Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Marble Orchard

My short story, "The Marble Orchard", has recently been published in the anthology, "Ten Tall Tales", from NewCon Press and as usual I'm blogging about how the story came to be written for those who might be interested. Beware: there may be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

"Ten Tall Tales" is an anthology which marks part of the celebrations for the tenth year of publishing from NewCon Press. I've previously had several stories in NewCon anthologies, and they also published my 2009 novella, "And God Created Zombies", so it was with great pleasure to open an email from Ian Whates asking if I would be interested in contributing. The only guideline was that my story had to somehow include or revolve around the number ten and that also it needed to be no less than 5000 words.

If this sounds easy, then think again. The more I thought around the number ten, the harder the task became. Ideas were either too convoluted or too obvious. Ten is actually a difficult number to work with because it's so entrenched in our society; there are few quirks to be had with it. Initially I decided to write a piece based around Pythagoras who apparently considered ten to be a sacred number because ten equalled one plus two plus three plus four, with those numbers referring to existence, creation, life and the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. But whilst I found this an interesting starting point, I just couldn't wrestle sufficiently with the concept and the resultant story, "The Smell Of Petroleum", was so contrived and abysmally poor that I couldn't actually edit it because I found it too tiresome. A re-think was required!

Subsequently, I watched the 1941 b-movie "King of the Zombies", where one of the characters describes a graveyard as a marble orchard. I jotted the term down for a possible title and began to research graveyards, wondering whether I could work the number ten around it. I came across an article which mentioned an amendment to Section 74 of the London Local Authorities Act 2007 which (bear with me) empowered a burial authority to disturb human remains interred in a grave for the purpose of increasing the space for further interments where such a grave was over 100 years old. Essentially, due to a shortage of space, the law now meant that existing graves could be dug deeper to make space for new graves above them. Some of the articles mentioned the decimation of graves which - of course - means to reduce by the power of ten. Suddenly, I had my number. What if someone who managed a graveyard had to identify 10% of their graveyard plots to comply with the act? What kind of questions would that raise?

I try to shy away from the obvious in my fiction and this story could have developed in a number of formulaic ways, but hopefully I've done something a little different and - perhaps - surprising. Here's an excerpt:

He walked to the door, opened it. The sun had burnt through the cloud cover, dappling light across the vegetation; the evergreens almost visibly absorbing chlorophyll, with the deciduous trees yearning to push their buds through stiffened fingers. Nothing unusual was in sight. Ronson considered the light causing an optical illusion as it had refracted against the window, even as his legs took him down the steps and onto the pathway. He continued walking. His ears accumulating the sound of the breeze, the movement of the leaves, the birdsong, the faint echo of traffic. His movements were fluid, almost ethereal. After several minutes he reached the end of the pathway, which led in two directions around the older part of the cemetery, eventually meeting in a circle. He paused, listened. Nothing unusual. Why should there be? Ronson realised he still held his sandwich. He brought it to his mouth, bit.

As usual when writing short stories the entire thing was composed in one sitting whilst listening to music. In this case the Mercury Rev album, "The Light In You", played on repeat.

"Ten Tall Tales" also features stories by Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Lynda E Rucker, Maura HcHugh, Michael Marshall Smith, Edward Cox, James Barclay, Mark West and Sarah Pinborough, plus ten limericks by Ramsey Campbell and can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Greens

My novella, "The Greens", has recently been published by Snowbooks and as usual I'm blogging about how the story developed for those who might be interested. Beware: there may be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

I believe "The Greens" has the longest gestation period of any of my fiction and some of the background has been lost in the mists of time. However there are three distinct story strands. The first is the twelfth century legend of the green children from Woolpit, Suffolk. The story goes that two young children - a boy and a girl - were discovered with green-coloured skin. They stated they came from underground, from St Martin's Land, which had it's own sun, and had become lost. Not long after their discovery the boy sickened and died, but the girl went on to marry a local landowner and her skin eventually lost its green tint. According to the legend, the girl bore no children. I remember hearing this legend and thinking: what if they did have children? What if there were descendants of the green girl living today?

Some time after this I watched a documentary regarding obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Previously I must admit I was a little ignorant as to the subject matter, other than that I knew sufferers might obsessively wash or needed to place items in specific orders. What I hadn't realised was that for some sufferers the need to do this was based on a genuine fear that harm would befall others - such as family members - if these rituals weren't adhered to. It was easy to understand how someone might feel trapped in this situation, because even if they understood the improbability there would still be the fear of ceasing the ritual. And then I wondered, what if this were true? What if the ritualistic behaviour of OCD sufferers actually was keeping evil at bay? And what if it turned out that all the descendants of the green girl suffered from OCD? What might they unconsciously be trying to contain?

The third strand was partially linked to the legend of the green children emerging from underground. I had long been interested in Hollow Earth theories. As a teenager I remember reading a book called "The Great UFO Breakthrough" which mentioned reports of an underground race called the Dero. These evil entities were 'detrimental robots' who originally appeared in a short story by Richard S Shaver in Amazing Stories, but who were subsequently believed to have a basis in truth. There's a fascinating article about them here. I had also subscribed to an email list for a company who were planning an - always aborted - trip to the Arctic to investigate Hollow Earth, and those emails provided me with useful information which I decided to work into the story.

So these were the three strands which became "The Greens". It was an ambitious book for me, as I usually work with more internalised dilemmas, and it took a while to structure it to my satisfaction. Without getting too technical I wrote the story from the perspectives of several different characters, but it was how I then ordered those accounts within the book which - I believe - became part of its strength.

Finding a publisher was also a long process. The seeds of the ideas came from 2005, I wrote the book in 2009/2010, and many of the publishers I submitted to either took an age to respond or accepted but were then unable to proceed with it. I began to wonder if the book was jinxed, but on a whim I submitted to Snowbooks and had an acceptance within hours! All the years of turmoil had worked as a channel to direct me to a serendipitous moment. My submission hit the spot at just the right time.

Here's an extract from the start of the book:

The fingers of her brother’s hand wriggled in her grip, but she had no intention of letting go. The noise came again, a distant tinkling of tiny bells reverberated the cool air. Their sheep were quiet, heads down, aware. She bent her knees and whispered in her brother’s ear. He nodded, but she knew he didn’t understand. Sometimes she felt she was the only one who understood anything.

Their sun was low in the sky, casting their faces in a sub-orange glow. The landscape here was barren, rocks pushed through the grass, stubbling the distant view. She tugged on her brother’s hand, but he was reluctant to move. If the sound of the bells entranced her, then they had hypnotised him. He didn’t waver.

She tried to release her fingers but whereas before she had reached for his hand, now it was him who held her tight. She shook her fist, hard, and almost knocked him to the floor. His eyes were a mixture of wonder and fear. The bells continued. When it came to the Unknown, neither of them had any experience. You couldn’t rely on rumour.

"The Greens" was published on the 23rd September and can be purchased here via amazon. So far there is one review, from respected horror writer Gary Fry: "Overall I enjoyed this offbeat adventure a great deal...it's very Andrew Hook and his capacity to take aspects of everyday life and make magic out of them. An intriguing, readable and satisfying piece." If you do read the novella, please take a moment to place a review on amazon or goodreads or comment here. Feedback is always appreciated.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


My short story, "Blanche", will shortly be published in the anthology, "Something Remains", from Alchemy Press, and as usual I'm blogging about how the story came about for those who might be interested. Beware: there will be spoilers.

Most of you reading this will be aware of Joel Lane, an excellent and wholly individual writer who amassed a great body of short stories, poetry, novellas, and novels before his early death at the age of fifty in 2013. Joel's death reverberated around the genre community, not only because of its suddenness, but also because of the great affection and respect he had gained within the scene - probably much more than he was aware of. I won't go into too much detail here (my blog post shortly after his death already covers this), but Joel strongly influenced my own writing and that of many others in the genre.

At FantasyCon 2015 Peter Coleborn of Alchemy Press announced an intriguing call for submissions. After Joel's death a large amount of unused material had been found - scraps of story notes, unfinished work etc. Peter had been approached by Joel's friend and fellow writer, Pauline Dungate, with a view to possibly using this material. From Pauline's introduction to the book: "My idea was somehow to resurrect the best of the ideas and ask some of Joel's friends to finish them." Peter had those notes with him at FantasyCon and invited those who might be interested to take a look.

I must admit my first thought was that this was something I wanted to take part in followed very quickly by reservations that it might be an unintentional ghoulish venture picking over scraps. Whatever the merit in the intention - and clearly neither Peter nor Pauline would have broached the anthology if they hadn't carefully considered it - would the result be somehow distasteful? I decided to look at Joel's notes purely out of curiosity, and it wasn't long before my reservations were overcome. Seeing Joel's handwriting made the proposal more personal. It would be a fitting tribute. Not only this, but it was clear that any writer taking part would be doing so for the same reason: to properly honour Joel's memory.

It wasn't long before I knew with absolute certainly which set of notes I wanted to work with. They show below:

"Blanche" resonated with me. I had previously named a character Blanche Noir, and whilst I didn't subsequently re-use that name in the story my mind was already working. Some of the other notes were more detailed, but I was looking for a skeleton, for themes which I usually work with, for a sketch. "The crowd in the flickering b/w stop-motion film of the disco" immediately appealed, as did the reference to Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire", and the nature of identity (Blanche being a female name applied to a male protagonist). The seeds were there. The story had to be written.

I won't go into too much detail into how these elements infused my subsequent story, but there is plenty of Joel in the telling and whilst it's definitely my story it does fit the guidelines as I believe Peter Coleborn intended them: not as a homage or a pastiche but as a continuation. I hope Joel would have approved.

"Something Remains" has a stunning list of contents:

  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Conscience of the Circuit by Nicholas Royle (Essay)
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary McMahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor by Gary Couzens
  • Fear of the Music by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by Joe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)

All profits go to Diabetes UK, a disease from which Joel suffered.

Finally, I wrote this story in one sitting listening to one song seventy times on repeat: "The City Never Sleeps At Night" by Nancy Sinatra. Give it a listen. At least once.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

My FantasyCon Schedule

As most of you will be aware the British Fantasy Society's annual event, FantasyCon, will be taking place in Scarborough over this coming weekend, and I'll be in attendance and taking part in a variety of events. No doubt there'll be a gazillion interesting programme items, but the guide below is a handy reference to those which I will be a direct participant in. Hopefully, some of you will be interested, but it's a useful aide memoir for myself - if no-one else!

Friday, September 23 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Masterclass Room 108 (Grand Hotel)

Writing The Short Story: Character, Scene, Conflict - I'll be running this workshop and guarantee stories will be written following some simple - fun - guidelines


Friday, September 23 @ 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Cocktail Bar (Grand Hotel)

Book launch - Midnight Street Press: "Ghost Highways". I have a short story, "White Matter", in this anthology and will be signing alongside Simon Clark, Ray Cluley, Neil Williamson and others


Friday, September 23 @ 10:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Cocktail Bar (Grand Hotel)

Joint reading with myself and Adrian Tchaikovsky


Saturday, September 24 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Main Ballroom (Grand Hotel)

Book launch - Alchemy Press: "Something Remains". I have a short story, "Blanche", in this anthology which is based on notes left behind by the much-missed Joel Lane. There will be a cavalcade of contributors at this event and the book should not be missed.


Saturday, September 24 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Main Ballroom (Grand Hotel)

Book launch - Snowbooks - horror novellas. My novella, "The Greens", will be amongst the books launched at this event. Other attendees launching their novellas include Cate Gardner, Gary Fry, John Llewellyn Probert, Mark Morris and Ray Cluley. Come along!


Saturday, September 24 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Main Ballroom (Grand Hotel)

Book launch - NewCon Press: "Ten Tall Tales". I have a short story, "The Marble Orchard", in this anthology. Other attendees who should be present to sign include Ramsey Campbell, Edward Cox, Simon Clark, Paul Kane, Maura McHugh, Lynda E Rucker and Mark West


Sunday, September 25 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Palm Court Ballroom (The Grand)

Gold: panel discussion. I will be taking part in this panel which is sub-headed "The Value of Genre Awards", with Marc Gascoigne (chair), Stan Nicholls, Donna Scott and Margret Helgadottir


Quite a packed programme for me this year! At all other times I will either be asleep, eating, or in the bar...

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

White Matter

My short story, "White Matter", will shortly be published in the anthology, "Ghost Highways", from Midnight Street Press, and as usual I'm blogging about how the story came about for those who might be interested. Beware: there will be spoilers.

When editor Trevor Denyer announced the guidelines for this anthology in October 2015 I was immediately interested, not simply because it was a strong paying market, but because Trevor had previously published many of my stories - including showcasing myself in one of his earliest magazines, Roadworks, way back in July 1999 - and I knew I could have a good stab at it. Of course, there were no guarantees, but I was hopeful. The remit was simple, the story had to have something to do with the anthology title and be at least 5000 words in length. Interpretation would be down to the author.

Although I had no immediate ideas I knew from the start that my story would be unlikely to feature a ghost and probably unlikely to feature a highway. At least, not in the traditional sense. I began to think around the concepts of ghosts and what could be construed as highways. I was increasingly drawn to the idea of neural pathways, and searching online around these topics I discovered 'ghost tumours' - which appear to be normal cerebral tumours but can subsequently disappear - and also the role of white matter within the brain which - to put it very simply - forms the highways for information to be passed by grey matter. In Alzheimer's, white matter is frequently damaged. The deterioration of white matter into a ghosted highway would form the crux of my tale.

Around the same time I had been thinking about dementia and the circumstances where sufferers appear to live in the past - where short-term memory disappears and long-term memory comes to the fore. I decided to write a character whose first husband died early and who then married again, but who always hankered after the first husband despite being perfectly satisfied with the remainder of her life. What if she looked forward to the possibility of Alzheimer's as a way of connecting to the past, what if she had made preparations? How would her new husband feel about this? What are memories anyway, other than ghosts? Suddenly I had my story.

Everyone talks about grey matter, he remembered the doctor saying, as though grey matter is the be all and end all. Our little grey cells, he had said, tapping the side of his head, channelling Hercule Poirot, that's what everyone thinks about. But the cells and other components of the brain can be classified as either grey or white matter, and these perform different functions. Grey matter consists mostly of neurons and some supporting brain cells. White matter allows messages to be sent between brain cells much faster, protecting the parts which make those connections. So when white matter is damaged, it can affect brain function.

Marshall's eyes wandered between his left hand, which rested on Anna's right shoulder as she sat on a chair in front of him, and the doctor's mouth. Afterwards he could remember nothing of the doctor other than that mouth, topped by a white-flecked moustache, as though the moustache itself was an extension of the white matter damaged by the leakage from his wife's blood vessels.

"Ghost Highways" also features stories by Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clark, Ralph Robert Moore, Ray Cluley, Gary Couzens, Thana Niveau, Neil Williamson, Terry Grimwood, Len Maynard & Mick Sims, Alexander Zelenyj, Ken Goldman, David Surface and David Turnbull, with an introduction by Paul Finch. It can be purchased here.

Finally, I wrote this story whilst listening to the CD, "Ghosts" (a soundtrack to the novels of John Connelly, Volume IV) including songs by XTC, Sun Kil Moon, Susanna, and Mogwai amongst others, on repeat.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

An A to Z of books

I don't think I was actually tagged in this, but I saw a post by another writer and decided to give it a go. It's fairly self-explanatory. If you read this and then do your own version please mention it in the comments below as I'd be interested in seeing your choices.

Author you're read the most books by

As an adult this would be Tom Robbins. I've read all of his eight novels, a collection of essays, and just have one novella to read. As a child it would have been Enid Blyton or Ian Fleming.

Best sequel ever

I don't think I've read a book in adulthood which has a sequel, but I did enjoy Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" series when younger, so probably one of those.

Currently reading

"The Real Life Of Sebastian Knight" by Vladimir Nabokov and "The Space Machine" by Christopher Priest.

Drink of choice while reading

Usually nothing. Possibly water.

E-reader or physical book

I don't have an e-reader so it has to be physical. I prefer a physical book for tactile reasons.

Fictional character you would have dated in high school

Not sure I would have dated but I would certainly have had the hots for Tatiana Romanova from Ian Fleming's "From Russia With Love".

Glad you gave this book a chance

I tend not to read long books but I had "Blonde" - a fictionalised biography of Marilyn Monroe - by Joyce Carol Oates on my shelf for a while, and when I finally read it I found it was magnificent. Not only that, but I've since written short stories about Marilyn and also Jayne Mansfield off the back of this and believe they amount to my best work.

Hidden gem of a book

I thoroughly enjoyed "The Tunnel" by Argentine writer, Ernesto Sabato. The Guardian summarises it nicely as a novel which 'explores the dark areas of the self, and violence and irrationality in the anonymous mean streets of the modern city'. Highly recommended.

Important moments in your reading life

I remember being given a copy of Enid Blyton's "Five On A Treasure Island" by an aunt, which I believe was the first novel I ever read. The moment is so vivid I can recall the cover and the circumstances perfectly.

Also, reading Tom Robbin's "Jitterbug Perfume" made me realise art could mimic, reflect, and influence/resonate a life in ways I hadn't previously considered.

Just finished

"The Peacock Cloak", a collection of short SF stories by Chris Beckett; also recommended.

Kind of books you won't read

I'm unlikely to get any joy out of full-blown sword and sorcery fantasy trilogies, misery memoirs, or romance fiction. Anything else is likely to be given a chance.

Longest book you've read

The aforementioned "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates which in my edition nudged just short of 1000 pages.

Major book hangover

Probably Tom Robbin's "Jitterbug Perfume" because it's themes have resonated so keenly with my life.

Number of bookcases you own

About seven, although some are not cases but shelves set into wall alcoves.

One book you've read multiple times

I don't re-read often and there are probably less than a handful of books in adult life where I've done this, but one which I have (and which I would also be happy to re-read again) is Nabokov's "Lolita". It's beautifully written and a sublime love story.

Preferred place to read

I always have two books on the go. One by my bedside and the other in work lunch breaks. I tend to fall asleep at both locations.

Quote from a book you've read that inspires you

Our individuality is all, all, that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it in, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life's bittersweet route - Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins

Reading regret

That I picked up, read, continued to read, continued to read against advice, and finally finished Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union". What a piece of overrated crap.

Series you started and need to finish

I don't tend to read a series of books - certainly not those with continuing stories - however I am eager to read the Swedish crime writers' Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's series of Martin Beck detective novels, collectively titled "The Story of a Crime", after having read "Roseanna", the first in the series, recently.

Three of your all-time favourite books

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov
"Nausea" by Jean-Paul Sartre
"Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins

Unapologetic fan-boy for

Tom Robbins. It's been a while since I re-read his books and I probably should do so sometime soon.

Very excited about this release

I have a story forthcoming in an anthology titled "Something Remains" which will feature stories based on and inspired by the notes left by the writer Joel Lane (1963-2013). It will be fascinating to see how each author has tackled their piece and is a project I'm both excited to participate in but also to read.

Worst bookish habit

Not sure if this is the worse or best bookish habit, but I can't stop buying books even though there are now over 300 in the to-be-read pile.

X marks the spot: start on the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book

Kingsley Amis: "Take A Girl Like You". I read a lot of Amis in my mid-teens, mostly from the local library ("The Green Man", "Girl, 20", "I Want It Now") but I'm not sure if I've read this one. Will be interesting to see how I remember him.

Your latest purchase

We're just back from a holiday which included the book town of Hay-on-Wye where we bought over twenty books. I think the last one I purchased that day was possibly "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos.

Zzz-snatcher book (last book that kept you up far too late)

I tend to fall asleep before I read too late, but the last book I gave five stars to on Goodreads was Georges Simenon's "The Mahé Circle", and I remember it being a real page-turner.

So there you have it. All comments welcomed!