Wednesday, 30 January 2019

...Other Hauntings...

This has been announced on social media, so thought I'd mention it here: I'm beyond excited to say that The Sinister Horror Company will be republishing my novella Trying To Be Quiet, which was originally released as a limited edition by Boo Books.

Trying To Be So Quiet & Other Hauntings will be out this year and features three stories based around the theme of the supernatural as a manifestation of grief and loss (cheery huh?).

More news soon, hopefully...

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Favourite Short Stories: 2018

I love doing this annual short stories post (you can find posts from previous years linked here) and I think this 2018's list once again shows just how many good short story writers there are writing today. So many that one person couldn't possibly keep track of them all, so this post is just a small and biased snapshot of a larger whole. But within this snapshot, I hope readers of this blog find some stories and authors new to them.

As ever, these are all recent-ish stories and I've listed where I read the story, which isn't necessarily the place where it was originally published.

Nina Allan: The Gift Of Angels: An Introduction (Clarkesworld #146)
G.V. Anderson: Waterbirds (Lightspeed #98)
Dale Bailey: I Was A Teenage Werewolf (Year's Best Weird Fiction #4, Undertow)
Jasper Bark: Bed Of Crimson Joy (KnightWatch Gallery, Black Shuck Books)
Laird Barron: Another Me (author's website)
Simon Bestwick: The Bells Of Rainey (Great British Horror 3: For Those In Peril, Black Shuck Books)
Daniel Braum: An American Ghost In Zurich  (The Wish Mechanics, Independent Legions Publishing)
Daniel Braum: How To Make Love & Not Turn Into Stone (The Wish Mechanics, Independent Legions Publishing)
Georgina Bruce: The Seas Of The Moon (Great British Horror 3: For Those In Peril, Black Shuck Books)
Eric Brown: The Ice Garden (Improbable Botany, Wayward)
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Our Last Guest (Granta #136)
Gary Budden: Spearbird (Hollow Shores, Dead Ink Books)
Gary Budden: The Wrecking Days (Hollow Shores, Dead Ink Books)
Ramsey Campbell: Some Kind Of Laughter (The Alchemy Press Book Of Horrors, Alchemy Press)
Chloe N. Clark: The Intimacy Of Objects (Jellyfish Review)
Tim Clayton: White Knuckle Ride (Sinister Horror Company Annual, The Sinister Horror Company)
Ray Cluley: In The Light Of St. Ives (Best British Horror 2018, NewCon Press)
Ray Cluley: Whispers In The Mist (Shadows & Tall Trees #5, Undertow)
M.R. Cosby: The Other Side Of The Hill (Nightscript #3)
Claire Dean: The Unwish (Best British Horror 2018, NewCon Press)
Kristi DeMeester: My Sister's Omen (The Dark #33)
Malcolm Devlin: Moths (Tales From The Shadow Booth #1)
Malcolm Devlin: Nautilus (author's website)
Malcolm Devlin: What Little Boys Are Made Of (Nightscript #3)
Kayleigh Marie Edwards: The Perfect Day To Be At Sea (Great British Horror 3: For Those In Peril, Black Shuck Books)
Tracy Fahey: The Girl Who Kissed The Dead (Sinister Horror Company Annual, The Sinister Horror Company)
Kurt Fawver: The Convexity Of Our Youth (Looming Low #1, Dim Shores)
Gemma Files: Distant Dark Places (Looming Low #1, Dim Shores)
Gemma Files: Nanny Grey (Nightmare #75)
Jeffery Ford: The Blameless (Year's Best Weird Fiction #4, Undertow)
Gary Fry: Disagreeably Hitched (author's website)
Gary Fry: The House Of The Rising Son (The Death Of Boys, Black Shuck Books)
Cate Gardner: The Fullness Of Her Belly (The Alchemy Press Book Of Horrors, Alchemy Press)
A.T. Greenblatt: And Yet (Uncanny #21)
Adam Golaski: The Beasts Are Sleep (Nightscript #3)
Carly Holmes: Three For A Girl (Figurehead, Tartarus Press)
Carly Holmes: Woodside Close (Figurehead, Tartarus Press)
Timothy J. Jarvis: What The Bones Told Hecate Shrike (Tales From The Shadow Booth #1)
N.K. Jemisin: The City Born Great (TOR)
Daisy Johnson: A Heavy Devotion (Year's Best Weird Fiction #4, Undertow)
Daisy Johnson: She Would Walk Them (Bourbon Penn #16)
Stephen Graham Jones: Moonboys (Lightspeed #102)
Danny King: The Stranger (A Pocket Guide To The Sinister Horror Company, The Sinister Horror Company)
Carrie Laben: The Fledglings of Time (The Dark #32)
Claude Lalumiere: Being Here (Curious Fictions)
Livia Llewellyn: Allochthon (Furnace, Word Horde)
Livia Llewellyn: It Feels Better Biting Down (Furnace, Word Horde)
Rebecca Lloyd: Hagbound (Dark Lane Anthology #2, Dark Lane Books)
Carmen Maria Machado: Horror Story (Granta #132)
Tim Major: The House Lights Dim (Dark Lane Anthology #2, Dark Lane Books)
Claire Massey: Casting Ammonites (Shadows & Tall Trees #5, Undertow)
Laura Mauro: Ningen (Darker Worlds Publishing)
Sam J. Miller: Angel, Man, Monster (Year's Best Weird Fiction #4, Undertow)
Alison Moore: The Stone Dead (Tales From The Shadow Booth #1)
Ralph Robert Moore: Peelers (The Alchemy Press Book Of Horrors, Alchemy Press)
Sunny Moraine: We Grope Together & Avoid Speech (Looming Low #1, Dim Shores)
Mark Morris: We Who Sing Beneath The Ground (Best British Horror 2018, NewCon Press)
Anne Neugebauer: That Which Never Comes (Tales From The Shadow Booth #1)
Adam Nevill: The Angels Of London (The Black Room Manuscripts #3, Sinister Horror Company)
Marie O'Regan: Pretty Things (The Alchemy Press Book Of Horrors, Alchemy Press)
Kit Power: Stepping Out, (Great British Horror 3: For Those In Peril, Black Shuck Books)
Courtney Privett: Lastborn (Holding On By Our Fingertips, Kristell Ink)
Madhvi Ramani: Teufelsberg (The Alchemy Press Book Of Horrors, Alchemy Press) 
Eric Schaller: 8)-5.8 (Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air, Undertow)
Eric Schaller: Number One Fan (Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air, Undertow)
Neil Schiller: I Could Have Lied (Slight Return)
Neil Schiller: I Know We Could Be So Happy (If We Wanted To Be) (Slight Return)
Gaie Sebold: The Day It Changed (Holding On By Our Fingertips, Kristell Ink)
Priya Sharma: The Crow Palace (All The Fabulous Beasts, Undertow)
Priya Sharma: Small Town Stories (All The Fabulous Beasts, Undertow)
Christopher Slatsky: SPARAGMOS (Looming Low #1, Dim Shores)
Phil Sloman: Broken On The Inside (Broken On The Inside, Black Shuck Books)
Simon Strantzas: Doused By Night (Looming Low #1, Dim Shores)
Florence Sunnen: The Hook (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Florence Sunnen: The Vampire (author's website)
David Surface: Something You Leave Behind (Nightscript #3)
Sarah Tolmie: The Dancer On The Stairs (Year's Best Weird Fiction #4, Undertow)
Matt Thomas: Living Together (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Eugenia Triantafyllou: Cherry Wood Coffin (Apex #108)
Lisa Tuttle: Vegetable Love (Improbable Botany, Wayward)
Cathy Ulrich: Being The Murdered Homecoming Queen (Wyvern Lit)
Simon Kurt Unsworth: The Smiling Man (The Martledge Variations, Black Shuck Books)
Damien Angelica Walters: All The Windows & All The Doors (author's website)
Damien Angelica Walters: It Never Looks Like Drowning (Great British Horror 3: For Those In Peril, Black Shuck Books)
Ren Warrom: The Art Of Divination By The Migration Of Birds (Holding On By Our Fingertips, Kristell Ink)
Michael Wehunt: The Pine Arch Collection (The Dark #36)
Gordon B. White: Rearranging Ways To Listen (Daily Science Fiction)
Aliya Whiteley: Corwick Grows (The Dark #34)

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Favourite Books Read In 2018

You know the score, so I'm not going to mess about with a long intro to this. It's the end of another year on this crazed planet, so here's the top-ten favourite books I read in 2018:

The Martledge Variations, Simon Kurt Unsworth (Black Shuck Books)
Three excellent ghost stories comprise the bulk of this mini-collection, but what really made it special was the wraparound narrative which set each of them, and the idea of 'ghosts' themselves, in a new light. Masterfully done.

Tales From The Shadow Booth #1, ed. Dan Coxon
The first volume of this anthology of strange and haunting tales contained so many good stories it was enough to reaffirm my faith in the weird almost singlehandedly. If you like these kind of stories as much as me (and if you're reading this, there's strong odds) you need to step into the Shadow Booth.

Hollow Shores, Gary Budden (Dead Ink)
"... a piece of writing both personal and communal, something unique that impressed me no end..." (my review here)

The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell (Penguin)
"...wonderfully done, and manages that rare trick of slowly building a sense of unease while also being a genuinely page-turner" (my review here)

Figurehead, Carly Holmes (Tartarus Press)

An excellent collection of short stories, incorporating tropes from ghost stories and the gothic, but creating something singular and personal from them; fantasy rewritten and turned on its head to show the author's view of now. Exquisite prose, too.

(Slight Return), Neil Schiller
"If this all sounds to bleak, then it's worth pointing out that it's all wrapped in prose as insightful as it is gorgeous" (my review here)

Altar, Phillip Fracassi (Dunhams Manor Press)
A real gut-punch of a novella, this started relatively calmly before spiralling into a vortex of visceral and memorable imagery. A reminder that supernatural horror can, when done right, still inspire both shock and a sense of awe.

All The Fabulous Beasts, Priya Sharma (Undertow Publications)

"...stories which are by turns creepy, beautiful, tender and terrifying. A whole book-load of them? Count me in." (My interview with the author here.) 

The Affirmation, Christopher Priest (Simon & Schuster)
A confession: about 50% of the people who've read The Quarantined City seem to have assumed it was influenced by The Affirmation, but I'd never read it until this year. Having done so, I can see where they were coming from and all I can say is it's a good job I hadn't read it before writing TQC, as it's so intimidatingly good and clever and original, I'd have probably given up. I absolutely loved it.

The Wish Mechanics, Daniel Braum (Independent Legions Publishing)
"a varied, eclectic, accomplished set of short stories, with a number of genuine classics within its pages" (my review here)

Friday, 7 December 2018

Recommendation: An Obscurity Of Ghosts (ed. J.A. Mains)

An Obscurity of Ghosts: Further Tales Of The Supernatural by Women 1876 - 1903 is a sequel to the anthology A Suggestion of Ghosts (which I reviewed here). Once again, editor J.A. Mains has collected together a set of Victorian ghost stories by women and which even the most well read horror fan is unlikely to have read before. These are tales culled from old journals and newspapers that have long since ceased circulation; they are pieces published as competition winners in the trade magazines of tea makers and candle purveyors. In short, they were printed wherever women of the 19C could get them printed. The fascinating and valuable introduction by Melissa Edmundson examines how women from this period used supernatural writing as a way of writing, of escaping the strictures that women should be 'angels in the house' and little else. 

Some words about my favourites stories here. 'A Live Ghost' by Ellen MacKubin, opens the book and has itself a great opening: a man returns from a two year trip to 'darkest Africa' to find everyone he has ever known at home thinks him dead. He has no access to his funds, is refused access to his club, is cast out from his old life. It almost feels like the start of a modern, ambiguous piece of weird fiction, although the story soon becomes more conventional. Nonetheless, it's a piece that lingered long in my mind after reading it.

'The Pin Ghost' by E.T. Corbett is a more light hearted tale, but with a central ghost whose manner of 'haunting' people who deserve it ("I put pins in his old pleasures, his old pursuits, until he can glean nothing from them, and is fain to become a dissatisfied grumbler for the rest of his life...") is unique: feeling to the reader at once both metaphorical and creepily physical, as the titular pin-ghost tells how she pricks and scratches those who don't meet her high standards...

Finally I'll mention 'Not Exactly A Ghost Story' by Mrs Molesworth, a children's author who crafts here a supernatural tale that is uncanny enough to unsettle modern adult readers. The ghost here isn't malevolent or threatening, but the way it is introduced, to both the reader and the central character is unsettling and ambiguous. As is the lingering doubt about whether the figure was a ghost, or something more conventional, or not even present at all outside of the narrator's mind. This gives it a a more modern feel compared to most of the other pieces here. It also seemed to me the best written story, the best crafted, by an author one senses knew the ghost story tropes of her contemporaries inside out, and knew how to twist them to express her own vision.

And that's what's important about this book, and its predecessor. These stories are women expressing their visions via supernatural tales, and those visions, these voices, have been unseen and unheard for too long. While not every story here was one I loved, every one was an obscured voice worth recovering from the past. 

And if two books isn't enough for you, a third volume, A Finality of Ghosts, is to be published next year.

An Obscurity of Ghosts: Further Tales Of The Supernatural by Women 1876 - 1903 is published by Black Shuck Books.


Saturday, 27 October 2018

A Few Thoughts on Fantasycon 2018

Fantasycon this year took place in Chester, and was once again a wonderful, hectic, stimulating, scary, exhausting and uplifting weekend celebrating genre fiction - not to mention celebrating friendship, great curries, and the odd drink too. It's hard to do these posts each year without a sense of repetition, but that's part of the charm: Fcon is a fixed point of the year, always different but always the same.

This blog is really only my selected highlights of the weekend; there's so much going on, so many people and books and conversations, so much laughter, that it's hard to fully take in at the time, never mind recall it all afterwards (mind you, Mark West always seems to bloody manage it). So, a few things:

Book Launches: I bought a one , a few, many, um, 'quite a lot' of books, again, including The Dark Masters Trilogy by Stephen Volk, The Alchemy Book Of Horrors, the third volume of Great British Horror, and not one but two books by Ramsey Campbell. The launches for the two books I had stories in were two of the best I've been involved in. Early Friday saw the launch for The Black Room Manuscripts IV which was staged as a mock-funeral, and then on Saturday NewCon Press launched Best British Horror 2018 where at least half of us contributors were there to sign copies: the launch seemed to go well, seeing the book in the flesh was wonderful (the hardback is beautiful), and overall it was a huge thrill.

Black Room Manuscripts IV Launch

Readings: I saw lots of fine readings over the weekend, but my three favourites were George Sandison at the Shadowbooth event, Eliza Chan's reading from her forthcoming novella during our fantasy reading slot, and of course John Llewellyn Probert's restrained, hushed, and sombre reading from his new Doctor Valentine novel...

I read my story 'Drones' from Falling Over, a piece I've never read live before (and only decided to do about an hour beforehand). As ever, I was nervous doing it but it seemed to go okay and hopefully my naturally dull monotone deadpan reading style hid any nerves from the audience (the glass of wine helped too, apart from the moment mid-reading I accidentally inhaled some of it).

My Fantasy reading slot with Mike Chinn and Eliza Chan 

Panels: I was on two panels: Being BFA Nominees (aptly, for Imposter Syndrome) and Strange Fiction. The latter especially was both huge fun and intellectually stimulating (or maybe that was just the bottle of prosecco Georgina Bruce cracked open at the start). Of the panels I attended as an audience member, my favourite was probably Fantastic Inspiration, which explored mythologies, tropes and narrative forms from cultures and traditions other than the usual—every year, I try and see something that broadens my horizons, that talks about books, authors, and fictional approaches that I'm unfamiliar with, and this one really hit that spot. More like this next year, please.

Georgina Bruce opens the 'Strange Fiction' panel in style.
The People:
God, where to begin? Or more accurately, where to end as I'm sure to miss out some of you out. But, cliche or not, it's the people who make Fcon what it is, so I do feel it's important to try and mention as many of the you who made my weekend so special. So, in no particular order:

Friends I bumped into 30seconds after arriving in Chester station: Jim McLeod, Marie O'Regan & Paul Kane
'The Reverend' Justin Park, Tracy Fahey, Duncan Bradshaw, Penny Jones & the rest of the SHC crew
Charlotte Bond (great cake!)
Birthday Boys CC Adams and Ross Warren
Andrew Hook (finally we had our Fall conversation)
Ray Cluley (finally we had our poetry conversation)
Jess Jordan (a bad influence, frankly :) )
2am Saturday buddies Eliza Chan & Tim Major
Morning-after breakfast buddies Dion Winton-Polak & Lisa Childs
Laura "award winning" Mauro, Mr. Mauro, & Keith
G.V. Anderson (*waves from across hotel room*)
Neil Williamson (super-sub who never was)
+ Tom Johnstone, Dan Coxon, Mark Morris, Gary Budden, James Bennett, Geogina Bruce, Kit Power, Alison Littlewood & Fergus, Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner, Chris Jones, Ren Warom, Steve Shaw, Ian Whates, Stephen Volk, Priya Sharma, Richard Farren Barber, Terry Grimwood, Ben Jones, Maura McHugh, Jan Edwards...

And last but never least, fellow Crusties Mark West, Phil Sloman, Steve Byrne, John Travis, Timothy Jarvis, Linda Nagel, Peter Mark May and Stephen Bacon

Dion Winton-Pollak, Mark West, Ross Warren, Steve Byrne, me

BRM RIP 
Chester - really quite lovely

Sober and dignified at the Best British Horror 2018 launch






Monday, 15 October 2018

My Fantasycon 2018 Schedule

This weekend it's Fantasycon, an event I like forward to immensely. And on the assumption that you, hypothetical blog-reader and Fcon-goer, are more organised than me and actually plan these things out in advance, here's my schedule - come say hi!

Friday 19/10 - 4pm, The Jubilee Room
Book Launch: The Black Room Manuscripts IV (The Sinister Horror Company)
This great looking anthology, edited by J.R. Park & Tracy Fahey, features my story 'Size Isn't Everything'. Something special is promised for the launch, so it should be a lot of fun...

Saturday 20/10 - 2pm, Panel Room 1
Being BFA Nominees
Ed Fortune (Moderator), James Everington, Anna Smith Spark, Stephen Volk, Jen Williams

Saturday 20/10 - 5pm, The Jubilee Room
Book Launch: Best British Horror 2018 (NewCon Press)
Great to see Johnny Mains's yearly patriotic best-of return; this year I'm chuffed to bits he chose my story 'The Affair' for inclusion. 

Saturday 20/10 - 8pm, The Disraeli Room
Readings: Fantasy
Not quite sure why I'm in a 'fantasy' reading slot, but I'm alongside the excellent Eliza Chan & Mike Chinn, so it will be alright on the night I'm sure.

Sunday 21/10 - 1pm, Panel Room 2
Strange Fiction
Andrew Hook, Duncan P. Bradshaw, Gary Budden, Georgina Bruce, James Everington, Jan Edwards

Sunday 21/10 - 3pm, The Jubilee Room
The British Fantasy Awards
I probably won't still be there for this, but I will be in spirit because Imposter Syndrome is nominated for Best Anthology!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Recommendation: Hollow Shores by Gary Budden

Isn't it great when a book turns out to be something different and more exciting than you were expecting?

I'd read and very much liked a couple of Gary Budden's stories in Black Static and Best New Weird, so I was expecting his debut, Hollow Shores, to be a well-written and interesting collection of psychological weird fiction. And there's certainly that element; but Hollow Shores is so much more. It's one of those collections of stories that's greater than the sum of it's parts, where each piece manages to be complete in itself while also part of a wider whole.

As this suggests, the stories here are interrelated, but the connections between them aren't plot-based so much as each piece occupying an overlapping physical or mental space. The characters of each story are linked to those of others by genealogy, geography, or just being at the same punk gig at the same time. Someone might have the starring role in one story, but be little than a background actor or the subject of mere rumour in the next. Tales are passed between people or down the generations; they mutate and change focus as a result, producing a shared if unacknowledged mythology for the people of Budden's titular coastline, of Kent, London, and further afield. And crucially, it's a narrative space that you as a reader feel as much a participant as a spectator in. As the first piece, the excellent 'Breakdown', says: "The story is mine now."

As such, it would be somewhat self-defeating for me to follow the usual review route here and list my favourite stories from the book*. Instead the whole reading experience forms a gestalt in my mind, a composite of imagery, meaning, and language, which probably says as much about me as the book itself: the liminal spaces of beaches & off-season seafronts; birds heard rather than seen; strange tall figures glimpsed in the mist; the insinuation of corporate branding into our inner lives; the time machine of music; invasive weeds twisting up through the concrete of railway platforms; Whitstable Bay beer; nostalgia for the moment even as it's happening; the quiet miracle of seeing a red kite overhead.

The majority of these stories are non-supernatural, but the natural world often seems as uncanny or strange as any mere spectres. In 'Baleen ' for example, a dead beached whale has the same aspect as the weird trappings of stories like 'Breakdown' and 'Greenteeth': the whale is an alien being from a different world, suddenly erupted into our own.

As I said, it's a different book to what imagined going in, and all the better for that: why would I want to read a book that I could imagine? Instead, what I got was a piece of writing both personal and communal, something unique from Budden that impressed me no end. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, despite my rather unfocussed description above. It's simply brilliant.

Hollow Shores (UK | US)

* but fucking hell, 'Spearbird' deserves a special mention