Monday, 21 August 2017

Imposter Syndrome Cover Reveal & Launch

Very excited to reveal today the cover to Imposter Syndrome, the forthcoming anthology from Dark Minds Press edited by Dan Howarth and myself. The cover art/design is by the fantastic Neil Williams. 

Imposter Syndrome will be launched at Sledge-Lit 3 in Derby this November.

What if you thought your family had been replaced by identical copies? 
What if you could no longer trust the faces of people you met? 
What if you saw someone who looked exactly like you? 

Dark Minds Press brings you an anthology of doppelgängers, clones, changelings, Capgras-delusion and pod-people, featuring stories from some of the best writers of horror and speculative fiction around. 

Featuring Laura Mauro, Ralph Robert Moore, Gary McMahon, Tracy Fahey, Holly Ice, Timothy J. Jarvis, Neil Williamson, Stephen Bacon, Georgina Bruce and Phil Sloman.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Recommendation: Some Will Not Sleep by Adam Nevill

I have a theory/well-rehearsed drunken ramble that all great horror writers are also great short story writers. Here's yet more evidence that I'm right.

Adam Nevill is of course best known for his successful horror novels, but he's a formidably good short story writer too. Indeed, reading a number of his shorter works together made me realise just how good; nearly every piece in his debut collection is first-rate.

The stories in Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors were written between 1995 & 2011 and are arranged in chronological order, allowing the reader to see Nevill's progress as a writer (aided by the autobiographical story notes at the rear of the book). Almost everything here displays Nevill's stengths as a writer: his ability to evoke an atmosphere of dread from the everyday world, the terror of violence both physical and psychic, the vivid details of the worlds he creates. In particular, he's brilliant at evoking the physicality of the monsters and demons that stalk his fiction: the way they move, the way they hold themselves, the way they smell or make the air taste foul around them. This concreteness gives Nevill's creations a hold on the reader's imagination for days afterwards; I'm still able to visualise the bloated, pasty beings of 'Mother's Milk', and the terrifting creature from 'Pig Thing' more clearly than I might wish...

My personal favourite stories here were the insidious home invasion depicted in 'Yellow Teeth', the bloody gothic Western of 'What Hath God Wrought?' and Nevill's original spin on the haunted house story, 'Florie'.

I must mention too that the limited edition hardback of Some Will Not Sleep, produced by Nevill himself is a beautifully book. With neat timing, Nevill has just announced that a companion collection, Hasty For The Dark, will be released later this year. In the meantime, Some Will Not Sleep comes highly recommended.

Some Will Not Sleep (UK | US)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Five Things #5

Yet more things horror and book related I've enjoyed recently, and think you might too.

1. A Conversation With S.P. Miskowski, Hellnotes
Rejoice, for S.P. Miskowski has a new novel out! It's called I Wish I Was Like You (the Nirvana reference very much deliberate). Hellnotes caught up with her for this fascinating interview.

2. 'Hands Lying Light In The Interstices, You Rave' by Timothy J. Jarvis
A compelling piece of interactive fiction here; and given its been written by Timothy Jarvis you know it's going to be creepy as hell. The shifting nature of the interactive experience makes it even more disturbing...

3. The Stoakes-Whilby Natural Index Of Supernatural Collective Nouns by David Malki
Every wondered what the collective noun for a group of banshees is? Or gargoyles? Or manticores? Well, wonder no more!

4. Mothers Who Consume by Kristi DeMeester, Apex
"I don’t remember the first time I caught my mother in a lie..." So begins this fascinating, moving piece of non-fiction by one of horror's finest writers, Kristi DeMeester.

5.'Das Steingeschopf' by G.V. Anderson, Strange Horizons
I included this story in my 2016 list, but as it's just been nominated for a World Fantasy Award I thought I'd mention it again. It's beautifully written, an early sign of brilliance from a writer I predict will go on to do great things. G.V. Anderson has started a fundraiser to raise money to attend WFC (where hopefully this story will win) so donate if you can.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Recommendation: Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales is the first collection from Christopher Slatsky, and a pretty special debut it is too. Each of the stories here fits firmly into the US 'post-Ligotti' school of weird fiction, while displaying Slatsky's singular, evocative style.

In common with much horror, Slatsky's tales typically begin with some realistic scene setting, into which an element of the strange or the bizarre intrudes: a stain looking like a human form in one story, foundations breaking through the earth in another. But what makes these pieces extraordinary is that the intrusion is not just (or not even) a physical one, but the eruption of an intellectual or artistic conceit into the story itself. I don't just mean that the characters and events of the tale are increasingly governed by and reacting to the weird, but that the imagery and language gradually seem infected too, overwhelmed by the concept Slatsky is working with. So, the story that begins with the stain looking like a person ('Loveliness Like A Shadow') becomes saturated with imagery of statues, reflections, photos, and instances of pareidolia.

It takes a skilled stylist to pull this off without it becoming boring or impenetrable; it takes an accomplished horror writer to keep doing so and still have the results be so unnerving and atmospheric. Fortunately, Slatsky is both. His stories are dense, intricately woven yet surprising creations that utilise everything from cosmicism to body-horror to achieve their effects. My favourites included the aforementioned 'Loveliness Like A Shadow', plus the insectoid creepiness of 'An Infestation Of Stars', the architecture-based cosmic horror of 'No One Is Sleeping In This World', and one of the scariest creepy cinemas stories I've read, 'Film Maudit'.

A deep, dark, compelling collection, Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales is required reading for literary horror fans.

Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales (UK | US)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Recommendation: Cottingley by Alison Littlewood

"Dear Sir Arthur Conan Doyle..."

So begins this new novella from Alison Littlewood, the second in the 2017 NewCon press horror range. And it makes a nice contrast with the first, Case Of The Bedevilled Poet by Simon Clark. Clark's novella played with the fictionality of Sherlock Holmes; Alison Littlewood's Cottingley offers a fictionlised version of Holmes's creator.

Doyle himself does not appear onstage in this story, but it is based around a well-known chapter in his life, that of the Cottingley fairies. Famously, Doyle was taken in by these fakes, but in Littlewood's novella fairies are real; but they aren't as innocent as those in the famous photos. Instead, this tale explores the darker side of fairie lore. Littlewood's fairies don't seem evil or good so much as alien and other: beings that might entrance or harm us for their own unfathomable motives.

The story is told in the form of letters written by a Thomas Fairclough, a resident of Cottingley, who lives with his daughter in law and grandchild (his son having perished in WW1). They encounter shinning beings near the local brook, and despite the beauty of what they encounter even here there's traces of the unease to come. An unease only heightened when Fairclough returns home with the dead body of one of the creatures for reasons (he says) of science. Despite the story being related entirely via Fairclough's letters to Doyle and his associate Mr. Gardner (we never get to read their replies) we see both the good side of his character and his foibles—a certain vanity, perhaps, in his being the one to discover of the fairies, and a desire for the respect of great men like Conan Doyle. But Fairclough is a brave man, too, and it isn't long before he is put to the test...

It will be no surprise to long time readers of this blog how much I like Littlewood's fiction, and Cottingley is no exception. It expertly evokes both its setting and the characters' emotional lives; it's impeccably paced, perfectly structured, and a genuine page-turner. I devoured it in one sitting. Make sure you pick up a copy.

(UK | US)

Monday, 10 July 2017

Background Fears #1

I've recently been rereading a whole bunch of my stories with a view to selecting those that will work best together as a third collection. Such an activity is interesting, because it reveals connections, motifs, and repeated/recycled imagery & ideas in my work that I've never noticed before.

And one thing I spotted is... I obviously can't stop worrying about climate change.

I mean, I kind of knew it was there in the background of my fiction, because it's in the background of every thought I have, so it seems. That little niggle, that little voice that doesn't let you forget where we're heading unless we do something. But I've only written about the subject directly once (in an as yet unpublished story) and I unthinkingly assumed I'd only mentioned obliquely in a few of the others that have seen the light of day.

As a horror writer, I should have known we can't bury our fears as deeply as that. Reading back, I'm constantly hinting at it. Trying to give voice to those moments of anxiety whenever something reminds me of climate change (which given it's in the background of everything, could be almost anything).

An incomplete list of the more obvious places it occurs in my work:

Pretty obviously, it's part of a whole set of background worries abut the future for the narrator in 'Falling Over'.

It's part of the world building in 'He'. Same with 'Mirages In The Badlands', too, with its "dreadful heat".

'Across The Water' alludes to it, although of course the central character of that story probably doesn't believe in climate change. (He doesn't believe in a lot of things, but if horror teaches us anything it's that disbelief can't save us.)

Looking back, I see that 'The Place Where It Always Rains' is totally a metaphor for climate change - how could I not realise that? - and similar 'strange weather', for want of a better term, drives the action of both 'Snow' and the 'Into The Rain' section of The Quarantined City.

It's a constant, now I look for it. It's hiding in both the haunted house tale I'm currently writing and the first story I ever had published, 'Feed The Enemy'. It's quite obviously something which haunts me but which I cannot exorcise, not even through fiction.

It's in the background, of everything. But like all monsters in the background, it's not going to stay there forever.

It's coming for us.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Five Things #4

Latest post of things horror and book related I've enjoyed recently, and think you might too.

1. From Annihilation To Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
Somehow I missed this at the time: an article in The Atlantic by Jeff VanderMeer on his Southern Reach trilogy, a series of books I called "masterful" when I first read them, and I'd still stand by that.

2. Shirley Jackson's Sublime First Paragraph in Hill House, Annotated
I surely don't have to tell most readers of this blog how brilliant Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House is, or about its famed opening paragraph. Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer does a great job here walking through that paragraph and explaining why it's so good, the one thing he'd change, and mounting a sturdy defence of both adverbs and semi-colons.

3. The H Word: He Himself Was Not Corrupt by Lee Thomas
A really interesting piece for Nightmare about on the 'post-gay' representation of characters in horror fiction; that is, the depiction of gay characters whose sexuality is not a central point of drama or angst, but just part of who they are. Lee Thomas identifies Peter Straub's fine novel Koko as one of the key precursors here.

4. 'My Mother's Skin' by Brian O'Connell
I really enjoyed this story by Brian O'Connell, reprinted on his own site. A tale of the sea and transformation, of which the less said the better by me before you read it.

5. The Corner Of Lovecraft & Ballard by Will Wiles
A frankly superb article about the importance of architecture in the fiction of both Lovecraft and J.G. Ballard. Full of insight and close reading. Fascinating.