Friday, 17 March 2017

Recommendation: Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso

Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso is a hell of a book: a hell of a book to read, and a hell of a book to even begin to describe. But here goes.

It starts simply enough: a wannabe avant-garde filmmaker and a serial killer team up, with the goal of filming the killer's crimes to start a new cinematic, artistic and philosophical movement: Ultra-Realism. But the story soon turns to people inspired or affected by this movement, and we see the ripples of Ultra Realism's creation spill out into wider society. The plot is told from multiple points of view, cutting across and contradicting each other (and each expertly caputed by Kelso). From these voices, Kelso weaves a whole damn tapestry of violence, nilhism, fractured psyches, blurred timelines. Except 'weave' isn't the right word; instead say Kelso pulls at one loose thread, until everything you think you knew is unravelled. It's like some unholy combination of J.G. Ballard, Fight Club, real-life accounts of serial killers, and a William Burroughs cut-up experiment.

In the hands of a lesser author Unger House Radicals might have been a huge mess. But it's tightly structured despite its sprawling feel, and Kelso's narrative skills hold everything together. There are brutal scenes here, but Kelso does not depict them gratuitiously or lingeringly. A bleak, playful, challenging yet hugely enjoyable work, Unger House Radicals will almost certainly reward rereading. As it is, after one read Unger House Radicals is one of the most memorable books I've read for a while, and one I can highly recommend.

Unger House Radicals (UK | US)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Recommendation: The Little Gift by Stephen Volk

I recently had the opportunity to read Stephen Volk's new novella, The Little Gift, and what a treat that proved to be. It's a cleverly structured and quietly devasting piece of work, a story with implications that linger long in the mind. It begins with a scene of routine, comfortable domesticity into which death intrudes: a long married couple are woken by their cat dismembering a bird in the kitchen. Cleaning away this 'gift' their pet has bought them causes the narrator to reflect on his past, on his marriage, and how things could have been very different...

The Little Gift is a book about which it's hard to say too much about the plot without spoiling things. Indeed, much of the actual plot takes place off-stage; Volk's narrator is a man at the periphery of a truly barbaric event, affected by its ripples but who neither directly caused it or experienced it. So non-central is he that certain key plot points are revealed while he watches the TV news. Of course, only the best writers could make this technique work, and Volk pulls it off with quiet aplomb. Very subtly, this is also a piece of metafiction - a story about stories, about how we tell stories in our own heads. About how we make every story about us, even when we are merely bit-parts.

Some books, you finish reading them and you're done; but the events of The Little Gift stick around in your head, nag at your throughts, reveal new interpretations as you shower, go shopping or drive to work. It's another remarkable work from one of the best writers we have. You can (and should) pre-order it from PS Publishing here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Nightscript Volume III and 'The Affair'

Nightscript is an annual anthology of weird and strange fiction; the first two volumes contained an impressive collection of stories, selected by editor C.M. Muller. So I'm very pleased to be able to say that my story 'The Affair' will appear in Nightscript III, due out in October.

The full lineup is below; details about the first two volumes can be found here.

'The Flower Unfolds' - Simon Strantzas
'Downward' - Amar Benchikha
'What Little Boys Are Made Of' - Malcolm Devlin
'Grizzly' - M.K. Anderson
'Might Be Mordiford' - Charles Wilkinson
'Palankar' - Daniel Braum
'The Gestures Remain' - Christi Nogle
'House of Abjection' - David Peak
'The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein' - Clint Smith
'A Place With Trees' - Rowley Amato
'The Familiar' - Cory Cone
'Liquid Air' - Inna Effress
'The Beasts Are Sleep' - Adam Golaski
'The Witch House' - Jessica Phelps
'On the Edge of Utterance' - Stephen J. Clark
'Homeward Bound Now, Paulino' - Armel Dagorn
'The Affair' - James Everington
'When Dark-Eyed Ophelia Sings' - Rebecca J. Allred
'We, the Rescued' - John Howard
'Twenty Miles and Running' - Christian Riley
'Something You Leave Behind' - David Surface
'Young Bride' - Julia Rust
'The Other Side of the Hill' - M.R. Cosby

Friday, 3 February 2017

Green & Pleasant Land: Paperback Edition & New Review

The anthology Great British Horror 1: Green & Pleasant Land has just been released in a new paperback edition, and a new review from This Is Horror has some kind words about the book overall and my contribution, 'A Glimpse Of Red':

"...a very ambitious piece about alienation, unreliable memory, and paranoia... Another excellent story from a writer who, though he has been working steadily in dark fiction for a number of years, seems set to gain even greater recognition." (Full review here.)

'A Glimpse Of Red' is a story that seems more timely to me now than when I wrote it. Its central character is an foreginer out of place in the confusing and vaguely sinister place in which she finds herself: modern Britain. In this post-Brexit, post-Jo Cox, immigrant-bashing, Trump-appeasing 2017, I'm increaingly feeling this country, my home, is baffling and sinister too.

Green and Pleasant Land is an anthology I am proud to have been a part of, featuring as it does a wealth of home-grown talent, including V.H. Leslie, Jasper Bark, Ray Cluley, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Laura Mauro.

Great British Horror 1: Green and Pleasant Land  Paperback (UK | US) | Kindle (UK | US)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Recommendation: Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt

I came to this debut collection from American author Michael Wehunt having already admired a number of the stories in various anthologies and yearly best ofs - and yet, it still impressed me even more than I was expecting.

Nearly every story here is worthy of your time, but I'll jump right in and say a few words about my favourites. Your own may vary, as might mine the next time I read them. (And these stories will certainly need rereading.)

'Greener Pastures' is a sustained exercise in atmosphere, set in the a truckers' cafe in the middle of American nowhere. Two truckers fall into conversation whilst staring out into the sodium-lit darkness outside, and it's no surprise that their talk is all about nothingness and empty spaces... Wehunt uses these bare bones to create an utterly compelling, creepy narrative; I've seen this story compared online to a Twilight Zone piece and there's something to that - but it has an emotional resonance beyond any mere twist-in-the-tale piece.

If 'Greener Pastures' was almost minimalist in the elements it used to scare, 'October Film Haunt: Under The House' takes the opposite approach and chucks everything into the pan. We have a classic creepy house, multiple unreliable narrators, Lovecraftian weirdness, entomophobia, and a clever use of the 'found footage' trope in a prose narrative. All these elements are bound by the story's relentless air of fatalist determinism - Wehunt's characters seem stuck in a situation that they know will lead to their ruin but are compelled to play it out anyway. (Or maybe I'm just seeing my own neurosis and intellectual tics staring back at me from the distorted mirror Wehunt crafts here. Readers of 'Fate, Destiny, And A Fat Man From Arkansas' will know how scary I find those notions.)

Like many pieces here, 'Dancers' fuses genuine, poetic symbols of human experience (the titular trees are ones the husband in a long marriage has gradually encouraged to grow entwined together) and horrific imagery that undercuts this human lyricism. 'Dancers' is a darkly terrible story about possession, fertility rites and old gods.

And that's not to mention the Aickman-inspired 'A Discrete Music', the Stephen King-esqe 'Devil Under The Maison Blue' or the superb, surreal, take on small communities and religious fundamentalism in 'Deducted From Your Share In Paradise'.

Overall then, this is a well-crafted, intelligent, not to mention thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories, each of which builds on genre classics but displays the author's own distinct voice. A fine debut.

Greener Pastures (UK | US)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Inspiration

Two pieces that, given the current state of the world, have inspired me:

"I want to celebrate those things here. I want to write about books and film and art and music and stories and travel and all the glorious things in the world that these small mean grubby minds, these pathetic, paltry imaginations, do not value, would like to crush out of existence."
Lynda E. Rucker: A Citizen of Nowhere

"I think maybe we have to stop reacting and start resisting. There is no way of reacting to Trump... except to sit there, mind reeling with disbelief as yet more levels of total incompetence are revealed (there are more??) and thinking what an absolute dick. Yet even small acts of resistance are valuable and important... Small acts of resistance, among which books, and the talk of books, are the greatest of all."
And so, back to the small act of writing. (Do follow the links and read them in their entirety.)


Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: My Writing Year

So 2016, eh? An, uh, 'interesting' year for many of us... for reasons I'm sure you don't need me to remind you of.

But just judging 2016 based on what it meant for my writing, it was a good year. In terms of books published I looked very prolific, but in reality this was caused by the vagaries of small-press publishing schedules rather than anything else.

Books
Trying To Be So Quiet 
A ghost story released as a (brilliantly designed) hardback - a first for me. Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts Of Horror included TTBSQ in his Top 20 Books of the year, and Anthony Watson mentioned it in his 2016 Review post on his Dark Musings site. Sadly Boo Books are no longer with us, so I'll be looking for a new home for this one.

The Quarantined City
Finally the whole story could be told... stories, in fact. After 'publisher problems' prevented this being released episodically as originally planned, the brilliant Infinity Plus stepped in to release the whole novel. It's the book of mine I'm probably most proud of, and Anthony Watson picked it as his second favourite novel of the year, calling it a "truimph". And of course I'm going to be crass enough to mention again that this one got reviewed in the bloody Guardian.

Paupers' Graves
Part of the Hersham Horror novella range, this one stretched me as a writer, involving a fair amount of historical research (the setting is based on a real life cemetery here in Nottingham). Fortunately the hard work seemed to pay off, with Mark West including Paupers' Graves in his annual Westies awards; Horror Novel Reviews in this 2016 ListAnthony Watson mentioning it in his year end piece; as did Kit Power in his personal round up for Ginger Nuts of Horror.

The Hyde Hotel
My first book as editor, alongside Dan Howarth. I loved putting together this - thanks to all the stellar authors involved. And again, Anthony Watson (a man I owe a drink to, should we ever met) mentioned this in his roundup of the year.

Stories & Non-Fiction: 
Including reprints, I had seven stories published this year. The new ones were 'Hooked' (Thirteen Signs), 'A Glimpse of Red' (Great British Horror #1: Green &Pleasant Land) and 'Premonition' (Reflections). And although not released in 2016, Kit Power (a cracking writer in himself) mentioned 'The Man Dogs Hated' (from Falling Over) as one of his favourite short stories he read this year in his own annual round up.

I also had two pieces in the Writers On Writing series from Crystal Lake, both republished in the Omnibus Edition: 'Embracing Your Inner Shitness' and 'Fictional Emotions; Emotional Fictions'.

Events:
I attended more writing related events than ever before, and had a blast at all of them: Edge-Lit 5, Sledge-lit 2, Derby Writers' Day, Nottingham Library Local Writers Showcase, and of course the annual three days of talking books, eating food, launching books, drinking beer and buying books that is Fantasycon.

Coming Up...
2017 will see me hard at work upon a novel, as well as hopefully see some more short stories published. I'm tentatively thinking about what tales should feature in my next collection too, so hopefully they'll be some news on that.

See you next year, everyone!