Thursday, 21 September 2017

Fantasycon 2017 Schedule

I'll be at Fantasycon again this year, and I can't wait. It's being held in the Bull Hotel in Peterborough 29th September - 1st October.

I'm doing a couple of panels and a reading; other than that I'll be chatting with friends old and new, drinking in the bar, eating nice food, and of course talking about books, buying books, holding books, carrying books, selling books, admiring books, thinking about books, dreaming about books etc. etc. etc....

Hope to see loads of you there!

Friday 7pm - Readings Horror (Sandringham Room)
Jonathan L. Howard, Kit Power, James Everington

Saturday 10am - Horror: Mastery and Apprenticeship (FitzWilliam Panel Room 1)
Helen Armfield (mod), Ramsey Campbell, Phil Sloman, Mark West, Nina Allan, James Everington

Sunday 12.30pm - Building Anthologies (Burley Panel Room 3)
Colleen Anderson (mod), Peter Coleborn James Everington, Stephen Jones, Peter Mark May
The full Fantasycon 2017 programme can be found here.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Some Mini-Recommendations

I already had a backlog of books I wanted to write recommendations for; and then I went on a short holiday and read 'quite a few' more, and realised I was never going to catch up. So here are a few books I thoroughly recommend, with the briefest of notes why. Hopefully my terseness will not put you off trying any of them.

Beneath - Kristi DeMeester
I kinda guessed that the debut novel from Kristi DeMeester would be brilliant, and I wasn't wrong. It's a quasi-Lovecraftian horror story set in fundamentalist Christian Appalachia. This is a book that oozes atmosphere, with the author's skilful prose describing a world that feels sickly, feverish, on the brink of delirium and apocalypse.

Body In The Woods - Sarah Lotz
A splendid psychological thriller, this, about things that don't stay buried, both physical and emotional. A story about friendship, debts, and when you might end up paying back too much. It's also the type of book about which it doesn't do to say too much, so I won't. A hugely enjoyable read.

Stranger Companies - Linda Angel
A collection of short stories and prose pieces, Stranger Companies' success lies in its authorial voice. Linda Angel's style has echoes of writers like Brautigan, Amis and Zadie Smith, but also seems wholly her own: wise-cracking, playful and dark. She can do plot too, particularly in the longer piece that ends the collection, 'Deathsmell'.

I Am The New God - Nicole Cushing
Nicole Cushing's novella has a brilliant premise: a man known as 'the hierophant' exchanges letters with an ordinary seeming young man whom he believes to be 'the new god', a diety who will replace the current incumbent. And the young man starts to believe the letters might be right... Starting, brutal, compelling.

Mutator - Gary Fry
Another slice of Yorkshire horror from Gary Fry, taking what might seem a well-worn premise and making it new. For while Mutator borrows tropes from both classic horror literature and creature-feature cinema, Fry also muses on modern scientific notions of evolution & adaptability... and creates the original monster of the title in the process.

High-Rise - J.G. Ballard
Ballard is not a writer I'm as familiar with as I should be, having only previously read Super-Cannes and The Atrocity Exhibition. High-Rise is a novel with a well known central premise, set in a building as distinctive as any haunted house. This is not so much a realistic book as one that takes a realistic premise (that external environment affects both our psychology and social structures) and single-mindedly extrapolates it into something grotesque. It's clever, mordant and revolting; I loved it.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Recommendation: You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin

A few brief, inadequate words of recommendation for Malcolm Devlin's debut collection, You Will Grow Into Them:

Anyone who's read any of Devlin's work before will not be surprised that these stories are all expertly constructed, brilliantly told. But reading them together really brings home the range of his talents, both in terms of genre-tropes and more importantly emotional depth and characterisation.

It begins with 'Passion Play', a story about a teenage girl acting out a police reconstruction of the disappearance of her best friend. A story focussed on doubling, then, as both external events and the two teenage girls reflect and distort each other. It's a theme continued, in a very different manner, in the second story 'Two Brothers'. Here William waits for his older brother to return from his first term at boarding school; when he does William finds him changed, more assured, colder. A parable about growing up, and what we might lose in the process (at least when seen from childhood's perspective) this is a brilliant piece of work.

Two stories in, then, and I'm already smitten.

By the time I finish the fifth story, 'Dogsbody', I'm already thinking this collection will be topping some end of year best of lists. 'Dogsbody' is quite simply the most original take on the werewolf theme I've read in years, so much so that I don't want to say too much here. Just read it. Suffice to say it tackles social stereotyping, tabloid hysteria, the buried emotions of modern masculinity, and so much more. Superb.

'The Last Meal He Ate Before She Killed Him', preposterously, might be even better. A realistic tale that would make a great play, being set in a single location and on a single night. It takes place in a house where "the widow" poisoned a general, in an unnamed country ruled by a despot. Games of influence and power and patronage play among a group of dinners being served the very same meal the murdered general ate the night he died...

And then there's 'The End Of Hope Street'. The finest short story in an impossibly good collection. An extended riff on Cortazar's 'House Taken Over', it tells of the houses on the titular street becoming "uninhabitable" - normal, suburban middle-class homes suddenly change, in an unspecified way, so that people can no longer live there. Literally: they die if they cross the threshold again. Each incident is accepted matter of factly by the residents of Hope Street, taking in their now homeless neighbours, even though their home could be next...

It's a masterpiece. I'm going to read it again after writing these rushed and no doubt clumsy words. 

One of the short story collections of the year so far.

You Will Grow Into Them (UK | US)

Monday, 21 August 2017

Imposter Syndrome Cover Reveal & Launch

Very excited to reveal today the cover to Imposter Syndrome, the forthcoming anthology from Dark Minds Press edited by Dan Howarth and myself. The cover art/design is by the fantastic Neil Williams. 

Imposter Syndrome will be launched at Sledge-Lit 3 in Derby this November.

What if you thought your family had been replaced by identical copies? 
What if you could no longer trust the faces of people you met? 
What if you saw someone who looked exactly like you? 

Dark Minds Press brings you an anthology of doppelgängers, clones, changelings, Capgras-delusion and pod-people, featuring stories from some of the best writers of horror and speculative fiction around. 

Featuring Laura Mauro, Ralph Robert Moore, Gary McMahon, Tracy Fahey, Holly Ice, Timothy J. Jarvis, Neil Williamson, Stephen Bacon, Georgina Bruce and Phil Sloman.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Recommendation: Some Will Not Sleep by Adam Nevill

I have a theory/well-rehearsed drunken ramble that all great horror writers are also great short story writers. Here's yet more evidence that I'm right.

Adam Nevill is of course best known for his successful horror novels, but he's a formidably good short story writer too. Indeed, reading a number of his shorter works together made me realise just how good; nearly every piece in his debut collection is first-rate.

The stories in Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors were written between 1995 & 2011 and are arranged in chronological order, allowing the reader to see Nevill's progress as a writer (aided by the autobiographical story notes at the rear of the book). Almost everything here displays Nevill's stengths as a writer: his ability to evoke an atmosphere of dread from the everyday world, the terror of violence both physical and psychic, the vivid details of the worlds he creates. In particular, he's brilliant at evoking the physicality of the monsters and demons that stalk his fiction: the way they move, the way they hold themselves, the way they smell or make the air taste foul around them. This concreteness gives Nevill's creations a hold on the reader's imagination for days afterwards; I'm still able to visualise the bloated, pasty beings of 'Mother's Milk', and the terrifting creature from 'Pig Thing' more clearly than I might wish...

My personal favourite stories here were the insidious home invasion depicted in 'Yellow Teeth', the bloody gothic Western of 'What Hath God Wrought?' and Nevill's original spin on the haunted house story, 'Florie'.

I must mention too that the limited edition hardback of Some Will Not Sleep, produced by Nevill himself is a beautifully book. With neat timing, Nevill has just announced that a companion collection, Hasty For The Dark, will be released later this year. In the meantime, Some Will Not Sleep comes highly recommended.

Some Will Not Sleep (UK | US)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Five Things #5

Yet more things horror and book related I've enjoyed recently, and think you might too.

1. A Conversation With S.P. Miskowski, Hellnotes
Rejoice, for S.P. Miskowski has a new novel out! It's called I Wish I Was Like You (the Nirvana reference very much deliberate). Hellnotes caught up with her for this fascinating interview.

2. 'Hands Lying Light In The Interstices, You Rave' by Timothy J. Jarvis
A compelling piece of interactive fiction here; and given its been written by Timothy Jarvis you know it's going to be creepy as hell. The shifting nature of the interactive experience makes it even more disturbing...

3. The Stoakes-Whilby Natural Index Of Supernatural Collective Nouns by David Malki
Every wondered what the collective noun for a group of banshees is? Or gargoyles? Or manticores? Well, wonder no more!

4. Mothers Who Consume by Kristi DeMeester, Apex
"I don’t remember the first time I caught my mother in a lie..." So begins this fascinating, moving piece of non-fiction by one of horror's finest writers, Kristi DeMeester.

5.'Das Steingeschopf' by G.V. Anderson, Strange Horizons
I included this story in my 2016 list, but as it's just been nominated for a World Fantasy Award I thought I'd mention it again. It's beautifully written, an early sign of brilliance from a writer I predict will go on to do great things. G.V. Anderson has started a fundraiser to raise money to attend WFC (where hopefully this story will win) so donate if you can.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Recommendation: Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales is the first collection from Christopher Slatsky, and a pretty special debut it is too. Each of the stories here fits firmly into the US 'post-Ligotti' school of weird fiction, while displaying Slatsky's singular, evocative style.

In common with much horror, Slatsky's tales typically begin with some realistic scene setting, into which an element of the strange or the bizarre intrudes: a stain looking like a human form in one story, foundations breaking through the earth in another. But what makes these pieces extraordinary is that the intrusion is not just (or not even) a physical one, but the eruption of an intellectual or artistic conceit into the story itself. I don't just mean that the characters and events of the tale are increasingly governed by and reacting to the weird, but that the imagery and language gradually seem infected too, overwhelmed by the concept Slatsky is working with. So, the story that begins with the stain looking like a person ('Loveliness Like A Shadow') becomes saturated with imagery of statues, reflections, photos, and instances of pareidolia.

It takes a skilled stylist to pull this off without it becoming boring or impenetrable; it takes an accomplished horror writer to keep doing so and still have the results be so unnerving and atmospheric. Fortunately, Slatsky is both. His stories are dense, intricately woven yet surprising creations that utilise everything from cosmicism to body-horror to achieve their effects. My favourites included the aforementioned 'Loveliness Like A Shadow', plus the insectoid creepiness of 'An Infestation Of Stars', the architecture-based cosmic horror of 'No One Is Sleeping In This World', and one of the scariest creepy cinemas stories I've read, 'Film Maudit'.

A deep, dark, compelling collection, Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales is required reading for literary horror fans.

Alectryomancer & Other Weird Tales (UK | US)