Saturday, 19 March 2022

New Story: 'Not That Kind Of Place'

Very pleased to be back in print in the pages of Supernatural Tales. My tale 'Not That Kind Of Place' appears in the latest issue (#49) alongside stories from Rosalie Parker, Steve Duffy and others. It's my third time appearing in ST - always a pleasure.

Supernatural Tales #49 (UK | US)

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Recommendation: The Headsman by Cristina Mîrzoi

There's a real pleasure, I think, in stumbling across a piece of art - a book, a film, an album - that's obviously special but which no one really knows about yet, and which you weren't even expecting yourself. And it's a vanishing pleasure in our increasingly homogenised and instant world. I used to discover new bands by listening to the radio or going to record shops; I used to find new authors by browsing the secondhand shelves in Blackwells Oxford and taking a chance on something that I had little idea what it was but which looked interesting...

Maybe times have changed, or maybe I'm just old now, but such serendipitous stumbling into something unknown but exciting happens less and less for me nowadays. But when it does happen, I'm still thrilled. 


My friend and editor-supreme Dion Winton-Polak posted he'd recently edited a new book, The Headsman by Cristina Mîrzoi. If I'd not been looking at Facebook on my phone at that exact moment, I probably would have missed it, something special lost amidst the horrendous world news, the Wordle scores, the shit-posting and endless adverts. But I did see Dion's post, and thought the book looked interesting, so I picked up a copy.

Having read it, I can say it's far more than 'interesting'. It's really, genuinely, fantastically good. The real deal.

The Headsman is a story told via series of interconnecting chapters, each titled after a figure in the same village (time and place deliberately and pleasingly unspecified): 'The Duke', 'The Maid' etc.  Each piece is told from one perspective but together they form a single, whole narrative, the reader realising each is a  different pieces of the same jigsaw. Once you work out how the book works, there's an almost addictive feeling starting each new section of the story, trying to work out how it's going to fit into the overall picture. The sections in The Headsman jump around in time as well as perspective, but regardless it's clear the story is heading in one direction only, and towards one ending: death. The titular Headsman is the village's executioner (he uses an axe, hence his name) and it's no real spoiler to say more than one of the characters in the story meet a swift and inevitable end at his hands...

I read The Headsman in a single day and loved every minute of this dark and accomplished narrative. Formally inventive but fable-like in its tale of archetypes, I highly recommend it, and I'm definitely looking forward to future works by Mîrzoi. And if, like me, you're getting older and miss that feeling of stumbling across something new and exciting and unexpected that no one else knows about yet, use this blog post as a catalyst to go out and buy The Headsman now:

The Headsman (UK | US)

Monday, 28 February 2022

Link: Authors and Artists for the Ukraine

 I'm sure all readers of my blog are appalled and disgusted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. My friend and all-round horror supremo Johnny Mains is currently running an online auction on his site, to raise money for Red Cross Ukraine. And there's some amazing rarities to bid on - a super-rare Ramsey Campbell novel; a signed shooting script for Inside No. 9; signed copies of loads of books.

I'd encourage you to go and have a look, make a bid (even if you outbid me, you bastards), share the auction around social media, and we can do some good despite the awful news.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Recommendation: And So The Night Did Claim Them by Duncan P. Bradshaw

I've known Duncan Bradshaw for a few years, mainly for two things: his love of good beers and his fiction, a very distinctive blend of humour and over the top horror. His readings at conventions are always laugh-out-loud funny/groan-out-loud disgusting (check out Congratulations! You've Accidentally Summoned A World-Ending Monster. What Now?, a riff on the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' series, for an example). Fair to say, although we're both writing horror, our approaches our worlds apart...

So I was more than intrigued when Duncan approached me for a blurb for a forthcoming release which he said was... serious. I think he even used the 'literature' word. But even if he didn't, I will: And The Night Did Claim Them, from Black Shuck Books is a masterful piece of serious horror literature. It's still got moments of trademark Bradshaw humour, but now part of a story which is a dark and unrelenting slide towards doom. I genuinely loved it, and after some thought I had this to say about it:

“A creepy, absorbing novella about loss, regret, and the blackness awaiting us all. Bleak as hell; dark and silky as a pint of Guinness - I loved it.”

And I stand by every word.

(Disclaimer: I received some beer from the author as a thank-you for this blurb, which was 8% and gave me a mild headache and some grumpiness the next morning. What a bastard. Don't buy his books.)

And The Night Did Claim Them (Pre-Order)

Friday, 4 February 2022

A Re-Recommendation: Probably Monsters by Ray Cluley

Ray Cluley's debut collection is being rereleased - today, if I've got my timing right. So I thought I'd repost my original recommendation for the book, which was originally posted October 2015. As you can tell, I liked it very much and I stand by every word of what I said about it back then.

The new edition from Vulpine Press Probably Monsters can be found here: (UK | US)

Recommendation: Probably Monsters by Ray Cluley

A few words of recommendation from me for the debut collection from Ray Cluley, Probably Monsters. Cluley is a writer I've liked for awhile; I'd read a number of the stories in this book before, in Black Static and the like, but it was a real pleasure to read so many all in one go. (Not always the case with single author collections, I find, sometimes a lack of variety can make a collection a real slog.)

But there's enough variety here to mean that's not a concern, even over the course of twenty stories. The settings range from rundown British housing estates (The Festering) to pristine Russian wilderness (Where The Salmon Run); the style varies from the dark as hell Knock Knock, through weird Westerns, to the Hollywood cliche parodying Shark! Shark! The latter in particular is a joy, a magic trick where you can't see how it's done: fourth wall breaking narration and overt cinematic references somehow coming together to make a superbly scary story. Other highlights include Beachcombing, Night Fishing and my own personal favourite, I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing (I'm a sucker for a TS Eliot reference), a story about decompression sickness and human corruption and possibly even mermaids themselves that, upon finishing (and picking my jaw up from the floor) I immediately turned back and read again.

I'm purposely avoiding saying to much about the plots of these stories because they're so well constructed; everything dovetails so neatly together that if I started to describe the opening of one of the stories here I wouldn't know where to stop. So rather than risk saying too much, I won't start.

Accomplished, atmospheric and an admirable showcase for Cluley's undoubted talents, Probably Monsters is likely to be up there with the best collections of the year.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Favourite Short Stories: 2021

Here we go, my favourite post of the year...

This is the ninth time I've done this (you can find links to lists from previous years here) so I won't bore you with too much preamble. Suffice to say, these stories (and the odd poem) really worked for me and I hope you find some which work for you too. (For each, I've linked to the publication where I read the story, which isn't always where they were first published.)

G.V. Anderson: Shuck (The Deadlands #2)
Kelly Armstong: Drunk Physics (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
Jen Ashworth: The Note (Out Of The Darkness, Unsung Stories)
Elizabeth Bear: On Safari In R'lyeh & Carcosa With Gun & Camera (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
Simon Bestwick: The Hungry Dark (Out Of The Darkness, Unsung Stories)
Gary Budden: Collector Of Games (Tales From The Shadow Booth #4)
Nadia Bulkin: Someday You Will Regret Not Replying (Southwest Review #106)
A.S. Byatt: The July Ghost (Sugar & Other Stories, Penguin)
A.S. Byatt: The Changling (Sugar & Other Stories, Penguin)
Ramsey Campbell: The Page (By The Light Of My Skull, PS Publishing)
Ramsey Campbell: The Watched (By The Light Of My Skull, PS Publishing)
Ramsey Campbell: The Wrong Game (By The Light Of My Skull, PS Publishing)
Eliza Chan: The Making Of Broken Embers (Cooties Shot Required, Broken Eye Books)
Autumn Christian: A Human Rupture (author's website)  
Chloe N. Clark: Swingman (Monkeybicycle
Aislinn Clarke: Skeleton Day (Uncertainties V, Swan River Press)
Georgia Cook: Ghost Light (The Quiet Ones #1)
Georgia Cook: Haunted (Reflex Action)
M.R. Cosby: The Bells Line Of Road (Oculus Sinister, Cthonic Matter)
M.R. Cosby: The Trains Don't Stop Here (The Trains Don't Stop Here, Dark Lane Books)
M.R. Cosby: Not So Much Pride, More Perseverance (The Trains Don't Stop Here, Dark Lane Books)
Steve Duffy: White Noise In A White Room (Weird Horror #1, Undertow Publications)
Brian Evenson: Mother (The Baffler July 21)
Brian Evenson: The Other Floor (Oculus Sinister, Cthonic Matter)
Brian Evenson: The Shimmering Wall (Electric Lit)
Tracy Fahey: I Write Your Name (I Spit Myself Out, Sinister Horror Company)
Tracy Fahey: Ghost In The Machine (I Spit Myself Out, Sinister Horror Company)
Corey Farrenkopf: The Burnt Floor (Florida Review)
Emily Faulkes: Feeling Watched (The Antihumanist 2nd Ed.)
Kurt Fawver: Introduction To The Horror Story, Day 1 (Nightmare #98)
Kathy Fish: Collective Names For Humans In The Wild (Jellyfish Review)
Laur A. Freymiller: The Mothers (Nightmare #111)
Gary Fry: The Careless Companion (Shades Of Nothingness, PS Publishing)
Gary Fry: Abolisher Of Roses (Shades Of Nothingness, PS Publishing)
A.T. Greenblatt: The Family In The Adit (Nightmare #103)
Thomas Ha: Where The Old Neighbours Go (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
Sarah Hans: Chorus Of Whispers (Stitched Lips, Dragon's Roost Press)
Lucie McKnight Hardy: The Devil Of Timanfaya (Tales From The Shadow Booth #4)
Sean Hogan: To See The Sea (Uncertainties V, Swan River Press)
Jess Hyslop: Food Of The Gods (New Myths #54)
Jess Hyslop: The Last Scribe Of Tazarhal (Translunar Travelling Lounge #5)
Gabino Iglesias: Bad Green, Quiet Black (Stitched Lips, Dragon's Roost Press)
Michael Kelly: That Which Crawls From Dark Soil (Nightmare #102)
Michael Kelly: In The Blue Hour (The Antihumanist 2nd Ed.)
Chris Kelso & Brian Evenson: Jenny Longlegs (Three-Lobed Burning Eye #34)
Alys Key: Scratching (Weird Horror #2, Undertow Publications) 
John Langan: Where The Hollow Tree Waits (Weird Horror #1, Undertow Publications)
John Langan: Vile Jellies (Oculus Sinister, Cthonic Matter)
John Langan: Washed In The Blood Of The Sun (Uncertainties V, Swan River Press)
Eileen Gunnell Lee: You Cannot Return To The Burning Glade (Reckoning #5)
Tonya Liburd: 10 Steps To A New You (Fantasy Magazine)
James Machin: The Tribute (Tales From The Shadow Booth #4)
Tim Major: Goodbye Jonathan Tumbledown (Out Of The Darkness, Unsung Stories)
Laura Mauro & Chris Kelso: The Recidivist (Punk Noir)
J.A.W. McCarthy: Contrition (Oculus Sinister, Cthonic Matter)
J.A.W. McCarthy: With You As My Anchor (Sometimes We're Cruel, Cemetery Gates)
J.A.W. McCarthy: Black Doves (Sometimes We're Cruel, Cemetery Gates)
Victoria McCurdy: This Is How You Fail To Ghost Him (Monkeybicycle)
Gary McMahon: On The Walls (At Home In The Shadows, Black Shuck Books)
John McNee: Midnight At The Doom Cabaret (Doom Cabaret, Sinister Horror Company)
Alan Moore: Not Even Legend (Uncertainties V, Swan River Press)
Adam Nevill: On All London Underground Lines (Hasty For The Dark, Ritual Limited)
Aimee Ogden: The Cold Calculations (Clarkesworld #183)
Jon Padgett: Flight 389 (Nightmare #109)
Hailey Piper: Why We Keep Exploding (Stitched Lips, Dragon's Roost Press)
H. Pueyo: Nobody Lives Here (The Dark #66)
Gareth E. Rees: Meet On The Edge (Out Of The Darkness, Unsung Stories)
Sally Rooney: Mr Salary (Faber Stories)
Iain Rowan: Now, The Weather (101 Words.Org)
Robert Shearman: Shaggy Dog Story (We All Hear Stories In The Dark, PS Publishing)
Phil Sloman: The Interview (Meghan's Holiday House Of Books)
Simon Strantzas: That House (Bourbon Penn #25)
Ashley Stokes: Hardrada (Tales From The Shadow Booth #4)
Sonya Taaffe: Every Night And All (Nightmare #109)
Sonya Taaffe: Tea With The Earl Of Twilight (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
Steve Rasnic Tem: The Dead Outside My Door (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
Patty Templeton: Artown Correctional Center (Stitched Lips, Dragon's Roost Press)
Kristina Ten: The Dreadful & Specific Monster Of Starosibirsk (Weird Horror #2, Undertow Publications) 
Ali Trotta: When The Wraith Smiles (Nightmare #111)
Cameron Ulam: Propagate (It Calls From The Forest 2, Eerie River Publishing)
Stephen Volk: Adventurous (Weird Horror #2, Undertow Publications) 
Kelly White: When The Snow Falls (Monkeypantz)
Shaoni C. White: Diamond Cuts (Uncanny #41)
Aliya Whiteley: Luisa Opines (Fearsome Creatures, Black Shuck Books)
Aliya Whiteley: Wrapped (Fearsome Creatures, Black Shuck Books)
A.C. Wise: To Sail The Black (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)
John Wiswell:  Open House On Haunted Hill (The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2, Pyr)