Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Five Things #1

I thought I'd start a new semi-regular feature where I link to various 'things' (stories, articles, reviews, whatever) that have interested me recently. It's the kind of stuff I normally tweet or post on Facebook, but that only gives people a fleeting opportunity to see them. So here's something more permanent.

1. And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine)
This is a simply superb story, a clever mingling of Agatha Christie style murder mystery and multiple reality sci-fi. It is set at a convention in which all the attendees are different versions of the same person... and then one of the Sarah Pinskers is killed. But which Sarah Pinsker is the killer?

2. This Michael Wehunt blog-post about the types of horror and weird fiction he does (& doesn't) write. It's always interesting to read a thoughtful writer discuss their passions, but fewer talk about the roads they've not taken.

3. The Rage Of Cthulhu by Gary Fry: Gingernuts Of Horror review
If there's any current writer who can do something new and orginal with the Cthulhu mythos, it's Gary Fry (see also his story in The Outsiders). The Gingernuts Of Horror site agrees with me.

4. Red Hood by Eric Schaller (Nightmare Magazine)
I read this story blurry eyed one morning, drinking coffee while my daughter watched Peppa Pig in the background. And yet it still both impressed and unnerved me.

5. 9 Things To Do As A Notts Newbie (Left Lion)
I've lived in or around Nottingham most of my life, but I've not done some of these. I've including it here because of the book related ones, natch: a nice shoutout for the Five Leaves independent bookshop, where I had a launch for Trying To Be So Quiet. Also listed are the charity shops in Sherwood (where I live), in which I've found many a second-hand book-shaped bargain, incuding the Fine Frights anthology edited by Ramsey Campbell.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Recommendation: The End Of Everything by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's novel The End Of Everything is a book with a disapearence at its heart: that of 13 year old Evie Verver from her suburban American family home. It's narrated from the point of view of her best friend and next door neighbour, Lizzie. One of the first things you'll notice about this book is the impressive characterisation of Lizzie: at once appalled and fascinated by what might have happened to her friend. Lizzie is on the cusp of adulthood, and like many teenagers is both determined to appear grownup yet still subject to adolescent fantasy. Lizzie does not stay passive in the hunt for Evie, and the ramifcations of her intervention, for herself and others, form a key part of the story.

The narrative doesn't solely focus on the mystery of Evie's disapperence or the identity of her potential abducter, but also on the effects on those left behind. It's a book of secrets revealed - the secrets of the Ververs, of Lizzie, of the surburban world she lives in, and ultimately of vanished Evie herself, who Lizzie perhaps didn't know as well as she thought...

This is the first book by Abbott that I've read, but it's unlikely to be the last. It's wonderfully told, both in terms of the flowing, sinuous prose and the dexterious, clever storytelling. The characterisation is spot-on, and the plot's secrets are often revelled subtelly and obliquely. It's one of those stories whose voice seems to linger long after reading. Well worth reading.

The End Of Everything (UK | US)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Recommendation: Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso

Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso is a hell of a book: a hell of a book to read, and a hell of a book to even begin to describe. But here goes.

It starts simply enough: a wannabe avant-garde filmmaker and a serial killer team up, with the goal of filming the killer's crimes to start a new cinematic, artistic and philosophical movement: Ultra-Realism. But the story soon turns to people inspired or affected by this movement, and we see the ripples of Ultra Realism's creation spill out into wider society. The plot is told from multiple points of view, cutting across and contradicting each other (and each expertly caputed by Kelso). From these voices, Kelso weaves a whole damn tapestry of violence, nilhism, fractured psyches, blurred timelines. Except 'weave' isn't the right word; instead say Kelso pulls at one loose thread, until everything you think you knew is unravelled. It's like some unholy combination of J.G. Ballard, Fight Club, real-life accounts of serial killers, and a William Burroughs cut-up experiment.

In the hands of a lesser author Unger House Radicals might have been a huge mess. But it's tightly structured despite its sprawling feel, and Kelso's narrative skills hold everything together. There are brutal scenes here, but Kelso does not depict them gratuitiously or lingeringly. A bleak, playful, challenging yet hugely enjoyable work, Unger House Radicals will almost certainly reward rereading. As it is, after one read Unger House Radicals is one of the most memorable books I've read for a while, and one I can highly recommend.

Unger House Radicals (UK | US)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Recommendation: The Little Gift by Stephen Volk

I recently had the opportunity to read Stephen Volk's new novella, The Little Gift, and what a treat that proved to be. It's a cleverly structured and quietly devasting piece of work, a story with implications that linger long in the mind. It begins with a scene of routine, comfortable domesticity into which death intrudes: a long married couple are woken by their cat dismembering a bird in the kitchen. Cleaning away this 'gift' their pet has bought them causes the narrator to reflect on his past, on his marriage, and how things could have been very different...

The Little Gift is a book about which it's hard to say too much about the plot without spoiling things. Indeed, much of the actual plot takes place off-stage; Volk's narrator is a man at the periphery of a truly barbaric event, affected by its ripples but who neither directly caused it or experienced it. So non-central is he that certain key plot points are revealed while he watches the TV news. Of course, only the best writers could make this technique work, and Volk pulls it off with quiet aplomb. Very subtly, this is also a piece of metafiction - a story about stories, about how we tell stories in our own heads. About how we make every story about us, even when we are merely bit-parts.

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 throughts, reveal new interpretations as you shower, go shopping or drive to work. It's another remarkable work from one of the best writers we have. You can (and should) pre-order it from PS Publishing here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Nightscript Volume III and 'The Affair'

Nightscript is an annual anthology of weird and strange fiction; the first two volumes contained an impressive collection of stories, selected by editor C.M. Muller. So I'm very pleased to be able to say that my story 'The Affair' will appear in Nightscript III, due out in October.

The full lineup is below; details about the first two volumes can be found here.

'The Flower Unfolds' - Simon Strantzas
'Downward' - Amar Benchikha
'What Little Boys Are Made Of' - Malcolm Devlin
'Grizzly' - M.K. Anderson
'Might Be Mordiford' - Charles Wilkinson
'Palankar' - Daniel Braum
'The Gestures Remain' - Christi Nogle
'House of Abjection' - David Peak
'The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein' - Clint Smith
'A Place With Trees' - Rowley Amato
'The Familiar' - Cory Cone
'Liquid Air' - Inna Effress
'The Beasts Are Sleep' - Adam Golaski
'The Witch House' - Jessica Phelps
'On the Edge of Utterance' - Stephen J. Clark
'Homeward Bound Now, Paulino' - Armel Dagorn
'The Affair' - James Everington
'When Dark-Eyed Ophelia Sings' - Rebecca J. Allred
'We, the Rescued' - John Howard
'Twenty Miles and Running' - Christian Riley
'Something You Leave Behind' - David Surface
'Young Bride' - Julia Rust
'The Other Side of the Hill' - M.R. Cosby

Friday, 3 February 2017

Green & Pleasant Land: Paperback Edition & New Review

The anthology Great British Horror 1: Green & Pleasant Land has just been released in a new paperback edition, and a new review from This Is Horror has some kind words about the book overall and my contribution, 'A Glimpse Of Red':

"...a very ambitious piece about alienation, unreliable memory, and paranoia... Another excellent story from a writer who, though he has been working steadily in dark fiction for a number of years, seems set to gain even greater recognition." (Full review here.)

'A Glimpse Of Red' is a story that seems more timely to me now than when I wrote it. Its central character is an foreginer out of place in the confusing and vaguely sinister place in which she finds herself: modern Britain. In this post-Brexit, post-Jo Cox, immigrant-bashing, Trump-appeasing 2017, I'm increaingly feeling this country, my home, is baffling and sinister too.

Green and Pleasant Land is an anthology I am proud to have been a part of, featuring as it does a wealth of home-grown talent, including V.H. Leslie, Jasper Bark, Ray Cluley, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Laura Mauro.

Great British Horror 1: Green and Pleasant Land  Paperback (UK | US) | Kindle (UK | US)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Recommendation: Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

I came to this debut collection from American author Michael Wehunt having already admired a number of the stories in various anthologies and yearly best ofs - and yet, it still impressed me even more than I was expecting.

Nearly every story here is worthy of your time, but I'll jump right in and say a few words about my favourites. Your own may vary, as might mine the next time I read them. (And these stories will certainly need rereading.)

'Greener Pastures' is a sustained exercise in atmosphere, set in the a truckers' cafe in the middle of American nowhere. Two truckers fall into conversation whilst staring out into the sodium-lit darkness outside, and it's no surprise that their talk is all about nothingness and empty spaces... Wehunt uses these bare bones to create an utterly compelling, creepy narrative; I've seen this story compared online to a Twilight Zone piece and there's something to that - but it has an emotional resonance beyond any mere twist-in-the-tale piece.

If 'Greener Pastures' was almost minimalist in the elements it used to scare, 'October Film Haunt: Under The House' takes the opposite approach and chucks everything into the pan. We have a classic creepy house, multiple unreliable narrators, Lovecraftian weirdness, entomophobia, and a clever use of the 'found footage' trope in a prose narrative. All these elements are bound by the story's relentless air of fatalist determinism - Wehunt's characters seem stuck in a situation that they know will lead to their ruin but are compelled to play it out anyway. (Or maybe I'm just seeing my own neurosis and intellectual tics staring back at me from the distorted mirror Wehunt crafts here. Readers of 'Fate, Destiny, And A Fat Man From Arkansas' will know how scary I find those notions.)

Like many pieces here, 'Dancers' fuses genuine, poetic symbols of human experience (the titular trees are ones the husband in a long marriage has gradually encouraged to grow entwined together) and horrific imagery that undercuts this human lyricism. 'Dancers' is a darkly terrible story about possession, fertility rites and old gods.

And that's not to mention the Aickman-inspired 'A Discrete Music', the Stephen King-esqe 'Devil Under The Maison Blue' or the superb, surreal, take on small communities and religious fundamentalism in 'Deducted From Your Share In Paradise'.

Overall then, this is 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.

Greener Pastures (UK | US)