Author and Scriptwriter

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

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.