Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Deb Loves Robbie

I'm pleased to say that "Easter Eggs & Bunny Boilers", the anthology edited by Matt Shaw, was published as an ebook exclusive on Easter Sunday.  It's my first time working with Matt, I'm part of a terrific ToC and the book features my story "Deb Loves Robbie", a tale of bad families, love and resurrection.
Matt Shaw invites you to learn the true meaning of Easter. Yes. That's right. Easter. Learn the true meaning of Easter in this anthology featuring some of the biggest names in horror right now with authors from across the globe. 

Come, take his hand, and experience demented rabbits, chocolate obsessed children drowning in their own greed, serial killers, resurrection and more in this collection guaranteed to kill the cravings of your sweet tooth. 

Introduction from Jim Mcleod

Desserts, by Matt Shaw

Bastard Bunny, by David Owain Hughes

He Is Risen, by Duncan Ralston

The Chickens And The Three Gods, by Kit Power

Wicker Baskets, by Kindra Sowder

My Last Easter, by Jack Rollins

Lepus, by Stuart Keane

Little Bunny, by Glenn Rolfe

Run Rabbit, Run, by Michael Bray

When A Bunny Snaps, by Jim Goforth

Help Me, by Neil Buchanan

Educating Horace, by Matt Hickman

Deb Loves Robbie, by Mark West

Tradition, by Kyle M. Scott

Hey-Zeus, by Duncan P. Bradshaw

Feldman’s Rabbit, by Rich Hawkins

On The Third Day, by Graeme Reynolds

Easter Eggs, by Chantal Noordeloos

Easter Hunt, by J R Park

The Jesus Loophole, by Luke Smitherd

The ebook is available from 

Having 'almost' met Matt at FantasyCon in Nottingham last year (we saw each other but didn't get a chance to speak), I friended him on Facebook and he wrote back that same day, inviting me me into this anthology.  I liked the concept, I liked the style (Matt works towards the more extreme end of the horror spectrum and whilst I don't so much these days, it was interesting to head back over there briefly) and so I signed up immediately.

The story had to be about Easter and I got the opening line 'The Easter Bunny killed Deb Swales' straight away, with the opening of the story coming out during that evenings walk.  More ideas slotted into place as the week (and evening walk miles) went by and watching "Psycho" on TV added the finishing touch.  I enjoyed writing this - though some of the research was a bit unpleasant - and I'm pleased to have written a tale that's honest, loving and very grim.

This time he hit my ear and the thud deafened me.  I went down, my right temple hitting the slick concrete.  I watched three pairs of trainers come towards me, felt someone grab the collar of my jacket and pull me up.  A kick landed in my ribs and I felt something crack.  Another kick caught my right shoulder, jarring my arm in the socket.  Gary punched my forehead and I closed my eyes, tried to bring my hands up to protect my face.  More blows rained on my arms and chest, more kicks hit my thighs and shins.  Someone kicked me in the groin and blackened lightbulbs flashed across my field of vision, slowly turning red.  Something ran into my eyes, blinding me.  Another punch, another kick, another horrible cracking sound.

More black lightbulbs and then nothing.

I woke up in hospital.  The first thing Deb said, after telling me she loved me, was that she’d lied to the doctors and said I’d been mugged.  Her brothers beat me until I looked like a rag doll, then threatened her that if she told or was seen with me again, they’d fix her.  She rang an ambulance from the pub and said everyone in there knew who she was but none of them offered to help.

The sovereign rings had done some damage but the pretty nurse who stitched me up did a good job and my broken ribs were taped.  What nobody could fix was the damage done inside my head.

The doctors said I’d suffered a TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury.  I wanted to crack that old joke, the “what brain?” one, but I couldn’t find all the right words and they said that was to be expected.  TBI damage can be wide-ranging, they said and vary a lot.  They told me I could have physical effects, like balance problems and headaches and dizziness, or my thinking and behaviour could be badly affected.

Was I sure, they asked, that I didn’t know who’d done it?  I took one look at Deb and the panic on her face - for me, for her, for us - and said no.

When I was released, Deb and I moved into the flat and neither of us spoke to our families.  We laid low, to avoid the world for a while and lived our lives as I slowly built my strength back up - though I found it harder and harder to remember how to fix even the most simple of things at work.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Writer/Blogger meet-up, London, 19th March 2016

Although I’ve had this blog since 2009, it’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve thought of myself as a blogger (and a somewhat eclectic one at that, it has to be said) and it’s been interesting to discover that community.  In January, my friend Sue Moorcroft took me along to a writers-bloggers meet-up in Birmingham, organised by Kim Nash.  I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know anybody else there but I had a great time.  Meeting in the Bacchus bar, it was in a side-room crammed with people who were all chatting at the same time, sharing a love of reading, of books and of communication.  I met Shelley Wilson (we later reviewed each others work), thriller writer Barbara Copperthwaite and reviewer Rachel Gilbey and enjoyed it so much that when another meet-up was announced for London in March, I signed up for it straight away.  As the day came, however, with Sue unfortunately unable to go, my nerves kicked in (shyness really) as I made my way down to London but there was a silver lining - I picked up a hardback edition of Dennis Etchison’s Cutting Edge anthology (the book that changed the way I looked at horror) for £1 in the train station book sale!
Always a tourist - Trafalger Square at lunchtime
"People with heart conditions - use the lift!" Whoops...
The event was scheduled to begin at noon and since my train arrived at 11.26 and I can't go to London and not see some of the sights, I caught the tube to Covent Garden.  As I was heading up, the lift had just gone and people in front of me were talking about taking the stairs.  As hard as it might be to believe, I didn’t know about the Covent Garden steps and even the signs (which almost say 'there’s too many, you idiot, wait for the next lift!') didn’t phase me.  We set off up the spiral staircase, with people flagging in front of me (it’s very difficult to overtake when the inner part of the tread is only an inch or so across), passing the occasional sign telling us how many were left.  I kept going, my legs beginning to hum with a faint ache and passed knots of people, stopped and worrying because they were halfway up and didn’t know what to do.  I eventually got to the top (all 193 steps) without stopping and felt great, though whilst my breathing might have been steady the muscles above my knees were singing!

I had a wander around Covent Garden (I love it there), nipped into Erics Nook to buy a gift for Alison & Dude then walked to Shaftesbury Avenue.  Phil Sloman had told me the Cinema Store was closing but I didn't expect it to be so sudden and was disappointed to find the space empty (with a 'Trust No-One!' poster on the door).  I walked around the corner and discovered Orbital Comics (which I’d never seen before), went in and managed to pick up a vintage Stormtrooper for £12!  I got my lunch from the Fiori Corner deli at Leicester Square (chicken salad sandwich in a ciabatta, made as I stood there and still cheaper - and far tastier - than anything Subway could conjure) and walked up Charing Cross road, nipping into Any Amount Of Books (which Phil showed us on our first Crusty Exterior meet-up) and picking up a cosy mystery I’d been looking for.  With that, I caught the tube back to Kings Cross, walked out of the station and around the corner and The Waiting Room was just along the road.

With Barbara
Underneath a Premier Inn, I went to what I assumed were the main doors and fruitlessly pushed and pulled on them.  Hiding my eyes, I slunk back around the building trying to find the correct entrance (I did, it wasn’t where you expected it to be) before discovering everyone else had done the same thing.  The meet-up had taken over the bar area and there were a lot of people, with me taking the tally of blokes up to the three.  I found Kim and we had a chat, then she gave me my name-badge, steered me towards Barbara and headed off to find more newcomers.  It was good to see her again and after we caught up, she introduced me to blogger Neats Wilson, before Lisa Cutts joined the conversation.
Jan Ellis, Christina Courtney and me
Jan Ellis who I just connected with on Twitter came over, following by Sue’s friend Christina Courtney and we had a long and wide ranging discussion on everything from writing for ebooks, putting passion on the page and the public reaction to 50 Shades Of Grey.  Trevor Williams came over to introduce himself, a few more joined our conversation and it was great - we all wrote different things, we all had a slightly different approach and it was interesting to hear varying viewpoints.  Later, as I stood at the bar, two of my Romaniac chums, Sue Fortin and Jan Bridgen, came over to say hello.  Although we’ve known each other online for a few years (and I read Sue’s book last year) it was the first time we’d met up and happily, our sense of humour seemed to click in right away and we spent a lot of time laughing.  Sue got Talli Roland to take a picture then introduced me to her and that led to another interesting discussion about sub-genre.  Talli headed off to do some shopping, Sue & Jan went to catch their train, I chatted with Barbara and her friend before Rachel Gilbey came over for a natter and then it was time for me to head off.
With the Romaniacs - Jan Brigden (left) and Sue Fortin
As far as I was concerned, the afternoon was great fun and my nerves were pointless - I met some great people, had some excellent writing and book related conversations and made new friends.

Roll on the Brum meet-up next month!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Photograph Of You

I'm pleased to report that "Tales From The Lake vol. 2", from Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Joe Mynhardt, Emma Audsley & R.J. Cavender, has just been published.  It features my story "Photograph Of You" and I'm chuffed to be in an anthology alongside so many great names (I mean, seriously, look at that line-up!).

The second installment in the annual Tales from the Lake anthologies. 
This non-themed Dark Fiction anthology plunges the reader into worlds filled with serial killers, ancient gods, vengeful rednecks, cowboys, elevators, forests, lakes, frozen ponds, hell-bound elevators, and much, much more. 

Foreword, by Joe Mynhardt

Lago de los Perdidos, by Jim Goforth

Out of the Woods, by Ramsey Campbell

Winter’s Dollhouse, by Rena Mason

The God of Rain, by Tim Lebbon

A Grand Perversion, by Ben Eads

Bone Wary, by Jan Edwards

Photograph of You, by Mark West

St. Thomas of El Paso, by Lisa Morton

Forever Dark, by Jonathan Winn

Ripperscape, by Vincenzo Bilof

Descending, by John Whalen

Virtuoso, by Hal Bodner

Chalk Face, by Raven Dane

Like Disneyland, by Rocky Alexander

Prime Cuts, by Glen Johnson

The Lake is Life, by Richard Chizmar

Damned if You Do, by Jack Ketchum

The First Header, by Edward Lee

Love Amongst the Redback Spiders, by Aaron Dries

The book is available as an ebook only at the moment (print to follow) from Amazon

Amazon US

When Joe Mynhardt got in touch with me during summer 2014, inviting me to contribute to this anthology, I was excited to be part of such a cracking line up.  My heart attack meant I missed the original deadline but he was kind enough to hold my place and give me some extra time.  When I came to start writing I initially drew a complete blank, which panicked me somewhat and I spoke to Steve Bacon about it (hence the story is dedicated to him).  We brainstormed some ideas and one of them - "A woman finds a series of weird photographs that get progressively more frightening" - really sparked with me and I was finally off.  As it was, the writing was quite a painful process (the first half took a fortnight, the second half a matter of days), stemming from my fear I couldn't do it and the fact that I was holding Joe up (though he was a delight all the way through).

The story features Cindy, heavily pregnant with her partner Steve's baby, who is fretting that he might be playing away.  Looking through some photographs she'd taken of him in the park, she is surprised to see that in one of them he's talking to a woman Cindy hadn't seen on the day

Her mobile buzzed as Cindy was waiting for the kettle to boil.  She put her travel-mug on the kitchen counter, delved into her bag for her phone and looked at the display.

"Morning Angie,” she said.

“Hey, how’re you?”

“I’m fine, just waiting to make my coffee then I’ll be off.  Why, what’s up?”

There was a pause.  “Nothing, just checking.”

Cindy took a deep breath, making it loud enough that Angie could hear.  “I’m fine, honestly.  I look like the side of a house, but I’m fine.”

There was another pause and Cindy thought she heard Angie draw breath, as if she was going to say something.  “Is everything okay Angie?”

“Yep, no problem, I’ll see you at work.”


Frowning, Cindy closed the call.  Her phone wallpaper was a selfie she’d taken on a beach in Devon, with her too close to the lens and Steve behind her, his eyes wide and his big grin partially hidden.  It always made her smile - photographing him made her smile.

She pressed the gallery button.  They’d been to the common at the weekend and she’d left her camera at home but had taken several with the phone - a good substitute but not in the same class as her Nikon.  The first picture was Steve standing at the pond, throwing lumps of bread at ducks and swans that weren’t interested at all.  The next photo was another selfie, but it was unfocussed and she seemed to have at least three chins.

"Not the most flattering,” she said.

The third picture was Steve walking towards her, a big smile on his face.  He’d taken a call, standing well away from the trees to get a better signal and she’d walked on a little way.  The last picture was him in the distance, his back mostly towards her, the phone pressed to his ear.

Cindy looked at the photo, looked up at the kettle as it clicked off, then back at the picture.  The woman was standing right in front of him and they were clearly talking to each other.  She was blonde, her curly hair blown by the wind, her eyes wide, her mouth a thin line.  She was wearing black boots, a knee-length skirt and a black jacket she was hugging to herself.

Cindy didn’t remember seeing a woman standing with Steve when she took the photo.

Who was she?

Monday, 7 March 2016

Stuart Young & Me, interviewer/interviewee

I like Stuart Young a lot.  We've known one another for years (we go way back to the very late 90s and the days of print zines in the small press), we share a deep and abiding love of Robert B Parker's Spenser novels and we have a laugh when we see each other.
At the Rainfall Books launch, Princess Louise Holborn, London, 5th December 2003
In 2014, both of us had books published through Chris Teague's Pendragon Press - "Reflections In The Mind's Eye" for him, "Drive" for me.  To help with promotion, we had a chat and decided to interview each other, posting them to our own blogs.  I did mine (of course I did), the books were delayed, "Drive" came out, Stu's came out much later, he didn't finish his interview, time moved on.

In December 2015, we were talking about them again because he'd finally got round to answering his questions (which I was keen to see, because he's a genuinely funny bloke) but we had another problem, in that he couldn't access his own blog.  So instead, rather than him host me and me host him, I'm going to publish both of them.  Consider us sitting around a table in a pub somewhere, laughing and messing about and talking about genre.

Stuart Young, interviewed by me

MW:   So let’s talk about “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye”, your new collection from Pendragon Press.  How many stories, what’s the central theme, what span of your writing career do they cover?

SY:  There a four short stories and one novelette. They all fall under the heading of SF, be it SF-horror, SF-crime, or even cosmic horror; and they all deal with different aspects of human consciousness and how it perceives reality. Some of the stories are pretty dark while some of them feature a little more humour in among the heartache and despair. (Although that’s just to lull the reader into a false sense of security and make the dark stuff even more painful.) The stories come from various stages of the last ten years or so of my writing career.

MW:  How did you con Lavie Tidhar and John Llewellyn Probert into the cover blurbs?

SY:  I persuaded John and Lavie and also Gary McMahon to provide cover quotes by the nefarious ploy of writing stories that were so entertaining, insightful and compelling that they had no choice but to say nice things about them. Look, will you stop laughing? I’m being serious.

MW:  Do you feel more comfortable in the short story format, as opposed to the novella length you so successfully deployed with “The Mask Behind The Face”?

SY:  It depends on the story. Sometimes the plot points and emotional beats can be sketched in fairly lightly, the depth and substance deriving from the way the different story elements all tie together, whereas other times I need to go into a bit more detail and spell things out.

One of the nice things about “The Mask Behind the Face” was that I’d been reading up on story structure so I was able to figure out how to fit in the maximum amount of plot yet still leave room for all the character stuff. T.E.D. Klein (yes, I’m namedropping) said that he was impressed with how much I fitted into the story. And various other people (who aren’t famous enough for me to mention their names) praised both the plot and the characterisation. It was having that extra bit of room to work with that allowed me to flesh out the story the way I did.

MW:  How did it feel to win the BFS award and what effect did it have on your writing?

SY:  It felt great at the time but then I had to face the sobering reality that no one I was submitting stories to gave a crap. The general attitude seemed to be “You’ve had your moment in the sun, now sod off and let someone else take a turn.” Fortunately we Youngs are a hardy breed, more than capable of coping with life’s little misfortunes. And so after a mere six months of uncontrollable wailing and gnashing of teeth I returned to writing and even called off the hitman contracts on the editors who had rejected my stories.

The lack of post-award success does feel a little confusing though. While I’m not claiming to knock every story out of the park I’ve had several works published that I think are just as good as “Mask”, if not better, yet they received absolutely zero attention and I can’t figure out why.

MW:  You’re known primarily as a horror/dark fantasy writer, though I’ve seen sci-fi stuff too but in real-life, you’re very funny.  Have you ever considered writing a comedic novel?

SY:  I did start writing a humorous fantasy novel featuring Jarly and Grarg, the characters I used in a comic strip drawn by David Bezzina. Jarly’s an inept wizard and Grarg’s his pet dragon. I got about a quarter of the way through then got sidetracked by other projects. Maybe one day I’ll dig out my notes and see if I’ve got time to finish it.

MW:  What do you prefer to read - horror, sci-fi etc, or something completely different?

SY:  Depends what mood I’m in. Although for the last couple of years I’ve been reading mainly horror because pretty much everyone I know who writes in the genre seems to have been reading it non-stop ever since they graduated from Janet and John books, whereas I didn’t really start reading horror until I was 20 and even then my reading in the genre has been pretty sporadic. Consequently, I have a bit of an inferiority complex about my lack of knowledge and have been trying to catch up. Of course since I’ve been focusing on horror I’ve fallen way behind on science fiction, although this year I have managed to read some JG Ballard, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts and Karen Lord. As for fantasy, I think I’m being cutting edge if I read Robert E Howard.

I read a fair bit of crime fiction, mainly hardboiled stuff. And I read comics, with stories across a variety of genres.

A quick list of some of my favourite authors would include John Connolly, Joe R Lansdale, Michael Marshall Smith, Douglas Adams, Greg Egan, Robert B Parker, PG Wodehouse, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman.

MW:  So what can we expect from you in the future, what’s waiting to come out and what are you working on now?

SY:  Thou Shalt Not, an anthology featuring my short story “Confessions” (as well as your story “The Goblin Glass”) is available from Tickety Boo Press. My novelette “The Carnivore of Monsters” is appearing in the anthology Marked to Die which should be out from Snuggly Books in April. I’m finishing up a collection of novellas and novelettes for Gray Friar Press; the working title for the book is Scars Across the Soul. The current line-up consists of a haunted house story, a zombie apocalypse, a ghost story and something which is a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Eagle (but with Tibetan Buddhism in place of witchcraft).

MW:  Excellent.  So when are we hitting the second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road again?

SY:  Next time you come to London.
At FantasyCon in Brighton, 29th September 2012, with Gavin Williams

Me, interviewed by Stuart Young

photo by Carrie Buchanan
SY:  Is it true that you called your novella "Drive" in a blatant attempt to cash in on the hit film? And so you can impress young women by pretending to be Ryan Gosling?

MW:  No to both, as it happens.  I originally wrote the novella back in 2008, Chris took it later that year and it’s been part of the Pendragon pipeline since then.  When the novella and film came out, I was convinced we needed to change the title but Chris liked the original one and so we stuck with it - and as it happens, the title is perfect for my story.  I’m not sure that my chances with the ladies would be improved if I looked like Ryan Gosling - if I’m perfectly honest - because neither of us would look like you.

SY:  So what’s the book about?

MW:  It’s about two people who’ve only just met one another - David and Nat.  He’s away from home on a training course, they’re at a party and he offers to drive her home.  On the way they come into contact with three thugs driving an Audi who are out to have a good time, at everyone else’s expense.  The novella follows their evening, as things go steadily from bad to worse.

The initial idea came to me as I was driving to Luton airport very early one morning to go on a work trip to Paris.  It was 3am and the roads were deserted and I felt so isolated and alone, plus the environment of the M1 when nobody else is on it is very alien, that I knew I could write about it.

SY:  You produced the cover artwork for the book yourself. This shows your versatility and creativity and the fact that you’re too cheap to pay a real artist to do the job. But how did you get into producing cover artwork?

The Rainfall Writers, Holborn, December 2003
from left - Joseph Freeman, John B. Ford, Mark Samuels, me.
Stuart shows his true height in front of us...
MW:  Thanks, I think.

This all goes back to my first collection, “Strange Tales”, which was published by Rainfall Books in 2003 (yours was launched at the same time).  I had an idea for the cover, I’d just got photo-software for our PC and I asked John if I could have a go.  He liked it and I was really chuffed, then I did my own cover for “Conjure” too.  With “In The Rain With Dead”, I knew what I wanted to see and did a mock-up for Chris at Pendragon and he liked it and that seemed to set the template really.  Along the way, I started to get asked by other people to design covers and, on the whole, I find it quite enjoyable.  My main drawback is that I can’t draw, so everything has to be done with photographs which can sometimes cause a bit of a problem (I refer you to your blog on the subject).

SY:  Late last year you had another book out from Pendragon Press called “The Lost Film novellas”, a two-hander with Stephen Bacon in which you each contribute a novella about lost films. What terrible thing did Stephen do to deserve having to put up with you as a co-contributor?

MW:  I’m not entirely sure.  We’d corresponded for a while and got on well, then met at FantasyCon in 2010 and talked about doing a collaboration.  We emailed back and forth with ideas and both of us, at some point, mentioned lost films and it went from there.  What we decided to do was write two stand-alone novellas that would have links to the other and both of them turned out very differently indeed - mine is a crime-horror-mystery and Steve’s is almost gothic and superbly written.

SY:  The lost film is a very popular idea within horror fiction. What do you think is the appeal of this particular trope?

MW:  I think it’s the intrigue, to be honest.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, like you, there were plenty of films that I wanted to see which never came anywhere near my local cinema or on the TV.  The Internet, through various avenues, has rectified a lot of that but there are still legends of films that have never been seen, that never should be seen, that were - indeed - dangerous.  I liked that idea and when I got the concept for “The Lost Film”, I embraced it wholeheartedly.

I decided to have the film-maker in the story, Roger Sinclair, working in the mid-70s, because I liked that period of Brit exploitation films and I thought it suited him just right.  Doing the research was great fun too - reading a lot of crime novels, watching old documentaries on YouTube, looking at old pictures on Flickr - and gave me enough material to stretch over into my Anatomy of Death story “The Glamour Girl Murders”.

The film in the story is called “Terafly” and drives the people who watch it insane because of what it contains, which isn’t always the same for everyone. I had great fun writing it.

SY:  You’re known for your horror fiction but "Drive" is a crime story and the protagonist of “The Lost Film” is a private eye. Does this herald a new direction for your writing?

MW:  I don’t think so, no.  “Drive” is a crime story in the sense that it has baddies in it, but I was all for calling it a novella of urban terror, though Chris wasn’t so keen on that.  I haven’t always written horror but that’s the area that most of my writing over the past fifteen or so years has felt most comfortable in, though I’ve always tried to stretch the definitions.  I don’t write blood-and-guts horror any more, I tend towards the bleaker end of the spectrum now, but sometimes the supernatural element is little more than a sigh.  But I like that.

With “The Lost Film”, it just made sense to use a character I created over twenty-five years or more ago, a private detective called Gabriel Bird.  As you know, I enjoy crime fiction - we like a lot of the same books and you’re always suggesting new writers for me to try - and it felt good to be writing it.  I have to confess that I used Robert B Parker for the model of the private eye stuff and “Angel Heart” for when things start to take a darker turn.

SY:  So what's to come in the future, writing-wise, for you?

MW:  Like you, I have a story in the Tickety Boo Press anthology "Thou Shalt Not" - mine was called "The Goblin Glass" and is a nasty little chiller.  My story "The Sealed Window" is in "The Hyde Hotel" anthology from Black Shuck Books and I have another Mike Decker story, "This Is The Colour Of Blood" in the latest Dean Drinkel anthology called "Chromatics".  Next up is another novella, called "Polly", from Stormblade Productions and I'm about to start writing a novella for Hersham Horror Books.

SY:  Show off!  So is there anything else you want to say before I tell you to get lost?

MW:  Not really, no but thanks for asking.

Stuart hangs on my every word as I explain where "The Mill" came from at the "We Fade To Grey" launch.
Editor - and fellow contributor - Gary McMahon takes notes next to Stu, whilst a longhaired Simon Bestwick wonders when I'm going to stop talking. John Travis, far left, looks distracted.
20th September 2008, FantasyCon Nottingham
End note - we still haven't made it back to any more Charing Cross Road bookshops!  Maybe this year...