Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Recommendation: Bodies Of Water by V.H. Leslie

Bodies Of Water from Salt is V.H. Leslie's debut novel (following on her from superb collection Skein & Bone last year). It tells two stories, both of which are set in the same building: in the 1870s Evelyn  is sent to Wakewater House to undergo the new-fangled water treatment for her 'nerves'; in the present day divorcee Kirsten moves into Wakewater House, newly renovated into modern flats. Kristen is irresistibly drawn to the river flowing outside her window and her new flat is plagued by mysterious leaks. But the water is not the only thing leaking in, as the past seeps into the present...

Leslie's short stories showed her skill at taking a central theme or image and using it as the basis for her fictions, and the aquatic motifs in Bodies Of Water show her expanding this technique to short novel length. The story weaves together the river, Victorian water-cures, Virginia Woolf's suicide, burst pipes, water spirits and a whole lot more. It works brilliantly; this is a book that feels intricately and elegantly constructed. It's built on strong Gothic foundations but has a thoroughly modern sensibility - intriguingly, this applies equally to the Victorian sections of the book as the present day. Attitudes to prostitution, lesbianism, suicide and poverty are all skilfully dovetailed into the narrative. Emotionally, too, there's a great deal going on here despite the novel's relatively short length: moments of genuine creepiness sit alongside a scenes of tenderness and compassion... although in Leslie's world these are all too easily washed away.

Bodies Of Water is a genuine truimph, a book sure of itself and full of quiet ambition. It confirms Leslie is simply one of the best writers on the scene at the moment. Utterly fantastic.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Great British Horror 1: Green & Pleasant Land

Really pleased to be able to announce that my story A Glimpse Of Red will be appearing in the first volume of a new anthology series from Black Shuck Books called Great British Horror.  The first volume is Green & Pleasant Land and as you can see from the cover image the lineup is fantastic. I can genuinely say some of my favourite current writers are in this book, and somehow I'm appearing alongside them.

The Hardback will be launching later this year, with other formats to follow. You can read more and preorder here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Recommendation: Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories

Gutted is a forthcoming anthology from Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Doug Murano and Alexander D. Ward. Subtitled Beautiful Horror Stories, the sixteen tales within are all as disturbing and unsettling as you'd expect from some of the biggest names in the genre. And they are all exceptionally well written. There's no specific theme here, just a general commitment on the part of the authors to make their stories sing.

A few words about those pieces that I particularly enjoyed and admired below:

Stephanie M. Wytovich opens with a poem called The Morning After Was Filled with Bone. I've got to be honest, while I read classic and modernist poetry (T.S. Eliot being a particular favourite) I often find 'genre' poetry trite and old-fashioned. But maybe that's because I've not read enough, because Wytovich's poem was excellent: some fantastic imagery and controlled use of language (as you can probably tell from the title). It suitably set the tone for the anthology as a whole. I'll be reading more of her work, I imagine.

Neil Gaiman's The Problem of Susan repeats his trick of repurposing a well-known story for this own ends. And what a trick it is, in this case giving us his own playfully dark take on C.S. Lewis. (Although if you're not au fait with Lewis, Gaiman's tale would lose some of its undoubted punch.)

Water Thy Bones is a typically powerful and lyrical story from Mercedes M. Yardley; in a way the whole story is one extended poetic metaphor. Like many of the stories here it perfectly fits the brief in the anthology's subtitle: it is both beautiful and horrific. There's the scent of wonder as well as fear: a plot that in other people's hands might be body-horror becomes something more akin to Ovid's Metamorphoses.

A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken (Paul Tremblay). There's no way, I thought upon starting this story, that it can be as good as its title. It's a perfect title, so there's just no way. I was wrong. This story is as good as its title, a marvellously inventive and original take on the haunted house tale. Not just my favourite story in this book, but in the running for my favourite read this year...

Damien Angelica Walters gives us another great title with On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes. And another story that's as good as its name. A story of how small horrors - families failing to communicate, the unkindness of children, time's passing - can build into something inescapable and all-consuming. Poignant, full of sadness and regret.

John F.D. Taff's Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare is a coming of age story that reads like a combination of Bradbury and Stephen King. And those are comparisions I don't make lightly. The ending was a little too sacharine for me, but that doesn't mean other readers won't like it.

I've never read anything by Kevin Lucia before, but When We All Meet at the Ofrenda convinced me I should rectify that forthwith. An evokative and powerful piece that merges lore about the Day Of The Dead and Halloween, it's another quietly moving story about a graveyard caretaker grieving for his wife.

Most of the stories in the book are original, but there a few reprints, one of which being Ramsey Campbell stellar The Place of Revelation. This is a tale within a tale, a childhood nightmare told by one of the genre's premier prose stylists. Rereading Campbell is always a pleasure and this story loses none of its power the second time round. Just as Stephanie M. Wytovich gave Gutted a perfect opening, Campbell provides a flawless end to an excellent anthology.

Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories seems an obvious labour of love for the editors and publisher, and it shows in every aspect, including the fantastic interior art by Luke Spooner. It's a book for readers who love language as much as story, who understand that horror can be beautiful, ecstatic and revelatory as well as down-right scary (although plenty of the tales are that, too). I can't recommend it enough.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Some Recent Things

Some recent things:

I was asked to contribute to Mark West's Brit Horror Mixtape, where he invited a number of writers to write liner notes about their favourite British horror story. There some fantastic selections, plus some I've not read but which I mean to check out. My own selection was Ramsey Campbell's The End Of A Summer's DayYou can listen to the Mixtape here.

I reviewed S.P. Miskowski's excellent new chapbook Stag In Flight for This Is Horror.

And finally, thanks to Kit Power and Jim McLeod for this interview over on The Ginger Nuts Of Horror site; I spoke to Kit about Falling Over and the stories inside. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Shouting About Trying To Be So Quiet

More reviews for Trying To Be So Quiet recently which have made my day.

Des Lewis conducted one of his fabulous 'real time reviews' here, concluding with

"This work felt both devastating and uplifting to me. But how can that possibly be? And a great ghost story, to boot."

Anthony Watson praised by the production design and the story itself on his Dark Musings site.

And even one of my favourite current writers, Gary McMahon, had some kind words to say about it on Facebook:

"A small, quiet, poignant novella about grief and significance... No noise, no fuss, just good, honest writing about the things that matter. Recommended."

If any of these reviews have piqued your interest about TTBSQ, you can order it here.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A-Z Of Books

I saw this blog challenge thingy on the site of the excellent horror author Thana Niveau who picked some great books. So I thought sod it, I'll give it a go too. Because it's basically just another excuse to talk about books... not that I really need excuses.

AUTHOR YOU’VE READ THE MOST BOOKS BY: A score-draw threeway between Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett.

BEST SEQUEL EVER: The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams.

CURRENTLY READING: A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood - as you might expect, so far this is bloody brilliant. Oh and I'm also rereading The King In Yellow.

DRINK OF CHOICE WHILE READING: Currently a glass of Marston's Pedigree. 

E-READER OR PHYSICAL BOOK: I read both; in fact I'm normally reading a book on each at any given time.

FICTIONAL CHARACTER YOU WOULD HAVE DATED IN HIGH SCHOOL: Knowing my luck, Carrie White.

GLAD YOU GAVE THIS BOOK A CHANCE: Emma by Jane Austin. I guess my view of what Austin was like was coloured by half-watched TV adaptations. But she's so much more cynical and astute than her reputation for period romance might suggest.

HIDDEN GEM BOOK: Ice Age by Iain Rowan. A stunning collection of weird-creepy-shit stories.

IMPORTANT MOMENT IN YOUR READING LIFE: I've mentioned this before on here, but when my Dad handed me a copy of Salem's Lot from his bookshelves.
JUST FINISHED: The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis, which was fantastic, and the The Best Horror Of The Year 6 edited by Ellen Datlow.

KIND OF BOOKS YOU WON’T READ: Anything where it's so obviously been written aiming for a film adaptation. Plus anything where the blurb is some kind of mashup such as "Like Harry Potter in Space!" or something equally repellent & cynical.

LONGEST BOOK YOU’VE READ: Not sure really. Vanity Fair? Anna Karenina? Crime & Punishment? Spot Bakes A Cake? 

MAJOR BOOK HANGOVER: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. An absolutely stunning achievement. But Christ, it makes most end of the world novels seem like Enid Blyton.

NUMBER OF BOOKCASES YOU OWN: Eight.

ONE BOOK YOU’VE READ MULTIPLE TIMES: The Waste-Land & Other Poems by T.S. Eliot. The language is so breathtakingly poweful and precise, sometimes I just reread the same lines.

PREFERRED PLACE TO READ: Somewhere with a view of the sea.

QUOTE THAT INSPIRES YOU FROM A BOOK YOU’VE READ: I'm not going to pick anything trite and inspirational, I'm just going to pick what I consider to be one of the most perfect openings to a novel ever written. It's inspirational because it's what I'm aiming for, and constantly falling short of:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”
We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Shirley Jackson

READING REGRET: That I'll die before I read everything I want to, even if people stopped writing now. And yet, non-reading people get to live on average the same length of time. There's no justice; their years should be mine.

SERIES YOU STARTED AND NEED TO FINISH: The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks.

THREE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE BOOKS: Three? Three? Jesus, it was bad enough picking five for a recent interview. So here's three that I didn't include there:

  1. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
  2. House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  3. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

UNAPOLOGETIC FANGIRL/BOY FOR: Ramsey Campbell. He's the guvnor.

VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS RELEASE: Too many to mention, obviously, but I'm very much looking forward to The Grieving Stones by Gary McMahon.

WORST BOOKISH HABIT: When I'm reading and someone comes to talk to me and I look like I'm listening to what they're saying, but really I'm still thinking about the book...

X MARKS THE SPOT: START ON THE TOP LEFT OF YOUR SHELF AND PICK THE 27TH BOOK: The Woman In The Dunes by Kōbō Abe.

YOUR LATEST PURCHASE: Bodies Of Water by V.H. Leslie and Oh! The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss, for my daughter because it was one of the readings at her Naming Day.

ZZZZ-SNATCHER BOOK (LAST BOOK THAT KEPT YOU UP WAY TOO LATE): Phonogram 3: The Immaterial Girl. I love these graphic novels, in which music really is magic. There's some fantastic use of pop-cultutral imagery and references in this third volume, especially when the protagonist becomes trapped in a murderous version of the video for Take On Me. And the Appendix, explaining all of the musical references is a delight, so I stayed up late reading it and looking up various music videos on the internet.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Holly Ice

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. Today's piece is by...

Holly Ice. The first thing I read by Holly was the story 'Trysting Antlers' in the NewCon Press anthology La Femme. It was one of my favourites in there, and I was surprised to learn it was one of the author's first publications. She's followed it up with further short stories and the novella The Russian Sleep Experiment. 

Take it away, Holly:

What’s in a Love Story?

It’s impossible for me to choose one love story which has stayed with me to shape my writing and my personality. There are simply too many. My parents have been together for over 25 years and rarely argue, and I grew up with an abundance of Mills and Boon books to pilfer and read in the dark. Now, ebooks offer the chance to sneak a romance book onto trains without judging stares and the awkward conversation about what the book is about.  
Love is a great starting point for any story from chick lit to the darkest of horror. It is one of the strongest emotions a human being can feel and it branches from the strongest positivity to the sickest depths of despair, hurt, bitterness, and anger. It’s one of the great building blocks of the world: love, sex and death.
In terms of fiction, the most memorable stories to me are the ‘Merry Gentry’ and ‘Anita Blake’ series by Laurell K Hamilton, and the book ‘Lavender Blue’ by Lorna Read. These sets of books came before my eyes when I was still in secondary school, and I loved both for different reasons. In Read’s, we see the nostalgia of yester-year, and witness a cross-class relationship pay off despite the odds. He’s even a musician to boot! With Hamilton’s series, we see love being worked at day to day and lovers respecting each other beyond all else (at least they are when her characters aren’t up shit creek). As much as I love a great romance, the dark side in me delights in the grey, and Hamilton’s series have this in spades.
If pushed, romance is what I’d talk about if asked about love. I love reading stories where one partner fights for the other and the couple comes out on top, happier than before. I enjoy reading about their struggles, only to have their struggles pay off. The idealist in me enjoys the comfort of a happy ending. 

But if you know me well, I’d tell you I hate endings involving weddings dresses and the cries of children. I’d much rather see love, warts and all, than the cherubic front often paraded before the public, and I’m inclined to think one size does not fit all.