Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Outer Dark: A Strange & Darksome Night

27th November 2017.
The Lovecraft Bar, New York City.
Julia Rust. David Surface. Daniel Baum. Inna Effress.

Four fantastic writers get together for a night of readings from Nightscript III and to discuss weird fiction in general.

Bet you wish you could have been there and heard that, huh?

Well, now you can (hear it at least) thanks to The Outer Dark podcast, you can. The show is hosted by Scott Nicolay, joined by Daniel Baum and Nightscript editor C.M. Mueller. You can listen it now on This Is Horror:

The Outer Dark #27: Nightscript III

Monday, 8 January 2018

Imposter Syndrome: This Is Horror Review

Imposter Syndrome, the anthology of doubles and weirdness edited by myself and Dan Howarth, has been reviewed over at This Is Horror—and I'm slightly overwhelmed by what reviewer Paul Michaels has to say about it. Every story gets deserved praise, and he says of the anthology overall:

“Imposter Syndrome is a book which deserves to sit on every horror aficionado’s shelf. Its stories are to be savoured and marvelled at, each author meeting and exceeding expectations.”
Full review here.

Suffice to say that I (and the pod-person in my basement) couldn't be happier.

You can buy Imposter Syndrome here: (UK | US)

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Favourite Short Stories: 2017

Doesn't seem like a year since we last did this, but here we are: the favourite short stories I read in 2017. And it was another year in which I read a lot, of which these can be considered the creme de la creme.

As ever, these are all recent stories (although in a few instances I've bent the the definition of 'recent' to sneak a good one in). I've listed where I read the story, which isn't necessarily the place where it was originally published.

I hope readers of this blog will sample at least a few of the stories below. Enjoy!

(You can find my lists for previous years here.)

G.V. Anderson: I Am Not I (Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction July/Aug 17)
Andrew David Barker: Bank Holiday All-Dayer (self-published)
Matthew M. Bartlett: No Abiding Place On Earth (Nightscript #2)
Matthew M. Bartlett: Spettrini (Weird Fiction Review)
Brook Bolander: Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies (Uncanny Magazine #13)
Charlotte Bond: The Lies We Tell (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Gary A. Braunbeck: In The House Of The Hangman One Does Not Talk About Rope (Another Dimension, Willy Writers)
Daniel Braum: A Girl's Guide (Great Jones Street)
Georgina Bruce: The Book Of Dreams (Black Static #61
K.T. Bryski: Her Hands Like Ice (Bracken Magazine)
Amber Burke: My Last Day At MacKenzie Pestaway (Spelk Fiction)
Ramsey Campbell: Speaking Still (New Fears, Titan)
Eliza Chan: Datsue-Ba (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Chloe N. Clark: The Average Man Is Not Hard To Mystify (Cheap Pop)
Chloe N. Clark: A Reward For You & The Ones I Don't Think You Need (Occulum)
Shara Concepción: Brujitos (Flash Fiction Online)
Colette de Curzon: Payman's Trio (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Kristi DeMeester: In The Dark, Quiet Places (Nightscript #2)
Kristi DeMeester: The Language Of Endings (The Dark #23)
Malcolm Devlin: The End Of Hope Street (You Will Grow Into Them, Unsung Stories)
Malcolm Devlin: The Last Meal She Ate Before She Killed Him (You Will Grow Into Them, Unsung Stories)
Jennifer R. Donohue: Daddy's Girl (Syntax & Salt)
Tracy Fahey: Papering Over The Cracks (The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, Boo Books)
Tracy Fahey: Tracing The Spectre (The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, Boo Books)
Tom Fletcher: The Home (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Jeffrey Ford: Daddy Long Legs Of The Evening (Lightspeed #80)
Cate Gardner: Fragments Of A Broken Doll (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Ed Grabianowski: Extraneus Invokat (Black Static #21)
Brady Golden: The Family Car (New Fears, Titan)
Christopher Golden: The Abduction Door (New Fears, Titan)
Michelle Goldsmith: Love Story: An Exorcism (Gamut)
Camilla Grudova: Waxy (Granta)
Carly Holmes: A Small Life (Black Static #61) 
Andrew Hook: The Nomenclature Of Fear (In Short Publishing)
Timothy J. Jarvis: Hands Lying Light In The Interstices, You Rave (interactive online)
M.P. Johnson: Necksnapper (The Dark #31)
Carole Johnstone: /’dʒʌst/ (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Mat Joiner: To Utter Dust (Supernatural Tales #35)
Cassandra Khaw: Don't Turn On The Lights (Nightmare #61)
Gary Kilworth: Atlantic Crossing (The Fabulous Beast, Infinity Plus)
Gary Kilworth: Phoenix Man (The Fabulous Beast, Infinity Plus)
Gwendolyn Kiste: The Twelve Rules Of Etiquette At Miss Firebird's School For Girls (Mithila Review)
V.H. Leslie: Shell Baby (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Sarah Lotz: The Embarrassment Of Dead Grandmothers (New Fears, Titan)
Alison Littlewood: Sally's Wishes (Stranger Paths, PS Publishing)
Alison Littlewood: 4am When The Walls Are Thinnest (Stranger Paths, PS Publishing)
Ken Liu: Good Hunting (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Usman T. Malik: Blood Women (Asian Monsters, Fox Spirit)
Helen Marshall: One Quarter Dreaming, Three Quarters Want (Liminal Stories #2)
Laura Mauro: Sun Dogs (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Manish Melwani: The Water Kings (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Wyl Menmuir: Rounds (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Alison Moore: Overnight Stop (The Pre-War House & Other Stories, Salt)
Alison Moore: Small Animals  (The Pre-War House & Other Stories, Salt)
Ralph Robert Moore: For Whom The Dogs Bark (Black Static #61)
Steve Mosby: Wishing For Alison (author's website)
Sandra M. Odell: Meat (Pseudopod #536)
Kristine Ong Muslim: Holocene: Microfilm Reel 82 (The Cincinnati Review)
Linda Nagle: Smallman Wears The Sky (Stranger Companies, Kuboa Press)
Linda Nagle: Deathsmell (Stranger Companies, Kuboa Press)
Adam Nevill: What God Hath Wrought (Some Will Not Sleep, Ritual Limited)
Adam Nevill: Yellow Teeth (Some Will Not Sleep, Ritual Limited)
Thana Niveau: To Drown The World (Unquiet Waters, Black Shuck Books)
Brian O'Connell: My Mother's Skin (author's website)
Suyi Davies Okungbowa: Can Anything Good Come (The Dark #21)
Jon Padgett: Origami Dreams (The Secret Of Ventriloquism, Dunhams Manor Press)
Jon Padgett: 20 Simple Steps To Ventriloquism (The Secret Of Ventriloquism, Dunhams Manor Press)
Sarah Pinsker: And Then There Were (N-One) (Uncanny Magazine #15)
John Llewellyn Probert: The Church With Bleeding Windows (Great British Horror #2, Black Shuck Books)
Nicholas Royle: Jizz (Ornithology, Confingo)
Nicholas Royle: Pink (Ornithology, Confingo)
E. Saxey: There Is A Willow Grows Aslant A Brook (Reflections, Fox Spirit)
Jeremy Schliewe: Gustavo's Book (Supernatural Tales #34)
Effie Seiberg: Strong As Stone (Cast Of Wonders #278)
Christopher Slatsky: An Infestation Of Stars, (Alectryomancer & Other Tales, Dunhams Manor Press)
Christopher Slatsky: The Ocean Is Eating Our Graves, (Alectryomancer & Other Tales, Dunhams Manor Press)
Carlie St. George: If We Survive The Night (The Dark #22)
Andrea Tang: Cassandra Writes Out Of Order (PodCastle)
Steve Rasnic Tem: Her Oh So Pretty Face (Hex Publishers)
Natalia Theadoridou: The Birding: A Fairy Tale (Strange Horizons)
Jeff VanderMeer: This World Is Full Of Monsters (TOR)
Ursula Vernon: The Dark Birds (Apex)
Eliza Victoria: Queen Midnight (The Dark #24)
Michael Wehunt: An Ending (Ascent) (Gamut)
Michael Wehunt: Greener Pastures (Greener Pastures, Apex)
Michael Wehunt: October Film Haunt: Under The House (Greener Pastures, Apex)
Mark West: What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking (Things We Leave Behind, Dark Minds Press)
Conrad Williams: The Closure (Shadows & Tall Trees #7, Undertow)
Conrad Williams: Succulents (New Fears, Titan)
A.C. Wise: Excerpts From A Film (1942-1987) (Tor)
Gordon White: As Summers Mask Slips (Nightscript #2)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Two Top 7s: Favourite Books Of 2017

Like last year, I've done two different lists for my favourite books of the year: one for books published this year, and one for books published previously. Seven books each, this time.

(I'll be posting my favourite short story list after Christmas...)

So, in no particular order:


2017:


1. Ornithology - Nicholas Royle (Confingo)

"Ornithology is hugely satisfying, a showcase for Royle's talents and for the short story form itself.my full review here.

2. Shadows & Tall Trees 7 - Michael Kelly (ed.) (Undertow)

Yet again, Shadows & Tall Trees collects together some of the best new weird fiction around. In terms of quality this one reached the same giddy heights as #6 for me, and that's saying something. Essential reading, and here's hoping for a #8.

3. Ruth & Martin's Album Club - Martin Fitzgerald (Unbound)

A simple idea—celebrity writers pick an album they've never heard before, listen to it three times, and say what they think—made brilliant by Martin's introductions to each. Interesting, illuminating, laugh out loud funny in places. He can make me want to listen to an album even though I already know I dislike it. Some of the finest music writing I've ever read.

4. You Will Grow Into Them - Malcolm Devlin (Unsung Stories)

"Anyone who's read any of Devlin's work before will not be surprised that these stories are all expertly constructed, brilliantly told.my full review here.

5. Cottingley - Alison Littlewood (NewCon Press)

"...impeccably paced, perfectly structured, and a genuine page-turner." my full review here.

6. Beneath - Kristi DeMeester (Word Horde)

I kinda guessed that the debut novel from Kristi DeMeester would be brilliant, and I wasn't wrong. It's a quasi-Lovecraftian horror story set in fundamentalist Christian Appalachia. This is a book that oozes atmosphere, with the author's skilful prose describing a world that feels sickly, feverish, on the brink of delirium and apocalypse.

7. The Little Gift - Stephen Volk (PS Publishing)

"Some books, you finish reading them and you're done; but the events of The Little Gift stick around in your head, nag at your thoughtsmy full review here.

Other:

1. Thin Air - Michelle Paver (Orion)
Paver's Dark Matter is one of my favourite modern ghost stories, and this spiritual sequel doesn't disappoint. In the 1930s a team of men attempt to climb Kanchenjunga, third highest peak in the world and the most dangerous. They are following the path of a previous failed expedition, and as the air gets thinner one of expedition starts to think they're not alone... Like Dark Matter, this is a wonderfully atmospheric novel which uses its haunting setting to full effect.

2. Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)

A brilliant addition to my list of favourite haunted house stories, this novella tells of an English folk-rock band who visit the eponymous hall to record an album. There's a great English folk-horror vibe to this one, and its just perfectly constructed and told. Came highly recommended to me, so now I'm passing on the favour...

3. This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays - Joel Lane (Tartarus Press)

A book of essays on the horror genre from the late Joel Lane: insightful, erudite and thoughtful, every one. Lane's unique voice always shone through in his fiction; it shows how special a writer he was that it does in his non-fiction too. Essentially reading.

4. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie (Vintage)

It took me nearly a month to read this one, but I'm very glad I did. A huge novel spanning the generations since modern India's creation, in which every child who was born at exactly midnight on the day of independence has super powers... and finds their fate is tied in with that of their homeland. Glorious wise-cracking prose, too.

5. The Secret Of Ventriloquism - Jon Padgett (Dunhams Manor Press)

"magnificently done and demands to be read by all aficionados of the genre.my full review here.

6. The Pre-War House & Other Stories - Alison Moore (Salt)

These stories were simply brilliant: lean, pared-down tales which are by turns creepy, disorientating and savage. An expertly crafted debut collection from a writer with complete control of the form.

7. Greener Pastures - Michael Wehunt (Apex)

"a well-crafted, intelligent, not to mention thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories, each of which builds on genre classics but displays the author's own distinct voice. A fine debut." my full review here.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Recommendation: Ornithology by Nicholas Royle

As a boy, I used to go birdwatching quite a lot. All these years later, it's hard to tell how interested in it I actually was, but certainly enough to drag my dad to Wales at some godawful hour in the morning to see red kites (now I see them every so often without any effort, from a train window around Kettering station). But then teenage obsessions took over—music and books and drinking and whathaveyou, and I stopped. I still have an interest, though, and it would annoy me even today if I got a good look at a bird and couldn't work out what it was.

And it annoys me in stories when writers get birds wrong.

Nicholas Royle doesn't get birds wrong in Ornithology, a collection of uncanny stories each containing a literal or metaphorical bird. When he describes birds and their habitats (from wild cliff edges to dingy cities) he gets them very, very right. He refers in one of the stories to a bird book I still own, which was all about identifying birds not by hard to see details but their overall 'look' and character—an idea which has the unfortunate term 'jizz'. But it's a concept that seems to inform Royle's descriptions of birds; he captures their character:

"After the snow melted, the redwings appeared... If I approached, they would flap up into the lower branches, revealing the red flash under the wing, like a handbag clutched beneath the arm." 'The Blue Notebooks'

But much like my teenage self, let's move on from the birds to the stories.
See, I'm not making it up.

If you've ever read any of his work before, you'll know Royle is a hugely accomplished short story writer; his work word-perfect, artfully constructed, sparse but beautiful: a Raymond Carver of the uncanny. As such, Ornithology is hugely satisfying, a showcase for Royle's talents and for the short story form itself. The avian theme doesn't limit the range or variety of the pieces, and not all feature literal birds: there's the swallows from Ovid, the owl from Bladerunner, military aircraft named after birds of prey.

I don't want to say too much about the plots or themes of the individual tales, for fear of ruining their impact. The majority are short, their gaps and ambiguities as meticulously crafted as their prose. Each detail is telling, but each omission, each elision is too. They're stories you have to actively read, rather than let wash over you.

And they are nearly all superb. My favourites were 'Jizz', 'Unfollow', 'The Lure', 'The Blue Notebooks' and the absolutely sublime 'Pink', a tale about a birdwatcher trying to spot a bullfinch, a situation which in a few short pages Royle spins into something disturbingly surreal.

One of the short story collections of the year, in my view.

Worth saying too that Ornithology is a beautifully produced book from Confingo publishing, with sparse but attractive cover design that echoes Royle's prose style, and small pictures of the eggs of different bird species at the start of every story.

Buy here.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Recommendation: A Suggestion Of Ghosts (ed. J.A. Mains)

A Suggestion Of Ghosts is an important (and I don't use that word lightly) new anthology from Black Shuck Books—edited by J.A. Mains, it brings together fifteen ghost stories by women first published between 1854 and 1900. None have been republished since, meaning you're pretty unlikely to have read any of them before. It's a book that sheds interesting new light on the 19C ghost story and a lot of research and dedication has obviously gone into it, which the results fully justify. For this is no mere academic curio; these newly uncovered stories are not just intellectually interesting but as emotionally engaging and creepy as the best Victorian supernatural fiction.

As Lynda E. Rucker makes clear in her fascinating introduction, lots of female authors wrote ghost stories during this period (and still do) but somehow the big names that are remembered are the men: Henry James, MR James, Dickens et al. A Suggestion Of Ghosts provides a welcome corrective. The book is a treasure trove of stories from authors that will be new to even the most well-read horror aficionado (Mains's brief introductions to each story give useful biographical context for each writer.) The trappings and plots of many of these stories might sound familiar: cursed families, bleak landscapes, gothic dwelling places, and haunted rooms. But what's interesting is how these traditional tropes are made new and sinister by the different perspective the authors bring to them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the theme of female friendship features in many of the tales, and the spectres and beings that stalk these pages are often defeated not by male daring-do or action, but by female love and compassion.

Every story collected here is worth reading and rereading, for the new angles they provide on the ghost story. But naturally everyone will have their own subjective favourites. Personally, I loved the opener 'A Veritable Ghost Story' by Susanna Moodie in which a collection of motley characters in a tavern warn a traveller about an awful looking being that appears on a lonely road at the dead of night. And I must mention 'A Speakin' Ghost' by Annie Trumbull Slosson for its exceptionally skilful use of first-person vernacular, to tell a ghost story from a Christian point of view. And I especially loved the wonderful 'The Spectral Rout' by Francis Power Cobbe, in which the fear of poverty, of 'going down in the world' is at least as scary as the ghosts that haunt a pair of sisters in a house in Dublin. The evocation of their living conditions, their efforts to avoid the poorhouse, speaks to us across the generations about the fear that subconsciously fed into this scary and resonant tale.

You'll no doubt have your own favourites, if you read A Suggestion Of Ghosts. Which I highly, highly recommend that you do.

A Suggestion Of Ghosts (pre-order)

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Five Things #7

More things that I liked, and you might too.

1. Michael McDowell Interview, Fangoria 1984 - Too Much Horror Fiction
Some scans of an old interview with the horror author Michael McDowell, author of many brilliant novels, including the stunningly good The Elementals. A great find.

2. Don't Get To The Point - Michael Wehunt
On his blog, another great writer called Michael takes a hatchet to the currently prevalent idea that a piece of horror/supernatural fiction must introduce the uncanny element of the story early and obviously. An idea which, like most over-simplified writing 'rules', is cobblers. But don't just take my word for it, read this piece.

3. This Is Horror Podcast - SP Miskowski
SP Miskowski is one of my favourite writers currently working, and this episode of the TIH podcast features an interview with her. Do I need to say anymore? Oh, go on then: it's the first part of three...

4. Her Hands Like Ice - KT Bryski
I know nothing about the author of this short story, or the place it's been published (Bracken). Indeed, I can't even think how I stumbled across it, but I'm glad I did. A lyrical, surprising take on grief and the trope of the returning dead. I'll be coming back for more.

5. In Conversation: Martin Carr - Clash Magazine
An interview that's interesting not just because Carr is a great songwriter, but because of its insights into creativity and its fickleness. Check out the video for the brilliant 'Damocles' while you're reading.