the right time… and yet, we keep at it. Sometimes even the very thing you’re trying to write can conspire against you.
I am working hard to become a bona fide creature of horror. The picture below, ladies and gentleman, is a genuine attempt at a smile. I have developed Bell’s Palsy, and half of my face is currently paralysed. Like a half-hearted version of Two-Face from Batman, I can currently only raise one eyebrow and smile with half my mouth, but I can fix you with a hell of a withering stare from my (genuinely) unblinking left eye. I look an absolute bloody fright. Perfect horror movie fodder.
I’m currently in the middle of writing and planning and editing so haven’t had much to post about for a couple of weeks. I thought I’d take a moment to a). remind you all I’m still alive, and b). give you opportunity to laugh at my (hopefully temporarily) distorted mush. If the books dry up, I could always run away and join a freak show.
Many of you will know Tim, and many more will have read his books. He’s going through an extremely tough patch at the moment. I’ll let his girlfriend Katie explain: “On Wednesday, Tim woke up with what he thought was a sour stomach from drinking bad wine while watching the election or possibly a late con crud. By 3 pm, I was rushing him to the hospital after he passed out at home from what looked like to me as a massive GI bleed in process. He almost passed out in triage and was immediately rushed back to the ER. He appeared stable for several hours, but then had a bleed out in which he lost 1/3 of his total body fluid volume. He was literally one minute away from a full code. He’s been in critical care since then.
However, he does not have a typical GI bleed like an ulcer in his stomach. He has a tumor that has developed an ulcer and will not stop bleeding even after two attempts to cauterize it via EGD. It was decided last night that even though he is very anemic that he will not be able to continue to lose so much blood and that there is potential for the tumor to bleed further. He is very weak and tired. It appears that it might have been bleeding for a couple weeks but not enough that he noticed. He has been complaining about being tired but he is always working super hard on something so we both dismissed it.
He’s had 5 units of blood, roughly 16 liters of fluid. and a lot of protonix.
I am writing this with Tim’s permission. Even though I’ve wanted to scream and cry to everyone that there was a problem, we decided not to release any information until today. He is currently in surgery to have a resection of his bowel and I hope to see him in about 3 hours. Everything looks good except for the fact he is so anemic.
Don’t get me wrong, Tim is very sick. He does not want visitors for local folks right now. Also, he is too weak to be on his phone or his computer. It would be really awesome if people left messages of support on his wall for him to see when he is stronger on Sunday or Monday.
Tim served in the navy as an engineer for four years during the first Iraq War which is why I mention Veteran’s Day.
I love him very much and I don’t know if I can understand a world without him. It was a rocky start here at the hospital, but after everyone saw how sick he is, they have done nothing but work hard to get him stable and try to fix this problem.
Once again, if you want to send support, post it on his wall. I will show him over the next couple of days and I have faith by Monday he will be back on social media wisecracking with everyone and writing books.
If you feel helpless and want to do anything else, financially, we would appreciate if you buy a book. As a full-time writer, he loses money every day he is not writing or promoting his work.
Katie updated yesterday to say that “Tim made it through surgery without any significant issues. His colour is coming back to his face, he is more alert (even talking about his books to his nurses), and everything looks good… he is still pretty weak but we think he has turned a corner.”
Please consider buying one (or more) of Tim’s books in support. Visit bit.ly/supportTimWLong. For my part, I’m knuckling down to finish the (horrendously overdue) second book in Tim and Craig DiLouie’s THE FRONT series. I’m a couple of weeks away from wrapping it up, and I look forward to sending it to Craig and Tim shortly.
Best wishes, Tim. We’re thinking of you. Get well soon.
You’ll see from the date of my last post that I’ve not been around for a while. There’s good reason for that. My dad was taken ill at the end of January and, just over a week ago, he passed away (it still feels unreal to type that). Life for my family and I has been on hold for the last month or so.
It’s funny – as a horror author I write about death a lot (heck, the first line of AUTUMN is ‘Billions died in less than twenty-four hours’), but no matter how much you think you’re prepared or how many times you go through it, you’re never quite ready for the tsunami of emotions you feel when you lose someone you love.
My old man had a hellish final month. There were scenes that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of my novels, and Dad even joked that he wanted a slice of the royalties if I based a story on what he’d been through. It was a rollercoaster ride: we laughed, we cried, we laughed some more, then we cried even more after that. He received exemplary care from our incredible NHS, and he died after spending his final hours surrounded by people he loved and who loved him dearly.
See you, Dad, and thanks for everything. You’ll be missed by many, many people and will never be forgotten.
At this point he’d tell me to stop moping and pull my finger out, so I will. Normal service will be resumed here shortly.
I’ve been intending to write this piece for a while, but I didn’t know how to start or when to post it. Today’s the day. Today, if you didn’t know, is Time to Talk day and like thousands of other people, I’m taking five minutes to talk about my experiences with the aim of breaking the silence (and stigma) around mental health. Please don’t switch off. Please read through to the end.
You see, last May, my world fell apart. My personal life, my relationships, my health, my career – everything crumbled and collapsed. None of it made sense anymore, and I couldn’t see a way to start repairing the damage. Hell, I didn’t even know if I wanted to fix things.
That might sound overdramatic, but that’s exactly how it felt. One day everything was fine, the next… Well it still makes me go cold thinking about those days. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks and months since then trying to put everything back together and make sense of what happened, and if there hadn’t been such a stigma about mental health, I think that perhaps my meltdown could have been avoided or at least lessened.
I’d always been the big man. I’d done pretty well in everything I tried to do. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, it’s just the way I am. I work hard. Sometimes too hard. Five years ago I felt invincible with a great family, good health, a lovely home and a career that felt like it was skyrocketing. A couple of years back, though, something changed. We moved house, and I fulfilled my writing obligations. Then, all of a sudden, nothing. Bigger bills, no book deals. I felt increasingly disconnected from everything and everyone, and became increasingly reclusive. My mood changed. I was banging my head against a brick wall. The words didn’t stop coming, but the flood of books I was producing reduced to a slow trickle. I stopped being excited by writing, and it began to feel like a chore. Stories remained uncompleted. Ideas were shelved. I spent more time thinking about what I should have been doing, than actually doing any of it.
I’ll cut a long story short: I was pretty seriously depressed, and I had no idea at all. Or maybe I did know, I just didn’t want to accept it…
Last summer everything came to a head. And contrary to how it felt at the time, being diagnosed with depression wasn’t the end of my world; instead it was a chance to press reset, to get myself back on track, and to learn to love myself and my world again.
Forgive me if that sounds a little saccharine and cliched, because it happens to be true. Thanks to an incredible family, a great GP, and a bunch of other wonderful folk, things are moving in the right direction. I’ve gone back to non-writing work to make sure I mix with other people, and I’m loving the buzz of spending time with folks again. I was worried it might have meant the end of my writing, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve written the first draft of a new novel since 1 January. There’s progress on a number of long-gestating projects. Infected Books is growing exponentially. I’m more excited by writing than ever.
As I said at the beginning, it’s Time to Talk day today (find out more about it here and here), and the aim of the day is to reduce some of the stigma around mental health. Lots of people suffer, and a large number continue to suffer in silence. I think I’d known for a long time what was wrong, I just didn’t want to admit it. Bloody hell, I wish I’d been more honest with myself. It would have saved me (and the people I love the most) a heck of a lot of pain and heartache.
I’m a writer, and this site is supposed to be about my books and films, so I’ll finish this piece by bringing it back to the business of writing. Regular visitors here will remember my series of writing articles ‘What Works for Me.’ You might have noticed they dried up around the same time I imploded last spring. It’s been incredibly interesting to look back at the books I’ve written over the last two years or so in light of what I’ve discovered about myself, because if I wasn’t outwardly honest with myself about my health, I definitely had some inkling of what was going on as I’d been writing about my problems all along. I only have to look at the male characters I’d created… there’s Steven Johnson from STRAIGHT TO YOU – a man who is on the verge of losing absolutely everything because he can’t bring himself to face his own demons. There’s Stuart from THE COST OF LIVING – a belligerent, stubborn bugger who’s set on his course and who won’t listen to anyone else, even when they’re clearly right and he’s so very obviously wrong. And then, finally, there’s Scott Griffiths from STRANGERS. I’ve had a huge reaction to Scott, not least because he’s an absolute shit: a total, wretched scumbag who outwardly appears to be dedicated to his family, but who has a seriously warped view of right and wrong and no appreciation of how his behaviour affects those around him. I was terrified and stunned when I read the book back just prior to publication and realised I’d been writing about aspects of myself.
Things are good today. Thanks for sticking with me. There’s some really exciting stuff on the horizon.
This is a rare personal post, not connected to my books.
If you’re in the UK and you have 50 minutes to spare, can I ask you to consider watching ‘My Child Won’t Speak’, a documentary which aired last night on BBC1. You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer here.
Selective Mutism (SM) is a strange, often bewildering condition which can have dramatic, long-term and very damaging effects on both the child who suffers from SM and their families. It’s thought to affect around 6 in every 1000 children. Put most simply, it’s an anxiety – it could even be described as a fear or a phobia – of talking in certain situations. A child who is affected may talk freely and normally to the members of their immediate family at home but if they are anywhere else or with anyone else, they probably won’t speak. Not a single word. At a very early age, SM can be little more than an inconvenience and a frustration. But, as the child grows and has to take an increasingly active role in society, their inability to communicate can become more and more of an issue and it can have devastating consequences.
Children who suffer from SM can often be ignored and excluded or written off as being difficult.People who don’t know about SM or who don’t understand the condition might try and force them to speak, or occasionally threaten to punish them if they don’t communicate. Sometimes, SM children are overlooked and undervalued because they’re not disruptive – put simply, they’re quiet and they don’t cause any real problems, so they’re prone to be forgotten about.
The causes of SM vary from child to child, and with the right support and therapies, children often learn to overcome their anxieties and talk in public before the age of 10.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s something that really matters to me. It’s a subject very close to my heart. My youngest daughter stopped speaking when she was 3, and she’s only just reached the stage where she’s finally able to talk to her teachers and other people outside of the immediate family. She’s 9 and a half. More than 6 years of silence.
My daughter was incredibly fortunate. As a family we received a huge amount of support and help, particularly from her school. But we’ve heard about many other children who haven’t been so lucky. So I hope you don’t mind me using this outlet to try and raise awareness of Selective Mutism. Please watch the TV programme if you can and, if you want more information, contact SMIRA – the Selective Mutism Information & Research Association (www.selectivemutism.co.uk).
If you or anyone close to you has been affected by SM and you’d like to talk about your experiences, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.