Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Interview On Hannah's Bookshelf

Should you be so inclined, you can now listen to my interview on Hannah's Bookshelf on Mixcloud. In it, my past-self calls my future-self (who is now also my past-self, although not the same one who was interviewed) an "idiot".

I also talk about horror, serial fiction, Falling Over, The Quarantined City, Ramsey Campbell and stealing office stationary supplies.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Radio / Retro

Here's a few things happening soon:

I'll be appearing as the guest on Hannah's Bookshelf on North Manchester FM this Saturday between 2pm - 4pm. Hannah Kate will be quizzing me about serial fiction and The Quarantined City, short stories, Falling Over, and various other book-related gubbins.

You can listen on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or online if you’re further afield.

Secondly, my story Retro Night will be appearing in the next issue of Supernatural Tales due out before the end of the year. It's one of my favourite magazines so it's a real pleasure to be appearing again in its pages. More about the issue here.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Recommendation: Aickman's Heirs

Another post, another recommendation from the increasingly impressive Undertow Publications. This time it's Aickman's Heirs, an anthology that... well, I was going to say that it couldn't fail to disappoint me, but thinking about it the opposite is true. I'm a massive Robert Aickman fan but I'd hesitate to describe my own work or anyone else's as 'Aickmanesque' - he was such an idiosyncratic, peculiar writer that there's never been anyone else like him. So if the tales in Aickman's Heirs were nothing but bloodless imitations they'd have been pretty pointless. But fortunately that's not the case, and indeed Simon Strantzas's brief introduction to the volume makes clear he was aware of such a risk:

Were this book merely a collection of writers trying their best to reproduce something so uniquely Aickman, I'm afraid it would be interesting only as an example of how mistaken such a direction would have been...

Instead, Aickman's Heirs features a selection of authors writing stories that take Aickman's legacy and twist it for their own ends. A few of the writers here explicitly call out their debt to him, but most are content to tell their own oblique, strange stories without direct reference. It's one of those rare anthologies where every story is at least very good, and the best ones are utterly superb.

It's something of a cliche to say of an anthology that every reader will have their own favourites, but it's especially true of this book, where the stories seem such one-offs, relying on an interior logic specific to each writer - some you will 'get' and others you won't. These are also stories that cry out to be reread, which I haven't done as yet. Nevertheless, these are my favourites as things currently stand:

Seaside Town by Brian Evenson - a great opener that manages to combine a teasing ambiguity with a real sense of impending violence. It's a story about a mismatched couple taking a holiday to Europe and staying in a strange hotel. I've never read anything by this author before, but on this evidence I should rectify that.

The Dying Season by Lynda E Rucker - regular readers will know I thoroughly recommended Rucker's collection The Moon Will Look Strange; in fact I used the word 'Aickmanesque' at the time. This new story, set in a caravan site during the off-peak season, doesn't disappoint.

Underground Economy by John Langan - strange how 'Aickmanesque' fiction set in America seems to instantly become 'Lynchian' as well. Not that that is a bad thing, when it leads to stories as wonderful as this one. Set in a strip club, this is one of those pieces of uncanny fiction that lingers in the mind long after finishing it.

The Vault Of Heaven by Helen Marshall - the story that captured Aickman's distinctive voice the best.  "It will be of little surprise to those who know me well that, as a boy, I was possessed by frequent night terrors. I do not like to speak of them now. It embarrasses me - even as it embarrassed my father once..." but it's also a fantastic tale in its own right.

Two Brothers by Malcolm Devlin - unsurprisingly, this story is about two brothers, the elder of whom goes to boarding school whilst the other remains at home. A tale of shifting identities and adult secrets, it's both sinister & unnerving.

A Change Of Scene by Nina Allen - one of the few stories to reference a specific Aickman tale (Ringing The Changes) but even so this is one of the most original, distinctive pieces here. A long, exquisitely controlled story about two widowers visiting the seaside town where one of them spent their honeymoon.

Aickman's Heirs (UK | US)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Writers On Writing Volume 2...

Crystal Lake's Writers On Writing is a series of ebooks where "authors share their secrets in the ultimate guide to becoming – and being – an author". And I'm proud to say that that the second volume, which is out today, features a piece by me called Embracing Your Inner Shitness. 

It's more positive than it sounds... honest. It features Hemingway, Spiderman, and a paragraph where I imagine readers of it calling me a wanker. More seriously, it's about how I approach my first drafts of a story.

Writers On Writing 2 also features articles by Brian Hodge, Mark Allan Gunnells, Lucy A. Snyder, Daniel I. Russell, Theresa Derwin, Paul Kane & Jonathan Winn and is edited by Joe Mynhardt. Take a look (UK | US)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Recommendation: Skein & Bone by VH Leslie

VH Leslie's is a writer who I first became aware of via her work in Black Static and Shadows & Tall Trees, in which her stories were consistently among the best featured. So I've been looking forward to her debut collection for a long time, and by god Skein & Bone from Undertow Publications doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's one of the best collections of quiet, strange horror I've read for a long time.

Namesake, the opening story, perhaps sums up Leslie's approach: the story of a woman named Burden, trying to lose her unfortunate surname by finding a husband is intricately constructed from the outset, with every detail note perfect. When Burden meets Blithe, a man at a bar, the reader knows her anticipated happy ending isn't on the cards, but the actual ending is both chillingly ambiguous and clear like fine crystal. Namesake showcases Leslie's skill both at wordplay and literary allusion, neither of which detract from the horrific denouement.

There are almost too many highlights in this collection: the deeply unsettling haunting in The Quiet Room; the fantastic allegory of The Cloud Cartographer, the dark, dark comedy of Ghost and the hotel-based psychological horror in The Blue Room. There's plenty of uncanny things happening in these stories but what makes the unease really hit home is the emotional charge behind them all. Grief, loss and missed opportunities haunt Leslie's characters as much as the supernatural or ghostly.

Many of the stories use as a central metaphor something that is handmade, traditionally crafted: old dresses in Skein & Bone, the decoration of a new house in Ulterior Design (with yellow wallpaper, natch), the cooking of preserves in Preservation. There's a similar feel to the stories themselves: these are handcrafted, every allusion and metaphor woven together to make something unique. For this reason, Leslie excels at the endings of her stories: both the literal and the symbolic come together. Indeed, in the perfect last line of Preservation you know longer know or care which is which.

Absorbing, subtle, scary, exquisite - you really, really need to read Skein & Bone. (UK | US)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015 - After...

So, Fantasycon 2015. What a weekend.

This year it took place in my home town of Nottingham. Despite my being local, somehow Steve Byrne got to the venue before me, so when I saw on Facebook he was hanging around in the hotel bar I set off. We were soon chatting away over a pint and gradually other people arrived and joined our table: Ross Warren, Lisa Childs, Phil Sloman, Alison Littlewood & her partner Fergus, Simon Bestwick, Cate Gardner, Priya Sharma (who it was lovely to meet for the first time), Theresa Derwin, Steve Shaw and Dean R Drinkel.

Neil Williams, Wayne Parkin, me, a glass of free wine
The latter three were here for the unofficial launch of Masks (which features my story Porcelain) which we'd been planning to do in the bar... unfortunately the constant flow of people coming to check in and the unpromising acoustics meant we couldn't do any readings as planned, but the books looked great (the artwork is by the late James Powell, who sadly passed away earlier this year) so a number of people bought a copy and asked for signatures from me & Phil, which was great.

They'd been a stir of excitement in the hotel when Joe Hill (a late addition to the convention) entered, wearing a Haunting Of Hill House t-shirt no less. When I came back from the bar I found he was stood talking to our little group; Theresa was somewhat flushed and flustered, and managed to introduce me to him as if I were the important celebrity writer: "Joe, have you meet James Everington?" I could see in his eyes he was thinking 'who the hell is this guy?' but he was charming enough not to say it out loud. I just played it cool and told him I liked his t-shirt.

Me and Steve Byrne then went to get signed in and pick up our free books - in terms of choice it was far superior to last year, and I got some lovely hardback editions of Alison Littlewood, Joe R Lansdale and Sarah Pinborough novels, a Conrad Williams collection from PS Publishing as well as several interesting looking paperbacks.

Stephen & Mark
We went into the convention venue proper then, and in the space of another drink or two meet Graeme Reynolds, Lynda E Rucker, Peter Mark May, Paul Feeney, Ray Cluley and his partner Jess, Mark West, Sue Moorcroft, Paul Feeney, Wayne Parkin, Stephen Bacon, Steve Chapman, Clover & Dion Winton-Polak and Emma Audsley. We then went to the first book launch, The Lost Film, featuring a novella apiece by Mark West and Stephen Bacon - two talented writers I'm proud to call friends. They both did a reading, watched over by publisher Chris Teague. It was a really good launch - a big queue for the book, which it deserved given the quality of both Mark and Stephen's previous work.

We then went off for some food, which given the rather poor quality of food in the hotel (already notorious even on the first day) and lack of other options nearby meant a walk to a Toby Carvery. The glamorous life of a writer. So let's gloss over that - back at the convention, Mark had a panel/mock gameshow to attend called The Atrocity Exhibition, which was different to say the least, and got some laughs. I had to leave that before the end to get to Victoria Leslie's reading. I've not managed to review it on here as yet, but I consider her collection Skein & Bone to be among the finest released over the last few years and her reading of one of the stories was predictably brilliant. Later, Victoria and I had a good natter at the bar about all things horror - these kind of conversations that you can't have with 'normal' people are why I relish events like Fantasycon. Somewhere in the midst of the next few drinks I meet both Nina Allen and Simon Kurt Unsworth, who I wanted to say hello to as they were on my panel the next day, and also Neil Williamson, a fellow Infinity Plus author who I've know online for awhile; we've been talking about meeting up at some point for ages.

It was then time for Simon Bestwick's reading, the late night atmosphere suiting his rather bleak extract from his forthcoming novel. After that (I think - bit hazy by this point) I spoke to Alex Davis who will be publishing Trying To Be So Quiet soon and we discussed some of his ideas for the design of the hardback, which sounded amazing.

Saturday started with the launch of Adam Nevill's new novel Lost Girl, complete with a free bottle of local ale - lovely. Adam's a great guy and very supportive of other writers - a fact shown by the fact he let a few of us take over the last fifteen minutes of his launch for a surprise event...

Jim McLeod is the man behind The Gingernuts Of Horror website, one the best sites out there, and he's been a tireless supporter of the horror genre for years, both of the big stars and us lesser names working in the small press. So Phil Sloman put together a book for Jim... a very special book, of which they'll only ever be one physical copy printed. Jim McLeod Must Die! features stories from over 20 different horror authors; in all of them a character called Jim McLeod dies or suffers a fate worse than death. My own story is called Peephole and it was an absolute pleasure to be asked to be included in something so special. The look on Jim's face when he realised what was going on was priceless and for me a moment that sums up Fantasycon: the friendships made at conventions really do lead to great moments like this.

Jim McLeod, Mark West, Phil Sloman (with Sue Moorcroft in the background)
Then followed the launch of the second Spectral Book Of Horrors, in which a huge number of the authors were in attendance to sign, including many I've already mentioned, plus top gents Robert Shearman and Stephen Volk - and of course editor Mark Morris and publisher Simon Marshall Jones.

The it was on to my first panel. Gulp. Which I was moderating. In the main theatre. Double gulp. British Horror Present & Future featured myself, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Nina Allen, Stephen Jones, Cate Gardner, Alison Littlewood and Adam Nevill. Of course, with a lineup as good as that I didn't really have to do much as moderator - we got through less than half the questions I had prepared because everyone's answers were so good. Someone said later that it had the feel of a proper discussion rather than just a back-and-forth Q&A so I was really pleased with that. And as with all these things, once you're actually doing it your nerves vanish.

Me, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Stephen Jones, Cate Gardner, Alison Littlewood, Nina Allen, Adam Nevill

After that a bunch of us went to Priya Sharma's reading, which was excellent, and confirmed what I already knew: that I need to read more of her work. I think it was just after Priya's reading that I said hello to Laura Mauro for the first time, another writer who I know online but was glad to meet in person. (Nearly all horror authors turn out to be lovely people, in my experience.) Then myself and Mark bumped into Andrew David Barker, whose novel Dead Leaves was being launched at the con. Andrew's a great guy but very modest and he couldn't have looked more abashed as me and Mark praised his book to heaven and back...

Then I went to see the Weirdness, Darkness & Madness panel, which was obviously right up my street. It was moderated by Terry Grimwood and featured Mark West, Kim Lakin Smith, Helen Marshall, Deborah Walker and Timothy J Jarvis. It was a great panel, one of the best I've seen at a convention.

Outside, we gathered in the foyer for one of the most important parts of any con - curry. Before setting off I had a quick chat with Timothy Jarvis - some of what he had said on the panel had been really interesting, and he gave me a copy of his book. He had a reading later, which I said I'd attend after the curry - after all we had nearly three hours, so what could possible stop me?

Unfortunately it wasn't to be - despite having booked, when so many of us turned up at the restaurant they were woefully unprepared. It was nearly 90mins before starters arrived, never mind the main course. (To be fair, my food was great.) So with the 20min walk either way, we were gone for hours, meaning I missed both Timothy's reading and the Undertow launch of Skein & Bone and Aickman's Heirs. Still, during the loooooong meal I was introduced to Simon Clark and had some good chats with Phil, Dean, Jay Eales & Selina Lock and Benedict Jones.

Paul Woodward, Phil Sloman, Stephen Bacon, Mark West, Alison Littlewood, Jim McLeod, me, Gavin Williams (front)
I had a late night reading slot (11.30) and I was thinking that at that time hardly anyone would turn up, especially as it clashed with the infamous Fcon disco (where I'm reliably informed Mark owned the dance floor for the second year running). But there must have been 20, 25 people there and I read part of my story The Man Dogs Hated which seemed to go down really well - I sold a number of copies of Falling Over afterwards with one person even turning straight to the story to see how it ended. My reading was followed by one by Kit Power (and his flamboyant trousers) which was really enjoyable. Outside, not fancying the sounds of the Timewarp bellowing from the dance floor I sat and had a few beers with Steve and Laura & Peter Watkinson, Stephen King (not that one) and Katina Bill.

I only attended one event on the Sunday, but it was a corker: a reading by Helen Marshall. Like all her work the story was simultaneously funny and moving. I saw a lot of great readings this year, but against tough competition Helen's was the best. I then perused the Dealers Room, having a chat with Terry Grimwood and then the boys from the Sinister Horror table. And then after a few more beers it was time for goodbyes. It took about an hour to say goodbye to everyone there at that point. 

Reading back, somehow I've not even mentioned meeting Ruth Booth, Gary Couzans, KT Davies, Paul Holmes, Fiona N√≠ √Čalaighthe (and her ear!), Andrew Hook, Carole Johnstone, Tom Johnstone, fellow Outsider Rosanne Rabinowitz, John Travis, Tim Major, Ren Warom (we'll have a proper chat next time!) or Paul Woodward. Which just about sums FantasyCon up - there's so many great people there, so many friendships to forge or renew that's it's impossible to remember it all.

A special mention must go to Adele Wearing though, who I didn't manage to see all weekend, despite the fact that she apparently waved at me on a few occasions. That's my professional networking skills for you - completely blanking an award winning publisher (Fox Spirit deservedly won this year's Small Press award) even when she beckoned me over... 

There was a nice coda to the convention when myself and Phil headed into Nottingham to have some food and a few pints before his train. Phil had never been to Nottingham before, so I took him to The Broadway cinema (largely on the basis it has The Shining quotes on one window) and then, of course, to Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem (or 'The Trip' as everyone in Nottingham calls it) which is meant to be the oldest pub in the UK, and is built into the cliffs under the castle. We had a great chat about our hopes for our writing in the future and then Phil left to get his train and it was all over...

I got home, dumped my bag... and later that night logged on and order my ticket for FantasyCon 2016.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015 - Before...

I've never been important enough to have an actual 'schedule' for a convention before. I'm still not important, but here's the things I'm involved in at this year's FantasyCon 2015, in my home town of Nottingham in just over a week:

Friday 23rd
2pm, the bar: not an official event this, but an hour before FantasyCon formally starts there is going to be a launch of the Masks anthology from KnightWatch Press, which features my story Porcelain. I believe I'll be doing a reading but details are still to be confirmed.

Saturday 24th
3pm, Conference Theatre: I'll be moderating the British Horror Present & Future panel, with an all star cast of panelists: Nina Allan, Cate Gardner, Alison Littlewood, Adam Nevill, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Stephen Jones. I've never moderated a panel before, so it's certainly in at the deep-end given how much I admire all of the panelists' work. Should be fun/terrifying.

11.30pm, somewhere: I'll be doing a reading slot during the graveyard shift; not sure exactly what I'll pick to read yet. Any requests?

Other than that, I'll likely be in the bar/attending some of the excellent book launches, panels & readings/eating curry/meeting up with friends old and new. Hope to see a few of you there!