Author and Scriptwriter

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

Sunday 28 February 2016

(Belated) Things Of The Week: 29th February 2016

Things of the Week, as I said a little while back, has started to become almost a regular feature here. Of course, that only works when you actually have stuff to talk about. I've had an incredible start to 2016, in that for the past few weeks there's been a succession of things to report. Naturally, though, that can't happen all the time.

This past week's been fairly quiet, with one exception: the days have been steadily counting down to the paperback release of Hell's Ditch.

My author copies should be here soon (tries not to slaver) and the paperback is officially released tomorrow. Can't wait!

There'll be an online launch party tomorrow (public event, for any who wish to show up) and, of course, the physical launch at Waterstones on March 11th with Ramsey Campbell and Conrad Williams.

In other news, I've finally completed the outline (all nearly 30,000 words of it) for The Devil's Highway and set to work on the novel proper. It's been a little scary, I have to admit. I thought writing the second part of the series would be easier, now that the characters and world of the book are well-established, but now the fears kick in: this won't work as well as the first book, that I won't be able to do as good a job, that it'll be slipshod, sloppy, lazy...

The same as usual, basically.

So the important part is to get the words down. Record it, type it up: once it's there on the page, it's just a matter of fixing it.

I hope so, anyway. There might be a few loose ends and rough edges in the outline, funnily enough, because I was still tinkering and fiddling right up to the last moment until I realised it had become a way of avoiding the real, scary task of writing the book. Or of preparing everything so thoroughly, so well, that there's no chance at all of anything going wrong - which is a guarantee, in writing, that no-one ever gets.

So now the work begins. I'm hoping to have the first draft finished by the end of March. We'll see how I do.

Finally, remember today's the last day for voting in the British Fantasy Awards. Good luck to all concerned, and once again - if you're eligible, please cast a vote. Let's make this is fair and open a contest as it can be.

Have a good week, all of you.

The Lowdown with... Maura McHugh

Maura McHugh lives in Ireland, and her short fiction and essays have appeared in publications in America and Europe, as well as two collections - Twisted Fairy Tales and Twisted Myths - published in the USA. She's written several comic book series, including co-writing Witchfinder for Dark Horse Comics. She's also a screenwriter, playwright, a critic, and has served on the juries of international literary, comic book, and film awards. Her web site is here and she tweets here.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

1. I was born in the USA by parents who were Irish immigrants, who subsequently returned to Ireland with us in tow.
2. I've been a fan of horror film and fiction since I was a kid.
3. I love learning, especially about history and mythology, which is why I can easily get lost in the research stage of a project if I don't rein myself in.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

Probably a short story called 'Mirror, Mirror', which was published in a literary magazine in Trinity College, Dublin back when I was doing post-graduate work there. I went through a long stretch in which I didn't write fiction, so I often forget some of my early pieces. The story that got me moving again was a flash story published in Flash Me Magazine, called ‘Who Hears Our Cries in Forgotten Tongues?'

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 

That's a tough question. I like different stories for different reasons. Sometimes because they were effortless but strange, or because they were difficult to write but taught me a great deal in the process. I'm very fond of 'Bone Mother', a story I wrote while attending the Clarion West Writing Workshop in Seattle, USA. It taught me to trust my instincts and allow the story to be what it wants to be. This is a lesson I continually re-learn, by the way - most recently this past summer with a story that nearly broke me. 'Bone Mother' has been very good to me: it sold as fiction, then as a podcast, and is now being made into a stop-motion animated short film. This is a story that a couple of people advised me to re-write completely differently, but I stuck to my gut instinct (with helpful support from an editor) and kept it the way it wanted to be. It proved to be the correct course. Learning to discern what advice to take and what advice to ignore is vital to one's creative growth.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 

 A few of my earliest pieces of course. Several of which nobody has seen. But I try to be forgiving of Maura the starting writer. I wouldn't be writing today without her perseverance with overwrought stories and many rejections. She kept writing and refining. I'm hugely indebted to her, so it doesn't feel right any more to mock that early work. Yet, I do find it difficult to re-read any of my fiction. Once I get a bit of distance I can be pleasantly surprised by them.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

I'm not a routine junkie. My days are variable, so I could have a seven-hour writing day, followed by a series of one-hour slots. I've experimented a lot with this, and I've realised I can only do what works for me, and that's usually to do with being flexible. Then when I need to write I can write. If I have free time and notice I've started procrastinating that usually means there's something wrong. Then I try to step back and reassess what's causing me to hesitate. That might be solved by sitting down with a pad and pen for a while and jotting notes while taking a wider perspective on the current project. And sometimes I just have to grind through the words slowly until I push through the impasse. What I have established is a set ritual for when I'm going to write: I have a basic laptop that has only writing programmes and a browser on it. I've never downloaded any games or social media apps on it, or even opened those in a browser tab. I put on my headphones, and turn on music (usually film scores). Then it's just me in my imagined landscape with the characters, and the words come to express that. For me it's a method to create an interior tunnel vision that's conducive to writing.

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

There's a short flash piece called 'Water' I like that's free on my web site. It was published in Black Static. If you like fairy tales my collection Twisted Fairy Tales should be enjoyable. Barron's Education Series did a wonderful job with the book: it's a handsome hardback volume, and the artist Jane Laurie did terrific illustrations for it. The comic book mini-series Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries, which I wrote for Atomic Diner Comics in Ireland is a fun adventure story in 1920s France/England/Ireland, with fabulous art by Stephen Downey.

7. What are you working on now? 

I've a number of commissioned short stories percolating, along with pitches for projects, as well as development on a couple of comic book projects. I'll be writing a chapbook about a film for a small press in 2016. And of course I'm writing a novel. 

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Some Recs for the British Fantasy Awards

Voting for the British Fantasy Awards closes at the end of the month.

There's a suggestions list available here of titles that have been put forward. It's not a shortlist or longlist: that only happens once it's voted on.

You're eligible to vote if you're
a) a BFS member
b) attended Fantasycon 2015
c) are attending Fantasycon 2016.

After that, it's over to the juries; if they decide there's been an egregious omission they'll add it to the list, then deliberate.

If you're eligible, please vote if you can. NOT for me. Well, not unless you genuinely think something of mine counts as 'best of the year'. Just vote. Take part. The more people do, the fairer the selection process will be, and the more meaningful the award.

I've already listed the stuff of mine that's eligible, so I won't repeat myself here. I want instead to list a few pieces that I think are worthy of your consideration. (Although with less than a week to go, there'll be precious little time to read them, I know. But anyway.)

I often hesitate to vote, purely because I always realise how much great stuff I haven't read every year. But very few of us will have read everything on the suggestions list; any recommendations therefore are a good idea, as they might actually lead to some of us widening our reading! So along with stuff I've read and rated, I've also listed titles I haven't read but think will be worth a look should you have the opportunity.

Novels (Horror)
The Silence, by Tim Lebbon. A brilliantly-imagined, ingeniously-told and superbly-characterised novel in which the 'vesps' - voracious, sightless flying killers - swarm across Europe. They hunt by sound, homing in on the smallest noise. The apocalypse trends on Twitter and is shared via Facebook and YouTube. I loved it.

The Death House, by Sarah Pinborough. In a dystopian future, a group of children with an incurable
genetic condition are housed in a boarding-school-like facility to await the inevitable end. Toby, the protagonist, falls in love with a new arrival called Clara. Best summed up by the epigraph: 'everybody dies. It's how you choose to live that counts.' First class.

Lost Girl, by Adam Nevill. Climate change, global pandemics, refugee crises... as human civilisation approaches its final collapse, the nameless Red Father pursues a single-minded quest to find his daughter, kidnapped two years before. Maybe not quite as relentlessly terrifying as No One Gets Out Alive, but it's close. And there's a lot less fantasy in here than any of us would like.

Not read, but recommended:

A Head Full Of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay. Heard great things about this.
The Night Clock, Paul Meloy. Meloy's particular brand of SF, Fantasy, horror and great prose has marked him out as one of the best British writers of the just plain weird for years now. The Night Clock is his long-overdue first novel.
Day Four, Sarah Lotz. The follow-up to The Three, which won Lotz last year's BFA for Best Newcomer. Should be well worth the read.
Point Hollow, Rio Youers. Youers' Westlake Soul was an amazing achievement. A superb writer.
Rawblood, Catriona Ward. Heard great things about this one, too.

Novels (Fantasy)

I haven't read the novels below, but I'd recommend them on the strength of the authors' previous work.
Ecko Endgame, Danie Ware. Ware's debut, Ecko Rising, fused dystopian SF/Thriller with high fantasy to great effect. I still haven't read Ecko Burning, the second book in the series, but I will. And then it'll be on to the Endgame.
Planetfall, Emma Newman. Newman's 'Split Worlds' novels are brilliant urban fantasy; Planetfall takes her into harder SF territory. I've only heard the first chapter or so of this when Emma read it out at last year's Fantasycon, but that was enough to make me want to read it.
Vermilion, Molly Tanzer. Tanzer's first book, A Pretty Mouth, was a series of linked stories centring around the aristocratic Calipash family. Shenanigans both sexual and Lovecraftian, comical and creepy, abounded. She's an inventive, talented and original voice; I've no doubt that this very weird Western will be worth tracking down.

The Second Spectral Book of Horror Stories. Notwithstanding the issues with Spectral Press, or the conversation about the representation of women in horror that it and some other anthos spawned, it's still a very strong book - and I'm not just saying that because I've got a story in it. Mark Morris has put together a host of fine stories from excellent writers, and I'm glad to report that he'll be reviving the anthology for Titan Books.
I also can't resist giving the nod to another anthology I was in, Jonathan Green's Game Over.

Not read, but recommended:
Best British Horror 2015, ed. Johnny Mains. Johnny's last Best British Horror anthology, sadly. He's done some good ones.
African Monsters, Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas (eds.) (Fox Spirit Books) Some amazing speculative fiction has been coming from African authors lately. This is an antho I need to lay hands on.
The Monstrous, ed. Ellen Datlow. It's an Ellen Datlow anthology. 'Nuff said.
The Doll Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow. As above.

Probably Monsters, Ray Cluley.
Skein and Bone, V.H. Leslie.

I read some damn good ones last year. Unfortunately, they were all published by Spectral Press, and
fell victim to the clusterfuck that arose. They'll be seeing the light again, but for the time being, if you don't already have a copy, you may not be able to find one.
Albion Fay by Mark Morris. After a family tragedy, middle-aged Frank is drawn back - first emotionally, the literally, to Albion Fay - the holiday cottage his family visited when he was in his teens. Something happened there, and things were never the same again. Intricate, sad and haunting.
Leytonstone by Stephen Volk. A companion piece to Whitstable, Volk's novella about Peter Cushing; this one centres on Alfred Hitchcock's childhood. Beautifully evoked and unsettling.
The Bureau of Them by Cate Gardner. (Yes, the one I'm marrying. It's still a brilliant novella in my view.) One of Cate's darkest and most relentless stories, balanced by her gift for finding the strange, surreal and comic in the everyday.

Not read, but recommended:

Binti, Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor's debut novel, Who Fears Death, was a masterpiece. She's a major new voice.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Djinn, Usman Tanveer Malik. I've loved Malik's work since reading his beautiful and poignant short story 'Ishq' in Black Static. This one has been very highly praised.

Fabulous Beasts, Priya Sharma. Priya's a wonderful writer, and this tale is an utter beauty.
When The Moon Man Knocks, Cate Gardner. Yes, it's the missus again. But once again, it's because I absolutely love this story of hers, published in Black Static #48. It's one of the best things she's written: beautiful, strange, and utterly heartrending in its portrayal of bereavement and loss.

And that's all! Happy voting, folks.