Monday, 20 October 2014

Falling Over reviewed for the British Fantasy Society

"There are times when you read a new author’s work and you simply sit back and admire. This is one of those times." 

Got to say, when you read a review as good as this new one from Phil Sloman on the British Fantasy Society website, it makes all the days when the writing is like pulling teeth seem worthwhile. Made my day.

Have a read here, if you're so inclined.

Falling Over ebook (UK | US) & Paperback (UK | US),

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Coming Soon - The Outsiders

Very pleased to say that my story, Impossible Colours, will appeared in a collection of Lovecraftian fiction from Crystal Lake Publishing called The Outsiders.

All the stories are set around a gated community in England called Priory, and the other writers are V.H. Leslie, Ray Cluley, Stephen Bacon, Gary Fry, and Rosanne Rabinowitz. So I'm alongside some of my favourites of the current crop of horror writers, and it doesn't get much better than that does it?

The cover art is fantastic as well.

The book is due out early 2015 I think; more details on the Crystal Lake site.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Story Behind The Book Volume 3

A quick one to say that my non-fiction piece about some of the inspirations for my most recent collection of short stories, The Story Behind Falling Over, has been published by those good folks over at Upcoming4Me in the book Story Behind the Book : Volume 3 - Essays on Writing Speculative Fiction.

All the proceeds from the book go to the charity Epilepsy Action, and it includes pieces by a whole bunch of ace writers including Christopher Fowler, Eric Brown, Garry Kilworth, Steve Rasnic Tem, Ian R. MacLeod, Pat Cadigan, and a whole lot more. What's not to like?

You can buy the book from Amazon UK (Kindle | Paperback) and US (Kindle | Paperback).

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Guest Post: The Strange Stories of Marie Luise Kaschnitz by Tilman Breitkreuz

Today's post comes courtesy of Tilman Breitkreuz, who emailed me after reading the Strange Stories piece I wrote about Joanna Russ's The Little Dirty Girlto ask me if I'd ever heard of a German author called Marie Luise Kaschnitz; I had to confess I hadn't, and after a few emails back and forth Tilam agreed to write me a piece about her work for this blog. Her stories sound fascinating (I hope not just to me but other readers of this blog) and although difficult to find in English translation there are copies out there.

Thanks to the author for this wonderful piece and for drawing my attention to a new author of the strange..

The Strange Stories of Marie Luise Kaschnitz
An elderly couple imposes a blackout on their home because they are afraid that their adopted son and his street gang might come and kill them (Thaw). Realizing that she has literally lost all feelings, a woman sets herself on fire (Die Fuesse im Feuer). A young man takes part in a superstitious ritual and evokes a malevolent homunculus (Der Tunsch). On the face of it, it is hard to imagine why Marie Luise Kaschnitz once stated that she wanted to express "commiseration with people…"

Born into a family of high nobility and a military background in 1901, Marie Luise Kaschnitz did not rise to fame until the 1950s. While these years are often glorified on account of an economic boom and a regain of confidence, Kaschnitz shows them in a different light: despite their relative security and comfort, her characters seem to be wedged between a guilty and traumatic past and an impending doom in the future (sometimes identified as the nuclear threat).

Like Flannery O´Connor, who wrote her classic stories in the same era, Kaschnitz often implies supernatural elements in order to confront her protagonists with crucial questions and unwelcome answers. But it is not these supernatural features, usually adopted from myths or folk lore, that make her stories worth reading. Using a sober style of writing comparable to Dino Buzzati (with whom she shared the experience of having to live in a totalitarian state) and shy of graphic content, Kaschnitz's central point is not about conjuring a supernatural apparition (maybe that is why her only classic ghost story - bluntly entitled Ghosts - turns out somewhat flat). Wraiths (like in Polar Bears) and demons only serve to reveal a state of general uneasiness, some sort of gloomy detente based on knowing that what has happened to others might as well happen to you. Remedies are scarce. In one of Marie Luise Kaschnitz's strongest pieces the ghost of a woman painter who starved herself to death lets us know that human existence is inevitably tragic and therefore happiness can only be found in tragedy (Zu irgendeiner Zeit). This approach - probably based on Schopenhauer's philosophy instead of rive-gauche-existentialism - resonated with a large audience. So did the accessibility of her prose and Marie Luise Kaschnitz became sort of a household name in Germany.

English-language collections of Marie Luise Kaschnitz´ stories usually feature her own favorite Das dicke Kind (The Fat Girl). The caterpillar-like stranger who invades the life of a single woman (note the similarity to Truman Capotes Miriam) is too ugly to be pitied and only provokes the narrators contempt and curiosity. When the two of them go ice-skating the fat girl becomes a menace first and finally she isn't a stranger any more. There is a striking resemblance to Joanna Russ's The Little Dirty Girl. The bottom line in both The Black Lake and Musical Chairs is that certain conditions require a human sacrifice. Kaschnitz's interest in Greek myths and rites of passage resounds in Home Alone when a young boy finds out that his parents have thrown away his shabby toys (one of them being a toy SA-man) because they think he has outgrown playing with them. He finally agrees - and ignites the gas stove trying to find out if he might talk to the flames like he once talked to his toys. Other non-supernatural stories of note are the aforementioned Thaw and Christine, a grim piece told from the perspective of a woman who once urged her husband not to interfere when a criminally insane man killed a little girl.

In Street Lamps we find the supernatural competing with the horrors of reality. A teenager who has always been eager to do heroic deeds without actually being noticed learns a strange trick that controls other peoples minds. When he challenges the most powerful mind controller of his times (whose name is not mentioned because it is obvious), he fails and later lives a bleak and unhappy life trying to make up for his mistake. In the end we find him a soldier, dying on the pavement somewhere in Russia. Realizing what has gone wrong he has finally found peace as well as freedom but both seem to equal death.

A swim in the Mediterranean sea takes a wrong turn in A Noon Hour In Mid-June while back home an uncanny stranger calls at the neighbour's door. Marie Luise Kaschnitz´s own fate somehow resembled this story. In the fall of 1974 she over exhausted herself swimming in the cold Mediterranean sea, caught pneumonia and died in Rome on the 10th of October 1974.

Some of her work might seem dated and some readers might wish for more action. But those who would like to explore the frailer parts of the human condition could do worse than look into what Marie Luise Kaschnitz has to offer.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Recommendation: Water For Drowning by Ray Cluley

Water-For-Drowning-Shark-SharkWater For Drowning by Ray Cluley is the latest chapbook in the This Is Horror series. It’s a dark and brooding tale that is Cluley’s own interpretation of the mermaid myth – not of our sanitised, cartoonish modern versions but the original fables of doomed love, glass underfoot, and death. It’s told in the first person by Josh, who plays with a local rock band around the south coast - a big fish in a small pond. Josh is, at least at the start of the story, a bit of a cock. One night at one of his gigs, he meets Genna, a girl who seems smitten with his lyrics of water and rebirth as much as with Josh himself. Josh, normally a one-night stand kind of guy, starts to fall for Genna. (This doesn't, however, stop him acting like a bit of a cock.) Genna, meanwhile, has dreams and aspirations far wilder than Josh’s clich├ęd rock-god ones…
The story crams in as many references to mermaids as it can, from the sublime The Lovesong Of J. Alfred Prufrock to the, uh, not-sublime Tom Hanks film Splash, to the fake mermaid bodies exhibited in Victorian times(Although there’s no allusion to Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row and it’s lovely mermaids between the windows of the sea.) In doing so, it builds a backdrop of allusion and history behind Josh and Genna’s tentative romance, and the gradual revelation of the depths of Genna’s obsession. And leaves open, too, the interpretation that maybe, just maybe, Genna isn't deluded at all.

Water For Drowning is one of those books where, as you read it, you realise what the author is going to attempt & what risks they are taking and you think – oh god. It’s like watching someone on a high-wire: what if he wobbles? What if he falls? Because don’t let the length fool you, this is an ambitious story, very much more than the sum of its parts. As such the slightest mistake could ruin its hard-won balance. Fortunately Cluley never puts a foot wrong, never falters, and makes crossing the wire look easy. He even does back-flips. It’s a fantastic achievement, a fantastic story that’s among the very best I've read this year.
In addition, the chapbook also includes a bonus story, the award winning Shark! Shark! – probably some of you will have read it in Black Static. It’s a very clever, genuinely funny, and unsettling story, that’s well worth another read. There’s also an interesting introduction to Water For Drowning  by the author himself. Whilst I've enjoyed all the This Is Horror chapbook stories to date, they seem to have upped their game in terms of production quality and extra content with this one.
 A must read. Preferably after a big plate of fish and chips like I did.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Recommendation: The Night Just Got Darker by Gary McMahon

The Night Just Got Darker is a new chapbook from Gary McMahon, out soon from Knightwatch Press. It tells of a typical McMahon protagonist, at odds with his life and unable to stop it crumbling round him. And one night he sees across the road his neighbour, scribbling away at something in the small hours. He goes over and finds out the man is a very singular kind of writer...

I'll keep the rest of this short and sweet, as the story itself is short (but very far from sweet) and I don't want to give too much away. The really condensed version is: you should read this.

The slightly longer version is that I've read The Night Just Got Darker a couple of times now, once in broad daylight and once, yes, as the night was deepening, with a whisky in my hand. I loved it even more the second time round. It's worth reading more than once, because it's many things and you might not spot them all at first. It's one of those magical stories that seems bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, a tale whose implications ripple out in wider circles than you can possibly imagine from the initial set up. It's a story with a very disturbing view about how humanity might keep the dark held back, as well as a clever piece of meta-fiction about the cost of writing. It's a story about modern urban living and fractured realities and the idea of the scapegoat. And it's a tribute to the author's friend Joel Lane.

And, as I said, it's a story you really should read.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Recomendation - Drive by Mark West

Drive cover by Mark WestMark West’s latest novella is in some ways a departure from the author’s previous work; there’s none of the supernatural horror of The Mill here. But despite its realism there are scares aplenty in Drive and its small-town English realism adds to the effect. Drive’s set up is simple: David and Nat are on their way back from a party; they've never met before but David has offered Natalie a lift home. On the way, they encounter a group of drunk and possibly high boy racers in a souped up car, who they see nearly run over some women in the street. Almost at random, David and Nat are targeted by these youths, and the two spend the rest of the night driving round the estates and one-way system of Gaffney, attempting to flee their pursuers, who become increasingly violent and unhinged.

It’s a tense ride indeed for the reader, and ideally one read in a single sitting with no pit-stops. The story is pared down, barely giving you room to breathe. The characterisation and changing relationship between David and Nat is well done, occurring for the reader in the brief windows between the action. By contrast, the yobs with their laddish banter and blaring music are presented with no back-story, no real explanation for their acts. This seems a deliberate ploy by West, emphasising the essentially random nature of the violence, and giving the car that pursues David and Nat some of the impersonal, relentless horror of the truck from Duel. (It’s certainly a more inventive and original reworking of that theme than the recent Stephen King/Joe Hill collaboration.)

In short this is another impressive work from West, who seems to be mastering the novella form. Published by Pendragon Press, and available both as an ebook and as a limited edition paperback, this one is very much worth a test drive.