Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A-Z Of Books

I saw this blog challenge thingy on the site of the excellent horror author Thana Niveau who picked some great books. So I thought sod it, I'll give it a go too. Because it's basically just another excuse to talk about books... not that I really need excuses.

AUTHOR YOU’VE READ THE MOST BOOKS BY: A score-draw threeway between Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett.

BEST SEQUEL EVER: The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams.

CURRENTLY READING: A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood - as you might expect, so far this is bloody brilliant. Oh and I'm also rereading The King In Yellow.

DRINK OF CHOICE WHILE READING: Currently a glass of Marston's Pedigree. 

E-READER OR PHYSICAL BOOK: I read both; in fact I'm normally reading a book on each at any given time.

FICTIONAL CHARACTER YOU WOULD HAVE DATED IN HIGH SCHOOL: Knowing my luck, Carrie White.

GLAD YOU GAVE THIS BOOK A CHANCE: Emma by Jane Austin. I guess my view of what Austin was like was coloured by half-watched TV adaptations. But she's so much more cynical and astute than her reputation for period romance might suggest.

HIDDEN GEM BOOK: Ice Age by Iain Rowan. A stunning collection of weird-creepy-shit stories.

IMPORTANT MOMENT IN YOUR READING LIFE: I've mentioned this before on here, but when my Dad handed me a copy of Salem's Lot from his bookshelves.
JUST FINISHED: The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis, which was fantastic, and the The Best Horror Of The Year 6 edited by Ellen Datlow.

KIND OF BOOKS YOU WON’T READ: Anything where it's so obviously been written aiming for a film adaptation. Plus anything where the blurb is some kind of mashup such as "Like Harry Potter in Space!" or something equally repellent & cynical.

LONGEST BOOK YOU’VE READ: Not sure really. Vanity Fair? Anna Karenina? Crime & Punishment? Spot Bakes A Cake? 

MAJOR BOOK HANGOVER: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. An absolutely stunning achievement. But Christ, it makes most end of the world novels seem like Enid Blyton.

NUMBER OF BOOKCASES YOU OWN: Eight.

ONE BOOK YOU’VE READ MULTIPLE TIMES: The Waste-Land & Other Poems by T.S. Eliot. The language is so breathtakingly poweful and precise, sometimes I just reread the same lines.

PREFERRED PLACE TO READ: Somewhere with a view of the sea.

QUOTE THAT INSPIRES YOU FROM A BOOK YOU’VE READ: I'm not going to pick anything trite and inspirational, I'm just going to pick what I consider to be one of the most perfect openings to a novel ever written. It's inspirational because it's what I'm aiming for, and constantly falling short of:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”
We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Shirley Jackson

READING REGRET: That I'll die before I read everything I want to, even if people stopped writing now. And yet, non-reading people get to live on average the same length of time. There's no justice; their years should be mine.

SERIES YOU STARTED AND NEED TO FINISH: The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks.

THREE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE BOOKS: Three? Three? Jesus, it was bad enough picking five for a recent interview. So here's three that I didn't include there:

  1. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
  2. House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  3. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

UNAPOLOGETIC FANGIRL/BOY FOR: Ramsey Campbell. He's the guvnor.

VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS RELEASE: Too many to mention, obviously, but I'm very much looking forward to The Grieving Stones by Gary McMahon.

WORST BOOKISH HABIT: When I'm reading and someone comes to talk to me and I look like I'm listening to what they're saying, but really I'm still thinking about the book...

X MARKS THE SPOT: START ON THE TOP LEFT OF YOUR SHELF AND PICK THE 27TH BOOK: The Woman In The Dunes by Kōbō Abe.

YOUR LATEST PURCHASE: Bodies Of Water by V.H. Leslie and Oh! The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss, for my daughter because it was one of the readings at her Naming Day.

ZZZZ-SNATCHER BOOK (LAST BOOK THAT KEPT YOU UP WAY TOO LATE): Phonogram 3: The Immaterial Girl. I love these graphic novels, in which music really is magic. There's some fantastic use of pop-cultutral imagery and references in this third volume, especially when the protagonist becomes trapped in a murderous version of the video for Take On Me. And the Appendix, explaining all of the musical references is a delight, so I stayed up late reading it and looking up various music videos on the internet.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Holly Ice

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. Today's piece is by...

Holly Ice. The first thing I read by Holly was the story 'Trysting Antlers' in the NewCon Press anthology La Femme. It was one of my favourites in there, and I was surprised to learn it was one of the author's first publications. She's followed it up with further short stories and the novella The Russian Sleep Experiment. 

Take it away, Holly:

What’s in a Love Story?

It’s impossible for me to choose one love story which has stayed with me to shape my writing and my personality. There are simply too many. My parents have been together for over 25 years and rarely argue, and I grew up with an abundance of Mills and Boon books to pilfer and read in the dark. Now, ebooks offer the chance to sneak a romance book onto trains without judging stares and the awkward conversation about what the book is about.  
Love is a great starting point for any story from chick lit to the darkest of horror. It is one of the strongest emotions a human being can feel and it branches from the strongest positivity to the sickest depths of despair, hurt, bitterness, and anger. It’s one of the great building blocks of the world: love, sex and death.
In terms of fiction, the most memorable stories to me are the ‘Merry Gentry’ and ‘Anita Blake’ series by Laurell K Hamilton, and the book ‘Lavender Blue’ by Lorna Read. These sets of books came before my eyes when I was still in secondary school, and I loved both for different reasons. In Read’s, we see the nostalgia of yester-year, and witness a cross-class relationship pay off despite the odds. He’s even a musician to boot! With Hamilton’s series, we see love being worked at day to day and lovers respecting each other beyond all else (at least they are when her characters aren’t up shit creek). As much as I love a great romance, the dark side in me delights in the grey, and Hamilton’s series have this in spades.
If pushed, romance is what I’d talk about if asked about love. I love reading stories where one partner fights for the other and the couple comes out on top, happier than before. I enjoy reading about their struggles, only to have their struggles pay off. The idealist in me enjoys the comfort of a happy ending. 

But if you know me well, I’d tell you I hate endings involving weddings dresses and the cries of children. I’d much rather see love, warts and all, than the cherubic front often paraded before the public, and I’m inclined to think one size does not fit all.

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Chloe N. Clark

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. Today's piece is by...

Chloe N. Clark, a writer whose work I first read in Supernatural Tales #25, where I thought her story Who Walks Beside You was fantastic; I voted for her in the ST best story poll for that issue. Additionally she's had work published in Apex, Bartleby Snopes, Diabolical Plots, and Menacing Hedge. She also writes for Nerds of a Feather and Ploughshares. She can be followed on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.

Take it away, Chloe:

Trying to think of the single love story that has the most impact on me is hard. It’s hard because I’m maybe more of an anti-romantic (and read “maybe” as “positively”) and also because while I certainly can name love songs/poems/stories/films that are meaningful to me, I’m not really sure that I find them meaningful because they are love stories. So I decided to tackle the roundabout way of thinking about this subject. What love story really meant something to me because of the love story at its center?

The obvious choice seemed to be the love stories about friendships that always have called to me: Aubrey and Maturin in Patrick O’ Brian’s series of novels about naval warfare or the four boys in Stephen King’s The Body. These are some of the most impactful books on my life and my writing. 

However, these choices didn’t feel quite right either and then I thought about films and then I knew what to write about. Tarsem Singh’s 2006 film The Fall is not only one of my favorite films but also one of the purest evocations of love. The love in this case isn’t a romantic one, though there is a melancholic one of those at the center, but rather the love of storytelling itself. 

The plot of the movie is a friendship between an injured stuntman and a little girl, at a hospital in 1920’s Los Angeles. However, within this frame narrative is the story told by the stuntman to the little girl: a story of betrayal and bandits. Singh’s visual aesthetic has never been better (honestly, this is the only film I truly love—or even enjoy—by him though I can appreciate the visual scope of a film like The Cell) and it’s easy to get lost in the gorgeousness of the colors and imagery here. 

However, where the film truly stands out is in its depiction of how story can shape us and change us and ultimately betray us or save us just as much as any other kind of love. Lee Pace, as the stuntman, is phenomenal and then there’s the young Catinca Untaru as the little girl—and her performance is heartbreakingly stunning. Each of them plays a character who is so enthralled by stories, whether making them up or hearing them, that the rest of the world—and the logic and morality of it—falls away. Stories can convince us to do many things. They can also bring us back from the brink—of despair, of loneliness, of hopelessness.

To me, this film does exactly what any love story should do: it convinces you that there is something worth believing in. In this case, that something is the power of narrative, of telling tales. And, ultimately, that seems the most fitting love story for any writer to get behind.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Tim Major

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. Today's piece is by...

Tim Major is an author and editor from Oxford (appropriately enough, as some key scenes in TTBSQ are set there). The first piece I read of Tim's was his excellent novella Carus & Mitch, which I reviewed for This Is Horror. His time-travel horror novel, You Don’t Belong Here, will be published by Snowbooks in September 2016


Take it away, Tim:
Neither of these men is Tim Major

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, and another son due to arrive within the next couple of months. So – with apologies to my wife – right now, when I think about love, it’s often parental love that occurs to me.

Two of my favourite films concern fatherhood. Rebel Without A Cause is more about children than parents, of course, but it contains one of my favourite depictions of a father-son relationship. The pent-up rage of James Dean’s Jim Stark is often aimed at his father, Frank, played by Jim Backus. The reasons are at first unclear – the anger seems arbitrary, and Frank is as well-meaning as parents come. At the one-hour mark of the film, Jim confronts Frank in a scene in which the dialogue is less interesting than the positioning of the characters within the frame. The camera tilts to accommodate the shifting, arguing pair, granting Jim the literal high ground and forcing Frank to peer in from the bottom corner of the frame, becoming all shoulders. It transpires that what Jim really wants from his father is a role model. The moment when Jim says, without even looking at his father, ‘Dad, stand up for me’, is quietly devastating, particularly as it’s then followed by Jim physically yanking Frank to his feet, then wrestling him to the ground. He’s attempting to shake his father up and reveal the real person inside. It’s motivated by love.

At another point in the film, Jim comes home to find somebody on their hands and knees on the landing. At first he assumes thinks it’s his mother, but it’s actually his father, wearing a frilly apron, picking up a dropped plate of food. As a comment on gender roles, it’s a few decades out of date (the gist is that Frank is henpecked and meek, when he ought to be in charge; as well as the frilly apron, he’s trapped behind the bars of the banisters), but the exchange between Jim and Frank is wonderful. There’s real love there, real laughter as they joke about Frank’s clumsiness, then real frustration about Frank’s anxiety over something so trivial. I find it hard to put my finger on what I adore about this scene. I think it’s Jim’s pleading intensity as he wills his father to be something more wonderful than he really is. I find the scene a useful reminder that love goes both ways and that, one day, my sons will be vocal about how they feel about me, too.

The other film is simpler, but stranger. We never find out much about the child in Stalker. We don’t know why she’s called Monkey. We don’t know the nature of her illness or whether it’s linked to her telekinetic powers, which we witness only at the end of the film. We don’t know for sure whether the Stalker keeps re-entering the bewildering and psychologically damaging area known as ‘the Zone’ for the sake of the child, although I suspect that’s the case. Following a bleak, monochrome scene when the travellers return from their ordeal in the Zone, we see Monkey, in jarring, alarming colour, her expression sombre, her hair hidden under a bright yellow shawl and her head bobbing as she walks. Then, slowly, the camera pulls out. As Monkey moves away from us, we see that she’s actually being carried on her father’s shoulders. They plod towards a filthy lake. I don’t know why. But it’s heartbreaking. We can’t see the Stalker, and we don’t need to, to understand that he loves the child more than anything in the world. He carries her, and that’s all.


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

What Horror Writers Talk About When They Talk About Love: Kristi DeMeester

I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. First up:

Kristi DeMeester is a short story writer who's appeared in the likes of Black Static,  Year's Best Weird Fiction and The Dark, and deservedly so because her stories are always bloody ace. (She had entries in both my 2014 and 2015 favourite short story lists).

Take it away, Kristi:

“Walking the Haunted Wood” by Kristi DeMeester
My first literary crush was Gilbert Blythe. With his acidic and then apologetic teasing of the future red-headed knock out Anne Shirley, he reminded me very much of the boys in my own elementary school classes. We fought over who was the fastest runner and spent ourselves racing across the concrete parking lot of our school and ignoring skinned knees and aching lungs. We competed for the highest grades, for accolades, for smiles from our teachers when we stood and teased Bible verses from our memories and delivered them with perfect inflection. During the day, we’d insult each other in the only way Fundamentalist Christian children know how.

“Not even dogs like you,” I said once.

The boy’s lip quivered before he hissed back. “You look like you don’t wash your hair.”

We spent our days fighting and competing, but at night, I’d lie awake and burn and burn, wondering what it would be like to touch their hands, their faces. What it would be like if we grew up and one of them decided to marry me.

More than anything, however, I loved Gilbert Blythe because he was good. The streak of cruelty that was the underlying chorus of my childhood was absent from his life in Avonlea. He and Anne belonged to an alien set of people who were genuinely kind and should they do wrong, they’d stew in regret, apologize, and mean it. He did not scream or push or threaten or raise his hand in anger. Gilbert and Anne were everything my mother and father weren’t.

And so I fell in love with Gilbert and his dark, curling hair and his hazel eyes and boyish charm. More than anything, I wanted him to show up at my doorstep, his arms full of starflowers, and take me away from the nightmare world my parents had spent their lives building and then forced their children to occupy. His hands would be gentle, and he would sweep my hair behind my ear, and press his lips to my cheek, and our love would be pure, and chaste, and sweet.

I grew up. My parents divorced, and I saw firsthand the ramifications of what it meant to love someone. The brokenness that follows. I longed for Avonlea. Longed to pull those flowing dresses over my head and to go traipsing through Hester Gray’s garden while Gilbert ran ahead of me, everything sun dappled and smelling of dust and overripe apples. Longed for a love that was so simple that it felt like breathing instead of like razor blades pressed to thin skin.

By the time boys were interested in me, I’d pushed Gilbert Blythe to the back of my mind in favor of the feeling of warm hands against the curve of my back and lips pressed too hard against mine. There was a feeling I was trying to capture, a romantic ideal that faded like smoke, and when I couldn’t find it, I found other things. Other ways of chasing after the sense of breathlessness and desire I thought meant something greater than the sum of its parts.

I got older. I married a wonderful man, and he is everything I need when life is easy. He makes me laugh in a way I didn’t know I could. He’s held my hand and pulled me out of dark water.

But he isn’t Gilbert Blythe. He’s real, and he’s honest when I don’t want him to be. He does stupid things like buying yet another project vehicle to “fix up in his spare time.” He argues, and he’s stubborn, and he keeps his dirty laundry piled neatly next to our bed instead of putting it in the hamper. He throws our child into the air high enough to give me heart palpitations. He rolls his eyes when I start crying. Again. For the thousandth time that week.

And I love him. Oh, oh! How I love him.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Recommendation: The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis

So, I thoroughly enjoyed The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis. It's one of those novels where a brief précis of the plot can't do it justice, but I guess I'm duty bound to give it a try anyway: The Wanderer purports to be the final manuscript by a writer of strange stories Simon Peterkin, who has mysteriously disappeared. It tells the story of an immortal wanderer of the earth, a man who has lived almost to the end of history but who still fears for his life due to a cruel and demonic being stalking him... This man tells the story about how he became immortal, a story set in our own time and involving a very odd Punch & Judy show, underground rituals, and creepy pensioners. After a brief sojourn in a madhouse he tries to make sense of what has occurred to him by making contact with others who have had encounters with the uncanny. One night a few of them meet in a London pub and they each tell their stories, which have surprising affinities with his own...

See, I told you a précis was pointless. Suffice to say, The Wanderer is a labyrinth of fact and fiction, of stories within stories, of textual ambiguity. (And anyone who read the first parts of The Quarantined City will know how much I like stories within stories.) It somehow manages to combine elements of the Gothics and pulps, old-school science fiction, with a thoroughly modern understanding of horror and the weird. It contains shout outs to many classics of the genre, in particular Poe, Lovecraft and Jules Verne... and indeed, in one bravura passage it manages to encompass almost the entire history of weird fiction into its own fictitious universe. It's gory in places, it's philosophical, it's darkly comic, it's deeply serious yet in parts has the tone of a shaggy dog story told in a disreputable public house.

In short, it's one of the best novels I've read for a long time: original, disturbing and witty. I'm certain it will repay rereading as well, as the significance of certain earlier sections only becomes clear later on. I thought it outstanding.

The Wanderer, Timothy J. Jarvis (UK | US)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

"What loss actually feels like... "

Many thanks to the author Gary Fry for his advance review of Trying To Be So Quiet which is out very soon. Gary's an author whose work I enjoy and admire very much, so I was very pleased (not to mention surprised) that he has such good things to say about it:

 "I really enjoyed this short, condensed novelette, which is packed full of bitterness and yearning, defeatism and aspiration. It’s what loss actually feels like... It’s a fine piece of work."


You can read the whole review here (and while you're there, do yourself a favour and buy one of Fry's books too). Trying To Be So Quiet is available to preorder from Boo Books now.