Friday, 23 January 2015

The Quarantined City Episode 1: Cover Art & Blurb

Here's the cover art and blurb for the first episode of my monthly serial for Spectral Press.

The Quarantined City: sealed off from the outside world, with only the sight of the ocean to remind its inhabitants of life beyond. No one knows why the city has been quarantined and conspiracy theories abound.

But for Fellows life continues largely as before. He walks the streets, hunts out rare books; the sun continues to shine and the gulls circle above.

There’s the small matter of the ghost haunting his house, but Fellows doesn’t let himself think of that.

But when he tracks down a story by the reclusive writer known as Boursier, his old certainties fade as he becomes aware that the secrets of the city, the ghostly child, and the quarantine itself, might be more connected than he thinks…

The Quarantined City Episode 1: 'The Smell Of Paprika' will be available very, very soon...

Monday, 29 December 2014

Compulsory 2014 Retrospective Post

So, 2014.

The Writing:
In terms of my writing, 2014 has felt like an important year for me, although from the outside it might not seem like it. Falling Over continued to pick up some nice reviews, and I had some stories published in anthologies this year, but no big releases. Nothing new purely under my own name.

But I've been hard at work on a lot of different things this year, most of which will see the light in 2015.

Most exciting is The Quarantined City, my monthly serial which will be published by Spectral Press, with the first episode The Smell Of Paprika hopefully being released in January. Spectral Press are one of my favourite publishers and the fact that they're releasing something of mine feels like a real achievement, something that if you'd told me a year ago I'd never have believed. In addition, in writing The Quarantined City (the episodes so far, at least) I feel I've written my most ambitious work to date. Without giving away too much at this stage it's part horror, part fantasy (sort of), part head-scratching weirdness. I've stretched creative muscles I've not stretched before and had a blast doing so.

Europe After the Rain II - Max Ernst 1940-42. © 2014  Wadsworth Atheneum
Max Ernst's Europe After the Rain II will provide the basis for the cover art for each episode of The Quarantined City.
In addition, I've a story in the Lovecraftian anthology The Outsiders from Crystal Lake (another dream publisher) coming out early 2015,  my chapbook Dark Reflections from Knightwatch Press, plus a few other acceptances and thingabobs that I can't mention as yet.

The People:
This year conventions and book launches have gone from being things I was pretty nervous about (because I knew no one and am shit at introducing myself to strangers) to things I actively look forward to, in part through the realisation that the horror community are among the friendliest people I've met (especially those who like a good curry). I've done a few readings this year as well, which went okay, I think. So 2014 felt like an achievement in that sense as well. I certainly hope to attend as many events as is realistic next year. And not forgetting the friendship & advice from people I've only ever met online, which is just as appreciated.

So lots of people I should thank, but too many to list here without it becoming interminable. Here's to you all; you know who you are. The first pint's on me.

Top Ten Books:
The Language Of Dying - Sarah Pinborough
No One Gets Out Alive - Adam Nevill
The Southern Reach Trilogy - Jeff VanderMeer
The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories
Gifts For The One Who Comes After - Helen Marshall
Into The Light - SP Miskowski
Best British Horror 2014
Shadows & Tall Trees 2014
The Sleeping Dead - Richard Farren Barber
Dream Of The Serpent - Alan Ryker

(See also my massive favourite short stories post)

Top Five Films: American Hustle; The Double; The Grand Budapest Hotel; A Most Wanted Man; The Wolf Of Wall Street

Top Ten Albums: 
EMA - The Future's Void
Martin Carr - The Breaks
Jenny Lewis - The Voyager
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
King Creosote - From Scotland With Love
Allo Darlin' - We Come From The Same Place
Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Chvrches - The Bones Of What You Believe
Bob Dylan - The Complete Basement Tapes
Stephen Malkmus - Wig Out At Jigbags

Monday, 22 December 2014

Favourite Short Stories of 2014

I've been keeping a list of the best short stories I read this year - they weren't all necessarily published this year, but they're all relatively recent. I read a lot of short stories, so although there's nearly a hundred below that doesn't mean I've not been very strict in selecting what to include. Each story had to impress me enough to make a note of it in the first place, and then still seem as impressive when I whittled the list down for this post.

I've tried not to include too many stories from any single author or from any specific book; in all cases I've listed the publication I read the story in, not necessarily where it was originally published.

Last year I had a few emails from readers saying they discovered some new stories from the 2013 list, so I hope that's the case this time. And a big cheesy thank you to all the authors & publishers, for the inspiration, exhilaration (and not a little envy) your stories gave me.

Nina Allen: Seeing Nancy (The Mammoth Book Of Ghost Stories By Women)
Stephen Bacon: Apports (Black Static #36)
Stephen Bacon: I Am A Creation Of Now (Peel Back The Sky, Gray Friar Press)
Stephen Bacon: The Trauma Statement (Peel Back The Sky, Gray Friar Press)
Richard Farren Barber: Bus Routes Through the Sticks (The Horror Fields, Morpheus Tales Publishing)
Richard Farren Barber: Where The Stones Lie (The 13 Ghosts Of Christmas, Spectral Press)
Jasper Bark: How The Dark Bleeds (Stuck On Your & Other Prime Cuts, Crystal Lake)
Laird Barron: Nemesis (Primeval: A Journal Of The Uncanny #1) 
Simon Bestwick: A Kiss Of Old Thorns (The Condemned, Gray Friar Press)
Michael Blumlein: Success (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Undertow)
Eric Brown: The Disciples Of Apollo (Ghostwriting, Infinity Plus)
Eric Brown: The Man Who Never Read Novels (Ghostwriting, Infinity Plus)
Pat Cadigan: Chalk (This Is Horror chapbook)
Chloe N Clark: Mud (The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society Feb 2014)
Chloe N Clark: Who Walks Beside You (Supernatural Tales #25)
Ray Cluley: The Festering (Black Static #36)
Ray Cluley: Water For Drowning (This Is Horror chapbook)
Ray Cluley & Ralph Robert Moore: The Space Between (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, Undertow)
Erin Cole: Between Feathers & Furs (February Femme Fatales)
MR Cosby: Necessary Procedure (Dying Embers, Satalyte Publishing)
MR Cosby: Turning The Cups (Haunted, Boo Books)
Anthony Cowin: The Brittle Birds (Perpetual Motion Machine)
KT Davies: Zombie Worms Ate My Hamster (Worms, Knightwatch Press)
Kristi DeMeester: Like Feather, Like Bone (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Undertow)
Paul M Feeney: The Weight Of The Ocean (Phrenic Press)
Gary Fry: Biofeedback (Best British Horror 2014, Salt)
Terry Grimwood: Red Hands (The Exaggerated Man & Other Stories, The Exaggerated Press)
Terry Grimwood: Soul Masque (Spectral Press chapbook)
Stephen Graham Jones: The Elvis Room (This Is Horror chapbook)
Rachel Halsall: The Conch (Hauntings, Hic Dragones)
Frances Hardinge: Slink-Thinking (La Femme, NewCon Press)
Hannah Kate: Lever's Row (Hauntings, Hic Dragones)
Holly Ice: Trysting Antlers (La Femme, NewCon Press)
Jane Jakeman: Adoptagrave (Supernatural Tales #16)
Carole Johnstone: Scent (The Bright Day Is Done, Gray Friar Press)
Carole Johnstone: Stomping Ground (The Bright Day Is Done, Gray Friar Press)
Joel Lane: Like Shattered Stone (Joel Lane Archive, Spectral Press)
Emma Lannie: There Is A Light & It Never Goes Out (After The Fall, Boo Books)
VH Leslie: Namesake (Black Static #36)
VH Leslie: The Quiet Room (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, Undertow)
Alison Littlewood: The Dog's Home (The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Livia Llewellyn: Furnace (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Undertow)
Sean Logan: The Tagalong (Supernatural Tales #27)
Johnny Mains: Aldeburgh (Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types, Shadow Publishing)
Usman T Malik: Ishq (Black Static #43)
Nick Mamatas: And Then, And Then, And Then... (Innsmouth Free Press)
Amelia Mangan: If I Were You (X7, Knightwatch Press)
Amelia Mangan: These Blasted Lands (After The Fall, Boo Books)
Helen Marshall: Death & The Girl From Phi Delta Zeta (Gifts For The One Who Comes After, Chizine)
Helen Marshall: In The Year Of Omens (Gifts For The One Who Comes After, Chizine)
Helen Marshall: We Ruin The Sky (Gifts For The One Who Comes After, Chizine)
Laura Mauro: When Charlie Sleeps (Black Static #37)
Gary McMahon: For The Night Is Dark (Knightwatch Press chapbook)
Gary McMahon: The Ghost Of Rain (Tales Of The Weak & Wounded, Dark Regions Press)
SP Miskowski: This Many (Little Visible Delight, Omnium Gatherum)
Alison Moore: Eastmouth (The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Alice Munro: Queenie (Penguin chapbook)
Scott Nicholay: Eyes Exchange Bank (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Undertow)
Thana Niveau: And May All Your Christmases (The 13 Ghosts Of Christmas, Spectral Press)
Thana Niveau: Stolen To Time (From Hell To Eternity, Gray Friar Press)
Antony Oldknow: Ruelle Des Martyrs (Supernatural Tales #26)
Jonathan Oliver: Baby 17 (British Fantasy Society Journal #11)
Reggie Oliver & MR James: The Game Of Bear (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror #21)
Stephen Palmer: Palestinian Sweets (La Femme, NewCon Press)
Sarah Pinborough: Collect Call (The Mammoth Book Of Ghost Stories By Women)
John Llewellyn Probert: The Secondary Host (Best British Horror 2014, Salt)
Iain Rowan: The Grey Ship (52 Songs, 52 Stories)
Iain Rowan: Waiting For The Man (52 Songs, 52 Stories)
Nicholas Royle: Dead End (X7, Knightwatch Press)
Nicholas Royle: The Reunion (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror #21)
Lynda E Rucker: Beneath The Drops (The Moon Will Look Strange, Karoshi Books)
Lynda E Rucker: The Moon Will Look Strange (The Moon Will Look Strange, Karoshi Books)
Karen Runge: The Philosopher (Pantheon July 2013)
Daniel I Russell: Following Orders (Phobophobias, Western Legends Publishing)
Ray Russell: Company (Supernatural Tales #16)
Eric Schaller: To Assume The Writer's Crown: Notes On The Craft (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, Undertow)
Robert Shearman: Granny's Grinning (The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror #21)
Robert Shearman: It Flows From The Mouth (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, Undertow)
Angela Slatter: Home & Hearth (Spectral Press chapbook)
Phil Sloman: P Is For Pathophobia (Phobophobias, Western Legends Publishing)
Michael Marshall Smith: Author Of The Death (Best British Horror 2014, Salt)
Elizabeth Stott: Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers (Best British Horror 2014, Salt)
Simon Strantzas: The Nineteenth Step (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Undertow)
Cameron Suey: East (After The Fall, Boo Books)
Adrian Tchiakovsky: Lost Soldiers (The 13 Ghosts Of Christmas, Spectral Press)
Steve Rasnic Tem: The Night Doctor (The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
Stephen Volk: The Magician Kelso Dennett (Best British Horror 2014, Salt)
Mark West: The City In The Rain (Strange Tales, PenMan Press)
Mark West: A Quiet Weekend Away (Strange Tales, PenMan Press)
Conrad Williams: The Jungle (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Neil Williamson: Amber Rain (The Ephemera, Infinity Plus)
Mercedes M Yardley: Black Eyes Broken (Little Visible Delight, Omnium Gatherum)
Rio Youers: Outside Heavenly (The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)

Friday, 19 December 2014

Gifts For The One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

GiftsGifts For The One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall is a collection of short stories as good as it's title, and I recently had the pleasure not just of reviewing it, but of interviewing Helen as well. Links to the relevant This Is Horror pages below:

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Recommendation: Peel Back The Sky by Stephen Bacon

PEEL BACK THE SKY by Stephen Bacon (trade paperback edition)Stephen Bacon is an author I've been meaning to read more of for awhile, after enjoying his stories in the Ill At Ease and Anatomy Of Death anthologies. I find it can go two different ways when you read a collection by an author you've only read a few pieces by; sometimes they are revealed as a one-trick pony, with deadening repetitive prose and similar story lines providing ever diminishing returns as you struggle through a whole book’s worth of their stuff.

Fortunately, Peel Back The Sky proves to be the second kind of experience, where the stories have enough thematic connections to make this a coherent collection, but enough individuality to stand out from each other. There’s a wide range of different supernatural and horror ideas explored, all told in Bacon’s quietly controlled prose. There are some MR James style ghost stories and old-fashioned chillers, but for me the best pieces here are where Bacon allows himself to move away from the more traditional tropes. The Trauma Statement is a very dark and original story about collective and personal responsibility, and how much we might tolerate the misfortune of others, whereas Catch Me If I Fall is so darkly comic that it wouldn't be out of place as a League Of Gentlemen sketch. Another fine piece, Concentric, is different again: horror on a vast scale as an oceanographer is called out to investigate a hole in the ocean… The grim nostalgia of Last Summer is another highlight, in part because of its evocative account of the dying days of a mining community in the Thatcher years.

Perhaps best of all is the head-messing I Am A Creation Of Now, which is one of those stories that upon finishing you immediately want to reread. A chilling exploration of such ideas as self-deception, non-linear time, and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Regular readers will know how much I like ambiguous stories about fractured reality; well this is one of the best such stories I've ever read.

Ultimately this is a collection where readers are likely to have their own favourites; there’s not a bad story here and the range of styles means there’s something for dark fiction fans of all stripes. Thoroughly worth your time.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Recommendation: No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE BY ADAM NEVILL REVIEW PictureCharacters making stupid decisions in horror books/moves just to further the plot. Discuss.

It's something every horror fan is aware of - that moment when a character in the book you're reading does or doesn't do something that would save them. It's maybe a particularly acute problem for haunted house novels, when the solution is so blindingly obvious that you want to shout at them: "just leave!"

Adam Nevill's new haunted house novel, No One Gets Out Alive, gets around this thorny issue by having a main character forced by circumstance into knowingly making such bad choices. Steph is very much a product of her time: cash-strapped and living in rented accommodation without the safety-nets of parents or secure employment. At the start of the book, she moves into a room at 82 Edgware Road, and is soon confronted by ghostly voices and a particular unappealing landlord. But the reader understands she literally has nowhere else to go. Rather than being frustrated by her staying in the house, the reader feels an anxious empathy with Steph's plight. It just one of many ways this book quietly subverts genre norms, especially around how female victims are presented.

For the first few hundred pages or so there's a certain repetition to the book, representing the repetition and limited horizons of Steph's life. As well written as it all is, readers who are aware of Nevill's other work might sense he is keeping much of his powder dry during this first third of the book.The ghostly goings on continue without real escalation, and the reader, like Steph, might be lured into a false sense of comfort...

Then the trap closes.

In a simply breathtaking chapter, it suddenly becomes clear that Steph has squandered her last chance to escape the house, and the way it happens so quickly leaves both her and the reader almost stunned in the face of it. In the middle third of the novel there follows some of the most intense, emotionally brutal events in a horror that I've read for a long time. I won't give away too much, but suffice to say there's both human and supernatural horror here, and both are equal gripping and frightful. Nevill is always great writing about characters trapped either literally or metaphorically (see The Ritual and House Of Small Shadows) but even he has rarely put a character through the wringer as much as he does with Steph here.

But she emerges from it, and in another subversion of standard genre plotting, Nevill spends the final third of the book detailing the aftermath of the events at 82 Edgware Road, with some nice digs at tabloid reporting. This section has the feeling of an extended coda, and whilst the horror does re-intrude back into the narrative, it doesn't reach the same dizzyingly terrifying heights as before. Again, this seems to be for deliberate effect rather than a misfire: Nevill wants the reader to see how Steph has been changed by what happened to her, strengthened but also scarred. Some trauma is permanent.

This is a long novel, all of it somewhat claustrophobically shown from one perspective. Some readers might take issue with that, and with the pacing of the narrative mentioned above. But in the issues raised (around inequality and victim-hood and the media) and in its questioning of genre norms No One Gets Out Alive is very intellectually satisfying, and yet it still proves to be one of the most scary and emotionally hard-hitting horror novels of recent times.

Nevill's finest book to date? Tastes will differ, but for my money yes.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Recommendation: Stories of Your Life And Others - Ted Chiang

I wrote this quite a while for someone else's site, but the hectic life of a publisher meant it got lost between the cracks I guess. And as this is about one of the best books I've read in recent years, I didn't want to let my words go to waste. So here I am, talking about Ted Chiang's collection of short stories Stories Of Your Life & Others.

- - -

Most so-called science fiction would be better named technology fiction - it tells stories about the possible uses of the physical sciences; about the amazing or dreadful things that we could do with science, and about how society and individuals might respond.

But science is more than cool technology - it's ideas. It is a way of looking at the world, and as such it is related to logic and mathematics and small-p philosophy, even to religion. Of course some people would say that science is the correct way of looking at the world, which is a tremendously reassuring argument if their job is to keep aircraft in the sky. It’s a somewhat curious one though, if their job is to write or comment on imaginative fiction…

Several of the fictions in Ted Chiang's brilliant collection Stories Of Your Life And Others take as their starting point 'untrue' ways of looking at the world: Biblical cosmology in The Tower of Babel; golems and Victorian science in 72 Letters; fundamentalist Christian beliefs in Hell Is The Absence of God, in which angels periodically descend to earth and Hell is sometimes visible through the ground. What distinguishes these stories from fantasy is both the rigorous, logical way Chiang develops his ideas, and the fact that the characters in the stories are like scientists, trying to understand the rules of their world. This is science fiction about the process of science as much as the result.

A second group of stories in the collection are about the limitations of science, as we currently understand it: The Evolution of Human Science suggests a future where science has advanced far beyond the ability of humans to actually comprehend; Division by Zero is about what it would mean, both to science and an individual, to find out that mathematics is inconsistent (which Godel has proved we can’t rule out).

If all this sounds too highfalutin and dry, then rest assured there are aliens and assassins and meta-humans; there are people with super intelligence or their ability to see beauty medically removed. The human dilemmas in the foreground of the stories are beautifully interwoven with the sci-fi ideas behind them, and it's this that makes the collection so special.

On first reading, the title story seems the stand-out; it takes as its starting point the science fiction staple of first contact with alien beings, but uses it to tell an all too human story about loss and memory. Its main character is a linguist who is attempting to decipher the alien's language, which is radically different to any human language. In between we do, as the title promises, learn the story of her life: her marriage, her divorce, the death of her daughter. She begins to understand that the aliens' language it is based on a radically different way of viewing time and cause and effect to our own, and this perspective gives her, and us, a radically different view of the story of her life she has been telling. Again, emerging from the story's scientific speculation is not arid theory, but a quietly devastating conclusion that left me thinking about it for days afterwards.

Simply put, this is one of the best science fiction short story collections I've ever read. Too often, intellect and emotion are presented as opposites but in Chiang's beautifully controlled stories the opposite is true. Highly recommended.