Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Green Grass

My first short to be published in 2018 is 'The Green Grass', a science fiction story about an old man from a space-faring civilisation who buys transport on a ship to take him to the unexplored reaches of the galaxy where he has a very particular task to carry out.  I won't give anymore away except to say that the theme for this issue of Unfading Daydream magazine was 'New Beginnings'.

Unfading Daydream Issue 3 can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Favourite short stories read in 2017

Here, for no reason other than a personal overview of a year's reading I suppose, are the short stories I most enjoyed reading in 2017.

1. Bread and Bombs by Mary Rickert
At the end of 2016 I had just started to discover Mary Rickert's writing, and read this story online rather than in the Wastelands anthology.

Rickert paints a picture of a war-torn future in which nothing can be trusted, not even snow or offered candy, and where the children of one particular town decide to take matters into their own hands.  Rickert cleverly plays with the readers expectations throughout the story.  I did not see the end coming and found it to be genuinely stunning.

This story can be read online here.

2. Three Miles Up by Elizabeth Jane Howard
An extraordinary story with just the right amount of weirdness and ambiguity to leave the reader haunted and having to come up with their own conclusions.

Three Miles Up concerns two friends, John and Clifford, as they embark on a barging holiday.  Following a furious row they pick up a mysterious but friendly young woman called Sharon.  After they encounter a turning on the canal not shown on their map, which Sharon gently encourages them to take, they soon come to discover that they've made a terrible mistake.



3. Stranger by Peter Rock
I have the writer M.R. Cosby to thank for introducing me to this author - (his blog Stranger Designs is always worth keeping an eye on for book recommendations).

From the short story collection The Unsettling, Stranger tells of a couple holidaying in a remote cottage who come under threat from two people who seem to have murder on their mind, but whose true intentions are never made clear.  Part of the reason this story worked so well for me was that some of what happens is never fully explained and the reader is left to make up their own mind about what was taking place.  Hmmm...I sense a theme emerging here.


4. We Can Walk It Off In The Morning by Malcolm Devlin
One of the stand-outs for me from Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, this is a story of two people waking off their hangovers on a New Year's Day morning. I enjoyed the way Delvin introduced a number of possibly explanations for what was occurring without giving precedence to any one of them and leaving the ending ambiguous.







5. A Mean Utility by Craig Davidson
From the short story collection Rust and Bone, on which the film of the same name was based, this is a horrifying (in the truest sense of the word) tale of illegal dog-fighting and pending fatherhood.  All told in Davidson's sparkling prose.  I was spoilt for choice picking a favourite from this collection as it contains many excellent stories.  I probably would've plumped for the title story over this had I not read it before in the excellent anthology The New Black edited by Richard Thomas.





6. Where's the Harm? by Rebecca Lloyd
The final story, and for me the standout in Rebecca Lloyd's second collection for Tartarus Press.  Where's the Harm? tells of two brothers preparing their family home for sale after the death of their parents.  One day the brothers encounter some mysterious women in a nearby wood - the charms of whom one brother is unable to resist.  This story builds slowly to a chilling finale.





7. The Consort by Julia Elliott
Elliott tells the tale of  Carlo, a young  Italian man plucked from obscurity to impregnate a pop star: 'the most oft googled woman on Earth'.  Using florid language to brilliantly eviscerate celebrity culture (Madonna and Beyonce seem to be in the firing line here),  Elliott still manages to wring pathos from the tale, particularly (for me at least) when Carlo sees his grandmother's eyes in the daughter he's not allowed to see without a heavy security presence and who has become little more than a commodity. Published in The Georgia Review, Summer 2017.





8. The Bridge by Malcolm Devlin
I enjoyed Malcolm Devin's collection so much that I could have picked any number of stories from it for this list, but I felt that this - one of the shorter tales in the book - really stood out.  It tells of a couple who have bought their first home and find a more or less accurate model of their new town in the attic.  Built by the previous owner, the model lacks a few key buildings. Delvin cleverly allows just enough information to slip through for the reader to give an insight not only into the life of the young couple and what might become of them, but also the tragedy that befell the house's previous owner.



9. Das Stiengeschopf by G.V. Anderson
Published on Strange Horizons and winner of a World Fantasy Award, G.V. Anderton's exceptional tale of a young German man's first assignment fixing a living statue is well worth taking the time to read (or listen to on the podcast, as I did, which makes it hard for me to describe it now). It can be found here.

10. The Summerhouse by Mike O'Driscoll
A middle-aged man visits a summerhouse where he spent many days during his youth with a girlfriend, only to find he hasn't escaped the crime he committed there long ago and for which he must now pay.

Anything Undertow Books publish is always an interesting proposition and this book confirms that they are still leading the charge in the weird fiction market.




11. To Us May Grace Be Given by L.S. Johnson
This tightly written novelette from L.S. Johnson concerns a mother and daughter who capture a vampire-like 'devil' to help them fight off a man who intends to steal their land.  Beautifully written and gripping throughout.  Published online on Gianotosaurus, this can be read here.


12. The Rediscovery of Death by Mike O'Driscoll
Another gem from The Dream Operator.  The editor of a small publishing house is approached by a man who claims to have an anthologies worth of unpublished stories by some of the greatest writers of horror fiction, all of whom happen to be deceased.  A clever story that rewards multiple readings.







13. Slimikins by Charles Wilkinson
Wilkinson tells a wintery tale of a retired schoolteacher haunted by a past mistake with a bullied boy.  Another standout from Shadows and Tall Tress 7.











15. Waxy by Camilla Grudover
Grudover creates our own world in this story, which seemed to me to be a warped send-up of our own.  Imagine David Lynch's Eraserhead written by Angela Carter and you've got Waxy - a story of a woman trying to hang onto her man in a society where it's deemed shameful to be without one.  For all their strangeness, Grudover's stories wouldn't work if there wasn't some vein of truth running through them, as there is here, however intangible.





16. Young Bride by Julia Rust
One of the standouts from C.M. Muller's Nightscript Vol.III, Rust's story concerns an expectant mother who moves into a house that 'needs some love', who quickly finds herself at the centre of a bizarre love triangle.









17. Meet Me At The Frost Fair by Alison Littlewood
Littlewood's affecting story within a story kicks things of in this beautiful book from Egaeus Press: A Midwinter's Entertainment.  Seated next to a crackling fire, a man tells of a tragedy that befell an acquaintance of his who fell in love with a young woman at a frost fair on the frozen River Thames, and the bizarre events that followed.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A spooky short story recommended for Halloween.

Ideal reading for Halloween...

Northwest Passage by Barbara Roden
An old woman named Peggy lives alone in a remote cabin surrounded by wilderness.  One day she encounters two young men, Jack and Robert, who are living and getting up to who-knows-what in an abandoned prospector's cabin some miles away.  As she begins a friendship with Jack, a sinister force emerges from the wilds.

This is a subtle and chilling story that works through small touches rather than big scares, such as some affecting use of wind-chimes, and by building atmosphere.  After reading it, you'll be wondering quite how Roden managed to terrify you so much whilst appearing to reveal so little.

Find it in Roden's collection North West Passages.


Thursday, 26 October 2017

On Fire

The On Fire anthology from Transmundane Press is ready to drop on 1st December.  Included in the lineup is my own 'Combustible', a story about Gene, a man with an unusual gift/curse.  To complicate matters Gene also has a stormy relationship with his rock star brother, an encounter with a groupie, an infant child and a wife who considers him a danger to her life.

"BURN, BABY, BURN

Capable of creation and destruction, fire burns within us.
Behind the thick, black smoke of our lives, we blaze with our own unique flame.
While love compels some, others feed greed and lust into their hearths.
A tool for the deft hand, used with magic or as a weapon, but irresponsibility leaves deep burns and promises dreadful consequences.

ON FIRE brings to light twenty-six tales that explore this unpredictable yet beautiful element.

Handle with care."

Thursday, 28 September 2017

New novella: A Chance of Snow

Summer's over, the nights are drawing in, leaves are falling, there's a slight chill in the air, winter's around the corner, Christmas is only three months away (where did the year go, right?), so what better time to officially launch my new novella A Chance of Snow?*

Here's the blurb:

"Struggling for survival in an abandoned city after a deadly outbreak, Jay one day chances upon something that will allow him access to the one remaining refuge, Station Island. To get there, though, he must cross the city of Horburg. No easy task, since Horburg’s streets are ruled by ruthless gangs. And there are worst dangers lurking in the alleyways and railway tunnels. Accompanied by his friend, Diamond, Jay will set out to face the city’s many pitfalls; a quest that will test their courage and allegiance to breaking point."

If this sounds like something you might enjoy reading one of these cold, dark nights you can pick it up here:  Amazon UK.  Amazon US.


*There will be absolutely no chance of snow in the South West of England where I live, but every year I keep on hoping.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

IT

I love this poster for the film IT.

I'd been eagerly awaiting the release of this film even since it was announced some years ago. I enjoyed the book, which I read when I was about 20 or so, early in my Stephen King obsession which turned me on to horror.  Even then, I was infuriated by the ending (and one particular scene in particular which the two film versions have wisely discarded).

I enjoyed the film, but would have preferred a less is more approach with the horror as I didn't find it particularly scary.

Great poster though.

Monday, 21 August 2017

August Update

Astonishingly, it's August already and the weather here in the UK is not too dissimilar to India during monsoon season.  So far, so reassuringly familiar.  It's been a busy year for me on the writing and publishing front.

July saw the publication of the fifth Dark Lane Anthology, which I edited, put together, and contributed a story to - in this case my tale of an English town afflicted by a mysterious whiff called 'The Stench'.  One of the joys of putting these books together is approaching writers I admire and asking them to 'headline' (as I've said before, in my head I'm staging Glastonbury), and occasionally having them agree!  Past 'headliners' have included James Everington, Rebecca Lloyd, K.J. Bishop, and Charles Wilkinson.  For Volume Five, I approached L.S. Johnson, a wonderful writer who I believe deserves more attention.  L.S. kicks things off in this volume with her story 'Ada, Awake' which in the paperback version is accompanied by a fantastic illustration from Sally Barnett.

Aswell as keeping busy writing more stories, including trying my hand at historical supernatural fiction, I've managed to place some stories with publishers.  My story about a washed-up rock star visited by a mysterious muse, 'Unwritten Songs', was accepted by Not One Of Us.  Another story, 'Raking Light' - which has been described as a cross between The Picture of Dorian Gray and Stephen King's Pet Semetary will be published in the Midnight Morsels horror anthology from Rice Paper Press.  'Combusible', a story about brotherly relationships and unnatural gifts, one of my favourite stories I've written, has been accepted for the On Fire anthology from Transmundane Press.  I was also lucky enough to have had my story 'Besta Branco' accepted for the Strange Beasties anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing, the second story this publisher has accepted from me this year - something for which I'm very grateful.
More stories are out there under consideration, so maybe there'll be a few more added to the acceptance list before the year is out.

Lastly, here's a quick plug for some short story collections I've been enjoying recently.  Malcolm Devlin's 'You Will Grow Into Them' is an excellent collection of strange tales.  I first discovered this writer through a story published in Undertow Books' 'Shadows and Tall Trees Vol.7'.  Undertow also recently published Mike O'Driscoll's 'The Dream Operator' which I've been enjoying dipping into just lately.

On the music front, a recent BBC Prom reminded me of my love for Scott Walker's music.  So, to give this blog post a nicely circular feel, I'll end with 'It's Raining Today'.