Monday, 3 January 2022

THAT WAS 2021, THAT WAS

As 2022 kicks into high gear, I thought it might be about time to look back at what I’ve published in the last twelve months (and maybe a hint of what’s to come).

The year started with the delayed first issue of the relaunched Startling Stories from Wildside Press, and edited by Douglas Draa. The lead story was my “Cradle of the Deep” – ostensibly a Damian Paladin story it was also what they call in TV land a backdoor pilot. Leigh Oswin and Damy investigate something lurking off the US Atlantic coast on board the new, 400-foot long experimental submarine cruiser the SC-1. By story’s end the boat had been officially named the USS Oswin, much to Damy’s disgust (I think he was expecting it to be USS Paladin). Sub and crew resurfaced later in the year in The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors: A Miscellany of Monsters in “Echoes of Days Passed”, a tale deliberately constructed to mimic its Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series inspiration, with something big in the North Atlantic sinking a Royal Navy secret testbed and eating its crew, before the Oswin gets involved due to a somewhat obsessional admiral. Death and destruction inevitably follow.
There’s a third Oswin story in the works – “Drawing Down Leviathan” – about to be revised and polished, involving a worldwide, seaborne organisation with huge ships that make 1930s aircraft carriers look like pedal boats, and an aircraft inspired by a Bel Geddes design. And even though a couple of Nazis get a walk-on part, I think I’ve found my series’ main baddies.

Next up was Phantasmagoria #18. This not only had a previously unpublished sword & sorcery piece of mine – “Face of Heaven, Eyes of Hell” – but also included me being interviewed by Allison Weir. A double strike if ever there was one.
And by one of those minor coincidences, Parallel Universe Publications’ Swords & Sorceries volume 2 also published a fantasy story of mine almost simultaneously, “The Essence of Dust”, which was an old piece that consisted of the original plot and very little else, having been pretty much rewritten from the ground up. And like “Face of Heaven, Eyes of Hell” it took place in my own fictional multiverse (although I prefer the terms Internection, or the Boundless), so there were the most tenuous of links. There’s also a vague connection with some of the fantasy strips I wrote for DC Thomson’s Starblazer (and illustrated by Quique Alcatena) for those who care to look. A few months later, Swords & Sorceries volume 3 published “The Rains of Barofonn”, a follow on from “Essence of Dust”, once more an old piece that has been revised, polished and expanded slightly. The submission period for volume 4 starts on April 1st (I hope the date’s not significant) and I will be most definitely throwing my hat in the ring once more.

Another Wildside publication edited by Douglas Draa – the Weirdbook annual, Zombies – contained “O Mary Don’t You Mourn”, a story set in mid-1860s New Orleans and featuring a Native American protagonist I dreamed up decades ago for an absolutely dreadful Western novel I abandoned halfway through (you’re welcome). He felt like the perfect fit for the story, and I may well write more Mattan fiction in the future.
Another anthology that was delayed for a year, due to the Covid pandemic, was The Mammoth Book of Folk Horror, from Skyhorse and edited by Stephen Jones. My contribution, “All I Ever See” took its title from a line in Status Quo’s early hit, “Pictures of Matchstick Men” (repurposing song titles or lyrics is something I’ve been doing for a long, long time). Anyone who’s read the story will have made the connection, I hope.

Finally there’s Gruesome Grotesques: Carnival of Freaks from TK Pulp. Editor Trevor Kennedy asked me if I’d like to contribute and I said I’d do what I could. Inspiration came from a weekend break to the Lake District. I wasn’t entirely happy when the final documentation came and I found that not only would we be staying in Blackpool (a town I have no love for, embodying as it does – in my opinion – all the worst aspects of British seaside resorts) and a Britannia hotel. Luckily, the hotel had previously been the Blackpool Hilton and the shine hadn’t rubbed off yet (although Blackpool remained Blackpool). The first night, the sound of small feet running up and down the corridor outside our room – combined with what I later realised was a slight panic attack at breakfast the first day (the restaurant became increasingly full as we finished eating, and I’d grown unused to crowds) – were the seeds which quickly grew into “Hall of Dreams” and its dark themes of childhood abuse and repressed memory. The small fictional seaside town of Byemouth was no Blackpool, though.
And that’s it for 2021. I already have a list of stories to be written, polished or edited within the first quarter of 2022. Beyond that there’s nothing planned. No doubt something will turn up. It always does.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 9 October 2021

ZOMBIE SEE, ZOMBIE DO


I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I’m no great fan of modern, so-called zombies in fiction (written or filmed). Mainly because most of the time the revenants aren’t really zombies – just the living dead (by means explained or not), and generally with a taste for living flesh (brains!!!!). I don’t think anyone has ever explained how they’re supposed to digest their meals, or moan, for that matter (they’re dead – they don’t breath!).

Yes, I get that Romero’s living dead are meant to be metaphors for capitalism, but most of the time the so-called zombies are clichĂ©d, shambling corpses that can still somehow overtake a running healthy person (The Walking Dead TV series really did miss the clue in the title).

However, I have been guilty of committing my own zombie stories a couple of times – although in my defence I do try and go for the traditional, raised from the dead and used as slaves motif (no doubt clumsily).

The first was “Zombie Dance” in the second Damian Paladin collection, Walkers In Shadow, and the second has just been published in the Weirdbook Annual: Zombies!. Entitled “O Mary Don’t You Mourn”, it’s a kind of Weird Western (if New Orleans can be said to be in the West), set around 1866/67, and featuring a Navajo character I came up with back in the late 1970s (when I started work on a truly appalling Western novel – long consigned to the trash-heap of history), and resurrected not-quite-dead that are a little closer to the zombie of voodoo legend – and inspired by that nasty fungus which turns insects into suicidal spore spreaders (not to mention imagery from William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night”, which gave me the heebie-jeebies the first time I read it as a kid).

So, Weird Western zombie story. Another phrase I never thought I’d be applying to my fiction.


Friday, 10 September 2021

HORRORS OF ALL SORTS

 


There seems to be an unwritten rule with regard to writing. As time passes we edit and polish our work, submit it, and await the acceptance (hopefully) or rejection (sadly inevitable sometimes). Then we sit back and wait for publication.

And that’s where this rule comes in.

You can have stuff accepted over a period of a year or more, then – because of the vagaries of the publishing world (and the last couple of years has seen more vagaries than usual) – nothing for months. Then, like buses, everything turns up at once (which is fine in a way, because if people aren’t paying attention, it can look like you’re really prolific).

Which is a roundabout way of explaining why three short stories of mine are all seeing publication within a short time of each other, when they’ve been accepted over quite a range of time.

“All I Ever See” was accepted for The Mammoth Book of Folk Horror (Skyhorse, ed. Stephen Jones) back in 2020, but due to the pandemic the book was delayed for a year or so. The Kindle edition is now available, while the paperback will be out in October (and is available to pre-order here)

“Echoes of Days Passed” is the second salty tale of the submarine USS Oswin (first encountered in “Cradle of the Deep”, Startling Stories magazine 2021 [Wildside, ed. Douglas Draa]) and was accepted for The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 3: A Miscellany of Monsters (The Alchemy Press, ed. Peter Coleborn & Jan Edwards) at the beginning of the year. This anthology is also due out in October, and is available to pre-order here.

“Hall of Dreams” is the baby of the bunch, conceived during a couple of nights’ stay in Blackpool in July. It will be seeing the light of day in Gruesome Grotesques Vol 6: Carnival of Freaks (TK Pulp, ed. Trevor Kennedy) in – you guessed it – October. You’d think there was some sort of festival celebrating spooks and other horrors at that time of year. Details for this as and when.

Three tales, acceptances spread over more than a twelve month period, being published within a few weeks of each other.

Odd business, this writing one.

Monday, 31 May 2021

RETURN OF THE SWORDS

Decades ago, back in the mists of time, my earliest attempts at writing revolved around what I later came to know as Sword & Sorcery (somewhat influenced initially by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, and then Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books). These primitive, immature scribblings morphed over time, and my earliest printed work was a very short story in the British Fantasy Society’s magazine, Dark Horizons #10 – “Designs of the Wizard” – in 1974. Two sequels followed – “Shadows of the Weaver” and “The Closing of the Days” – in Dark Horizons #12 and #14 respectively. All were bundled under the overarching title of “The Second Dragons”, and told an epic tale of human versus humanoid lizards in a post-apocalyptic desert Earth in well under 10,000 words. I returned to that particular world a couple more times – “Nightfall of a Dying World” (Dark Horizons 28, 1985) and “Fair Dues” (Dark Horizons 33, 1992) – when the mood struck, and may well do so again. I even wrote a novel, expanding on the original three stories; posterity will be relieved to know it no longer exists.

Now and then I’d dabble in other S&S tales [“The Pistol and the Sword” (Dark Horizons, 1979), “But the Stones Will Stand” (Fantasy Tales 10, 1982), “Sword of Light” (Victor Summer Special, 1987), and “Day of the Dark Men” (Fantasy Tales Vol.12 #6, 1991)], but over time I drifted away from that particular genre, for some reason. (Although I never entirely left: the jokey “Saving Prince Romero” was published in Unfit for Eden: Postscripts 26/27, in 2012).

Then, during 2020 – whether it was the unusually summery weather, or lockdown madness, who can say – I discovered a new enthusiasm for the form. I found time to dust off some of my unpublished S&S fiction and give it a good polishing (read: re-writing from the ground up) and I’m glad to say the exercise bore a little fruit. And so – by one of those typical coincidences which often plague the writer’s world – two pieces are appearing within a sort time of each other. “Face of Heaven, Eyes of Hell” has just been published in Phantasmagoria #18, while “The Essence of Dust” will shortly be released on an unsuspecting world in Swords & Sorceries Volume 2. And although there is little to connect either tale, they do take place in a shared universe (or should that be multiverse?).

I think it’s fair to say my S&S days are actually far from over.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

PALADIN FLIES AGAIN

The new expanded edition of The Paladin Mandates is now out from Pro Se Press. In addition to "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" (which was only in the original Kindle edition), and "Deck the Halls" (published in the Occult Detective Monster Hunter anthology in 2015) there are two pieces unique to this new edition: "Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking" and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf".

Available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon US and Amazon UK

MORE HOLMES, GARDENS, AND SINGULAR WORMS

As I mentioned in my previous post, where I mused on some of my published Sherlockian pieces, I briefly mentioned my contributions to the long-running MX series of charity anthologies which are compiled for the restoration of Undershaw – the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and now a Stepping Stones school.

The first was “The Adventure of the Vanishing Man” which saw print in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part V: Christmas Adventures in 2016. This has the honour of being the first canon Holmes story I ever wrote – since the Steampunk mashup Vallis Timoris certainly doesn’t count. Next came “The Adventure of the Haunted Room” in  The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part VII: Eliminate the Impossible, 1880-1891 the following year – investigations of possibly supernatural events which always have a rational explanation. A third – “The Adventure of the Singular Worm” – will debut in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part XXIII: Some More Untold Cases, 1887-1894, the middle volume in a trilogy exploring the references Watson makes to some of Holmes’s undocumented cases over the years 1877 to 1903.

If you’d like to contribute to the Kickstarter for those books, the link’s here.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

HOLMES IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Many years ago there was an independent bookshop in Birmingham by the name of Hudsons. During its declining years they introduced a bargain basement (no doubt to get rid of odd items of stock) where all sorts of goodies could be found. One time I came across a thin coffee table edition entitled THE SHERLOCK HOLMES SCRAPBOOK (dated 1973), edited by none other than Peter Haining, with a foreword by the one and only Peter Cushing.


It was a fascinating book, filled with articles, artwork, ads – in fact any kind of Sherlockian ephemera you can imagine. And it also mentioned new Holmes fiction had continued to be published after Conan Doyle’s death in 1930. That made me sad because I quite fancied the idea of writing a Holmes pastiche, but imagined the day for such things was gone (and I wouldn’t have known where to find a possible market at the time, anyway).

Fast forward to the 21st century, and that daydream finally came true. Not only did I end up writing that Holmes pastiche, I somehow managed a mash-up novel (VALLIS TIMORIS, Fringeworks, 2015), and a couple of shorts for David Marcum’s MX series of anthologies besides (“The Adventure of the Vanishing Man”, “The Adventure of the Haunted Room”) with a third – “The Adventure of the Singular Worm” – due out later in 2020. I even sold a Professor Moriarty story, “A Function of Probability” to Maxim Jakubowski’s THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF THE ADVENTURES OF PROFESSOR MORIARTY (Skyhorse, 2016). And did I stop there? Oh no. The latest to see print is in Belanger Press’s second volume of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE OCCULT DETECTIVES anthologies, edited by John Linwood Grant: “The Direction of Sunbeams”. Once again proving, it’s never too late.


And if I’d told that impressionable younger person as he bought that original Haining book, I wonder if he’d consider the idea “Incredible!” or “Elementary!”.

THAT WAS 2021, THAT WAS

As 2022 kicks into high gear, I thought it might be about time to look back at what I’ve published in the last twelve months (and maybe a hi...