Author and Scriptwriter

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

Monday, 20 March 2017

Things of the Week 20th March 2017: Popping Up For Air

[singing] "We all bang together..."
Hello, everybody.

Well, it's been a while since I've blogged (other than the Lowdown), so I thought I'd just stick my head above water long enough for a quick status report (for those of you who give a monkey's! Get over yourself, Bestwick...)

The new job is... well... not too bad, actually. The people I work with are okay, the job itself is fairly undemanding, and it pays enough that I can contribute to cost of living here at Castle Bestwick while keeping some pocket money. (Not that I have any objection to being a kept man, but Cate probably would.)

The only downside are the hours - lengthy shifts that can include weekend working. I have today off after having had shifts on Saturday and Sunday, and this is the first day off where I've remembered/been sufficiently compos mentis (as opposed to compost mentis) enough to say anything much.

Things are happening, anyway. I've managed to settle into a new working schedule which means I can usually get work done on whatever the main project is (currently the second draft of Wolf's Hill), and if the shift starts later, can work on other stuff too. This involves getting up at 4 am, something I'd have filed in the 'You Must Be Joking' category till not so long ago.

Another fringe benefit of the job is that employees are allowed to have loose paper and pen at their desk between calls. I've never, in the past, been able to write two projects concurrently. Never. Write one while editing another, yes. But working on a novel, say, and then working on a short story alongside it? Like the whole 4 o'clock thing, I would have told you, a few months ago, that it was impossible; to write a new story, I'd have to take a break from the novel-writing. And yet now? What started out as writing notes for a story turned into writing the thing itself. I'm only rewriting Wolf's Hill now, but wrote the first drafts of two new stories while completing the first draft of the novel.

So the weirdest thing about going back into employment after being a full-time writer is... I'm actually more productive.

Trouble is, according to Cate, this means I should work full time for the rest of my life so she can quit her job and I can support us both single-handed. I remain deeply unconvinced by this argument, and any assistance in refuting it would be gratefully received.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that my blogging has ended up taking a backseat, even the Lowdown became a bit fitful. So I'm now back to running two a week: once the current crop of interviews (plus a few last ones I'm soliciting) are exhausted, I may have to put it on hiatus for a spell. Hopefully not too long.

Elsewhere - life is good, married life is great, Wolf's Hill might actually not be utter pants and a couple of cool things are bubbling under, which I'll hopefully be in a position to say more about before too much longer.

In other news, I pottered home through the park near our house on the way back from an early shift the other day, to find a full-scale frog orgy in progress. Spring, I guess, has sprung. Weirdest thing is, the little beggars sounded like a motorbike starting several streets away. Luckily, Rupert the Bear was nowhere in sight. ;) (Thanks to Tracy, aka The Seamstress, for providing photographic evidence...)

So anyway, have a good week. I'm off work today, as I said, but I'm usually not, so it only seems fair to end the post with this song...



Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Lowdown with... Joolz Denby

Joolz Denby in her own words: "Professional writer, artist and tattooist. I write poetry and novels, paint, illustrate and design to commission, and am a fully trained tattooist with my own deluxe custom art tattoo studio, Studio Bijoux in Bradford UK."


1. Tell us three things about yourself.  
Three? Only three? Shit. Er. I can't sleep because a giant cat keeps jumping in my chest at night: that's actually true. Um. My day job is tattooing at my own studio. Argh....I can swear in at least 6 languages at least one of which is dead.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
Oh that was in the school magazine - I was at Belmont-Birklands Independent High School For Young Ladies - it was a four page epic poem about the fall of Atlantis and contained the word 'harlot' twice. I thought it meant the type of girl who smokes in the street. There were a number of complaints from parents. However via my English teacher, who was a friend of his, Ted Hughes critiqued my poetry. I was eleven. No pressure.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?  

Billie Morgan. It also has the benefit of getting up the most peoples' noses for being 'harsh'. They miss the funny bits because they're too busy being outraged. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize but rumour had it the organisers were so horrified at me - tattooed, Northern, loose cannon in their eyes - they privately insisted I didn't win lest I bring the Prize into disrepute... and I didn't despite being the Bookie's Favourite. Cheap bastards didn't even give us authors a new phone. Shockin'.

4. …and which makes you cringe?  
A poem I wrote aged 15 - I was taking a lot of Valium but it's no excuse - comparing my heartbreak at being ignored by a boy I fancied in the Montmatre Café to my new Biba nail varnish: 'The reflection of my tears in my blue nail polish'. Indeed. No excuse for that.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?  
Get out of bed at 10.30 am. Put on huge black fleece dressing gown. Feed Giant Cat and his adopted uncle. Make toast & tea. Take it back to bed with laptop. Type furiously for two hours. Bathroom. Coffee. Edit. Type furiously for another two hours. Coffee. Get dressed. Eat. Draw. Watch telly. Drink tea. 1.00am - go back to bed. Pretend to 'just check' writing. Type furiously for an hour. Fall asleep.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?  
Billie Morgan. Or they could listen to one of my albums - Crow is the latest. Henning Nugel did the music. It's all very Game Of Thrones. Crows, glitter, death and God.

7. What are you working on now?  
Midnight At the Rat And Roses. A modern version of the Orpheus myth involving the Russian mafia, a dead artist and karma. It will never be published.

If you enjoyed this Lowdown, you might want to check out a longer interview I did with Joolz for This Is Horror in 2013. One of my prouder moments! Part One is here; here's Part Two.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Lowdown with... Stephen Hargadon


Born in London, Stephen Hargadon now lives and works in the north of England.
His short stories have been published in a number of places, including Black Static, Structo and Popshot magazines, the Irish Post, and on the LossLit website. His non-fiction has appeared on Litro.co.uk (including a well-received article on the joys of secondhand bookshops).

He has recently finished a novel.












1. Tell us three things about yourself.

i) These are the objects on my desk: a watch with a black face and orange hands; a brown leather wallet; a white notebook containing a short story set in Stockport and the beginnings, perhaps, of a novel; a tape dispenser in the shape of an audio cassette (must buy some tape); a lamp; a small black notebook (unused); an ovoid paperweight with purple spiral motif, bought from an antique shop in King’s Lynn, a pleasingly chaotic warren of a place, overseen by two old ladies, where I also found an attractive edition of Angus Wilson’s The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot (as yet unread); a passport; scissors; coffee stains; two memory sticks; a wooden cigarette box incised with geometric patterns; a paperclip; a twenty pence piece; a white pen.

ii) I like watching films. Who doesn’t? I’m not quite as hardcore a cineaste as Marshall Tito who, I believe, watched a film every night. I used to like finding films by accident on TV. I saw The London Nobody Knows as a child. It quite gripped me – James Mason was an attractively menacing presence – and I wanted the film to go on forever: the filth and decay, the street drinkers swigging purple meths, the men ruined during the Depression, the grotty yards where the Ripper performed his foul operations, all this lingered in my memory (although for some reason I mistakenly rechristened the film The Secret Places of London). Later in life, the glib omnipotence of the internet led me from the film itself to the books and drawings of Geoffrey Snowcroft Fletcher. (His atmospherically illustrated works, including Pearly Kingdom, London After Dark and his masterpiece, Down Among the Meths Men, are well worth reading.)

One of the increasingly rare pleasures of watching TV is to stumble on an old film, a film you’d never seen before, an oddity, a treasure. I remember seeing an American film, The Baby, late one night on the BBC – perhaps the last thing before the screen was plunged into darkness. Such a bizarre, creepy film – with a sickening twist. It stayed with me. I’d look at the listings for years, hoping that The Baby would reappear, if only to convince myself that it hadn’t been a ghastly, half-drunken hallucination. Of course, it wasn’t. And I now own the film on DVD. You can look up everything on the internet. Instant information. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush – a kooky 1960s coming-of-age drama set in Stevenage – was another film that thrilled me when I first saw it by accident on late night TV. The second time I watched it, a few years later, I couldn’t see what had occasioned my excitement. It was just another vaguely zany 1960s romp, albeit one with an alluringly mundane setting. I now have the DVD, of course. I can watch it whenever I want, which is hardly ever. There’s a good scene in it where Denholm Elliot’s character is describing wine at a dinner party. He’s plastered. He sloshes the liquid around his gob, then says: ‘It greets the palate like an old friend …’

iii) At the moment I’m reading August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien. It the first time I’ve read O’Brien. I think I’m in for a treat. The opening chapter is a perfect thing – it could stand alone as a short story, ambiguous, funny, sharp. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

‘World of Trevor’ in Black Static 40.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
 I can’t say that I’m particularly proud of any one piece over another. Yes, I have a residual affection, perhaps, for certain stories. But I don’t feel pride. I very rarely re-read my stuff once it’s found a home: I tend to see faults and blemishes, wrong turnings, botched gambits, although occasionally I’m surprised by a phrase or image, as if it’s been put there by someone else. I have a soft spot for old Trev because it was the first thing of mine to appear in print: a thrill, for sure. I wrote successive drafts in longhand. Then I typed it up, revising, refining. ‘Through the Flowers’ (published in Popshot Magazine, issue 14, with a brilliant illustration by Kate O’Hara) is another story for which I have a certain fondness – at least that’s how I think of it in the cosy saloon bar of my memory. Should I be forced to read it again right now I might well shake my head in dismay, or at least flinch every second sentence. And there’s ‘Just Browsing’, an essay on second-hand bookshops, which was my first venture into non-fiction, a mode I’ll certainly explore in future.

For me, the finished thing, the completed text, is not as interesting as the act, the process of writing, the way in which words spark more words. Once it’s done, it’s time to move on. I can only hope that the reader enjoys what I’ve produced, that he or she experiences the same strange, complex thrill that I’ve feel when reading a good book, a kind of yesness. I suppose my deepest loyalty is always to the last thing I’ve written or to the thing I’m working on at any given time. The important thing is to finish the wretched thing before it becomes a bore to write (and probably to read).

4. … and which makes you cringe? 
All of it and none of it.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 
I spend many days in an office, among voices and computers. It’s not too bad. I suppose I’m always writing. There’s always a section of the brain working on something. Everything is material. Every moment, every sensation: floating spores of thought, the pollen of memory. (Careful, look out for that lamp-post.) I carry around a small notebook (it bears the logo of the Monk Bridge Iron and Steel Co Ltd, Leeds, 1922) and the slimmest pen imaginable, a Japanese marvel, thinner than a matchstick. The problem with notebooks is that I have so many of them. They multiply. They hide in bags and pockets. They lurk on shelves like awkward, scruffy adolescents among proper books, books with the author’s name on the spine, books that were perhaps once notebooks themselves. My notebooks refuse to give up their secrets when I need them most. They contain odd lines, quickly caught, my handwriting stretched and loosened to the point of indecipherability, flattened by the speed of thought. There are snatches of dialogue, obscure epiphanies, many dark doodles, emphatic squiggles and underlinings, sinuous arrows pointing at words that mean nothing to me now. In some respects I’m not very organised. But it’s worth making notes: sometimes, when I skim through my notes and can’t find what I think I need, I’ll find something else that I’d forgotten about, a bright fragment, a useful quip, a callous aside. I’m not too fussy about where and how I write. I started a recent story on the morning train next to a fat businessman who was scrolling through inanities on his phone. The first line just came to me on the platform, in the milky blue of a suburban dawn. I didn’t know if the line would turn into a story. I still don’t – it’s not finished. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of catching the voice. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. A writing day is nothing special. You sit down and write. You get on with it.

I need peace and quiet if I’m editing or re-writing. It depends. Sometimes I listen to music but mostly I prefer the sound of the world around me, its creaks and sighs. There’s no routine. A mug of tea or coffee. I switch between keyboard and longhand. The change can freshen things up. I try to write something every day. I always start a new piece with pen and paper. It’s the only way. Often, it’ll be a snatch of dialogue that sets me off, less often an image. I don’t tend to plan things in minute detail. No graphs. No spreadsheets. No diagrams or intricately engineered story arcs. I need room for things to develop. That’s part of the fun. The words spark and fizz as you write. For me, there is no other way. Sometimes a story can die in my brain once I know the ending. If I don’t finish the thing while it’s still fresh and new, I could lose interest, I’ll roll off and fart. After I’ve put a fair amount of ink on paper I switch to the screen. I work on a basic laptop. I don’t use anything like Scrivener. I am a one-fingered percussionist. I bash the keys. I’ve got it down to an art, I can go at a decent speed. I don’t have a daily word target, although I keep an eye on how much I’m churning out. I might aim to get to the end of a chapter or to work out a scene. But I’ll stop when the writing becomes sluggish, when the connections don’t quite work: that’s when I’m tired. I write during the day. I don’t burn the midnight oil. Although sometimes I wake up and jot down a thought or two.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
Well, I suppose the best place to start is to find anything that’s been published, online or in print. There’s not exactly tons of stuff out there: my published works are not likely to buckle your shelves. Go to my website: you’ll find a few stories there. Most of my published stories have appeared in Black Static, so that’s a pretty good place to start. People seem to like ‘The Bury Line’ (Black Static 42) and ‘The Visitors’ (Black Static 45). I like ‘The Mouse’ in Structo 15.

7. What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a novel. Now I need to find a home for it, which is a job in itself. I’ve a couple of stories on the go – I’ve always got a story on the go – while others haven’t yet found an outlet. In fact, my notebooks contain about 20 stories in various states of disrepair. A novel is stirring. It is set in Manchester. I’ve written a few sections. It’s like tuning a radio. There is feedback and interference. The neighbours are making a racket. But mostly the new novel remains a possible world of certain images and unresolved dialogue. At this stage, it’s no more than a flavour, a smell, a feeling, a dream, a portly man with desire in his eyes, a man who sits next to you on the train. There will be dirty carpets and brick walls. There will be pale faces and whorled turds, chicken sandwiches and an impossible love affair. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Lowdown with... Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw is the business developer for Singaporean video games publisher Ysbryd Games. She also writes for Ars Technica UK whenever possible. When not doing either of those things, she practices muay thai, tries to find time to dance, and reads voraciously. She also writes a variety of fiction, and has a novella entitled RUPERT WONG, CANNIBAL CHEF out with Abaddon Books, and another, HAMMERS ON BONE, from Tor.








1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

I don’t go anywhere without a plush bunny named Judy. (Yes, named for the Zootopia character.) There’s an unhappy story tied to that, but that is not here or now.

I practice Muay Thai. Not very often and certainly not at the expertise level that I’d like. But I enjoy the martial arts and the excuse at working out incessantly.

My favourite thing to do in the United Kingdom is gallivanting about, telling people nice things about their attire, and otherwise terrorising the Brits with undue flattery. Some day, this is going to get me arrested.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
What the Highway Prefers’ which Lackington’s published. I have the acceptance letter printed somewhere.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
Oh. Oh, my god. Like I said in another interview, it always feels like I’m playing favorites when someone makes me pick. (Because it literally is, but let’s ignore that.) If I had to choose, it’d probably be ‘In The Rustle of Pages’ that came out in 2015. It was my first story to have a strong emotional impact on readers.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
We do not speak ill of the dead and buried.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 
Roll out of bed, shamble towards the nearest available source of coffee, eat breakfast, drink coffee, prod at Twitter. At some point after morning ablutions, open up a document and haphazardly smack at the keyboard until words fall out. Writing might be a more elegant affair for everyone else, but for me, it isn’t. Then again, I’ve never feigned being an elegant human being. So there’s that.


6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
I want to say Rupert Wong just because he was the first thing I really wrote, the first thing to give me confidence I could do something with my fiction. But Rupert is also a Character, if you know what I mean, and of all my works, his stories are possibly the goriest of them all. Still. Demon babies seeking to unionise.

7. What are you working on now? 
Right at this very second? I’m switching between this and typing out a manuscript for a tie-in novella. The boys at Signal from Tolva gave me licenses to go crazy with their world, and I’m not ashamed to say I have. Expect queer women cyborgs of every variety, 3D-printed scientists, parasite complexes, and plenty of body horror.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Lowdown with... Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Paul StJohn Mackintosh is a British poet, weird/dark fiction writer, and journalist/media pro. Born in 1961, he was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, has lived and worked in Asia and Central Europe, and currently is based in Hungary. He has published two collections of poetry, as well as several co-translations from Japanese, done with his ex-wife Maki Sugiyama. His first collection of dark/weird/transgressive fiction, Black Propaganda, appeared from H. Harksen Productions in May 2016. Paul is Associate Editor of the US books, publishing and literary site Teleread.com, and has been rated #1 of "The 12 Publishing Shakers You Should Be Following" by The Independent Publishing Magazine. He has produced award-winning short films with his ex-wife, the Hungarian filmmaker Lilla Bán.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 


I'm an active member of the BDSM community, an advocate for sexual rights, a sometime member of Torture Garden, and an occasional contributor to Skin Two. All of that feeds into my writing. I find dark fantastic erotic fiction to be one of the best ways of probing the existential dilemmas of human agency and identity that fascinate me most.

I'm an inveterate clubber and dance music fan - especially house music, techno and d&b. I go clubbing on average at least two nights a week.

I'm a Scottish nationalist. I grew up in Edinburgh and Dundee, and cleave closest to the Scottish side of my heritage. Out of respect for the feisty underdog; out of disgust at the gimcrack, failing "British constitution" and querulous, murderous modern English nationalism; out of love for a wholly distinct culture and tradition in Britain; out of love for the Scottish landscape; and simply out of hope for change for the better. I'm also official clan poet of Clan Mackintosh. That said, I love living in other countries and cultures, and can't recommend the experience enough.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
The first thing I had published that I really took pride in was a poem, "An Expressionist Passion," inspired by Die Weiße Rose, the German pacifist anti-Nazi student resistance group. That basically kicked me off as a serious writer.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
The semi-autobiographical story "The Princess and the Dragon," based on my experiences in Singapore, in my new collection, Black Propaganda. It's the oldest story in the book, and the one I thought most about revising, and revised least. Even though it has plenty of faults, it also has all the raw passion I could ever wish for.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
There's a 200-page first novel I wrote in my early twenties stashed in a ring binder back at my parents' place. I'm terrified that some day someone is going to disinter it and actually read it.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

I tend to write in spurts rather than to a regular disciplined timetable, but when I do get a rush on, I closet myself and buckle down for several hours. Otherwise, I try to get up to an hour in the early morning, to put things down while my mind is freshest. I also tend to do a lot of writing in cafes - using handwriting recognition on a tablet. I find it helps keep things spontaneous, enables me to incorporate research straight off the internet into what I'm writing, and tempers the aching solitude of the writing life.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
I'd be tempted to say "The Princess and the Dragon," except that in some ways it's not representative. Maybe they should start with "Coma Berenice," also in Black Propaganda - a weird tale of bizarre paraphilia, obsessive love, and emotional vampirism.

7. What are you working on now? 
I've got any number of short stories on the chocks at any one time, as well as full-length works either under way or awaiting revision. I'm working on an apocalyptic cli-fi novel about environmental stress driving humanity into an epigenetic phase shift, as well as some occult historical tales and war stories.