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Where is this year going? April already. Anyway, been working hard on short stories and also the new Wraeththu story collection, ‘Para Kindred’. I’m really happy with my stories in this one, and also love the contributions I’ve had in from the other writers. There is a Goodreads Giveaway for this book, URL here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/88603-para-kindred-enigmas-of-wraeththu

I know I have to get into social media promotion a lot more than I do. I see horrendously poor novels, self published as ebooks, but whose authors have dozens of 5 star reviews on Amazon, presumably from friends. This is what serious writers are up against, sadly. The whole ‘recommendation’ thing is a sham on these sites. It can be abused so easily, as I see often when I download a book to read on Kindle before I sleep. Atrociously rotten books have gushing reviews. It must be orchestrated. I have simple hopes the reading public have more sense.

I’ve read a couple more of Susan Hill’s ghost stories recently – ‘Mist in the Mirror’ and ‘The Man in the Picture’. Ms Hill really knows how to set a ghost story up, and I adored ‘Mist in the Mirror’ until the end. I don’t know why, but as with ‘The Small Hand’, this superb writer really can’t finish a book satisfactorily. There were so many story threads left unresolved. It was almost as if she said to her publishers, ‘ok, hit word limit, here’s the book and my invoice’. Really disappointing and more so because I love Susan Hill’s writing. Why does she short change her readers so clunkily with these ghost stories? Only ‘The Woman in Black’ is fully-rounded. The others, while great reads for the most part, are let down by the endings. I read there’s to be a TV adaptation of ‘The Small Hand’, so hope the adaptors do more with it than in the novella. Wasted opportunities. I look back at Sarah Waters’ ‘The Little Stranger’ and that’s how a novel of this type should be crafted. Also Diane Setterfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’. Why on earth hasn’t ‘The Little Stranger’ been televised? That’s now one of my favourite novels of all time.

It galls me, but work on my novel ‘The Moonshawl’ has foundered recently, not least because of the shorts I’m writing. Plus I’m trying to do more with publicity and promotion for ‘Para Kindred’. ‘The Moonshawl’ is still very much in my thoughts, and I play out scenes in my mind as I’m doing housework. Would really like to finish it soon, though.

On a more personal note, we lost one of our veteran cats recently – Uriel. What we thought was bad teeth turned out to be a malignant tumour in his jaw. Uri had lived to a ripe old age, so we have to expect this to happen, but what’s been most upsetting is the effect on our young Siamese, Grimley, known also as Stringy Bob (that’s Jim’s name for him). From the moment Grim set foot in our house, he decided Uri was his mate. Uri could not fight against Grim’s determination to love him. They were inseparable. After Uri’s death, Grim wandered around the house looking for him, and at night simply howled. He and Uri always slept with me when Jim was at work (he works most nights) and it was pitiful to see Grim’s sadness. Whoever says cats don’t have feelings can just sod off, in my humble opinion. So we made the choice to get a companion for Grim (seeing as the other cats sort of blank him a lot for his ‘in your faceness’). We’re hopefully going to pick up a girl Oriental cat companion for him next week. Superstition forbids me from saying more than that, but if she comes home with us I’ll post pics on Facebook.

I’ve been working on Para Kindred over the weekend, the forthcoming Wraeththu story collection. I’ve edited one of Wendy Darling’s stories for it, and another from Daniela Ritter. I’ve also attended to editorial corrections Wendy asked for my story, ‘Painted Skin’. After making this post I’ll take a look at my second story for the anthology and start work on it. So far it hasn’t got a title. The collection’s shaping up well and if the last couple of stories come in on time we’ll hit our desired March publication with no problem.

Short stories seem to be taking centre stage for me at the moment. I’ve just finished one to send off to an anthology, (superstition forbids me from revealing more until it’s taken or rejected!), and I’ve heard word of another couple of collections I’d like to submit to. After a long break from writing shorts, it’s great to get back to them over this past six months or so, and I’m really enjoying dabbling in them once more.

I have some news concerning the collection I mentioned in my last post that I was in talks about with another publisher. This was Ian Whates from Newcon Press. He’s going to bring out a collection of mine in 2015 for his ‘Imaginings’ series – which comprises limited edition, nicely-produced hardbacks from various authors across the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. To date, this series has included authors like Tanith Lee, Liz Williams, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Baxter and Stan Nicholls, so it’s a prestigious project to be part of. My anthology, yet unnamed, will include uncollected works and a few new stories. So these will be pieces not available in any of my Immanion Press collections. I’ll give more news of the book’s Contents once they’ve been finalized. Newcon Press’s full catalogue can be found here: http://newconpress.co.uk/

Work on my Wraeththu novel, ‘The Moonshawl’, is still going well too, and I’ll be spending a couple of days on that this week – two days seems to be about all I can manage at the moment, what with all the short story writing. But writing is writing, and what wants to come out has to be allowed to come out. I feel as if a creative dam has burst after years of drought!

My own writing aside, I want to let off steam about something that’s increasingly getting on my nerves: the poor standard of grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation in so many of the published works I read, and also in magazines and newspapers, and even in broadcasting on the radio and television. Every editor, I’m sure, has pet hates. (I won’t go in Ian Whates’ long-standing war with the word ‘it’!). Mine include the wrong use of verb forms, in particular the now all too common ‘he was sat’, ‘she was stood’ etc, instead of the correct forms of either ‘she stood’ or ‘she was standing’. I’m reading a novel at the moment and am being tripped up and ejected from immersion in the story every few minutes by one of these appalling bloopers. Strangely, it’s not consistent, and the author gets the verbs right as often as she gets them wrong. I can only assume she doesn’t have a full knowledge of grammar and therefore lacks control of her prose. This particular, horrible corruption has crept into all aspects of the written and spoken word, and I really hate it. Whenever I see it I can’t help thinking the writer is just lazy and uneducated in their craft.

Another pet hate, and I think this has come over to the UK from America, is the use of ‘off of’ for ‘from’, such as ‘off of that programme on the telly’, instead of ‘from that programme on the telly’. It’s forgivable in toddlers, i.e. people learning to talk, but not in adults, and certainly not in writers. I see this horror all over the place, and the mere sight of it is enough to raise my blood pressure! Call me a grammar nazi if you like but I really detest the sloppiness it reveals.

Another annoyance is misuse of the word ‘that’, when ‘who’ should be used, i.e. ‘these are the people that were stood’… oops I mean, ‘these are the people who were standing’! It’s clear the writers concerned aren’t aware that when it’s a person or people we use ‘who’; when it’s an object or an animal, (and some writers might even contest the latter), we use ‘that’.

I often see weak punctuation, syntax and spelling, as if the books I’m reading haven’t been edited properly, if at all. I also see cases of endless repetitions of words and phrases close to each other on a page, (and not in a deliberate, poetic or dramatic way), which should be spotted by an editor, even if the writer is blind to them. (I know I make mistakes in my work all the time, which is why I ensure it’s read by several people and also edited thoroughly.) Not only ‘popular’ novels suffer in this way – I’ve seen it in allegedly literary works, whose covers have been crowded with unctuous praise from ‘names’ and whose authors have even won awards for their writing.

It worries me that we are heading into literary Dark Ages, where standards plummet to the quality of text speak and the construction of language – our basic tool of communication – dissolves. Even now, (and perhaps for a long time), students emerge from schools and colleges barely able to string a sentence together. Friends of mine who are teachers and lecturers constantly lament the illiterate state of their students, many at so-called university level. The most horrifying part is that people at the top, with the power to do something about this situation, don’t seem to care that much. Standards are lowered so that barely literate students can get degrees. I too see countless manuscripts from would be writers that are almost unreadable, so poor is their grasp of the tools of their trade. And yet they think they have the ability to produce novels and stories, patently not realizing they have to learn their trade – and most likely work hard to educate themselves in English language skills they were never taught at school – just like in any other profession. Perhaps this is a tide us old school writers cannot swim against and it’s the inevitable fate of literature in our modern society, a heart-breaking dumbing down. I really hope I’m wrong.

I’ve been super busy since I wrote my last blog post and – am happy to report – very productive. I finished ‘Painted Skin’, one of the stories for the forthcoming Wraeththu anthology ‘Para Kindred’, and am about halfway through a second. The second story, as yet un-named, is a return to canon characters in that it features Ashmael Aldebaran from the Wraeththu trilogies as well as the Kamagrian, Kate. I began the story quite a few years ago, concerning a human community that has survived against all odds in the midst of a wilderness, where the threat of the remaining unevolved Wraeththu tribes is still immense. The Gelaming have their own reasons for wishing to contact these survivors, and the har sent to do the job is Ashmael, with Kate along as negotiator, since they assume a more ‘female’ looking person will be more acceptable to the humans. They discover that a son of the human family has outstanding abilities beyond what’s normally found in the old race. The Gelaming want him incepted, the family and the boy himself don’t, and the drama unfolds from there. This story has enabled me to vent my gripes about interfering, busy-body ‘health’ officials, who think they know what’s best for us, when sometimes they really don’t. They just tick boxes and stand by the current ‘fashions’, whatever the consequences for the individual. I’ve got plenty more horrors to relate before the end of it.

The novel, The Moonshawl, is still going well, although at the moment I’m finding it difficult to devote more than two days a week to it, and of course those end up being less than full working days because of little tasks I continually have to attend to. But I’m happy with the progress, even if it’s not as fast as I’d like. A host of new ideas came to me, which have to be incorporated. I sat down to write a few notes on ‘the dark history of the Wyvern family’, only to end up with 10 pages of what could be a separate short story. Not all of this might make it into the novel, but as least *I* know what happened in the past.

This week I’ve written an introduction for a new edition of Algernon Blackwood’s first two short story collections, which will be combined into one volume by Greg Shepard – who some of you might remember published American editions of several of my novels, plus ‘The Oracle Lips’ story collection, through his Stark House Press. I’m not sure if that’s still the name of his publishing house, but will post further news when I have more details about the book. Blackwood is one of the most influential supernatural writers of the earliest twentieth century and inspired many other authors, even to the present day. I hesitate to use the term ‘horror writer’ for authors of his time, since to me the word horror nowadays often just entails blood, guts, dismemberment, torture, etc etc and I’ve never liked that kind of fiction. To me, the best horror is that which implies more than it shows; feelings of unease, the inexplicable, the subtly chilling. Anyway, I recommend Greg’s book, which includes ‘The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories’ and ‘The Listener and Other Stories’.

One thing I think is really important is that works like Blackwood’s are still available for everyone. So many of the ebook editions you see of these ‘historical’ writers are really badly produced, full of errors, and in one case recently – utterly empty of everything except the first page. I’ve read quite a few of these ebooks, since I’ve been devouring stories of this kind recently, and have been astonished at the sloppy production, as if the text wasn’t even read through once before it was slapped on the Kindle store. I know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to produce an absolutely pristine manuscript – mistakes will not be spotted because of human error – but really some ebooks have appalling amounts of them. Several stories have been virtually unreadable, owing to strange fonts and symbols littered all the way through. Hopefully, more publishers like Greg will restore these works with a bit of actual care.

Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been reading all these short story collections is how superior the older writing often is. It’s noticeable particularly when an editor has collected the new with the old. So many of the new ones are weak, uninteresting, or just gore fests. Dull, in other words. Whereas there are some real gems to be found in the older writing, often by authors completely unknown, who perhaps just produced a few stories to be published in magazines of the time. There were a fair amount of women writers involved in the genre too, and I read one ebook ‘The Lady Chillers: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Women Writers’, which was excellent. All of the collections have a few duds in them – inevitably – but this one was superior to most. Sadly, you won’t find collections by the majority of these writers, although there is a printed version of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories available. The ebook of Edith Nesbit’s ghost stories – forget it. This was the one I bought that was an empty file. (Actually it looks as if since I complained to Amazon it’s been removed from the Kindle store.) The Mary E Wilkins Freeman Megapack ebook is worth getting, despite the second half of the book comprising rather twee children’s stories. The first half, the supernatural tales, is great.

As for my plans for 2014, first of course I want to finish The Moonshawl, but I will be working on short stories alongside it. I’m in talks with another independent press about producing a book of my uncollected stories plus some new ones, and will again give more news about that when I have it. Once The Moonshawl is complete, it’ll be time to start on a new novel – I already have a few options. But as can often happen, a different idea might come to me before then.

I thought that in the absence of any spectacular news – life is fairly uneventful apart from writing and dealing with Immanion Press – I could give a sneak preview of the novel I’m working on. Now under the working title of ‘The Moonshawl’ (which may change), this is the third book in my Wraeththu Alba Sulh sequence and, as I’ve already said, it will be a mystery/ghost story – rather different from its prequels. Whether I get the book finished this year is difficult to tell, but I’ll certainly get most of it done. This will free me up to explore other projects, and the mountains of notes, ideas, half written things and synopses I have on my computer.

But all that is in the future. For now, here is a scene from ‘The Moonshawl’, where Ysobi is doing some psychic investigating. It’s not the final draft so might be expanded, and certainly refined, before publication. Apologies for lack of first line indentation – can’t work out how to do it on here! Enjoy!

Excerpt from ‘The Moonshawl’ by Storm Constantine © 2013

As soon as the glade opened up before us, I could tell that Moonshawl Pool was an ancient sacred place, and perhaps was still regarded as such among the local hara and used for rites. The damp grass was vivid with new growth beneath our feet; Rinawne’s pony was eager to tear at it, devour it.
Rinawne led me to the edge of the clear water. I could see that the pool was maintained by a spring and that a quick stream gulped away from it, perhaps to join with the river. Opposite me was an immense mossy rock, from which it seemed ideal for harlings to jump into the water. Sunlight came down in rods through the unfurling leaf canopy above, but even so the glade was partially in shadow.
‘Eldritch place, isn’t it?’ Rinawne said carelessly. ‘You should drink the water. It’s supposed to be lucky.’ He knelt down and scooped a handful to his mouth.
I knelt beside him. ‘I’d like to meditate here for a few minutes, if that’s all right.’
‘Of course. Do your hienemarly thing.’ Rinawne grinned. ‘There are usually mushrooms in the hedgerow to the next field. I’ll go gathering while you ponder the mysteries of life.’
Not until Rinawne had left me, his departure accompanied by a theatrical wave of his hand, did I stoop to drink the water. It was as cold as winter, and so pure as to be almost without taste. There was a faint sparkle to it that fizzed in my throat.
‘May the guardians of this site reveal to me it secrets,’ I said aloud, and then composed myself upon the grass, sitting cross-legged with my hands upon my thighs, palms uppermost and open.
I tried to concentrate on the story Rinawne had told me, visualising the har he had named Grass coming through the trees to the pool, his harling in his arms. The image wouldn’t stick in my mind, and on the brief occasions it did, I felt Grass was always looking behind him, as if pursued. I sensed urgency. But another image wanted to impose itself across that of Grass, and it was so strong, eventually I let it have its head.
In the mind picture, I was unsure whether it was day or night time. I caught brief glimpses of something pale through the trees, drawing haphazardly closer to the pool. Within the visualisation I got to my feet, cautiously approached whatever was weaving towards me. I saw a pale figure, its arms held out in front of it, touching the trunks of the trees, as if blind, and trying to feel its way forward. It wore a tattered white robe, and very long white hair fell over its face, obscuring its features completely, but it was not the white of human old age, more like the platinum white found rarely in hara. This must be a har. He was stumbling, disorientated, and now I could hear he was moaning softly, monotonously.
‘Tiahaar,’ I said softly, and the har paused. Then he began to grope his way in my direction.
‘Help… I need…’ The words were broken, ragged with the most awful despair, and shook me from my visualisation.
Opening my eyes, for a moment I too was utterly disorientated, unsure even of where I was, but then the sound of breaking undergrowth brought me to my feet. This was no visualisation. A har dressed in white – a torn robe, filthy to the knees – and with long white hair hanging over his face was trying to reach me. Pitifully, he patted the trees around him, turning in a circle, his robe catching on shrub branches, tearing further. All the while he uttered that relentless, frightened moan.
‘Tiahaar!’ I ran towards him. ‘Stay where you are. I’ll help you.’
As I reached him, the har fell heavily into my arms, and I staggered backwards beneath the burden. His hands clutched my arms, the fingers digging into my flesh, then withdrawing, then digging in again. He smelled… of sickness. ‘Wraeththu,’ he gasped, ‘help me, help me…’
And then… Then there was nothing in my arms, no sense, no physical memory even, of the weight against me. Nothing.
‘So this is your secret,’ I murmured shakily to the glade.
Around me was silence, no birds singing, no rustle of life in the bushes. Not even the soft gurgle of the water as it flowed away to brighter realms.
I sat down heavily where I stood, put my head in my hands, experiencing a strong desire to weep, yet no tears came. Something horrific had happened here once. There could be no mistake. It had left its mark, its imprint, and it was so strong it could feel like the physical weight of a har in my arms.
Ten minutes of deep breathing restored me almost to normality, yet I could still feel quivering anxiety within me, the gift of whatever apparition it was I’d seen.
I heard the sound of a har whistling and guessed this was Rinawne returning to me. For some reason, I knew I would not tell him what had happened; it was as if the har of my vision had begged me to silence.
‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ Rinawne remarked cheerfully as he emerged from the trees.
I smiled, gestured with both arms. ‘Well, I went… quite deep into the landscape.’
Rinawne rolled his eyes. ‘By Aru, don’t end up like Rey and not come out again!’ He sat down beside me. ‘No mushrooms to pick today, sadly. Shall we go back to the Mynd? You can stay for dinner again if you like. And I can show you the whole house. Would you like that?’
I sensed he was speaking to me as if I were… well, perhaps slightly ill. Did I look that bad? I tried to pull myself together, put aside what I’d experienced.
‘I’d love to see the house. Not sure about dinner, though. I need to write up some notes, so I don’t forget things.’
Rinawne slapped my shoulder. ‘Oh, plenty of time for that. You can sit in the library for a while to do your writing. The day is young. Come on!’ He dragged me to my feet.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been able to work on my novel this week – I refused to write another blog post until I could say something positive about the book. I’ve also started another short story for a forthcoming collection. But the most important thing is that I’m able to get back to the full length work. One thing I find I need when working on a novel is immersion – I need to be on it every day, thinking about it, listening to music that inspires scenes, and so on. I can’t just do a bit and leave it for weeks, then go back to it and find it easy to write. If I’ve slipped out its world, I need to get back in.

I had a number of scenes for which I’d written notes and have spent time writing those up. I’m not sure yet where these scenes will go, but as they were there, determined to come out, they needed to be written. These scenes were ‘eerie happenings’, ideas that came to me for the Tower in the story. It’s not exactly haunted but its occupant is.

I wanted to finish off the Alba Sulh sequence of the Wraeththu books, begun with ‘The Hienama’ and ‘Student of Kyme’. In the second one, the story took a rather miserable turn. Unfortunately, that’s what wanted to be written, and few of the characters came out in a good light. For the third one, I wanted a departure and to leave all that angst behind. The main character is Ysobi, who ended up being rather a villain in the previous book. A little punch drunk from his experiences, and also contrite, if not confused as to his earlier behaviour, he takes on a commission to help a rural community establish a spiritual system based upon the landscape and local folklore. He finds a magical, almost surreal environment, where in some of the harish families their human roots are still very important. The family who have hired him still live in the ‘ancestral home’ and it quickly becomes obvious that – like any ancestral home family worth its salt – there are secrets in its past. It’s also clear something unusual happened to the hienama of the community, with hints he disappeared into the landscape, leaving his son in the care of the ruling family. But while it seems Wyva, his brothers, and his chesnari Rinawne are the benevolent leaders of the community, there is another mysterious family, the Whitemanes, who appear to wield more power, certainly in a magical way. The community holds them in awe. Ysobi is soon involved in ancient plots and a personal haunting, while trying to complete the job he was given to do, against a nebulous opposition that seeks to terrify him and drive him away. Ignorant of this undercurrent, the harish community simply sees him as a replacement for their vanished hienama, a job Ysobi really doesn’t want. He’s had his fill of such positions of responsibility and yearns only for the life of a scholar. But nohar else seems keen to take on the position, and Ysobi is shuffled into it, despite his misgivings. He also refuses to be intimidated by his shadowy enemies and resolves to fight back.

Anyway, that’s the idea and there’s a lot more to go into it, but I’m glad I’ve got back to it at last.

Immanion Press news:

We’ll be publishing some of Tanith Lee’s work in e-book, as well a new printed novel called ‘Turquoiselle, which is part of her ‘Colouring Books’ sequence. The e-books will be ‘Kill the Dead’, followed by the Flat Earth series: ‘Night’s Master’, ‘Death’s Master’, ‘Delusion’s Master’ and ‘Delirium’s Mistress’. ‘Kill the Dead’ should be on Kindle very soon, with the others following after.

I have Tanith fans writing to me all the time, bemoaning the fact her work isn’t available in e-book. This is because her work is tied up in rights, and a couple of years ago the UK publisher, Orion, bought up most of her back catalogue for e-book publication (but not all of it.) As I’ve said to those who’ve written to me about it, there’s no point going on Amazon and requesting e-book editions from the original publishers of her books. This is simply because that in most cases they do not hold the rights. The best option for those wishing to campaign on Tanith’s behalf is to contact Orion, who have the majority of her titles. A little nudging, and a clear fan interest, might help the books appear sooner rather than later.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, in that all the Immanion Press royalties have been sent out and the accounts are nearly done. The decks are almost cleared of outstanding bits of admin work, and I hope to have a fairly smooth run up to Christmas in which to do more of my own writing. I seem to say this in every blog post I make, I know, but in the near future I expect to report how much I’ve accomplished, and sooner rather than later if my intentions have anything to do with it!

My editing work is complete for the year apart from putting together a very limited and special edition of ‘Animate Objects’, which is a collection of short stories by Tanith Lee, to be published to coincide with her receiving a lifelong achievement award at Fantasycon in Brighton later this year. I can’t think of a more deserving writer for the award, and I’m having great fun thinking of ways to make this collection extra special, working closely with Tanith and her husband, John. The book will be on sale at the convention only.

In between working on the collection, I’m reading through the scanned-in version of ‘Kill the Dead’, one of Tanith’s most popular earlier novels, which we’ll be publishing as an ebook through Kindle. Her story collection takes precedence at the moment, because time is short to get it prepared, but ‘Kill the Dead’ will be available as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of September at the latest.

Even though I’ve questioned whether it’s actually worth bringing all my back catalogue novels back into print, because the ebooks far outsell the physical printed versions, I’m considering it a personal indulgence now! Having got the ‘Magravandias Chronicles’ out again, with marvellous new covers by Ruby, the only ones left to do are ‘Calenture’, and also a new edition of ‘Hermetech’. This is because I wasn’t very happy with the version we produced early in Immanion Press’s career, plus I want all the books to have Ruby covers on them, and ‘Hermetech’ didn’t have that. Ruby is working on the cover and the draft I’ve seen looks great, so I intend to release this new edition before the end of the year. ‘Calenture’ will be saved for 2014.

I hope in my next blog post I have something to report about new writing from me. Believe me, the ideas are bubbling furiously!

One of the main problems with social media has always been – for me – the time commitment for keeping up with all of them. I also found a lot of it trivial – such as making small posts about what I was having for lunch or something. What was the point and who would want to read that anyway? Snowed under with work, I couldn’t see the benefit of joining the chattering, tweeting masses. I did and do use Facebook, but only sporadically. However, one thing has become clear to me and that is that social media are now essential for any author wishing to remain noticed (or to get noticed) – unless they are one of the privileged 5% who are the best-sellers of this world. Also, it’s good to talk to about books.

So I decided it’s time to interact with the world a bit more. I’ve become something of a recluse over the years – far different to the party animal I used to be – and I want to get out of this habit, at least on the internet. (No, I don’t want any real life party invitations, thank you!) I’m grateful to Sharon Sant and Louise Coquio who’ve been helping me in this regard, not least in how to use the different media properly. Half the time I was put off because it seemed like too much effort to learn how things worked and I have to confess I’m not the most patient of people in that respect. Still, we had an evening ‘Educating Storm’ so now I’m better equipped to chat, tweet, squawk or whatever.

Anyway, to news. I’m still hoping wistfully that I get time soon to do more work on my Wraeththu ghost story novel – the progress has been slow, because as usual Immanion Press, its accounts, and all the admin tasks just devour my time. However, I have found time to complete some short stories, which will be appearing in print soon. One which I’ve mentioned before is for Allen Ashley’s ‘Astrologica’ collection, coming out through Alchemy Press this autumn, and another is for Ian Whates’ ‘Looking Landwards’, again appearing this autumn through Ian’s Newcon Press. I’ve done another for Ian, for a collection due out next year and hope to find time to write a story for his Femme Fatale anthology, again for next year. Shorts are far easier to fit in between other work. I also want to write two for the ‘Para Kindred’ Wraeththu anthology, which will be published by Immanion Press. I’ve started work on the stories – one of which will be a completion of a piece I’ve had lying around for years, the other will be completely new. I’ve pushed deadlines and publication for this collection forward to next year, as some of the contributors are – like me – extremely pushed for time. We’ve had some great stories in already, so it’s looking good – it just needs an extension on deadlines. So it’s the end of February now for story submissions, with the idea of getting the book out before the summer.

I recently acquired a Kindle Fire and am loving it. I was a bit Luddite before, thinking nothing should replace the feel and smell of a real book, but I’ve absolutely run out of space for storing more books. Now it’s great being able to download whatever I want to read. I’ve found the device easy on the eye and – best of all – perfect for when I snuggle down on my sofa in the workroom for a sneaky half hour’s reading. (Who am I kidding? Erm… slightly more than half an hour.) The lack of light in that corner of the room makes it difficult to read with my cranky eyes (with my lenses in, I’m not short-sighted but long-sighted, yay), but of course a Kindle lights itself. Marvellous! I started downloading the works of old horror writers like Oliver Onions, E. F. Benson, Sheridan Le Fanu and so on, having found masses of cheap collections. I have to share one priceless little snippet – unfortunately not exactly word for word as I can’t remember which story it was in, but it made me laugh so much it stuck in my mind, so here’s the gist of it.
‘James, did you ride over on Grey Boy today?’
‘I did indeed, Anne.’
‘Splendid. I have some sugar for him in my muff.’

How times and the use of language have changed! I adore coming across these little gems that during their travel down the years have somewhat changed in meaning. Reading the ghost stories has been great for inspiration for my novel. One thing I love about the Victorian and Edwardian horror writers is that they didn’t rely on the shock value of gore and violence. The stories are genuinely creepy without a spilled gut in sight. Yes, nearly every one of them involves people living in vast, spooky mansions that hide terrible secrets, so generally the characters are affluent and privileged, but to me nothing can beat a massive haunted house with endless corridors and hidden locked rooms, and all those gruesome secrets from the past.

These are the collections I’ve read so far, which I can recommend:

Hauntings and Horrors, E. F. Benson
The Dead of Night, Oliver Onions
The Lady Chillers: Classic Ghost and Horror Stories by Women Writers

Still had at work on short stories, not least one I have to finish for a friend’s anthology, and also a couple for the new Wraeththu collection, ‘Para Kindred’. Wendy Darling, my co-editor, and I have announced it in a few places, but I’ll also do so here. The last two collections have been very successful, with great submissions.

Here’s the Call for Submissions text. Please feel free to circulate this.

Para Kindred: Call for Submissions

Following on from the Paragenesis and Para Imminence anthologies of Wraeththu Mythos stories, this new collection will focus upon the enigmas that might be found within the disparate tribes of this androgynous race – how Wraeththu might have – or will – develop in strange and unimagined ways.

We are calling for submissions to this anthology, of stories between 3,000 and 10,000 words. As with the former anthologies, we are mainly looking for pieces that do not involve characters from the original Wraeththu books, although such characters may have ‘cameo appearances’ if it suits the story. Writers who were included in the previous collections may also expand upon characters (or their descendants or ancestors) who they created for their earlier stories, if they so wish.

This collection gives writers a broad canvas for their ideas. Contributors can explore how the mutation from human to har might have unforeseen consequences; how new strains of hara might have come into being with unusual attributes; how tribes might have developed in hidden corners of the world that are vastly different to the mainstream population. Or even within ‘regular’ Wraeththu communities, harlings might be born who are different in some way, who might have additional mutations to their parents, thus taking them further away from their human progenitors.

Are hara as they exist within their world the ‘finished product’ or are they perhaps a stage on the way to further evolution? Or would some harlings born to hara be throwbacks to their earlier human roots? They are many avenues to explore, no matter how strange.

Please let us know if you are interested in contributing and provide a short synopsis of your idea, by mailing Storm at editorial (at) immanion-press (dot) com. The deadline for completed submissions is 31st August 2013. Contributors are welcome to submit more than one.

If you know of anyone who might like to contribute, please feel free to pass this document to them.

Other News:

I’m just putting the finished touches to the new cover for ‘The Way of Light’ the third book in my Magravandias trilogy. The books have been out of print for quite some time in the UK, and I’m glad to be able to republish them. I’ll be doing Kindle versions also in the near future. The printed copy will be available within the next couple of weeks.

I’ve had a story accepted for Allen Ashley’s ‘Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac’ anthology. The story is called ‘The Order of the Scales’ and was inspired by the zodiac sign Libra. Allen’s anthology is being published by Alchemy Press on 1st November 2013.

Another story has been accepted, but at the moment I can’t say where as the editor is still making choices over final submissions.

I had an ‘attic tidying’ session on my computer over the weekend, looking at a lot of my half-finished stories, notes about ideas for stories, novel synopses and so on. There are several ideas for novels that I just never took up, or other ideas took over so I had no time, and these to me are just wasted lying about doing nothing. I think a lot of them could work simply as short stories, so that even if the full length books never get written, at least the work I have done won’t go to waste. I also have a number of half-finished Wraeththu stories. For Para Kindred, I’m working on a new one, but there are also a few that could be finished to fit the theme. As before, I’ll aim to get two stories into the collection.

Sharon Sant’s young adult novel, ‘Runners’, is now out through Immanion Press. This is the first YA title we’ve done, so I’m hoping it’s the first of many. Sharon is really good at promoting her book, and tirelessly working to make sure people know about it. I wish I had her energy! Anyway, hoping this will have a really good effect on sales. ‘Runners’ is a science fiction/dystopia story, and will appeal to any readers of good writing, not just young adults. Here’s a link to it: http://www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=448&referer=Hp

The other new novel due within the next few days is John Kaiine’s reprint of his novel ‘Fossil Circus’. This is a dark and strange, but beautifully written horror novel, set in a disused mental asylum, which has been inherited by a group of previous inmates. As its editor, I was astonished at how John made me care about characters who are really quite repulsive in a lot of ways. You really do find youself rooting for them! Again, here’s a link: http://www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=450&referer=Catalogue

It’s not often I vent on my blog about things that aren’t to do with writing. But this time, I just have to, because I feel so strongly about it. I can only assume others like me will feel the same. This article is for people who are or were addicted to tobacco.

I was a smoker since the age of 16, driven by peer pressure and what was considered cool at the time to take the habit up. I became hopelessly addicted and until a year ago was unable to give up. Alternatives were useless for me. Cold turkey – forget it, I had no willpower whatsoever. Gum was vile and didn’t work. I couldn’t see that patches would help someone like me for whom the physical action of smoking, as much as what I inhaled, were part of the habit. While I worked at my computer, I had a cig on the go, usually just burning away to nothing in the ash tray, but the action of smoking helped me psychologically while writing.

The fact was, also, I enjoyed smoking. Certain cigs of the day were like rituals, after a meal, while sharing drinks with friends and so on. I didn’t believe half the guff we were fed by the now-hysterical health and safety goons, to whom all enjoyable aspects of life are deadly and who religiously believe risk-taking should not be part of anyone’s existence. Live in a cocoon and do nothing remotely exciting.

That said, and astonished the human race had survived until nannies were here to tell us what to do, I accepted that the smoking habit was not marvellous for one’s health, but ultimately it should be any person’s choice to do what they will with their own body. I objected – and still do – to any official ‘nanny’ telling me how I should live. What actually made me want to give up smoking was not the health risk or my advancing age – it was simply the cost. Despite the cosy idea many people have of writers, not to mention small publishers, living in the lap of luxury in gold-plated houses, the reality is very different. Money is always short. Writing, unless you’re in the top 5% best-sellers of the world, (which has nothing to do with being a good writer), is one of the worst paid jobs you can do. Spending 50 quid a week on cigs had become simply untenable. My husband’s job supports us, and all along my writing merely provided little extras now and again, including my cigs, weekend booze, takeaway meals etc. But eventually it couldn’t even cover that. As the recession bit and our finances got even worse, I knew my smoking habit was on borrowed time and I was really anxious about it. Then an angel appeared to me – or rather one of my best friends – who told me about e-cigarettes.

The effect of this really was like the opening of a wondrous gate and magical light pouring out. I tried a disposable menthol e-cig and found – unbelievably – that after only a couple of days I could go without my tobacco cigs. This was life-changing, not to mention bank-balance saving, since the cost of smoking e-cigs is but a tiny fraction of the outrageous cost of tobacco cigs. Like any person should, before I swapped to this alternative for definite, I read up on the products and also tried some from various different companies. Nowhere did I read of any damaging side-effects. Smoking e-cigarettes, or ‘vaping’ as it’s known among its fans (since you actually inhale harmless vapour that just feels like real smoking), supplies the physical actions of smoking, along with the pleasurable sensation of the actual ‘smoke’, as well as providing a nicotine hit of whatever strength you prefer – or none if that’s your choice. I read that people were swapping to e-cigs in droves, including celebrities, such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Robert Pattinson, Cheryl Cole, and a host of others. Vaping was set to become a revolution that could free people from the more harmful aspects of their habit.

When I first tried e-cigs, over a year ago, companies were springing up all over the place, offering an ever-widening array of vaping equipment. A vast amount of e-cig liquid flavours began to show up – not just regular tobacco flavour or menthol. In fact, now I never vape any liquid that tastes of tobacco, since I far prefer vanilla, strawberry or cinnamon. After trying a couple of not very good e-cig companies, I eventually turned to one that provided the equipment to refill your own e-cigs with the flavours of your choice. Admittedly, this method was more technical than simply buying disposables from Tesco, or using a company that provided fluid cartridges pre-filled, but the variety and choice is so great it’s worth the extra bit of hassle. To put it mildly, I was very happy. My finances weren’t as bad, I felt far healthier since I lost my persistent smoker’s cough, and I could smoke where I wanted, since e-cigs aren’t illegal in public. Yet…

I should have known it was all too good to be true. The clod-brained nannies have decided to get in on the act. Whether this is through a sense of ignorant ‘do what nanny says is best for you’, or whether, as has been implied in some quarters, the government has a vested interest in keeping the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries happy, (who provide the tobacco products in one case, and the means to combat the habit in the other), as well as the anti-smoking industry, which would not exist but for smokers, is open to debate. Personally, I think it’s a mixture of all of those things, but unfortunately, it looks certain that legislation will go through that will curtail our use of e-cigs, the result of which could force many back into tobacco smoking – which, of course, is better for everyone isn’t it? I’m sure all the passive smokers are pining for the wonderful aroma of other people’s cigs in their hair, and I’m equally sure the smokers themselves are eager to put themselves out of pocket and damage their health again. It is a blind assumption to think people will simply give up – they won’t. They will in most cases, if acquiring e-cigs becomes too difficult, go back to smoking cigs. I would probably have to myself, since smoking is such an integral and ingrained part of sitting writing at my computer. Plus, I have an absolute loathing of people telling me what to do when it isn’t any of their business – a trait that has caused me trouble all my life! The only people who will gain from the legislation are the aforementioned industries. Just stop and think about that for a moment.

What the government seeks to do is regulate the use of e-cigs as if they were a medicine, with the result of making them less easy to acquire and becoming much more expensive. It means you’d have to get a prescription for them from your doctor (hello, huge charges again), and would have to get them from a chemist. Perhaps it would go so far as only pharmaceutical (or tobacco) companies being approved to manufacture e-cigs. Whatever happens, no doubt variety and choice would be severely limited – probably back to the more expensive disposables with only tobacco and menthol flavours. Apparently, the nannies fear that e-cigs tasting nice promotes their use to children and non-smokers. This is absolute rubbish. The only people who use e-cigs are ex-smokers. Nowhere do the vaping companies promote their products to people who don’t, nor ever have, smoked tobacco. Nowhere, as the nannies insist, is there any evidence that vaping is a gateway to smoking tobacco. How many children who have never smoked do you see chomping on nicotine gum? Ok, that comparison perhaps isn’t absolutely fair, but I hope you get my point.

According to an article on the BBC web site, link below, the first legislation will come into place in 2016. The vaping companies will fight back, I’m sure. The one I use, Totally Wicked, are already active politically and encourage their customers to be so also. They and their users have followed, and do follow, all the research, and the debates that have resulted from it. TW sends me a weekly newsletter that includes all news (with links) about vaping from around the world to keep me informed. I’m sure the other popular e-cig companies do the same for their customers. There are many forums on the web dedicated to e-cig users who are equally outraged about the proposed changes. The common consensus is, ‘just leave us alone, you meddling fools!’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22870301

What will happen to the vaping companies if this legislation goes through unchallenged I don’t know. For the user, there is only the possibility of stocking up on your supplies before the next three years is up. If you go direct to the suppliers and manufacturers in China that all the UK, European and US vaping companies use, you can buy the equipment and fluids for next to nothing. The only thing that concerns me about that is that the companies in our countries claim to use the best products for their ranges, and some of the products available cheaply from the Chinese wholesalers might not be the best, (and trust me if you look at one of those companies’ web sites the amount of products available is absolutely and confusingly immense). Then, there is the risk the products you choose are not as safe, and unless you know the technical ins and outs, how can you be sure you’re purchasing the best and safest equipment? At least with a reputable company you’re more likely to get the top components. It’s in their interests to supply them. Unsatisfied customers don’t come back. But I for one will certainly be stocking up from China if I have to. I can only assume it will be prohibited to buy e-cig equipment from overseas after the legislation goes through.

All I know is that the advent of e-cigs has meant I can break my expensive and damaging addiction to smoking tobacco, and a great deal of my smoking friends have also moved over to vaping. For some of those people, using e-cigs meant they were able to give up completely – vaping enabled them to wean themselves off the habit. For all of us, these quality of life changes were unthinkable only a short time ago. I’ve been ‘clean’ for 14 months now, and really fear I might feel compelled to return to tobacco. Hence my need to vent.

I suggest that any like-minded people, who are as angry as I am at seeing yet another of our freedoms eroded, write to their MPs about it and make a noise. But don’t just take my word for it, as of course I’m biased. Read up on it yourself so you know all the pros and cons, since it lends more credence to the argument.

I agree that it should be ensured that vaping companies use only the top and safest components for their products, and perhaps in that sense some kind of regulation is advisable. But this should be reasonable and perhaps overseen by the vaping industry itself, without meddling Eurocrats etc being involved. I also agree vaping should not be advertised or promoted as a habit to start for those who have never smoked. Not that it is – I’ve never seen it promoted as anything but a means to give up smoking tobacco or to offer a healthier alternative. Those of us who do use e-cigs should be allowed to do so cheaply, and to have the variety of flavours in e-liquid that currently exists. The vaping companies who are responsible and engage with their customers in an informative way should not be hog-tied, but allowed to continue. If the government is to do anything concerning regulation, get these people involved in it from the start, who at least know what they’re talking about.

OK, vent over. Thank you for listening.

First… A book I’ve just read.

For some years, the only fiction I read was that which I edited, and that HAD to stop. I had to find time to read other books, so as not to lose out on fantastic stories. I’m happy to say over the last three years or so I’ve stuck to this resolve and had read many wonderful novels.

But this week I finished reading what I regard as one of the best supernatural novels I’ve ever encountered. Lent to me by my friend Louise Coquio, ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters was an absolute delight.

This book embraces all that makes a spooky story good. There is not just the gloriously underplayed supernatural element (and all the more un-nerving because of that underplaying), but a competence and silkiness of writing that is exceptional. Sarah Waters might not tease the senses with a sensual and sumptuous writing style, such as we find in the works of Alice Hoffman and Tanith Lee, but her prose is faultless, smooth and flowing. She tells a story well, the unravelling is perfect, the denouement, though again understated, absolutely chilling. I read this fat book in under a week, and I get little time to read. With this one I made time. I just couldn’t put it down.

The premise is the story of an aristocratic Warwickshire family, post Second World War, struggling to keep an unwieldy family pile solvent. The father of the family is dead, his son is crippled by war injuries, his surviving widow is a rather wilting anachronistic violet and his daughter, the sole strong survivor, is hampered by her apparent ‘plainness’ and clumsiness in social skills. Their huge home ‘Hundreds’ is falling to bits. They struggle to keep their estate farm alive, and half the time they don’t even have the money to light or heat their home properly. Beautiful artefacts are falling to ruin. Irreplaceable architectural treasures succumb to weather and wear, and the family have no money to prevent it. Into this situation comes the local doctor, the narrator, whose mother was once a servant at the house. He is intrigued by ‘Hundreds’ and its inhabitants, and wants to help them with their mundane trials, but then, slick as the thinnest of blades, the supernatural slices into this story of Post War troubles, the emergence of the National Health Service, and the problems that beset Britain, across the social classes, in those times. The knife is keen and cruel. It’s also subtle. You are left wondering. I don’t want to say more than that. Just read it for a real treat.

It’s not often I feel a bit breathless after reading a novel, because I read so many, but for those who love good writing, plus a supernatural slant, with a bit of ‘Downton Abbey’, without the riches, thrown in, this is a super read. 10/10

Writing News

Well good and bad. Good in that the short stories are progressing, and I’ve placed two. More news when I get release dates for the collections.

Bad is that I still find I have little time to write my novel. On the one hand, it’s great that life is full and I’m doing things many days of the week with other people, getting me out into the world, but I also wish I had more private time to work. Even so, despite this lack of time, I’m thinking about my novel and working on it in that sense.

It amazes me now, looking back to when I wrote the first Wraeththu novels, that I only had nub ends of time, in between a day job and a house full of lodgers, to write those books. I guess youth had something to do with it. Or maybe my life was less full in… responsible ways. Now I run my own business, and if I look at my email at the start of a day, you can guarantee my muse flits off in disgust. By the time I’m through with admin, the urge to create has long gone.

What I am happy about is that when I do get time to write, I enjoy it and am pleased with what I produce. Just wish I was doing more of it!

I have my friend Andy Collins up for a long weekend this week so look forward to some magical times. We will be meeting up with Deb and Yvan Cartwright and Graham Phillips for a day out, so sure to be… intriguing!

Back to the Immanion Press side of things, we’ll be bringing out our first Young Adult title in June, ‘Runners’ by Sharon Sant. This is an experiment for us, as we’ve not ventured into this genre before. Sharon is an editor at Immanion, and YA is her forte. We hope ‘Runners’ is the first of many YA titles in the SF, fantasy and horror genres we publish.

Please take a look at http://www.immanion-press.com for our latest releases.

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