This last couple of weeks has been a bit of greatness and a bit a crap, if I’m honest.
We’ll do the crap first: I won’t go into any details here, but I’ve been involved in discussions with Ghostwriter Publications regarding what I see as outstanding items owed to me, and the discussions have left a somewhat unpleasant taste in my mouth. I’m sad to say that they haven’t been particularly fruitful from my point of view and whilst I’m relatively sanguine about it all, it has confirmed that my decision to stop working with GWP, and it’s director Neil Jackson, was entirely the right one. It came to the point where I had to make a simple decision: do I chase GWP through the courts, or do I let it go? Do I have the time or, indeed, the inclination? And even if I have the time , is my time worth wasting in having to carry on dealing with someone I can longer trust. And the answer is no; the situation, apart from being mostly boring, isn’t worth the effort it’ll take, not really, because I have more exciting things to do. I’ll take what Neil has agreed he owes me (assuming it arrives soon) and then I can walk away from this whole sorry mess. So, the final thing I’ll say about it all is this: I appreciate that the situation is specific to Neil and me, and I hope that his relationship and dealings with his other authors don’t turn out like mine and his did, but to anyone thinking of getting involved with GWP I would advise great caution.
On to bigger and brighter things: the cover artist for my Ash Tree Press collection has been confirmed as Jason van Hollander! Jason is a World Fantasy Award-winning artist whose covers have graced a number of other Ash Tree books – his covers for their anthologies are simply stunning. Jason’s website is here: http://www.jasonvanhollander.com/index.html – go and be astounded. At this point I have no idea what Jason will do for Lost Places but I’m absolutely sure it’ll be superb. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to make suggestions, because (let’s face it) when you have an artist the calibre of Jason van Hollander doing your cover, you just basically say “Whatever you want to do. Sir.” I can’t wait to see what he comes up with, and if Jason says he want to draw a picture of a daffodil wearing a trilby, who am I to argue? Hope he doesn’t, though…
Other news: I’ve rewritten the novel chapters and submitted them and I’m much, much happier with them. I editing them down by around 20%, and then slotted in some new supernatural gubbins, and the finished piece flows far better and faster. Clearly, I have no idea if they’re what the publisher’s looking for, but I can hope! I know I’m not going to hear back about them for a while, so I may well carry on with the next chapters, or spend some time with a new story I want to write about a plague of swearing. Watch this space.
The first review this week is of the GWP anthology Creature Feature. Now, the first thing to say is that I’m a little biased about Creature Feature because a) I’m in it but b) my relationship with GWP isn’t great. In the interests of fairness, I’ll state straight up that the stories in this anthology are mostly wonderful, smart pulp creature stories that deserve to be read by as many people as possible, the cover’s eyecatching (although it’s slightly grainier than it looked in pictures posted of it on facebook and the GWP website) and it seems well bound. Creature Feature’s big problem is that whoever proofread it did a very poor job – it’s got quite a few basic typographical errors in it. The most glaring example occurs in Neil’s introduction, when he talks about Willie Meikle and Guy N Smith and then says that “These three gentlemen…” One might almost imagine that a third person was removed from the intro at the last minute but that no one bothered to read the rest of it to correct it for errors… It’s a shame because these kind of little things can affect the reading of the stories and can be taken to show, I think, a lack of respect for both the paying customer and the authors involved. Still, overall, it’s a good book and I’d certainly recommend it.
Full review next week, but I’m also reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which I’m enjoying hugely. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that Chabon and I are soon to be ‘bookmates’, as we both have stories in the forthcoming Lovecraft Unbound anthology…
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.
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!
Oh well. That’s it for another week. I’ll have reviews next week, and maybe more writing news.