Author and Scriptwriter

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

Thursday 31 December 2020

Ending The Year On A High

I've already shared this on Facebook, but there was no way I couldn't commemorate it on my
blog also - another review for Roth-Steyr!

It's received a belting review from Rachel Verkade over at The Future Fire. Rachel also has her criticisms of it, but to me that just makes the praise all the sweeter and more honest! Check out Rachel's blog Diagnosed As An Adult - it's well worth reading.

"Roth-Steyr is most definitely an odd story. It features Viennese aristocrats turned into immortal soldiers that can only be killed with magic pistols, a mystical gate to another (and very disturbing) dimension, assassinations, early 20th century European politics, a mad scientist, and a jaded lesbian anti-heroine. It’s a bizarre mixture of Highlander, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the brutal teacher and ruthless training sequences from Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. And, quite frankly, there’s a lot in there to love.

I wish this book was twice as long as it is, and perhaps that’s one of the greatest compliments one can give to a story."

It's a great write-up - honest, perceptive and eloquent - and better still, I know for a fact that at least one person bought a copy of the novella on the strength of it!

Big thanks to Rachel and all at The Future Fire, along with Thomas Joyce and This Is Horror and Matt and Runalong The Shelves, for helping spread the word about this little book.

Thanks, too, to all those who've given their time, kindness and support over the past year. You know who you are.

See you all in 2021.  


Wednesday 30 December 2020

Hunker in the Bunker: 2020 in review.

2020 has been, I think we can all agree, a bloody weird year.

I'm not even going to try to summarise all the weird shit - the political shit, the pandemical shit, the insane screeching on social media shit, the stupid conspiracist shit - that went on. Or to list the number of people - writers, actors, artists, musicians, not to mention, in many cases, friends - that we lost this year.

It's been a fucker. But at least Trump's finished. That's one thing.

This really was the year of 'Hunker in the Bunker' for me. Anxiety and depression kept me off work and confined to the house for most of the year, so the first lockdown didn't really come as much of a change. Plus which, after the General Election last December, my attitude was basically 'we're fucked and there's not much point trying to change anything for the better because the UK, at least, is locked into an insane death spiral largely of its own making, so I'm just going to stay home, read, watch Netflix and snuggle with my beloved.'

Well - that, and write.

Which seems absurd, I know. But at least it kept me sane. Well, sort of.

This quote from Natalie Goldberg's wonderful book Writing Down The Bones kind of summarises it for me: "Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the centre of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write."

So yeah. That.

1000 words a day. 

There's a great video where someone's talking to Idris Elba, and he has two pieces of advice: don't be afraid to fail, and keep your head down. The second one, in particular, strikes a chord with me at this time of the year, when I try to look back and take stock. Elba talks about when he's swimming, trying to do 25 laps a day - there's always the temptation to look up and see how you're doing, to be constantly checking your progress. And if you do that, you're never as far along as you'd have hoped, and the work lasts longer and feels harder. But if you keep your head down and focus on just doing what you need to do, moment to moment, getting into the rhythm of your work, before you know it you're almost there.

I did my best, this year, just to do that. Hunker in the bunker, and keep my head down, and work.

So what do I have to show for it?



I was past the 100,000 word mark on The Teardrop Girl at the end of 2019. I finished the first draft - 170,000 words all told - at the end of February this year. And then started a new book.

Following The Teardrop Girl I've completed not one, but two new novels in first draft this year, and am (touch wood) 36,000 words into another. The Teardrop Girl has been redrafted and sent out to agents, and I'm at work on the others.


I've written sixteen pieces of short fiction this year (seventeen if you count my previous blog post!) Some of them very short. Finding homes for most of them proved harder: a lot of them are over on my Patreon. But some saw the light in other places.

Published This Year:

And Cannot Come Again was rereleased, in a gorgeous new edition from Horrific Tales, courtesy of the excellent Graeme Reynolds. It contained two previously unpublished stories. 

Also reprinted was my story 'Below', from Paul Finch's Terror Tales of North West England, in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year #12.


Not counting stuff that appeared for the first time on Patreon, four stories were published for the first time this year:

'In The Shelter', in new edition of And Cannot Come Again

'Black Is The Mourning, White Is The Wand' in new edition of And Cannot Come Again

'Kanaida' (on the Unsung Stories website, ed. Dan Coxon)

'We All Come Home' in After Sundown, ed. Mark Morris


Roth-Steyr, Black Shuck Books. 


The following stories were published for the first time on my Patreon this year. Those marked with an asterisk were written this year 

 A Story Of Two And A Bit Halves *

A Treat for your Last Day *

Hell Is Children *

I Am The Man The Very Fat Man *

In The Service Of The Queen *

The Book Of Shadows *

The Book Of Spiders *

The Garden *

Truth And Consequences 

Winter Fruit 

Childermass Grove 

Slatcher’s Little Mates 

The Forest You Once Called Home

The Cabinet of Dr Jarvis


On top of all that, I stayed alive, stayed married and managed to get back to work at my day job.

So that was 2020. I didn't take the world by storm, but I'm still here and I'm still writing.

That's good enough for me.

Have the best New Year's you can under the circumstances. Be safe, and take care. Next year looks as though it may be another tough one; let's hold together, keep our heads down, and get through it. 

Monday 7 December 2020

Memo found on an abandoned smartphone

Typing this into phone as no other way. Am trapped and no other means to leave message before it gets me. Have to warn people. Only one problem. If you’re reading this, it’s already too late.

Saturday 5 December 2020

Winter Tales is now live!

Joseph Freeman's seasonal ghost story extravaganza, Winter Tales, is now live on his YouTube channel. It features readings by Ramsey Campbell, Joe himself, Benjamin Langley, Mark Morris and your humble servant.

Ramsey Campbell: Excerpt from The Wise Friend.

Benjamin Langley: 'The Hands That Do The Devil's Work.'

Joseph Freeman: 'The Waiting Room.'

Mark Morris: 'A Girl, Sitting.'

Simon Bestwick: 'In The Shelter.'

Go treat yourself now (or wait until it's dark!) And why not make Joe's day while you're there, and subscribe to his channel?



Friday 20 November 2020

Things Of The Week: Winter Tales, The First Roth-Steyr Reviews, breaking 150k and more...

Nearly three weeks since the last blog post, and things are looking up, at least for the US, who are (fingers crossed) getting rid of their current National Embarrassment. Here in the UK, sadly, ours remains firmly behind the wheel...

Still, there have been Things, and not all of them bad. At least here at Castle Bestwick.

One of them has been the appearance of the first two reviews for Roth-Steyr. The first, by Thomas Joyce over at This Is Horror, who says:

"Bestwick’s exploration of his heroine’s complicated past and conflicted feelings about duty and love is brilliant. From the first mention of her brother and what happened on that frozen lake when they were children, we are immediately invested in their relationship, such intriguing characters they make. Valerie’s reminisces of her former comrades, especially Tibor, are also very touching. The recollections of past battles and confrontations with the Black Eagles, especially the scene in a war-torn Berlin, are very well done. And the scene at the Gate, complete with sinister doctor Sindelar and his dark and mysterious 'assistants' adds just a hint of cosmic horror."

The second review comes from Matt at Runalong The Shelves, and is another very positive one:

"The tale feels like a slow-motion car crash that Valerie has to desperately get out of the way of and this makes the reading compulsive. A dark tale but also one with a key message on those who love the fight above all else.

I really enjoyed this novella. It took me back in time and made me think about where we may now be heading. Bestwick delivers a fascinating lead character who over the tale we get to know quite intimately and fully behind a battle for survival. Well worth your time!"   

Many grateful thanks to both Thomas and Matt for their reviews. 

This year has been a productive one, at least in terms of work completed. In February I finished the first draft of the novel I began in the last quarter of 2019; since then I've redrafted it and sent it out to agents, completed the first draft of another book and am currently in sight (I think) of the ending on a third. Whether any of them are any good, or find a home, remains to be seen; right now I'm finding a lot of pleasure and fulfilment in the process of writing. The weird thing is that the rule 'less is more' really seems to hold with me, as far as word count's concerned; committing to a much shorter daily than was the case for years has actually enabled me to write more, as well as (I hope) better. The current WIP cracked the 150,000 word mark last week; with luck it'll be finished before the end of the year, and something new begun.

Finally, I'm involved in something really cool, that's coming up early next month.

The Christmas season is on its way, and - as Lynda E. Rucker's ever-excellent column over in this issue of Black Static reminds us - is the perfect time for the tale of terror. My old friend Joe Freeman decided to put together an online ghost-story reading called Winter Tales, including such authors as Ramsey Campbell and Mark Morris. Benjamin Langley, another of the authors, I'm less familiar with, but I'm looking forward to acquainting myself with his work. Joe also invited me to participate, and there I am, reading my tale In The Shelter, taken from the new Horrific Tales edition of And Cannot Come Again.

Winter Tales will be available to watch from Saturday 5th December at 1pm Greenwich Mean Time, on Joe's YouTube Channel. Here's a trailer for the event:


Saturday 31 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Launch Day: This Is Halloween!

In the words of Dr Frank-N-Furter: "Tonight is the night that my beautiful creature is destined to be born!"

Or at least, downloaded and/or ordered.

Yes, today's the day - Roth-Steyr is released at last!

You can buy or order it here.

If you're still stuck for suitable seasonal reading matter, then Keris McDonald came up with a list of recommendations a few years ago, and I managed one or two myself. Ginger Nuts Of Horror has some longer-length recommendations here. (It's pure coincidence that it happens to include another book of mine!)

Thank you to every one who's helped share and signal boost over the past weeks, and a huge thank-you to Steve Shaw at Black Shuck Books for giving this story a home.

Have a wonderful Samhain, folks! 


Friday 30 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Countdown Day Five: The Lockdown with... Gemma Files

Formerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published four collections of short work, three chap-books of speculative poetry, a Weird Western trilogy, a story-cycle and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2016 Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). She has two new story collections upcoming, one from Grimscribe Press (In That Endlessness Our End, February 2021) and one from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better).

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

Fairly recently, I found out that the half of my family I thought was Dutch was in fact German, or—given the etymology (Hoover/Hober/Haber)—possibly Bohemian Ashkenazi Jewish, as represented by a man who emigrated to Canada and married a full Cree lady, which is how one of my cousins on that side got a tribal status card. Similarly, the journey I've gone on while parenting my son, who is on the Autism Spectrum, has led me to accept the fact that if psychiatrists had been looking for girls with ASD back when I was ten or so (the height of my bullied-and-a-bully years) then I might have gotten my own diagnosis, as opposed to almost getting treated for early-onset schizophrenia; thanks, Mom, for totally rejecting that option. Oh hey, and remember how I said last time that I sang in a choir? Turns out, choirs are perfect breeding pools for COVID-19, who I guess means those days are over. For how long, we just don't know.

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?

A) Oh hells yes. B) Well...

My husband works from home, and my son has been out of school since the end of February. Neither of them are going back anytime before maybe October for Steve, next February for Cal. Which means that I spend a lot of my time doing quotidian make-work, laundry, shopping, cooking. I run errands for my Mom, who's been in full lockdown since before we started self-isolating. I also look after Cal, which as of September includes essentially being his Educational Assistant for stuff like “distance learning” schoolwork, music lessons and drama classes, all conducted over Zoom. I'm not trained for this, aside from loving him and understanding how he communicates, and it really knocks me out. But Mom has finally accepted him as part of her “pod,” which means she's okay taking him for a couple of hours so I can get 500-1000 words in here and there, and that's how I'm a few scenes into a whole new story. And after almost eight months of finishing very little except notes and poetry, that's no small thing.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Still Experimental Film, I think. If that ends up being what I'm best-known for, I'll be content.

4. …and which makes you cringe?

I don't really hate anything I've written, at least not to that extent. Maybe that's because I started selling stories when I was already a “professional” writer? My parents are actors, and I grew up with freelance culture running through my veins; as long as you actually got paid something—even, say, five bucks U.S. and a copy of a magazine run off on a machine in someone's basement—then you're doing okay, by those standards.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Even when I don't get concentrated time to write, I'm still always writing. This is something I've come to both accept and depend on. I steal moments here and there, scribble stuff down in notebooks or on my phone (then email the files to myself), bookmark things I post on Facebook for transcription later on. Assemblage starts with making the components, right? So even just saving a new file, copy-pasting stuff into it and then moving those blurty little bits around until they start to make a kind of narrative sense are all part of the process. And when you can't concentrate enough to write you can still consume, which helps keep the juices flowing...hopefully, anyhow.;)

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

I have a new collection coming out in February that I'm pretty proud of (InThat Endlessness Our End, from Grimscribe Press), and I know that Jon Padgett is looking for people to review it in exchange for ARCs. Also, all the stuff I previously published through ChiZine Publications is finally available again, this time through Open Road Media. And then there's the two Trepidatio collections, Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places; the latter, in particular, could really use some love. Otherwise, if you've read Experimental Film then try out the Hexslinger Trilogy if you haven't already, and if you've read all of those try out We Will All Go Down Together. Plus, if you're broke, I do still “publish” fanfiction at Archive of Our Own under the handle handful_ofdust, like the fool that I am.

7. What are you working on now?

Right at this moment, I have a bunch of impending anthology requests I need to fill, so I'm working hard on that. In general, however, I'm plotting out a new novel...not the one I've been working on for the last three years, but something as physically far away from the slow apocalypse we're currently living through as humanly possible. It's called In Red Company, and it's set in 998 AD, Northumbria, England. The basic pitch is Midsommar meets The Devils. Plague-threatened nuns and visionary anchoresses and sexy relic-stealing bishops and old dead goddesses, oh my. No idea when it'll be finished, but it keeps me amused. 

Hope you enjoyed the interview with Gemma. Tomorrow is the launch date for Roth-Steyr, and I'm very excited about it. Today's your last chance to pre-order it, which you can do here.

Thursday 29 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Countdown Day Four: In The Service Of The Queen

I meant to write a ghost story especially for the occasion, to help promote Roth-Steyr, but then again Roth-Steyr is the new story I have coming out on Halloween! 

What I have done, though, is make one of the stories previously only available to my Patrons publicly available. In The Service Of The Queen is a ghost story of sorts... with a difference.

You can read it here.

You can pre-order Roth-Steyr here.

The title came from a line in a song about something completely different. You can listen to that song here:

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Countdown Day Three: Ginger Nuts and Irn Bru

*Sings*: "It's beginning to feel a lot like Halloween..."

Roth-Steyr goes on sale on Saturday, around the same time as the rest of us hunker down with huge tubs of munchies (for the trick or treaters, even though there probably won't be any this year: leaving aside the social distancing concerns, our government will probably ban it for fear that some hungry children might actually get to eat something.) In the meantime, as if yesterday's interview at Kendall Reviews wasn't enough, here I am wittering on again...

Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts of Horror is a truly magnificent chap: the site is a real labour of love, dedicated to reviewing and promoting the contemporary horror scene in all its terrible glory. He does an amazing job and is a lovely person, but the man has one terrible flaw:

He doesn't like Irn Bru. 

(American readers may not know what this is. I mourn for your loss, but the video below will help!)

It's very sad, but one day, we hope to get Jim the help he needs. ;-) 

(Just kidding Jim, you're perfect as you are and we all love you.)

You can read my interview with Ginger Nuts Of Horror here.

And you can pre-order Roth-Steyr here.   

In the meantime, for your amusement and Jim McLeod's education, here's a handy top 15 of Irn Bru's best ads...


Tuesday 27 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Countdown Day Two: Drawing The Reader In At Kendall Reviews, and the Roth-Steyr in action...

Another day dawns, and we're another night closer to Halloween and the launch of Roth-Steyr. And so here I am, yattering away to those nice people at Kendall Reviews, who were probably wondering if I'd ever shut up....

A Roth-Steyr is an early twentieth-century pistol, adopted by the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1907. It's a wonderfully odd-looking weapon, so I thought I'd whet your appetite with some footage of it.

If you ever need to research a firearm, Ian McCollum's channel Forgotten Weapons is a brilliant resource. Unlike some US YouTubers on this topic, there's no insane right-wing ranting, and Ian's both knowledgeable and funny. Not to mention a pretty good shot, as this footage shows. Fellow writers, take note: if you ever need to research a gun for something you're working on, Forgotten Weapons is the place to go, whether you need a technical breakdown or just to get an idea of what the thing looks and behaves like in the wild. 

See you tomorrow, when I'll be doing another interview. I just won't shut up, will I...? :)


Monday 26 October 2020

Roth-Steyr Countdown Day One: A Book for Halloween

Saturday brings both the best night of the year, and the launch of my novella Roth-Steyr from Black Shuck Books! My skull-shaped goblet of blood runneth over...

So, in the coming week, I'll be posting a series of (hopefully) cool and groovy links and articles. Expect interviews, real-life mysteries, and more besides...

To kick it all off, here's a recommendation for some suitably spooky reading matter.

Horror fiction is often at its best in the short form. Novel-length stuff is hard to do really well, but there are those who manage it (Ramsey Campbell springs very much to mind.) Today's blog is about one novel I always think deserves more love: The Matrix by the ever-underrated Jonathan Aycliffe.

Jonathan Aycliffe is a pseudonym of Irish author Denis MacEoin, who's also written a series of dark, intelligent and atmospheric thrillers as Daniel Easterman. (I particularly recommend the 1990s novel Name Of The Beast, an all too prescient and plausible tale of Islamic fundamentalism, backed by an unholy alliance with European fascists, rising to power in Egypt under the leadership of a former Catholic priest who may be in fact the Antichrist. It may be a political thriller, but it also runs along the edge of horror too.) His first novel under the Aycliffe byline was 1991's chilling Naomi's Room, which is a superb book in its own right - and, with its Christmas setting, an excellent pick for another time of year. This was followed by Whispers In The Dark and The Vanishment, with The Matrix appearing in 1994. There have been more since - The Lost, The Talisman, A Shadow On The Wall, A Garden Lost In Time and The Silence Of Ghosts - and his infrequent short stories are also well worth seeking out. I was very proud to publish one of them, 'The Christmas Present', way back in 1998.

So, onto The Matrix.

I once described The Matrix (no, nothing to do with the Keanu Reeves films) as the kind of book Dennis Wheatley might have written if he'd been able to write. A slim, beautifully concise novel, it's a tale of Black Magic, and reaches heights of terror M.R. James would have wholly approved of.

Following the death of his young wife from cancer, Andrew MacLeod, a young academic, takes on a research post at Edinburgh University, studying occult and religious groups. Initially, it's only a professional interest, but he's drawn into a world of crystal-gazers and Theosophists, he finds a kind of solace in their rituals. But then, in the library of one of the occult groups, he finds a very old book, called the Matrix Aeternitatis - the Matrix of Eternal Life. In it is a woodcut so horrible he almost shuts the book at once... and yet his attention is compelled. But as he studies the book, something begins to move on the floor above him and descend the stairs. And Andrew is alone in the building...

That's only the beginning, though. Soon Andrew encounters Duncan Mylne, an influential advocate (Scottish legal representative) who has a knowledge of the occult that the people Andrew has previously encountered can only dream of. As his professional and personal life fall apart, Andrew is drawn into Mylne's tutelage. When he finally realises the kind of man he's become involved with, he attempts to break away from Mylne's control - but it may be too late. Because Mylne has a very specific purpose in mind for Andrew, and Andrew alone...

What makes The Matrix work so well? Part of it is Aycliffe's precise, elegant, even beautiful prose.

Terror is conjured by hints and shadows and glimpses, memorable images sketched in the reader's mind with enviable deftness and economy that linger and grow. There's very little physical horror here, and what there is is usually glimpsed from the corner of the eye. The novel's tone remains level and restrained no matter how dreadful the events, which only makes its eerie atmosphere and brooding dread stronger.

The Matrix is a slim, concise book, as I said earlier, which makes it a novel that can be read in a couple of days. Or even one. Maybe even a single night. Maybe not if you're on your own in the house, though. 

You can buy The Matrix here - the ebook is a mere £1.99! 

And you can pre-order Roth-Steyr here.

Pop back tomorrow for the next stage of the countdown...

Friday 9 October 2020

Things of the Week 9th October 2020: Roth-Steyr author copies, first After Sundown review, Hannah's Bookshelf, Back to Work, Omnium Gatherum Online Panel

It's been an eventful week or three.

My author copies of Roth-Steyr have arrived. They are things of beauty and you should all want one of your own. :) (Cate took the accompanying picture of Your Humble Scribe with his books and posted them to the Twitter dot com... with the caption 'Proud boy with his books.' Which could have been better phrased and timed. But what the heck.) 

The first review of Mark Morris' anthology After Sundown is up at Booklist: "This rich and masterful collection of horror highlights both up-and-coming and established authors in an interesting twist on the standard anthology [...] Highly recommended for longstanding horror fans and those readers who may not think horror is for them. There is something for everyone in this one."

I'm being interviewed by the delightful Hannah Kate on Hannah's Bookshelf tomorrow (Saturday 10th October) between 2 and 4 pm (UK time.) I'll be talking about Roth-Steyr, as you probably guessed. It'll be available to stream at a later date, so I'll post a link when available.

I'll also be flapping my gums tomorrow on Zoom, where I'll be recording as part of a live panel for Omnium Gatherum Books, to mark the launch of new novellas by Mark Kirkbride and Tom Johnstone. The three of us will be joined by Omnium Gatherum (OG?) supremo Kate Jonez and the fantabulous Lynda E. Rucker. Watch this space for further details.

I went back to work at my day job this month, after months off sick. So far it's actually been quite all right, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of it I remembered or came back.

In other news, my beloved friend Vicky Morris has won first place in the Aurora Prize for Poetry!  Vicky's a lovely person who has done an incalculable amount of work to encourage and develop young writers in South Yorkshire, and it's wonderful to see her getting some much-deserved recognition for her own work. Love and hugs to you, Vic! x

And my even more beloved Cate Gardner had a new short story, 'Liesel', published in Not One Of Us, a fiction market she's been trying to crack for years. Love you and proud of you, babe.

Friday 11 September 2020

Things of the Week 11th September 2020: 9/11, Roth-Steyr, After Sundown

It's very hard to believe that it's nineteen years since the World Trade Centre attacks in New York. I remember very clearly what I was doing; working in the small office I shared with a colleague in Manchester, when another workmate walked in. It was about 3.30 pm, British time.

"Have you heard? Someone's just flown a plane into the World Trade Centre."

I assumed at first it must be a light aircraft, a one or two-person plane.But it soon became clear it had in fact been a jumbo jet. An airliner. And that there'd been not one, but two. And that the towers had come down.

There was never much doubt about who was likely responsible, and beyond the horrifying death toll was the fear of what would come next. Soon the appalling tragedy was compounded by the invasions of Afghanistan - we're still there, nineteen years later, so that people who weren't even born that day are now risking their lives in the 'graveyard of empires' - and of Iraq.

It feels like a different world, the one I lived in prior to 3.30 pm British time, 11th September, 2001. A better one? Maybe, in some ways. Far from perfect; the tensions and conflicts behind the events of that day had been brewing for years if not decades beforehand. But like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 - also the culmination of long-simmering hostilities - September 11th was a catalyst that brought even more destruction and misery in its wake.

In that context, it seems an awkward time at best to announce a new book. 

I'd forgotten today's date until I sat down to write a blog post about my new novella, Roth-Steyr, and my first thought was to put off the announcement for another time. But the theme of the novella is in fact very much in keeping with what happened nineteen years ago today.

The Empire of the Habsburgs, one of the oldest and most powerful royal dynasties in Europe, was a strange and contradictory place. A relic of another time, reactionary and repressive, yet multinational and multi-ethnic, even cosmopolitan: Jewish writers like Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig, left stateless refugees by the rise of nationalism and fascism after the Empire fell, looked back on it with aching nostalgia. Highly cultured, home to the composers Mahler, Liszt and Strauss, the poet Rilke, the authors Kafka, Meyrink and Musil - yet cruel and barbaric in its treatment of smaller countries and those who attempted to break away from its rule. 

It was the heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo lit the fuse that would begin the First World War. At the outset of the conflict, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the Great Powers, covering almost a quarter of a million square miles of territory and home to over 52 million people. By the end of the war it had disintegrated, collapsing almost overnight. New nations were born, amid chaos and bloody violence, and the map of Europe changed forever. 

Roth-Steyr's protagonist, Valerie Varden, is from that lost world and knows, better than anyone, how the

world you take for granted, everything you know and love, can fall apart in an instant. And how the events of the past continue to afflict the present. (Indeed, much of the violence and division in the Middle East - the root cause of the September 11th attacks - can be traced to the aftermath of World War One.) 

Roth-Steyr will be released by Black Shuck Books on Halloween. My contributor copies of Mark Morris' new anthology from Flame Tree Press, After Sundown, arrived this week. They contain stories from some of the finest writers working in the genre today. And me. You can find out more, and order a copy if you fancy, here.

Have a good weekend, everyone. And take care of those you love.

Life is so much more fragile than you think. 

Friday 21 August 2020

Things of the Week, 21st August 2020: Best Horror of the Year #12, Black Shuck Novellas, After Sundown, These Foolish And Harmful Delights

The strangeness that is 2020 continues.

I'm still off work, as I have been all year, trying to find a way back through the anxiety maze. It's bloody draining; that's the most frustrating thing about it. One day you can schedule a series of tasks and stick to them, and think you're progressing - the next it all falls apart, with panic attacks, random general anxiety or general debilitating knackeredness kicking in. I do not recommend it, at all.

Most of last year was spent completing the final draft of one huge novel I've been revising on and off for the better part of a decade; my then agent enthused about it, but then took a job as a commissioning editor. Still, the Huge Novel was ready to be sent out in the hope of securing new representation, so towards the end of last year, out it went... which point I should probably mention that it's about a devastating global pandemic that collapses civilisation. I have a certain knack of timing!

Luckily, one agent liked it enough to ask to see my next book. I've completed two novels so far this year (one begun last summer) and am hard at work on a third. The first one has now gone out into the world. 

Despite everything, I'm managing to write 1000 words every day, with very very rare exceptions, and that ensures steady progress gets made. I used to write a lot more than that per day, and still think it wasn't enough, always in a hurry to get somewhere else; now, a thousand words seems plenty. It frees up time and energy to work on more than one thing at a time, and more importantly, it helps make the book about the journey and not the destination.

Best of all, I'm still lucky enough to have a wonderful and loving spouse who is also a phenomenal author in her own right. Anyone who's not read Cate's collection These Foolish and Harmful Delights really should.

The fantastic illustration at the top of this post is by Reiko Murakami, for the cover of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year #12.  As always, it contains a roll-call of fantastic authors, including Gemma Files, Laura Mauro, Nathan Ballingrud, Stephen Graham Jones, Sarah Read, Paul Tremblay, Sarah Langan and Joe Lansdale. My story 'Below', from Paul Finch's Terror Tales of North West England, is included therein.

Best Horror of the Year #12 is released on October 6th, and you can preorder it here

October will also bring the first of two all-new novellas, brought to you by that fine gentleman Steve 

Shaw of Black Shuck Books. The second one will be out next year; the first, all being well, should see the light (or the dark) on Halloween. More details to follow soon.

So October's looking like a good month, but then so does September, with Flame Tree Press bringing out an original, non-themed horror anthology, After Sundown, edited by Mark Morris. The successor to the Spectral Books of Horror and to Titan Books' New Fears, After Sundown features stories by a host of amazing writers -- too many to list here, but just take a closer look at the cover for a full roll-call! My story 'We All Come Home' is included. 

After Sundown is out on September 15th, and can be preordered here

And that's all the latest news from Castle Bestwick. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Simon x

The Lockdown with... Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a prolific writer of fiction across a broad range of genres, having written more

than fifty full length titles and over a hundred short stories. He is the co-host of Blackpool's Pub Poets and a regular participant (and occasional winner) in their monthly Haiku Death Match.

Aside from regularly blogging about writing, Ashley also teaches creative writing in the North West of England. He has recently completed a PhD in creative writing where he looked at the relationship between plot and genre in short fiction.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

1) I own the two cutest dogs in the world. This is Oswald and Dee. Dee is sticking out her tongue in this photo. Oswald is looking fed up with Dee’s flippant shenanigans.

2) I’ve got a PhD in creative writing. I wrote a thesis that looks at the relationship between plot and genre in short fiction.

3) I’ve written a book called Blackstone Towers, a horror novel, and I think it’s awesome.

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?

Perhaps we should call it ‘Writer’s Blockdown’? I will admit it hit me hard.

Lockdown gave me a lot of free time. I was able to work from home in the day job, you can still deliver lectures online, but I had free time because I wasn’t traveling to work, or going to the gym, or walking the dogs very much, or doing any socialising.

But I didn’t have the enthusiasm to do any original writing.

Then I had the idea to self-publish some of my back catalogue. I hadn’t done much in the way of self-publishing previously. I’ve usually worked with established publishing houses, but rights had reverted to me on a handful of titles so I thought I would see what the experience was like. Once I’d finished revising and uploading the previously published titles, I wondered if I should try to release a novel that I hadn’t yet placed with a publisher.

I surveyed my Facebook friends to establish the most effective title for the book and that’s how I come to be here, today, talking about Blackstone Towers.

3. What was the first thing you had published?

When I was eight, I had a poem published in a school magazine. Not only was the poem dreadful (rhyming ‘boy’ and ‘toy’) but I seem to recall it was also plagiarised. After that, when I was in my early teens, I had a letter published in the British comic Bullet, and they managed to change my surname from LISTER to LISTEN. After that my first success as an adult writer came when I wrote an erotic story for the adult magazine Forum.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I’m torn between two choices here. Part of me wants to say my PhD thesis, which can be found at this link. It embodies research from four and a half years of my life, includes a variety of original short stories in a range of genres, as well as my supported arguments for the difference between the semantic and syntactic aspects of genre.

However, another part of me wants to talk about my poetry. During lockdown I managed to put a lot of my poetry into a single collection (Old People Sex and other highly offensive poems), and I like that book because I know it makes readers laugh. My late father was a stand-up comedian and it’s always been an ambition of mine to entertain an audience in a similar way to him, so I think this book would have made him proud.

This is the opening stanza from the title poem of that collection:

Granny pulled on her surgical stockings
She put her false teeth in the glass
She took the Tena pad out of her panties
And said, “Grandpa, could you please f**k my ass?”

5. …and which makes you cringe?

There is a trilogy of erotic stories that I wrote a few years ago.

If I found a genie in a bottle, and I was granted three wishes, rather than doing something nice like removing illness and disease from the world or establishing a fairer balance of economic distribution, I’d ask the genie to remove each of those books.

6. What’s a normal writing day like?

When writer’s blockdown isn’t happening, I have a fairly rigid schedule. I get up at five and go to the gym for an hour. When I get back I breakfast, shower, shave and dress. A couple of days a week I go onto the campus and deliver lectures on creative writing and other English-related subjects. This completes my nine-to-five.

On the days when I’m not lecturing, I’ll spend a couple of hours writing from nine to eleven, walk the dogs, and then spend the afternoon either working on edits, researching, blogging or immersing myself in other tangentially related writing projects.

I’m very lucky in that I can spend so much of my time immersed in writing and stories.

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

good book?

My horror novel Blackstone Towers is due out on August 22nd. I’m very pleased with this one because it contains ghosts, zombies, daemons and lots of background supernatural elements. I think it was Toni Morrison who said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” Blackstone Towers is the book I wanted to read that I had to write.

This is the blurb from the back of the book.

The talismans of the magi control seven realms of the mortal world. One can grant the bearer immortality; another gives its owner unfathomable wealth; a third gives the holder unerring foresight. There is a talisman to control reality, success, the deliberate and the accidental, and a talisman that governs the balance between love and hate.

The planets are now aligning, and one worldly resident of Blackstone Towers knows the talismans urgently need collecting and destroying before they fall into the wrong hands.

The only problem is establishing whose hands are the wrong ones.

8. What are you working on now?

I’m about to embark on a blog tour to promote Blackstone Towers, with dates and locations below. [Ed: the blog tour's now complete, but why not check it out anyway? :) ]

My next project is going to be a series of horror novels, each one set around the same fictional university. There’ll be a Lovecraftian theme to all of the stories because I’ve recently been binging my way through the Herbert West – Reanimator stories and they have a definite allure that I think is always overshadowed by the Cthulhu mythos.

On top of that, I’m planning to spend a little downtime reading The Feast of All Souls because it looks like it’s going to be a delightful read. [Ed: Aw, shucks - thank you!]

Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog today. It’s been a genuine pleasure.

Monday 17 August 2020

The Lockdown with... Catherine Cavendish

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include The Garden of Bewitchment. The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy - Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.
Her novellas include The Malan Witch (to be published in Summer 2020), The Darkest Veil, Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife.
Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies including Silver Shamrock’s Midnight in the Graveyard and her story The Oubliette of Élie Loyd will appear in their forthcoming Midnight in the Pentagram, to be published later this year.
She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.
You can connect with Cat here:
  1. Tell us three things about yourself
I was born in Hereford and for the first two years of my life we lived in the same village as serial killer Fred West. Fortunately, our paths never crossed.
I used to work in advertising – for a number of newspapers, including The Yorkshire Post
The last time I saw my natural hair colour was in 1972!
  1. 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?
When the lockdown began, I was working on my new novel and was in the process of redrafting it. I carried on. I think the continuity of it helped. I have been one of the lucky ones because I have heard and read of people who have been badly affected and haven’t been able to create anything much since this all started. One thing I have been determined to do though – I am not writing a novel about lockdown!
  1. What was the first thing you published?

A short ghost story set on the Yorkshire moors near where I grew up. It was called In My Lady’s Chamber.
  1. Which piece of writing are your proudest of?
Always a tough question to answer because it’s usually whatever I’m currently working on or whatever has been most recently published but, taking a step back, I would say one of my personal favourites is The Pendle Curse, which is a novel centred around the infamous Lancashire Witch trials of 1612. It has witches, a time slip, ghosts, haunted buildings, demonic possession and evil children – all my favourites.
  1. and which make you cringe?
Fortunately, nothing that is currently in print. However, I do cringe whenever I read the outpourings of teenage angst I wrote many years ago and had the nerve to call poetry
  1. What’s a normal writing day like?
It starts with the ‘business of writing’ as I call it – responding to emails, writing emails, blogs, social media and so on, and then, in the afternoon, I settle down to work on whatever is in progress at the time. This may involve more reading and note-taking than actual writing if I am at the embryonic, research stage. A lot of my stories have a historical setting and I need to get the details right and the atmosphere as authentic as possible. If I am working on a first draft, I like to try and get around 2000 words down per day but sometimes it’s more, sometimes a little less. Sometimes of course, yesterday’s 2000 may hit the dust the following day, when I read over it and find I have made about as much sense as a politician on lockdown.
  1. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown?
Now that depends on their particular preference. The Pendle Curse I have already mentioned for fans of all things witchy, The Haunting of Henderson Close if you like scary, haunted places, Edinburgh and dark shadows. Then there’s The Garden of Bewitchment – the wild and rugged moors of the West Riding of Yorkshire, two sisters with a passion for the Brontës, ghosts and a really scary toy that no one in their right minds should play with.
  1. What are you working on now?
A novel set mainly in 1941 in the middle of the London Blitz. This one features the occult, Churchill, and a young woman who has become an unwitting target…

Monday 3 August 2020

The Lockdown with... Sean Hogan

Sean is a writer and filmmaker living in Margate. He has published three books to date: England's Screaming, Three Mothers, One Father and a critical monograph on the film Death Line. His feature film credits include The Devil's Business, Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD and The Borderlands, as well as a long trail of cinematic corpses that he'd rather not talk about.
  1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I once annoyed Sylvester Stallone so badly at a London Film Festival Q&A (simply by asking a non kiss-ass question) that they terminated the session immediately afterwards.

I own a psychotic cat named Tuco, who I have long suspected isn't actually a feline at all, but a demon familiar from the lower depths of Hell.

Kim Newman and I devised two horror anthology plays, The Hallowe'en Sessions and The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (written by ourselves and a host of other extremely talented genre writers) and staged them both in London. People often ask if we'll ever do another. The answer to that is, I directed both shows and it nearly killed me. Twice. I'm not particularly eager to try for third time lucky.
  1. 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 haven't found that it's affected me too badly, possibly because, as someone who's decidedly agnostic about social media anyway, I usually manage to resist the urge to doomscroll too much. So my day-to-day writing routine is pretty much what it always was – bursts of activity punctuated by general indolence.
  1. What was the first thing you had published?
That would be my book on Gary Sherman's excellent film Death Line, back in 2017. I'd done various bits of non-fiction writing (interviews, essays, reviews) over the years, but when I was actually commissioned to contribute to what was ostensibly meant to be a series of critical monographs, the book somehow ended up being mostly fictional. I had such a good time doing it that it A) served as a gateway into me doing more prose fiction, and B) ended up spawning the next two books I had published.
  1. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I suppose it would have to be England's Screaming, simply because it was an idea I'd long fantasised about, without ever really believing I would or could actually write it. And when I did finally decide to make the attempt, I still had no idea as to exactly how I was going to go about it, or whether I was capable of writing something of novel length. So the fact that I even completed it felt like a massive accomplishment at the time. Now that the book's been published and people seem to be responding to it, there is definitely a certain sense of pride that I managed to pull it off.
  1. and which makes you cringe?
The horror stories you hear about screenwriting are all entirely true. So you can pretty much go to my IMDB page and pick out any film not called The Borderlands (where, incredibly, they just shot what I wrote without changing anything, and it worked!) where I was employed solely as a screenwriter, and I guarantee you that not only do they make me cringe, but reliving the memories of working on them is enough to send my blood pressure surging through the roof.
  1. What’s a normal writing day like?

It really depends what I'm working on. Scriptwriting is almost second-nature to me now, so I find that decidedly less onerous and can get much more done without wanting to burst into tears or make a dash for the wine rack. But if I'm working on prose fiction (which I've been doing a lot more of recently), I'm still training my writing brain to think that way, which makes the work a lot slower/more frustrating. Add to that a healthy case of Imposter Syndrome (“I'm just a screenwriter, what moral or ethical right do I have to write ACTUAL PROSE?”), and I'm grateful if I can slog through 1000-1500 words in a day. And possibly this is entirely down to my own laziness, but I also seem to be an either/or writer. That is, I only seem to be able to work on one thing on any given day – I generally don't, say, find myself bouncing between prose pages in the morning and scripting in the afternoon.
  1. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
If I actually liked kids, I might compare this to having to choose between my own children. Well...I'll say England's Screaming again, because it's the meatiest of the books and seems to generally be having the desired effect for readers; that is, it's not solely aimed at those people who'll get every last obscure film reference, but should also work both as a primer on some interesting movies you might not have seen, and as a plain and simple story. But while I'm at it, I'll be completely shameless and say that if you liked that one, then you might want to consider picking up my other 2020 book, Three Mothers, One Father, which is a Eurohorror semi-sequel to England's Screaming, and possibly even the monograph on Death Line, the narrative portion of which functions as a sort of prequel to it. (I hear shared universes are very hot right now.)
  1. What are you working on now?
Two writing projects, currently: a game script for a first-person shooter, and a novel proper, The Corpse Road. And there are one or two film projects bubbling under, assuming we're not all just scrabbling around in the ruins of civilisation come the end of the year...