Author and Scriptwriter

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

Friday, 29 May 2020

The Lockdown with... Conrad Williams

Conrad Williams was born in 1969. He is the author of nine novels (HEAD INJURIES, LONDON REVENANT, THE UNBLEMISHED, ONE, DECAY INEVITABLE, LOSS OF SEPARATION, DUST AND DESIRE, SONATA OF THE DEAD and HELL IS EMPTY), four novellas (NEARLY PEOPLE, GAME, THE SCALDING ROOMS and RAIN) and three collections of short stories (USE ONCE THEN DESTROY, BORN WITH TEETH and I WILL SURROUND YOU). He has won two major prizes for his novels. ONE was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel, (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while THE UNBLEMISHED won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993. He won another British Fantasy Award, for Best Novella (THE SCALDING ROOMS) in 2008. In 2009 he was Guest of Honour at the World Horror Convention. He edited the anthologies GUTSHOT, which was shortlisted for both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards, and DEAD LETTERS. He is an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University and an external moderator for St Mary’s University. He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife, three sons and a cheeky Labrador called Coco.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. (If you’ve done this previously, ideally tell us three different things than last time!)

I’m a purple belt at karate, I hold a PhD by publication from Huddersfield University, and I once had a brief discussion with Alan Alda about lifts in a Los Angeles hotel.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?

My parents died within a month of each other at the start of the year (not COVID-19 related), so I’ve been trying to process the fallout from that. It’s causing me more creative and emotional disruption than the coronavirus, to be honest.

3. What was the first thing you had published?

Dirty Water’, a short story back in 1988. But I told you that first time around, so I’ll go with my first novel, which was ‘Head Injuries’ in 1998, written on a PC with a 10” screen while living in a B&B in Morecambe during the winter. Over those six months, studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, I won a British Fantasy Award (Best Newcomer), went out with a girl called Amanda who dumped me for a girl called Reg and received a visit from Nicholas Royle, Mark Morris and Joel Lane. I took acid at Christmas, wrote 5000 words in a couple of hours and watched ‘Carnival of Souls’. I woke up to find a Post-it note stuck to the window, a warning I’d written to myself the night before: ‘Conrad, man cannot fly’. Some of my acid experiences found their way into the novel, including tiny babies’ faces screaming behind the skin of my knuckles. It was an interesting six months.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I mentioned ‘Loss of Separation’ last time round, so I’ll go with a novella, ‘Rain’, which was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award but was beaten by ‘The Scalding Rooms’, another of my novellas. I still have a feeling the wrong book won.

5. …and which makes you cringe?

The hundreds of poems I wrote between 1985 and 1987. They included ‘Black Butterfly’, which was a paean to the vagina. Jesus Shivering Christ. When we last moved house I burned them in the garden and felt not one iota of regret about it.

6. What’s a normal writing day like?

I don’t have writing days any more. I tend to snatch moments here and there. I miss trips out to the café for an hour to write notes while listening to music.

7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?

I’d love my Joel Sorrell trilogy to get a bit more attention.

8. What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a ghost story I’ve been tinkering with (slowly) over the past ten years. It was called ‘House of Slow Rooms’ when I mentioned it to you last time. It’s now called ‘One Who Was With Me’ and will be published by Earthling as part of their Halloween series this year. I’m ten thousand words into a fourth Joel Sorrell novel called ‘Catching Up with Dead Men’. And I’m also sketching out a plan for a horror novel called ‘The Backs’, although I’ve been doing that for four years now… I don’t want another decade to go by before I finish this one.

Monday, 25 May 2020

The Lockdown with... Matthew M. Bartlett

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination, The Stay-Awake Men and Other Unstable Entities, Creeping Waves, and other books of supernatural horror. His short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Lost Signals, Vastarien, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 3, and Ashes & Entropy. He has recorded two albums for Cadabra Records, Mr. White Noise and Call Me Corey, both with backing music by Black Mountain Transmitter. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife Katie Saulnier and their cats Peachpie and Larry.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I don’t feel comfortable unless I have a pen – almost anything but a ball-point—in my right front pocket. 

I am susceptible to excessive sentimentality, though
you might not be able to tell that from most of my writing. 

I started out in college as a theater major, but I found the egos of my fellow students overwhelming.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have 
made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the
outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how? 
I have found it more difficult, especially in the first few weeks of March. Even before the pandemic, work-stress had taken a toll on my productivity. When the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent, I was almost completely taken up with worry, about my job and the virus and the economy – almost like a mantra of worst-case-scenario what-ifs--and took comfort in distractions like social media (hiding all virus-related posts) and Words With Friends. Plus, I typically write before work, but I had been switched to a schedule that included days when I worked at home. That threw off the self-imposed structures of my mornings. I still was able to complete one story and start several others, and my productivity has begun to climb again, though not to the heights of early 2019, not yet.

3. What was the first thing you had published? 
A very short piece from my debut collection. The contract was drawn up before I self-published the book, but the story came out some time after. The story was called Pharaoh.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
Maybe the stories in my collection The Stay-Awake Men and Other Unstable Entities. Those were an homage to my favorite kind of weird fiction, and were not interrelated, as were stories in my other books. But also I’m extremely proud of the short story Rangel, one of the first longish
pieces I wrote, and it ended up in the Year’s Best Weird Fiction.

5. …and which makes you cringe?
I’m not too cringey about anything I wrote except maybe some very naïve “political” stuff I wrote as a teenager—come to think of it, I got one of those published in a punk zine, so THAT was the first thing I had published. I do cringe at the fact that I completely unconsciously stole a phrase from a writer I deeply admire, and didn’t notice it until after the story it was in
was published.

6. What’s a normal writing day like? 
I sit down in front of the computer around 7 am and write until I think it’s getting sort of late and I need to shower and get ready for work, usually a half-hour to forty-five minutes of writing/editing/research. Sometimes I’ll write a few paragraphs or pages if I’m at the computer on the weekend and
something strikes me.

7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book? 

Creeping Waves is my longest book, and contains some stuff I’m really proud of. When I wrote that book I was firing on all pistons. It gives a view of my range, and I think people tend to come back to it more than once.

8. What are you working on now? 

A short story of grotesque eroticism and radio.

Buy Creeping Waves here.
Buy The Stay-Awake Men here.
Buy Gateways to Abomination here.
Buy Call Me Corey here

Friday, 22 May 2020

Things Of The Week: 22nd May 2020 (Hell Is Children, Kanaida, Winter Fruit, The Teardrop Girl)

Hi there. Hope you're all weathering the pandemic reasonably well. We're still at home, and I'm still writing stuff. What else is there to do, really?

That includes some new stories. 'Kanaida', a tale of unintended consequences, has just been published over at Unsung Stories online. You can read it here. I hope you enjoy it.

I've also published two new stories over on my Patreon. You can read 'Hell Is Children' (a conclusion I expect a few of my friends with families have come to while on lockdown) either there or on my Ko-fi page. It's also now available as an audio reading.

The second story, 'Winter Fruit', is a grimly humorous tale of an old lady's hard-won peace in the middle of a near-future war. This one's pay-walled - you have to sign up to my Patreon to read it, but at as little as a dollar a month that's good value.

Finally, I've started uploading excerpts from my latest novel, The Teardrop Girl, to Patreon, a mixture of adventure thriller and dark fantasy set in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the First World War. When marauding troops of the Freikorps murder a young Latvian girl, mysterious forces bring her back to life to hunt down the German commander - a mission that may decide the fate of the world.

The opening chapters of the novel are available for all to read. A second excerpt is also up now, exclusively available to members of my Patreon Book Club.

Hope you're all keeping well, and have a good weekend, folks.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Things of the Week Friday 20th March 2020: Free Fiction on Patreon and PDF Download, plus And Cannot Come Again News

I hope you're all keeping well. I've been signed off work for a further period, which is probably for the best as the coronavirus pandemic continues - in addition to my MH issues, Cate and I are both in 'at risk' categories...

StokerCon, like most events scheduled over the next few months, has been cancelled, but the new edition of And Cannot Come Again - including the previously unpublished stories 'In The Shelter' and 'Black Is The Morning, White Is The Wand' - will still be released by Graeme Reynolds' Horrific Tales next month.

In the meantime...

With increasing numbers of people forced to remain at home, a number of authors are making work available to readers either free of charge or at reduced rates. They include Sarah Pinborough, who's made her early horror novels for Leisure Books - The Taken, Breeding Ground, Feeding Ground and Tower Hill available, or Adrian Tchaikovsky, who's put together an ad hoc collection of short fiction, including a collaboration with the fab and lovely Keris McDonald. This article by Philip Fracassi for the Book and Film Globe lists a bunch of others.

In the same spirit, I've decided to make my two Gray Friar Press collections, Pictures Of The Dark and The Condemned, likewise available as free downloads. The Google Drive folder containing them - and any future titles I add - is here. In addition, I've made the fiction I've uploaded to my Patreon page, including the novelette Roads Heading South and the SF/horror/comedy/thriller The Mancunian Candidate, available to the public at no charge.

Hope these provide some enjoyment. If you have work you're making available in this way that hasn't been mentioned here or in the Fracassi article, let me know and I'll add a link below.

Keep well, take care and hold steady, and have a good weekend.

Simon x

Friday, 6 March 2020

Things of the Week, Friday 6th March 2020: Best Horror of the Year 12, Cate Gardner Collection and more...

It's been a strange week.

I'm currently still off work, and haven't been venturing out much, so the unfolding coronavirus epidemic's had a slightly unreal quality. We had been thinking of going to Manchester this weekend, to meet Catana Chetwynd - we love her comics - but she's cancelled her tour due to the outbreak. There've been so many pandemic scares over the last decade or two that they've taken on a 'cry wolf' quality (although one of the reasons many of these outbreaks haven't been worse will have been prompt action and treating them as an urgent crisis) but it looks as though this one will be the real thing. I hope it's under some sort of control sooner rather than later (although with the kind of brain-donors we have in charge here and in the US, I'm not getting my hopes up too high), and to see old friends and Facebook friends, and maybe make some new ones too, at StokerCon in Scarborough.

On a happier note, this week I received some fantastic news when Ellen Datlow selected my story 'Below' (originally published in the mighty Paul Finch's Terror Tales Of Northwest England) for inclusion in The Best Horror Of the Year #12.

You can read the full TOC here. I'm in some stellar company, including Gemma Files, Robert Shearman, Joe R. Lansdale and Catriona Ward, not to mention friends such as Ray Cluley and Ren Warom. Great to see S. Qiouyu Lu's excellent 'As Dark As Hunger', which I finally read in Black Static the other week (I'm very behind with my reading), included, and special congratulations to Laura 'Bricklauncher' Mauro, for finally ticking one off her bucket list and making a Datlow anthology! (The first of many, I have no doubt.)

I'm absolutely over the moon about this.

I'm also delighted to report that the first review of Cate's new collection, These Foolish And Harmful Delights, is now up at The Eloquent Page. Of it, Paul Holmes says: "There is an introspective, almost intimate quality to each entry in the collection. Gardner’s powerful writing brings together tales of love and loss, rebellion and empowerment. These Foolish & Harmful Delights encompasses the full gamut of emotions. The stories delicately dance that fine line between dark fantasy and psychological horror. If you enjoy your fiction in the short form and are looking for something memorable, I can confirm that Cate Gardner is the author for you."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

e-ARCs of the new edition of And Cannot Come Again are now available from Horrific Tales, including the previously unpublished stories 'In The Shelter' and 'Black Is The Mourning, White Is The Wand' and an updated introduction from Ramsey Campbell. Still can't get over how amazing Ben Baldwin's cover art is... 

My very cool friend Joely Black is leading a workshop: Making Magical Objects: Experimental Archaeology Meets Creative Writing later this month in Manchester. Joely's a fine writer, whose academic background focuses on religious and magical practices in the ancient world, so she knows what she's talking about. I promised to help spread the word about this event, but sadly it's actually sold out already! Nonetheless, any Mancs who like the sound of it should keep an eye out for future ones.

And that's the lot for now. Have a good weekend, all.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Women In Horror: Gemma Files

So here's the thing with Women in Horror Month—I mean, beyond the same conversation we've been having about anything earmarked For Women since I was literally in high school (Random High School Guy: “But why do we even need a Women's Day?” Girl Whose Name I Can't Remember, speaking for every other girl in the class: “Because every day is Man's Day, asshole.”). I mean, I certainly know it works for me, and always's a spotlight aimed at fellow female-identifying creators, something I can use to bring forth those I feel have been forgotten or overlooked while simultaneously discovering new reading/viewing/listening matter for myself, along with new potential friends, fans and allies.

As we move further into the 2020s, however, what with the very idea of gender becoming a far more culturally slippery thing than it used to be, I have to wonder if slapping the word “women” on WiHM doesn't end up accidentally excluding people beyond the traditionally privileged white/cis/straight/male default—people who might well be just as eager to consume and create horror, if only we were a bit more welcoming with our labels?

A (slightly) older cis white lady friend of mine and I were chatting the other day, when she suddenly asked me, as if she really thought I was more likely to know: “Why do you think so many young people these days don't seem to want to be men or women anymore? I how sometimes they say they're male one day and female the next, and maybe nothing the day after that? Why do you think that is?” To which I replied, without even really thinking about it much beforehand: “Well, look at how polarized and toxic and stressful identifying as either sex is, these days—performative heterosexuality, gender-essentialism, biological determinism, people constantly policing each other's fantasies like thinking of something is the same as doing it. Who the hell wouldn't choose to opt out of that whole mess, if they really believed it was possible?”

And given my age—I was born in 1968, y'all—I'm sure some part of how I just expressed myself up there sounds like I'm minimizing or dismissing genderqueer and non-binary people's identities, for which I apologize, because that truly wasn't my intention; I'm very aware that almost everything is a spectrum, not least since I'm already on at least one of those myself, if not more. It's simply that I envy anybody who can actually persuade themselves it's an option to life hack one's way around the bigender ties that bind, especially in a world so goddamned bent on making sure we all fall neatly on either the pink or blue side of things.

For some people, it means a lot to be identified as a woman, so much so that they've fought for it. But for me it's Tuesday, because being a woman was handed to me at birth: AFAB, and ever after. Not to mention how, much as I love to roleplay as someone I'm not and cisswap the characters I supposedly shouldn't be able to imagine myself inside just because of the fact that I once cooked an entire larval human being almost to term inside my uterus, I just don't think I'll ever be able to free myself entirely from looking at life through a gendered frame. Which doesn't mean I'm sitting here in the corner muttering about kids getting off my lawn or plaintively wondering aloud why everything these days has to be so gosh-darn COMPLICATED, either...just that I often find myself wondering about not just women in horror, but gender in horror. Is it necessary? Is it escapable?

Whenever I think about the “necessity” of gendered horror, my mind always goes back to that highly-applicable Margaret Atwood quote about the difference between men's and women's fears, most recently in context with this particular article, which caused me to reblog it and comment: “Men are afraid that women [won't stop laughing] at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” But that's just the surface, as ever; there are female-identifying narcissists just as quick to hammer down on anyone who tries to puncture their toxic sense that only they truly exist, and while a lot of them tend to do it a bit more slyly than the guy in the article, some of them don't. There are also male-identifying people who spent their lives well aware that if they step out of line socially, if they give anyone around them the impression that they aren't living up to the right sort of masculine standard, they risk either being murdered, or being made into a murderer. And then there are the people who feel like they're both at once, or neither, or whatever—do you think they aren't sometimes made hopeless and hateful by ridicule that denies and denigrates who they literally are, or immersed in a terror that seems inescapable over the prospect of being “found out” and eradicated by the very culture that surrounds them?

Self-policing is very much a thing, after all, and if someone's allowed to get away with being the “wrong” sort of man or woman, then what does that make the rest of us bigendered folks? Just people, I guess. Which is, for some reason or other, apparently not enough.

Or, to put it another way—pronouns aside, we're all pretty much afraid of the same shit, and that doesn't change. Which is why, whenever default-adhering people ask me why I feel like I have to “shoehorn” diversity into my/their horror, I find myself answering: “Because life is diverse, and everyone deserves to be able to find themselves reflected in the media they consume.”

Now, back when I started writing horror, in the later 1980s/early 1990s, I had three quote-quote female role-models: Kathe Koja, Caitlin R. Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite. Brite is now Billy Martin, and just as awesome as he always was; when I first heard about his transition, I thought: “Ah, this explains a lot about our shared interests.” But never have I ever had the figurative-to-literal balls to follow the knowledge that I LOVE to write about guys fucking each other from those guys' POV up by thinking: “So obviously I'm a gay guy, and I should probably do something about that.” Because I'm just not, and never will be. Billy is, and always was, the same was Caitlin's a queer woman, and always was. The same way Kathe and I are...whatever we are.

“Identity” is a bit of a difficult word for writers, I think—no matter the genre they're drawn to—because, to some degree, of its similarity to word “identify.” I get to place myself inside the people I write, which is my joy, my both-senses-of-the-word privilege; I get to think myself into patterns of thought, emotion and experience I both share and don't share, to wear those identities for a while and then discard them when the story I'm telling is “done,” and walk back into my own life grinning. If I do it well, I sometimes get praise, and that's beautiful; if I do it badly I get criticism, and I should. My intent, aside from simple narrative creation, is to hopefully create characters that my readers can enjoy seeing themselves in, or be surprised by seeing themselves in. But can I also damage other people, real people with real lives, by briefly pretending to inhabit an identity they exist inside every moment of every IRL day in order to usher readers through a fictional beginning, middle and end?

Much like pronoun protocol—“Are we just supposed to call people whatever they hell they tell us they want to be called, now?” “Um, yes. Yes, that is pretty much exactly how things are now supposed to go.”—I simply have to accept that this idea, however odd it may seem to me based on when I was born and what I was taught, is true. And that as much as I never mean to, the mere fact that I work primarily in a genre which deals with disturbance, offence, pain, means that I will disturb someone, offend someone, hurt someone. It's inevitable. I'll wound someone, and that wound—however fictional its cause—will have to be treated as if it's exactly as real as they feel it to be. Not only can I not debate the concept, at this point in my life, I don't even want to.

So here we are, women of all sorts alike and everybody else likewise: mutually responsible for both the harm we might do and the care we owe ourselves in turn, on either side of the page. As we always were, most probably, but now we have almost enough language to try to acknowledge it directly, along with—hopefully—the moral willpower to do so. “An outsider knows an Outsider,” as Holly Gibney says; we've all been called monsters by somebody, after all, just like we all know how we want to be treated, especially while still carrying deep wounds from being treated the exact opposite way. Just like we all know how it can feel, the sheer power of the term: awful in every sense, elevating, denigrating.

And yes, change can feel hard, but this? It seems far easier than most people seem to want to treat it, to me. Like a conversation I'm fine with having as many times as I need to so long as it helps me get back to telling stories in the dark, any given month of any given year, ad infinitum. There being so many far scarier things to discuss, after all, than how the people you're telling stories about refer to themselves.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Women In Horror: Charlotte Bond

Telling people that you’re a writer gets a mixed reaction from many people. Mostly what I get is: “So, you’re going to be the next JK Rowling then?” I’m pretty sure that if I had a pound for every time someone said that to me, I’d be growing closer to her fortune by the day.

But then comes the inevitable question: “What do you write?”

I’m a woman. I have long hair. I wear lots of skirts and dresses (because I have a bad back and trousers play hell with it). I’m a mother. I’m a Girl Guide leader of 15 years standing. They’re not expecting me to say: “I write horror and dark fiction.”

Their reaction is often surprised and their response is usually a variant of: “Oh, you look too nice to write horror.”

But that’s the thing: anyone can write horror. Writing horror doesn’t make you a bad person, and it’s not bad people who write horror.

However, that seems to go against popular opinion. I know many of my fantasy, sci-fi, and romance acquaintances happily share their latest publication with their family and friends. When I’ve got a new book coming out, I usually send out an email to family and friends saying: “Hey. I’ve written a book. It’s here, but you probably won’t like it. There’s a lot of blood and death and horror in it.”

I’ve had family members say to me that they can’t understand why I write horror because they think that I’m “too nice to write stuff like that.” But here’s something I’ve learned about the horror industry: the writers of the most terrifying, gory, and obscene books are actually some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. When in horror, you really do not judge a person by their books.

Adam Nevill’s books are terrifying and, in some cases, frighteningly plausible. I couldn’t finish Apartment 16 because I read it when pregnant and it made my morning sickness worse. Yet when I had travelled from Leeds to Brighton via one bus, two trains, and while six months pregnant to get to a convention, Adam Nevill was the only person I met on that journey who saw how exhausted and ill I was and offered to help.

Priya Sharma is an up and coming horror writer who gets plaudits wherever she goes. She’s one of the loveliest, chattiest people I’ve ever met, someone who always asks after my mother and my daughter when we meet up. I’d swap muffin recipes with her as much as I’d ask her to brainstorm unpleasant ways to kill off characters.

Jim McLeod is a large, well-built Scotsman who runs the Ginger Nuts of Horror and is one of the people that I have, on occasions, made a bee-line for when I’ve been at a convention and some arse is making unwelcome advances. I feel absolutely safe in his presence.

And those are just three examples I could list out of dozens of lovely people I know in the horror genre.

Horror isn’t written by complete psychopaths but by genuinely nice people. Which, I guess, leads the question of “why do such nice people write horror?”

One of my daughter’s six-year-old friends once asked me why anyone would want to write horror, adding, “I don’t like being scared.”

And I told him that the reason people write horror stories is the same reason that people used to tell fairy tales: as a means to develop and grow within a safe environment. We use tales and horror stories to examine terrible situations that can – and do – occur in life, and by examining them in fiction, we can feel more confident about how to deal with trauma in real life.

In the modern world, we live relatively sheltered lives, but we’re only ever a few steps away from death, disease, and disaster. Before vaccines, there were so many ways in which you could die; today, many diseases have been eradicated, but there’s always the fear that, one day, something will crop up that is fast, deadly, and can’t be vaccinated against. Apocalypse fiction explores this fear and, by journeying with the characters, we can hope that some might survive – and that some of those survivors might be us.

For most of human history, dying relatives have passed away at home. Just because we have hospitals and care homes right now where the terminally ill can be looked after, doesn’t mean we aren’t still frightened of the thought of death in our own houses.

Horror is for those with open minds, who want to be aware of the risks inherent in the world around them. For a comedic take on this, rent out that old classic film Scream and watch how a bunch of teenagers try to enact and survive their own horror scenario. They use horror movies as a blueprint of what to do and not to do in the event of someone trying to kill you.

For a more recent and serious examination of this, read Christina Henry’s The Girl In Red, where the protagonist finds that while her knowledge of horror movies can help her be prepared in a crisis, such knowledge can work against her. She doesn’t take risks that might be crucial because she knows exactly what happens to the solitary girl who goes into that apparently abandoned building...

My writing often focusses on fairy tales, because I feel they, too, are sanitised by modern society. For example, at the end of Snow White, the evil queen is not vanquished by the prince, but turns up at the wedding and is forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until she is dead. And while Little Red Riding Hood might escape from the wolf, it’s through her own cunning and not in the form of a saviour huntsman – and, in some retellings, she ends up eating her own grandmother as part of a stew first.

Our current society might have distanced itself from death and terrible deeds, but it’s still necessary to visit such dark places in our minds. Reading and watching horror teaches us how to survive the worst of humanity and nature, and can ultimately prepare us for whatever life throws in our way. Writing horror isn’t about getting joy from terrifying people; it’s about reminding them of the terrors that society has hidden away. Terrifying the reader is just an added bonus. 

Monday, 24 February 2020

Women In Horror: Keris McDonald

I’m Keris McDonald, horror/fantasy writer. And I’m Janine Ashbless, writer of erotica — both
hardcore and romantic. In fact until recently all my social media presence was under the “Janine” name and I’ve only Come Out on Facebook in the last few weeks, after I got a gig writing for the Chaosium games company.

So I've been thinking about Erotica v. Horror. Two separate genres, though clearly there is a potential overlap, as there is between all forms of genre fiction. I actually started out my career writing horror, then switched to erotica for many years (thus, incidentally, working my way down the literary pecking order. Some big name horror writers do write the smutty stuff, or have done in the past. But they like to keep that a secret). Nowadays I seem to be veering back toward horror somewhat.
The two genres actually have a whole lot in common, I believe:
  1. People outside your genre assume you’re some dodgy weirdo who can’t separate their fiction from real life and probably shouldn’t be left alone with small children or pets. Yet when you meet fellow authors it turns out that pretty much everyone inside the genre is unassuming, shy and rather kind.
  2. The plot structure is often similar for both genres. They both work really well (best, many might say) as short stories. In both Horror and Erotica the ideal is to end at the dramatic (or literal) climax, with no cooling off period. In longer fiction the aim is to create an ascending ladder of excitement in the reader's mind, based on set-piece scenes interspersed with tension-ratcheting lulls.
  3. The author above all aims to evoke a visceral reaction - whether fear or arousal. The best horror or erotica stories bypass the rational brain and go straight to the body. They make the heart race (in both cases) and they make the skin crawl or the genitals swell. These are primaeval responses designed to cope with crisis real-life stimuli, and to be able to evoke these reactions by the written word alone takes a surprising amount of skill. You are wresting control from the reader - and that thrill is exactly what fans like.
  4. Because this is a stimulus-response reaction, even the most keen readers in both genres can become jaded. This may lead authors toward a dangerous trap of making the stimulus stronger (MORE BLOOD AND GUTS! / BIGGER ORGIES! HUGE STRAP-ONS!), but this is not a game the writer can win in the long run. Far better, in my opinion, to sneak up on the reader with something they hadn't anticipated, and reveal to them the depths of their vulnerability. If you can convince readers of the devastating allure of a hole in a woollen stocking (like in The Piano) or the terror inherent in a closed door (like in The Monkey's Paw), then you are doing it right as a writer.
  5. Both genres are inherently subversive. They aim to convince you to suspend your faith in the laws of society, in the normal tropes of interaction between people, and to accept - temporarily - that there might be other, often more powerful and dangerous, possibilities. They both say "What if the world didn't work the way people tell you it does?" Both genres draw their power from overturning social consensus and restrictions.
Keris McDonald’s short stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, All Hallows and Weird Tales magazines, and in the anthologies At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Hauntings, Impossible Spaces, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, Genius Loci, Dark Voices, Terror Tales of Yorkshire, The Scent of Tears, Legends vol. 3, and The Forgotten and the Fantastical Vol.5. Her story “The Coat Off His back” was picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #7. She is one-third of Lovecraftian collection The Private Life of Elder Things.
Keris lives in Yorkshire with her husband, dogs and library. She’s a keen table-top-roleplayer and LARPer and has just worked out she’s been playing Dungeons and Dragons for forty years now. Her mother has given up expecting better of her.

If you are interested in reading examples of Keris’ erotica that she’d class as horror too, try:
Lord Montague's Last Ride in Cruel Enchantment
Cold Hands, Warm Heart in Dark Enchantment
At Usher's Well in Fierce Enchantments

Friday, 21 February 2020

Women In Horror: Catherine Cavendish on Playing The Devil's Games

Earlier this month, I extended an open invite to any women working in the horror genre to contribute a guest blog. One respondent was Catherine Cavendish, who features today with a piece about her new novel, The Garden Of Bewitchment. Read on...

The Garden of Bewitchment is a demonic toy in my new novel of the same name and those who encounter it have some unpleasant and scary experiences. They get caught up in its devilish devices until nothing is as it appears to be and sanity comes at a premium.
They didn’t have a choice. YOU, on the other hand, do. It’s up to you whether you decide to draw the curtains and curl up on a winter’s evening, with a nice cosy book or movie – or take a walk on the wilder side and go on a supernatural adventure of your own. As I said, it is entirely YOUR choice…
Ah, I see you’re still here, that must mean you have decided to play. Proceed by all means, but remember, the devil extracts a price and he isn’t too particular who pays…or how…and he changes the rules to suit himself.
Red Book
Here’s a nice little fortune telling game from South America. For this you will need a quiet room, a group of trusted friends, and the following equipment:
A red hardback book containing all text – no pictures or images of any kind
One or more red candles
Matches or lighter
A question
Off you all go into your quiet room and draw the curtains. Light your candle(s) and turn off all other sources of light.
Sit in a circle and set the candle(s) in the centre
As leader, you start the proceedings. Your friends will copy your actions, one by one.
Close your eyes and place the palm of one hand on the book’s cover, ask out loud, “Red Book, may I enter your game?”
Keeping your eyes tight shut, open the book at a random page and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes and read out loud the sentence your finger has landed on. You now have your answer. Interpret it carefully before proceeding.
If the answer is negative or you cannot make any sense of it at all, contact has not been made and you must start over. If the answer is positive, you may proceed by passing the book to the next person who will follow the same instructions. Keep going until each player has asked for and received permission to enter the game.
Now you can ask your question. Close your eyes, place your palm on the book’s cover and ask it out loud.
Keep your eyes closed. Open the book randomly as before and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes, read the sentence your finger has landed on and do your best to interpret it. Each player will repeat this until all have asked their question and received the answer (whatever they have made of it).
When all questions have been asked/answered, close your eyes and place your palm on the book cover once again. Ask aloud, “Red Book, may I leave the game?”
Repeat the sequence as before, with eyes closed, open the book at a random page and place your finger somewhere on the page. Open your eyes, read the sentence out loud and, if positive, you may leave the game. If negative or nonsensical, you may not leave the game and must repeat the sequence again until your answer indicates that you may depart. Each person in the group then repeats the sequence until each has successfully left the game.
When all have departed, close the book. Blow out the candles and, lastly open the curtains and turn on the lights.
There. Nice and innocent isn’t it? Unless you break any of the rules of course. No, I’m not telling you. You really don’t want to know what happens then.
Ready for another one? Then let’s play…

Yes, I know there’s a film of the same name. But did you know it was based on a real incident? The murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy was carried out by someone entering her apartment through the bathroom cabinet, in the Abbott Homes high rises in the Chicago Projects. It would have been entirely possible for a person to gain access this way as the adjoining apartment also had its bathroom cabinet in the same position. You can read more about this fascinating case online, but for now, let’s play the game. It’s really very simple. You’ll need to be alone. In your bathroom. In front of the mirror. Shut the door, switch off the lights, face the mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times.
The Candyman will appear – and kill you with his hook. Er – right. Well, goodbye then!
Assuming you survived (somehow), let’s play one last game:
11 Mile Road

If you have an all-consuming desire to get something, you may choose this game but you have to have nerves of steel and/or be a complete idiot to try it. You’ll need a car or motorbike of some kind – and you can’t take anyone with you. You’re well and truly on your own, mate.
To find 11 Mile Road, you need to wait until the streets round and about you are deserted, very late at night and drive to a back road inside a forest or dense wood (no, not outside it. Inside.)
Drive around the empty roads or lanes until you know you’ve found 11 Mile Road. Don’t ask me. You’ll just know. Your instinct will tell you. Just keep alert.
Now you’ve found it, think carefully. This is your last chance to turn around and get the hell out of there. Still want to continue? Right:
Don’t listen to music or turn the radio on, don’t open your windows or doors or stop the car - whatever you see or whatever happens - and keep your speed below 30 m.p.h.
You’re now on your eleven mile drive and each mile is significant. Remember, whatever happens, keep driving.
Miles one and two – you may feel a little cold and, if so, you can switch your heater on.
Mile three – movement will begin all around you. Ignore it and don’t take your eyes off the road.
Mile four – voices. Ignore them.
Mile five – the countryside may start to change and become beautiful – a lake with moonlight shimmering on the crystal waters, the forest becoming less dense. It’s so tempting to stop and look. DON’T.
Mile six – the trees become denser once more, any stars will disappear. Your headlights might flicker, the radio may start up, and appear to talk directly to you. Ignore anything and everything and don’t turn off the radio. Remember, you didn’t switch it on.
Mile seven – the voices may seem to be coming from your own back seat. Ignore them. Don’t turn around.
Mile eight – whatever happens, keep driving. If your headlights dim, slow down but never, ever stop.
Mile nine – this is when your car may stall. If it does, do nothing except close your eyes and keep them shut as you wait for the car to start again. When it does, foot down, open your eyes and drive.
Mile ten – don’t look in your mirrors and don’t turn around. This is critical.
Mile eleven – Your vehicle will stall again. This time in front of a red light. Close your eyes. Do not look at the red light. Ignore the voices. Ignore anything that grabs hold of you. Ignore everything, no matter what and keep those eyes shut. Your vehicle will restart and when it does, open your eyes, drive on a little further until you reach a dead end. Stop.
Make your wish. But don’t just wish it, see it, feel it, imagine you already have it. If it is a small item, check your pocket. You can open your eyes so, if it is a larger item, check your back seat or the trunk of your car. If your wish is for something bigger than that or something that isn’t material, drive back home and it will come to you very soon.
And that’s all there is to it. Of course, there is always a price. The flashbacks you keep having for the rest of your life and the demonic presence that comes home with you are quite a hefty price to pay. If you’re happy with that, I wish you good fortune.
Don’t play the game.
In 1893, Evelyn and Claire leave their home in a Yorkshire town for life in a rural retreat on their beloved moors. But when a strange toy garden mysteriously appears, a chain of increasingly terrifying events is unleashed. Neighbour Matthew Dixon befriends Evelyn, but seems to have more than one secret to hide. Then the horror really begins. The Garden of Bewitchment is all too real and something is threatening the lives and sanity of the women. Evelyn no longer knows who - or what - to believe. And time is running out. 

About Catherine Cavendish

Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter – an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, Damned by the Ancients - The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Haunted Are These Houses and Midnight in the Graveyard.

She lives in Southport with her long-suffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice should not continue).

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney. 

Friday, 14 February 2020

Things of the Week 14th February 2020: Sean Hogan, Sarah Pinborough, Graveyard Shift, World Fantasy Awards

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody, for those celebrating it (and Happy Friday whether you are or not!)

Just over nine years ago today, my novella Angels Of The Silences saw print for the first time, as a chapbook from Pendragon Press. It sold out at some speed, and was unavailable until those lovely people at Omnium Gatherum reissued it in 2016. Last year it came out for a third time, as part of my collection And Cannot Come Again, from ChiZine Press.

Readers of this blog will be only too aware of what happened with ChiZine, but for anyone who missed out on getting a copy of the collection, there are only two months to go until the new edition of And Cannot Come Again (the ebook of which is available for preorder) from Horrific Tales gets launched at StokerCon in Scarborough in April.

Good and/or interesting things are happening in respect of a couple of friends of mine:

Sarah Pinborough's new novel Dead To Her has just been released in the US. If past books like 13 Minutes, Behind Her Eyes and Cross Her Heart are any indicator, we're in for a treat.

Sean Hogan is the man responsible for the excellent supernatural thriller The Devil's Business and the documentary Future Shock! The Story Of 2000AD (not to mention the co-writer of the superb The Borderlands.) You can also avail yourself of his services as a script doctor/reader/editor, should you wish. And if you're after a free sample of what the man can do, check out his short films The Thing: 27,000 Hours and the cracking little ghost story We Always Find Ourselves In The Sea, both starring his 'good luck charm', the Northern Irish actor Billy Clarke, whom I've admired ever since watching his performance in Outpost 11.

A couple of developments on the home front have made me smile: Nancy Baker at ChiZine has informed me that And Cannot Come Again has been entered for the World Fantasy Awards. I doubt it'll stand any chance at all given the breadth and quality of work out there, but it's nice to be even slightly in the running.

And Catherine Cavendish, in a guest blog for Kendall Reviews, has listed eight favourite horror novels: alongside works by Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Hand, Ronald Malfi, J.H. Moncrieff and Hunter Shea, she lists The Feast Of All Souls. That's pretty damn good company to find myself in - so thank you, Catherine!

Well, that's all the news fit to print for now. Have a good weekend!