Wednesday, 7 April 2021

A New Review for 'The Quarantined City'

It's always nice when an older work keeps connecting with new readers, and I could ask for no more perceptive a new reader of The Quarantined City than author Terry Grimwood, who's given the book a wonderful review on theEXAGGERATEDwebsite:

"...The Quarantined City is absolutely the child of its author and a highly original one at that. The dislocating sense of being shut-in, of a world that has come to a halt is something which all of us have experienced during the covid-19 lockdown and it is that experience that intensified my relationship with this novel. The Quarantined City is a delight. It keeps the reader guessing and unsettled."

The Quarantined City was conceived and written long-before our current strangeness, but it's really interesting that it seems to speak to our times now more than ever.

The Quarantined City is out now from Infinity Plus / Amazon (UK | US)

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror #2

Thrilled to say my story ‘The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close’ has been selected for forthcoming The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror #2, edited by Paula Guran. You can see the whole lineup for the anthology here; I'm in good company.

My story was originally published in the brilliant Shadows & Tall Trees #8 from Undertow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

'Out Of The Darkness' Kickstarter


In the UK horror scene, Dan Coxon is one of the good guys. As well as his own fiction, he's the editor of a number of fantastic anthologies, including The Shadow Booth series in which I was fortunate enough to feature.

Dan is now looking to fund a new anthology, Out Of Darkness, via Kickstarter. As you can see from the cover here, the list of contributors pretty much guarantees this will be a must-read. In addition, the book will raise funds for the charity Together For Mental Wellbeing.

If you want to check out the kickstarter for this project, then you can (and should) do so here.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Guest Post: ‘Writing the Body: I Spit Myself Out’ by Tracy Fahey

Today I'm delighted to welcome Tracy Fahey to the blog, to talk about her brand new story collection I Spit Myself Out, which is published tomorrow by The Sinister Horror Company. I'm a big fan of Tracy's previous two collections, so I preordered this one as soon as I saw it announced.  

Tracy is always very articulate about her writing, both in person (I hope to chat to her again soon in some convention bar once all this strangeness is over) and, as you can see below, via the written word.

Take it away, Tracy:


‘Writing the Body: I Spit Myself Out

Tracy Fahey

In my third collection, I Spit Myself Out, I delve deep beneath the surface of the skin. The idea of this collection has haunted me for years; a collection of tales that would explore the terrors that arise precisely from being a woman. I’ve never been drawn to extreme horror, or to body horror (yes, I do see the irony here) as for me true horror doesn’t reside in the rending of flesh, the brutal exposition of the body. For me, true horror lies in the psychological implications of such a disruption. Horror happens when all that is sure and certain in our lives begins to collapse; our homes, our culture, our bodies, and most important of all, our very identity.

A recurring theme in my writing is that of identity that is called into question. Towards the end of my favourite movie, Alan Parker’s marvellous Angel Heart (1987), Harry Angel calls out desperately ‘I know who I am!’ But of course he doesn’t, and the impact of that tragic situation and the emotional dissonance behind it has never really left me. I’ve previously explored identity in different ways. In The Unheimlich Manoeuvre I explored the implications of feeling insecure in that securest of settings, the home; in New Music For Old Rituals I explored the Gothic horrors of buried secrets contained in our folk histories. In I Spit Myself Out, I attempt perhaps the most ambitious of all questions to do with identity – what happens when we feel unsafe in our own selves? 

I’m a huge admirer of writing by Charlotte Gilman Perkins, Georgina Bruce, Sylvia Plath, Carmen Maria Machado, Margaret Atwood – work that presents us bluntly with the fears and vulnerabilities that arise from possessing a female body. The female body in their writing is one that is permeable to patriarchal repression, dominated and dictated to by religions, and marked by its own private blood rituals. 

In writing this collection, I tried to tap into that sense of body horror; that emotional rawness, that overwhelming sense of vulnerability. The protagonists of I Spit Myself Out struggle with the outside world, but most significantly with themselves. Their pain becomes imprinted on exterior objects, like the Anatomical Venus of the opening story, ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror,’ it is literally too big to hold inside. As the story ‘Becoming’ opens: ‘It barely contains me, this body I’m in.’ 

Writing this collection, I was also conscious of the vulnerability of the female body under different gazes; the male gaze, the medical gaze, the female gaze. The stories, which attempt to chart a passage from birth to death, from puberty to menopause, are riddled with themes from Catholicism to love to the supernatural to illness. They’re also populated with transgressive bodies; ones that refuse to conform, bodies that cry out in protest. While writing these stories, time and time again I returned to Julia Kristeva’s essay, ‘The Powers of Horror,’ which deals memorably with the question of abjection and identity – she asks how identity is problematized when the body expels its own core substances; tears, blood, skin? 

What happens when you spit yourself out?

I Spit Myself Out leads the reader through the dark labyrinths of the body to explore potential answers to this question…

I Spit Myself Out

Eighteen unsettling narratives map the female experience from puberty to menopause.

I Spit Myself Out is a collection of female-voiced stories exploring the terror that lurks beneath the surface of the skin. In this collection, an Anatomical Venus opens to display her organs, clients of a mysterious clinic disappear one by one, a police investigation reveals family secrets, revenge is inked in the skin, and bodies pulsate in the throes of illness, childbirth and religious ritual.

Disturbing and provoking in equal turns, I Spit Myself Out reinvents the body as a breeding ground of terrors that resurface inexorably in the present.

You can pre-order it here, or you can directly from the Sinister Horror Company.

Tracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction.  In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Her short fiction is published in over thirty American, British, Australian and Irish anthologies. She holds a PhD on the Gothic in visual arts, and her non-fiction writing is published in edited collections and journals. She has been awarded residencies in Ireland and Greece. She has written two collections, New Music For Old Rituals and The Unheimlich Manoeuvrethe mini-collection, Unheimlich Manoeuvres In The Dark, and the novel, The Girl In The Fort

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Snake Tails

Warning: this is one of those post where I whinge & moan a bit. It's been helpful for me to write, to get a clear-sighted view of where I am writing-wise, but I am aware that to anyone else reading it I might well come across as a wanker.

A few years back, I was in a pretty good place with my writing. Not well-know, even in the little pool of the small-presses, but at least known. I'd published lots of stories and longer works, some with publishers who I considered to be among the best out there. I'd had some very flattering reviews. I was regularly being asked to contribute stories to anthologies, even having to turn requests down. I knew and was friends with many writers I respected, and had published a number of them in anthologies I'd edited. I'd even met some of my writing heroes in the flesh. Small-scale, but at a level of 'success' that if you'd told me when I'd first started out I'd achieve would have made me very happy.

So, I decided to do what most writers would in this situation: to level up. I set about getting an agent, and focussed on writing my first/second* novel. Even then, I knew the novel wasn't the most natural length of fiction for me, but I had an idea that I'd tried as a short story and novella that hadn't worked, so I began expanding and reshaping that to novel-length. I spent over two years drafting and redrafting it: it contains some pieces of writing I'm very proud of, and it's very me (repeating scenes, a sense of creepy ambiguity, a porous background reality). But it's still not right, and I doubt it's very commercial in terms of attracting wider interest.

For which there's no one to blame but me, obviously. But it feels like during the time I spent writing and rewriting the thing I've slid back from whatever small level of visibility and 'success' I had climbed to before. Never being that well known, it didn't take long for me to become less so again. For the first time in many years, I've no certainty that I'll even have a single story published this year (a few things might happen, but they aren't certain and contracts aren't signed).

Where do I go from here? Rewrite the novel again? The problem is, coupled with the above, my writing routine is not what it was. Life changes, and then Coivd/lockdown/homeschooling on top of them, have meant the daily time I had which was 'mine' to write has gone, replaced with what I can cobble together here and there. I simply haven't the opportunity for the sustained time and momentum rewriting the novel would need, or to write anything of equivalent length. Levelly up isn't an option.

So, back to short stories it is. Which is fine—I still love the short story form. I've little I can immediately submit. I've been lucky enough to publish nearly everything I consider worthwhile which I wrote 'before the novel'; for awhile I was running on the fumes of an earlier, more productive period of writing. 

I'm basically back where I was before I published anything: writing some new, creepy, weird short stories for myself, with no guarantee anyone will ever read them. Only now I'm older, tired, and have less free time. So what, right? I'm not special in that regard. Playing the writing game I was lucky enough to land on a few ladders that helped me upwards; I can hardly complain that now I've landed on some snakes and have slide back down.

Anyway, enough moaning. Let's end with a tune, eh?

* I never quite know whether to think about The Quarantined City as a novel or not, given the circumstances of its composition and its structure (in terms of word-length, it is)

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Favourite Short Stories: 2020

My eighth annual favourite short story list (you can find links to my previous lists here) and it's still one of my favourite posts to write. 2020 might have been a difficult year in some respects, but reading remained a constant for me, as did my appreciation of the short story form... and of weird fiction (however loosely defined) as a way of making sense of our strange world. I hope readers of this blog find some stories in the list below that do the same for them, or provide some much needed escapism. (For each, I've linked to the publication where I read the story, which isn't always where they were first published.)

Nick Adams: Demolition (Tales From The Shadow Booth #3)
G.V. Anderson: We, The Folk (Nightmare #93)
G.V. Anderson: Heart In The Hard Ground (Tor.Com)
Jenn Ashworth: Something From The Garden (Great British Horror #5: Midsummer Eve, Black Shuck Books)
Julia August: Puppet Show (Places We Fear To Tread, Cemetery Gates)
Annabel Banks: Exercises In Control (Exercises In Control, Influx Press)
Annabel Banks: Payment To The Universe (Exercises In Control, Influx Press)
Annabel Banks: Momentum (Exercises In Control, Influx Press)
Andrew David Barker: The Fin
Ramsey Campbell: The Seductress (Scared Stiff, Futura)
Rebecca Campbell: Thank You For Your Patience (Reckoning #4)
Liliana Cârstea: Grandma's Samhain Stew (Black Flowers)
Kay Chronister: Life Cycles (Thin Places, Undertow Publications)
Kay Chronister: The Fifth Gable (Thin Places, Undertow Publications)
Kay Chronister: Thin Places (Thin Places, Undertow Publications)
Chloe N. Clarke: There Is A World Within This Window (Atlas And Alice)
Ray Cluley: The Men At Table Nine (The Dark #56)
Arwel Dagorn: All Is There Already, Just Not Seen Yet (Nightscript IV)
Kristi DeMeester: Sleeping In Metal & Bone (The Dark #60)
S.L. Edwards: A Regime Of Marching Faceless (Weird Whispers #2)
Brian Evenson: The Glassy, Burning Floor Of Hell (Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Undertow Publications)
Tracy Fahey: What Rough Beast (Sinister Horror Company Advent Calendar
Tracy Fahey: Posession (Unheimlich Manoeuvres In The Dark, Sinister Horror Company)
Kurt Fawver: Parturition (Weird Whispers #1, Nightscape Press)
Kurt Fawver: Workday (Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Undertow Publications)
Mike Fox: Inhabiting The Present (Fragmented Voices)
Celia Fremlin: The New House (Ghostly Stories, Faber)
Nicola Freeman: Halloween (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Richard Gavin: King Him (Chilling Tales, Edge)
J.L. George: Grey Mary (Sinister Horror Company Advent Calendar
J.L. George: Welcome To The 27 Club (Electric Spec)
Lucie McKnight Hardy: Resting Bitch Face (Black Static #76)
Lucie McKnight Hardy: Jutland (Nightjar Press chapbook)
M. John Harrison: The Fourth Domain
Richard V. Hirst: The School Project (Tales From The Shadow Booth #3)
Claire C. Holland: Rosemary (I Am Not Your Final Girl, Glass Poet Press)
Claire C. Holland: Sally (I Am Not Your Final Girl, Glass Poet Press)
Verity Holloway: The Cherry Cactus Of Corsica (Tales From The Shadow Booth #3
Abi Hynes: Phantasmagoria (Black Static #76)
Shirley Jackson: Paranoia (Let Me Tell You, Penguin)
Shirley Jackson: Mrs Spencer & The Oberons (Let Me Tell You, Penguin)
Michael Kelly: The Other Side (Unsung Stories)
Gwendolyn Kiste: The Maid From The Ash: A Life In Pictures (Weird Whispers #1, Nightscape Press)
Gwendolyn Kiste: Lost Girls Don't Cry (Places We Fear To Tread, Cemetery Gates)
Stephen King: The Fifth Step (Harpers)
Rachel Knightley: Common Ground (Great British Horror #5: Midsummer Eve, Black Shuck Books)
Jackson Kuhl: A Different Sunlight (Nightscript IV)
Claude Lalumiere: Dead (Chilling Tales, Edge)
Joel Lane: Keep The Night (Scar City, Eibonvale Press)
Joel Lane: My Voice Is Dead (Scar City, Eibonvale Press)
Joel Lane: A Faraway City (Scar City, Eibonvale Press)
Joe R. Lansdale: The Folding Man (Nightmare #94)
Philip Langeskov: Notes On A Love Story (Best British Short Stories 2011, Salt)
V.H. Leslie: Sugar Daddy (Nightscript IV)
V.H. Leslie: Lacuna (Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Undertow Publications)
Dana Liebelson: She Probably Didn't Mean It (Cheap Pop Oct 2020)
J.AW. McCarthy: Cold Blooded Old Times (Places We Fear To Tread, Cemetery Gates)
Gary McMahon: Ghostly (Author's website)
Tim Major: The Pea (Fudoki Magazine)
Tim Major: Hangers On (Tales From The Shadow Booth #3)
George R.R. Martin: The Pear-Shaped Man (Tales Of Myth & Imagination)
Claire Massey: Feather Girls (Best British Short Stories 2011, Salt)
Laura Mauro: Letters From Elodie (Sing Your Sadness Deep, Undertow Publications)
Laura Mauro: Looking For Laika (Sing Your Sadness Deep, Undertow Publications)
Steven Moffat: The Terror Of The Umpty Ums (BBC online)
Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin: Stricken (Supernatural Tales #45)
David Nickel: Looker (Chilling Tales, Edge)
Christi Nogle: Cinnamon To Taste (Nightscript IV)
Suzan Palumbo: Personal Rakshasi (Fireside)
J.R. Park: In The Attic (Sinister Horror Company Advent Calendar)
Joanna Parypinski The Thing In The Trees (Nightscript IV)
Hailey Piper: Hopscotch For Keeps (Places We Fear To Tread, Cemetery Gates)
David Rose: Flora (Best British Short Stories 2011, Salt)
Lee Rourke: Emergency Exit (Best British Short Stories 2011, Salt)
Iain Rowan: Birds Of The Mountain (Costa Book Awards)
Iain Rowan: The Wildness (Supernatural Tales #45)
Robert Shearman: I Say (I Say, I Say) (Tales From The Shadow Booth #3)
Robert Shearman: Cannon Fodder (We All Hear Stories In The Dark, PS Publishing)
Robert Shearman: The Great Adventure (We All Hear Stories In The Dark, PS Publishing)
Robert Shearman: Eve, Mid Summer (Great British Horror #5: Midsummer Eve, Black Shuck Books)
Robert Stone: Regret (Nightjar Press)
Simon Strantzas: The Sonambulists (Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Undertow Publications)
David Surface: Intruders (Terrible Things, Black Shuck Books)
David Surface: The Truth About What Happens After Death: A Short Film In One Reel (Terrible Things, Black Shuck Books)
Sharon Telfer: Eight Spare Bullets (Bath Flash Fiction Award)
Steve Toase: On A Bed Of Flag Leaves (Unsung Stories)
Cameron Ulam: Bussell's Bog (Places We Fear To Tread, Cemetery Gates)
Michael Wehunt: The Teeth Of America (author's website)
Shaoni C. White: What My Flies Keep For Me (PodCastle #656)
Aliya Whiteley: Lump Sum Love (Daily Science Fiction)
Robert J. Wiersema: Tom Chesnutt's Midnight Blues (Chilling Tales, Edge)
Neil Williamson: Down To The Roots (Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Undertow Publications)

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Top Ten Books 2020

2020 might have been a hell of a strange year, but despite how hard it tried, it didn't manage to stop me reading. Still to come is my favourite post of the year, my annual fav short story list. But today here's my top-ten books (in no particular order) that I read for the first time in this crazed year of 2020:

Terrible Things - David Surface (Black Shuck Books)
"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."

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life - Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
An excellent literary biography of Shirley Jackson, insightful about both her personal life and her work. A must-read if you're a Jackson fan, which if you're reading my blog is pretty likely...

My Life In Horror Volume 1 - Kit Power
"quite simply just what I needed right now, in 2020, and it might be just what you need too" - my full review here.

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor - Steven Moffat (BBC Books)
I thought this might be a quick read, a simple novelisation of the TV episode. Instead, I got a brilliant meta narrative about The Doctor character and Doctor Who the show, full of wit and genuine literary inventiveness. A wonderful surprise.

Boy Parts - Eliza Clarke (Influx Press)
A brilliant novel, dark, disturbing, laugh-aloud funny, and a bravura demonstration of both first person POV and an unreliable narrator. I love a good unreliable narrator, me.

Sing Your Sadness Deep - Laura Mauro (Undertow)
"as good as weird fiction gets." - my full review here.

I Am Not Your Final Girl - Claire C. Holland (Glass Poet Press)
"This collection of poems is based upon a wonderful idea: each takes as its inspiration a different 'final girl' from a horror film... Although based on imagery from the films, Holland's precise, sometimes haunting, sometimes brutal language creates something original and personal" - my full review here.

I Know Who Did It - Steve Mosby (Orion)
"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"...but... well, it sure as hell scratched my horror itch as well' - my full review here.

Exercises In Control - Annabel Banks (Influx Press)
"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 of something disturbing..." - my full review here.

The City And The City - China Mieville (Picador)
A novel about two fictional cities co-existing in the blind spots of each other (and of ourselves) which everyone has told me is a) brilliant, and b) must have been an influence on The Quarantined City. So I thought I better read it some day.... and you were all half-right: it is brilliant.