Thursday, 24 September 2015

Recommendation: Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker

Dead Leaves is a new novella from Andrew David Barker, whose story of a haunted cinema, The Electric, turned a lot of heads last year (including mine).

The two books have a number of similarities, both being coming of age tales and both having a cinematic connection. But Dead Leaves is a darker and in some ways more cynical tale; it is set in Derby during the time of the early 80s 'video nasty' scare. Scott, Paul and Mark have finished school and are adrift, on the dole, the only options for employment seemingly the same dead end jobs they've seen their parents suffer with. All three of them love horror films but there's one none of them have seen: so they resolve to seek out the ultimate video nasty, the ultimate horror film: a VHS copy of The Evil Dead.

Their pursuit of this MacGuffin drives the story; as in The Electric, this is a story which underneath the plot is about friendship and growing up - the dynamics of the changing relationship between the three protagonists are expertly portrayed by Barker. But the portrayal of young adulthood is less idealistic than in his previous book, in part due to the grimmer backdrop of mindless tabloid censorship and the realities of Thatcher's Britain. Friendship feels more fragile, something which can be torn apart by an adult world that doesn't care for such things. This added grit, along with the shorter length and tighter focus, means that for me Dead Leaves more than equals The Electric. Which is saying something.

But there's hope and optimism too; their search for The Evil Dead allows the three friends to project their own meaning and values onto a world they seem to have no place in. A love letter to the horror genre and what it means to people, without being a horror story itself, Dead Leaves is, in short, absolutely fantastic.

You can preorder it from Boo Books, including a special limited edition in a VHS style case.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

News x 3

A few bits and bobs:

Firstly, the anthology Masks, which features my story Porcelain, is out now (UK | US). Edited by Dean M Drinkel and featuring stories from Icy Sedgwick and Phil Sloman amongst others, it also has some great cover art from James Powell, who sadly passed away earlier this year - Masks is dedicated to his memory.

Nextly, my story Red Route is included in a new anthology Another Dimension, which features fiction and non-fiction pieces in the spirit of The Twilight Zone. Honoured to be included in a book alongside ST Joshi, Kit Power, Gary A. Braunbeck and a whole host of others. You can currently pre-order Another Dimension with 50% off here.

And finally, I'm thrilled to see that The Man In Blue Books (from the Hic Dragones anthology Hauntings) got a mention in Ellen Datlow's latest recommendation list for Best Horror Of The Year #7. Like almost everyone working in the horror genre, Datlow's anthologies are ones I admire immensely, so it's a real surprise just to see my name included on the recommended list, especially alongside such fantastic company.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Announcement! Trying To Be So Quiet from Boo Books


Delighted to say that Boo Books are to release my novella Trying To Be So Quiet, a story about ghosts and grief and how we manage to go on despite the fact of death. When Alex from Boo Books emailed me to say he wanted to take it on, he said it reminded him of Sarah Pinborough's superlative The Language Of Dying which is one of the best, and most surprising, things anyone's said about my writing so far.

The e-book edition of Trying to be So Quiet will be out at the end of October, followed by a limited edition hardback in Feb 2016, which will include artwork and bonus content and a cuddly toy*

Here's a picture of myself and Alex sealing the deal:

* actual contents may vary

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Recommendation: The Russian Sleep Experiment by Holly Ice

I first read the work of Holly Ice in the Newcon Press anthology La Femme where her story, Trysting Antlers was one of the standouts among lots of strong pieces. I didn't realise at the time it was one of the first two or three stories she'd had published, making it doubly impressive. So when I saw she was releasing a horror novella via Almond Press, I made sure to pick up a copy.

The Russian Sleep Experiment is based on a purportedly true internet scare story, about a Soviet experiment on labour camp inmates during WW2. It is alleged that an experimental drug was used to try and stop the men needing to sleep, which if successful could then be used to create super soldiers... What could possibly go wrong?

The truth (*cough*) or otherwise of all this really doesn't matter regarding Ice's novella, because she merely uses the broad strokes of the idea to create something her own. The story is split into three acts, the first telling about life in the camp and the selection of inmates for the experiment, the second of the experiment itself, and the third the after-effects... The story is told from the differing view points of both the inmates and researchers, both convincingly portrayed. Although the real-life horrors of the labour camp are not dwelled on in lengthly description they are suggested through small details carefully chosen by the author, such as the moss used to insulate the inmates crude living quarters itself freezing into crystals due to the extreme cold. When the details of the experiment are revealed to the inmates, the reader is under no illusions about why they might volunteer even for something so potentially dangerous in order to escape and see their loved ones again.

The first two parts of The Russian Sleep Experiment are quick moving, with an inevitable and suffocating atmosphere of anticipated dread and violence as the experiment progresses. There's a chance of pace at the start of the third section (which tells of one of the researchers and his solitary life), and if there's any slight flaw in the novella it's that the transition has something slightly jerky about it. But soon it builds to a similar intensity as the first two thirds of the story, as the reader realises the effects of the experiment might be wider reaching than originally thought...

A fine and original horror story then, and well worth your time. (UK | US).

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Bad Memories

Just a quick note to say that my story, Bad Memories, is included in Dark Lane Anthology Volume 2 from Dark Lane books, which is out now.

The book also features tales by Rebecca Lloyd, Tim Major, and Kelda Crich plus many others, so it is well worth a read. The interior and exterior artwork are both great as well.

Bad Memories is a slightly unusual story for me, being set in the future. Or at least, a version of the future. The future of the world outside the Other Room, perhaps? It's a story about the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient with an unusual malady...

Dark Lane Anthology Volume 2 is available now (UK | US)

In other news, the final two parts of The Quarantined City should be out this month from Spectral Press - it will be interesting to see what people make of the whole thing...

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Recommendation: Supernatural Tales #30

Regular readers will know I've recommended Supernatural Tales before, as well as having had the distinct pleasure of appearing in its pages. It's a testament to the quality of the magazine that it's reached 30 issues.

For this special issue, the editor David Longhorn has invited back authors who have appeared in previous issue of ST to provide a new story, and all of them have risen to the occasion admirably. It opens, appropriately enough, with 30 by Helen Grant. A story about a mysterious room in an Oxford college, this one initially evokes the atmosphere of a classic MR James story, but the ending evokes more contemporary, existential fears.

An Element Of Blank by Lynda E Rucker follows. For my money, Rucker is one of the best short story writers in the field, and this terrifying story about a sinister house, childhood friendships, and the distortions of memory is evidence why. The horror comes in small, staccato bursts, all the more vivid for being so fleetingly seen.

Next up is Mark Valentine's Vain Shadows Flee. A tribute to the late Joel Lane, this is a quiet, moving character study about a vagrant in an unnamed British city. Tears From An Eyeless Face follows, a surreal, Samuel Becket-like prose-poem from Michael Kelly. Both these pieces, a mile away from traditional horror but each disturbing in their own way, demonstrate the range of fiction published in Supernatural Tales.

Adam Golaski was an author I was first came across thanks to Supernatural Tales (his collection Worse Than Myself is superb) and his story here, Wild Dogs is another triumph. His cast of young characters go to a club, their lives and dreams seemingly as blank as people from a Brett Easton Ellis novel, before the story erupts into sudden, surreal violence.

Even Clean Hands Do Damage by Steve Duffy closes the issue, and fortunately it's a tale as a good as its title. A story about a medium, a dead child and a grieving parent, this one wrong footed me several times before it ended.

With not a bad story among the bunch (in fact not even a 'just quite good story' among the bunch), Supernatural Tales #30 is an essential purchase and I wouldn't be surprised if a few of these stories don't make the 'best of' anthologies next year. You can, and should, buy it here.

Here's to the next thirty issues.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A partial & subjective list of the influences, inspirations and random thoughts behind The Quarantined City #1 - 6

The short stories of Charles L Grant
My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
Twin Peaks
The decades old associations of the smell resulting from an accidentally smashed jar of paprika
A school trip to Eyam circa 1985
The short stories of Jorge Borges
The experience of deja-vu
The baby from Trainspotting
Under The Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
My stag do, Cork
Six Characters In Search Of An Author, Pirandello
My cat (George)
The Strange Case Of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
The second-hand book-stall in the covered marker, Oxford
The Dark Tower novels, Steven King
What I think A Tale Of Two Cities is about, despite having never read it
The arboretum park, Nottingham
Invisible Cities, Calvino
Friends (no, really)
The drawings of Escher
It Only Comes Out At Night, Dennis Etchison
The music of Mogwai
Descriptions of real-life ‘near death experiences’
L’Auberge bar (Le Crotoy, France)
Weekend break to Rome
Memento & Inception
The Double, Jose Saramago
The feeling of disorientation when visiting somewhere you've never been before, where the layout of the streets makes little sense
Auto De Fe, Elias Canetti
The Beautiful Strange, Shirley Jackson
The Exorcist, William Peter Blattey
The experience of deja-vu
Desolation Row, Bob Dylan
Northern Exposure
What happened to me the day my drink was spiked
The Plague, Albert Camus
Hard-Boiled Wonderland & The End Of The World, Haruki Murakami
The Orphanage
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Ray
The novels of Philip K Dick
Hempel’s Ravens paradox
The short stories of Ramsey Campbell
My hazy & no doubt woefully inaccurate understanding of modern physics & cosmology, especially quantum entanglement & parallel universes 
The City Of Glass, Paul Auster
The Information, Martin Amis
The lines from TS Eliot's Four Quartets I can remember 
Black Flowers, Steve Mosby
One specific scene in The Shining
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Ghost Story, Peter Straub
That drawing which is a young girl looked at one way, and an old woman the other
That drawing which is a rabbit looked at one way, and a duck the other