Friday, 3 December 2021

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume 2

Very pleased to say my story 'The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close' has been reprinted in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror Volume 2, edited by Paula Guran and out now for Pyr. The lineup selected for the book lives up to the title and I'm proud my story found a place in among such great authors. 

The book is available here: The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror Volume 2, Pyr 2021 (UK | US)

The story was originally published by Micheal Kelly in the brilliant anthology Shadows & Tall Trees #8 (Undertow Publications).

Monday, 18 October 2021

Recommendation: Sometime's We're Cruel by J.A.W. McCarthy

This will be no surprise to any long-term readers of this site, but I read a lot of horror/weird/strange short-fiction. And I try to make sure I'm reading work not just by the established names but by newer authors - by which I mean those who've yet to release a first collection. Of course, a lot of these stories prove to be not so great, but when I do read a new author whose work seems promising I'm sure to make a note of their name - to include them in my end of year short story lists; to keep them in mind for future books I might edit; and of course to remind me to buy their debut collection when it is released.

J.A.W. McCarthy's debut was definitely on my list to buy, and I'm here to tell you that her first collection Sometimes We're Cruel definitely doesn't disappoint. In fact it's one of the best debuts of the year.

There are twelve stories here—six reprints, six original—and every one is original in conception and accomplished in execution. McCarthy takes varied and disparate horror tropes— including ghosts, psychic invasion, wicked (step)mothers, doppelgängers, body horror, Frankenstein-ish creations—and fuses them together with unifying themes and imagery. The stories speak to each other, echo each other, without ever becoming samey or indistinct. I get the sense that, as well as carefully crafting each of these individual stories, McCarthy has taken the time to order and structure this book as a collection as well. As someone who approaches the ordering of a collection in the same way I used to make mix-tapes for friends at university, I appreciated this very much.

I talked above about this book in the context of a first collection, but that's not really fair: Sometimes We're Cruel isn't a 'promising' first book, it's a collection of fully realised brilliance by an author who, whatever she goes on to accomplish, has already created something very special. 

Sometimes We're Cruel (UK | US)

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Hallowe'en Horrors

I'll be appearing at the Hallowe'en Horrors event at the Derby Quad on October 30th, running a workshop  on writing weird, strange, off-beat, and creepy fiction. Details and a link to get tickets are below:

Join us for the first part of a very special day of horror writing, with five workshop sessions looking at a wide range of aspects of the genre! QUAD’s Literature Officer Alex Davis will be your host throughout, and will be joined by acclaimed authors Sophie Draper, James Everington and Angeline Trevena for an exciting day of dark inspiration, imagination and information!

3:30pm-4:30pm: James Everington – The uncanny: making the everyday seem strange in fiction

Anyone can make a werewolf or spectre sound scary, but how do writers approach more mundane horrors? This workshop will focus on picking out those details in apparently innocuous, everyday situations and making them seem just that little bit ‘off'. Perfect for making your readers uneasy without them knowing quite why….

Further details & tickets here.

Friday, 18 June 2021

Recommendation: Casting The Runes RPG by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

In my younger days, I used to regularly play RPGs, including AD&D, Paranoia, and most relevant here, Call Of Cthulhu, a role-playing game based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. It's a bit hazy in my memory, but I think I encountered Lovecraft's mythos via the game first, and then starting reading the fiction. So along with reading Campbell and King for the first time, Call Of Cthulhu was probably another formative stage on my journey to being a writer. (Although other than a tale in The Outsiders, I don't really write Lovecraftian mythos stuff.)

The new RPG Casting The Runes is based on the ghost stories of M.R. James (and mid-40s me much prefers M.R. James to Lovecraft). After getting the rulebook, I didn't know how I'd actually play the game, but via the wonders of Zoom, I revived the gaming group I'd played with 20 years previously, and ran a few sessions.

The rulebook for Casting The Runes is organised exactly as you might expect, with some introductory remarks followed by sections on character creation (characters here are called 'Investigators'), the game mechanics, monsters and magic, the historical time period, running games, and two sample adventures. The rules themselves are somewhat different to RPGs I've played before, especially when it comes to using 'Investigation Skills' which aim to avoid ludicrous, game-damaging situations where a highly trained investigator rolls a 1 and so misses a really obvious clue like a huge bloodstain right in front of their nose. As you might imagine, while combat features, players aren't super-heroes, and fighting the supernatural beings is likely to be more of a last resort than a significant feature of every play session. I thought the 'Stability' mechanic, allowing for the psychological impacts of player encounters with ghosts, black magic and like, was really well done, and adds a sense of tension and danger to even non-physical confrontations.

Where the book really shines is in the setting specific sections, both in giving the background for the Edwardian time-period, and information about running games in the style of M.R. James.  The two example adventures in the book are excellent introductions to the game. The book itself is really nicely presented, with period B&W photographs and creepy illustrations throughout really helping to set the tone.

The only downside of the rulebook for me was that I could have done with a few more examples of character creation and the rules in play. (The rules are tweaked versions of a more generic ruleset called Gumshoe, which I looked into online to get a feel for it.)

But overall this was a really interesting game, and both me and my friends had great fun playing it. And it was really enjoyable to come back to RPGs after all these years. Hopefully, we'll keep playing.

In summary, if you're an experienced role-player and are interested in an investigation focussed supernatural game, I'd highly recommend this. If you're new to RPGs and intend to be the run the sessions, there are probably easier first games out there, but if the M.R. James connection appeals to you don't let that put you off, you just might need to do a bit of online reading before stating your first game. There's also an friendly Facebook group run by the author where you can ask questions & find character sheets etc.

You can purchase the game online, in physical or PDF formats, at The Design Mechanism or DriveThru RPG.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Sinister Horror Company Podcast


I had great fun recording this podcast with Justin Park, head honcho of The Sinister Horror Company. We talked about Trying To Be So Quiet & Other Hauntings, the supernatural as a metaphor for grief, specific versus non-specific settings for fiction, Bob Dylan, and of course ghosts. 

You can join TSHC Patreon and listen to the podcast here.

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.