Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: My Writing Year

So 2016, eh? An, uh, 'interesting' year for many of us... for reasons I'm sure you don't need me to remind you of.

But just judging 2016 based on what it meant for my writing, it was a good year. In terms of books published I looked very prolific, but in reality this was caused by the vagaries of small-press publishing schedules rather than anything else.

Trying To Be So Quiet 
A ghost story released as a (brilliantly designed) hardback - a first for me. Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts Of Horror included TTBSQ in his Top 20 Books of the year, and Anthony Watson mentioned it in his 2016 Review post on his Dark Musings site. Sadly Boo Books are no longer with us, so I'll be looking for a new home for this one.

The Quarantined City
Finally the whole story could be told... stories, in fact. After 'publisher problems' prevented this being released episodically as originally planned, the brilliant Infinity Plus stepped in to release the whole novel. It's the book of mine I'm probably most proud of, and Anthony Watson picked it as his second favourite novel of the year, calling it a "truimph". And of course I'm going to be crass enough to mention again that this one got reviewed in the bloody Guardian.

Paupers' Graves
Part of the Hersham Horror novella range, this one stretched me as a writer, involving a fair amount of historical research (the setting is based on a real life cemetery here in Nottingham). Fortunately the hard work seemed to pay off, with Mark West including Paupers' Graves in his annual Westies awards; Horror Novel Reviews in this 2016 ListAnthony Watson mentioning it in his year end piece; as did Kit Power in his personal round up for Ginger Nuts of Horror.

The Hyde Hotel
My first book as editor, alongside Dan Howarth. I loved putting together this - thanks to all the stellar authors involved. And again, Anthony Watson (a man I owe a drink to, should we ever met) mentioned this in his roundup of the year.

Stories & Non-Fiction: 
Including reprints, I had seven stories published this year. The new ones were 'Hooked' (Thirteen Signs), 'A Glimpse of Red' (Great British Horror #1: Green &Pleasant Land) and 'Premonition' (Reflections). And although not released in 2016, Kit Power (a cracking writer in himself) mentioned 'The Man Dogs Hated' (from Falling Over) as one of his favourite short stories he read this year in his own annual round up.

I also had two pieces in the Writers On Writing series from Crystal Lake, both republished in the Omnibus Edition: 'Embracing Your Inner Shitness' and 'Fictional Emotions; Emotional Fictions'.

I attended more writing related events than ever before, and had a blast at all of them: Edge-Lit 5, Sledge-lit 2, Derby Writers' Day, Nottingham Library Local Writers Showcase, and of course the annual three days of talking books, eating food, launching books, drinking beer and buying books that is Fantasycon.

Coming Up...
2017 will see me hard at work upon a novel, as well as hopefully see some more short stories published. I'm tentatively thinking about what tales should feature in my next collection too, so hopefully they'll be some news on that.

See you next year, everyone!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Favourite Short Stories: 2016

Another year, another favourite short story post. And there's some truly excellent ones below, representing a small fraction of those I read in 2016. These are all recent short stories, although in a few instances I've bent the the definition of 'recent' to sneak a favourite in. As I have with the definition of 'short' as well. And in a couple of cases, even 'story'. But all of them are brilliant, without equivocation.

I hope readers of this blog will sample at least a few of the stories below. Enjoy!

(You can find my lists for previous years linked here.)

Nina Allan: The Art Of Space Travel (TOR)
G.V. Anderson: Four Stops (Syntax & Salt)
G.V. Anderson: Das Steingeschöpf (Strange Horizons December 2016)
Anonymous: The Role of Music In Your Life (A Five Dials Experience) 
Dale Bailey: Mr Splitfoot (The Best Horror Of The Year #6, Night Shade Books)
Nathan Ballingud: The Good Husband (The Best Horror Of The Year #6, Night Shade Books)
Matthew M. Bartlett: The Investigator (Gateways To Abomination)
Matthew M. Bartlett: Rangel (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #3, Undertow)
Steve Berman: The Haferbräutigam (The Dark #12)
Keith Brooke & Eric Brown: In Transit (Parallax View, Infinity Plus)
Molly Brown: Living With The Dead (Obsidian, NewCon Press)
Georgina Bruce: White Rabbit (Black Static #50)
Nadia Bulkin: The House That Jessica Built (The Dark #18)
Nadia Bulkin: Pro Patria (Cassilda's Song, Chaosium)
Ramsey Campbell: Fear My Name (Fearie Tales, Jo Fletcher Books)
Ramsey Campbell: At Lorne Hall (Nightmare #2)
Ted Chiang: The Great Silence (Electric Lit)
Chloe N. Clark: Where Is Your Destination, What Is Your Plan (Menacing Hedge Spring 2016) 
Chloe N. Clark: Stricken (Cheap Pop)
Ray Cluley: A Tale Before Supper (This Is Horror)
Ray Cluley: The Castellmarch Man (Great British Horror #1: Green & Pleasant Land, Black Shuck Books)
Brian Conn: The Guest (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #3, Undertow)
Julio Cortazar: Headache (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #2, Undertow)
Elaine Cuyegkeng: The House That Creaks (The Dark #17)
Kristi DeMeester: All The World When It Is Thin (The Dark #11)
Kristi DeMeester: Everything That's Underneath (Nightscript #1)
Seth Dickinson: Anna Scares Them All (Shimmer #21)
Steve Duffy: The Marginals (The Dark #14)
Brian Evenson: Click (Granta)
Brian Evenson: No Matter Which Way We Turned (People Holding Spring 2016)
Gemma Files & Stephen J. Barringer: Everything I Show You Is A Piece Of My Death (Apex)
Cate Gardner: Blood Moth Kiss (Shadow Moths, Frightful Horrors)
Brian Hodge: The Same Deep Waters As You (The Best Horror Of The Year #6, Night Shade Books)
Ashley Hutson: Houseplants In Winter (Spelk)
Timothy J. Jarvis: Under The Sign Of The Black Raven (Treatises On Dust)
Carole Johnstone: Wetwork (Black Static #52)
Benedict J. Jones: The Listening (Skewered & Other London Cruelties, Crime Wave Press)
Tyler Keevil: Foul Is Fair (Black Static #50)
Claude Lalumiere: Dead (Nocturnes & Other Nocturnes, Infinity Plus)
John Langan: Inundation (Lovecraft Ezine #37)
Rich Larson: The Air We Breath Is Stormy, Stormy (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #2, Undertow)
V.H. Leslie: Man Of The House (Black Static #50)
V.H. Leslie: Hermaness (Great British Horror #1: Green & Pleasant Land, Black Shuck Books)
Patricia Lillie: The Cuckoo Girls (Nightscript #1)
John Ajvide Lindqvist: Come Unto Me (Fearie Tales, Jo Fletcher Books)
Alison Littlewood: The Eyes Of Water (Spectral Press chapbook)
Livia Llewellyn: The Low, Dark Edge Of Life (Nightmare #51)
Kevin Lucia: Yellow Cab (Through A Mirror, Darkly, Crystal Lake)
Sophie Mackintosh: The Weak Spot (Granta)
Carman Maria Machado: The Husband Stitch (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #2, Undertow)
Usman T. Malik: Resurrection Points (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #2, Undertow)
Tim Major: Lines Of Fire (Game Over, Snow Books)
Helen Marshall: Exposure (Cassilda's Song, Chaosium)
Laura Mauro: Obsidian (Obsidian, NewCon Press)
Gary McMahon: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Dead (Shadows & Tall Trees #4, Undertow)
Ian McEwan: My Purple Scented Novel (The New Yorker)
S.P. Miskowski: Stag In Flight (Dim Shores Chapbook)
Alison Moore: It Has Happened Before (Shadows & Tall Trees #4, Undertow)
Sunny Moraine: Dispatches From A Hole In The World (Singing With All My Skin & Bone, Undertow)
Sunny Moraine: Cold As The Moon (Singing With All My Skin & Bone, Undertow)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Stories With Happy Endings (This Strange Way Of Dying, Exile Editions)
Mark Morris: Full Up (Black Static #51)
David Nickle: The Caretakers (TOR.COM)
Scott Nicolay: Do You Like To Look At Monsters? (Word Horde)
Scott Nicolay: Noctuidae (King Shot Press chapbook)
Sarah Pinborough: Do You See? (Obsidian, NewCon Press)
Leone Ross: The Woman Who Lived In A Restaurant (Nightjar Press chapbook)
Lynda E. Rucker: The House On Cobb Street (You'll Know When You Get There, Swan River Press)
Lynda E. Rucker: Who Is This Who Is Coming? (You'll Know When You Get There, Swan River Press)
Erica L. Satifka: Bucket List Found In The Locker Of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before The Great Uplifting Of All Mankind (Lightspeed #61)
Jeremy Schleiwe: A Little Lost Thing (Supernatural Tales #32)
Priya Sharma: The Absent Shade (Black Static #44)
Robert Shearman: Bedtime Stories For Yasmin (Shadows & Tall Trees #4, Undertow)
Robert Shearman: Times Table (Everyone's Just So So Special, Big Finish)
Robert Shearman: A History Of Broken Things (Everyone's Just So So Special, Big Finish)
Laurel Sills: The Animals Inside (Game Over, Snow Books)
Maggie Slater: The Behemoth Beaches (Apex)
Christopher Slatsky: Loveliness Like A Shadow (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #3, Undertow)
David Surface: Terrible Things (Shadows & Tall Trees #4, Undertow)
Karen Tidbeck: Migration (The Year's Best Weird Fiction #2, Undertow)
Lavie Tidhar: Selfies (TOR.COM)
Paul Tremblay: A Haunted House Is A Wheel On Which Some Are Broken (Gutted, Crystal Lake)
Lisa Tuttle: Paul's Mother (Obsidian, NewCon Press)
Simon Kurt Unsworth: Mr Denning Sings (Great British Horror #1: Green & Pleasant Land, Black Shuck Books)
Valerie Valdes: A Diet Of Worms (Nightmare #49)
Damien Angelica Walters: The Hands That Hold, The Lies That Bind (Cemetery Dance)
D.P. Watt: Shallabalah (Almost Insentient, Almost Divine, Undertow)
D.P. Watt: The Usher (Almost Insentient, Almost Divine, Undertow)
Michael Wehunt: Birds Of Lancaster, Lairamore, Lovejoy (The Dark #11)
Michael Wehunt: The Death of Socrates (Nightscript #1)
Mark West: Photograph Of You (Tales From The Lake #2, Crystal Lake)
Aliya Whiteley: Bird Charming For Beginners (Horizons #3, British Fantasy Society)
Conrad Williams: The Pike (Born With Teeth, PS Publishing)
Neil Williamson: The Death Of Abigail Goudy (Secret Language, NewCon Press)
A.C. Wise: The Men From Narrow Houses (Liminal Stories #1)
A.C. Wise: The Last Sailing Of The Henry Charles Morgan In Six Pieces Of Scrimshaw (The Dark #14)
Alyssa Wong: Scarecrow (TOR.COM)
Alyssa Wong: Rabbit Heart (Fireside Fiction #37)
Jason A. Wyckoff: On Balance (Nightscript #1)
Stephanie M. Wytovich: The Morning After Was Filled With Bone (Gutted, Crystal Lake)
Mercedes M. Yardley: Water Thy Bones (Gutted, Crystal Lake)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Favourite Books of 2016

This year, I've done two different list for my favourite books of the year: one for books published in 2016, and one for books published previously. 

(I'll be posting my annual short stories post after Christmas.)

So, in no particular order, two Top Tens:

1. The Grieving Stones - Gary McMahon (Horrific Tales Publishing)
A superb novella which mixes folk horror with psychological weirdness to produce something only McMahon could have written. A controlled, slow-burn build up leads us into a ferociously good climax. Cracking stuff.

2. The Searching Dead - Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing)
"I've been reading Ramsey Campbell's books all my adult life, and yet he continues to surprise me. The Searching Dead is up there with his finest novels" - my full review here.

3. Becoming David - Phil Sloman (Hersham Horror)
This debut novella from Sloman, a tale of a serial killer being haunted by one of his own victims (maybe), delights and appals in equal measure. Superb.

4. Year's Best Weird Fiction #3 - Simon Strantzas, Michael Kelly (ed.) (Undertow)
Does exactly what it says on the tin, really. Nineteen tales that demonstrate both the rude health of literay horror fiction and the keen eye of the editors for a good short story. YBWF is a series we're lucky to have.

5. You'll Know When You Get There - Lynda E. Rucker (Swan River Press)
"Quite simply, one of the short story collections of the year" - my full review here.

6. A Country Road, A Tree - Jo Baker (Knopf)
A fictionalised account of the life of Samuel Beckett, centred around his time in the French resistance in WW2. Beckett is one of my favourite authors, and this book is full of allusions to his work (the title is from the set description for Waiting For Godot) as well as skilfully depicting his character as a young man, caught up in the war, unaware of the artistic success ahead.

7. Secret Language - Neil Williamson (Newcon Press)
There seems to be little Williamson can't do with the short story form (I hate it when people call short stories a 'genre'), as this collection demonstrates. There's horror, science-fiction and dark fantasy here, all twisted into shapes only Williamson could imagine.

8. Singing With All My Skin & Bone - Sunny Moraine (Undertow)
"an alluring combination of horror, magic realism and even science fiction" - my full review here.

9. Bodies Of Water - V.H. Leslie (Salt)
"a genuine truimph, a book sure of itself and full of quiet ambition" - my full review here.

10. Phonogram #3: The Immaterial Girl - Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)
The Phonogram graphic novels sound preposterous as a concept - a world like ours except that pop music = magic. But in practice they're a startling exploration of fame, youth, nostalgia, culture and the horror implicit in that famous video for Take On Me.

1. Everyone's Just So So Special - Robert Shearman (Big Finish)
Robert Shearman gives us a bumper selection of short stories and an overview of world history (with another story hidden within, natch) in this utterly original, delightful, messed-up, and disturbing collection.

2. The Bird's Nest - Shirley Jackson (Penguin Modern Classics)
I absolutely adore Jackson's work, but until the recent Penguin reissues I had some gaps in my collection. Reading The Bird's Nest for the first time was a revelation, a classic to stand alongside Jackson's other works of genius.

3. Lost Girl - Adam Nevill (Macmillan)
"a novel that I know will stay with me, haunting me with the fear that my daughter will grow up into the world it depicts" - my full review here.

4. Gateways To Abomination - Matthew M. Bartlett
"in story after story Bartlett’s protagonists stumble across the strange, infectious voices of WXXT..." - my full review here.

5. Shadows & Tall Trees #4 - Michael Kelly (ed.) (Undertow)
A fine selection of stories from some of the best writers in the horror field: David Surface, Laura Mauro, Alison Moore, Ralph Robert Moore and, uh, more. As with the other issues of S&TT I've read, essential.

6. Albion Fay - Mark Morris (Snow Books)
A novella that mixes traditional horror with more modern fears; disturbing, creepy and seething with repressed emotion and memories. One of Morris's best, which is saying something.

7. A Cold Season - Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher)
An expertly written, engrossing ghost story, but then what else would you expect from Alison Littlewood? I enjoyed every chilly, frozen minute of this one.

8. The Wanderer - Timothy J. Jarvis (Perfect Edge)
"deeply serious yet it has the tone of a shaggy dog story told in a disreputable public house" - my full review here.

9. Thinking Horror #1: S.J. Bagley (ed.) (TKHR)
A welcome venture, Thinking Horror is a journal dedicated to the exploration of the horror genre: it's aesthetics, its mechanics, its meaning, its history. This first issue has interviews and essays from Helen Marshall, Gary Fry, Nathan Ballingrud, Molly Tanzer and more. Stimulating and satisfying.

10. The Death House - Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
A heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, soul-rearranging novel about young people with a mysterious illness, sealed away from the world. It's important to note that I didn't, repeat didn't, blub at the ending. Nope.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Recommendation: The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell

However one defines adulthood, I've been reading Ramsey Campbell's books all my adult life. Indeed, the discovery of his fiction (and its impact on my own nascent writing) feels like part of that transition to adulthood, a defining event. A bold claim to make for the purchase of a book of short stories for 50p from a second-hand shop in Cleethorpes, perhaps, but one that feels emotionally true when I look back now.

So it's apt that Campbell's latest work is based around just that change from youth to adulthood, that it so well describes the experience and embarrassments of beginning to write, and that it is told from the point of view of someone looking back at the events he describes. Worried that he may be imagining as much as he is remembering, creating significance where none appeared at the time - much as I am no doubt doing above.

The Searching Dead is the first volume in a trilogy called 'The Three Births of Daoloth'. And, while it's a book that could be written by no one other than Campbell, it also seems to develop something genuinely new from him: a strand of (pseudo)autobiography. It's set in 1950s Liverpool, a location effortlessly and expertly captured in Campbell's prose, a setting of vivid and concrete detail that still evokes the shifting and nebulous horrors so common to this author's fiction. Crucially, it's a time & place in the midst of transition, caught between the old world of rationing, respect for ones elders, omnipresent Christianity and a newer world yet to be fully visualised - a thought made disquieting by the narrator's hints at the dark way the world does change later, which we will presumably learn about later in the trilogy...

The narrator, Dominic Sheldrake, is also shown in a moment of change. The plot centres around Dom and two of his friends and their suspicions about Mr Noble, a teacher at their school. Noble is also involved in the local spiritualist movement, taking it over with his apparently genuine ability to rouse the dead... Dom has been reading Enid Blyton-esque children's fiction and it is this that spurs him into action. He thinks of he and his friends as the 'Tremendous Three' and imagines movie-like dialogue for them. But fiction, at least of the childish variety, is a poor guide and Dom and his friends' investigation does not go to plan.

The book is built around the classic horror motif of someone attempting to raise the dead, but beneath this conceit are reoccurring hints at something larger, at a cosmic horror that will surely become more explicit as the trilogy progresses. Not that this first volume doesn't build to a satisfyingly scary climax of its own. The Searching Dead is studded with some standout set-pieces - a faceless terror following Dom when he visits the cinema being particularly fine. But as ever with Campbell it's the atmosphere that really makes the book; he's a virtuoso at creating horror from small details, each seeming insignificant in isolation but which cumulatively hint at terrors Dom and his friends only partially understand. It's something he does better than anyone.

I've been reading Ramsey Campbell's books all my adult life, and yet he continues to surprise me. The Searching Dead is up there with his finest novels and I for one can't wait for the next volume. Highly recommended.

The Searching Dead - PS Publishing

Monday, 12 December 2016

Recommendation: Almost Insentient, Almost Divine by D.P. Watts

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine is an excellent collection of short fiction from author D.P. Watt, a very British but also very modern feeling set of weird fiction. The influences of Beckett, M.R. James, Ligotti and (especially) Aickman are evident, but they are just that, influences. The world of D.P. Watt is firmly his own and this collection is proof of the surety of his vision.

The stories here initially seem to use comfortably familiar genre concepts, but by the end of each the reader has been swept far from known reference points, dragged under by the bizarre and mysterious. (And this is an accurate description of the fate of many of Watt's protagonists, too.) The reader will encounter within strange puppets, shifting identities, doomed lovers, the desperate inhabitants of a violent city, and the sleeping beings of a world of snowy wastes. 

These stories are ambiguous, but not in any lazy sense of the word. Watt skillfully crafts what he leaves out of his tales as much as what he includes, and these empty spaces & silences all add to the unease he generates. Only in a few cases did the conclusion seem too enigmatic to me, but even these pieces intruiged me enough to want to reread them soon. Maybe their secrets will be revealed then.

Not everything here aspires to Aickman levels of mysteriousness. Mors Janua Vitae and Honey Moon both had what could be seen as conventional horror denouements; the former being an especially clever tale built entirely on the skillful use of dialogue to convey a one side of a conversation.
My favourite pieces here were the opener With Gravity, Grace; the sublimely creepy Shallabalah; and most of all The Usher, the story of a man who attends a very strange theatre performance. It's a story that exemplifies many of the themes and techniques of this collection, and it seemed to me outstanding, a piece of weird fiction for the ages. Special mention must also go to Timothy Jarvis's Introduction to the collection, a fictional exploration of Watt's literary predecessors, and a bravura piece of fiction in its own right. It's a testiment to Watt's talent that his support act doesn't overshadow his own performance.

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine (UK | US)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Recommendation: The Doom That Came To Whitby Town by Gary Fry

Whitby, 2019
The Doom That Came To Whitby Town is the swan song from the much respected publisher, Gray Friar Press, owned by Gary Fry. This parting gift is a novella from Fry himself, in which something ancient and monstrous is uncovered after a cliff fall on the coast near Whitby. The 'something' is spirited away and hidden by the town's authorities, but that doesn't stop its malign influence from spreading...

As might be gathered, this novella is firmly rooted in Lovecraftian tropes, although here they are not treated with the unnecessary, cloying reverence of most modern mythos fiction. Indeed, one gets the sense that Fry was having a blast writing this one, gleefully destroying both his own home town and his protagonist's settled bachorlohood as the story progresses. Whereas much of Fry's work (of which I'm a big admirer) uses horror to explore serious contemporary concerns, Doom is faster paced, lighter on its feet. Most importantly, in places it is genuinely creepy and unsettling.

In part the book works so well because of its use of setting - I was lucky enough to visit Whitby earlier in the year (and to meet Fry himself) and instantly recognised Doom's depiction of narrow streets and narrower alleys, steep hills, deserted pubs, sea frets and maurading Herring Gulls. Much of the story is set in the off season when all the tourists have left, making it easier to visualise in the mind's eye the things Fry only hints at: mishappen beings shambling the misty streets late at night, the locals begining to hide themselves away from prying eyes. There are mysterious deaths, strange pentagrams, visions of the cosmic on the beach (a shout out to Fry's own Emergence, perhaps), and an unhealthy number of things centred around the number five. Even the bastard seagulls are not untainted by what is happening in Whitby town...

A fine piece of work, compelling and entertainng in equal measure.

The Doom That Came To Whitby Town (UK | US)

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Writers On Writing Volume 1-4 Omnibus

The omnibus of the first four editions of Crystal Lake's Writers On Writing series is out this weekend and available to preorder now, with a host of special offers and competitions.

I've for two essays in the book. The first, Embrace Your Inner Shitness, is about the freedom in letting yourself go and writing a bad first draft, whilst the second, Fictional Emotions; Emotional Fictions,  tackles that hoary old cliche that good writing should evoke an emotional response - but what exactly does that mean in practice?

Plus there's a whole bunch of essays from great authors like Kevin Lucia, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lynda E. Rucker, Jack Ketchum, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Brian Hodge and many many more. It's a book that contains a multitude of clashing, complimenting, and contradicting views on how to write well, and is all the stronger for it. A book that makes you think about how you write, rather than being told how you should. Come join the conversation.

Writers On Writing Omnibus is out in both ebook and paperback editions - you can win a copy of the latter over at the Crystal Lake webpage too.