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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