Wednesday, 25 November 2020

New York Ghost Story Festival

I'm pleased to say I'll be one of the authors (virtually) attending the New York Ghost Story Festival, which is organised by author and all round good-egg Daniel Braum. The idea is authors will be reading their favourite ghostly story by someone else rather than their own work. 

I've already picked the story I'll be reading, and I'll be doing so on the fifth night of the festival: 20th December at 4pm EST (which I think is 9pm UK time...) On the same night as me they'll also be readings from CC Adams, Liliana Carstea, John Langan & Farah Rose Smith.

More details about the event can be found here. I hope you'll join me for some spooky fun.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Recommendation: My Life In Horror #1 by Kit Power

Kit Power's My Life In Horror #1 is a non-fiction collection of essays originally published on Gingernuts Of Horror. In each, Kit describes a formative encounter with the horror genre in his childhood or young adulthood: not just books and films, but also music, a role-playing game, and real-life events. Kit's definition of what counts as 'horror' is pretty flexible, which makes for some delightful surprises in what he's included—as well as Hellraiser we get Robocop, as well as The Wasp Factory we get Sleepers. I thought I'd already read most of the content, but it turns out there was quite a lot I'd missed, especially where they relate to music. As an aside, Kit is very good writing about music, making we want to listen to tunes I either doubt will be to my taste (The Wildhearts) or even already know I loathe (bloody Queen). 

Kit and I are of a similar age, so I encountered a lot of the works he mentioned in my youth too (and I was struck by the notion, hinted at throughout the book, that the news we see as kids influences our view of horror as much as fiction; that footage of Hillsborough, Zeebrugge, the Challenger explosion, or the Ethiopian famines, form a bedrock of shared cultural experience and imagery similar to liking the same films) but I suspect nearly all fans of the genre will get a kick out of these pieces. And...

.... and, oh look, who am I kidding? This isn't how I wanted to write about this book.

There's a great moment in B.S. Johnson's Alberto Angelo where he interrupts his own novel by saying "fuck all this lying" and proceeds to tell the supposedly real-version of events that inspired the fiction up until that point. And while I've not been lying above, I have been circling round the real reason I loved this book: 

It's 2020.

It's Covid-time.

I haven't seen my writing friends in months, nor am I likely to for months more.

Like many I'm sure, my writing has taken a hit this year. My routine's all changed, I've lost some mojo. And part of it is that the conventions are cancelled, those semi-regular catch ups with fellow authors. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets a burst of motivation & enthusiasm following Fantasycon or Edge-Lit, and while some of that is from the scheduled events, a lot is from being surrounded by so many amazing writers and fans and creatives, from talking to them during the day and well into the night.

Reading My Life In Horror feels as close to one of those conversations as I'm going to get this year. Indeed, the first chapter is about Stephen King's IT, and one of my favourite FCon memories is a late night conversation with Kit and Mark West when we talked about how much we loved IT for hours. And the great thing about this book is it's so personal, so much Kit's take of the horror genre, that it feels like a one-way conversation with him. My responses to the essays in the book weren't objective judgements, but me thinking what I would want to say back to him, if I could. (You're so wrong about Don't Look Now, Kit.)

In a very real way, it's fired me up like a convention would (I even read it Friday to Sunday, the same timescales as Fcon) and made me want to get back to my own writing, to my own life in horror. So it's pointless for me to pretend to describe this book like I did at the top of the review, to compose an objective sounding discussion of its many strengths and odd weaknesses. 

My Life In Horror #1 was quite simply just what I needed right now, in 2020, and it might be just what you need too. 

Monday, 31 August 2020

Recommendations: Lockdown Reads

To paraphrase Dylan: time is weird now, here in the mountains. Trapped up here in lockdown, awaiting the descent to a normal life, time seems to be passing both at a crawl and at a rush. 

Hopefully a future blog post will being some news about the writing I've done (in fits and starts) during this time... but this post isn't about that. This post is about some of the best books I've read over the last one two three months. The highlights, with a few brief & inadequate words about each:
This collection of poems is based upon a wonderful idea: each takes as its inspiration a different 'final girl' from a horror film. Holland uses this conceit to talk about death, about struggle, about (male) violence physical and psychic, about how sometimes the best way to rebel is simply to survive. Although based on imagery from the films, Holland's precise, sometimes haunting, sometimes brutal language creates something original and personal. This is really very special.

This is the website of a Romanian author I know the sum total of nothing about, other than on this evidence they're a very good (and dark) writer. The micro pieces you'll find if you follow this link are well worth reading: you'll find folk horror, the dead rising, blood rituals - all kind of fun stuff. The kind of thing you hope to find on the internet, but so rarely do: something brilliantly written, obviously personal, but anonymous, and all the more intriguing because of it.
Mosby's books are marketed as crime, and look, they are: I'm sure he'd hate it if I said anything wanky like they "transcend the genre". I Know Who Did It is rooted in the genre, a police procedural full of twists and turns and whatnot, but... well, it sure as hell scratched my horror itch as well. There's a real sense of dread, of foreboding as this one progresses, a feeling that the characters are caught up in something bleak and devastating with no escape, no backtracking... they can only move forward toward their fate. Like everything I've read of Mosby's, it's a page-turner that makes you feel by turning the pages you're pressing forward into that darkness too. Absolutely brilliant.
The debut collection from Laura Mauro was always going to be something special. Most readers of this blog have probably already read & admired some of the stories she's had published over the last few years (disclaimer, she wrote a wonderful tale for Imposter Syndrome, which is included here). Every story in Sing Your Sadness Deep is great, but if I had to chose some specific highlights, the stories 'When Charlie Sleeps', 'The Grey Men', 'Letters From Elodie' and especially the heartbreaking 'Ptichka' are as good as weird fiction gets.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Recommendation: Underworld Dreams by Daniel Braum

I was honoured to advance read Daniel Braum’s forthcoming new collection, Underworld Dreams, which is now available to preorder:

“To read a Daniel Braum story is to step from the familiar into another room, through a doorway not present a second before. At first, things in the other room feel familiar, comfy—but don’t get too comfortable. You’ll notice the off-notes, the strange discrepancies, in this place Braum has transported you to soon enough. You might be tempted to stop reading and close the book, to go back through the door to where you felt safe. But Braum is too good a writer for that, and you keep reading, and you step further into the other room…
And besides, if you did turn around, who’s to say the way back would even be there?”

It contains, among many other dark delights, the story 'How To Stay Afloat When Drowning', which was originally published in Pareidolia.

You can (and definitely should) preorder it from Lethe Press here.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Recommendation: Exercise In Control by Annabel Banks

With life being what it is at the moment, I don't really have the time to do this book justice. But I did want to write something about Exercise In Control by Annabel Banks (from Influx Press). It's a book of short stories, and if you love short stories as much as me you'll want to check it out.

These stories are dark, stylish, funny, and disturbing. While not supernatural in the literal sense, the realism of the writing is undercut/enhanced by the sense that something disturbing or off-kilter is happening just out of sight... As you might expect, that disturbing element is brought to light when the stories reach their conclusions - sometimes in a way that's blackly comic ('Harmless'), sometimes disturbing ('Payment to the Universe') and sometimes weirdly touching ('Rite Of Passage'). Naturally, each of these endings only works because the prose and narrative leading up to it is precisely controlled and exquisitely written. 

There's more than one story here I immediately wanted to reread, but special mention must go to the title story, 'Exercises In Control', which pulled me up short not once but twice at the brilliance/nastiness at what I'd just read. 

See, I told you I wouldn't be able to do this book justice. But buy it anyway, alright?

Monday, 20 April 2020

The 101 Club & We All Hear Stories In The Dark

So, Robert Shearman then.

Anyone who's had the distinct pleasure of reading Robert Shearman's stories before will no doubt agree when I say he's one of the best, most distinctive, most original short story writers in the UK at the moment. Let's take that as read. And a bloody nice guy as well, if you've ever had the opportunity to chat to him at a convention. And one of the best writers at reading aloud his own work. Let's take all of that as read...

Because he's just pulled off something incredible. He's released a collection with one hundred and one short stories in it. Not pokey little micro-fictions or flash-fiction, but actually short stories. Which each reader will get to read in an entirely different order, depending on answers they give to questions at the end of each story they read. It's called We All Hear Stories In the Dark, and is published in three volumes by PS Publishing (you can buy it here).

Faced with such an incredible—if not lunatic—achievement, Jim McLeod of Gingernuts Of Horror decided to match it, and commission a review of every individual story in the collection. And so the 101 Club was born, and I was delighted to be asked to review two tales, 'The New Adventures Of Robin Hood' and 'Canon Fodder'. One's about Robin Hood—sort of—and one is about Shakespeare—sort of. Naturally, I decide to start my reviews of them with a, uh, Public Enemy lyric.

You can find Jim McLeod's introduction to The 101 Club here, along with links to the five pages of reviews. It's a huge undertaking, but one which a writer of Rob's talent and kindness totally deserves. And I think I speak for all the reviewers when I say it's been a true labour of love too. I do hope you'll give it a read, and purchase the book.



Thursday, 19 March 2020

Recommendation: Terrible Things by David Surface

The world's a crazy, somewhat scarier place than it was just a few weeks back (and it was hardly a bed of sanity & roses then) and there's little I can do about 99% of it all. But like everyone, authors and small-presses will be affected by coronavirus and its economic impacts, especially those launching books at now-cancelled conventions. So I'm going to periodically post about some of those books on here, and encourage you to throw some money their way if you can.

First off is Terrible Things by David Surface, published by Black Shuck Books. I was actually asked to blurb this book, so here is what I had to say:

"David Surface’s first short story collection is a reason to rejoice for all lovers of disturbing, off-beat, and ghostly fiction. Well-written and multi-layered, these stories are unpredictable in the best possible way: the author doesn’t allow the cliches of the genre to dilute his own personal vision. Put simply, these stories are some of the very best weird fiction has to offer."

And I stand by every word. You can preorder Terrible Things here.