Good week bad week.
I had two rejections this week, both from the same anthology. Damn. The reasons for the rejections were, on first sight, slightly odd: that my stories were good but ‘too commercial’ and that the horror in my stories was ‘too overt’. Surely commercial is good? Well, no, in this case, it’s not! When I look at the other anthologies that the press have produced, the comments makes sense (and it’s reassuring that, despite not wanting them, the editor thought my stories were good and competently written) – there’s a subtlety to the stories in earlier anthologies and a strangeness that I haven’t quite mastered yet. I need, for this anthology, to let go of some of my more ‘concrete’ notions and try to think about those more delicate, less horrific incidents in life that are, nonetheless, creepy or in some way disturbing. And then I need to write about them… I’m hopful that I’ll be able to pull something together before the closing date that the editor will like. It’ll be a challenge to create something more emphemeral, so clearly I need to put my subtle head on…
Better news: I have another story in Creature Feature! That’s makes three stories, which I’m very excited about. I’m not going to say much about the content of the stories, as I don’t want to give anything away, except to say that the third story is currently labouring under the title In the Kitchen, Hiding and that I’m enormously proud of the creature I created and I really, really wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alleyway. Or in a well-lit street. Or, indeed, anywhere. The anthology is shaping up to be a really good one, with stories in from a range of excellent authors, so I’m looking forward to reading it. June the 1st is release day, and it’s only weeks away. Hurrah!
My other writing news is also pretty exciting: I’m still finalising the details, but it looks like there’s going to be a very limited edition mini-collection of my stories coming out in June or July. The collection will be another Ghostwriter Publications release (I’m getting on well with Ghostwriter – can you tell?). It’ll be hardback and slipcased, contain 5 new stories and its working title is Strange Gateways. Neil J and I are still discussing it to agree the final look, content, etc, but the likely ToC is:
- Where Cats Go
- The Station Waiting Room
- A Meeting of Gemmologists
- The Drunks’ Totem
- A Different Morecambe
This is a really cool development as far as I’m concerned - the stories in it are ones I’m proud of but that didn’t quite fit into Black Dogs and Lost Places so knowing they’ve found a good home is really gratifying. It does mean I only have one ‘unplaced’ story, Stevie’s Duck – a weird little thing about suburban nightmares and a giant duck. I may put it into Stange Gateways yet, as it’s a story I’m really very attached to that’s a bit different from my normal stuff. I’m sure I’ll find a home for it soon, so don’t feel too sorry for it! I feel a little naked with a stash of stories to draw on, though, so I need to write some more to get my reserves back up soon. More news as I get it…
Reviews: Putting the Pieces in Places by Ray Russell. Now I’ll admit a little amount of bias, as Ray is a friend of mine, but this 5 story collection from the Ex Occidente Press is an excellent read. Ray’s stories are far, far subtler and more delicate than mine, often refusing to some to any hard and fast conclusions and making the reader work for their conlusions. Are there any supernatural experiences going on here? Maybe, but you’ll need to think hard about what they are and what they mean. Are there ghosts? Possibly. Are there flawed and confused human beings, struggling to make sense of a world that’s shifting around them? Oh, yeah! The stories are uniformly excellently written, and this beautifully bound and presented book is a definite recommendation. Enjoy.
Haven’t quite finished Garbage Man yet, although I’m not far off and I’m definitely enjoying it so far. I did read Guy N Smith’s Bats Out of Hell which was fun but not his best, and I watched … nothing. No films or TV at all this week.
More later, folks. Life calls.
A great week.
The first thing is, I got another story into Creature Feature, the highly anticipated anthology from Ghostwriter Publications. This is my second story in the antho, and it’s something new for me (specifically, it’s far shorter than my normal weighty tomes, clocking in at a stripped back, healthy 1500 words). I don’t want to say too much about either of the stories I’ve written for the book, except to say that they’re called Morris Expedition, Days Nine and Ten and Implementing the Least Desirable Solution, and I hope you’ll enjoy them. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories in the anthology as well – roll on June 1st, I say!
The second thing is, I finished a story that’s been hanging around and poking at me for ages. I have a particular anthology in mind for it, but have been struggling to make the damn thing work. This week, however, I broke its back and made it behave. Sweet. The story, A Meeting of Gemmologists, is another departure for me, as I’vetried to approach a ‘classic’ form of horror story from a (for me) new direction, and it contains my first attempt at a (slightly) twist ending. I’m really happy with the finished item, and I’ve sent it to my normal circle of critics, naysayers and fanboy friends – those of them who’ve fed back seem to like it (and have made several suggestions, now incorporated, that improve the story no end). My wife is upstairs in bed reading it as I type this – ever my sternest critic, I await her feedback with a certain amount of nervous tension.. Assuming that she doesn’t pick it to pices, it’ll go off before the weekend is done and then I just have to wait the editor’s decision. Who’d be a writer? Well, me actually…
…and this is why. By far the best thing to happen to me this week was that I started to get some feedback on Black Dogs and Lost Places. I sent the pdf to 5 authors whose work I admire greatly, and I’ve now had 2 of them pass comment. Both of them have been astonishingly nice and positive about what they’ve read (including comparing me favourably to MR James and Ramsay Campbell! Holy God!). There’s something terrifying about waiting for your peers and contemporaries (people established and well-regarded in a world you’re only just breaking into) to comment on stuff you’ve produced, so it’s incredibly reassuring to find that they seem to like what I’m doing. I won’t say too much about the specific comments as yet (I’ll save that for when we’ve sorted out an advertising strategy for the book, nearer the time), but to have two people whose opinions is importnat to me (a BAFTA award-winning screenwriter and creator of one of my favourite TV shows ever , and an author who’s had stories in the past 2 Mammoth Book of Best New Horrors), say that they like my stuff is just beyond wonderful. If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be in this position, I’d have laughed and told you to bugger off; now, I’ll laugh and say ‘Hurrah!’.
Reviews: Still not much, I’m afraid. I’m still enjoying D’Lacey’s Garbage Man, but haven’t finished it – I promise I’ll finish it and review it soon. Honest. I did finish watching Neverwhere, though, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now, I’ll admit it’s a little dated and its low budget shows through on countless occasions, but this is still one of my favourite Neil Gaiman works. It’s well acted (especially by Hywel Bennet and Paterson Joseph), smartly thought out, and (in Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar) has two of the best villains ever commited to screen. Hywel Bennet, in particular, imbues Mr Croup with such oily, creepy unpleasantness that he dominates the screen whenever he’s on. Its vision of two Londons, one above and one below, and its use of tube station names as key story elements (who is the Angel in Islington? who are the the black friars? why, exactly, do we need to mind the Gap?) is imagination at its best, twisting the world into new and weird shapes, and I love it. One of the things people remember about Neverwhere, I suspect (and which probably puts them off from rewatching it now), is that it was filmed on video (rather than film) and looked flat and dull when it was first shown, but oddly that’s not so much of an issue now. In these days of HiDef TVs and DVDs that have to be upscaled (and often still end up looking flat and depthless), Neverwhere is looking better than it ever has before. You can still see its TV origins, of course, but they’re far less noticeable than when it was initially aired. Not perfect, but well worth checking out.
Right. Back to the writing. Until next week, goodbye.
A good week, all told.
First that that happened was that I got my Creature Feature keyrings from Neil J (Ghostwriter Publications head honcho), and a thing of greatness they are too! As a piece of promo material, they’re the best fun item I’ve seen in a long while. And, if you squint your eyes really really tight and strain, you can just make out my name. Obviously, on a full size book cover, it’ll be lovely and readable, but on a one inch keyring I’m not overly noticeable. Still, I know I’m there and that’s what matters. I’m told that the collection will have about 20 stories in, and I can’t wait to read it. Interest in this anthology seems high, so hopefully it’ll generate some good reviews and sales. Roll on June 1st, I say!
Now, the keyring was exciting but far more exciting is this: I can finally reveal some details about my collection! Imagine a drumroll please, and fireworks bursting somewhere nearby… So, it’s officially called (after many permutations and suggestions, some good and some simply preposterous) Black Dogs and Lost Places, it will consist of 10 (count ‘em!) stories and be about 65000 words in total. Four of the stories will be reprints, 6 new, you lucky things! The table of contents is:
Introduction by Barbara Roden
Old Man’s Pantry (first published in the AshTree Press anthology Shades of Darkness)
Dog (new story)
Derwentwater Shark (new story)
Flappy the Bat (new story)
Scucca (previously published in the BBC online anthology A Passion for the Art of Taxidermy)
When the World Goes Quiet (new story)
An Afternoon with Danny (due for publication in All Hallows #44)
Hotel Guest (new story)
Forest Lodge (new story)
Church on the Island (previously published in the AshTree Press anthology At Ease with the Dead)
Afterword and story notes by yours truly.
I hope to have a cover or two to put up in the next few weeks as well!
I’m excited by this. You too? What’s really nice is that, when Neil and I came to put together the final list of stories for inclusion, we realised that I had too many stories so we chopped 5 from the running list (including the true ghost story that had been causing me so much trouble!) and still have what I believe is a great collection. The stories included are, i think, a good representation of the work I’m producing at the moment, and range from classical ghost stories (there are 2 in there) to some slightly more left-field delights. There’s very little to laugh at in there, though. Oh well, I might work on jokes for the next batch of stories. Or maybe not.
In Black Dogs and Lost Places, you’ll find a full cast of ghosts, demons, sharks, fragile human beings, strange places, a hotel inspired by the Nottingham Brittania and a very strange children’s play area, all vying for your attention and trying to please you. I hope to send out a pdf of the book to those nice people who’ve agreed to read it and consider saying something nice about me in the next week (those lucky recipients include Steve Volk, Rob Shearman, John Probert and Gary McMahon, fact fans, although if they decide they can’t say nice things about the damn thing, I want it on record that i never really liked them! whichever of them it was!)
A little extra treat is that I now have the start of another collection (or a mini collection) to play with, because the stories we chopped were done so solely for length and not for reasons of quality (one of the stories, A Different Morecambe, is one of my favourite stories by me, it just didn’t fit properly in Black Dogs), so I’m hoping they’ll definitely appear somewhere soon. Some time in the next week, I’ll start having a think about these remaining stories and maybe touting them about a bit – we’ll see. This is feeling very real all of a sudden! September is still our launching time, so only 5 months to wait! Enjoy, friends.
No book reviews still, although I will say that I’m enjoying Joseph D’Lacey’s (whose name I have been misspelling for weeks – sorry Joseph!) Garbage Man a lot so far. I’ll hopefully finish it this week and review it fully next week. I did watch a movie called Splinter, which I thought was excellent – well made and literate, fast moving, smart, well drawn and likeable characters, echoes of lots of other good movies (The Thing in particular) but with enough personality of its own to not feel like a rip-off. Recommended.
Right, that’s enough for now.
It’s not been a good week this week – i just thought I’d reassure you of that before we go any further, so I won’t be nauseatingly over-happy in this post and you can read on. Reassured? Good, then we’ll wander forth. It’s not been a bad week by any means, but it’s not been a good one either. Good news and bad, frustrations and movement.
Bad news first: the story i mentioned had been accepted for a good-sounding anthology that wasn’t Creature Feature (well, okay, crowed about and showed off a bit)? It’s been bumped! Well, what actually happened was that, despite a number of lengthy conversations between the editor and me, we simply couldn’t get it to work. The story itself (tweaks required aside) is fine (actually, it’s pretty good I think), but it simply wasn’t fitting into the anthology in the way we’d hoped. It’s a shame, because I think it’s going to be a good anthology and it would have been good to be a part of it, but that’s how these things go. I’m disappointed, obviously, but not too disappointed. In fact, in an odd way, there’s a part of me that’s quite pleased. The story was beginning to mutate into something that, although i still liked it, it didn’t feel entirely mine. The editor has done a fantastic job of pointing out the story’s stylistic and plot faults, most of which I’ll certainly remedy, but some of them didn’t actually feel like faults at all. to me To get it to fit into the anthology’s structure, and into the editor’s vision of how the story should function, we were starting to add chunks that didn’t feel wholly mine (sentences, paragraphs, ideas). I was beginning to wonder if I should award the editor a co-credit! Don’t get me wrong, the edits suggested are all valid, it was simply that the story was moving away from my original vision for it. Anyway, my plan now is to take back complete ownership of the story (obviously, by incorporating all of the suggested edits I like but pretending I they were my idea in the first place) and use it as the final story in my forthcoming collection. The story’s called The Hotel Guest, by the way
So, the good news: by using the now-free Hotel Guest, I’ve essentially completed the collection! There’s been lots of movement on the collection this week generally: we’ve had title changes, cover discussions and now a completed lineup of contents! Black Dogs and Lost Places (as it’s now called) is till due in September, and I can’t wait. The title change came about because, secretly, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with Black Dogs and Lost Art. I came up with that title after a night of trying out different things, none of which worked. Finally, in a fit of irritation with myself (I’m rubbish at titles generally and it’s really frustrating – it can take me as long to find a title as it can to write the damned story!) I thought, ‘Well, what’s it about? I’ve got some dog stories in there and some about various aspects of art. Sod it, Black Dogs and Lost Art it is’. A couple of days later I thought of Black Dogs and Lost Places but by then the ball seemed to be rolling so I didn’t ask for it to be changed despite some misgivings – people might think (thought i) that I was implying that writing good stories was a lost art (which it isn’t – a quick look through the links below will reveal a mass of hugely talented authors whose short stories are brilliant). It’s not that Lost Art is a problem – I do like the Lost Art idea, and am working on a story about that very thing – but I didn’t want to come across as arrogant. Consequently, when we discussed the title again this week, I said that I prefered Lost PLaces and Hey Presto! It’s changed! One person has already told me they prefer the Lost Lost Art title, but never mind. I like the idea of lost places and what happens when we find them…
I’ve also had some more thoughts about the collection’s cover this week, and had some good discussions with the Ghostwriter head honcho (the tolerant, enthusiastic and patient Neil Jackson) about it. Upshot is, we’re abandoning the cover we currently have and developing a new one. I hope to have some really exciting news about that in a few more weeks. Until then, all must remain secret… The foreword (by an author I admire and like) is in development, and we have some good ideas for a launch event and publicity to go alongside it. And a gratufying number of authors whose work I really like have said they’ll take a read of the stories and see if they can write me some form of blurb, hopefully saying nice things about me. Exciting times!
The other thing that has finally started moving this week is the novel. I’m currently trying to revise/edit the first 5 chapters so that the publisher can see what I’m aiming for, and there’s been something not working that’s been frustrating me. I finally worked out what the problems are and how to resolve them, I think. I need to completely redo the prologue, and to add a couple of scenes of deeply supernatural horror, and I’ve managed to think through some plotholes and worked out solutions for them. I’ve also come up with a ‘theme’ for the supernatural happenings, and a visual signature for them to evolve around, so instead of editing I’m actually writing again to put these in. Hurrah! More on that front as and when it happens.
Review time: and I’m going to start this with a flag raised in the interests of fairness. Last week, I reviewed the movie Bad Biology negatively. However, my friend Gary McMahon has an entirely different opinion of the film, so if you want an alternative view of whether it’s any good or not, head over to Gary’s site (link below) and follow the links to his review. I personally still think it was crap! This week, I watched the film Shrooms, which was mostly a disappointment. Well made, certainly, and nice looking but poorly scripted and acted and with a very odd view of Ireland and the Irish. Plus, I’m getting entirely bored of movies that set out their supernatural stall only to reveal at the end that it’s actually a madness or drugs-related story (The Devil’s Chair, take a big, lazy bow). It just strikes me that when filmmakers do that, it’s often so that they can have the best of both worlds (“We’ll attract the ghost crowd! And the stalking-demon lovers! Then we’ll sucker in the slasher flick mob! Result!”) and they normally end up with something that’s just mediocre in all camps. Shrooms wasn’t bad, exactly, it just wasn’t good. Pah. If you want to watch a good Irish horror movie, watch the impressively bleak and muddy Isolation. Never have cows been so scary…
I’ve finished Bill Hussey’s The Absence, which I liked a lot. This is a smart, literate piece of horror fiction with some strong, vivd scenes. His characters are mostly believable, and his evil force both clearly drawn, internally logical and at times damned creepy! In some ways, this is a ‘traditional’ horror story (family struggling with tragedy inherits old building, goes there, gets attacked by dark and mysterious forces) but it has good modern spin. Hussey’s evils might be old, but his protagonists’ reaction to it are entirely believable and of today’s world; this is a place where mobile phones (mostly) work, radios play songs from new groups and yet people still die. It’s also, for the most part, well written (there were some stylistic tics I wasn’t keen on – Hussey sometimes overuses capitalisastion, as though he doesn’t quite trust his readers to notice how important something is, and characters make speeches that sound like speeches as opposed to naturalistic dialogue) and easy to read. However, he’s good at characterisation (especially incidental characters – the lawyer, Cuttle, is a particular delight) and generally has his characters act in believable ways. It’s gratifying to see horror novels like this getting fairly widespread, mainstream exposure. Recommended.
One last recommendation – the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s radio dramatisation of The Shadow Out of Time. Like all their addaptations (done as though they were broadcasts from the 1930s or earlier), this is just great. Well made, intelligent versions of Lovecraft’s stories that capture just the right tone of cosmic horror, personal terror and worlds tilting sideways. This one is my second favourite of the 4 dramas (best is At the Mountains of Madness, as it doesn’t need any kind of narrator – all the characters are reporting anyway) and like all the others, it comes packed with extras. These are dramas made with love, care and attention and I can’t receommend them highly enough. www.cthulhulives.org
Well, here we are again. Or, at least, here I am again; I have no idea if anyone else is there or not. Since my last post, I’ve received two pieces of valuable advice about blogging – don’t spend three paragraphs saying I can’t think what to write, and have a clear purpose in mind for the blog. With that in mind, I’ve decided that the blog is best placed as a home for all the writing-related occurrences in my life, with occasional sidetracks into reviews and recommendations. There – a sense of purpose and a clear(ish) remit decided upon, and it’s only twenty past 7 on a Sunday morning.
It’s been a good week for the writing. Yesterday, I heard that a story of mine has been accepted for inclusion in a new anthology. I can’t say much more than that at the moment, because the details of the anthology aren’t being released yet, but I can say that I think the story of mine is a good one and I’m proud of it. I’ve seen the proposed cover art and read stuff by some of the other contributors, and it’s shaping up to be a really good anthology which I’m sure will be well received and that I’m going to enjoy being part of. My story still needs some work to tweak and clean it up, so I’ll speak to the editor this week to sort that out with luck, and then that’ll be another tale bagged and tagged.
I’ve also been asked to contribute to an anthology of creature features! It’s exciting, because (much as I love creature features) I’ve never really tried to write one before and I’m not sure if I can. One of the things I’m most enjoying about having a moderate amount of success and positive critical response to my writing is that it’s throwing up lots of new challenges, which is keeping the writing interesting (for me at least!). I’m enjoying writing to other people’s rules, and responding to their suggestions when the story I produce isn’t quite right. It’s forcing me to right different things, which is great. So, can I write a creature feature? Hopefully, although the story that’s in my head is probably not what most people have in mind when they hear the phrase ‘creature feature’. We’ll have to see if it works out or not…
The work on the collection is going well – I have one story to complete and then Black Dogs and Lost Art is complete (apart from the editing, the foreword, the introduction, the story notes, the blurb collection, the publicity, the final decisions about which stories get included and the order they go in, and the audio version, the enormous number of good reviews, followed by the inevitable sale of all the stories to large Hollywood studies, general success and eventual authorial burn out and collapse). The outstanding story is a longer one, and I’m hoping it’ll act as one of the cornerstones of the collection. I’m aiming to have it done by the end of next month. If I’m efficient, of course.
I also have two other anthologies that have asked me to contribute, so I need to work on those soon – I have ideas for both stories, but I need to do some research so that they contain some realism. Well, so that they can be as realistic as horror stories ever are. Research is a newer thing for me as well – I normally just make stuff up, but both of these stories need something more than that. It makes them harder and longer to produce, but with luck the benefit of it is that they’ll be all the better for it.
I’m also in London this week to have discussions with a publisher about novels, but that’s more in the way of exploratory fumblings. It’s all very exciting, and I can’t help but get my hopes up, but I’m trying not to get too excited, as it may come to nothing. Fingers crossed, though.
And lastly, as part of my general duty to inform:
If you can be bothered, watch Midnight Meat Train – it’s fun but it’s not worth making a huge effort for.
Listen to the HP Lovecraft Historical Society audio dramas, because they’re great. And if you took my advice on this last week and have already listened to them, don’t worry – just go and listen to them again.
I’m still reading Let the Right One In, which is good so far but I’m reserving judgement on ’til I’ve finished it.
Read Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels, they’re really very good indeed.