Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Writing Year 2013

I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2013.

Early in the year I completed one novel begun at the tail end of 2012, an SF-apocalyptic future thing titled "Body And Soul". And today I've just completed a new novel, "People I Know Are Dead", which is another crime pulp neo-noir featuring my irascible PI, Mordent. This year I've sold two other novels featuring Mordent, "The Immortalists" and "Church Of Wire", to Telos Moonrise for publication in 2014/2015.

I wrote twelve short stories this year: "Bullet", "Dirty Snow", "Burning Daylight", "Shoot For The Moon", "The Frequency Of Existence", "Blood For Your Mother", "Making Friends With Fold-Out Flaps", "Softwood", "Soapsud Galaxies", "Interference", "The Opaque District", and "A Knot Of Toads".

I sold ten short stories: "Rain From A Clear Blue Sky", "Bullet" and "A Knot Of Toads" to Black Static, "The Aniseed Gumball Kid" to PostScripts, "The Caged Sea" to Unspoken Water, "Beyond The Island Of The Dolls" to Postscripts To Darkness, "Interference" to Chiral Mad 2, "Shoot For The Moon" to Monomyth, "Softwood" to an anthology from NewCon Press I cannot name til next year, and "The Opaque District" to the Horror Uncut anthology.

The following six short stories appeared in print this year: "Rain From A Clear Blue Sky" in Black Static #33, "The Caged Sea" in Unspoken Water #4, "Bullet" in Black Static #34, "The Cruekus Effect" reprinted in Best Weird Fiction Vol.3, "Tetsudo Fan" in the Rustblind and Silverbright anthology from Eibonvale Press, and "Kodokushi" to PostScripts #30/31.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were accepted in 2012/2013, a novella, two short story collections, and one novel under consideration, and a collaborative story collection still awaiting publication. I am also in the process of editing an anthology of punk inspired stories, titled "punk!Punk!" for DogHorn Publishing, and I have also worked on two issues of Fur-Lined Ghettos with my partner.


Not bad considering this little one is getting more adventurous, and also that I work full-time Monday to Friday, work part-time alternate Sundays, freelance typeset and proofread often in the evenings, and have one hundred and one other things on my mind. Seasonal trumpet blowing time yet again!

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2013 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2013, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.

Books:

I read the following in 2013:

Allen Ashley (editor) – Where Are We Going?
Williams Burroughs – Cities of the Red Night
Gus Van Sant – Pink
John Dickson Carr – The Hollow Man
Ernesto Sabato – The Tunnel
Ira Levin – Rosemary’s Baby
Jonathan Letham – Girl In Landscape
Ken Kesey – One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
James Vance Marshall - Walkabout
Kenneth Fearing – The Big Clock
Jose Saramago – Death At Intervals
Megan Abbott – Die A Little
David Mazzucchelli – Asterios Polyp (Graphic Novel)
Craig Thompson – Blankets (Graphic Novel)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – In Evil Hour
Paul Auster, Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli – City of Glass (Graphic Novel)
Milan Kundera – Identity
Charles Bukowski – Tales of Ordinary Madness
Hans Helmet Kirst – Night of the Generals
Kinky Friedman – Armadillos and Old Lace
Rhys Hughes – The Percolated Stars
Sam Hawken – The Dead Women of Juarez
David Zane Mairowitz – Crime and Punishment (Graphic Novel)
Italo Calvino – If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
Gwen De Bonneval & Fabien Vehlmann – Last Days of an Immortal (Graphic Novel)
David Rix (editor) – Rustblind and Silverbright
John Peel – Margrave of the Marshes
Haruki Murakami – Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Koji Suzuki – Ring
Simon Morden – Equations of Life
Flann O’Brien – The Third Policeman
Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go
Georges Simenon – The Man On The Boulevard
Ned Beumann – Boxer Beetle
Conrad Williams – Rain
Lavie Tidhar - Osama
Guy Delisle – Pyongyang
Raymond Chandler – Killer In The Rain
Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea
Primo Levi – The Periodic Table
Graham Greene – The End of the Affair
Kafka/Jaromir 99/Mairowitz – The Castle (Graphic Novel)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Strange Pilgrims
Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Vladimir Nabokov – Tyrants Destroyed
Charles Bukowski – Hollywood
Taichi Yamada – Strangers

I find it quite an interesting list. I read a lot more books this year than last year, partly because of more opportunity to read at work now the TV has gone but also because I discovered graphic novels! Definitely the worst of the bunch was Saramago's "Death At Intervals" which I loathed with passion. Megan Abbott's "Die A Little" almost made my top three. Nabokov's story collection was fantastic in places, yet trifling in others.

In reverse order, these are my top three:


"Asterios Polyp" by David Mazzucchelli



The first graphic novel that I've ever read, and one which made me realise that the emphasis is on novel just as much as it is on graphic. Intelligent, engaging, and I cried at the end.

"The Tunnel" by Ernesto Sabato



An extraordinary book which is a deceptively simple yet utterly compelling account of obsessive love. Not a word is wasted in this short novel. A story which anyone who has ever been in love can relate to. I know I could.

And the winner is:

"Osama" by Lavie Tidhar



Sheer genius. There's so much to admire in this book: it's audacity and its subtlety, the exceptional high quality of the prose and the dreamlike style, the overall plot and the succinctness of its engagement. Also, it made me jealous. This is the novel I should have written! It's absolutely perfect.



Movies:

I watched the following in 2013:

The Imposter
Oslo, 31 August
Midnight in Paris
The Silence
Detachment
Django Unchained
Usual Suspects
Santa Sangre
Nostalgia for the Light
Woyzeck
Fiend without a Face
Corpo Celeste
Children's Hour
Gran Casino
Moonrise Kingdom
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Martha Marcy May Marlene
To Rome with Love
Death Proof
I Heart Huckabees
Tout Va Bien
Drive
El Topo
Manhattan
The Master
The Wasp Woman
Invaders From Mars
Phantom Planet
Holy Motors
Amour
Broken
Tsosti
The Dyatlov Pass Incident
Night of the Hunter
Whip It
La Maman et la Putain
Rust and Bone
Fishtank
Cabin in the Woods
Chico and Rita
The Place Beyond the Pines
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc
The Hunt
The Prestige
We Are What We Are
Beyond the Hills
Ginger & Rosa
Nosferatu
Fargo
Surviving Life
Like Someone in Love
London to Brighton
Maria Full of Grace

Interesting to see the impact having a child has on movie watching. Last year I saw 93 films, this year it's 53. Whilst our baby was born in May 2012 her sleep patterns now mean it's often past 9pm by the time I'm even thinking of sitting down and movies are pushed aside through tiredness. This year it's been very hard thinking of my top three because - like last year - I'm discounting movies I've previously watched. So, the wonderful and heartbreaking "Children's Hour", which is one of my favourite films ever, can't be included, nor can the notoriously wacky "El Topo" (which I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen this year), or the wondrously perfect "The Prestige" which was even better second time around and can't be faulted.
Coming close are "Beasts of the Southern Wild" which would probably be in my partner's top three, "Moonrise Kingdom" because whilst I loved it it was no more than I expected it to be, "Drive" because it worked on it's own terms, "The Master" with a great performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, and "Like Someone In Love" which oozed style over - but not to the detriment of - substance.
Again, in reverse order, my top three: 
"La Maman et le Putain" - Jean Eustache

I can't deny this was a slog at times. It had been recorded for me and I hadn't realised the duration (215 minutes) so after an hour I kept expecting it to finish in 30 minutes every 10 minutes. Yet it's a veritable feast of end-of-New-Wave French Cinema which led to two separate story ideas, so in terms of influence it deserves this placing and is well worth a watch.
"La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc" - Carl Theodor Dreyer 

Like "El Topo" and also "Nosferatu" I was lucky enough to be able to see this on the big(gish) screen at my local arthouse cinema, and it definitely benefited from this experience. A searing classic with an intense and brilliant central performance from Maria Falconetti, this German silent movie of 1928 by Carl Dreyer is haunting, heartbreaking, and ultimately devastating.
And the winner is...
"Django Unchained" - Quentin Tarantino



What's not to love about this movie? It has everything you would expect from Tarantino and is so lovingly, stylishly, and beautifully put together that it's a perfect box which puts Hollywood blockbuster pap to shame. I'd hoped this would feature high on my 2013 list and wasn't disappointed. Tarantino knows what makes film tick, which is why I regard him so highly as a director and this is what makes his films so delicious.
Predictions for 2014? I'm hoping Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" will be as perfect as "Melancholia" and "Antichrist".

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Joel Lane

On Tuesday night, after I finally got our baby to bed, I returned to the living room to find the TV off and my partner, Sophie, telling me that she thought I should sit down. All kinds of things run through your mind at that point, but I certainly didn't expect her to quietly say: "Joel Lane has died".

Joel was a writer I had known through his work from 1994 onwards and had met and spoken to on several occasions from 2003 onwards. It's hard to understand how such an overwhelming sensation of loss and grief can come from the death of someone that I could hardly claim to 'know' in the 'friend' sense of the word, until I realised that his impact was far greater than a simple friendship might have been. Because I also knew him through his work, through the intensely brilliant and often very personal short stories that were charged with the inner visions that defined him, and through the respect that I had for him due to the honesty and integrity with which he wrote and conducted himself.

My first published story, "Pussycat", in the 1994 Barrington Books anthology, "The Science of Sadness" edited by Chris Kenworthy had introduced to me a group of like-minded individuals that I hadn't even known were in existence at that time. These included Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, Tim Nickels, Brian Howell, and Joel Lane. His story "Like Shattered Stone" in that anthology is one that I've never forgotten. And in the anthology as a whole, I think it's not too extreme (or even ridiculous) to suggest that I had found family. Whilst I didn't attend conventions until I began publishing as Elastic Press in 2003, between 1994 and that date I had read the work of these independent press writers avidly and felt that the cohesiveness of their body of work (both collectively and individually) expressed my own feelings and desires, and in turn, impacted on my own writing.

I met Joel at FantasyCon 2003 where I had an Elastic Press dealer's table for the first time. A somewhat reticent man in black shirt, blue jeans, and carrying a carrier bag of books examined all I was selling and then bought the lot. I remember glancing at the name badge and realising it was Joel and then having a bit of a fanboy moment and gushing something along the lines of "You're Joel Lane!" It's rare that I get such a feeling of inexpressible admiration - and I've subsequently met a lot of people who I admire and respect, in both literature and music - but thinking back to that first meeting today it indicates how enamoured I was of his work.

I was lucky enough to publish Joel's short fiction twice with Elastic Press (in anthologies both edited by Allen Ashley), and also very happy that he agreed to write an introduction to my story collection, "Beyond Each Blue Horizon", back in 2005. Within the introduction was a line I re-read yesterday that seemed to summarise his own fiction:

Writers of the past were able to construct dystopias; writers of the present have to negotiate them.

Joel was a writer who was very socially aware of the power fiction had to both reflect and comment on the times. Perhaps more than that - he felt it imperative that it commented on injustice wherever it occurred. His work co-editing the anthology, "Never Again", is an obvious illustration of this, and the fact that he was editing an anthology of austerity-themed stories before his death is another reflection.

He emailed me asking if I could write a story for the latter book in September this year. Whilst I did so, and he acknowledged receipt, I guess I will never know if he read my hopeful contribution. I very much wanted to get into the book because it mattered to me that Joel would get my story. Joel was someone whose opinion I wanted as a writer. He was part of the family.

Joel had mentioned in his email that he had been diagnosed with a sleep problem and was taking medication which unfortunately meant he was sleepwalking and having fits and problems with concentration. That email on the 9th October was to be my last communication with him - I mentioned I hoped to see him at World Fantasy in Brighton in November but unfortunately his mother was ill and he couldn't attend (I think he would have been staggered at the whoops which resulted when it was announced his collection, "Where Furnaces Burn", had justly won a World Fantasy award). He also mentioned he hoped to write a story for the punk anthology I am editing, based on Joy Division, epilepsy, and their song "She's Lost Control". It would have been stunning, I'm sure of it.

However, I am glad I made the effort to attend the launch of the Eibonvale Press anthology, "Rustblind and Silverbright" in London in August, as it was the last time I would see Joel. Even if I can't recall the details of our conversation - it was just good to see Joel again. As it was always good to see Joel. And Joel's support, mutual respect, and enthusiasm for the genre was ever present.

Despite those early days of that Barrington anthology which lauded Slipstream as the new genre, Joel always considered it was horror that he wrote. Even when his story, "Alouette", was published in "Subtle Edens" (Elastic Press's swansong publication dedicated to slipstream) he knew it was really horror. We had these discussions from time to time, always with wit at the heart. In my copy of his Nightjar Press chapbook, "The Black Country", he inscribed it with: "To Andrew - Maybe horror is the new slipstream! - Joel x".

I think it's clear to say that Joel was a respected and much loved member of the genre community. The outpouring of shock and grief on facebook, discussion boards, and emails since his death is tantamount to that. I wish I knew him more than I did, I regret that I won't get the chance to do so. I wish there were more conversations and more stories to read. I wish Joel were here.

Writing is such a solitary profession - and within it Joel seemed more solitary than others - but as mentioned above I have certainly found it to be family. In Graham Joyce's acceptance speech for his British Fantasy Award for best novel this year he touched on it beautifully, and this is the same message which has been repeated in all the discussions since Joel's death. I would go further to state that it's actually more important than family - my own family will never know me to the depth that those writers do who have read my work. Our community is a family that knows us intimately and accepts us for what we are, through our work which reflects, illuminates, and lays bare our inner selves. That's why it hurts so much when one of us passes. And Joel reflected, illuminated, and laid bare vividly, with great compassion, incisiveness, and - in conversation - humour. This is why he will be missed. Although acknowledging this doesn't stop the tears from flowing.


Joel at the Subtle Edens launch, London, 2008

Monday, 25 November 2013

Kodokushi

"Kodokushi" is a story I've recently had published in the new PostScripts anthology, "Memoryville Blues", from PS Publishing, which also contains fiction by John Grant, Lavie Tidhar, Alistair Reynolds and Ramsey Campbell amongst many others. As has become common in this blog, I'm going to post about how the story came about for those who might be interested in the 'where do writers get their ideas from' thing. Naturally, this post might contain spoilers for those who haven't read the story.

Memory is a strange thing. I wrote this tale back in October 2010 and it was accepted for publication three days later. I think it was last year or the beginning of this year that the signing sheets came around for it together with a request to write an intro to the story. Foolishly, I didn't re-read it, and over time I came to mis-believe that 'kodokushi' is the name of the place my character visits in the story, hence the confusing intro for those who have the book. On re-reading, however, I realised 'kodokushi' actually refers to 'a lonely death'.

I've been writing a series of Japanese-themed stories, touching on the quaint absurdities that the country seems prevalent to. In this case, 'a lonely death', relates to those who have died but have remained unburied for long periods of time. Often because they have no relatives. But also as I was researching this story I became aware of a newspaper article about relatives who hid the death of their relatives in order that they could continue claiming benefit for them. In my story, an estranged family member returns home to discover her father died three years previously and his body has yet to be buried. The story takes on a slight fantastical feel when she then visits Ryōan-ji (the false 'Kodokushi' of my memory) where fifteen boulders have been placed in such a way that only fourteen can be seen simultaneously (unless from the air). It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder. My elegiac ending fuses the experience in discovering her father with the trip to the zen garden. It's an ending prone to interpretation and - I think - almost too subtle unless the story is re-read and possibly re-read again. I do like to make the reader do some work! On re-reading, however, this story has become a favourite of mine. As with much of my work, fusing two seemingly separate story strands creates (or uncovers) something greater than both of them. It will be interesting to see how this story fares in review.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Autumn Horror In The East 2

Following the recent World Fantasy Convention where 1500 attendees descended on Brighton for their annual literary and social fix we attended a scaled down version of the same thing at Lowestoft this weekend, the second year of Autumn Horror In The East. Not dissimilar to WFC in many ways, this also saw the general public outnumbered by the writers and whilst it would be unfair to extend the comparison too far it was interesting to have sold more items at the quieter event than we did at the larger event (although the fact we were manning a table here of mixed goods including Sophie's home made jewellery made a difference as well).


Lowestoft is a perfect location for a horror convention as even in the best of lights it seems apocalyptic, both architecturally and in the form of the general populace, but the location of the venue was a little out of the way to attract the casual attendee (even a free event has to be obvious). Even so, the authors who were there (Adam Millard, Darren Barker, Adam Baker, Joseph Freeman, Nat Robinson, Paul S Huggins and David Moody amongst others) were ready to entertain the attendees on the various panels, and in the afternoon a special screening of the 1992 BBC programme Ghostwatch was scheduled with a Q&A afterwards with Ghostwatch 'biographer' Rich Hawkins and the director, Lesley Manning - quite a coup!



Like all of these events, it's just good to mix with people who are on the same wavelength as yourself even if I am at the lesser end of the horror spectrum. I had an interesting chat with Joseph Freeman in particular about the changes in publishing over the years (we reminisced about Nasty Piece of Work magazine in particular), and David Moody as usual had several insights in how he works the industry rather than the other way around. The panel I was on with Adam, Joseph and David discussed this in detail.


The Ghostwatch screening was good to watch. I remember it vaguely when it was broadcast and seeing it 21 years later some of the cracks are evident, some of the acting a little too obvious, but the overall effect is one inspired piece of television with the repeated setting up and demolishing of viewer expectations a fascinating examination of how we interact with television, and the breaking of the bond of trust between viewer and presenter. My favourite moment in the programme is where we realise the 'live' camera view of the haunted house is actually a moment from earlier and therefore there is no live feed into the house and what might actually be happening is unknown. Unfortunately we had to leave part way through the Q&A session due to childcare issues, but on the face of it - despite the low attendance - the event was a success for those who were there, and hopefully the organisers can build on this at a proposed new venue next year.

I, for one, will be returning.



Tuesday, 5 November 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013

Last weekend saw the annual World Fantasy Convention arrive in Brighton, only the third time in its history that it's been held outside of North America. I usually spend this time of year at FantasyCon (the British Fantasy Society's convention), but as it was shelved this year due to World Fantasy it was a no brainer to attend. It's always encouraging to spend a weekend with like-minded literary folks - many of whom are great friends and acquaintances - and to re-charge and reaffirm the creative impulse.

Whilst the convention began on the Thursday afternoon we weren't due to arrive until the following day, however our convention did begin on Thursday in some respects. I had the day off work so we were able to drop my eldest child at one set of grandparents that morning and then handed off our youngest at a halfway point at Peterborough with her grandmother who lives in Leicester by lunchtime. Returning to Norwich we had time to do a little packing before heading out to watch F W Murnau's "Nosferatu" at Cinema City. It was great to see it on the big screen - despite the irritating and inappropriate giggling of some audience members - and whilst the score wasn't as good as a version I saw on Channel 4 many moons ago, it was interesting to hear a different musical background. Because it was Hallowe'en and we were feeling particularly mischievous, we dusted off the penguin mask I use to promote Ponthe Oldenguine, and Sophie wore it into the cinema whilst I donned it on the way out. No one batted an eyelid.


Onto the convention proper. The drive to Brighton was uneventful and we arrived around 11:30 at our hotel (The Black Lion, at a third of the convention hotel price!) just north of Brighton at Patcham. A quick bus ride and a blustery walk along the seafront saw us reach the Hilton Metropole where the convention was being held. The estimated audience over the weekend was 1500 and it was indeed packed. We signed in, collected our free books, and headed off to my spiritual home in the dealer's room where we met up with Roy Gray of TTA Press and had a little bit of table space to sell Fur-Lined Ghettos. We wandered around the room, chatting to David Rix of Eibonvale, Quentin S Crisp of Chomu, Ian Whates at NewCon Press, Steve Upham of Screaming Dreams (who promised that my collaborative story collection, "Slow Motion Wars", written with Allen Ashley should be out before the end of the year), and Michael Kelly from Shadows & Tall Trees who I didn't spend as much time with as I would have liked.

There wasn't much on the programme that I actually wanted to attend, but there were people I wanted to make sure I didn't miss. To guarantee I met up with Kaaron Warren we headed to her reading where she read her story "That Girl". Not only was the reading excellent, but she handed out Koala bars to sweeten us. I originally published Kaaron in The Alsiso Project back in 2004, but this was the first time we had ever met. After the reading we found the 'secret bar' and had a drink with her along with Mihai Adascalitei from Romania, chatting like we were old friends. It got the convention off to a relaxed and friendly start.


I think from there we headed back to the dealer's room, talking briefly with Mark West, Stuart Young, Neil Williamson, Terry Grimwood, Gary Couzens, Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle, and no doubt many others. Getting hungry by this stage and wary of forecast rain, Sophie and I headed out on our own and found a Wetherspoons to scoff in before returning to the convention and wandering around the mass-signing event. It always seems like there are conventions within conventions at these events, and the number of fans seeking autographs felt much different from my personal convention experience. Nevertheless, I ended up signing a few convention programmes myself, and we also managed to catch up with Ray Cluley and his partner Victoria Leslie (who writes as V H Leslie) for a chat. One of my favourite convention moments was Victoria's surprise at my mention of an age-gap between Sophie and myself (inadvertently either flattering me or insulting Sophie) and her further surprise that the gap is 21 years. My attic portrait must be worth it.

We concluded Friday flitting from one room to another, talking to Joseph D'Lacey and Charles Rudkin, taking in the two bars and the free drink at the Gollancz party, but by 11:30 Sophie was dead on her feet and during a conversation with John Travis and Simon Clark she actually fell asleep standing up. We decided to make the most of tomorrow by getting an early night and took a short taxi ride home.

Saturday morning we decided to wander around Brighton before heading to the convention aware that if we didn't make time for the town we'd never see it. We wandered about The Lanes, and the much better Laines areas, before returning to the convention hotel before 12. Back in the dealer's room we finally caught up with Doug Thompson and Nina Allan and had a long chat about good things, not surprising as they are amongst our favourite people and writers. I also exchanged a few words with K J Bishop and picked up her new collection, "That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote". Sophie also bought a couple of titles from the Chomu Press table. We then headed to the signing alley where I picked up Steve Volk's "Whitstable" that I've been wanting to buy for some time, and chatting to Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press. It was now late afternoon and we were starting to get tired again, so we sat in the dealer's room for a bit whilst we wondered where to eat. Doug was trying to arrange first a Texan then a Greek restaurant by leaving the hotel, talking to threstaurantnt, and then returning to say it was full. Sophie suggested it might be easier using the internet, and within a few moments a posse of us were straining into the wind along the seafront and into The China Garden where we moved from one table to another as our numbers increased. Our final group included Sophie and myself, Doug Thompson, Quentin S Crisp, Jet McDonald, Anna Tambour, John Travis, David Rix, Brendan Connell, Terry Grimwood and two others whose names I'm not sure about. The food was ok, but it wasn't long before we were battling the elements again and were just in time for the poetry readings hosted by Allen Ashley.



We'd neglected to get ourselves a two-poem spot, but we were amongst the reserve list and Sophie was fair terrified when her name was called but I think she did pretty well with it. I also read one of our collaborative pieces. Overall, it was a great event which Allen ended with a flourish. From there it was into the main bar where we were lucky enough to find somewhere to sit. From 10 until 2:30 we chatted with Doug, Allen, and Sarah Doyle. Doug had an idea that everyone could be distilled into one word. His word for me was 'workman-like', but on reflection - and no doubt he will disagree with this - I've refined it to 'dedicated'.

Sunday morning we awoke relatively refreshed and were back in the Con hotel just after ten and a rather brisk walk along the seafront. Back in the dealer's room we mingled there until it was packed away at midday (we had sold a good amount of Fur-Lined Ghettos, including the last copy of issue one which is now out of print). Nipping out for some lunch we returned to the bar and chatted with Allen, Terry Grimwood, and David Rix until the awards ceremony began at 3pm. From the public gallery which overlooked the event we had a great view of those who had banqueted beneath. Without going into too much detail we were delighted that Ray Cluley won the British Fantasy Society award for his story, "Shark! Shark!", were moved by Graham Joyce's acceptance speech for the BFS's Best Fantasy Novel, "Some Kind Of Fairytale", and very much pleased by Joel Lane winning Best Collection in the World Fantasy awards. John Probert's humorous acceptance of the novella award and Jonathan Oliver's fantastic "fuck me sideways" comment whilst accepting the best anthology award all added spice to the event. In fact, all the awards seemed thoughtfully given (apart from the appalling Cabin In The Wood's award for best screenplay).

We milled about in the dead dog party for a little while, congratulating the winners (especially Ray, Graham, Jonathan Oliver and Adam Nevill), and managing brief chats with Lynda E Rucker and Lavie Tidhar before finally leaving the convention and waiting for a final taxi. We weren't leaving Brighton until the Monday morning, but our convention was now over. We returned buzzing with ideas - some will no doubt become evident - having enjoyed a great convention whilst not really participating in the programming. As I said, everyone's convention is slightly different from everyone else's, but ours was definitely worthwhile. As Graham said, it is family. Family which we should get to see more often.


(apologies for giving up on author links halfway through this blog. I ran out of time and inclination. Apologies also to anyone we chatted to and who I've missed! All photographs are by Sophie)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Some Novel Advice

I've always found novel writing to be a burden, I'm a short story guy at heart. I've got to the stage of my 'career' when I can write the first draft of a short story in a few hours in one sitting, and usually editing is just a couple of re-reads with a few words changed here and there. Only occasionally does anything have to be extensively re-written or altered. But novels are different beasts - they need time to be written and they devour that time. I've posted before about my completed novels - and at that point only one, "Moon Beaver", had been published - but I'm happy to report that I recently signed a deal for two crime novels through Telos Moonrise, the first of which should appear early in 2014. And I'm almost halfway through a third crime novel, "People I Know Are Dead", which is turning out pretty well I think.

So given this flush of recent success I thought I'd share some tips on how I wrote my novels in case any of this luck will rub off on the reader of this blog. Good karma, and all of that jazz. It might also be timely for those considering starting a novel for NaNoWriMo.

1. Have a title. It's essential for me - whether writing a short story or novel - to have a title before I begin otherwise I can't think about the work at all. A title is the coat-hanger to hang your story on.

2. Don't write every day. This flies in the face of popular opinion, but just as you would have a rest day from a day job so you need a rest day or two from the novel. That distance helps it to breathe, but even so you should...

3. Think about it constantly. I was reviewing my day's writing whilst washing-up a few evenings ago, and just tugging on those threads made me realise the novel knew how it ended even before I did. If I hadn't been thinking about it, I might not have realised it. Think about it as often as you think about your life because whilst you're writing it is your life.

4. Don't make excuses. As I said, I'm a short story guy, if the time is right I can have a completed story within a couple of hours. Two hours is easy to find. Several months to write a novel is a heck of a lot of time to create, especially if - like me - you're the father to a 17 month old and a 14 year old, you work 6 days a week, you like to eat and sleep occasionally, and you sometimes freelance outside of your normal day job in the evenings. I could easily find excuses not to write, but I don't. And - as it follows - I have written.

5. Write at work. If you can. I appreciate not all jobs are conducive to this advice - although there will always be lunch breaks - however if you can write at work then you're being paid to write. Kill two birds with one stone. At work I've written three and a half novels and three novellas. Two of those novels are my forthcoming crime books and two of the novellas have already been published. Don't jeopardise your job, but if you can write at work do it. This also means you don't have to write when you get home and just need to flop out.

6. Plot only the basics. I know some writers who write such a detailed synopsis of their novel that they might as well write the novel itself. That doesn't work for me, and for those of you who also struggle with that concept I suggest you don't tie yourself to it. I begin a novel by putting the title, and then a handful - and I mean no more than 3 or 4 - ideas underneath it. I then start writing. As I write, as and when other stuff pops into my head I add it to the notes under the novel. That way the notes are in the same file. I delete them as they get used. I never have more than ten notes running at any one time. A novel is an organic beast, not a scientific experiment. Treat it as such.

7. Don't ignore your muse. Sometimes stuff wants to pop into the novel that you never considered even in your wildest dreams. Put it in there. You don't know it yet, but your subconscious is aware of the relevance. Run with it. Your wildest dreams will become your reality.

8. Write the novel for yourself. It's important to have the market in mind, but don't write for the market. If you do you'll have a stilted novel with no life in it. Write it for yourself. If you can't enjoy it then no one will (although that doesn't mean if you love it everyone will, you - at least - must love your novel or it will show).

9. Ignore this advice. Seriously. Well, kind of. If you need advice on writing a novel then you're not ready to write the novel. The novel should birth by tearing itself out of your chest with superhuman force leaping into a sports car and driving dangerously along mountain road s-bends. If you need advice on it then you're not ready for it. You'll develop your own natural style that doesn't need to mimic others.

10. Don't ignore this advice. Might seem contrary but re-read my suggestions and see how they work for you. Take something from it, but don't use it as template. Just be aware of this advice. Find your own way.

11. Break the rules. I mean, who would have 11 bullet-points? That should be ten, or lucky seven, or at least an even number. Right? Nope. Don't be straight-jacketed by anyone or anything that's gone before. Fly with it.

Feel free to share if you enjoyed this. Then get writing!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Malayan Tapir

As regular followers of this blog are aware I have a certain fondness for animals of the long-snouted variety. Who wouldn't? I've tried to seek out some of the more extreme examples for previous posts, but those are becoming thin on the ground so I'm falling back onto one of my favourites, the Malayan tapir.

I used to have one of these as a toy animal back in my youth and I prefer the black and white markings to those of the other three varieties of tapir. There's something more honest, more other-worldly, about it somehow. See what I mean:


There's some interesting stuff on wikipedia about how the long snout has been accommodated: They have a large sagittal crest, a bone running along the middle of the skull that is necessary for muscle attachment. They also have unusually positioned orbits, an unusually shaped cranium with the frontal bones elevated, and a retracted nasal incision. All of these modifications to the normal mammal skull are, of course, to make room for the proboscis. This proboscis caused retraction of bones and cartilage in the face during the evolution of the tapir, and even caused the loss of some cartilages, facial muscles, and the bony wall of the nasal chamber. That seems quite impressive to me.

The facial structure is even more impressive when viewed face on, although it does lose the elongated look, of course.




Perhaps the above photo is a little unkind, because they are a quite beautiful animal. Young tapirs of all ages have brown hair with white stripes and spots, but it's the monochrome adults which I prefer. And regardless of their overall cuteness, the predominant reason for including them on this blog is obviously the desirability of the elongated proboscis. I mean, just look at the length of that snout!


(Tapirs can be hired out as double-barrelled shotguns)

Friday, 4 October 2013

Editors Have Feelings Too

My blog today is brought to you by my partner and Fur-Lined Ghettos editor, Sophie:

I've been editing Fur-Lined Ghettos for two years now and have never received a vile email. Until today.

As a writer, I know how hard a rejection can hit. You put your heart into your writing, pluck up the courage to send your work out, wait months to hear back, only to get the standard 'thanks, but it's not for us' email. It hurts.

But, I also know it's subjective. One editor's opinion doesn't make your writing any less valid. Of course you shout profanities, though I have never, and will never, send an email out of anger.

It is neither polite nor professional.

As with many zines, Fur-Lined Ghettos is a labour of love. When it comes down to it we don't have the money to publish it, the time to read submissions, or to typeset it. But we struggle in the rare spare moments we do get because, for us, it's important to put out a print zine featuring writing we enjoy. Writing we know already has a limited platform.

So when I get a simple yet harsh 'fuck you' after I've politely rejected someone it hurts, a lot. I cried.

It's a shame that people are capable of being so heartless, and so thoughtless, when we're in the same boat. We're all artists trying to positively change the world. There is no place for hatred.

But thanks, I'll get a poem out of it.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

punkPunk! update

As many of you might know I am editing an anthology of punk-inspired fiction titled "punkPunk!" to be published by DogHorn Publishing next year. The submission period opened on 1st July and runs through to 31st December 2013 so we are approximately half-way through the process. In that time I've had several submissions of interest, some way off the mark, and whilst I'm making no definite confirmed acceptances until nearer the closing date there are several pieces which I'm strongly considering for the anthology.

Whereas I felt the original guidelines were clear I've had a few people seeking clarification, so I'm going to try and pin down what I'm after in this post. It might also be worth you reading a previous blog post I made about The True Meaning Of Punk last year.

I'm looking for stories - in any genre - which capture the essence of punk. Not simply what it meant to be punk in the summer of 1976 when for those of us of a certain age the world seemed to tear itself open and roll at our feet, but also what it continues to mean to be punk. For me, punk embraced freedom, a DIY-ethic which meant anything was possible and it didn't have to look/sound good so long as it was done, and also - personally - was tied in with puberty and an understanding of the world which hitherto had been veiled. Stories don't have to reference particular bands or songs, or even directly reference punk itself, but they should carry forwards that sense of freedom and possibility, of kicking against the pricks, and the joie de vivre of anti-establishmentism.

I'm also not necessarily looking for pro-punk songs. Lost and broken dreams are just as integral as transitory success. What I'm trying to avoid are too many pieces about bands which didn't exist trying for a shot of stardom and falling short. I've had a few of these - and no doubt some will make it into the book - but the anthology needs to be more multi-dimensionary and I am genuinely open to anything. And I'm not after stereotypical punk figures with coloured hair and safety pins through their noses - if you have such a character make them authentic, not filtered through the way punk has subsequently come to be portrayed via the glamour of history.



In some sense: if you have to ask what a 'punk' story is then you won't be able to write it. A punk story should come from the heart, be infused with passion. And to further confirm: I'm not restricted to punk in it's pivotal years - the above guidelines are clear that later movements which sprang from punk will also be of interest to me. It's often said that everyone has a novel inside them which is open to debate, but I firmly believe that every punk has a punk story inside them. Let yours out.

Finally, it's best just to get writing with fire in your belly and punk in your heart. Ultimately I won't know what I want until it read it. Make me want it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

What's Inside A Ghetto?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I co-edit the irrealist/surrealist/gritty/feral poetry prose magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos. Of course, we're constantly reading submissions for the magazine and also attempting to flog it, and one of the questions we constantly get asked is what type of work do we publish.

We came up with this: "We enjoy the surreal, the absurd, the nonsensical, the complicated, the simple, the truth, the lies, the complexity of words, the ecstasy of genius, the delightful power we find in the spaces between and dancing at the discothèque. Poetry. Prose. Short stories. Dreams. Essays. Conversations. Musings. Fact. Fiction. Art. Theory. Nonsense."

Naturally, this still doesn't really explain what we're after. And to be honest, we usually don't know what we want until we see it. Last night it occured to us that we're trying to promote a product the contents of which anyone other than those who purchase the magazine haven't seen. Like trying to sell a lucky dip. So, here's a preview of some of the work in each issue. Hopefully this will help those who are wavering about submitting/purchasing to make a decision about doing so.

From #1, "Paola" by Travis McCullers:

"I lit my friend's hair on fire one time. It was cool." - Darius the Convivial.

Blooded arms entangled besides--
Crooks after kisses, sugar for the ride

Flooded temples assume ruin
Doleful hounds perish in the sun
Girls flash their goods for bar denizens
Lorca drags on through the streets of Granada for eternity

Look here, espy the anguish, scan for scars
Stumple upon heaven in a box, dig in for your prize

Bless the relicts, sow the field with salts
Glide like a swan on the surface of comity
Grow your hair out long and brood for a sweet young nestling

Lick your albatross and swoon

__________________________________________________

From #2, "A Visit" by Serena Cook

Why do you chuckle so?
What sparks the cruelty in your bones?
Do you do it to spite us?
You have everything...
Apart from the tissue that makes you human
Because maybe you're not...you can't be
The words you speak are malicious
The deeds you carry out are ruthless
You have everything...
We gave you everything you ever wanted
We gave you what we knew you needed
But now, what you need
What you desperately need is
A visit from a heart

__________________________________________________

Interlude to look at all the pretty covers:


__________________________________________________

From #3, "Boris Johnson's Hair" by Mike Cannon:

Look at his lovely, lovely, stupid, lovely hair
The mouth doesn't matter fill it full of chips no difference
blunderbuss power politic bichon fries locked disaster face
GUUUFFFFAAAAWWWW!
A deformed Churchill burger smashed into pooh bear's corpse
re animated at 240 volts, fibre optic follicles burn through milk.
RA RA RA! YA YA YA!

How?

The king FOP, emperor bungle chops
jowl quivering over a microphone for stammering puppy sympathy
St Bernard's who cant rescue get put down. YELP. So sad.

I will do it FOR FREE. I will shave his head.
__________________________________________________

Of course, all work above is copyrighted to the individual authors and is not to be reprinted without their prior permission.

Hopefully this has answered some of the queries we get about what exactly lies within the pages of Fur-Lined Ghettos. So buy it. We do need your support to continue publishing such great writers.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Holidays

Haven't been able to blog for a while (did you miss me?) because we were on holiday. Now, holidays are pretty essential for my wellbeing. I work 11 days out of 14 in day jobs, not counting any freelance work or writing that I do in my spare time, and travelling is when I am happiest. In fact, I've said it frequently that I feel more at home travelling than I do when I'm at home. I get travelsick for travelling where others get homesick for home. Coming home for me is a big downer. I need to be on the move.

I spent a week in North Wales with my partner and our young child, together with my eldest daughter; and then we dropped off the kids with their respective grandmothers and did a 9 hour detour in the process to spend a second week in the Lake District. Believe me, that detour was worth it. I love my children, but remove them from the equation and BINGO! Anyone with kids will understand this.

In no particular order we saw waterfalls, castles, caves, beaches, mountains, The Village, generally breathtaking views, an assortment of wild animals, and other stuff I can't recall off the top of my head. Time stopped (for my views on travelling, immortality and the dislocation of time read my novel, Moon Beaver), and I incorporated two pilgrimages into the trips (more later). Along the way I took some cool photos and my partner took even cooler photos. A selection follows:


Here my teenage sprog advances on the windswept beach towards the lighthouse at Talacre, North Wales. The tide was out. Such an evocative place. Wales gave us an abundance of cool stuff, with Conwy Castle probably being our favourite destination. It also provided me with the destination of the first of my pilgrimages. Here's a clue:


I first caught The Prisoner television series when Channel Four was launched in 1982. It was one of those series which captured my imagination and probably assisted my desire to write. Portmeirion has therefore been a destination I've wanted to head to for some time, and it didn't disappoint. I kept smiling as I realised I was in the Village. The beach was particularly memorable - I expected to see Rover at any moment. People pruning the trees felt sinister beyond the normality of their roles. I loved it.

Anyway, once the kids had been abandoned and we drove through the worst rain-drenched motorway traffic I've ever seen by the seat of our pants, we ended up in the Lake District. I'd only been here once before on a school trip and could remember none of it. The scenery was the most spectacular I've ever seen in the UK, reminding me in places of New Zealand's Milford Sound. Of course, you had to get away from the crowds which swarmed around Lake Windermere like wasps on ice-cream.

Whilst we were in the Lakes we visited Ulverston for the second of my pilgrimages, to Stan Laurel's birthplace and the Laurel & Hardy museum (less a museum than a collection of memorabillia, rather ramshackle but with a distinct charm), where we watched their classic "The Music Box" on the big screen. Laurel & Hardy repeats were often on TV in my youth and without a doubt they are magical. Here they deliver a piano to an address "right on top of the stoop" (I could probably quote the movie verbatim: "He doesn't want me. He wants the other monkey. You!"). Again, without Laurel & Hardy I would probably be quite a different person than I am today. Certainly more serious and not such an idiot. (example: we spent the last three days of the holiday speaking to each other only in daft American accents).


We're not great walkers, so the mountains availed themselves as scenery rather than obstacles to be mounted, nevertheless we did get off the generally beaten track and drove the often single-track loosely tarmaced stretch to Wasdale Head with its panoramic view of Scafell Pike and associated peaks. The day was dull and therefore perfect for this journey into an almost lost world scenario. I'll close with this photo from my partner cos it's the best of the bunch. Now just 50 weeks to wait for the next sojourn.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Tamandua

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love animals of the long-snouted variety. To celebrate both mine and my partner's recent birthdays we took a trip to Colchester Zoo yesterday. It was baking hot, and we did a lot of walking, but we managed to see all the long-snouted animals we expected: the giant anteater, the aardvark, and the dik dik spring to mind on recollection. As well as seeing and enjoying the regular animals with their regular-sized snouts, of course; including the lucky experience of watching a chimpanzee shit into its hand.

However, rather astonishingly, I saw a picture of a long-snouted animal next to an (unfortunately) seemingly empty enclosure that I hadn't heard of before (my partner said she knew of this one, and had in fact previously mentioned it to me, but I must have forgotten). The animal in question is from the genus of anteaters and is a Tamandua.


Looks pretty cool, doesn't it. Well, I looked within the enclosure through the mesh but couldn't see anything, and then I pressed my face to the glass on the other side of the enclosure and shielded the glare from the sun, but if the tamandua was there it certainly wasn't as bothered about seeing me as I was of seeing it. Most disappointing.


From wiki:

Tamandua is a genus of anteaters. It has two members: the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla) and the northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana). They live in forests and grasslands, are semi-arboreal, and possess partially prehensile tails. They mainly eat ants and termites, but they occasionally eat bees, beetles, and insect larvae. In captivity, they will eat fruits and meat. They have no teeth and depend on their powerful gizzard to break down their food.

There's also the interesting fact: When aggravated, tamanduas communicate by hissing and releasing an unpleasant scent from their anal gland.

But more importantly, just look at the length of that snout!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cora Vespertine

What's in a name?

It's been 14 months since the birth of our baby and the time has flown by. She's eating proper food, she's walking, she's saying the odd word, she's a continual delight, and she's tiring the hell out of us with all of it. But it doesn't seem that long ago that we were considering baby names. We wanted to go with something unusual, but not traumatic, and after discounting Snowlips Bumblebee, Capability Snuggles, Echo Echo, Bill Murray, and Adlebert Esquire, we settled on Cora Vespertine Clara Hook (of course, those other names were meant to be ridiculous, she was always going to be a Cora and the Vespertine just stuck).

Here she is:


Cora was a name my partner had considered from the start. It's a character in William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", and it had always appealed to her. There's no particular affiliation with the character, simply the name.

Vespertine was something that came up as we were throwing around some mad middle names. As well as being the title of a rather good Bjork album we found it also means flowers that bloom in the evening. We liked it because it was evocative, and as coincidence has it Cora was born early evening.

Clara is the name of my partner's grandmother. Self-explanatory that one, really.

Hopefully with this mixture of old and new names she'll grow up to be an independent, fiercely artistic individual. Maybe this is starting now:


So, we thought, that's going to be a pretty individual name. There won't be many Cora Vespertine's around.

Wrong!

Last weekend my partner happened to google the name (who doesn't do this?). Coincidence City! On a baby name website we were frankly astonished to see this. Just less than three months after the arrival of our Cora Vespertine, there was another one! We have no idea who this person is, but if it's a genuine case of coincidence that has to be utterly amazing. Of course, with the internet as it is, it could simply be appropriation (both annoying and flattering), and I wonder through how many links the name of our child (not found on google, but it would have been on facebook) might have gone through for this to happen. Either way, she's not quite unique any more (although to us, of course, she always will be). More importantly, she was first!

It crosses my mind that inevitably, at some point in the far flung future, if there is still an internet or equivalent, our Cora Vespertine will google her name and end up contacting the other Cora Vespertine. Maybe they'll be friends. In fact, maybe she's doing that now...


Friday, 28 June 2013

Tetsudo Fan

Please bear in mind this post will contain spoilers, both written and visual, of my story, "Tetsudo Fan".

When Eibonvale Press announced guidelines for a new anthology of train-themed stories I knew I would be interested in writing something for submission. Themed anthologies - when done well - can represent the best in short fiction in my opinion, forcing writers to consider ideas that they might not previously have had, and opening up a wellspring of creativity. The only problem I foresaw from my point of view is that other than enjoying train travel I had no particular affinity for glamorising those journeys. I don't consider myself a 'trainspotter' and wondered whether the anthology might lean toward that kind of aficionado.

Nevertheless, I began to consider ideas. A few options sprung to mind, including writing something about Stalin's unfinished railway after reading an article which coincidentally appeared at the time the guidelines were announced. Another idea, which unfortunately I can no longer remember, also seemed viable. What I decided I didn't want to do was to go down the hokey steam train track - however evocative that might be - and so considered with my train-uneducated mind what the opposite - most modern - train might be: my first thought being the Japanese bullet train (even though, I realise now, they have been around for quite a considerable amount of time).

The bullet train seemed an attractive starting point as I'd written and had published quite a few stories set in Japan. But I needed an angle. Google beckoned. I typed "Japanese train fetish" and waited...



As soon as I saw this I knew I had my train story.

'Tetsudo fan' is the nearest translation for 'trainspotter' in Japanese. I researched the types of trains and the culture of trainspotting which might appeal to my main character. I discovered the Little TGV bar in Akihabara where the diners are welcomed as though they are going on a journey and found the Hara Model Railway Museum that had only opened days after I began to write my story. I found details of Japanese comics which would appeal to train enthusiasts, and information about hotels which directly overlooked railway lines. All this information seemed to be pulled through at the same time, to paraphrase Kafka it seemed that "the [story] will freely offer itself to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet". Or, to use an appropriate metaphor, all these individual story train tracks seemed to converge to make one story: the station of my ideas.


I find it fascinating how an idea can emerge almost fully formed simply by applying a little imagination and seeing what happens. Some writers view stories like archaeological digs, as though they are unearthing something that has lain hidden from view all the time and was already fully formed before they started. I'm more struck by the impossibility of ideas, by the certain knowledge that if I had written the story five minutes earlier or five minutes later that the story itself would be completely different - in some instances, possibly beyond recognition of the one that was written. Add the internet to this and the usefulness of searching for reference material as one writes, then the story itself becomes a sea of twisting possibilities. For example, searching 'Japanese train fetish' today I found information about an "image club where men can pretend they are in a train groping fellow passengers". Would that have been useful in this story? Possibly. Would it have derailed what was eventually written? Maybe. A story in itself is a journey with limitless destinations, but the finished version is the one accepted as true. I find this almost arbitrary, akin to millions of sperm racing toward an egg, and the thought both excites and horrifies. What happens to those unwritten stories, those unborn babies, and the trajectory of their fates? But I'm getting off topic. The book, "Rustblind and Silverbright", is out shortly, to be launched at this event in London. See you there. Are you coming by train?


Friday, 21 June 2013

Fur-Lined Ghettos #3

Those of you observant and/or interested enough to keep an eye on this blog will know that I have an editorial assistant role aiding my partner editing an irrealist magazine of poetry and prose that we've titled Fur-Lined Ghettos. The derivation of the name is open to speculation (please speculate in the comments box below), but the process of submission selection is clear. She reads the incoming work and makes a decision, then asks me for my opinion and then sticks with her decision. She knows what she likes and what she likes is good. This is why we have such a great magazine.

We publish to a six-monthly schedule and issue three is now available. Featuring poetry and prose from Trevor Calvert, Mike Cannon, David Gullen, Jack Madigan, Travis McCullers, Eleanor Mitchell, Adam Napier, Jacob Solstice, Kate Tattersfield and Jon Wesick. The cool cover art is by Bonnie Seifert. This is a print magazine, so order a copy and get something tangible in your hands. We're also open to submissions for issue 4.