Saturday, 20 September 2014

Recommendation: The Night Just Got Darker by Gary McMahon

The Night Just Got Darker is a new chapbook from Gary McMahon, out soon from Knightwatch Press. It tells of a typical McMahon protagonist, at odds with his life and unable to stop it crumbling round him. And one night he sees across the road his neighbour, scribbling away at something in the small hours. He goes over and finds out the man is a very singular kind of writer...

I'll keep the rest of this short and sweet, as the story itself is short (but very far from sweet) and I don't want to give too much away. The really condensed version is: you should read this.

The slightly longer version is that I've read The Night Just Got Darker a couple of times now, once in broad daylight and once, yes, as the night was deepening, with a whisky in my hand. I loved it even more the second time round. It's worth reading more than once, because it's many things and you might not spot them all at first. It's one of those magical stories that seems bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, a tale whose implications ripple out in wider circles than you can possibly imagine from the initial set up. It's a story with a very disturbing view about how humanity might keep the dark held back, as well as a clever piece of meta-fiction about the cost of writing. It's a story about modern urban living and fractured realities and the idea of the scapegoat. And it's a tribute to the author's friend Joel Lane.

And, as I said, it's a story you really should read.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Recomendation - Drive by Mark West

Drive cover by Mark WestMark West’s latest novella is in some ways a departure from the author’s previous work; there’s none of the supernatural horror of The Mill here. But despite its realism there are scares aplenty in Drive and its small-town English realism adds to the effect. Drive’s set up is simple: David and Nat are on their way back from a party; they've never met before but David has offered Natalie a lift home. On the way, they encounter a group of drunk and possibly high boy racers in a souped up car, who they see nearly run over some women in the street. Almost at random, David and Nat are targeted by these youths, and the two spend the rest of the night driving round the estates and one-way system of Gaffney, attempting to flee their pursuers, who become increasingly violent and unhinged.

It’s a tense ride indeed for the reader, and ideally one read in a single sitting with no pit-stops. The story is pared down, barely giving you room to breathe. The characterisation and changing relationship between David and Nat is well done, occurring for the reader in the brief windows between the action. By contrast, the yobs with their laddish banter and blaring music are presented with no back-story, no real explanation for their acts. This seems a deliberate ploy by West, emphasising the essentially random nature of the violence, and giving the car that pursues David and Nat some of the impersonal, relentless horror of the truck from Duel. (It’s certainly a more inventive and original reworking of that theme than the recent Stephen King/Joe Hill collaboration.)

In short this is another impressive work from West, who seems to be mastering the novella form. Published by Pendragon Press, and available both as an ebook and as a limited edition paperback, this one is very much worth a test drive.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Premonition for 2015...

FS10 Reflections ebook 300ppiPleased to say that my story, Premonition, will appear in the tenth volume of Fox Spirit's Fox Pocket anthologies next year sometime, although my soothsaying powers are not enough to tell me when as yet...

This anthology collects together stories on the theme of Reflections, and like all the Fox Pocket anthologies has some frankly fabulous cover art by Sarah Anne Langton.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Fantasycon 2014 - York

This weekend I attended my first Fantasycon convention; I've been to a few cons now but this was the first 'overnighter' and so I was slightly nervous as I am often am in groups of people I don't know. But it helped that I knew good friends from other cons were going to be there, in particular my fellow 'failed to find an Indian restaurant in Birmingham' partners Mark West, Phil Ambler, and Steve Byrne, who I knew could be relied on to draw me out of my shell if needed. (Backup plan: beer.) But any nerves were misplaced for it was one of the most friendly, welcoming events I've been to, and all the people I met or re-met over the course of the weekend made it so.

Some specific highlights:

Book Launch: No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill
What I was saying about people above? Adam Nevill is a case in point - a thoroughly friendly and welcoming guy, and fellow Robert Aickman fan to boot. (Anyone who likes Aickman is alright in my book.) Adam's one of the most successful horror writers out there at the moment, and I'm a big fan of his work, so a chance to get a signed copy of his new book well before release day was too good to pass up.

A Tribute To Joel Lane
Unlike many people present, I never met Joel Lane, but his short stories were always excellent and if it wasn't for his tragically early death he would undoubtedly have been one of the authors I'd have spent ages trying to pluck up the courage to speak to. A number of authors including Simon Bestwick and Ramsey Campbell read from Joel's work and shared some memories of him. Despite the crap acoustics and loud people at the bar behind us, it was a really very special.

Reading: VH Leslie
VH Leslie's short stories are some of the finest I've read this year, a real class act. For this event she read her story Namesake  (you can find it in Best British Horror 2014) and her reading really brought out both the humour and the unease in the tale. I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with Victoria a couple of times over the weekend; another damn friendly fellow writer.

Book Launch: The Spectral Book of Horror Stories
This was by far the most packed event I attended, and no surprise: the number of authors who were present to sign the book was massive, the signatures & messages in mine not even all fitting onto one page. Here I said hello to online friends Alison Littlewood and Stephen Volk for the first time in person, and finally overcame my stuttering awe to tell Ramsey Campbell what an inspiration he was and is.

Book Launch:The End by Gary McMahon
There was so much going on on the Saturday, but no way was I going to miss the book launch for a new Gary McMahon book. No way. Regular readers will already know how good I think his work is. I also got the chance to buy a copy of his forthcoming chapbook from Knightwatch Press, The Night Just Got Darker directly from Gary in the bar. Given the prices in the con bar, I think it was the cheapest thing I actually purchased in there...

Book Launch: Boo Books/Knightwatch
This was the event where I read from The Place Where It Always Rains from Worms, which seemed to go okay. There were also readings from K.T. Davies (a pleasure to meet, as always), Simon Bestwick (ditto), Allen Ashley, and Reggie Oliver reading Anna Taborksa's stories from Worms.

Food:the weekend also didn't disappoint on this score. Two fabulous pub lunches in The Maltings, which was an nice old fashioned pub (with decoration that included an old sign about where to get treated for VD). A scrumptious evening meal in The Yak & Yeti, apparently Britain's only Gurkha restaurant. And a Saturday curry organised by Phil, where the only thing bigger than the size of the guest-list was the size of the naan breads. Epic naan.

More People: I probably won't remember everyone, but in addition to those above it really was great to chat to Steve Mosby, Jim McLeod, Johnny Mains, Lynda E Rucker, Ruth Booth, Stephen Bacon, Ross Warren, Alex Davis, Terry Grimwood, Paul Holmes, Dion Winton-Polack, Neil Snowden, Sue Moorcroft, Steve Chapman, Neil Williams, Graeme Reynolds, Simon Marshall Jones, Christopher Teague, Robert Shearman, Dave Jeffery, Adele Wearing, Jasper Bark, John Travis...

If I've not mentioned you it's due to my own crapness, don't worry. Or because your pass was on the wrong way round when we spoke, or because you were someone I met exclusively between the hours of 1am and 3am on the Saturday when things were a bit hazy. And speaking of Saturday night:

A Summing Up: The penultimate song at the Fantasycon disco was Elbow's One Day Like This, which finishes with the repeated refrain Throw those curtains wide, One day like this a year would see me right. Which about sums it up - writing can be a lonely business, with the doubts and rejections and long nights, and even the most sympathetic non-writing friend or family member is unlikely to want to talk about our weird stories for more than a few minutes at a time... So chances like this to speak to fellow writers and editors and reviewers feel like something really special to me now, a chance to recharge my creative batteries and go back into the real world all fired up. A chance to remember how lucky I am to be part of a genre I love in some small way.

Okay, the lyrics don't quite fit, but yes: days like this, and all you fab people - you see me right.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Fantasycon 2014 - Reading

It's my first Fantasycon this year, which I'm immensely excited about. And I'm also very pleased to say that as part of it I'll be reading from my story The Place Where It Always Rains as part of a combined launch for Worms, X7, and After The Fall.

It will take place at 7pm on the Saturday, and as well as me they'll also be readings from:

Simon Bestwick
K.T. Davies
Mike Chinn
Anna Taborska

so it should be a great event. Hope to see some of you there, or just about generally over the course of the weekend. I'm shy as heck during these kind of things, so do come over and say hi!

Fantasycon 2014 book launches.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Some Recent Recommendations - Part 1

Best British Horror 2014Here's some books I've read recently, and loved, and so you should read too, because you know I have such excellent taste...

The Best British Horror 2014 (Ed. Johnny Mains)

As you'd expect from the title, there's lots of excellent stories in here, including many I'd come across before that it was a pleasure to read again. Of the stories new to me, my favourites included those by John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Volk, Elizabth Stott, and (especially) VH Leslie, whose Namesake is a gob-smackingly good tale that references a well known literary classic... But I can't tell you which without spoilers, so I'll shut up.
The Sleeping Dead

The Sleeping Dead - Richard Farren Barber

This is ace.
If you need more than that, I reviewed it on the This Is Horror site.

The Moon Will Look Strange - Lynda E Rucker

The Moon Will Look StrangeA fantastically accomplished collection of weird, Aickmanesque stories, this is one of my favourite horror reads so far this year. The stories are rich, varied, atmospheric and each one rooted with a strong depiction of location, be it the Irish coast, Central Europe, or isolated American mountain communities. Picking favourites from this collection is probably a mug's game, but here we go anyway: Beneath The Drops, The Moon Will Look Strange, The Chance Walker... 

[fade out before I list every story in the book]

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dark Forest & Morpheus Tales: The Best Weird Fiction #4

Couple of quickies:

My story Home Time has been reprinted in Morpheus Tales: The Best Weird Fiction #4 which is out now and features a whole host of good writers. Home Time originally appeared in Morpheus Tales #11 - my first ever story acceptance, so it will always retain a special place in my heart. (UK | US).

Product Details

Secondly, I wrote an introduction for Algernon Blackwood's The Willows (for me, the finest cosmic horror stories ever written) for a new anthology of classic rural horror, Dark Forest. Released by Uninvited Books, it contains stories from the likes of Arthur Machen, Ambrose Beirce, and E. Nesbit, each introduced by a contemporary author. (UK | US).