Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Best and Worst of 2015

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2015 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2015, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.


I read the following in 2015:

Georges Simenon – Mr Hire’s Engagement
Adrian Tomine – Shortcomings
Anna Kavan – Who Are You?
Alison Littlewood – A Cold Season
Yoshihiro Tatsumi – The Push Man
Aldolfo Bioy Casares – The Invention of Morel
Gary Couzens – Out Stack and other places
Anna Kavan – A Scarcity of Love
Jean Teule – The Suicide Shop
Richard Yates – A Good School
Machado de Assis – Philosopher or Dog
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard
Raymond Queneau – We Always Treat Women Too Well
Nina Allen – A Thread of Truth
Delacorta – Diva
John Wyndham – The Seeds Of Time
Richard Balls – Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury
Gareth L Powell – Ack-Ack Macaque
Paul Auster – Moon Palace
Megan Abbott – Bury Me Deep
Sheri S Tepper – Grass
Heinrich Boll – The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
Paul Auster – The Music of Chance
Stephen Volk – Whitstable
Jim Thompson – Nothing More Than Murder
Andrew Crumey – Mr Mee
Helen Marshall – Gifts For The One Who Comes After
Christopher Priest – The Affirmation
Mike O’Driscoll – Eyepennies
Pascal Garnier – The Front Seat Passenger
Robert Dellar – Seaton Point
Raymond Chandler – The Little Sister
Tadeusz Borowski – This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Danilo Kis – The Encyclopaedia of the Dead
Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal
Edited by Max Brod – The Diaries of Franz Kafka
Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer

That's worked out at 37 books this year, quite a few less than last year but then both the Kafka and the Oates each took me three months to read! Definitely the worst of the bunch was Sherri S Tepper's "Grass" which I couldn't read beyond 60 pages (it's very rare that I don't finish a book). There were several books I found simply 'ok' which I had higher expectations for: "The Encyclopaedia of the Dead" by Danilo Kis being one of those. Special mentions to "The Little Sister" by Raymond Chandler which was wonderfully quotable, "The Front Seat Passenger" by Pascal Garnier (again, a great little crime novel), "Eyepennies" by Mike O'Driscoll, and "Out Stack and other stores" by Gary Couzens for which I wrote the introduction.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. Normally this would be straightforward, but a surprising six titles got 5/5 from me this year: "A Scarcity of Love" by Anna Kavan, "Diva" by Delacorta, "The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster, "Nothing More Than Murder" by Jim Thompson, "The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest, and "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates. This makes my decision a little harder. I have a lot of affection for "Diva" as I love the movie adaptation of the same name. The Jim Thompson book is also a perfect crime read. However I think I have to choose books which gave me some additional emotional depth. The Anna Kavan comes close, but I also found it hard-going and irritating despite it's brilliance. For those reasons, here are my top three:

In reverse order:

"The Music of Chance" by Paul Auster

Auster is fast becoming one of my favourite authors (I also read "The Moon Palace" this year which got 4/5 in my review), and this book is a delight. Fast-paced and thoughtful, Auster takes me to places that I love and the twists and turns in this book were a breath-taking delight.

"The Affirmation" by Christopher Priest

Priest's themes are close to my own preoccupations in fiction: the nature of reality, identity, memory and immortality. The alternate realities in this book intersperse seamlessly and the final sentence is utterly brilliant. I loved it.

And the winner is:

"Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates

If you spend three months with a book (this is 932 pages) then it's somewhat inevitable you'll have some kind of affair with it. This is a fictionalised biopic of Marilyn Monroe which is a colossus in size, in scope, in adaptation and in emotion. I hadn't a huge interest in Monroe prior to reading this but it has immeasurably altered my perception of her. It's a bittersweet read, a heartache. I couldn't fault it and highly recommend it.


I watched the following in 2015:

Under The Skin
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Black Orchid
Jeune and Jolie
The Princess Bride
The Double
Tokyo Sonata
Ruby Sparks
The Way
The Dallas Buyers Club
The Life of Pi
Shadow of a Doubt
Grave Encounters
The Abominable Snowman
Apres Mai
The Tingler
The Woman In Black: Angel of Death
Upstream Colour
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Marina Abramovic The Artist Is Present
Grave Encounters 2
Strangers On A Train
The Woodsman
Frances Ha
Guardians of the Galaxy
Beavis and Butt-head Do America
The Hide
It’s A Wonderful Life
A Dangerous Method
The Girl Next Door
Evil Dead (remake)
Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens
Les Amants

Thanks For Sharing
Gambling House
Avengers Assemble
The Act Of Killing
Slow Motion
I Saw The Devil
Requiem For A Dream
The Great Beauty
Short Term 12
Chasing Ice
Romeo & Juliet
Gangster Squad
As Above, So Below
The Goob
The Wrong Man
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Good Vibrations
The Filth and the Fury
Walk The Line
Jackie Brown
Radio On
This Is Spinal Tap
God Help The Girl
The Life Of David Gale
The Imitation Game
The Bat
The Road
Kiss Of Death
Wolf Creek 2
Cinema Paradiso
The Conjuring
The Most Dangerous Game
On The Road
Children Of Men
Tiger of Bengal
Tomb of Love
Ju On: White Ghost/Black Ghost
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Little Children
The Hourglass Sanitorium
Lake Mungo
Nightmare Alley
Naked Lunch
I Am Big Bird
It Follows
Donnie Darko
The Red Shoes
Pacific Rim
The Monk
Dial M For Murder
Cyborg She
The House of the Devil
Tell Me Something
Mulholland Drive
Scarlet Street

Interesting to see the impact having a young child who has started nursery school on movie watching. Last year we only saw 47 movies because she would go to bed too late for us to reasonably start watching something. This year we've seen 116 because she's knackered early! Of course, that makes the choice particularly difficult as there are some great movies in that list.

As usual when picking my top three I'm discounting movies I've previously watched. So that knocks out "The Tingler" which I was glad to see at the cinema on a big screen, "Strangers On A Train", "Vertigo", "Donnie Darko" (which I've seen numerous times), "Primer" and "Children Of Men" which I love. Out of those which remain I watched a large number of appalling horror films ("Ouija" and "The Conjuring" spring to mind), but some of those were enjoyably inventive: I really loved "As Above, So Below" for inverting - literally - horror expectations, and "The House of the Devil" which carried its 1970 horror vibe well. And my favourite horror movie this year has made my top three.

I watched a few SF movies: "Under The Skin" was minimally brilliant and hypnotic, by contrast "Lucy" (also with Scarlett Johansson) was marvellously insane. I loved them both. "Interstellar" was also damn good, but for some reason I can't quite pinpoint has not made my final selection. For non-genre movies I was pleasantly surprised and engrossed by "The Imitation Game". "Jackie Brown", with its fantastic opening titles, has probably become my favourite Tarantino movie but again not quite made the cut. And "Blue Is The Warmest Colour" was devastatingly poignant - the relationship between the two main characters vivid and raw, a honest portrayal of love.

I get the feeling that on another day "Lucy", "Blue Is The Warmest Colour", "Interstellar", "Jackie Brown", and "Under The Skin" might have made the final list, but - today - here are my top three movies seen in 2015.
Again, in reverse order:

"Lake Mungo" - Joel Anderson

I had heard good things about this supernatural movie but it surpassed all expectations. Subtlety and wrong-footedness are the keys to this picture. Ultimately it's about understanding grief rather than being a shocker, which means the result is both believable and tragic. I loved it's delicate twists, and how looking at the same thing several times yields different interpretations.

"Upstream Color" - Shane Carruth 

I have little idea what this movie was about and it probably needs a repeat watching. I also saw it almost at the beginning of the year and nearly bypassed it in my roundup because of that. But it has to make my top three because my sole recollection is that throughout the entire movie neither my partner nor myself uttered a single word. It's a perfect slipstream movie.

And the winner is...
"The Great Beauty" - Paolo Sorrentino

This seemingly simple movie follows aging socialite, Jep Gambardella, as he muses on his life, his first love, and a sense of unfulfillment. He is a writer who subsequently lost his way. Whilst this might not appear particularly interesting on the face of it, the movie is astonishingly directed. Some of the shots and framing are almost unbelievable in their execution and are quite simply breathtaking. It's perfect in each and every way and tantamount to confirming how great movies are also great art. A sumptuous and inspiring feast. Brilliant.
Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2016!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

My Writing Year 2015

I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2015.

In March this year my second neo-noir crime novel, "Church of Wire", was published by Telos. I have two more novels lined up for that series (hopefully with the same publisher), but as yet I don't have publication dates for those. I've been unable to write another novel this year due to work commitments, but I have written half a novella, "The Uneasy", for which my partner, Sophie, is writing the second half.

I wrote twelve short stories this year: "Tiny Iris", "Where Do Broken Dreams Go?", "My Somnambulant Heart", "Us!", "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City", "We Die When We're Alone", "Wanderlust", "Old Factory Memories", "The First You & I", "Silent Bridge", "Uncanny Valley", and "Mysteries of Childhood Explained".

I sold ten short stories: "You Can't Handle Love" to Fur-Lined Ghettos, "Tiny Iris" to Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State, "Blood For Your Mother" to Black Static, "Cold Water Killer" to Spark: A Creative Anthology, "Us!" to Creeping Crawlers, "Vulvert" to Confingo, "The Nomenclature of Fear" to In Short Publishing, "My Somnambulant Heart" to an anthology I am unable to name at present, "Old Factory Memories" to Axolotl, and "The First You & I" to Skylark Review.

I also sold an article, "Unconscious Consumer: X-Ray Spex and the Day-Glo World", which appeared in the Reckless Consumer issue of Sein Und Werden and can be read here. And I sold a novella, "The Greens", to Spectral Press for publication (I believe) in 2016, possibly 2017.

The following sixteen short stories were published this year: "Eskimo" in Postscripts #32/33, "The Last Mohican" in punkPunk!, "The Frequency of Existence" in Black Static #45, "You Can't Handle Love" in Fur-Lined Ghettos #6, "The Stench of Winter" online at Shirley, "A Life In Plastic" in Strange Tales V, "Bothersome" in Darkest Minds, "Drowning In Air" in Best British Horror 2015, "Old Factory Memories" online at Axolotl, "Blood For Your Mother" in Black Static #48, "Tiny Iris" in Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State, "The Nomenclature Of Fear" as a standalone chapbook from In Short Publishing, "The Aniseed Gumball Kid" in Postscripts #34/35, "Us!" in Creeping Crawlers, "Vulvert" in Confingo #4, and "The First You & I" in Skylark Review.

Also this year I assisted my partner in setting up Salò Press, an extension of the publishing she has been doing with Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine. So far we have published two poetry collections, Actual Cloud by Dalton Day and Father, Husband by Scherezade Siobhan.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were accepted in 2014/2015, a short story collection, and one novel under consideration. The anthology, punkPunk!, that I edited for DogHorn Publishing was published in February. A short story collection, "Human Maps", will appear from Eibonvale Press sometime in 2016. My collaborative short story collection, "Slow Motion Wars", written with Allen Ashley which was due to be published by Screaming Dreams will now be published by The Exaggerated Press in the first half of 2016.

I have also edited a secret project for publication in 2017, and am in the processing of finalising guidelines for another editing project.

I consider that to be a good year!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Why I Will Never See 'Star Wars'

Apparently there was a big event last night in the UK with cinemas showing the new Star Wars movie at midnight. I was asleep.

Despite the fact that I have been known to write (and have had published) SF fiction, I have never - ever - seen any of the Star Wars films.

It's quite simple. I've never been a populist. I've never been one to such an extent that I'm not even sure that's the right word. I remember being on the top deck of a bus heading towards Norwich city centre back in 1977 and one of my mates pointing at a Star Wars poster adorning a cinema and saying to me: "I've seen that movie twenty times."

This was 1977. He hadn't seen it on video or downloaded it from the internet. He had physically been to the cinema and actually paid twenty times to see the same film. We were ten years old. I considered this madness. I knew from that moment on that I would never see a Star Wars film.

It would be hypocritical to include a Star Wars image to accompany this post, so instead here's a picture of a pangolin. I prefer long-snouted animals.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Nomenclature of Fear

My short story, "The Nomenclature of Fear", has recently been published as a chapbook through In Short Publishing. It's a gorgeous little book of which I'm very proud, and as usual I'm blogging a few comments as to how the story was written. There will be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

All of my stories start with a title, but I can't quite remember where this one came from. What I do know is that I had read an article regarding words in foreign languages which had no easy English equivalent, and that reading down the list I realised there were several words which could be associated with fear. I realised that I could use each of these words to define segments of a short story, and that the story would - in fact - write itself so long as I stuck to that format. However, what I also wanted was something subtle. I hate writing the obvious and so I knew that whilst the story would be about fear it wouldn't be a horror story.  I would delineate a relationship using each of those terms as a stepping stone, and it would be more of a piece examining how aspects of fear define our lives, leading to one of our ultimate fears: loss of a long-loved one through illness.

However, I also wanted to allude to one of the greatest horror movies of all time, "The Blair Witch Project"; which in itself is all about allusion and where what you don't see is more effective than what you do.

Here's a bit of it:

I thought my heart would explode. It's a cliché, but like all clichés it's grounded in the truth of expression. There's a word called mamihlapinatapai, a word used by the Fuegians from Tierra del Fuego in the South American peninsular. It's a succinct word which describes the sensation of two people looking at each other, each hoping the other will do what both desire but neither is willing do to.

We were too afraid to lean in for a kiss.

"The Nomenclature of Fear" is available here and very cheaply priced. In Short Publishing have published 18 authors simultaneously and numbered each chapbook accordingly (and randomly). Mine is number 4 in the series.

I wrote the story whilst listening to "Music From Drawing Restraint 9" by Bjork on repeat.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Promotion Promotion Promotion

It's not easy being a writer. It's less easy being an editor. And it's even less easy being a publisher.

It all comes down to promotion.

buy my book. Buy My Book. BUY MY BOOK.

Some days it feels like all I'm telling people to do: on social media, at events, at the day job, is to buy my fucking book. I'm not desperate, but as a writer I want to be read. And as editor/publisher I want those people I've put my time (and money) into, to be read. Because those writers I've been involved in publishing also want to be read. They want people to buy their book. And those books are damn good or I wouldn't be involved with them. But it's not a simple matter of making folk aware of those books, they won't sell simply because people are aware of them. You have to convince them using all possible outlets. And because these are usually social media which I also like to be...well...sociable...on, then half the time I'm convincing my mates to buy books. Or at least asking them to forward my pleads to their mates. Etc. It's a bit embarrassing.

I know it's hard. I have many writers who are my friends on social media and I'm sure they want their books buying too. And I have bought books from many of those. But I can't buy all their books. I have over 270 on my reading pile as it is. So I'm not expecting all my friends to lavishly buy my books, nor assist in promoting them, because they're in the same boat. And the number of books bought by the general public is painfully few. So how do you reach outside that circle and grab readers by the throat, how can you convince people that what you write, edit, or publish is worth their time and money? How do you get stuff into the imaginations of the ordinary reading public?

In short, I dunno, so here instead is a post pleading with you to buy one of the following books. It's all about promotion, isn't it?

First up, with my partner we run Salò Press. Our second book, a collection of poems titled Father, Husband by Scherezade Siobhan, has just been published and it desperately needs your love. These are urgent, complex poems. Let it be your impulse buy, your Christmas present to the friend who is always difficult to buy for, your own secret Santa. Take a look at the cover and read this.

Secondly, not only do we publish books but a magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos. The seventh issue has just been published and is also desperate for your love. We have some weird shit in here. Don't take my word for it, here's a sample:

Thirdly, I edited an anthology of punk-themed fiction which was published by DogHorn Publishing earlier this year, titled punkPunk!. You don't have to be a punk to enjoy it, and you don't have to have been a punk to enjoy it. Don't take my word for it, here are a few snippets from Goodreads reviews: "one of the best books to come out of the indie scene that I have ever read" and "original and refreshing examples of contemporary fiction". There's also a full review here. Again, this is a book which deserves some love. There must be an old punk in your life who would like an off-the-wall Christmas present. This is ideal. Show that you care.

And finally, I must plug my stuff. I've written heaps over the years, but I'm focussing on neo-noir crime for the novels right now. A couple of those have been published and I have a couple waiting in the wings - but they won't get there unless these ones sell. That's the long and the short of it. So, once again, they also need your love. Have a crime reader in the family who avidly reads crime but you can't remember which Ian Rankin, Patricia Cornwell or Lee Child book they haven't got yet? Then introduce them to something new. Me! The latest of mine is Church of Wire. Here's a snippet: "He walked up to Miss Pretty and gave her a smile which hit like a bird against a window". It's also on Kindle. You can't go wrong.

But then if you've read this, you probably know all the above already. You might even have bought something from me before. But if you haven't, then just take a punt. Try some noir crime, some punk, some intelligent poetry, some experimental prose, some WORDS. Buy something and make me happy.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The First You & I

My short story, "The First You & I", has recently been published by Little Lantern Press in the debut issue of Skylark Review, and as usual I'm blogging about how the story was written for those who might be interested. There will be spoilers.

The story is quite short and the idea quite simple. One afternoon - childfree - myself and my partner were wandering along the beach at Walcott on the Norfolk coast (a short drive from Norwich where we live). It was an awesome day. The light was perfect and the sky was blue. It struck me at that moment that I would be happy should that day be repeated on a never-ending loop. Nothing else mattered: I felt free to shed the normal responsibilities and accept it as my personal heaven. I would have been happy for that day to extend to eternity.

What resulted was a love story - a paean to our relationship - but also tinged with a little sadness as I realised that for the characters in my story heaven would have to come at a price.

Once I had the idea for this story the title came to me quite randomly. I had a book launch at the Diss Publishing Bookshop in July and opposite where I was sitting was a display of greeting cards. Some of these had words on the cards and as they were stacked they overlapped. "The First" and "You & I" were actually the initial words on two separate cards which spelt "The First You & I" on overlap. Weird how ideas come, but the title seemed perfect for the story where the 'first you & I' is the template for a 'forever you & I'.

An extract is here:

Look at this, you say. I walk towards you, brush my hand on your dress above your hip. An I am here touch. You nod downwards, camera poised. The beach is nature's canvas. Against the flat wet sand the receding sea has raised flower-patterned swirls. They are intricate and beautiful, almost achingly perfect. Art without intent: stripped of meaning they are more than we could ever be. A fresco of seaweed hair.

Prior to publication, I read the story in its entirety at a Poetry Collective event in Norwich. This is available to watch here:

"The First You & I" was written to the album Couer de Pirate by the wonderful Couer de Pirate on repeat.

Skylark Review features twenty-nine poems and five short stories, and also includes Devon Miller Duggan, Jane Burn, Jeffrey C Alfier, Pippa Little, Jane Loechler, Hannah Dellabella, Rachel Plummer, Steve Klepetar, Meggie Royer, Andrea Bowd, Susan Taylor, Cris Harris, Ellen Davies, Michael Dittman, Jane Frank, Laurie Byro, Kate Firth, Di Slaney, Lee Crowell, Beth Schneider, Abegail Morley, Aden Thomas, Guy Traiber, Cheryl Pearson, Judy Darley, Neil Schiller, Abi Hynes and Joel Allegretti.

Monday, 9 November 2015


My short story, "Vulvert", has recently been published in #4 of Confingo Magazine. As usual, I'm blogging a few thoughts as to the writing of the story. There will be some spoilers for those who haven't read it.

A few years ago my partner and I were on holiday in the Lake District. Obviously - both being writers - we talk a lot of nonsense most of the time; mind-warps where our brains just flash shit up and then we speak it. For some reason we spent almost the whole week talking to each other in affected American accents. And at some point during this ridiculousness one of us pronounced the word 'velvet' as 'vulvert'. I remember seizing on it as a cool new word. It held an attraction as a title, but also as a mispronunciation. It sounded like vulva. And vulva and velvet go together hand in hand. Perfect.

When it came to writing the story I decided to include a female protagonist (purportedly) from America who spoke her name that way. I decided to have a male protagonist as a linguist. I discovered that the brain of a shark is very similar in shape to a vagina. I realised that language can be something we hide behind rather than to reveal who we really are. All this from a simple mispronunciation. Here's a bit of it:

I had been flicking through secondhand CDs when I saw her again, the jewel cases click-clacking like high heels on a pavement. She stood opposite, head down, her long black hair parted down the middle with a pale pink strip of skin dividing the two sections of her head similar to the way the medial longitudinal fissure divides the two cerebral hemispheres in the brain. The pink strip had obviously caught the sun, reminding me of another simile: the thin strip of excrement retained within the body of a prawn, albeit with the colours reversed.

"Vulvert" was written listening to Ellie Goulding's "Halcyon" CD on repeat.

Confingo #4 features poetry by Marianne Daniels, Karl Astbury and Helen Torres; short fiction by David Gaffney, Andrew Hook, Matt Harris and Keiran Lambe; photography and artwork from Lucy Ridges, Chan-yang Kim, Jordan Sweke, Rebecca Driffield, Ailsa Rhiannon and Zoe McLean; and an interview with the cover artist, Lucy Ridges. Purchase it here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


My short story, "Us!", has recently been published in the anthology, Creeping Crawlers, edited by Allen Ashley for Shadow Publishing. As usual I'm posting a few comments as to how the story came about for those who might be interested. There will be spoilers.

"Us!" was a story idea I'd had for some time. I can't remember exactly how it popped into my head, but the idea sprang from the 1950s movie, "Them!", in which ants made giant through radioactivity threaten small town America. Perhaps it was because of the emphatic title, however I wondered about telling the story from the ants' perspective. Many SF movies - and certainly many horror movies, if not almost every movie - are built around a them and us scenario. I thought it would be interesting to flip it on it's head. However I never got around to actually writing the thing.

Everything changed when Allen announced he was editing this anthology. I now had an impetus to write. So I popped "Them!" into the DVD player and made some notes. I knew it would be very short - you can't really stay in an ant's head for too long - and I wanted it to follow the movie's storyline but in a way in which certain terminology and understanding was more ant-like than human. I couldn't write the story in ant, after all (click click click clickety-click), but I didn't want it to be too human either. Hopefully I struck the right balance. Here's a bit of it:

We knew we were everywhere, had been for a over a trillion sunrises. In some of our colonies they worship ancestors trapped in amber. Yet despite our experience we knew we had disadvantages. Our enemies had superior vision. Their flyers did not lose their wings after the nuptial flight. Their males rarely died after mating. We had strength - the ability for one to lift twenty. Yet our aggressors had non-organic structures which served to augment them.

The style is quite different from my usual writing, which is probably why it took a definite market to exist for me to write the piece. But I'm pleased with it - it did exactly what I wanted it to. And the fact that it is the lead story in the anthology makes me very happy.

A final thought: Each time I write a story I usually listen to a piece of music on repeat. There was only one song I could possibly play whilst writing this: Antmusic by Adam and the Ants. I played it 35 times on repeat and I don't even like the song. I guess I just like suffering for my art.

Creeping Crawlers is published by Shadow Publishing. Here are the other fine folk who grace it's pages: David Birch, Gary Budgen, Adrian Cole, Storm Constantine, Andrew Darlington, Pauline E Dungate, Dennis Etchison, Edmund Glasby, John Grant, Terry Grimwood, Mark Howard Jones, Alan Knott, Robin Lupton, Ralph Robert Moore, Richard Mosses, Marion Pitman, David Rix, David Turnbull. It can be purchased here.

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Aniseed Gumball Kid

My short story, "The Aniseed Gumball Kid", was recently published in Breakout, a Postscripts anthology from PS Publishing. As usual, I'm blogging a few thoughts as to how the story came into being. There may well be spoilers for those who haven't read it.

I actually wrote this piece some time ago. It was quickly accepted by Pete Crowther who said it was probably the best story I'd submitted to Postscripts, however it's taken a while to get published and my memory of how it was written is a little hazy. However, I do know that I found the title written on the back of a recipe pinned to our corkboard, and that title has been claimed as an idea by my partner. I also remember the story sprang from the title alone.

"The Aniseed Gumball Kid" tells the story of an office worker who has become estranged from his family, who clings to a halcyon vision of reality which doesn't match the situation he is actually in, and who becomes obsessed by a kid he views at a gumball machine through this office window. The kid becomes a representation of everything he wants to be. That's it in a nutshell, but it's also much more nuanced than this. There's a lot of typical office politics, how reality in any office is a self-contained world confirming to it's own rules, and about how loneliness can affect the mind. Here's a bit of it:

Sandford had worked in a handful of offices during his life. None of which were remarkable, either through the nature of the work or the workers themselves. In his new office he realised quickly how the staff fell into stereotypes: the dumb blonde, the surprisingly clever blonde, the SF nerd, the fat guy with glasses who blinked too rapidly, the married woman on the verge of having an affair, the token ethnic, the knowledgeable female, the motherly female, the unattractive temp, the chummy boss, the avoidable boss, the workmate who thought you liked him and who considered himself a friend but who you would never see socially. And so it went on.

Over his spiced chicken wrap - he no longer bought fish paste sandwiches - Sandford catalogued his fellow workers and found each correlated with an identikit counterpart in a previous office. Beryl was Carolyn was Cynthia. Wayne was Dwayne was Shawn. Emma was Sharon was Melissa. Raj was Raj was Raj. From this only one deduction could be made: his brain held a finite template of stereotypes from which to draw new people. Similar circumstances created similar people. The more he toyed with the idea the more he decided to believe that was true. And the more he believed it was true, the more it became true.

Breakout contains stories from twenty-seven writers and can be bought here. Including fiction by John Gribben, Allen Ashley, Jessica Reisman and Steven Utley, John Weldon, Howard Priestley, Kaitlin Queen, Paul Tremblay, Kelly Barnhill, Garry Kilworth, Lisa L. Hannett, Keith Minnion, Robert T. Jeschonek, Vaughan Stanger, Robert Reed, Simon Strantzas, James Cooper, Greg Quiring, Kat Howard, Kit Reed, Darrell Schweitzer, Andrew Hook, Ian Whates, Emma Coleman, Steven Utley and Camille Alexa, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anna Tambour and Marly Youmans.



Wednesday, 28 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015

Held over last weekend was the annual British Fantasy Society convention, FantasyCon. I love attending this event, and this year was no exception. Heading up from Norwich we dropped our daughter off at her grandmother's in Leicester and then continued along to Nottingham where we easily found the convention hotel within the grounds of the University. It was a warm if cloudy day and the convention building and hotel architecture were all very pleasing. Parking the car we headed to check in.

The first person I chatted to briefly was Simon Clark, followed by our close friends Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle. After being told we had to wait a few minutes before our room was ready we headed to the convention registration which was already busy. Often at these events you're given a bag with a couple of books inside which you will never read (the second in a trilogy for example), however this year an empty bag was just waiting to be filled with books from the very generous freebie table. I have never seen such a selection of freebies which were so desirable and during the first hour of the convention I probably bored everyone silly advising them to register before they all disappeared. These were our freebies many of which were on our wish lists:

Following registration we headed to our room and found it pleasantly clean and modern. The curving architecture viewed from our window resembled a wooden rollercoaster track. The large windows made us realise we were clearly visible from the outside! Just from the room and those free books alone it intimated this would be a good convention - and those instincts weren't wrong.

Heading to the bar area we chatted briefly to Steve Savile who I hadn't seen for some years and we reminisced over his book, "Angel Road", which I had published through Elastic press. We then spent some time with the lovely Priya Sharma talking about poetry and surrealism, and were joined by Simon Bestwick and Cate Gardner. I also managed to catch up with Stuart Young before heading to the Pendragon Press launch of "The Lost Film" by Mark West and Stephen Bacon. Chatted with Jay Eales and Selina Lock in the queue before picking up a copy of the book which looked interesting. We also did a brief tour of the dealer's room speaking to Roy at the TTA Press table, George Sandison at Unsung, confirming a preference for two-legged werewolves at another table whose name escapes me, having a brief chat with Trevor Denyer, and saying a quick hello to Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards before diving into their £1 book sale.

We were planning to attend the Poetry Round Robin event from 8 to 10pm, but needed food beforehand. The bar food looked pretty rubbish and we only really wanted a snack so Sophie googled the nearest KFC. It appeared to be six minutes away. We set out to walk but it took about six minutes to leave the campus. After forty-five minutes we realised we must have taken a wrong turn. When we did arrive at the KFC it was a tiny shack near a garage where the staff served behind what resembled bulletproof glass. The hotel turned out to be only six minutes away. We ate quickly.

Back at the hotel we thoroughly enjoyed the poetry event. Sophie read three pieces in total and received some great feedback. The others - some old, some new - were also good to hear. Afterwards we headed to Simon Bestwick's reading from his forthcoming novel, "Hell's Ditch", which went down well. Sitting in the bar area we spent the next three hours chatting to Ray Cluley and his partner, Jess, who are fast becoming good friends. It's always refreshing to talk on a variety of levels and subjects with people who know exactly what you're talking about. By 2:30 in the morning Ray's question, "what haven't we talked about?", suggested we were exhausted and it was time to go to bed.


Woke after an ok sleep. The hotel breakfast was pretty good and I dug in so far I ended up coming out in Australia. Popped into the dealer's room first thing to hand Roy Gray the TTA Best Small Press award for 2011 which I'd collected on Andy Cox's behalf a few years ago but I'd used as a bookend until now because I kept forgetting to forward it on. Better late than never. Then we headed to the book launch room where I signed a few copies of the anthology, "Creeping Crawlers", edited by Allen Ashley for Shadow Publishing, which contains my short story, "Us!". The book looks fantastic.

We then popped along to Ray Cluley's reading but found he had had to swap with Joe Hill who had to leave early. This meant we got to hear Joe first and Ray second, and whilst I have only a passing interest in Joe I did enjoy his reading and he seemed to be a thoroughly amiable bloke. Enjoyed Ray's reading too. From there we ventured over to Adam Nevill's book launch, picking up a copy of "Lost Girl" for a sweet fiver, and enjoyed an even sweeter free beer (the best beer of the weekend in fact) as a bonus. Had a long chat with Stephen Volk whilst I was in the queue about his adaptation of "Midwinter of the Spirit" for ITV. A three-parter which I had really enjoyed (although unfortunately he advised it hadn't been re-commissioned). We also shared our disappointment that it hadn't been featured on Gogglebox.

After Adam's launch we headed to Gary Couzen's reading. He chose a section from the story, "Cold", which was included in his collection, "Out Stack and other places", for which I had written the introduction. It was good to hear the piece being read and I heartily recommend the book.

Around 1pm we realised we had a window of opportunity to catch up with some sleep, and would have done so if a fire alarm in the conference centre hadn't pulled us from the fringes of darkness. Whilst it didn't affect the hotel, the noise did. Thankfully there wasn't an actual fire.

Back in the main building we headed to Paul Meloy's book launch and picked up a copy of "The Night Clock" (a little surprised it was an ARC, but I guess every story needs one). During the course of the day I'd also been selling a handful of copies of my new chapbook, "The Nomenclature of Fear", to those I thought might be interested, and was chuffed when Stephen Volk asked me if I had any with me. Hopefully those who bought these enjoyed them.

At four o'clock we were back in the reading room, this time with myself reading my short story, "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City". It seemed to go down well, and we remained there to hear Priya Sharma's reading before returning to the general bar area and milling about the dealer's room again. The great thing about the venue was that it was all on one level: no complex corridors or echoey stairwells, no reason to get lost. And whilst I haven't mentioned everyone we spoke to (of course), it was so refreshing to be somewhere where every few paces we might find ourselves amongst people we knew and could readily chat to. I certainly don't get that everywhere I go. We are a band of outsiders.

Six o'clock saw me take part in a panel about the future of the short story alongside Gary Couzens, Nina Allan, Marie O'Regan, and Laura Mauro which was moderated by Allen Ashley. Hopefully we said something of interest. Certainly some people were taking notes.

Food was next on the menu, but the hotel choices were limiting. After a bit of aimless wandering we took a taxi into Nottingham with Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle and settled for the simplicity of Nando's and had some good conversation over a much-needed meal.

Returning to the hotel we looked in on the disco which - at that point - had only two people in the hall. Deciding against it we attended Victoria Leslie's "Skein and Bone" book signing event, picking up a copy and managing to have a long chat with her (Sophie gushing about new poetry ventures and reading a poem from one of her favourite poets to her).

Once we were out of there we found ourselves again alongside Ray Cluley and Jess. Another chat ensued. More beer. Sophie made an admission she had never been drunk and Jess made it a mission to ensure that she was. Singles might have been doubles. Sophie denies that she did - in fact - get drunk, although when I returned to their table after chatting with a few other people her distressed exclamation: "Your face is square, your face is square" coupled with tears and laughter seemed to suggest otherwise.

Whilst that was going on I discussed cheese with Neil Williamson in relation to a forthcoming anthology we will be editing (more details on this when confirmed), and also spoke to Linda Rucker and Rosanne Rabinowitz about the project. Al Robertson and Heather Lindsey were at the fringes of the conversation and I only wish I'd been able to have a much-needed catch-up with them. Neil and I also discussed the Sparks/Franz Ferdinand project, FFS. Always good to have great music conversations.

As the convention area closed down we returned to the hotel bar, striking up my annual noir crime conversation with John Travis and sharing a few recommendations and comments on the state of publishing. By the time it reached 2:30am it was time for bed (and to make use of the extra hour's sleep due to daylight saving time). Another great day with great people.


I got out of bed on Sunday the only way you can when at a Fantasy convention.

Knowing I wouldn't eat til about 9 that evening I ensured I had two cooked breakfasts, then packed our bags into the car before strolling back into the convention area. Hung around the dealers tables, chatting to Priya Sharma and Carole Johnstone, and picked up a copy of "Breakout", the new Postscripts anthology from the PS Publishing table containing my short story, "The Aniseed Gumball Kid", which I hadn't realised had been published (I did confirm I could take my contributor copy with Nicky Crowther), and sold a copy of "punkPunk!" to Steve Shaw. Leaving there I had a conversation with Rob Shearman about his World Fantasy Award judge role (which I had done a few years previously), before resting awhile in the bar area again where Sophie read my "Gumball" story to me.

Having a few hours to wait before the award ceremony we went for a stroll in the university grounds. The autumnal colours were beautiful and it was nice to have some quiet time together without feeling we were heading too far away from the convention. Returning to our car to put some stuff away we decided to have our own FantasyCon banquet which was (unsurprisingly) tasty.

Hanging outside the banqueting hall we were able to have a chat with Alison Littlewood and her partner Fergus about the forthcoming awards, and just before the ceremony we were also able to speak briefly with Nina Allan (receiving a heartfelt hug) before we were whisked into the vortex of unbanqueted-convention-goers sucked into the main hall in time for the awards. I had a vested interest in one of these, having had a story in "Horror Uncut" which was in the best anthology category, but as it happens that award went elsewhere. It was certainly an eclectic list of winners. I wouldn't argue with any of it other than that the film "Guardians of the Galaxy" which won best screenplay was an embarrassing crock of shite. Still, each to their own.

We exited just as the convention was being formally concluded, racing to the car before the crowds could claim us. We'd had a great time amongst friends and for as many conversations we had there were also those who we passed in the corridor and never had the opportunity to see again. The convention is such a magnificent social occasion for those in the genre and this was one of the best. A triumph of individuals finding camaraderie in community. Looking forward to next year in Scarborough.

(Postscript: forty-five minutes out of Nottingham we stopped just outside Leicester for the loo. I was thinking you never see anyone out of the convention, and then promptly bumped into Tom Johnstone as we left. Oh, the power of suggestion!).

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Autumnal Antics

My partner blogged our most recent literary outings on her Fur-Lined Ghettos website. With FantasyCon approaching tomorrow it seemed relevant for me to re-post that here with a few amendments to make it look like I wrote it:

We're spoilt here in the East. It feels as though there is something literary happening almost weekly, & it generally is! Here's a few nights we've attended recently:

Poetry Collective is a big supporter of everything poetic - writers / musicians / comedians etc. Here's regular Olly Watson doing something Sophie and I never could (read from memory!).

I was going to say that Café Writers is my favourite night but honestly I love them all. Definitely worth checking out, there is always a great headline act + open-mic.

Crime Scene was an event run by myself out of frustration at the lack of support for local genre novelists. We think it was a success, and hopefully the start of something new.

The Quiet Compère has a basic premise - ten poets read for ten minutes each. Sophie managed to get her name on the list, & despite being delayed (we hate cars) she had an enjoyable evening - if not a shaky one.

And so tomorrow is FantasyCon, the annual knees-up for the horror/fantasy community and all those inbetween. I'll be around chatting to old friends and making new ones, but there's also a few scheduled events we'll be attending.

Friday 23rd October at 8pm: Round-Robin poetry slam (where Sophie will be reading)

Saturday 24th October at 10am: launch of Creeping Crawlers edited by Allen Ashley which contains my short, "Us!".

Saturday 24th October at 4pm: I will be reading my short story, "Shipwrecked In The Heart Of The City".

Saturday 24th October at 6pm: I will be one of the panel members on "The Short Story: Short-Lived or Part of the Long Game?" with Nina Allan, Gary Couzens, Laura Mauro and Marie O'Regan (moderated by Allen Ashley).

Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Old Factory Memories

My short story, "Old Factory Memories", has recently been published online in the seventh issue of Axolotl magazine and as usual I'm blogging a few lines as to how the story was written for those who might be interested. There will be spoilers. The story itself can be read here.

"Old Factory Memories" was the last of four stories that I wrote in quick succession. I had time to write another piece, but other than the title I had no ideas. The title itself is simply a pun on 'olfactory memories', but other than providing the title the wordplay actually has no bearing on the story itself. At the time of writing I'd had a few nights where I hadn't slept very well and I decided to do some research around that, whereupon I found the following snippet of information: "Chronic sleep-restricted states cause tiredness, clumsiness, a discordance between speech and action; but perversely there are also some cases where sleep deprivation leads to increased energy, alertness and enhanced moods." It was the latter half of that paragraph which I found interesting: could it be that sleep deprivation might lead to an enhanced state of being...? Further research led me to 'fatal familial insomnia', a rare disease of the brain which can lead to hallucinations, delirium and confusional states like that of dementia. Suddenly I had my story.

I created a near-future scenario where the occupants of a care home have become wistful about their days before retirement, where they worked in a factory which no longer existed because technological advances had meant much of the surrounding area had returned to grass (kind of an opposite to the usual, I remember when this was all fields situation). They are nostalgic for those factory days of old, and - gradually - as they start to slip away into dementia and delirium, they begin to recreate that factory through memory until it actually becomes a physical object. Or does it. As usual, my stories offer no hard and fast realities. Ultimately the story is about memory and the pending loss of self, about nostalgia and the desire for one last redemptive moment through a kind of collective consciousness.

We entered Carson’s meadow in various states of mind. Summer was leaving. The breeze had an edge to it. The ground was harder, pitted. Angelita fell heavily. I watched Attila help her rise with no trace of bitterness. The factory dominated the skyline. It commanded my view. I tried to imagine the time I believed I had spent inside, when the meadow was tarmac and white lines delineated the rectangular positions of parking spaces. Where the foyer was corporate and the interior working class. I could smell the grease they used on the cogs: a rich memory, a sensory awakening.

"Old Factory Memories" was written whilst listening to the album "Your Future Our Clutter" by The Fall on repeat.

Axolotl is an online magazine with a yearly print anthology. This issue also contains work by Michael Díaz Feito, Kodi Saylor, Joe P Squance, Trevor Shikaze, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Robert Hamilton and Andrey Kuzmichev.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Tiny Iris

My short story, "Tiny Iris", has recently been published in the anthology, Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State edited by Chris Kelso for Omnium Gatherum. As usual I'm blogging about the genesis of the story and there may be spoilers. The book is a shared world anthology. The Slave State is a place located in the 4th dimension, a place where humans are forced to work extracting inessential minerals from mining enclaves until the end of their lives...

Chris approached me for a story for the anthology and I agreed to participate if I found something suitable. Whilst I do often write for themed anthologies, I've rarely done so for shared worlds and I wasn't quite sure whether it would be something I would go for. As it happened, when Chris emailed over the guidelines and other works written within the slave state mythos so I could get a feel for the subject, his email header stated 'stories for hank'. This got me thinking about Henry "Hank" Chinaski, the alter ego of the American writer Charles Bukowski, and I realised that Bukowski's gritty novels such as "Post Office" where individuals live disparate lives walking a tightrope between existence and desolation whilst working mundane jobs weren't a million miles away from the Slave State situation. As it happened, that email header had nothing to do with the book (Chris had forwarded something without changing a previous header), but serendipity led me to my story.

I'd had "Tiny Iris" as a title for a while, without knowing what it would relate to. Somehow it felt right for this piece, and the whole thing was written in a few hours from the title, the Bukowski vibe, and the slave state mythos I had read. I wrote "Tiny Iris" whilst listening to "Big Calm" by Morcheeba on repeat.

In Ersatz you needed to keep yourself to yourself, not deviate from your expected persona. Any diffraction was an aberration. Before you knew it you'd be transferred to the mining enclaves, pointlessly digging out nothing of any importance until the day you died. At least in the post office you could consider you had purpose. Not that Hank ever knew anyone who had actually received a letter. When he started on the mail run he only delivered to derelict properties.

"Slave Stories: Scenes From The Slave State" also contains fiction by Laura Lee Bahr, John Langan, Mary Turzillo, Simon Marshall-Jones, Gary J. Shipley, Mick Clocherty, Violet LeVoit, Shane Swank, Clive Tern, Preston Grassmann, Roger Lovelace, Dale McMullen, Rhys Hughes, Gregory L. Norris, Andrew Coulthard, Kris Saknussemm, P. R. Differ, Richard Thomas, Ian Welke, John Palisano, Beckett Warren, Tony Yanick, Love Kölle, Chris Kelso, Spike Marlowe, Seb Doubinsky, Michael Faun, Hal Duncan, Mitchel Rose and Gio Clairval.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Blood For Your Mother

My short story, "Blood For Your Mother", has recently been published in Black Static #48, and as usual I'm blogging a few words as to how the story came about. There will be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

In this instance, the gestation of the story is a little difficult to remember. As always I start with a title. I 'think' Blood For Your Mother was a line which I pulled from a conversation completely out of context to how it was eventually used. Having had the title I then needed a story to fit it. The obvious choice would have been a vampire story, but I rarely write those and in any event the 'obvious choice' is a choice I rarely choose to make. I found myself considering the word 'mother' which by implication leads to a child which in turn implies pregnancy. What if the mother in my story came to crave blood during pregnancy - as some females crave coal, ice-cream, gherkins, etc - and what if following that pregnancy the craving failed to stop? What if the child became estranged through the parents need to protect it? What if the child felt rejected and unloved? How might she feel forty years hence?

Add to that a Kafkaesque-mutation situation and you have a piece which mixes a dying father, childhood trauma, family estrangement, redemption, resentment and coming to terms with even the strangest of realities.

Here's a bit of it: I look at the toilet and then at the wall opposite. When I was a child of a certain height, sitting on the toilet led my gaze to that wall, where, in a whorl combined of too thickly applied paint and indentations in the plaster I had discerned a face that I sometimes spoke to. A placebo of a God that I knew didn't exist, but which alleviated my complete belief in the unknown that I had always found such a crushing burden. Latterly I came to understand what pareidolia meant, but even so it remained a comfort. I sat on the toilet now, and angled my body to child-size in an attempt to see it again, but either my grown-up stature made it impossible or the re-painting of the bathroom had obliterated its traces. After a while I returned up the stairs, slowly and heavily, to the face that I couldn't avoid.

"Blood For Your Mother" was written in one sitting whilst listening to Bjork's "Vespertine" album on repeat.

Black Static #48 contains new novelettes and short stories by Jeffrey Thomas, Cate Gardner, Steven J. Dines, Andrew Hook, and Stephen Bacon. The cover art is by Martin Hanford, and interior illustrations are by Joachim Luetke, Tara Bush, and Richard Wagner. Features: Coffinmaker's Blues by Stephen Volk (comment); Notes From the Borderland by Lynda E. Rucker (comment); Case Notes by Peter Tennant (book reviews and an interview with Simon Kurt Unsworth); Blood Spectrum by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews). Buy it here.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015


I consider myself lucky to live in Norwich: a reasonably-sized, something-for-everyone, arts-focussed city. Even better, the coast is only twenty minutes away. One of our favourite places is Walcott, with it's often deserted beaches, strolling waves, and amazing fish 'n' chip shop. There's nothing in Walcott itself other than the flat landscape of beach and sea but that's enough. It's provided the inspiration for a couple of short stories and is perfect for our three-year-old to make discoveries.

One afternoon - childfree - myself and my partner were wandering along the beach. It was an awesome day. The light was perfect and the sky was blue. It struck me at that moment that I would be happy should that day be repeated on a never-ending loop. Nothing else mattered at that juncture, I felt free to shed normal responsibilities and accept it as my personal heaven. Of course, a story came out of this - a love story, at heart, although of course such a heaven must always come at a cost. Whilst the story, "The First You & I", is currently unpublished, here's me reading it at a recent Poetry Collective event.

Inspiration at Walcott was also found for another story of mine, "The Caged Sea", simply from this photograph taken through the top grid of one of the metal steps that lead from the sea defences to the beach when the tide was in. Whilst the story itself bears no relation to Walcott other than the title - it's actually set in Japan, inland - it's another indication of how stories can develop from the simplest things.

Nothing to do with Walcott at all, this song, "Walcott", by Vampire Weekend is a favourite to sing along to whilst we're driving to Walcott.

Finally, here's another shot of one of our favourite places. There are few distractions here, maybe that's why we find it so special; whilst on the face of it nothing is here, in fact everything is here. The flat beach/sea landscape is perfect at every time of year.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Actual Cloud

As blog readers will be aware I'm now co-editor - with my partner, Sophie - of Salò Press. An independent publisher dedicated to showcase the best surreal/experimental poetry and fiction. Our first publication - a poetry collection titled "Actual Cloud" by Dalton Day - is now available and orders can be taken through our website (UK/ELSEWHERE) which will be fulfilled immediately (official publication date is 1st October for other outlets).

The blurb for the book is as follows:

Actual Cloud is a being in awe of its existence // is lightness  // is a vortex of movement // is a hello, you exist // is a mountain of a person declaring feel this.

In his first full length collection, Dalton Day presents a landscape of subtle purity cocooned in natural honesty where simplicity and raw emotion endures what it feels to be.

Dalton Day is a poet & literal dog-person living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the chapbook Fake Knife, & his poems have been featured in Hobart, PANK, Everyday Genius, & Columbia Poetry Review, among others. He can be found at myshoesuntied.tumble.com and twitter.com/lilghosthands.

“Reading Actual Cloud is like tracking a mysterious animal through a wood of fog and feeling. Its body keeps changing, gaining fur, finding sorrow, leaving antlers, then paw prints, then hoof prints behind. The path the language takes is simple, declarative, but also full of gaps and quick swerves. It's clear this poet finds pleasure in leading the way, and it's a joy to wander in pursuit.” -  Heather Christle, author of Heliopause and What is Amazing

The great cover art is by Muxxi (www.muxxi.me)

We encourage you to buy direct from us and to support our fledgling press in addition to supporting Dalton's fantastic writing. We are also open to submissions for this project: "A Galaxy Of Starfish: An Anthology of Modern Surrealism". It's exciting times for us. We want to champion the best poetry/prose we can find and with this first collection we've set our standards high. Join us.

To whet your appetite here's an actual poem from Actual Cloud: