Author and Scriptwriter

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

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Lowdown with... Carrie Laben

Welcome to the first Lowdown of 2017! Bit of a belated start, I know - having started a day job towards the end of last year, it's thrown some of my normal daytime scheduling out. Nonetheless, now it's back, so please welcome 2017's first guest - U.S. author Carrie Laben.

Carrie Laben grew up in western New York on a small dairy farm. After stints in Ithaca and Brooklyn, New York, she earned her MFA at the University of Montana in scenic Missoula. She now lives in Queens.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 
- The first thing that most people learn about me is that I'm an avid birdwatcher, and I'm very interested in environmental issues generally. Back when I considered it impractical to want to be a writer, I got a B.S. in natural resource management. The most I've ever used that degree for is helping my friends with birds that accidentally got inside. So much for practical.
- I'm the oldest of seven children. Relationships between siblings play a major role in my work for some reason.
- My favorite place I've ever lived is Missoula Montana, despite the fact that I didn't have a car the whole time I lived there. I've never had a car or a driver's license.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

 My first pro publication was "Something in the Mermaid Way" at Clarkesworld Magazine back in 2007. Nick Mamatas, who was editing at the time, called me creepy, and that was about the best thing I could think of. Then that story got nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award and picked up by Rich Horton for Fantasy: The Best of the Year. It all gave me a rather skewed perception of how things were going to go from then on!

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
 Tough call, but the one I wish more people had read was "And Neither Have I Wings to Fly", which was in Bewere the Night, an anthology of shapeshifter stories. I got to do some fun stuff with POV in "The Fledglings of Time" in Zombies: Shambling Throught the Ages. My most recent story, "Postcards from Natalie", I think has an emotional depth that I hadn't ever quite gotten to before. Like I said, tough call.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
"Cringe" is a strong word but "A Shot of Fireball" in the anthology Handsome Devil was composed with the idea that it would eventually be part of a larger work, and when I look at it now all I can see are the loose ends.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
I'm a night owl. On a good day I get up at eight or nine, have coffee and do some yoga before I get my butt in the chair, and work on my nonfiction freelancing gigs until I break for lunch at one or two pm. Then there's an interval of putzing around and taking care of correspondance and invoicing and errands and whatnot. My most productive time for fiction is after dinner until midnight or so.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
"Something in the Mermaid Way" at Clarkesworld or "Postcards from Natalie" at The Dark. Both are available online and between them they span my career to date.

7. What are you working on now? 
I'm finishing up a new draft of my novel, which is about a pair of sisters - surprise! - with psychic powers on a post-jailbreak road trip to the heart of their family's history of abuse and deceit. Also to Minnesota.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Things of 2017 so far: Reviews for The Feast Of All Souls and Devil's Highway, Hayley Stevens Interview, Derek M. Fox

Reviews have continued to come in for The Feast Of All Souls, from both Fantasy Book Review, who really liked it -

I finished The Feast of All Souls in short order, always a good sign that I enjoyed a book, in fact enjoying it every bit as much as the Herbert and King novels I read in my teen years and... the [Adam] Nevill books I have read in recent years. I turned the last page both satisfied and impressed... an author I would not hesitate to read again.

- and from SFX, who weren't so keen:

There's a lot going on in this novel: hauntings aside, there's time travel, torture, grief, and even a bit of Arthurian Grail lore. The interesting stuff comes in fits and starts, though... it's infuriating, especially because Alice is such a horrible character to spend time with... The reason behind the . haunting, when it's revealed, is inventively grotesque, and the various strands of nastiness weave together satisfyingly enough. Still, there probably needs to be an epilogue where Alice apologises to literally every other character in the book.

Actually, I kind of like that idea. I might write it and post it here... :)

[Just FYI: there's no link to the SFX review as I haven't been able to find it online, not because I'm sulking over it!]

Hayley Stevens
As part of the promotion for The Feast Of All Souls, I interviewed one of the people who helped me Hayley Stevens. Originally a fervent believer in all things paranormal, now she's a rationalist and skeptic who applies scientific method to find the explanation for weird phenomena. John Revell's approaches in The Feast Of All Souls owe a lot to her.
in my research for it - real-life paranormal investigator

Not that everything Hayley's encountered has had a wholly rational explanation... but you'll have to read the interview, here and here, to find out about that. And to find out more, check out her website.

Devil's Highway is also garnering good notices, with rave reviews from both This Is Horror and Ginger Nuts of Horror.

Thomas Joyce at This Is Horror calls Devil's Highway:

An excellent cross-genre blend which shall appeal to horror, military, and action fans alike... a thrilling tour-de-force novel full of military grade action sequences and complex characters, but also moments of intense emotion and the lightest touches of romance which combine to deliver a compelling story that pulls you in and refuses to let go, adding Bestwick handles the conclusion of the story with the touch of an expert storyteller while also setting up the story to continue into book three with a new threat. It is clear that he has more in store for fans of ‘The Black Road’ series and we will not be disappointed.

Over at Ginger Nuts Of Horror meanwhile, Laura Mauro says: In many ways Devil’s Highway is a high-octane action movie of a book: the Mad Max: Fury Road of genre novels, only with more dialogue. And this is not a bad thing.

Laura particularly rates the portrayal of Helen Damnation: In the hands of another writer, Helen might have become a dull caricature of a ‘strong female character’. Here, though, her flaws and failings are put under a narrative microscope and viewed alongside her strengths and triumphs: she is a brave warrior, a survivor, a leader of men. She is also weak and selfish and dangerously impulsive. She is imperfect, and all the more interesting a character for it.

I did chuckle over this bit, admittedly: There is a particular moment of loss which hit me especially hard, and I think it speaks of Bestwick’s skill as a writer that he is able to make me care so much about a relatively minor character. Mainly because I remember an email from Laura that read "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU KILLED [DELETED] YOU UTTER BASTARD." There can be few higher compliments for a writer...

The review concludes: A potent mix of grim, dystopian sci-fi and visceral horror, combined with a vibrant imagination, lift a standard ‘Good vs Evil’ narrative and have turned it into something quite special indeed.

So all this has been much-needed good news, among the general gloom and doom of world affairs and other matters of a more personal nature.

Derek M. Fox
We're off for dinner with friends tonight, which is good as this week began on something of a sad
note.

Back in the 1890s 1990s, when I was starting out as a writer, I used to attend the Terror Scribes meetings, where UK horror authors (usually based in the North or Midlands) gathered together for alcohol and curry. I still remember the one where I decided that pints of Stella Artois followed by Lambs Navy Rum chasers were a good idea... actually, 'remember' probably isn't the right word. They were started off by Chesterfield author John B. Ford, who invited a bunch of writers he knew to join and Simon Clark in a Sheffield pub in order to generally get drunk and shoot the breeze; the whole thing was that much fun, it became a semi-regular thing for several years.

One of the stalwarts of the Terror Scribes (and of the UK horror small press in the '90s) was Derek M. Fox, who died shortly before Christmas last year. Author and creative writing tutor, much-loved by his family and with a wicked sense of humour, Derek was a good guy and will be very much missed. I hadn't been greatly in touch with him for many years, but even though I was aware he'd been in ill-health for some time it was a shock to hear of his passing.

The funeral service was on Tuesday, and a few of us from the old days - Paul Kane, Marie O'Regan, Rob Rowntree, Lisa Negus and me - were there to pay our respects. Much love to Derek's wife Kath, and to his extended family.

RIP Derek. Get us all a round in, wherever you are.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Goodbye, 2016...

Well, this bit was good...
...and don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

As Dave Allen once said "Annus horribilis? I'd have called it annus anus - an arsehole of a year." 2016 was the year of Brexit, Trump and a roll-call of deaths among the great and the good (the genuinely so, in the sense of actors, artists, writers and others who enriched the world and made it a better place) while truly vile individuals gained ever higher levels of power and adulation. For an awful lot of reasons, that means that when it comes to wishing people a Happy New Year for 2017, I'm setting the bar for what actually constitutes a Happy New Year pretty low. As in 'we don't all die, our countries don't turn into fascist dictatorships or post-apocalyptic hell-holes, we don't see our neighbours or ourselves dragged away and locked up or kicked to death in the middle of the night for something we said and we don't end up with World War Three'. You know, that kind of level.

But...
Hopefully not how Liverpool looks next year.

There were good things too.

Pandas came off the endangered species list, for instance. A vaccine against Ebola was discovered. There's more, too. I'm struggling to remember what they all are, right now, but they were there. This interview with Steven Pinker suggests some of them (although whether those trends will continue is matter of opinion.) We shouldn't be starry-eyed and utopian - but nor should we give in and assume it's all fucked.

And on a personal level, it was a pretty good year.

My agent sold the audiobook rights to last year's crime novel. I placed a new story collection (contractual stuff ongoing; details to follow when possible.) I had two novels published. I had stories podcast with Pseudopod, and sold five reprints to Great Jones Street.

Better still, Cate and I celebrated four years as an item and two years living together. Oh, and...

We got married.

That was pretty fucking awesome, especially thanks to all the wonderful friends and family who came along to make it such a special day. (My Mum said: "I didn't realise how popular you were!" Um, thanks Mum. I think.)

I did end up back in a day job, at least for now. The hours are tough, but weirdly I've actually got more productive, which has included not only writing the new novel (Wolf's Hill, the third Black Road book) in the mornings, but jotting down a short story longhand during the day in between times. Two projects at the same time, which is something I've never managed to do before.

I just finished that first short story today. It appears to have turned into a novelette or novella. I think
I can deal with that.

So, for 2017: let's hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and try not to despair. No, that won't prevent bad shit from happening in the coming year. It may not even prevent the worst possible shit from happening. False optimism is pointless. But giving up hope is the one sure way to ensure all the worst possible shit will definitely happen this year.

So, let's crack on, and hope that this time next year we're all still here to celebrate better days to come. And if not, let's count our blessings and try to maintain the same mindset.

Best I can come up, really.

So: Happy New Year.

Simon x

Saturday, 31 December 2016

For Your Edification and Delight, The JCS Saga


Facebook's 'On This Day' function can be fun at times, especially around New Year's. Always interesting to remind myself what I was up when various years came to a close. And a whole bunch of statuses came up from last December 31st...


My beloved Cate loves musicals - and to be fair, I've actually seen quite a few I ended up enjoying (including last night's movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie.) But just as I've never been able to convince her of the charms of Blake's 7 or original Dr Who, there are things Cate loves which, well, I don't.

Case in point: last NYE's movie was Jesus Christ Superstar. Unfortunately, I was on Facebook at the time, and this is what happened. Alcohol may have been involved.



This year I get to pick the film...

(ETA: we ended up with a double bill of Beetlejuice and Gravity, in case you were wondering. Picked one each. And were in bed by half-eleven. We lead such a rock-and-roll lifestyle here.)




Monday, 19 December 2016

Things of the Week, 19th December 2016: Pseudpod Podcast Part II, This Is Horror Review The Feast of All Souls

Further nice things have happened. Following on from 'Dermot' getting a truly chilling reading from Alasdair Stuart on the Pseudopod podcast, you can now listen to Lewis Davies' rendition of 'The Moraine' too.

Originally published in Paul Finch's Gray Friar Press anthology Terror Tales of the Lake District, 'The Moraine' follows Steve and Diane, a couple with a troubled marriage, who get lost when an unexpected fog catches them on a Lake District hillside. Trying to find shelter, they instead find themselves on a slope of loose rubble, left behind by the Ice Age glaicers: a moraine.

And they aren't alone there. Something lives under the rocks - and it's hunting them.

'The Moraine' was, along with 'Dermot' reprinted in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year #4.

Meanwhile, Jake Marley at This Is Horror has reviewed The Feast Of All Souls:

Simon Bestwick has taken what appears on the surface to be a traditional haunted house ghost story, and twisted it into something altogether stranger and unique. Bestwick’s use of language and character, as well as the concrete foundation of his setting... helps to solidify Ramsey Campbell’s statement that Simon Bestwick is “among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.”

You can read the full review here.

Please share far and wide!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Black Road: Devil's Highway

The Snowbooks website this morning!
Yes, that's right! At long last, the waiting's over. The second book in The Black Road, Devil's Highway, is now available to buy in hardback and ebook form.

Following on from last year's Hell's Ditch, Devil's Highway shows Helen Damnation and her allies carrying on their fight against post-nuclear-attack Britain's tyrannical rulers, the Reapers, and their Commander, Tereus Winterborn. But Winterborn and his fanatical henchwoman, Colonel Jarrett, will stop at nothing to destroy her.

Helen finds herself hunted by the inhuman, unstoppable Catchman...


Helen slowly raised her head and peered over the sill through the grimy window. As she did, a steel helmet rose into view; two round glass lenses lit by a pale, flickering light stared into her eyes. Breath gusted from the metal grille over its nose, misting the window. Below that a red and white grin stretched impossibly wide across its face.

For a second time stopped, didn’t exist, and there was just the damp brick room and the Catchman’s face grinning through the window.

The grin widened further still; the Catchman screeched, the glass rattling in its frame. Helen flung herself backwards as a clawed hand smashed through the window...

...directing a battle to the death against Jarrett as the rebel base at Ashwood Fort comes under siege...

The guns opened fire from the shelters, and the ones on the wall hammered down. The ground burst and shattered; men and women dropped and spun; fell and lay still, fell screaming. Danny almost went down as the woman running alongside him pitched sideways. He caught her, staggered, then let her drop; half her head was gone.

A Reaper leant over the battlements to fire at them; Danny fired a burst from the Lanchester and the man pitched over the rail screaming. Danny ducked again, ran on and reached the bottom of the steps, pressing flat against the wall.

Reapers above, firing down; he threw himself flat and the bullets flew over. Cries and thumps of falling bodies from behind. He fired up, heard another SMG fire behind him. Fired the Lanchester up the steps, zig-zagging the barrel. Two Reapers rolled down them. “Come on!”

Danny up and charging, firing bursts as he went. Muzzles flashed above. A cry; someone just behind him fell backwards down the steps, shot in the throat. Danny advanced and fired, advanced and fired. Slow progress, step by step, bullets cracking by and chipping the wall. The Lanchester emptied; as he changed sticks he saw a Reaper appear at the top, rifle aimed down...

...and facing the secrets of her own past on the Black Road.


She starts screaming, screaming into the dead beneath her. Things shift and stir in the earth. They’re waking. Frank and Belinda, the others, all the ones killed, they’re coming for revenge. Because this is her fault, of course it is. How can it not be? ... Her screams become howls of anguish – not only grief, but torment. There was a saying she’d heard somewhere – from Mum? From Darrow? Hell is truth seen too late. And now she’s in Hell. The dead are waking and coming for her, to tear her apart....

Devil's Highway is one of the most relentless things I've ever written. I'm pretty damned proud of it. I
hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing the book.

For those who'd rather wait for the paperback, it'll be out on February 1st 2017.

Huge, huge thanks are due to so many people, but especiall my amazing editor, Tik Dalton, who's done a fantastic job. And also to Lisa DuMond at Hikeeba.com and Anthony Watson at Dark Musings for the first advance reviews of the novel, here and here.

From the Hikeeba review:

What is astonishing is Bestwick’s portrayal of battle... it is frightening how well he grasps the horror and conveys it....  
Hell’s Ditch started the engines and Devil’s Highway pushes the needle into the red as we hold on with a death grip to race through the atrocities and unstoppable action of the second volume, white-knuckled as we are thrust into the middle of the firefights and the helpless fear for those we have come to love and will certainly lose.
Can an author push the machinery even farther towards destruction and keep readers’ nails dug into the iron for more? Maybe not every one, but trust Bestwick. The Black Road has only gotten more horrifying with each volume, but I cannot look away, nor do I want to.

And from Dark Musings:

Who lives? Who dies? These, and many more questions will be answered within the pages of Devil’s Highway... The book fulfils [its] role admirably, progressing the narrative whilst setting things up for the final instalments. The back-stories add an extra edge to the inevitable showdowns and the introduction of a shadowy and mysterious character raises the expectation of new horrors in prospect...
The next part of the journey along the Black Road has begun.

The third novel, Wolf's Hill, will be released in 2018.

Please share this news far and wide!

I'll leave you with some music to suit the mood...



Monday, 12 December 2016

Things of the Week, 13th December 2016: Great Jones Street, Pseudpod Podcast, Dark Musings' Feast Of All Souls Review

The last few weeks have been hard work. I've had to get a job in order to pay the bills, and I'm still struggling to fit my writing in around the demands of a day job after three years as a full time author. The job itself is okay, however, although the hours are long, and the people I work with are great. So it could be worse.

Meanwhile, good things have happened.

I'm delighted to announce that my story 'Dermot' is available over at Pseudopod: you can stream or download Alasdair Stuart's excellent reading of the tale here. Another story of mine, 'The Moraine', will be podcast next week.

'Dermot' really is an example of one of those stories that hit a chord - or a nerve - with a lot of people. Along with 'The Narrows', it's the only piece I've written to make an awards shortlist.

So I'm even more delighted to announce that 'Dermot', 'The Narrows' and 'The Moraine' are among five stories that I've sold to Great Jones Street, to be added to the archive of online fiction available through their app. Kelly Abbott and Ken Truesdale are doing great work in trying to popularise short fiction to a general market once more; I wish them every success.

The five tales are:

Dermot
The Narrows
Lex Draconis
Never Say Goodbye
The Moraine

Hugely proud of them all. (I've always had a soft spot for 'Lex Draconis', as it's very different to my usual thing, so it's good to see it reaching a wider audience.)

And finally this week, that excellent chap Anthony Watson has reviewed The Feast Of All Souls over at Dark Musings.

There is, it has to be said, a lot going on in this book, a mixture of themes and genres and in the hands of a lesser writer it could have turned out to be a car crash. This isn’t the case here though, Simon keeps full control over all the themes and ideas, merging them perfectly into a gripping – and horrific – whole.

I really enjoyed The Feast of All Souls, loved the imagination on display. Scary, thrilling but in places also incredibly moving. 

Many thanks, Anthony!

Now I'm off to work...