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Dundee Horror Con

On the 7th October, I had the incredible pleasure of taking part in the Dundee Horror Con, courtesy of the incredible Northern Frights. This was my first experience being a vendor at any kind of convention or event, so the whole weekend was a wonderful whirl of newness, nerves, and excitement.

Setting up my table the day before the event

We’d arranged to arrive the day before to set up. I came armed with my ghosty table-cloth and a jar of sweets to hand out to passers-by. Afterwards, we went to grab some food and a drink at Mollie Malone’s pub while I tried to settle my nerves. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was out of my depth, and that I wouldn’t sell a single book the next day. But, I reasoned, I was there for the experience. Everything else was a bonus.

The Night Before

Dundee’s dragon statue

Dundee is a beautiful city with lots of ghoulish and unusual things to see. Which is my favourite type of destination. I’m a bit of a “dark tourist” and always hit up Atlas Obscura to make sure I cover all the strange and unusual sites when I visit a new location. I was surprised to stumble across this incredible dragon statue in the town centre! A lovely bonus on top of the chilling Howff Cemetery, the Grissel Jaffray Memorial, and (not quite so dark but fun nontheless) the Lemmings statue.

After a lovely afternoon of exploration, it was time to get a good night’s sleep ahead of the Horror Con itself. I was relatively calm in the morning, finding that the build-up to the event was scarier than actually being there (as things so often are!). There was only one slight hitch in the morning. Upon arrival at the venue my contact lens decided to fold up on itself, then when I tried to fix it it ripped in two and had to be abandoned. If I was squinting strangely at anybody who met me that day, this is the reason! Needless to say, I will be taking spares at all future cons and events!

Dundee Horror Con

The view from my table – fantastic fun!

The event itself was better than I even imagined. Literally every single person who stopped to chat was lovely. When I was having my crisis of confidence the previous day, I set a soft target to sell 5 signed books. We smashed that in the first hour! I also had a lovely moment when I got to sign a book early on for a Janice, which is my mother’s name. Incidentally, my lovely mum had messaged me that morning with a photo of her wearing a The Suffering T-Shirt in support of me being at the event, which gives you a good idea of how kind and thoughtful she is! I’d like to thank anyone who stopped and took a sweet or a business card, chatted about the ghosts, and of course bought the book! I was blown away.

Obligatory event banner pic!

My gratitude also goes out to Laura, who runs Northern Frights pretty much single-handed! She is a huge reason this event was the perfect introduction to me getting into being a vendor as an author and learning the ropes for future events. I can’t wait to attend the next one – I’ll be at Glasgow next year, so please swing by if you can! All of the staff we chatted to were helpful and friendly, and I appreciate you all. It was torrential rain that day, which caused a lot of problems for many. I’m sure you all had your hands full, but you handled it like troopers, and dealt with any problems with class and professionalism.

I also got to meet two other authors who were at the event—John McNee and Bill Davidson. It was fantastic chatting to them both, and I picked up John’s Doom Cabaret and Bill’s The King of Crows. If you haven’t read these authors yet please do check them out. You won’t be disappointed!

Me, over the moon at Dundee Horror Con

After such an incredible event I’ve had a quiet couple of weeks to come back down to earth. I’m currently chipping away at The Suffering sequel and am excited at the thought of attending future Northern Frights events with two books on my table, instead of just the one. But regardless of how many books are out, I cannot wait for the next time. I’ll see you there!

If you spent all your money on the other outstanding stalls at the Dundee Horror Con and would like to check out The Suffering, grab your copy today!

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The Books of Horror Brawl – 1 Week to Go!

Getting brawl-ready!

Can you believe it? This time next week, the first round of the Books of Horror brawl will have begun. It starts on Tuesday, 5th September which means there is just 1 week to go!

In preparation, I have been running up flights of stairs, psyching out random passers-by with a killer ice-stare, and speed-skipping to stay in the zone. Well, okay, I just bought some boxing gloves and took some fun pics ready for the brawl.

Who, Me?!

But I am psyched! I still can’t believe how this has all played out. Back in March, The Suffering had only been out a couple of weeks when the brawl deadline was set. Authors had until the Sunday night to throw their book into the ring. After which the members of the Books of Horror group would vote on which 32 books they wanted to see go head-to-head.

I didn’t expect to get picked. But I was attempting to be bolder, forcing my introverted ass to put myself out there. Being selected was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened to me, and I have loved every second of being involved in the brawl readings, reviewing, and comments from the incredible BoH community in the months since the draw was revealed.

I’m over the moon that the ghosts of The Suffering have resonated with so many of you.

Books of Horror Brawl Round 1 Schedule

Here is the schedule for the first round:

The first head-to-head begins on 5th September

If you aren’t already a member of Books of Horror but have read many of these awesome books and would love to vote for your favourites, be sure to head to FB and join the Books of Horror community today!

Want to know why The Suffering made it into the brawl? Pick up your copy now!

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Don’t Trust Female Horror Writers? Here’s Why It’s Not Your Fault

Being fairly new to the horror scene, I’m all-too aware of how some people respond to works by female horror writers. It was one of the reasons why I chose to use initials rather than my full name. Some readers have an automatic aversion to female horror writers, and aren’t afraid to shout about it. I wanted to explore this further, looking into the reasons why a number of readers, regardless of gender, feel this way about women horror writers.

Here’s a scenario. It’s actually something that happened to me earlier this year. Walking past the shadows of a dark alleyway, I quicken my step, on high alert. There’s nobody on the street ahead of me, and I’m hyper-aware that if a sudden hand were to reach out of the darkness and yank me into the black, nobody would know it had happened. My mind torments me by reminding me that there was an attack on the street a few blocks from here recently. I imagine the CCTV footage recently shown on the national news of a young woman who was dragged into an overgrown front garden and strangled. After a shot of fairly irrational panic when I drop my keys struggling to open the front door of my house in the moonlight, I feel a rush of relief to be home and safe. It’s 5.30pm on a winter’s afternoon, and I’ve just nipped to the shops for a pint of milk.

My point is; women know fear. We are taught to be immersed in it from a very young age. While I know that men aren’t immune to fear of dangers in the world, young girls are constantly reminded to be vigilant. To check your surroundings, your clothes, the volume of your headphones, your route, your back-up plan. To notify the people in your house what time you expect to be home…just in case. Coupled with an in-depth working knowledge of the core emotion that should run through every horror book and movie (underlying threat), women in horror have also immersed themselves in horror media. From falling in love with horror icons such as Freddy Krueger and Pinhead, to scouring Stephen King and Dean Koontz books, we know the world we have chosen to write in.

But a mistrust is often instinctive. Can a woman really scare us? You might automatically jump on the offensive at this question, but I put it to you that most people are conditioned to feel this way. Regardless of gender. It goes back to childhood. Think about it, toy shops were (and are often still) split into two distinctive areas: Boys and Girls. In the boys section you’ll find the action figures. The robots. The gross monsters and the spooky books. In the girls section the first thing you’ll probably see is pink. Teddies. Dolls. Nothing remotely scary. Incidentally, you’d always find me in the “boys” aisle when I was a kid, gawping at the Monsters in my Pockets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, and pots of slime. But what was my take away? Girl’s stuff is lame, and therefore, by association, so are most girls.

I can forgive my 6-year-old self for having this impression. But mud can stick. Is there a part, even deep down inside myself, where I run the risk of choosing a book written by a male author over a female one? Jeez, I hope not. Have I been guilty of this in the past? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just that, when I was growing up, 90’s and 2000’s book shelves ONLY featured male contemporary horror authors. In the world of online shopping nowadays, this isn’t such an issue. But when a culture that was born of “only promote what’s likely to sell” tells you that the male authors are the ones to read, it sends a clear message to your subconscious. One that backs up a childhood that’s full of the message that girls have cute and frilly. Boys have badass and scary.

So, next time you’re contemplating which book to choose in the horror section, I encourage you to spend as much time considering the books by some of the outstanding women in this field. Candace Nola. Megan Stockton. Debra Casteneda. Elizabeth J. Brown. Jessica Johnson. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Kiersten White. Alma Katsu. Gwendolyn Kiste. Ania Ahlborn. Tananarive Due. The list goes on and on.

Women know horror all too well. And I guarantee, we can scare you just as much as the boys can…

Find out for yourself! Grab your copy of The Suffering today.

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5 Books to Get You Back Writing

We all hit writing slumps. In this article, I’m going to tell you the 5 writing books to get you back on track, tried-and-tested by yours truly.

Juggling life, work, relationships, and writing can feel impossible at times, and it’s not unusual to get burned out and ditch your creativity for a while. Sometimes, you need a break. And you are ALLOWED to take one. I’d say it’s essential and isn’t something you should feel ashamed of. Ignore the ticking clock; breaks are all part of the process.

However, sometimes jumping back on the bandwagon after a rest can feel just as alien as starting to write for the very first time. Even if you have an idea brewing, it can be hard to push through the imaginary barriers and put the words onto the page.

If you find yourself in that situation, these 5 books might help:

1. The Five-Minute Writer by Margret Geraghty

Margret Geraghty has written an indispensable book filled with quick and simple exercises that pack a huge punch. From practical advice to new perspectives on the basics, I have taken a great deal from this book over the years, and have found it to be the most useful tool to get me out of any slump.

2. The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer

This is a fun book filled with 366 brightly-coloured and illustrated pages designed to help you answer prompts and jot down your ideas. It’s an especially useful book if you’re struggling with overwhelm, regularly find your attention wandering, or simply hate staring at a blank screen or page.

3. The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook

There’s a reason why this one is pretty much constantly number 1 in author self-help categories around the world. It is crammed full of useful listings, from agent and publisher contacts, to articles written by the best in the business. Although it can be quite pricey, it is usually readily available to order from local libraries.

4. On Writing by Stephen King

Okay, so maybe I have horror bias. But regardless of your genre, there is no denying that King is an author with every right to have a voice of authority in the industry. Reading about another author’s life, trials, triumphs, and process can help you to unlock your own motivation. If you don’t like King, check out Ernest Hemingway’s personal account (also called On Writing).

5. Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola

There is no ‘right’ way to write, but there are many out there who will try and tell you what it is. Reading about how successful authors out there completed their greatest works shows just how valuable your own personal process is—and how you should fit your writing schedule and practices around your own individual needs. There may be a practice or technique that resonates with you and helps you to find what works best for you. Or you can pick and choose from a few until you find something that suits your lifestyle.

It’s no lie that reading in itself can be a procrastination technique, so I highly recommend one of the first two on this list if you are truly wanting to fly out of the gate and get some actual words on the page.

What are you waiting for? Go and get inspired!

All the latest The Suffering news

June News – Reviews, Podcasts, and an Audiobook Deal

It’s been a busy month here in June, but there has been lots of exciting news, including hitting review targets, podcast interviews, and an exciting new deal.

300 Reviews in the US and the UK

My biggest goal for June was to reach 300 reviews for The Suffering in the US, and hopefully the UK, by the end of the month. I’m happy to report that it’s now the final day of June and I have 342 reviews in the US and 317 in the UK, well and truly smashing that goal!

The Suffering reaching 300 reviews in the UK

I’m blown away by the amount of people that are reading the book and taking the time to review, and I’m very grateful to everyone who has done so. My fellow Wicked House author, Blaine Daigle, also let me know about another goal I had no idea about, which is the amount of people who have the book on their “to read” shelf in Goodreads. Blaine was celebrating reaching 1k, which is amazing! As of writing, The Suffering is on 932 people’s Goodreads shelf, so perhaps we can reach the magic 1k in July!

Audiobook Deal

Some more exciting news from June. A deal has been made to turn The Suffering into an audiobook! I have to thank Wicked House Publishing for making these incredible steps to put the book out there and I can’t wait to hear it when it’s complete. These things do take time, and we are in the process of confirming a voice actor so there is no definitive date as of yet.


This month, I had the pleasure of appearing on 3 podcasts. The first was with The HORRORific Podcast, which was a bit of a baptism of fire as it went out on a live stream on YouTube! I had a lot of fun with Colin, and you can check out the interview here. I’m looking forward to doing more with HORRORific soon so watch this space!

Appearing on The HORRORific podcast

I also chatted with Vince Midgard for his The Dark Mind podcast, and this interview is due to be released on the 4th July. Vince had read The Suffering and pre-prepared the most thoughtful and engaging questions that were a pleasure to consider and answer. I am excited to hear how the chat turns out!

It was also lovely to chat with Oaky Tyree on her Tell Me About Your Book show. This will be available on Spotify (as will all of the above mentioned podcasts) soon.

Negative Space 2: A Return to Survival Horror

One of my favourite editing experiences has been working with Aric Sundquist at Dark Peninsula Press for the first Negative Space anthology, which featured my story, Six Weeks. I’m thrilled to announce that my short horror, Monastery Blood Moon, appears in Dark Peninsula’s latest release, Negative Space 2: A Return to Survival Horror. This was a fun story to write, and with Aric’s invaluable input it became one of my absolute favourites. The band Piss on a Gremlin are used to playing sleazy venues and that’s just how they like it. But when they are hired at the last minute to play at an art installation at the local abandoned monastery, they can’t really turn the money down. With a new look, a tamed-down setlist, and definitely a temporary new band name, Tidy Angela and the gang are on their best behaviour. That is until the installation of mirrors catches the red light during that night’s blood moon and opens a portal that releases nightmarish creatures into the monastery. It’s time for them to get back to being punk rock and use their instruments as weapons in order to survive the onslaught…

Books of Horror Brawl T-shirt

I’ve spoken before about my absolute shock at being chosen in the top 32 books to appear in this year’s Books of Horror brawl. This amazing group has been incredible, and I’m blown away by the support and encouragement all of the readers, authors, and admins have given me in this last few months. It all became even more exciting this week when I received my brawl T-shirt! Tiffany worked tirelessly with the design, manufacture, and posting of the shirts, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s like a band T-shirt, but with our books and names on the back:

It’s an honour to have my name amongst the greats that are featured in the brawl this year. It officially takes place in September, and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun. If you love horror books, don’t hesitate to join Books of Horror and come and say hi!

Graphic showing MJ Mars writing tips logo
Writing Tips

How to Write a Short Story Using a Set Theme

When I first began writing horror, I found it helpful to check lists of short story submission calls. The reason why this helped me when I was just starting out was because many of these requests provide you with a specific theme. Starting a story with a set direction can be extremely useful, but even with prompts I still found that I struggled to create a coherent narrative based around the given topic. Here’s my top tips to help you write a short story using a set theme:

A turning point for me was when I learned about a couple of helpful writing exercises. The most useful of these was the spider diagram technique, but you can modify the basic idea and create lists, bullet points, free-write pages, or any other method that you may find more useful.

The Basics

So, here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to write a horror and the theme is “summer”. You’d begin by writing “Summer” in the centre of the page, and start to build a diagram by taking the first few words that pop into your head related to the topic. You’d probably end up with a list of popular summertime terms, such as Beach, Holiday, Sunshine, Tan.

On your next round, you expand on the specific words you’ve initially picked. So, from the word “beach” you may have;

  • sand
  • sea
  • volleyball
  • sandcastles
  • crabs
  • shells
  • suntan lotion

Go around and around your main words, listing images, colours, sensations, tastes, textures – anything that links to those words.

Once you’ve built up a well-stocked word-bank you can refer to, go back to those original second layer words and begin to concentrate on the purpose of the story. The one in this example is a horror (shocker!) so what are some dark elements that we can introduce here? Already, there are a few ideas that spring to mind:


What if a kid kicks a sandcastle on a beach, but there is something sinister living inside it? Perhaps the suntan lotion you pick has a terrifying effect on your skin? Maybe an innocent game of volleyball turns into a fight to the death? These are just spit-ball ideas, but jot down whatever pops into your head. Don’t think of these ideas as the set storyline you have to follow as this can send you down the wrong path. Right now, we just need to explore our theme.

If you don’t write horror and are trying to think up a romance story, you might have very different choices in your word wheel: Sunsets, ice cream, walks on the beach, hearts in the sand… Of course, these too can be turned into a terrifying story if you want, but for the purpose of the exercise, I wanted to demonstrate that this works for all genres!

On With the Plot

When you’ve settled on a story direction that really excites you, use a highlighter or simply circle the words you like that link most closely to the themes you’ve chosen. Be sure to include each of the words as you craft your narrative. By having tastes, sensations, colours, smells, and objects that directly link to the setting you are hoping to evoke for your reader close at hand, it reminds you to paint a more detailed picture and keep the clear theme throughout your story.

You may be worried about doing this exercise if you’re pressed for precious writing time, but believe me when I say it’s a time saver in the long-run! Having your word-wheel at the ready is clear progress, and beats staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike. It also prevents the dreaded sensation of starting a story off-the-cuff with a blistering paragraph, only to falter halfway down the page when you lose momentum.

I encourage you to give it a try! Grab a sheet of paper, some coloured pens, and your favourite highlighters, and experiment. Here are some centre words to give you some inspiration if you can’t find any themed submissions:

FrostSubmarineShooting Star
Use random word generators to create prompt lists of your own

Here are some of my favourite resources to find themed story submission requests*:

Authors Publish

Curiosity Never Killed the Writer

The Horror Tree

Publishing…and Other Forms of Insanity.

Good luck!

*Note that I’m not affiliated with any of these sites. I’ve just found them very useful in the past, and hope that you do, too.

Grab your copy of The Suffering today!

All the latest The Suffering news

An Unexpected Turn of Events

We are only halfway through April, but I am thrilled to say we have some news worth shouting about already!

The Suffering is #1!

Last Thursday, following a US promotion of the book, I was astonished to see The Suffering reach #1 in British Horror Fiction, Occult Horror, and Horror Suspense in the US Kindle chart. This was without doubt the stuff that dreams are made of! While I had hoped the promotion would give sales a boost, I never dreamed I’d see such an incredible result.

The Suffering at number 1 in 3 horror categories on Kindle US

What’s more, it peaked at #238 in the Kindle store rankings overall. I’m told that this is quite something for a debut novel, particularly when it comes to horror. I’m extremely grateful to everyone who picked up and read the book during the last week and helped to make this incredible moment happen. I’m also sending gratitude to the members of the Facebook group Books of Horror, who tirelessly shouted about the promotion and helped the book to become the success it has been. It’s a wonderful group, so if you enjoy writing or reading horror books (or both!), I recommend you head over to the BoH page and join today.

As of right now, The Suffering is still #1 British Horror Kindle book across the pond. I can’t believe my eyes every time I open the page and see that little orange banner with “Best Seller” written across it! I keep expecting it to drop away any moment, but it’s still holding strong. I’m hoping that it’s still clinging onto the top spot when I hit 100 reviews (it’s currently at 88 in the US) as that will be a screenshot I treasure forever!

The Suffering is #1 British Horror book in the US!

I’m loving every moment of this crazy turn of events, and can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Suffering Short Reading

To celebrate the promotion, Wicked House Publishing posted a short reading on the Facebook page. This was a lot of fun to do, and it was interesting polling my friends to see which scene they recommended I read! For those who have read the book, I decided to record the scene where Lisa Vaughan’s horde of sailors appears to Cassie in the swimming pool. This is a moment that seems to capture a lot of imaginations, and I had fun reading it out (the word “barnacles” is surprisingly fun to say!)

A reading from The Suffering is available to watch on Wicked House Publishing’s Facebook page

Wicked House Publishing have been extremely supportive during this time, and have been the true driving force behind the book’s success. I’ve had a few writers sliding into my DMs lately to ask if Wicked House is really as good as it seems. My answer every time is a resounding “YES!” If you have a completed manuscript in the horror, thriller, or young person horror genres, don’t hesitate to give the WH team a shot. They’ve literally made my dreams come true. And you can’t get better than that!

Just For Fun

The Suffering Playlist

Here’s a list of songs that I was listening to a lot when I was writing The Suffering. I thought it might be fun to put them in a The Suffering Spotify playlist so you can listen as you read the book.

I’ve added some information about scenes or characters in the book below that I feel the songs relate to, so if you’ve read the book please let me know if you agree!

  1. Coheed and Cambria – The Suffering
  2. Kishi Bashi – This Must Be The Place
  3. Bloc Party – Flux
  4. Boston Manor – I Don’t Like People (& They Don’t Like Me)
  5. The Front Bottoms – Cough it Out
  6. Alkaline Trio – I, Pessimist
  7. Dog is Dead – Talk Through the Night
  8. Billy Talent – Devil in a Midnight Mass
  9. Atreyu – Falling Down
  10. Jimmy Eat World – Firefight
  11. Band of Horses – The Funeral
  12. Billy Idol – Running From the Ghost

Coheed and Cambria – The Suffering

Well, this one is obviously eponymous. When I started writing The Suffering back in 2019, I outlined the scenario of the original gathering in 1876 and the ghosts that appeared. For a while, I couldn’t come up with a title that fit. I knew I wanted it to be something grandiose, that could link both time periods to the Victorian massacre and the ghosts appearing to the students in 2016. Taking a breather one day, I took my dog for a walk in the local orchard with my headphones on. This song came on, and the rest is history!

Kishi Bashi – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

I discovered Kishi Bashi’s version of This Must Be The Place when I was watching an episode of Titans. I loved the original (Talking Heads are the greatest!) but throwing an orchestra into the mix is really something else! I picture Lance listening to this as he cooks in chapter 7. When I (regularly) daydream about the book being made into a series, this song usually plays over the opening credits as the camera moves around the whole house. It gives me chills every time I think of it!

Bloc Party – Flux

I went back and forth over what song Cassie would put on the stereo during the party in chapter 4. I must have changed my mind at least 10 times (especially when I realised I’d picked songs that weren’t actually available in 2016!). I needed something at least a little rocky, since Cassie has a grunge rock taste, but also something that could be danced to at a party. Flux definitely fits the bill!

Boston Manor – I Don’t Like People (and they don’t like me)

I originally thought of Cassie for this song, but it could actually fit Cassie, Pete, Lance, Jonah AND Caleb, at various times in the book! What a contentious little bunch of characters they are! Last summer, I went to Download Festival and had the pleasure of discovering Boston Manor. While Laika is my favourite song of theirs (please check it out – it’s outstanding!), this song has a special place in my heart due to the sentiment and how it fits the characters. Also, Boston Manor are from Blackpool, UK. I lived in Blackpool until I was 6 years old, so I love that shared connection!

The Front Bottoms – Cough it Out

This is Martin’s song. Poor Martin. I absolutely adore this song, and the lyrics really make me feel for Martin when I put him in the singer’s shoes! For me, it really sums up his relationship with Cassie, and its futility. The chorus blows me away every time, and it’s another song I love to stick on my headphones when I’m walking in woods, surrounded by trees. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Alkaline Trio – I, Pessimist

This is a fighting song if ever I heard one. It always gets me pumped up, and it’s one of my all-time favourite songs. There’s a cameo by Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, and him singing with Dan Andriano is an absolute treat. For me, this is Kyle’s song. He’s unsure throughout the book, never knowing if he’s on the right track or if what he’s doing is right. But he sticks at it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what this song will always convey to me. Go, Kyle!

Dog Is Dead – Talk Through the Night

“Me and my friends we’re gonna talk through the night”. Unsurprisingly, this is the student’s buddy song. It popped into my head whenever they have group talks or close moments where they try to solve the secrets of the house and the ghosts. I love the whole complicated network that comes with a group of university friends who are different in so many ways, but so close in others. This song has that wonderful vibe where everything is in its right place, and you know you’re with people you trust to get you through anything.

Billy Talent – Devil in a Midnight Mass

This is the soundtrack that pops into my head whenever Pile is terrorising Lance! Although he’s Hellfire Club rather than church-based, Pile is such a cocky ghost he needs a good driving song behind his antics. I’m going to finally get to see Billy Talent at the Slam Dunk festival this year and I can’t wait. I’m sure he’ll do this song and, if he does, I’ll be singing along and thinking of Anthony Pile and Lance!

Atreyu – Falling Down

Another of my all-time favourite songs in the world, Falling Down should be played while reading chapter 22, the build up to Pete’s visit to the museum and Connor Rourke’s attack. I love seeing Kyle in my mind heading down the road toward the museum as the verse is playing, then Pete on the precariously slippery walkway just as the epic final chorus kicks in. It’s perfect! And that bassline is the BEST.

Jimmy Eat World – Firefight

This is another song that gives me ‘buddy’ vibes, and I imagine it when they are all gathered at the house for chapter 26 and 27’s showdown preparation. The lyrics “It’s firefight…I won’t run!” are so perfect for the moment when the students are stood outside, knowing that there really is nowhere to go. And that, although they are terrified, they have to face the ghosts.

Band of Horses – The Funeral

This one’s kind of self-explanatory. The atmosphere and build up are so perfect for the dazed and confused moments after the ghost attacks and character deaths, where the students are coming to terms with being surrounded by loss. It’s a fascinating song, and I hear something new every time I listen to it.

Billy Idol – Running from the Ghost

I only discovered this song after the book was finished, but it is absolutely the perfect ‘end credit’ song. I first heard it on the Mark Hoppus After School Radio show, and knew immediately that it would make the best final song of The Suffering. Although Billy is singing about his addiction demons, it’s easy to equate the lyrics to a house full of tormenting ghouls. It also builds to a rip-roaring final chorus that gets me so pumped up. I will definitely be listening to this song when I sit down to write The Suffering 2!

If you’ve enjoyed this playlist, let me know! You can grab your copy of The Suffering on Kindle Unlimited, standard Kindle, and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and other top retailers. Read along and listen to the music that inspired The Suffering with the Spotify playlist here.

All the latest The Suffering news

March Book News

A month after publication of The Suffering, I have four bits of great news to share with you.

Beyond Radio

Last Friday, I was invited to Beyond Radio to chat about the book, my inspirations, and what started me on my path to all things horror. It was unreal to head down to the studio, settle myself behind the microphone, and start chatting to the lovely DJ, all while live on the radio! When I got the email from Greg Lambert asking if I’d like to come in and give an interview, I foolishly expected it to be pre-recorded. I mean, I am quite sweary in general, as all my friends can attest to! So I didn’t think there was any way I’d be unleashed on the general public without the chance to cut and edit accidental F-bombs. Thankfully, I managed to rein it in and, apart from a pause where my mouth almost said “then the shit hits the fan” when I was describing the ghost attacks, I got through it without even a hint of a cuss word. Phew!

Visiting Beyond Radio to chat about The Suffering

It was an incredible experience, and one in which I experienced the feeling of, “Yep. I could get used to this!” Hopefully the interview will be the first of many, as I had an absolute blast.

Books of Horror Author Smackdown

One of the main challenges I’m facing as a brand new author is swallowing down Imposter Syndrome. I think the more you put yourself out there, the more the “what if it doesn’t work out?” voice quietens. Because, if it doesn’t work out, who cares? At least you’ve thrown your hat in the ring. I’m trying to keep the phrase, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” at the forefront of my mind, to remind me that everything is worth a try, and there is nothing to lose. Thankfully, I had a burst of this mantra on Sunday night, when I was scrolling through one of my favourite Facebook groups, Books of Horror.

Last week, the admins announced that there would be an author showdown, where 32 books voted for by the group members will go head-to-head in a battle in September, giving everybody 6 months to read all the winning entrants in order to narrow it down to a winner. I knew what an incredible opportunity it would be to make it into the top 32 and have all participants read The Suffering. But, at first, the nagging voice was screaming in my subconscious: “As if you’d stand a chance! Don’t add your book to the potential list – people will laugh at you. Who do you think you are? You’ll not make it, then you’ll be disappointed, so why put yourself through it?” etc etc. But last Sunday, lying in bed and idling scrolling, I had a rush of the “Take a shot, who cares if you miss!” mentality. I added The Suffering to the list, with an apologetic disclaimer (“I know it’s only a month old so I don’t think many of you will know it, but what the hell!”).

I was blown away to see that I got 70 votes, and ended up making it into the ‘ring’ at number 31 of 32, out of 138 entries! So, no matter what that voice tells you, ignore it and take that shot. Making it into the Smackdown is huge exposure to horror-loving readers, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Bring on September! Virtual boxing gloves at the ready…

The Suffering Giveaway!

Another fun thing this month is a competition I’m running on Instagram, to win a paperback copy of the book. I love entering book giveaways, and it’s been fun seeing likeminded people entering and hoping to win. The competition is open now and will run until this Friday (31st March 2023) at 4pm GMT. So, if you would like a shot at winning a paperback copy of The Suffering, head over to Instagram now! Just follow my page (mjmarsauthor), like the competition post, and tag a friend who loves to read horror. Good luck!

BookBub Deal

Finally, some more fantastic news for the book. I was accepted for a BookBub deal! This was insanely fortunate, as less than 20% of applicants manage to secure a deal. I nearly fell off my chair when I opened the email stating the offer. BookBub deals can lead to huge boosts in sales and exposure, so I couldn’t be happier about it. The deal will begin on 13th April, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it in my April news update!

As you can see, March has been a whirlwind of fantastic news. But I’m only able to write about each thing because I managed to shut up the negative voice for a few minutes to make applications, blow my own tiny trumpet, and ask others to believe in The Suffering. If, like me, you’re plagued with self-doubt when it comes to your writing, I hope this news roundup has given you a bit of a nudge to take some of your own shots in the coming months. If you miss some, who cares? But the ones that actually land could change everything.

If you haven’t yet checked out The Suffering and would like to, it’s available on Kindle Unlimited, Kindle, and paperback from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and other international online book retailers.

Writing Tips

Writing Convincing Characters

I used to feel extremely daunted by the prospect of character creation. Making up a number of well-rounded individuals with realistic traits that can all be recognised for their differences as the story progresses is no mean feat!

One writing class I took a few years ago enlightened me to what I believe is the key to writing great characters: Conflict.

By conflict, I don’t mean that all your characters have to be rowing constantly, or that the only good books are set in the middle of a warzone. Conflict in a piece of writing can be far more subtle. To equate it to something more relatable, my tutor at the time liked to give examples of food analogies. So, consider the conflict of caramel and salt. They’re both great flavours in their own right, but put them together and it makes for an unexpectedly enhanced taste experience! That’s how you subtly but effectively build a believable bunch of conflicting (and often conflicted) characters.

To delve into this a little deeper, I’m going to discuss a few of the characters from my latest book, The Suffering, so I have to add in a spoiler alert! If you want to read The Suffering but haven’t yet got around to it, you may want to click out now! It’s available at Amazon US and UK in both Kindle Unlimited and standard Kindle format, as well as paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other international online retailers including Saxo and Takealot if you are interested in choosing The Suffering as your next read.


When I’ve been reading the book’s reviews, I’m amused to hear how some people love Cassie…while others don’t like her at all. Instead of feeling an internal rage for my ‘book child’ and jumping to her defence, this is exactly what I hoped would happen. From one of the first introductory scenes for Cassie, it’s made clear that she is a ‘Marmite’ type of girl, and it’s explained that she finds it particularly difficult to gel with most other women. She’s strong-willed and a little self-absorbed, and is quick to think the worst of others (before they think the worst of her!).

Martin & Tad

I had fun with a brief scene where Cassie’s best friend, Martin, is chastised by Tad. Tad is a dark and brooding type, who is also extremely handsome. Cassie and the other housemates don’t even notice Tad’s looks anymore, but Martin is painfully intimidated by him. As an environmental engineer, Tad takes the plight of the planet seriously, and isn’t impressed that Martin has brought take-away coffee cups into the house. It’s a silly, inconsequential kind of conflict, but I had fun with the contrast between Cassie not giving a damn what Tad thinks and Martin literally withering under his stare!

Pete, Gaia, and Jonah

Pete and Gaia have been dating for years, but Pete has always been jealous of the friendship Gaia has with Jonah. Pete is quiet and contemplative by nature, while Jonah is brash and loud. Jonah’s ability to make Gaia laugh is one of the main problems Pete has with him. The complete juxtaposition of personality types between the two boys was fun to write. As the ghostly oppression in the house builds, the strain on Pete and Gaia’s relationship grows, sending Gaia inevitably into Jonah’s open arms.

An excerpt from The Suffering

I picked these 3 examples because they hit on the main types of conflict you can use in your stories to build tension and create more believable characters as you world build.

  1. The ‘difficult’ character. Although Cassie can be a handful, and will push people away before they get the chance to hurt her, she also has plenty of redeeming character traits that complement her personality type. She’s tough and headstrong, and the other characters know where they stand with her. Her background gives insight into the reasons why she may have had to build a tough exterior. It works well to drop little breadcrumbs throughout the story, letting the reader gradually get to know them as the story progresses, instead of explaining everything in the first few chapters.
  2. The comic relief. These types of brief interactions are pretty easy to work into the narrative, but they can be extremely effective in giving the reader more of a sense of each character and the role they play. Martin is vulnerable here, abashed as he is by Tad. Poor Martin is soon to meet a sticky end in the story, and this scene helps to build sympathy for him. It’s only a couple of lines about a coffee cup, but it helps to establish Tad’s moral standing, Martin’s inhibitions, and Cassie’s indifference.
  3. The romantic conflict. Be it an arguing couple, a love triangle, or an unrequited adoration, romantic conflict can always add a little flair to your character’s worlds. However the situation may end, the tension between the characters can be exciting to explore, and fun for the reader as the story unravels.

Of course, the main conflict in the book comes from the 5 monstrous ghosts attacking each of the students, but that’s not the type of conflict I want to discuss here. There are 2 main definitions of conflict in the dictionary:

1, Noun. A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

2, Verb. To be incompatible or at a variance; clash.

Oxford Languages

When writing convincing characters in their domestic settings, focus on the second definition. What are some small clashes or conflicts that you can sprinkle into your chapters as you build your characters? And when I say ‘domestic setting’, this is just referring to your characters’ day-to-day lives. Whether that’s trudging to and from school or work, or navigating to a distant planet in a futuristic rocket ship, mundane conflicts can make all the difference.

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvellous.

Bill Moyers