Author and Scriptwriter

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

Monday, 26 September 2016

Fantasycon By The Sea...

Conducting myself appropriately at the Alchemy Press launch. 
...was an absolute blast.

I always love Fantasycon, but this was a cracker by any stretch of the imagination. There was a huge amount going on, and huge numbers of lovely people - and I only got to talk to a fraction of the ones I would have loved to catch up with! - but here are a few highlights.

Getting to talk to Frances Hardinge, whose work I've become a huge fan of, and catching her interview with Kim Lakin-Smith. Amazing writer, lovely person and very, very funny.

 Meeting Catriona Ward, author of Rawblood (which won the August Derleth Award for Best Horror
Novel at the British Fantasy Awards.)

The panel 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun', about women in genre fiction, with Catriona, Maura McHugh, Ann Nicholls, Heide Goody and Priya Sharma. Which got left off the printed programme - a source of some sardonic amusement! - but was the best panel I saw that weekend.

The launch of Snowbooks' novella line, resurrecting novellas from John Llewellyn Probert, Ray Cluley, Mark Morris and, of course, Cate Gardner, that were originally published by Spectral Press, together with new work from Gary Fry and Andrew Hook.


Getting to meet Keris McDonald/Janine Ashbless properly IRL - and to sign her copy of Hell's Ditch! Keris has new stories out in The Private Life Of Elder Things, along with Adrian Tchaikovsky and Adam Gauntlett. That one's out from Alchemy Press, along with the Joel Lane tribute anthology Something Remains. Massive kudos to Pete Coleborn, Jan Edwards and Pauline Dungate for making that anthology happen.

Getting to meet the force of nature that is Georgina Bruce. Also getting to meet Emma Cosh, Sarah Dodd, Miranda Jewess and many, many other new people.

Catching up with other friends like Lynda Rucker and Sean Hogan, Alison Littlewood and Fergus Beadle (who we stalked and were stalked by en route to the Con...) Helen Marshall and Vince Haig, Gary Fry, Gary and Emily McMahon, Stephen Volk, Steve Savile, John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau, Anna Taborska, Andrew Hook and Sophie Essex, Laura Mauro, Victoria Leslie, Ray Cluley and Jess Jordan, Adrian and Annie Czajkowski, Phil Sloman, Des Lewis, Jon Oliver, Dave Moore, Lydia Gittins, Nina Allan, Jim Mcleod.... the list goes on and on and I'm sure I've missed important people off....

Seeing the Karl Edward Wagner Award go to the Redshirts, past and present, who make the whole thing happen.

And best of all, seeing the lovely Priya Sharma win the Best Short Story Award for the superb 'Fabulous Beasts'.


I was on the jury for Best Collection with Carole Johnstone and Emma Cosh - the shortlisted collections were all superb, and picking a winner was a very, very tough call to make. Nonetheless, we were all unanimous in our vote: the fantastic Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due. It's a beautiful, powerful collection, and hugely recommended.

A fantastic weekend. I'm missing it already.

Next year, FCon's in Daventry. Can't wait!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

FCon Awaits...

Tomorrow, the dread trio that is Bestwick, Gardner and Priya Sharma will be setting off again, like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Except that there'll be three of us, and two of us are women, and we're in a car.) Off to Scarborough, for FANTASYCON!

Very much looking forward to seeing some old friends and meeting a few new ones.

The highlights, for me, will be the Snowbooks launch (featuring the relaunch of Cate's novella The Bureau Of Them), the awards (where Cate's on the shortlist for Best Novella alongside Nnedi Okorafor, Usman Tanveer Malik, Mark Morris and Paul Cornell, and where both Cate and Priya are shortlisted for Best Short Story with V.H. Leslie, Ralph Robert Moore, Adam Nevill and Frances Kay) - and the launch of Alchemy Press' tribute anthology to Joel Lane, Something Remains.

The inimitable Des Lewis has carried out one of his real-time reviews of Something Remains, available in three parts here, here and here.


Of my own contribution, 'And Ashes In Her Hair', Des says:


Ashes are fragments from many things all made the same thing by fire. This story, from whatever fragment it is made, is overtly the story of a call centre worker under strict employment rules, wringing out, from the results of a soul’s combustion, his own casual relationships with this book’s earlier waifs and strays – and wreaking sustenance from near-poisoned food, as well as eventually becoming complicit with acts of arson-into-ashes taking place in the vacant lot near the office where he works … with a swaddled outcome wrought into being as if for his embracing of a bereavement as well as of a potential birth. Heartbreaking.

I haven't seen Des since my first Fantasycon back in 1999. I believe he's going to be at this one though; it'll be good to meet him again.

For those others going this weekend - see you there!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Ramsey Campbell's The Searching Dead: Reviewed by Gary Fry

Ramsey Campbell's new novel, The Searching Dead, is launched at Fantasycon this year by PS Publishing. It's the first book in The Three Births Of Daoloth, a planned trilogy - something of a new departure for Ramsey...

Dominic Sheldrake has never forgotten his childhood in fifties Liverpool or the talk an old boy of his grammar school gave about the First World War. When his history teacher took the class on a field trip to France it promised to be an adventure, not the first of a series of glimpses of what lay in wait for the world. Soon Dominic would learn that a neighbour was involved in practices far older and darker than spiritualism, and stumble on a secret journal that hinted at the occult nature of the universe. How could he and his friends Roberta and Jim stop what was growing under a church in the midst of the results of the blitz? Dominic used to write tales of their exploits, but what they face now could reduce any adult to less than a child...


The novel also marks a return to the 'Brichester Mythos' of Campbell's earliest stories, revisited in more recent works like The Darkest Part Of The Woods and The Last Revelation Of Gla'aki. It promises to be something pretty special, I think.

Gary Fry, certainly thinks so, anyway; he's reviewed it over at his blog, and describes it as: a novel which looks set to become one third of Campbell’s masterpiece: a trilogy about who he is as a man and what he’s always striven to achieve as an author.

You can read the full review here, and order the book there.

Fantasycon By The Sea: Revised Schedule




Final, up-to-date schedule for FCon-By-The-Sea...

Saturday 24th September

12.00pm -1.00pm
Book launch: Alchemy Press
Main Ballroom,  Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff
Something Remains, by Alchemy Press, including my story 'And Ashes In Her Hair'.
Also: The Private Life of Elder Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Keris McDonald and Adam Gauntlett.


2.00pm - 3.00pm
Book launch: Snowbooks
Main Ballroom, Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff

Actually, this is for Cate rather than me - Snowbooks are publishing her novella The Bureau Of Them, alongside novellas by Mark Morris, Ray Cluley, Gary Fry, Andrew Hook and John Llewellyn Probert. They'll be bringing out Devil's Highway too, but sadly not until next month!


8.00pm - 9.00pm
Panel: Paint It Black: Why Is Horror So Often Incorporated Into Other Genres?
Palm Court Ballroom, Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff
Simon Bestwick, S J Townsend, Jo Thomas, Timothy Jarvis, Phil Sloman (Chair)

11.30pm - 12.00am
Reading slot with Tom Johnstone.

So there you go.

The Lowdown with... Chet Williamson

Chet Williamson is the author of over twenty-five books and a hundred short stories, which have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. His fiction has been shortlisted for the MWA’s Edgar Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, and his short story collection, Figures in Rain,  received the International Horror Guild Award. Among his recent titles are The Night Listener & Others (a fiction collection from PS Publishing), A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy (a collection from Borderlands Press), and Psycho: Sanitarium (the authorized sequel to Robert Bloch's original Psycho, from Thomas Dunne Books). Most of his backlist is available from Crossroad Press in ebook format. An actor, he has narrated over thirty audiobooks by various authors, available through Audible.com. You can learn more here.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

First, I'm a notorious collector of books, music, and film. Our house is filled with more volumes, comic books, vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes than I can experience if I live to be 200.
Second, I'm a member of Actors' Equity, and have appeared in a number of professional stage productions, and even a couple of films. I've narrated about forty audiobooks, available from Audible.com.
Third, I have a pretty cool, if small, family. My wife Laurie is retired from teaching and makes wondrous quilts and plays violin in a symphony orchestra, and my son Colin has worked in the computer gaming industry in Japan and Seattle for many years, and is a terrific kid. My mum is still going strong at 97, and reads about a book a day on her iPad.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
My first professional sale was to T. E. D. Klein at Twilight Zone Magazine, a piece called "Offices," that can be found in my collection, Figures in Rain. It was, and remains, the biggest thrill of my writing life.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
That's sort of like asking what child you love best. Still, I'll try. Probably my novel Second Chance, since it deals so much with my own past and background, and since it's utterly undefinable, no particular genre, but touches of many. I'm also very fond of The Story of Noichi the Blind, a novella that reflects my fascination with Lafcadio Hearn and old Japan.

 4. ...and which makes you cringe? 
 That would be a story that I wrote for an HWA anthology called Deathport, about an airport built over ancient Indian burial grounds. Amazingly enough, Ramsey Campbell guest edited this, though it seems the most unCampbellian concept imaginable! My story was "Scalps," which concerned, I kid you not, murderous flying merkins. You cannot find this story in either of my collections, and it probably won't be in future ones. Oh my.

5. What's a normal writing day like? 
Filled with self-doubt, recriminations, and delays. Seriously, as I get older, it's harder and harder to come up with ideas that I find worthwhile to turn into fiction. I've always tried to write stories that were surprising and unpredictable, and that gets harder as the years pass. "Oh, I've already done something like that..." There's an old cartoon I used to have on my office wall of a guy sitting on a beach, thinking, "Nothing to write...it's all been done...all so trite and meaningless..." And next to him is a bird that's holding one foot in the air and thinking, "Now what's this?...a foot?...my foot!...I must write of this!" I used to be the bird, but now I'm more like the guy. That said, a writing day is spent in one of two ways. First is gathering information and ideas, getting down things that will eventually become an outline, and then outlining. This is the part that can take weeks and months, where you feel that nothing's being done, but you realize that things are coming together. Then, when I have a full outline/synopsis, I start the actual writing, and that's the enjoyable part, along with revision.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who's never read you before pick up first? 
I'd suggest one of my collections, Figures in Rain or the new one, The Night Listeners and Others, which would give readers an overall look at my work. For novels, I'd suggest Second Chance or Ash Wednesday.

7. What are you working on now? 
I've just finished Psycho: Sanitarium, which is coming out in April. It's the official sequel to Robert Bloch's original Psycho, and that was great fun to do. I think fans of Psycho (and who isn't?) will enjoy seeing what Norman Bates is up to in the state hospital for the criminally insane. Also, A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy has just appeared in Borderlands Press's little book series -- it's a real oddball collection of my work -- a story, reviews, memoirs, essays, and two plays, one of which is a puppet theatre version of The Story of Noichi the Blind. As far as future work, I've just finished a short story for a new anthology, and am in the idea stages of a new novel. And so it goes...

Friday, 9 September 2016

Things of the Week: 9th September 2016

This week's things?
Stuff is bubbling under. The Proofs of Devil's Highway have arrived from Snowbooks. I've finished the opening chapters of Wolf's Hill. And some good news from my agent. Unfortunately I can't say anything about it yet (contracts have to be signed, etc, which is some way off.) Sorry about that. Nobody loves a vaguebooker. Or vagueblogger, as the case may be.

Anyway, do you fine folks know Mr Tony Schumacher? No? Then you should acquaint yourselves with both the man and his work. If you get a chance to attend one of his readings, you definitely should - he's an extremely nice bloke and a very funny guy.

Oh, and he's also a bloody good writer.

The Darkest Hour, his first novel, is set in 1946, in an alternate-history Nazi-occupied Britain. I admit it - I didn't get round to reading this for some time, as my first reaction was that this had been done before, a lot.

But The Darkest Hour is a different kettle of fish for two reasons. First of all, you can forget the cliches of evil Germans and square-chinned Resistance fighters - the cast of this novel are human beings, flawed and complex. As in other occupied countries, the resistance movements are made up either of Soviet-aligned Communists or right-wing nationalists, half of them as anti-Semitic as the Nazis themselves.

John Rossett, its protagonist, is a war hero, honoured as 'the British Lion' by the German victors he fought at Dunkirk, and now put to work as a police officer loyal to the new regime. Wracked with guilt and self-disgust, he is - like most of Tony's characters - one of the little people, on the sidelines of history, just trying to keep his head down and survive.

The turning point comes when Rossett has to aid in the deportation of Jews from London's East End - only to find the fate of one of them, a small boy, in his hands. It would be the easiest thing in the world just to hand him over to the SS - but he doesn't. Rossett sets out on a path to redemption, but the costs and consequences will be high...

Imaginative, pacey, well-written and with sharp, fresh characterisation that makes this a very different kind of 'what-if?' book, The Darkest Hour is highly recommended. A sequel, The British Lion, is also out, and Rossett's saga will continue in a third novel.

I actually read the book last year, and meant to say something, but forgot. Tony recently did a book video, and gave a couple of novels he'd enjoyed a mention - one of them being Hell's Ditch, which ended up jogging my memory. You can see it here:



I met Cassandra Khaw at Fantasycon last year; she's an emerging writer of whom good things are already being said (and I hope to host a Lowdown with her soon.) She also wrote this piece on grief and the writing process, which I found thoughful and moving and well worth sharing.

When I was a child, he told me that room service was provided by dinosaurs; they delivered waiters through the windows. He said there were unicorns living in the jungles, magical creatures that could be lured into the open with a single Mars bars. He told me about camping stories, about getting lost in the undergrowth. He told me about fights in school, about racing dolphins in the ocean, about being adrift in sea. 

He made my universe larger.

He was my universe.

I’ve had people ask me why I write, what motivates my desire to craft fiction, what makes me want to tell stories. I never really knew. The answers changed with every conversation, every interview. But I think I know now.  

Because my father was a storyteller and because every time I wrap my audience in a thread of fresh-spun myth, I remember what it is like being a little girl again, curled against his heart, listening as he rumbled through a fresh tale. Because he taught me how to tell stories and because every time I tell a story, I feel his ghost under my words, feel the magic of that moment when the galaxy pivoted on the breath of a syllable.

Because when the words come together, he’s alive again.

(See also this post by Cate along related themes.)

Elsewhere, I encountered On Being A Late Bloomer by Kelly Robson in Clarkesworld, which struck a profound chord. Time and age have been on my mind a lot lately - this year, it'll be twenty years since I graduated from University, nineteen since I started writing seriously. Twelve years since my first book was published. Seven since my first novel. And the realisation dawns: I'm forty-two. I'm not young any more. I'm not a promising new writer or an up-and-comer. I have been in this game for nearly two decades, doing a succession of fairly crappy, low-paid jobs because the task of both climbing a corporate ladder and trying to build a writing career is just something I can't pull off. I am middle-aged, over the hump, looking at the down slope, and there are younger, newer writers coming up behind me who already seem to be making bigger names for themselves and achieving more than I have yet.

It scares me.

There's a scene in From Dusk Til Dawn where Harvey Keitel says:

Every person who... chooses the service of God as his life's work has something in common. I don't care if you're a preacher, a priest, a nun, a rabbi or a Buddhist monk. Many, many times during your life you will look at your reflection in a mirror and ask yourself: am I a fool?

It's just as true if you're a writer, or any kind of artist. That fear that you'll get to the end, be looking at a miserable and impoverished old age, and for what? No-one will know who you are, and you'll look at the stuff you've done and think "Is that it? This is crap. Mediocre. I gave so much up for this?"

But then I remind myself I'm not in competition with those other writers. There's enough room for us
all, and what counts is the work and the hope that it'll outlast you. If you can use it to pay the bills and avoid having a real job while you're at it, so much the better.

I remind myself - for instance - that Mary Wesley published her first adult novel, The Camomile Lawn, when she was 71. She went onto write ten best-sellers, selling three million copies in the last twenty years of her life. She didn't do too badly, in the end.

And I remind myself, and others, to read Kelly's column.

So don’t give up. Don’t quit. It’s never too late—not at any age. Find your own path, wherever it may lead. Being a late bloomer can be an incredible gift. It can lead to successes you never dreamed of.

And I remind myself, most of all, that none of us are done yet, however late or early in the day it might be.

Have a good weekend.

My Fantasycon Schedule, 2016

Fantasycon By The Sea is nearly upon us! From the 23rd to the 25th of September, the (hopefully) sunny seaside town of Scarborough plays host to a motley mob of writers, editors, illustrators and fans.

It's going to be mostly a quiet con for me this year: when not in the bar, I have one panel, two launches and maybe a reading.

Saturday 24th September

12.00pm -1.00pm
Book launch: Alchemy Press
Main Ballroom,  Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff
Something Remains, by Alchemy Press, including my story 'And Ashes In Her Hair'.
Also: The Private Life of Elder Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Keris McDonald and Adam Gauntlett.


2.00pm - 3.00pm
Book launch: Snowbooks
Main Ballroom, Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff
Actually, this is for Cate rather than me - Snowbooks are publishing her novella The Bureau Of Them, alongside novellas by Mark Morris, Ray Cluley, Gary Fry, Andrew Hook and John Llewellyn Probert. They'll be bringing out Devil's Highway too, but sadly not until next month!


8.00pm - 9.00pm
Panel: Paint It Black: Why Is Horror So Often Incorporated Into Other Genres?
Palm Court Ballroom, Grand Hotel, St Nicholas Cliff
Simon Bestwick, S J Townsend, Jo Thomas, Timothy Jarvis, Phil Sloman (Chair)

I've put in for a reading slot as well, but don't know if I have one as yet. Will let you know if I do.

See you there!