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.
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.
So it’s two or three days after setting this damn thing up and I’m beginning to think to myself, what is there to say? I’m reminded horribly of my attempts to keep a diary when I was younger, all disastrous through a mix of laziness and the general mundanity of my life. By that I don’t mean my life is dull, or boring or in some way lacking – it’s not (although a slightly bigger house so I could own more books and DVDs would be nice!), it’d just that it only seems to be of interest to me (and, where diaries are concerned, even I can’t see the benefit years from now of knowing what I did on, say, May 3rd 1992 – “Bored. Watched TV. Drank.”). My friend Simon Strantzas (www.strantzas.com) always seems to be able to write insightful, intersting blogs and I can’t help but think, I’m going to be such a disapointment in comparison. Oh well.
So, we’ve established that I’m not going to stun or enlighten you, but I may as well at least inform you:
Go and read Rob Shearman’s excellent Tiny Deaths collection – won a World Fantasy Award (well deserved, I might add), and a story from it (Damned if you Do) was nominated for a WFA. It didn’t win (and my personal favourite in the collection is actually So Proud), which is a huge shame because it’s a stunning story, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Read John Probert’s Coffin Nails (published by the ever-excellent AshTree Press), it’s a gleefully brilliant, fun collection.
Read Simon Strantzas’ Beneath the Surface – very dour and excellent collection of tales. Oh, wait, you can’t ‘cos it’s sold out. Never mind – I’ll reread it and tell you how good it is.
Don’t watch Simon Mason’s The Devils’ Chair – it’s crap.
Listen to the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s audio dramas of At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror and Shadow Over Innsmouth – all brilliant.
Listen to the BBC’s dramatisation of The Midwich Cuckoos – excellent, and Bill Nighy just drips class.
I think that’s enough for now. I’ll add more as I think about it, or when I’ve actually got something worth saying.