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.

Monday, 10 June 2013

punkPunk! submission guidelines

I'm pleased to announce I'm going to be editing an anthology of punk-inspired stories to be published by DogHorn Publishing. Guidelines here:

For those of us of a certain generation, punk was a defining force for a DIY-attitude that revolutionized music and empowered youngsters with self-belief and a determination for change that became a major cultural UK phenomenon. Punk encapsulated youthful rebellion and embraced a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies, and whilst musically the punk revolution took place within a very short time span, its influence continues to permeate modern day culture, from music to other art forms to an identifiable way of life.

The term ‘punk’ in fiction has been tagged in genres such as cyberpunk and steampunk, with William Gibson first coining the ‘cyberpunk’ term in an early short story. But this anthology’s focus will not be with those genres. We are looking for genuine punk: punkPunk! We are looking for punk stories that embrace the spirit of 1976 and directly reference it: the bottom line is that punk must have influenced the story itself. The genre your story is written in will be our second consideration. However, please don’t feel restricted to write about the UK summer of ’76 and nothing else. We will also consider stories inspired by the American punk scene, and are open to music influenced by the punk subgenre, including post-punk, hardcore, Oi!, anarcho-punk, and pop-punk. And we are interested in how the catalyst of punk might have influenced your characters up to the present day: how their lives have been shaped – both positively and negatively – by the music.

Finally, please be aware that song lyrics are subject to complex copyright law. If you do use song lyrics within your story then we expect you to have cleared copyright use with the original source. We will not be held responsible for any copyright infringement by an author.

1) Stories must be at least 1000 words, with a maximum of 5000 words (query for longer).
2) Stories must be submitted as a .doc file to
3) Stories must be laid out in standard manuscript format – please follow the guide at
4) Violence, swearing and sexual content are acceptable, PROVIDED THEY FIT THE CONTEXT OF THE STORY. Anything gratuitous, or featured simply for shock value, will be deemed unsuitable for publication.
5) If your story also has strong SF/F/H genre elements, please be aware these will have to be used in an original way to be deemed worthy of publication. Satanic elements in rock music are best avoided.
8) Submissions will open from 1st July 2013 and will close on 31st December 2013. Stories sent after this time will not receive a reply.
9) Please note that a reply may take 4-6 weeks. If you have not heard within this time, please query.
10) Reprints will be considered – please query with the editor at Multiple submissions will not be considered – please send in your best work!
11) Accepted authors will receive two complimentary copies of the anthology. Unfortunately we are unable to pay for stories accepted.
12) Please send any additional queries to Andrew Hook at

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


As has become customary I'm making blog posts each time a story of mine gets published in order to give a little background as to how the piece came about. This time it's the turn of "Bullet", now available to read in issue #34 of the excellent Black Static magazine. Please note, this post will contain spoilers so if you have the magazine it'll be best to read this afterwards.

Very occasionally, story ideas come out of dreams. The ending to my story, "Beyond Each Blue Horizon", came at the denouement of a dream where I opened the curtains and found an entire city had been erased. Over the years, I've nicked bits and pieces of dreams for other stories, although I think it's important to ground them in reality and not simply - to paraphrase surrealist film director Luis Bunuel - to pad out the fiction. In this case, the thrust behind "Bullet" came specifically from a dream. I remember I was travelling in Thailand searching for someone I had lost. I believed I held a guidebook in my hand, but when I glanced down to see what I was holding I saw it was a copy of the novel "Bullet" by Franz Kafka.

Now, obviously, Kafka never wrote a book called "Bullet", but it crossed my mind what it might have been like if he had. That sense of altering reality that I got from the dream intrigued me, as did the search for someone. I put the idea to one side and waited for something else to happen (generally I get two ideas which mesh as one story) as it usually does.

Some time afterwards I read a news story about an island which has appeared on nautical maps for decades but which in fact doesn't exist. As part of the article it mentioned that some cartographers deliberately add false streets to maps in order to protect copyright (what a fantastic idea, that information can be falsfied by those I would have thought are sticklers for precision!). Of course, putting together the dream, the false map, Kafka's missing novel - which acts as an indication that what we are reading might not actually be true - and the missing person suddenly drew the story tight like a drawstring. I had everything I needed: location, purpose, misdirection, and my favourite device, the unreliable narrator. Just how much we shape reality from our experience is something that has always interested me, how we seize on the familiar to try and understand the unfathomable. I guess this is the heart of the story, although it is open to several readings.

The artwork accompanying the story perfectly encapsulates the piece, in my opinion. Courtesy of Richard Wagner.

Finally, the entirety of "Bullet" was written whilst listening to the album titled "Blonde" by the wonderful Coeur de Pirate on repeat. If you've read the story and enjoyed or hated it, please feel free to comment.