Monday, 15 October 2018

My Fantasycon 2018 Schedule

This weekend it's Fantasycon, an event I like forward to immensely. And on the assumption that you, hypothetical blog-reader and Fcon-goer, are more organised than me and actually plan these things out in advance, here's my schedule - come say hi!

Friday 19/10 - 4pm, The Jubilee Room
Book Launch: The Black Room Manuscripts IV (The Sinister Horror Company)
This great looking anthology, edited by J.R. Park & Tracy Fahey, features my story 'Size Isn't Everything'. Something special is promised for the launch, so it should be a lot of fun...

Saturday 20/10 - 2pm, Panel Room 1
Being BFA Nominees
Ed Fortune (Moderator), James Everington, Anna Smith Spark, Stephen Volk, Jen Williams

Saturday 20/10 - 5pm, The Jubilee Room
Book Launch: Best British Horror 2018 (NewCon Press)
Great to see Johnny Mains's yearly patriotic best-of return; this year I'm chuffed to bits he chose my story 'The Affair' for inclusion. 

Saturday 20/10 - 8pm, The Disraeli Room
Readings: Fantasy
Not quite sure why I'm in a 'fantasy' reading slot, but I'm alongside the excellent Eliza Chan & Mike Chinn, so it will be alright on the night I'm sure.

Sunday 21/10 - 1pm, Panel Room 2
Strange Fiction
Andrew Hook, Duncan P. Bradshaw, Gary Budden, Georgina Bruce, James Everington, Jan Edwards

Sunday 21/10 - 3pm, The Jubilee Room
The British Fantasy Awards
I probably won't still be there for this, but I will be in spirit because Imposter Syndrome is nominated for Best Anthology!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Recommendation: Hollow Shores by Gary Budden

Isn't it great when a book turns out to be something different and more exciting than you were expecting?

I'd read and very much liked a couple of Gary Budden's stories in Black Static and Best New Weird, so I was expecting his debut, Hollow Shores, to be a well-written and interesting collection of psychological weird fiction. And there's certainly that element; but Hollow Shores is so much more. It's one of those collections of stories that's greater than the sum of it's parts, where each piece manages to be complete in itself while also part of a wider whole.

As this suggests, the stories here are interrelated, but the connections between them aren't plot-based so much as each piece occupying an overlapping physical or mental space. The characters of each story are linked to those of others by genealogy, geography, or just being at the same punk gig at the same time. Someone might have the starring role in one story, but be little than a background actor or the subject of mere rumour in the next. Tales are passed between people or down the generations; they mutate and change focus as a result, producing a shared if unacknowledged mythology for the people of Budden's titular coastline, of Kent, London, and further afield. And crucially, it's a narrative space that you as a reader feel as much a participant as a spectator in. As the first piece, the excellent 'Breakdown', says: "The story is mine now."

As such, it would be somewhat self-defeating for me to follow the usual review route here and list my favourite stories from the book*. Instead the whole reading experience forms a gestalt in my mind, a composite of imagery, meaning, and language, which probably says as much about me as the book itself: the liminal spaces of beaches & off-season seafronts; birds heard rather than seen; strange tall figures glimpsed in the mist; the insinuation of corporate branding into our inner lives; the time machine of music; invasive weeds twisting up through the concrete of railway platforms; Whitstable Bay beer; nostalgia for the moment even as it's happening; the quiet miracle of seeing a red kite overhead.

The majority of these stories are non-supernatural, but the natural world often seems as uncanny or strange as any mere spectres. In 'Baleen ' for example, a dead beached whale has the same aspect as the weird trappings of stories like 'Breakdown' and 'Greenteeth': the whale is an alien being from a different world, suddenly erupted into our own.

As I said, it's a different book to what imagined going in, and all the better for that: why would I want to read a book that I could imagine? Instead, what I got was a piece of writing both personal and communal, something unique from Budden that impressed me no end. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, despite my rather unfocussed description above. It's simply brilliant.

Hollow Shores (UK | US)

* but fucking hell, 'Spearbird' deserves a special mention

Friday, 5 October 2018

Recommendation: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I had the pleasure of being on a couple of panels with Laura Purcell at Edge-Lit this year, and in a like-the-cut-of-her-jib moment I bought her novel The Silent Companions as a result. And I'm very glad I did, because I enjoyed it immensely.

It's a story about a Victorian widow called Elsie, sent out to The Bridge, a country estate with requisite surly staff, strange noises, and locked rooms. Its structure is intriguingly modern, switching between three time-frames with ease, but at its heart this is a modern take on the gothic novel.

So, a confession: beyond the classics, I'm not a massive fan of the gothic mode in horror fiction. Something like The Woman In Black, for example, I found slightly underwhelming, the most disturbing thing being the faint but persistent sense of deja-vu its tropes induced. And The Silent Companions sure ticks all the gothic boxes: its period setting; its isolated country house; the cursed past implicit in present misfortunes; the gradual escalation of its haunting.

But there's a pleasing darkness and grit to The Silent Companions which to my mind elevates it behind mere literary mimicry. It's there in the intrusion of industrial London into its rural setting, in the way its doesn't flinch from the cruelty of the times it evokes, or draw back from the violence of its narrative. The spirit of both Henry and M.R. James can be felt, the former in the ambiguity about how much the haunting is real or psychological, the latter in the way any sense of a cosy narrative is punctured by scarily physical manifestations of the supernatural—like James, Purcell has the gift of being able to suggest such things with a single sentence or image that are all the more powerful for their compactness.

Its wonderfully done, and manages that rare trick of slowly building a sense of unease while also being a genuinely page-turner. I'd heartily recommend it.

The Silent Companions (UK | US)

Friday, 21 September 2018

Coming Up For Air

I've been immersed in writing my novel, tentatively titled Other People's Ghosts for what feels like a loooooooong time now—I'm 50k words into writing the second draft. Those 50k words (and the 80k or so of the first draft that proceeded them) have been grabbed & snatched whenever I've had chance—first thing in the mornings, during lunch breaks, during tired evenings when the rest of the world is surely sensible enough to be be asleep—over the past months. Each time I write another 10k it feels like another notch as I descend into blacker and blacker waters; and they'll only get deeper & blacker as I move onto subsequent drafts.

I haven't finished a short story in months; I used to be able to work on multiple stories at once but life doesn't really allow that anymore. Life, time, age doesn't allow that. Because of the slow way publishing works, a few stories of mine are still trickling out this year, but soon they'll be nothing in the pipeline. I've a couple of stories still trying to find a home, two of the best ones I've ever written IMHO, yet they're wracking up the rejections like nobody's business. Maybe they're junk and I'm not seeing them clearly. Maybe I've lost perspective, down here in the deep.

But you know what? I miss writing short stories, not just creatively, but for stupid reasons: the acceptances, the feedback, the feeling that new work was coming out and I wasn't being forgotten, fading in the minds of the few readers I have.

Like I say, stupid reasons.

But once this draft of Other People's Ghosts is done, when I'm maybe 30k further down into the black water than now, I'll need to come up for air and write some new short stories. It will be good for the novel, to have a pause between drafts, obviously, but more importantly I think it will be good for me. For stupid reasons. To come up for air, see the light, feel the wind on my face, wave to a shore that seems more distant than when I took a breath and dived: hello, I'm still here.

And then back down I'll go.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Other Worlds - My Schedule

The Other Worlds convention takes place at Nottingham Writers' Studio on Saturday 6th October. The schedule has just been released, so here is a quick preview of what I'll be up to:

  • 11:30am – Workshop: Creating Atmosphere in Horror and Weird Fiction
  • 2:30pm – Human Fears: Are We More Afraid of People Than Monster in Our Fiction? Charlotte Bond, Alex Davis (Chair), James Everington, Alison Moore
  • 5:00pm – Pushing the Boundaries: Where Does Genre Fiction End? Alex Davis (Chair), James Everington, Daniel Godfrey, Justina Robson, Anna Stephens

Full Schedule and Tickets can be found here.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Two Things

A couple of quick things:

Best British Horror 2018, which features my story 'The Affair' as part of a frankly wonderful table of contents (Nicholas Royle, V.H. Leslie, Mark Morris etc. etc. etc.) is available to preorder now from NewCon Press. You can choose paperback or signed hardback editions. Oooh.

Secondly, I'm very pleased to say that I'm part of the bill for the inaugrial Other Worlds mini-convention at Nottingham Writers Studio, Saturday October 6th. Organised by the inexhaustible Alex Davis, there's lots of fine fantasy, science fiction and horror writers featured. Tickets available here - make sure you say hello if you do attend...

Monday, 30 July 2018

Recommendation: Black Shuck Shadows Double Bill

I recently had the pleasure of reading two volumes from the Black Shuck Shadows line: The Death Of Boys by Gary Fry and Broken On The Inside by Phil Sloman. Each book in this series features 3-6 stories from a single author, all based loosely around a theme.

The Death Of Boys was a fun collection of stories. I've read a lot of Fry's fiction by now, and I think it's fair to say that much of it consciously & deliberately 'announces' its thematic concerns—I don't mean this as a criticism, it's his style. But the stories here felt a lot more like Fry was just playing with horror tropes, having fun, writing his equivalent of a horror B-movie. (Again, not a criticism.) Which isn't to say that thematic concerns don't crop up—it's probably no surprise from the title that these tales focus on boyhood, parenthood, growing up, adulthood, and death. 'Zappers' is the story of a young boy apparently hit by lightning yet seeming to suffer no ill-effects (initially). 'Cat-B' concerns that most boyish/masculine obsession, cars, and seems to be Fry's version of Stephen King's 'bad car' stories Christine and From A Buick 8. As good as these two preceding stories were, it's the final tale, 'The House Of The Rising Son', that really impressed me. Again, it plays with some relatively standard horror tropes to begin with, but builds to something that's both nightmarish and thematically apt—indeed it seems to both sum up and interrogate the themes Fry has been exploring for the entire collection. Exhilarating stuff.

Phil Sloman's Broken On The Inside is a collection of stories based around the theme of mental health, or lack thereof, giving us five tales of people damaged, at odds with reality, hunted, haunted or just struggling to cope. Unfortunately, I can't say too much about one of the stories here, 'Virtually Famous'—not because it's not good (it's the joint-best here, IMO) but because it was first published in Imposter Syndrome so I'm biased. I've no reason to be biased about the rest of the stories though, and I can say that they are also bloody good. Sloman switches effortlessly between surreal black comedy—see especially 'Discomfort Food'—and more ambiguous, serious work. Both 'Virtually Famous' and my other favourite here, the title story, mix the psychological with a sort of near-future techno-horror, to produce narratives where the distinction between what is real and imagined blurs and fractures. 'Broken On The Inside' is a the story that has a touch of Cronenberg about it, a touch of Black Mirror about it, of Roald Dahl's adult stories and old-school sci-fi. It's well worth a read.

The Death Of Boys (UK | US)
Broken On The Inside (UK | US)