Monday, 6 July 2015

Available Now: The Quarantined City #4: A Lack Of Demons

The fourth part of The Quarantined City, entitled A Lack Of Demons, is available now. Thanks as ever to Spectral Press and Simon Marshall Jones. Blurb and links below:

Fellows has finally tracked down the quarantined city’s most mysterious resident, the reclusive writer known as Boursier. A man so utterly meek and placid it seems impossible he can have written the stories Fellows has found so affecting. The stories he is convinced don’t just reflect reality but are actually changing it… 

The alterations in the quarantined city, and in his own life, are getting more dramatic, but how much is that really due to Boursier and how much just caused by Fellows’s own meddling?

A Lack Of Demons is the fourth episode of the six part monthly serial The Quarantined City from James Everington and Spectral Press. (UK | US)


And of course, episodes 1, 2 and 3 are also still available. Here's what critic and blogger Damien G Walter had this to say about the first episode: "...there is an edge of Murakami here, we are in a world just slightly skewed from our own but all the more foreign for that. Everington has a crystal clear prose style, reminiscent of J G Ballard but, like China Mieville, twisted toward the gothic..." 

Buy Episode 1: The Smell Of Paprika here (UK) and here (US).
Buy Episode 2: Into The Rain here (UK) and here (US).
Buy Episode 3: Spot The Difference here (UK) and here (US).

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

'A Lack Of Demons' - Cover

There's been a bit of an unintended pause before the release of the next episode of The Quarantined City, but things are moving again and Spectral Press have revealed the wonderful cover art for episode #4, A Lack Of Demons.



Episodes 1, 2 and 3 are available now. Here's what The Geekiary site had to say about the first two: "There is a wonderfully surreal quality to this story so far... the writing skill here and the narrative hooks are enough to keep readers coming back to see how it will all play out."

Buy The Smell Of Paprika here (UK) and here (US).
Buy Into The Rain here (UK) and here (US).
Buy Spot The Difference here (UK) and here (US).

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Recommendation: The Strangers & Other Writings by Robert Aickman

Robert Aickman’s The Strangers And Other Writings is the first ‘new’ collection by Robert Aickman since the posthumous publication ofNight Voices in 1985. The Strangers contains seven unpublished stories, a selection of non-fiction, and two poems. It also comes with a DVD documentary about the writer (which I haven’t had chance to watch yet). Aickman was undoubtedly one of the finest writers of the supernatural and uncanny of the last century, but if you are a reader new to him then this collection isn’t the place to start (try Cold Hand In Mine or The Wine Dark Sea, both recently reissued by Faber). Instead, this handsomely produced but pricey volume is a book for those who are already Robert Aickman aficionados and want to learn more about his growth and development as a writer. The stories are arranged chronologically in the order they were written, and it must be said they get much better as the book progresses.

The earliest piece (from 1936) is called The Case of Wallingford's Tigerand is a story about a pet tiger kept by an Englishman which promptly goes missing. The slight, predictable plot and reliance on dated colonial tropes mean this is the weakest story in the volume; an inauspicious start. Yet, even at this young age, Aickman’s prose shows flashes of his mature style: precise, cool, knowing. The Whistler is a darker tale, which starts to introduce the uncanny and Aickman’s famed ambiguity. But here the ambiguity is, more properly speaking, just frustration. This isn’t the mature Aickman, showing us a picture full-on thus tempting us to think we can decipher it, it’s a young Aickman showing us half a picture knowing full well it isn’t enough.

A Disciple Of Plato seems to suggest a route not taken for Aickman’s fiction, reading more like Henry James than anything else (and I mean the James of The Bostonians say, not The Turn Of The Screw). It’s about a famous historical figure posing as a ‘philosopher’ in 18thCentury Rome, meeting a woman on her way to live in a convent. It’s a decent story, if not spectacular, with Aickman’s prose now fully up to the task of telling it. But there’s a spark, a flair, missing; it’s perhaps for this reason Aickman never wrote more in this vein.

With The Coffin House, things improve dramatically. A short but perfectly formed supernatural tale, it starts with two women on a walk who seek shelter in a strange dwelling… Aickman fans will of course recognise this set up from The Trains, but The Coffin House is very much its own beast, and the steady accumulation of strange, unnerving details is masterfully done. The ending is unexpected, both in terms of the story itself and in the context of Aickman; the twist seems to owe as much to the pulps as Aickman’s more literary influences. But its no less chilling and effective for that.

The Flying Anglo-Dutchman reads almost like a pastiche of Aickman’s more well-known tales: two people encounter ‘the strange’ but are left almost blithely unaffected, more concerned with such mundanely English details like tea and the times of the next trains. There’s something almost wistful about the tone, and it would no doubt be annoying if it were any longer. As it is, it serves as the perfect palate cleanser for the next story…

The Strangers – so here it is. The title story. The mother lode. What we all hoped we’d find in this book but were secretly afraid we wouldn’t – a long (50+ pages), never before published Robert Aickman ‘strange story’ masterpiece.  So it feels on first reading anyway. Certainly no one else but Aickman could have written this, with its conventional, staid narrator dragged into events he (and we) scarcely understand, its disturbing yet intriguing visual imagery, its dream-like surrealism rendered even stranger by Aickman’s matter of fact telling. Quite why he never saw fit to include this story in any of the volumes published during his lifetime is a mystery, for it is superb.

The Fully-Conducted Tour is an anomaly, a story written to be read aloud on BBC Radio 4, about the mysterious events that befall a group on a tourist visit to a stately home. It’s an effective piece, with the introduction blurring the lines between Aickman himself and the narrator, giving you the initial impression that Aickman is in fact telling you of something that actually occurred to him. Until events become so strange that you conclude that’s not the case; at least one hopes not.

The two poems in the book, Pimlico and Thea have a similar feel to A Disciple Of Plato about them – slight but promising pieces that indicate a direction Aickman could have taken his writing in, but ultimately did not; which anyone who is a fan of his strange stories must be grateful for. The non-fiction covers a broad range of subjects: films, rivers and waterways, Oscar Wilde, Animal Farm and accounts of supposedly true supernatural occurrences. Naturally it is all well written and interesting, although I suspect the majority of readers will be reading these pieces for what light they shed on Aickman’s life and fiction than the subject matter itself. In this regard Introduction To A Proposed Ghost Story Anthology is most interesting, being a forerunner to Aickman’s fascinating ruminations on the supernatural in fiction that he developed in his introductions to the Fontana anthologies.

Overall then, Tartarus Press should be commended for this volume, which sheds so much light on Aickman’s development and missteps as a writer, as well as providing us with the fine stories The Coffin HouseThe Flying Anglo-Dutchman, and The Fully-Conducted Tour, along with the stellar, sublime, wonderful The Strangers.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Recommendation: Darkest Minds

Darkest Minds is the latest anthology from Dark Minds Press, and it collects together stories that are all based on the idea of crossing boundaries, whether real or metaphorical. Anyone who's read much of my work will known that's a theme that resonates very strongly with me - and indeed, it's proved fertile ground for the horror genre as a whole. As such, I had high hopes for this anthology and I wasn't disappointed.

There are twelve stories, and the editors (Ross Warren & Anthony Watson) have done a good job in making sure their selections aren't receptive - a common flaw of themed anthologies. So Darkest Minds includes stories ranging from 'traditional' horror such as Tracy Fahey's fine depiction of modern day travellers, Walking The Borderlines, to more experimental pieces like Andrew Hook's equally fine Bothersome. There's social commentary on the plight of refugees (Robert Mammone's tale of the same name) and people living under modern austerity in Tom Johnstone's Under Occupation, which proves an interesting companion piece to the Horror Uncut anthology that Johnstone edited.

There aren't any stinkers among these stories, and every reader is likely to have their favourites. A few of my top picks were by authors I was pretty sure beforehand weren't going to disappoint: Mark West's Time Waits... (a typical West everyman protagonist plunged into a very surreal situation indeed); Gary Fry's A Catalyst (an unusually low-key but affecting tale); and Stephen Bacon's It Came From The Ground (a compelling exploration of war-zone journalism, child soldiers, and big scary monsters).

But I was especially pleased that two stories that completely blew me away were by authors I've read very little of: Ralph Robert Moore's note-perfect The 18 - a story about doppelgangers and love and individualism - and David Surface's haunting The Sea In Darkness Calls which used the liminal space of the seashore to great effect. One thing I love about anthologies is when they give me new authors to seek out further stories by, and Darkest Minds certainly did that.

Overall, Darkest Minds presents twelve stories that are never less than interesting, and at their best provide so the best horror and dark fiction likely to be released this year. Dark Minds may not be as well known as some small presses, but on this evidence they deserve to be.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Recommendation: Emergence by Gary Fry

A quick post about Gary Fry's novella Emergence which I suspect readers of this blog will like as much as me. Emergence features two central characters, widower Jack and his grandson Paul, come to stay with him at the seaside. Jack's house is isolated from the nearby town, and the story is solely focused on the two of them and the relationship between them, which is deftly and subtly drawn. The central dynamic between Jack and Paul is nicely summed up in the opening scene, where Jack is reading a story to Paul... and trying to ignore doubts about his own failing faculties as he does so.

The theme of communication, and of its breakdown, is very much at the heart of the novella. The supernatural element comes when Paul and Jack encounter strange alien geometries sculpted from the sand on the beach. The shapes are washed away by the tide; if they are an attempt to communicate they are a failure. The things Paul and Jack find on the beach get progressively more sinister and disturbing, whilst still never losing that alien sense of otherness. Neither the characters or us fully comprehend just what they are dealing with, and whether the beings creating the shapes are actually malicious or just totally resistant to human comprehension. The threat posed by them is real either way, and the sense of dread mounts expertly as the novella progresses.

It's yet another example of Fry's clever retooling of Lovecraftian and Blackwoodian (yes that is a word) tropes for the modern world. This isn't just because Emergence is set in contemporary Yorkshire, but because the themes Fry explores in his work feel contemporary too: dementia, cross-generational relationships, even the internet and how it both connects and isolates.

Emergence is a quick and fast-paced work of horror, but also has enough intellectual meat to keep you mulling it over in your head long after you've finished it. Recommended.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Outsiders

Very pleased to say The Outsiders, a shared world Lovecraftian anthology from Crystal Lake Publishing is out today. It features my story Impossible Colours as well as stories by Stephen Bacon, Gary Fry, V.H. Leslie and Rosanne Rabinowitz plus an introduction by Kevin Lucia. It's an absolute privilege to be published alongside such great authors and being in a book from the fantastic Crystal Lake Publishing is just the icing on the cake.

You can read the blurb below, as well as quotes from each author, including me, about their story.

The Outsiders is available in paperback (UK | US) and ebook (UK | US)


Inside Priory awaits a lot more than meets the eye. The people might seem friendly, but only because their enigmatic leader Charles Erich accepts nothing less.

The cottages within this gated community seem simple enough, and even though what lurks beneath them is more ancient than mankind itself, can anything be more evil than the people worshipping it?

If you dare follow this UK invasion of five prime authors as they each tell their own story of the people living behind Priory's steel gates and high walls, you'll quickly find yourself an outsider, as well.

Stephen Bacon – James Everington – Gary Fry –
V.H. Leslie – Rosanne Rabinowitz

The Priory. A community of one mind and purpose. A place of order, commitment, peace, and service. A perfect world, building on mind shattering secrets from beyond the pale. Enter…if you dare.

“As I wrote the story, I drew on my experience of returning to places where I grew up as an outsider, the 'home town' that was never home – an experience that many people share.” – Rosanne Rabinowitz

“I wanted to take this idea of digging deeper quite literally and write about not only the mysterious and potentially dangerous things the earth conceals, but the often beautiful things it relinquishes.” – V.H. Leslie

“Joe's (the editor's) notion of a gated community filled with various reclusive go-getters fired my imagination, coming as it did during a spell of unprecedentedly terrible activity during a perpetual interest of mine, the darker reaches of the UK economy, all its social strata and clench-palmed denizens. The secrecy and exclusivity of such an enclosed venue struck me as an able symbol for the nefarious activities of many folk involved in the national conspiracy of theft and concealment which characterised the credit crunch.” – Gary Fry

“Lovecraft’s racism (at least as it manifests itself in his fiction) has always seemed to me to be psychological as much as political or overtly fascist. The word ‘xenophobia’ (a rejected title for ‘Impossible Colours’) appropriately describes his unease towards all outsiders, not just those of different coloured skin. Indeed some of his best fiction is driven precisely by the horror of being overrun, of being subsumed by ‘the others.’” – James Everington

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Porcelain

Very pleased to say my story 'Porcelain' will be appearing in the forthcoming anthology Masks from Knightwatch Press. Edited by Dean M Drinkel, the book will be launched at Fantasycon 2015. Full lineup and the cover art from James Powell below. (Pleased to see my friend Phil Sloman in the lineup as well.)

Many Happy Returns - Kyle Rader
Trixie - Christopher L Beck
An Absent Host - F.A. Nosić
Variety Night - Russell Proctor
The Silencing Machine - Clockhouse Writers
After The End - Christine Morgan / Lucas Williams
The Face Collector - Stephanie Ellis
The Jar By The Door - Icy Sedgwick
Porcelain - James Everington
The Man Who Fed The Foxes - Phil Sloman
The House Of A Thousand Faces - Chris Stokes
Blood, Gingerbread and Life - David T Griffith
His Last Portrait - Adrian Cole