Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Blog Tour: Week One!

The Hell's Ditch Blog Tour is well and truly underway! The first two posts are now live.

Over at This Is Horror, there's Between the Cold War and the Third:

All life on earth seemed caught in the crossfire between two increasingly brutal and ruthless regimes, run by cruel, sickly old men. Is it any wonder so many writers depicted a world on the point of falling apart, where monsters lurked in every shadow?

And at Ray Cluley's blog, Probably Monsters, there's an interview:

Reminders of what’s been lost – the people, the whole way of life – are everywhere, all around you. You literally cannot get away from it, there are a hundred things, every day, to trigger a flashback of some kind.  

I'll keep this updated as the week goes on.

The full itinerary is here.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Lowdown with... Mark Allan Gunnells

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He has been lucky enough to work with some wonderful publishers. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his fiance Craig A. Metcalf.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I have a phobia of large bodies of water and cannot swim. I am engaged to be married. I'm a total Scully about the supernatural, though with an open mind to the possibilities.

2. What was the first thing you had published?

The first thing of mine I ever saw in print was probably a poem called "Football Nights" that I wrote in Junior High. It was published in the local Paper, the Gaffney Ledger. Didn't see any money from it, but it was a thrill seeing myself in print.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
That's like asking a parent which child is their favorite. I'll say my sentimental favorite is a story called "Jam." It was one of the first things I wrote after a dark time where I had stopped writing and it helped me gain my confidence back. It just flowed and turned out exactly how I wanted it, and ended up being the first piece of fiction I ever sold for money.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
In my early days of selling stories, I had a story called "The Lost Gentlemen" appear in an anthology, and while I don't think it's a terrible story, it isn't a great story and several reviews singled it out as the worst in the antho. Ouch!

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
I'm very lucky in that I get to write at work. I'm a security guard, and throughout the day I have little pockets of downtime. I never know when or how long they'll last, but I've trained myself to write in those spaces. It's one of the greatest perks of my day job. I don't pressure myself with word count or page numbers, I just aim to do some writing every day and not beat myself up if it's not as much as the day before.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
Hmm, as a reader I like to start out with a new writer by trying a short story collection if they have one. It's a great sampler to give you a good idea of what the writer has to offer. I have several of those out. I'd recommend Tales from the Midnight Shift, Ghosts in the Attic, or Welcome to the Graveyard. [You can check out Mark's Amazon author page here, and browse his wares at greater length.]

7. What are you working on now?
I'm collaborating on a novella (now in the short novel category maybe) called "Where the Dead Go to Die" with the great Aaron Dries, while also continuing to write short stories. When the collaboration is done, I'll return to a solo novel I started called 432 Abercorn.

Friday, 20 November 2015

An Announcement

As some of you may recall, I had cause to visit London earlier this month. I couldn't say why at the time, but promised an exciting professional announcement in due course. So here it is.

Back in the summer, I wrote a crime novel. I subsequently sent it off to several agents. Three asked to see the full MS; two offered representation. Hence the trip to London, to meet them both face to face - and then to make a decision.

It was a very difficult choice, as both were brilliant agencies and it would have been a huge honour to get an offer from either. Even so, I managed in the end. I signed the contracts last week and returned them; I was going to say something last Friday but as everyone knows, other events - horrible events - took place, and to do so would have been grossly insensitive.

So, anyway, here's the news: I'm now represented by Tom Witcomb at the Blake Friedmann Agency.

I've been working to get an agent for the last couple of years; it's a funny feeling to have actually achieved that goal. Now I've done so, of course, I've got to remember that it's just one step on the journey, one rung on the ladder - there are many, many more hills to climb, and I may well have to find a proper job again in the interim. But it's an important step, an important rung, and I'm happy to have got this far.

Have a safe and happy weekend, and take care, folks.

Ginger Nuts Of Horror Best of the Year #1: Shout-outs for both me and Cate!

PictureJim McLeod's site Ginger Nuts Of Horror is an awe-inspiring labour of love, a review blog that's expanded and gone from strength to strength to become one of the premier sites for anyone who wants to know what's new and hot in the field. Jim's also a big-hearted bloke (despite his irrational hatred of Irn Bru) who's rightly much-loved by folks on the UK horror scene. So much so that when he suffered a heart attack last year, Phil Sloman got in touch with a bunch of writers to ask them to write a story featuring Jim in which he died or worse. Only one physical copy of the resulting anthology, Jim McLeod must die, exists: it was presented to him at Fantasycon last month, and he cried like a big softie, bless him.

Today Jim published the first part of Ginger Nuts Of Horror's Best Of The Year picks, and among them is my beloved Cate's The Bureau Of Them, from Spectral Press:

' I like stories with emotional depth, I prefer my horror to come from the emotions of the  protagonists rather than from some poorly written scene of carnage and death.  The Bureau of Them, Cate Gardner's beautiful tale of loss, separation and isolation is a perfect example of this, a deeply emotional story of a woman coming to terms with the death of her partner, and her frantic quest to be reunited with him, this is a powerful story that draws its horror from the her sense of loss and loss of control.'

As with all Cate's stuff, a description of the plot doesn't even begin to do justice to the strangeness of the tale. You really ought to read it.

Also on the list is this:

'Special quick mention as I haven't finished the review yet must go to Simon Bestwick's Hell's Ditch, a brutal action packed dystopian novel that mixes military action eugenics horror and the mysticism of Celtic cults into a thrilling page turner with hidden depths.'

Not a bad end to the week, all told.

Cheers, Jim. Next time we meet the Irn Bru's on me.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Hell's Ditch Blog Tour

Tentatively resuming normal service on the blog... well, as you may remember, my new book Hell's Ditch is released on December 1st in hardback and ebook. To help promote it, I've arranged a blog tour with the following lovely people. It starts on Monday and it goes like this:

Week One!

Monday 23rd November: Between The Cold War and The Third, over at This Is Horror.

Tuesday 24th November: Interview by Ray Cluley at Probably Monsters.

Wednesday 25th November: Excerpt from Hell's Ditch at Infinity Plus
Thursday 26th November: The Long Black Road Out Of Hell, at James Bennett's blog.
Friday 27th November: Soldier, Gaunt Soldier: Peter Watkins' The War Game, with Gary McMahon.

Week Two!
Monday 30th November: Can One Man Survive? at Strange Tales.

Tuesday 1st December (RELEASE DAY): A Fallen World, at Walking In The Dark. (Also the online launch party - see below!)
Wednesday 2nd December: Masada In Yorkshire, at Rosanne Rabinowitz's Writings and Rantings.
Thursday 3rd December: The Casting Couch: Some Thoughts On Characterisation, at Andy Angel's page.
Friday 4th December: Broken Threads, at From Hell To Eternity.

Week Three!
Monday 7th December: When Mutants Go Bad, at Mark Gunnells' blog.
Tuesday 8th December: War Without End, at Dark Musings. (TBC)
Wednesday 9th December: The Rats and the Ruins: Domain by James Herbert, at Graeme Reynolds' blog.
Thursday 10th December: Words That Count: Some Thoughts On Writing Dialogue, at Jay Faulkner's blog.
Friday 11th December: Zen and the Art of Rebellion: Kerr Avon and Blakes' 7, at Jenny Barber's blog.

I'll update this post with links as they go up. Next week should hopefully see some advance reviews; I'll link to them as well.

There may be some sort of belated event in meatspace in the New Year, or to boost the paperback coming out in March, but until then, there's an online launch party on Facebook on the release date. This will include discounts on the hardback and ebook, an ebook giveaway, and a reading from Hell's Ditch (via the wonders of YouTube) for anyone who fancies it. (If you're on my Facebook friends list and haven't been invited, sorry! I started inviting everyone I knew and then found out too late there's a limit to how many invites I can send. So if you want to take part, click the link and invite yourself!)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris, Beirut, Baghdad

No Lowdown this Monday. Maybe on Friday; it depends.
There are things to announce, new developments in my writing career; they can wait for now.

There aren't any words. What the hell do you say about this, except that it's awful?

And there aren't any answers. Not from me, anyway. I don't know what to do. Military action? Half the folk calling for it are the same idiots who bayed for blood in Iraq and still haven't admitted their catastrophic error. I marched against the Iraq War, for all the good it did. But this isn't 2003. And yes, ISIS, ISIL, Da'esh - whatever these Stone Age fuckwits call themselves, or we call them - are at least in part a monster of the West's making. But they're still monsters. Left alone, they'll kill people horribly, worsen the ongoing refugee crisis and - if they are indeed as they claim behind what happened in Paris on Friday - it isn't exactly a stretch to say they'll likely organise further attacks. If we bomb the hell out of them, will we end the problem or just make the problem worse?

I don't know. I have no idea. I doubt most of the politicians do.

I've heard hate and bigotry screamed at all Muslims. I've heard cries for vengeance. I've heard calls for peace and restraint, too, reminders that we can't tar all followers of a religion with the same brush. When I shared one, a Jewish acquaintance accused me of  'making excuses for them', spewed a load of hatred for Muslims in general and deleted me on Facebook. Well, frankly, good fucking riddance.

My partner works for a French company, in a major British city. She's nervous about going to work today. I'm nervous for her going to work today.

I don't know what to do or to say or to think or to hope for. I wish I could say something wise and kind and healing, but this is all I've got. Fuck people who slaughter the innocent. Fuck them. Whether they do it with suicide vests or machine guns or missiles or cluster bombs or drone strikes or whatever. Fuck them.

What matters is kindness; what matters is love. In Kurt Vonnegut's words: 'There's only one rule I know of, babies: God damn it, you've got to be kind.'

Beyond that, I got nothing.

Look after yourselves; look after each other.

Now I'm going to try to do some work, for whatever it may be worth.

Simon x

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Lowdown with... Simon Kurt Unsworth

Simon Kurt Unsworth was born in Manchester in 1972 and has not yet given searching for evidence that the world was awash with mysterious signs and portents that day. He lives in Cumbria where it has rained almost every day since his arrival, and somewhere in the midst of the mud and the damp and the sheep he writes whatever comes into his head. He’s married to his best friend, the writer Rosie Seymour, and there always seems to be children or dogs getting under his feet. He has three collections of stories available, Strange Gateways (PS Publishing, 2014), Lost Places (Ash Tree Press, 2010) and Quiet Houses (Dark Continents Publishing, 2011). His novel The Devil’s Detective came out in the US and UK in March 2015, from Doubleday and Del Ray UK respectively and its sequel, The Devil’s Evidence, is out from the same publishers in summer of 2016.

Tell us three things about yourself.

Where to start…okay, here goes. I live in a rambling house in the Lake District with my wife, the writer Rosie Seymour, and my stepdaughters, and my son Ben is with us for at least one night every week, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or with anyone else. Obviously, living in the Lake District means that I like wearing cowboy boots and string ties when I’m making an effort to look something other than baffled and messy (it’s part of a general western fixation I have, although I will point out I’m happy to wear a cowboy boots/string tie combo with a tweed jacket and waistcoat for that supreme sartorial high). I’m constantly hunting for the next really cool bolo to add to my collection; my current favourite is one depicting a kraken attacking a sailboat done in the style of an old cameo that I bought to wear at my wedding last year (I bought my son one as well – never let it be said that I’m above corrupting the young or brainwashing the innocent), although a close second is my Blessed Virgin Mary tie which comes complete with matching belt buckle. I’m after a good Cthulhu, shark or ghost bolo, so if anyone knows a weird western neckwear stockiest… Lastly, I don’t like fruit, except following a fermentation process. 

What was the first thing you had published? 

I tend to split this into two separate pieces: I had a piece called ‘Scucca’ published in a BBC online anthology called A Passion for the Art of Taxidermy, edited by Muriel Grey. My first ‘in an actual book’ publication was the story ‘The Church on the Island’, published in the Ash Tree Press anthology At Ease with the Dead. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? All of it! It’s impossible to pick, because even the stuff that I read now and cringe at and want to change or update means something special to me. I suppose, if you pushed me to choose, I’d pick my collection Quiet Houses (a portmanteau of ghost stories featuring a character called Richard Nakata, of whom more later), my novel The Devil’s Detective or, if you’re making me pick a single story, ‘The Pennine Tower Restaurant’.

....and which makes you cringe?

And again, all of it! As soon as it’s written I want to change it and smooth it and massage it into a better shape, and when I read anything back that I’ve written I see mostly its faults and imperfections and lumpen gracelessness. It’s an act of will to finally stop playing with what I write and actually send it to where it needs to go, and to then not constantly revisit it and edit it. I very rarely even look at my old stuff because if I do I know I’ll start wanting to perform surgery on it, and down that road lies madness… 

What’s a normal writing day like? 

Ha! God forbid I’d have a normal writing day! Mostly, the writing tends to be squeezed in amongst childcare and trying to do my other jobs (I run a couple of charity shops part time, I work for Kendal Town Council part time, my wife and I have a small domiciliary care business and I have another business training social care staff in legislation and good practice). When I get a choice and day free to write, I go to a cafĂ© in town, climb into my iPod, and drink coffee whilst poking my Mac’s keyboard and muttering under my breath. I do sometimes write in the morning before I take the kids to school, or whilst lying in bed at night as Rosie works on her college assignments, but mostly writing’s a function of practicality and it has to fit where I tell it to and where life gives me spaces. 

Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 

Almost certainly Quiet Houses. My novel The Devil’s Detective, although it’s more recent, isn't very representative of the work that I’m known for – it’s very violent, very bleak and set in Hell and it may well be a bit of a shock to the uninitiated, whereas my short stories are set in the real world and are more classical in their tone (although aren't, generally, any less bleak). Quiet Houses is set entirely in real places in the north west of England and, whilst each story can be read individually, reading them in the order they appear in the book creates an over-arching story within which the shorter tales fit. I’m very proud of Quiet Houses, and I think it’s a good starting point for a new reader as it contains most of my recurring themes and ideas and obsessions, and it’s fairly accessible.

What are you working on now?

The sequel to The Devil’s Detective, The Devil’s Evidence, has recently been accepted by the publishers, so I’m doing a lot of the minutiae on that (line edits, etc) as and when it’s needed. Past that, I’ve started a new novel which features the linking character from Quiet Houses, Richard Nakata, a parapsychologist. I like Nakata, who’s a sort of quiet, reluctant hero of the kind I like most. He has a history and a personality that keep expanding, almost without my intervention, and I get the feeling that I could have a beer with him and enjoy his company, which makes him easy to write. As for the novel itself, I won’t say too much about it (I’m wary of jinxing it!) other than it’s a ghost story of sorts, a possession story of sorts and a love story of sorts, and I’m enjoying writing it a lot.