Ninth Time

April 18, 2009 at 6:49 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Shades of Darkness: award nominated anthology containing yours truly!

Shades of Darkness: award nominated anthology containing yours truly!

Good week bad week.

The listing for Stephen Jones Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #20 was released this week, and I didn’t make the cut. Honestly, I didn’t expect to because I’d only had one story published in 2008 (Old Man’s Pantry in Shades of Darkness) but it’s still disappointing to find out I’m right! However, a whole bunch of my friends and acquaintances made it in there (take a bow Simon Strantzas, Gary McMahon, Steve Duffy, Sarah Pinborough!), and against that sort of competition my chances were always slim. Well done to everyone who did make it in, and if there’s a signing at FCon this year I’m going to be on the other side of the table being all fanboy and getting signatures. Maybe I’ll make it into next year’s volume, when I’ll have had about 16 stories published. We’ll see…

Ah yes, 2009. Shaping up well so far! This week, I put the finishing touches to the last story for the collection (the true story that was causing me a couple of ‘how to write it properly’ problems’), and sent it off to Neil J. Apart from maybe a tweak or two here and there, the story content is now officially finished. Hurrah! Barbara Roden has been sent all the stories and I’m sure is writing up a storm for my introduction. I’ve decided not to do an introduction of my own, just some ‘thank you’s’ at the beginning and then a longer afterword and story notes at the end. My next job is to work with Neil on the story order, and then getting some nice blurb comments organised for the cover/publicity purposes. I’ll apparently have a cover to look at in the next couple of weeks, so things are coming together nicely now. I hit the world in September, remember! Along with my stories in Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft Unbound (a relatively -for me- short tale I’m really proud of called Vernon, Driving) and Neil J’s Creature Feature (called Implementing the Least Desirable Solution), I’m aiming to flood the market this year. You’ll all be sick of me by 2010…

Bit more good news: Shades of Darkness, the latest AshTree antho (including the aforementioned not-in-Mammoth-20 Old Man’s Pantry) has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, which is excellent news. Well done, Barbara and Chris Roden (editors extraordinaire) for this and also for their Exotic Gothic 2 anthology (edited by Danel Olsen) which was also nominated.

My inbox: I have a story to do for Charles Prepolec’s next anthology (Gaslight Grotesque),something to complete for submission to the next Tartarus Press anthology (Strange Tales 3) and then a story for Danel’s Exotic Gothic 3. I may also have work on a novel to do (No news yet, incidentally, other than a message that the chapters turned up okay and that it’s going to be a while ’til I hear anything back about them.) I’m going to be a busy boy!

Review Time: nothin’. Nada. Not finished anything this week (well, I did: Mike Carey’s Thicker Than Water, the 4th Felix Castor novel, which was excellent and, like the rest of the series, comes highly recommended). I’m into Joseph de Lacey’s Garbage man which I’m enjoying so far, and rewatching Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which I still love. Expect full reviews for them soon.

Ah well. I have a short creature feature story to complete (1500 words, just a little something extra for Neil J). Away to the keyboard!

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Eighth Time

April 12, 2009 at 6:46 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

I was going to leave the pulp thing alone – last week felt like quite long enough on that subject. I got some responses agreeing with me, some that disagreed, and I decided that enough was enough. NO! more opinion pieces, NO! more rants about books I ought not to like but do, NO! more defending fiction that’s big enough and ugly enough to take care of itself.

And then Neil J mentioned one I’d forgotten

Now, I’ll be honest – I have always been and will always be a sucker for two types of story: aquatic monsters and antarctic terrors. If something swims and splashes and eats people, I tend to like it, or if it hangs around somewhere really cold and generally scares the balls off people, then that’s cool (no pun intended). Incidentally, I have precisely one speciifc aim in my writing life: I am going to write one really really good water monster story, and one really really good antarctic monster story ( I realise that reads like two aims, but it’s not, it’s one – they’re wrapped up together into one bundle for me. Look, it’s my aim, stop complaining). Watch me.  Anyway, the purpose of this little wander is to set my stall out: I have no idea why I like this book so much, but I do. It plays to one of my two major enjoyment criteria, it’s fast, it’s visceral and it (to use cliches for a moment) takes no prisoners. I read it as a kid, loved it and have reread it on several occasions since and you know what? It’s still great. The book?

David James’ Croc: genius. Crocodile in the sewers eats people (thereby exploiting an urban myth for that well, it could happen. possibly feel). It escapes and eats people. People, understandably irritable, fight back. Who wins? Give you one guess! Well written, engagingly dumb and you know what? Just brilliant. Go and find it in a second hand shop near you and love it. Pulp at its very, very best.

What else? Oh, yeah – writing. No news on the novel yet. Keep watchin’ this space, ‘cos I am. During the last week, I’ve finished (I hope) editing all but one of the stories for the collection. The one left to do is the genuine ghost story, but I hope that I’ll have that one done by the end of the week. Then the collection is complete besides the intro, story notes, story order…oh God, there’s loads to do! One positive thing, however, is that the foreword is coming together. My original choice of foreword author unfortunately fell through, so I took a flyer and asked someone that I was sure wouldn’t agree in a million years…and she surprised me and said yes! I’m incredibly pleased (and proud) to announce that Barbara Roden is doing my foreword.

Yep, that’s right. Barbara Roden. The World Fantasy Award-winning editor/co-owner of the AshTree Press (who first published me in print, incidentally: smart woman!) and World Fantasy Award-nominated author whose short stories are seriously brilliant. She has a collection of her own called Northwest Passages coming out in September 2009, and you can trust that I’m in line for a copy. Barbara has agreed to do my foreword, which is massively cool news. This whole collection thing is shaping up to be a good deal all round really…

The other nice thing this week was I did my first interview (sort of) for the Ghostwriter blog site. I’ve done some local press before, but that was mainly a photo of me looking gormless in front of the Priory Church of St Mary in Lancaster (my fault: they wanted somewhere to take a photo of me and I jokingly said, well the Priory’s spooky, and I write horror stories, not thinking they’d take me seriously). The interview’s only short, but it was fun to do and can be read here: http://ghostwriterpublications.wordpress.com/focus/

Not much else to report, really. No reviews (apart from the Croc stuff earlier, obviously!) because, basically, I’ve been crap at reading and watching stuff. Caught the new Red Dwarf, which is nearly as good as the Dwarf gets but not quite. If you see what i mean. I’ve been reading Mike Carey’s Thicker Than Water, the fourth Felix Castor novel, which is brilliant. Not, maybe, quite as good as the first three, but still brilliant. Of course, I’m only two thirds of the way through, so everything could go to shit yet. Hope not….

Oh well, back to the writing.

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Seventh Time

April 5, 2009 at 7:35 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Weird week.

Creature Feature promo keyring

Creature Feature promo keyring

I”ve been tying up some loose ends this last week, so the first thing I did was submit the final draft of the Creature Feature story (called, by the way, Implementing the Least Desirable Solution) and was pleased to hear back from the editor that it was ‘perfect’ (his word, not mine!) and needs no more work. Hurrah! Editor Neil also sent me a photo of one of the promotional items he’s producing for Creature Feature: genius!

I also finished the novel chapters and sent them off. I’m really pleased with them, and think that they’re amongst the best things I’ve written, but I have no idea whether the publisher will like them. No more about this for now – don’t want to jinx it! More news if and when I get it.

No reviews this week because I’ve not had time to actually finish reading or watching anything, but a mild rant: pulp fiction! This week, one thing I did do was buy about 20 Guy N Smith books from the local charity shop. Now, I actually bought them for a friend of mine who collects GNS although there are a couple I’m going to read before I pass them on, but from the reaction I’ve had from a couple of people when I mention this, you’d have thought I’d been buying kiddie porn! It started me thinking about the difference between ‘literary’ fiction and pulp, and whether those differences are actually real or invented. There seems to be an assumption that ‘literary’ fiction (horror or otherwise) has more value than pulp, and I\’m not convinced that’s true. For sure, GNS and his contemporaries didn’t spend a great deal of time on in-depth characterisation, and their female characters often leave something to be desired (mainly, actually having a character rather than being sex objects), but their plots are tight and their books are never less than fun. I also suspect that, for people of my generation, our introduction to horror fiction was via King, Herbert and then people like GNS, Richard Lewis (who wrote the truly bad but enormously good fun Spiders and, I think, a couple of books about scorpions attacking the Home Counties), Shaun Hutson. All of them write pulp at some level or other, and I certainly read them before I moved on to James and Lovecraft and Stoker and Shelley and all the other ‘proper’ fiction (both horror and non-horror) that I enjoy . In fact, I went on to those authors and a host of others because of the pulp I was reading – I wanted to know what else was being or had been written in a type of fiction i was coming to love. Can i write pulp? No, not really. I’m too long-winded, and my heart sits firmly in the camp of the classic ghost story, but I still love to read it and I bet most of my contemporaries still have a dirty little secret stash of it in their psyche. In fact, I’m prepared to make a small bet: if you’re around my age (37) and from the UK, you’ll likely have come to your love of horror via pulp writers: for me, it was a battered copy of King’s Carrie that started the ball rolling, read in my grandparents top room over a series of Sunday afternoons. What was yours? That copy of Night of the Crabs being passed around school? A library copy of Spiders or Scorpions or Web, found buried on the stack? I’ll go a step further – no matter what sort of book you love these days (and I certainly prefer my horror subtle and delicate and about emotions as much as bodily violence), at some point you’ll have read a GNS novel or equivalent,and know what? You’ll have enjoyed it! Yes you did! They might not have changed your world view or offered any new philosophical position for you to mull on (although, let’s face it, reading about the destruction of Birmingham in GNS’s Thirst was alway a joy) but they were fun. If you reread them now, they aren’t always great (although, again, GNS\’s crab novels are still fun, and always have the best covers – how can you resist a series of books whose covers all were variation on the theme of giant crab, its mouth bloody, stand on a broken No Fishing sign whilst waving a triumphant claw aloft and looking generally evil?), but they do their job. Fast, aggressive and fun, they offer simple, undiluted entertainment, and that’s surely the point above all else? And it’s worth remembering that most ‘literary’ authors who step into horror (or decide to use some element of horror fiction, most ghost stories) fail because they don’t understand the fundamental rule: horror stories should, if nothing else, be scary/creepy/affecting, and make you look differently at the darkness/water/abandoned house just down the road. Perhaps they should leave it to the experts? So, I say, embrace the pulp within you! Love your GNS? Remember your Lewis with fond affection despite its many faults? Think Hutson’s Slugs is a thing of beauty? Sing it out, friend, loud and proud! You are not alone!

Rant over.

Oh well. That’s it for another week. I’ll have reviews next week, and maybe more writing news.

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Sixth Time

March 28, 2009 at 8:19 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

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

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Fifth Time

March 22, 2009 at 7:48 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Creature Feature anthology cover - good stuff!

Creature Feature anthology cover - good stuff!

So here we are; fifth time in and I ought to be getting good at this by now. Am I? God only knows.

It’s been another good week (I’m wary of this turning into the Simon’s Good News Show, but if that’s life then that’s life!) on the writing front. I spent a very long time on the phone on Monday night with an editor discussing one of my stories that needs some work before it gets to a publishable state. It was a really interesting couple of hours, getting a detailed perspective on how someone else reacts ‘professionally’ to one of my stories. I’m lucky, I think, in that so far no editor has said anything that I rabidly disagree with, and this was another case in point – lots of positive feedback and critique that I can use to improve the piece. It’s particularly heartening to realise that most of the critique was stuff I already suspected (I use far, far too many semi-colons; far too many; no really, I do; it’s just too much). I spent part of the week revising the story in light of the comments and have sent it off. It’s a tighter piece as a result – I’m not sure that I prefer the newest version, exactly, as I liked the earlier version as well (we parents are proud and uncritical!) but it’s certainly sharper and more in line with the criteria for the anthology. Reading this (third) version of the tale feels a bit like looking at a picture of the back of my head – interesting and…no, I’ve lost that metaphor, sorry. I think I was going to say that it’s something I know well but don’t see often, and it’s good to see it from a new perspective, but honestly I’m not sure. Oh well. Anyway, it’s another fingers crossed time, I’m afraid…

More good news of a more concrete nature: remember the creature feature story? Well, the first draft was good enough for the editor to accept it despite the story’s shortcomings (it needs to be longer, especially the climax, which is something I’ve heard before although I’m not saying in what context). Since then (and as is usually the case with the estimable Ghostwriter Publications), things have moved incredibly quickly and I’ve already got a copy of the proposed cover, which has appeared (as if by magic) at the top of this blog. It’s a good looking, eyecatching piece of art, isn’t it? It’s certainly garnered some positive feedback, anyway.  And lo! What’s that? Look at the third name down! Marvellous! The book should be available on June 1st (that’s the plan, I think) from Ghostwriter Publications – there’s a link to their website at the side of my page – and I have to say, I’m enormously excited by it. I’ve never been named on a cover before, especially one that looks as fine as this. I’m beginning to feel like a real writer (whatever one of them is), and that this whole writing thing might actually be something I can do for a while. Weird. But fun. Definitely,

The novel work is going well, and that’s about all I’m going to say about that for now except for the fact that I was awake at 5 this morning bothered about a plot point and panicking because I realised my creepy intro chapter was, in fact, a plot barrier. Damn! Anyway, I’ll post more about this as and when I can. Me and Forrest like our secrets…

Actually, that’s about it for the writing. It’s all been rewrites and edits this week, which might be a metaphor for life if I could be bothered to stretch it. So, review time:

The promised review of Bill Hussey’s The Absence will be next week – I’ve been so knackered this week that I’m only half way through it. I will say that I’m certainly enjoying it so far, so unless Mr Hussey shoots himself in the foot in the second half, I think we’re on to a winner. It’s out now so can be purchased places.

I’ve just heard that my friend John Probert’s new book is out, so I’ll investigate and get back to you on that, although I think I can say on the evidence of his previous work that it’ll be a worthwhile and satisfying purchase.

Don’t watch: Bad Biology. This is Frank Henenlotter’s new movie, and it’s awful. Now, I’ll say here that I’m normally a big fan of Henenlotter’s and that Brain Damage is one of my favourite B movies because it’s smart, literate, well made, shocking, funny and sad. Bad Biology, however, is just stupid, lazy film-making, poorly acted and with entirely questionable sexual politics (and if you’re reading Mr Henenlotter, though I doubt you are, having a female lead character espouse cod-feminist philosophilcal ideas about women’s position in society as sex objects for men doesn’t then excuse you from treating women as sex objects throughout the rest of the movie – it’s not post-ironic, it’s just blokes objectifying women whilst and assuming that they all they secretly need is a good shag from a well-endowed bloke to make their lives complete!). This movie was a huge disappointment, and was (surprisingly, for a movie so full of nudity and sex) as unerotic as a bowl of porridge (don’t. don’t say it. if you find porridge erotic, keep it to yourself). Avoid.

Rant over.

The only other thing I’ve watched this week is my son’s new Postman Pat Special Delivery Service DVD. Well animated, certainly, but hyper and bright and simply too busy,  and a poor comparison to the earlier series. Not only have the got a different guy doing Pat’s voice (sacrilege!) but it’s lost the thing that made the earlier series so good: peaceful, tranquil viewing that showed kids that calm was okay! A sad deterioration… Or maybe I’m just getting old?

Rant definitely over now. Honestly. Promise. And on that note, goodbye.

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