Monday, 30 December 2019

Favourite Short Stories: 2019

This is the seventh year I've posted my annual favourite short story list (you can find links to my previous lists here) and I still really enjoy doing so. It's always been meant to be a celebration of short story writing, and to that end I've relaxed one of the self-imposed rules that have governed previous year's lists. Specifically, if I've liked a story I've included it no matter how old it is, rather than be constrained by a nebulously-defined concept of 'contemporary'. Otherwise, all is the same. I read many stories this year, and the ones below stood out as being outstanding in one way or another. For each, I've linked to the publication where I read the story, which isn't always where they were first published.

I hope readers of this blog will sample at least a few of the stories below. Happy new year all.

G.V. Anderson: Maid Of Many Skins (Syntax And Salt)
G.V. Anderon: Whistles After Dark (Great British Horror #4: Dark And Stormy Nights, Black Shuck Books)
Anon.: The Dark Inside (Maps Of The Lost)
Simon Avery: All The Secret Colours Of The World (Great British Horror #4: Dark And Stormy Nights, Black Shuck Books
Stephen Bacon: Pain Has A Voice (Black Room Manuscripts IV, The Sinister Horror Company)
Ruth E.J. Booth: Telling Stories (The Dark #43)
Borges: The Duel (Doctor Brodie's Report, Penguin)
Tom Breen: Amorica, 116 Roane Street (Orford Parish Murder Houses, Orford Parish Books)
Georgina Bruce: Cat World (This House Of Wounds, Undertow)
Georgina Bruce: The Lady Of Situations (This House Of Wounds, Undertow)
Georgina Bruce: Wake Up Phil (This House Of Wounds, Undertow)
Ramsey Campbell: Dragged Down (Black Room Manuscripts IV, The Sinister Horror Company)
Eliza Chan: Knowing Your Type (Three Crows #4)
Ted Chiang: It's 2059, And The Rich Kids Are Still Winning (New York Times)
Chloe N. Clark: Like The Absence... (Supernatural Tales #39)
Chloe N. Clark: They Are Coming For You, So You Better Run, You Better Run, So You Can Hide (Jellyfish Review)
Ray Cluley: Painted Wolves (In Dog We Trust, Black Shuck Books)
Ray Cluley: 6/6 (Black Shuck Books)
Kath Deakin & Tim Lebbon: Faith Leaps (Great British Horror #4: Dark And Stormy Nights, Black Shuck Books)
Claire Dean: Bremen (Nightjar Press Chapbook)
Claire Dean: Lichen Storey (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Theresa DeLucci: Cavity (Strange Horizons #8)
Malcolm Devlin: My Uncle Eff (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Steve Duffy: The God Of Storage Options (Supernatural Tales #42)
Chikodili Emelumadu: What To Do When Your Child Brings Home A Mama Wata (Tales From The Shadow Booth #2)
Tracy Fahey: Dark It Was Inside (New Music For Old Rituals, Black Shuck Books)
Tracy Fahey: The Green Road (New Music For Old Rituals, Black Shuck Books)
Tracy Fahey: Playing In Their Own Time (New Music For Old Rituals, Black Shuck Books)
Mike Fox: The Violet Eye (Nightjar Press Chapbook)
Gary Fry: Checking Out (author's website)
Cate Gardner: The Iron Curve Of Thorns (The Woods, Hersham Horror)
J.L. George: Mam's Girl (Black Room Manuscripts IV, The Sinister Horror Company)
J.L. George: Parsley, Pennyroyal, Paracetamol (Constellary Tales #3)
Kerry Hadley-Pryce: What Do You Mean? (The Incubator)
Kerry Hadley-Pryce: When I Say (author's website)
Carly Holmes: Perspectives (The Open Press)
Kaely Horton: Things That Could Go Wrong In Idaho (Flash Fiction Online)
S.L. Hwang: At The Last I May Know (Tor.Com)
Carole Johnstone: Skinner Box (Tor Original)
Daisy Johnson: How To Win (New Statesman)
Penny Jones: The Changeling (Suffer Little Children, Black Shuck Books)
Jess Koch: Fur And Feathers (Metaphorosis Nov 2019)
V.H. Leslie: Tide Will Tell (Black Room Manuscripts IV, The Sinister Horror Company)
Eliza Lynn Linton: The Fate Of Madam Cabarel (Vampires, Faber)
Usman T. Malik: Laal Andhi (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Amelia Mangan: I Love You Mary-Grace (In Dog We Trust, Black Shuck Books)
Sophia McDougall: The Beasts In The Arena (Gollancz)
Mark Morris: The Scariest Place In The World (Hauntings, NewCon Press)
Joanna Parypinski: Dead Worms Dangling (Nightmare #87)
J.R. Park: The Last Horror Story (Black Room Manuscripts IV, The Sinister Horror Company)
Sarah Pinsker: The Blur In The Corner Of Your Eye (Uncanny#29)
Marian Pitman: Forward And Back, Changing Places (Hauntings, NewCon Press)
John Llewellyn Probert: Author! Author? (Darker Companions, PS Publishing)
Tiina Raevaara: The Birds Always Return (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Kristen Roupenian: The Rainbow (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Gareth E. Rees: Tyrannosaurs Bask In The Warmth Of The Asteroid (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Gareth E. Rees: We Are The Disease (Tales From The Shadow Booth #2)
Lynda E. Rucker: The Dublin Horror (Darker Companions, PS Publishing)
Lynda E. Rucker: So Much Wine (Supernatural Tales #42)
George Sandison: Keel (Tales From The Shadow Booth #2)
Erika L. Satifka: You Have Contracted A Deadly Song Virus (Daily Science Fiction)
Priya Sharma: My Mother's Ghosts (Great British Horror #4: Dark And Stormy Nights, Black Shuck Books)
Robert Shearman: Simon Harries (Hauntings, NewCon Press)
Eloise C.C. Shepherd: A Tiny Mirror (Supernatural Tales #39)
Ana María Shua: Authentic Zombies Of The Caribbean (The Dark #53)
Christopher Slatsky: Obsidian Capra Aegagrus (The Lovecraft eZine #19)
Phil Sloman: A Dog Is For Death (In Dog We Trust, Black Shuck Books)
Carlie St. George: You Were Once Wild Here (The Dark #53)
Florence Sunnen: The Mermaid (author's website)
Rachel Swirsky: Your Face (Clarkesworld #155)
Jeffery Thomas: Uncanny Valley (Darker Companions, PS Publishing)
Alexis Tolstoy: The Family Of The Vourdolak (Vampires, Faber)
Stephen Volk: Certain Faces (The Parts We Play, PS Publishing)
Stephen Volk: Matilda Of The Night (The Parts We Play, PS Publishing)
Damien Angelica Walters: A Perfect Replica (Darker Companions, PS Publishing)
D.P. Watt: We Are The Clay (An Invite To Eternity, Calque Press) 
Mark West: The Goblin Glass (Darker Worlds)
Edith Wharton: The Eyes (To Be Read By Candlelight, Parsimony Press)
Edith Wharton: The Triumph Of Night (To Be Read By Candlelight, Parsimony Press)
Aliya Whiteley: Ear To Ear (Tales From The Shadow Booth #2)
A.C. Wise: Juliet And Juliet(te) (Curious Worlds)
A.C. Wise: Mathew, Waiting (Curious Fictions)
Marian Womack: Frozen Planet (Lost Objects, Luna Press)
Marian Womack: Kingfisher (Lost Objects, Luna Press)
'X.L.' A Kiss Of Judas (Vampires, Faber)
E. Lily Yu: The Time Invariance Of Snow (Tor.Com)

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Some Ghost Stories

"... we do not know who or what is in the room with us..." Robert Aickman, on How Love Came To Professor Guildea by Robert Hichens

I was talking about ghost stories, last weekend. I was at the first (hopefully of many) UK Ghost Story Festival, a great three day event in Derby. I featured on two panels, one on why ghost stories and short stories are a perfect match, and one on the best ghost story writers of all time.

One of my fellow panelists, Mark Latham, has published a comprehensive blog post on the first of these; sadly you'll get nothing as detailed about the second from me (yes I'm crap). But I did want to mention a couple of ghostly tales - one short story, one novel - that I spoke about in reply to a question about 'lost classics'. Neither of these seem to be that well known, but both are well worth seeking out...

How Love Came To Professor Guildea by Robert Hichens is a piece I originally came across in the anthology Black Water (ed. Alberto Manguel); I believe the easiest place to read it now is another wonderful anthology, The Dark Descent (ed. David G. Hartwell). It's the story of the titular professor, a reserved, emotionally withdrawn bachelor who is haunted by an invisible entity that only wants to love him. There's no malice, no harm intended; but the ghost's love is an invasive, needy, clingy kind of love, sickly and intolerable to Guildea. It's an alluring combination of old-style ghost story and a more modern attitude to psychology, suppressed desire, and 'ghosts' as manifestations of what we seek to most repress. 

Strangers by Taichi Yamada is a novel written nearly a century after the Hichens story; but it is also a ghost story about emotional withdrawal, emotional blankness. The protagonist is not a bachelor like Guildra; Hideo Harada is divorced and living alone in a flat in urban Tokyo. Into his blank, placid life the ghostly element only gradually intrudes... and when it does the 'ghosts' here are earthy, fleshy, physical beings from Harada's past (saying more would be giving too much away), more real to him than the real people around him. If a good ghost story is about the past reaching for and influencing the present, Strangers gives us a story where the past is physically there alongside the present, just an underground train ride away. A wonderful, unnerving, novel of the uncanny.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Shadows & Tall Trees 8 Pre-Order

My story 'The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close' will be appearing in Shadows & Tall Trees 8 from Undertow Publications, something I'm absolutely thrilled about, as to my mind previous volumes represent a high-water mark of contemporary weird fiction.

Shadows & Tall Trees 8 is available to pre-order now and there is a discount if you do so early. You can buy it in both hardback and paperback.

The full lineup is as follows....

Alison Littlewood - Hungry Ghosts
Brian Evenson - The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell
Carly Holmes - Tattletale
Charles Wilkinson - A Coastal Quest
C.M. Muller - Camera Obscura
James Everington - The Sound of the Sea, Too Close
Kay Chronister - Too Lonely, Too Wild
KL Pereira - You, Girls Without Hands
Kristi DeMeester - The Quiet Forms of Belonging
Kurt Fawver - Workday
M. Rickert - The Fascist Has a Party
Neil Williamson - Down to the Roots
Rebecca Campbell - Child of Shower and Gleam
Seán Padraic Birnie - Dollface
Simon Strantzas - The Somnambulists
Steve Rasnic Tem - Sleepwalking With Angels
Steve Toase - Green Grows the Grief
V.H. Leslie - Lacuna

Sunday, 6 October 2019

UK Ghost Story Festival

I love ghost stories, and so I jumped at the chance to be involved in the UK Ghost Story Festival, which takes place 29th November to 01 December in Derby. I'll be taking part in two events, both on the Saturday:

Supernatural Shorts: Why Do Short Ghost Stories Work So Well?
With James Everington, Alison Littlewood, Rhiannon Ward (Chair) and Mark Latham
So many of the most renowned authors of ghost stories made their name in short fiction, with the works of MR James, Arthur Machen, Charles Dickens and many others gaining iconic status. But why is the supernatural so effective in its shorter form? This panel discussion will explore this tradition and explore the reasons for its success, with time for audience Q+A at the end of the session.

Spirit Masters - Who Are The Best Ghost Story Writers Ever?
With Alex Davis (Chair), James Everington, Alison Littlewood and Marie O'Regan
Get ready to rumble as our expert panel dissects the merits and quality of some of the best-loved ghost story writers out there, as well as those lesser-known purveyors of the form who might deserve that bit more credit. How do the traditional masters of the field compare to its modern authors? Who are the greatest names largely forgotten today? Expect to be taking away a mighty reading list from this lively discussion on who are the best of the best! We’ll also have time for audience Q+A at the end of the session.

As well as my two bits, there's so much else going on that looks worthwhile and I'll definitely be checking out plenty of other events myself as a punter. You can either buy tickets for individual events or weekend/Saturday passes. Check out all the info. here...

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Incoming: Two New Tales

I've had two stories accepted for publication in the last couple of weeks. They're two recent-ish stories that I think are among my best work, while being at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style. And I'm really proud and flabbergasted to say that they are both appearing in the latest volumes of two publications that I regard as absolutely essential for anyone with an interest in weird horror fiction:

'Defensive Wounds' will appear in Tales From The Shadow Booth #4 (ed. Dan Coxon)

'The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close' will appear in Shadows & Tall Trees #8 from the mighty Undertow Publications (ed. Michael Kelly)

I know, right?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Recommendation: The Finite by Kit Power

Well, fuck.

I recommend books for all kinds of reasons on here: the plot, the characterisation, the quality of the prose, the intellectual and thematic ideas underpinning the whole. (Normally, of course, if it's worth recommending it's for more than one element.) Fancy ideas which really all come down to one thing: did the book make an emotion impression on me? Will I remember scenes or dialogue or just the general feel of it? Has it, in however small a way, changed me?

I'll be remembering scenes from Kit Power's novella The Finite for a long time, I think. This one is going to linger. It's going to be hard to forget the ashy taste of it under my tongue, the gritty feel of it on my skin. It combines a real & genuine evocation of parental love with a gut-wrenching sense of absolute fucking fatalism and despair.

So look, you can read the blurb yourself, but basically The Finite is about a nuclear bomb going off and a father and daughter who survive the initial blast but have absorbed a fatal dose of radiation poison anyway. It's about their last, finite span of time together with that knowledge, and it's absolutely as devastating and soul-destroying as that sounds. (And, to repeat: it's also a book about love.)

It hardly needs to be said, this could all have gone horribly wrong. One false note, one poorly written scene or cliched character decision, and the whole thing would have become ridiculous and bathetic and easily ignored. But Power doesn't put a foot wrong, and so he succeeds in writing one of the most bleak and terrible things I've read since The Road. He succeeds in changing me in those small and awful and glorious ways that good fiction can. He succeeds into making horror into art.

And because it needs to be said a third time: this is also a story about love. And you should read it.

The Finite: Black Shuck Books

Thursday, 8 August 2019

RIP David Berman

David Berman. He was this good:

"Out the window, in the harbor he saw a little ship
The moon was worn just slightly on the right
And they slow danced so the needle wouldn’t skip
Until the room was filled with light" I Remember Me

"Boy wants a car from his Dad
Dad says, first you gotta cut that hair
Boy says, hey Dad Jesus had long hair
and Dad says that’s right son but Jesus walked everywhere" The Frontier Index

"I asked a painter why the roads are coloured black.
He said, “Steve, it’s because people leave
and no highway will bring them back.

So if you don't want me I promise not to linger,
But before I go I gotta ask you dear about the tan line on your ring finger." 
Random Rules

"Repair is the dream of the broken thing." We Are Real