Last year, I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy of Darren Dash's latest novel, Sunburn. With only the author's vague description, 'Bigfoot in Bulgaria' to prepare me, I eagerly jumped in with both feet, completely unaware of the sheer chaos waiting in the wings.
I discovered early on that this book has a serious case of one-more-chapter-itis. Sunburn is the kind of story that makes you want to read on into the night, despite having to get up early for work the next day. Reading away my precious sleeping hours, I had no idea how tense I had become until my phone pinged and I jumped out of my skin.
The elements of classic horror are very much present here, and at the core of every horror theme is the simple struggle for life. Darren Dash isn't afraid to go in hard with this or tread where other are afraid to go, with moments of dark humour providing light, albeit brief relief which I often caught myself smiling to. There is an underlying edge of something sinister building throughout the book. The tension increases like a slowly boiling kettle -- you know early in that at some point, it's going to reach boiling point. But not before its time.
My love of horror stems back to my childhood. Barely a teenager, I would sit alone in the dark, watching films that thrilled and tortured me in equal measure. There was something about that raw mix of adrenaline and fear that always kept me coming back for more. Sunburn gave me that same thrill, with Mr Dash taking no prisoners in this dark and compelling tale.
I immediately felt attached to the main characters, each interesting in their own way but very different from the other. The story also flows nicely, each transition feeling smooth and unhurried, yet pulling me ever onward. I often find when reading a good book, my attention splits at some point or other. Half my attention will be focused on the chapter I'm reading, the other half hovering somewhere near the end, mithering over how current events will effect the final outcome. But Sunburn held me firmly in the moment, demanding my full attention right to the very last page. Then, just when you begin to think you're safe, unholy bloody mayhem ensues.
Every now and again we gain insight into a primal mind, the mind of a somewhat sentient beast. What I found fascinating are the ethical questions that sprung to mind while reading from this unique point of view. Can a beast be seen as evil for carrying out basic instincts? Is is close enough to the human being to be compared to our murderers, killing for pleasure? Personally, I found myself fluctuating between the two throughout the book. However, by the time I reached the final quarter, there was no doubt in my mind about the beasts true colours.
The ending comes full circle in a satisfying, bitter sweet way that feels complete and not left dangling for the sake of it. Overall, I really enjoyed Sunburn and look forward to reading many more Darren Dash books to come. Just don't expect a gentle ride!
You can buy the book in physical or ebook format from your Amazon of choice. Enjoy!
WRITING HAS always been my go to place when life gets tough. I struggled a lot with my sweet sixteen and, looking back now, writing was actually one of the few things that helped to diffuse the self-destructive cloud that frequently converged around me.
But this post is not about me. This post is about you.
I felt overwhelmed the other week so, naturally, I began to write. This blog post is that result.
Why you feel rubbish...
Overwhelmed -- life has been a bit hectic lately. Even though you're not Superwoman (much to your surprise), your life often requires you to be many things to many people. As well as this, you're juggling a hundred and one different responsibilities that all need your precious time and attention. But that's okay, you're going to be awarded your red cape any day now. You can feel it. Or, at least, next week has to be easier. You hope.
Things build up over time -- those little things that you swept under the rug didn't go away. They're still there, hidden beneath a good, safe layer of 'out of sight, out of mind.' But now, there isn't much room left under the rug. And people are soon going to start seeing those lumps...
Stress and misfortune -- you're having a bad run. Illness, loss, debt. Maybe it's the stress of a good relationship turning sour. Or maybe you're haemorrhaging money and can't keep up with the bills. Despite being a rational person, it feels like the world is out to get you. Yes, Lady Luck owes you, big time.
Having no one to talk to -- we all need someone to talk to every now and again. Whether that be to discuss a festering issue, or simply to air out our frustrations from the day. But the people you'd normally talk to are busy with their own problems, or no longer around. Or maybe you find it difficult to open up to anyone at all. Either way, you're bottling and at some point, you're going to overflow.
Overachiever -- busy, busy, busy. You're always running late and there's never enough time to get everything you want done in the day. After all, life is too short to sit down and do nothing, right? But not providing yourself with adequate down time leaves you scraping the bottom of the barrel far too often. And we both know the quality of those last few dregs, don't we?
Stuck in a rut -- you've spent more time moping this week than actually sitting down to figure out what's wrong. You assumed it would be something you just snapped out of when you're ready, but in fact, it's become a bit of a habit. An unproductive one.
Feeling vulnerable, fragile -- your partner has a moan and you take it personally. Your boss pulls you up over something small and you have to fight not to fall apart. Things that you would normally take in your stride are hitting you much harder. This is because your life worn exterior has been temporarily replaced with a softer, more fragile skin. The cause, though, is less obvious.
Beyond your control -- powerless. That sensation of negative things happening all around you, despite your best efforts. You feel small, almost as though you're a small fish trying to navigate its way through a raging current -- in the wrong direction. Whether you want them to or not, bad things happen to good people. And it sucks.
Putting others first all the time -- helping people is what you do. In fact, people seem to be drawn to you, laden with all kinds of problems and woes. Of course, you always do everything in your power to help them out. Even if it means skipping your coffee break every now and then, or dragging yourself out after a long, hard day. That warm bath and glass of wine will still be there tomorrow. That is, if someone else doesn't need it more.
What writing can do for you
Declutter your mind -- as you go through life, your mind will inevitably collect its fair share of junk. And like a messy desk, it's almost impossible to find the one particular thing you need amongst all that clutter. So, how do you stop this from happening? That's right, by keeping a diary. Even if only for a week or two, dumping the small, trivial things down onto paper will do wonders for the cluttered mind. The important things will stick with you. Do this on a regular basis and you will find that not only do you have a much clearer head, but that all that useless junk is right there in writing, just waiting for you to pick through at a later date.
Make the invisible visible-- remember all that clutter you dragged from your mind and put down onto a blank page? Well, guess what -- it may not all be junk. The average passing thought is there one second, then gone the next. Lost to the depths of your mind, where sometimes, it festers in a dark corner. Small and unnoticed, but most definitely still there. Make time to read back through your previous entries. Your subconscious may be trying to tell you something. Maybe that you're unhappy with your current situation, or that you're pushing yourself too hard. Or maybe it's time to swallow your pride and make peace with that old, stubborn friend.
Take a proactive approach -- being able to see your problems isn't the only benefit to writing them down. Take everything that's bothering you, no matter how small each thing may seem, and write them all down in one list. Then work your way down the list, taking each problem one at a time. Find a simple solution for each and write it next to the problem in question. Now, not only have you made a great start on banishing those things that are dragging you down, but you also have a point of reference if you decide to come back to them at a later date.
Acknowledging a problem -- how are you supposed to fix a problem if deep down, you're still denying its existence? The short answer is, you won't. Now, it may be hard to accept the need for help, or that you have an issue that needs attending to, but try to think of your problem simply as a bump in the road; you can go around it, but only if you notice it in time to do so. When you don't, it will take you by surprise. It may even damage you in the process, but the only way to fix a problem is to first acknowledge it. You'll be surprised at the relief you feel from this alone. Your subconscious was never fooled. Write down your problem in as much detail as you can muster. Don't hold back or cringe at your own thoughts, just allow yourself to say what it needs to.
Simply unload -- sometimes, taking the opportunity to get things off your chest can make you feel lighter. Write a letter or draft a blog rant, for your eyes only. You can always decide to publish at a later date if you feel it will help others in your shoes. Also, recording your thoughts on a regular basis will help you to pick up on any unhealthy patterns, if there are any. Reading your entries back with hindsight can often provide some much needed clarity.
Speed up the healing process -- your brain is amazing. There has been so much uncovered about it and yet, science has barely scratched the surface of what the human mind is truly capable of. Take your subconscious, for example. After acknowledging an issue through the method of writing, your mind will immediately start to figure out what to do next. You may have dismissed it from conscious thought, but working away in the background while you get on with your life, is your subconscious mind.
Extra benefits -- The simple action of writing is therapeutic in itself. This fact is not well known, but it has been proven again and again through many different types of research. I'll say it again -- writing is therapy. Writing down your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis can boost your mood and lower stress levels. It can encourage you reflect on your life, both the good and the bad, and help you to move on from a particularly traumatic event. Fiction writing can also have the same positive effects, which I can personally vouch for.
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What are your personal experiences with writing?
Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.