Monday, 13 April 2015

The Quarantined City Parts 1 & 2 Reviewed...

Daniel Ausema reviews the first two parts of The Quarantined City on the Geekiary site.

"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."

Nicely balance review, with the odd worry that I'm attempting to spin too many plates at once with this project... Hopefully they'll still all be spinning at the end, and it won't end with me weeping into a mound of broken china... :)

You can read the full review here.

Friday, 10 April 2015

"What you wanted was never made clear"

Have to show off a bit and mention this new review of The Shelter from Kit Power over at the Ginger Nuts Of Horror site:

"It's a first rate story, with vividly realised, achingly real characters, and a superb example of how to handle subtle build tension and horror."

I'm seriously chuffed by that, and the whole review.

The Shelter (UK | US)

So to celebrate, here's a tune:

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Dark Lane Anthology

Pleased to say that my story The Man Dogs Hated has been republished in the Dark Lane Anthology Volume 1 (it originally appeared in Falling Over). The anthology includes some fantastic authors, including M.R. Cosby, whose name regular readers of this blog will recognise...

It also includes some great interior illustrations, including one for my own story, which I'm particularly pleased about.

Dark Lane Anthology Volume 1 (UK | US)

Recommendation Redux: What Gets Left Behind by Mark West

I originally reviewed Mark West's What Gets Left Behind in October 2012 upon its release as a limited-run chapbook from Spectral Press. As it's now been released as an ebook (UK | US) I thought I'd repost my original review, minority edited.

What Gets Left Behind is the third Mark West story I've read [I've obviously read more in the intervening years..!] and possibly the best, although on an even-numbered day I might give that accolade to The Mill - a novella which has some similarities to this work.

The story is partially set in the 80s and partially in the present; the central character Mike Bergen has returned to the town where he spent his childhood, during which time a serial killer stalked local girls. West's evocation of the 80s is note-perfect - not just in the period details like Star Wars t-shirts and Noel Edmonds (and excitingly for this reader East Midlands Today!) but in the recreation of a time when no one had mobile phones and kids played outside at "the Rec" because there was nothing else to do. West is a more realistic writer than someone like Ramsey Campbell (whose realism is shot through with subjectivity) and there is a simplicity and clarity to his prose that's probably hard won. It certainly fits this story.

Like The Mill, What Gets Left Behind's core is as much emotional as horrific; although the horror, when it comes, is gripping and effective. I particularly liked the switches between the two time-frames, a device which reminded me of Stephen King's IT. The sense of history repeating itself, of the past not being over but haunting Mike's present is excellently done.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Recommendation: Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall

Helen Marshall’s 2014 collection Gifts For The One Who Comes After was one of the most perfect sets of short stories I’ve read; so much so that I felt some trepidation coming to her earlier book Hair Side, Flesh Side. Could it possibly be as good?

The short answer is yes; hell yes. Hair Side, Flesh Side is packed full of stories displaying the same sense of strangeness, charm, linguistic dexterity and emotional depth that so impressed me in Gifts… There’s some resemblances to Kelly Link or Robert Shearman’s style (Shearman wrote the introduction) but Marshall’s unique voice is clear from the first paragraph onwards. In part, this might stem from the fact that Marshall’s academic background is used as inspiration for her stories, but transformed into plots no one else could ever think of. A case in point being the first story, Blessed, which is built around the medieval practice of the sale of body parts supposedly taken from the remains of saints and martyrs. But Blessed is set in the modern world, and such gifts are given to little girls, causing jealousy in the schoolyard and competitiveness between divorced parents… Similarly the second story, Sanditon is based around the discovery of the remainder of Jane Austen’s unfinished final novel. But you’ll never guess how it is discovered or indeed, where it is being written…

The stories are full of the past intruding into the present, whether it’s the ghosts of old poets in Dead White Men, the fear of old wars and how to protect against them in The Mouth, Open or simply the ex-wife ruining a supposedly romantic break to the Paris and its catacombs in The Old And The New. Marshall’s work is full of sinister and potentially gruesome details, such as the living statues of Holding Pattern or the doppelgängers both repulsive and attractive in Lines Of Affection, but such ideas and imagery are always deployed for maximum metaphoric and emotional effect. These are stories as moving as they are weird.

It’s customary to end a piece such as this with a few words about the reviewer’s favourites from the collection, but god help me I’m struggling to pick just a two or three at the moment. I’ll have to for my Short Stories Of 2015 post (three stories from Gifts… made my 2014 list, itself an indicator of just how good Marshall is). As a showcase for her talent, all the stories in Hair Side, Flesh Side are simply undeniable. Seek this one out at the first opportunity.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Quarantined City #3 Out Today!

The third part of my serial for Spectral Press, The Quarantined City, is released today. It's called Spot the Difference and in this episode, things start to get really bizarre for Fellows in his hunt for the reclusive writer Boursier... Cover art and blurb below - very slight spoilers if you've not read the first two episodes.

And as a bonus, the previous episodes The Smell Of Paprika and Into The Rain, are available at a knocked down price at the moment.

Episode 1: The Smell Of Paprika (UK | US)

Episode 2: Into The Rain (UK | US)

Episode 3: Spot The Difference (UK | US)

Fellows is determined to rid his house of the crippled and blank-eyed child haunting it, and to do so he needs to track down Boursier. 

But his search of the quarantined city for the reclusive writer takes him deep into the heart of the protest movement, which is stranger than he ever imagined. What kind of methods are they prepared to use to end the quarantine, and at what price? And how far will Fellows have to go helping them if he is to get the information he needs?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett & Magic

"This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why..."

So begins the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read, Equal Rites. I was fourteen and I bought it for £2.99 from WH Smiths in the Victoria Centre in Nottingham. I've still got the same copy, battered and with a huge crease down the front cover. I tried to take a photo tonight on hearing the truly sad news that Pratchett had passed away; my cat kept trying to get in the picture, but when I remembered how much Terry Pratchett liked cats that seemed appropriate.

I've written on this blog before about how many authors I discovered by perusing my Dad's bookshelves, but Terry Pratchett was the first adult author I can remember discovering myself. (And my Dad discovered Pratchett through me, and loves his books as much as I do. Indeed, all these years later the latest birthday present I've got for is Pratchett related. Sorry it's late!)

Equal Rites, the third Discworld novel, is possibly the best one to start with. It's not quite at that level of effortless brilliance Pratchett sustained for so many years, but it's almost there. Whilst the first two Discworld novels used his comic universe to satirise the tropes and cliches of fantasy fiction, Equal Rites seems to be where Pratchett realised how wonderfully he could use the Discworld to mock and illuminate our own world. It's about a young girl who has accidentally been gifted the power of wizardry; but on the Discworld only men can become wizards. Apparently. For some reason. An obvious common-sense reason, but one that no one can quite explain to the girl in question... It's a wonderfully comic and humane story about stereotyping and sexism, eloquent and sensible without being dogmatic. Pratchett's exceptional gifts of characterisation and dialogue are already fully on display, and it's the first book to feature one of his most enduring characters, the witch Granny Weatherwax. And it features Death too, of course. ("I HAVEN'T GOT ALL DAY, Death said reproachfully.")

After Equal Rites Pratchett went on to write a seemingly endless stream of brilliant books about magic and power and dragons and war and Shakespeare and trolls and opera and undiscovered continents and identity and orang-utans and religion and music and cats and jingoism and vampires and growing up and newspapers and growing old and football and story-telling and Death and death. And I loved them all.

Given how many books he wrote and how good they all were (and how utterly re-readable they all are) Terry Pratchett is undoubtably the author who has given me the most amount of pure pleasure in my reading life. For me, he's up there with the greats, possibly the finest comic novelist in English (Douglas Adams might equal him in quality but only wrote a fraction of Pratchett's output). One of the finest novelists full-stop.

Of course, some people are sniffy about fantasy writers or comic writers and especially comic fantasy writers, but those people are idiots. Terry Pratchett was a monumentally talented writer and by all accounts a thoroughly decent human being. He wrote over fifty books and even that still doesn't feel enough on hearing today's news. But it's what we have and it's a wonderful legacy. It's where the magic came from and still will, for generations.

"It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It's called living."