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My love of supernatural stories inevitably led to me discover the side-genre of what is now known as weird fiction. My very first encounter was with Robert Aickman’s ‘The Swords’, as in my teens I collected all the Pan Books of Horror Stories and the Fontana Books of Ghost Stories, and Aickman edited the first eight volumes of the latter. Each of the Fontana collections included a story by him – editor’s privilege!

Regarded as somewhat more respectable than simple horror, examples of weird fiction can be found in the work of Truman Capote (Miriam) and Flannery O’Connor (Good Country People), as well as many other ostensibly mainstream, literary writers. Shirley Jackson, Oliver Onions – and more recently Lisa Tuttle – have also written many superbly peculiar stories. But Aickman has come to be seen as the king of the genre – a well-deserved accolade. You can now find collections dedicated solely to weird fiction – not just the odd (usually very odd) story cropping up in horror anthologies.

Such an example is ‘Aickman’s Heirs’, edited by Simon Strantzas, a beautifully produced book from Undertow Publications. I was drawn to it because I’m such an Aickman fan, and am repelled by the majority of modern horror, which often relies too much on blood and guts and being as disgusting as possible. Weird fiction is quirky, thought-provoking, disorientating, but rarely visceral. Guts are too crude a prop for this genre.

Aickman’s Heirs is an excellent book – I enjoyed reading it immensely. I only have a couple of slight criticisms, which I’ll get out of the way first. One of the most unsettling aspects of Aickman’s fiction is that it – on the whole – features very ordinary people, in ordinary lives, who suddenly collide with the weird. Their familiar world is thrown off-kilter, reality skews like a tilted, broken mirror. In ‘Aickman’s Heirs’, a few of the story protagonists are detached from reality from the start – teetering on madness – so to my mind this isn’t exactly ‘weird’ as Aickman wrote it. Perhaps inspired by him – after all, the editor stresses in his introduction that Aickman is a one-off, never to be emulated – but borderline insane characters make it easier to write ‘weird’, and to me it’s a kind of cheating. Someone going out of their mind is not weird – simply mad. Their world might get very odd indeed, but it’s a world of their own making. In a truly weird story, the protagonists are hapless victims, who find themselves in a reality that’s fallen out of balance. The world looks the same, but it’s not. They are seeing beneath the skin of the world, or seeing through it. There might be hints that what they experience is entirely subjective, but is it? That’s the magic of the weird.

I also found some degree of self-consciousness in a couple of the tales, as if the writers were striving a tad too hard to be clever and impenetrable. Aickman’s stories always appeared effortless and the author was invisible within them. That said, all the tales here are well written, and there are some absolute gems among them. Which is far more than can be said for most horror collections that are published.

As with all the best of weird fiction, these stories reward you if you read them more than once. The first time through you might think ‘what??’, but the story has got under your skin. You want to understand it, so read it again, perhaps this time intuiting more of what might be going on.  The author doesn’t tell you. It’s almost as if they flirt with you, beguiling your senses, laughing off-stage as you attempt to penetrate the mystery. You think about the story afterwards. You discuss it with friends. ‘What do you think?’ you might ask. I love that aspect of the weird. After reading Capote’s ‘Miriam’, I was desperate to talk about it with others who’d read it. The tale was almost maddening, yet utterly bewitching. I had to talk about it. To pull this off, a writer has to know their craft intimately. They must be adept with language and nuance. It’s a difficult genre to master, because in clumsy hands, stories in this vein merely become irritating rather than remaining intriguing mysteries. One of the problems of weird fiction is that there are examples within it of writers trying to be literary and obscure, but coming off as simply pretentious. Aickman was always convincing, even at his most peculiar.

Now to what I liked in ‘Aickman’s Heirs’. I particularly enjoyed ‘Camp’, by David Nickle, a tale of a recently-married gay couple on their honeymoon. Meeting a friendly elderly couple, who invite the pair to stay at their camping site, they eventually end up canoeing off into the wilds to reach this destination. And this is where their extremely comfortable, ordinary lives crash into strangeness. Reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Willows’, the landscape here feels almost sentient and far from benevolent. Understated. Beautifully composed. The mundane is shattered irretrievably.

I also enjoyed ‘Seaside Town’ by Brian Evenson, the story of a rather anti-social man who is left stranded in a foreign holiday village by his more gregarious girlfriend. His discomfort in a strange land is compounded by the fact that the reality around him is far from certain. His inability to speak the local language only worsens his situation. In a Hitchcockian manner, he observes from his window rather than participates in events, but when he is drawn outside… The writer deftly creates a mystery that is far from solved, but I didn’t come away from it feeling short-changed or the victim of deliberate literary obtuseness – which undeniably can be a failing of the genre.

Reading ‘The Dying Season’ by Lynda E Rucker, I felt the author must have visited a holiday village as described in the story. There’s an authenticity to the detail. I could imagine the writer, perhaps as a child, finding in this very mundane setting of identical cabins a kind of terror – the uniformity becomes sinister, disorientating. The uniform shacks are like traps to snare the unwary. And what exactly did happen in the cabin next door? It’s apparently abandoned, hasn’t been lived in for years, yet the protagonist, on her arrival at the place, hears the voice of child within. We also find some ‘living odd’ in a couple of the characters – something Aickman often included in his tales. The protagonist might be Mr or Ms Ordinary, but then they meet someone who is patently ‘other’, and cannot walk away from this meeting unchanged. In ‘The Dying Season’, we’re not sure whether the only other apparent inhabitants of the holiday village are just mannered Goth types, striving to be wacky and unconventional, or something distinctly more unsettling – creatures with masks. They are liars with ulterior motives, certainly, but… This story has no end. It stops, but is far from finished. And the fact you don’t discover what happens next is more terrifying than actually being shown. Deft, assured.  A fine example of the genre.

It’s interesting that the three examples above all involve protagonists being on holiday, drawn away from their day to day lives. Holidays are supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable, yet in all these cases the opposite proves true. Holidays, you might end up thinking, are treacherous. Anything can happen when you step outside your ordinary existence of job, home and familiar territory. You liberate yourself in a way that perhaps also makes you vulnerable. You are unhitched from the mundane, floating free. But into what?

As for my favourites, there are three. I’ll mention first ‘Two Brothers’ by Malcolm Devlin (but I like all three stories equally). On the one hand it concerns a boy whose (slightly) older brother has been sent away to school. The brother who returns for the holidays seems strangely and unsettlingly different. And what the protagonist William stumbles across in the woods during his brother’s visit implies the change is sinister, perhaps unspeakable. On the other hand, the story spoke to me of a child losing a friend, or in this case a brother, to looming adulthood. (I wrote of this myself recently in a story called ‘The Violet House or Songs the Martyrs Sang’, which is to be published in a collection called ‘Splinters of Truth’ by Newcon Press next year). While reading ‘Two Brothers’, you feel that sense of loss and bewilderment. Is it simply that or…? That is the playful nature of a story of the weird.

My next favourite is ‘A Change of Scene’ by Nina Allen. Again, featuring two women on holiday from their normal lives, but in this case following bereavements. Both are widows, and the meeker and more malleable Iris is taken by the still glamorous and vibrant Phrynne to a Norfolk town where Phrynne spent her honeymoon. Iris soon notices inconsistencies with Phrynne’s recollections of the past – deliberate lies or simply because of a faulty memory? These women have a history, and Phrynne holds a hurtful secret, which when it comes out and despite Iris’ best efforts to be ‘nice’ can’t help but anger her. The atmosphere is both dreamy and fizzing – if such traits can exist alongside each other. The weird creeps in with beautiful subtlety, like mist off the sea.  Something once happened in this place.

I’ve always loved Lisa Tuttle’s work, and her story here ‘The Book That Finds You’ is another fine example of her deft hand. It concerns a young writer and enthusiast of weird stories, who comes across an author no one appears to have heard of – J W Archibald. She finds a battered old paperback in a second hand store and is entranced by the contents. Archibald’s work is described as being much like Aickman’s. Eventually, the protagonist finds what she believes to be a soulmate, a fellow enthusiast, who not only knows of the collection she found but owns more work by Archibald. It’s difficult to say more of this story in a review because the weirdness doesn’t really start to creep in until after certain things happen that would certainly be plot spoilers. Suffice to say our heroine collides with the strange on a visit to Archibald’s home country. Fiction bleeds into reality, but not in a way you’d expect.

As well as the favourite stories I’ve mentioned above, all the pieces are good reads, even what I considered to be the weakest of them – and after all, that is down to taste and preference. Other readers might prefer the more hallucinatory stories.

I’m at present compiling an anthology of weird fiction with Paul Houghton, who’s a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies at Staffs University. We’re both huge fans of the genre. But the majority of submissions we’ve had in are simply horror stories. Despite our – we thought – carefully worded brief for contributions, some authors don’t quite seem to ‘get’ what weird fiction is. A vampire is not weird. A serial killer is not weird. Supernatural, yes, horrible, yes, but not weird. These tropes are simply too familiar. A writer of the weird looks for the unfamiliar in everyday situations and people.

Any writer who wishes to dip their toes into weird fiction should read ‘Aickman’s Heirs’ to see how it’s done well. I’m delighted that discovering this volume has led me to writers I’ve not read before, which means there will be more books for me to discover and devour. To assist in this aim, Undertow Publications have other fascinating titles I’m keen to read, among them ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ (one volume 2014 available, with 2015 to come), and also ‘Shadows and Tall Trees’ which was and is an annual anthology. Sadly, not many of them remain in print. I noticed from the Undertow web site that a few of their list are available as eBooks. I really hope the earlier volumes of ‘Shadows and Tall Trees’ are eventually released in this format too. As a publisher myself, I hate to see books go out of print completely, especially when I have a hankering to read them!

Here’s a link to the site:

When I was deciding on what to write next, I contacted a previous editor of mine, asking if they’d be interested in seeing something new from me. Not *publishing* it, mind – nothing so demanding – just *seeing*, considering. I was not even given the politeness of a reply in the negative. I received simply, as has so often been my experience of editors and agents, a deafening, indifferent silence. This is part of the same attitude that kept Tanith Lee’s work away from major publication for years, as well as many others of my generation.

But anyway, resigned and not surprised, I thought, what’s the point of trying to write something that might appeal to editors who are simply looking for the current *hot* topic? Even if you somehow manage to hit the spot, perhaps submitting under an alias, so that your age and experience don’t go against you, the chances are you’ll be discarded just as quickly once the next hot topic or author comes along. Unless you’re J K Rowling or some other, often lesser, writer who’s somehow hit the Young Adult screen/book jackpot, the chances are you’ll be treated dismissively, almost as a necessary nuisance. And that’s even when you have a contract. Screw that!

I’m glad to be out of that carnival of miseries. Creating your own publishing house has its drawbacks – no fat advances for one, learning how to market and promote your work another – but the freedom is exhilarating. Plus the fact that if I’m rude to myself, I can be rude back! It’s very difficult to ignore yourself too. It’s important to secure a trusted editor to work with, who can be a writer friend or colleague willing to do it – because I believe even the most accomplished and experienced author still needs impartial eyes to examine their work prior to publication. But given what happened to Tanith, to me, and to many others, I do advise any authors out there, who are in the same position, to give self-publishing a go. Get all those back catalogue novels out there again that you had published in earlier decades. Allow a new generation of readers be able to immerse themselves in your worlds and visions. It’s not expensive now, either. You can opt, as I did, for a printer/distributor (Lightning Source in my case) who works only with publishing houses – i.e. you have to give yourself a company name and buy some ISBNs for your books from Neilsen’s Bookdata or the US equivalent. Or you can give outfits like Amazon Createspace or Lulu a go. The latter two being more helpful to those who are mystified by the actual publishing process and need a bit of handholding concerning book and cover design.  I could write a whole article on the pros and cons of various publishing routes, and the whole self-publishing experience, and might well do that at some point, but for now, just want to say: you can do it. You don’t have to give up and think there’s no writing future. The internet is our friend. It’s freed us from being manacled to big publishing houses in order to be published at all.

Anyway, that particular rant over, I’ll return to the initial subject. What was I going to start working on next? I’d considered taking the Young Adult path, as most people making pots of money nowadays seem to have tapped into that vein, with huge movie franchises erupting from their books: Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Bones, Twilight, et al. But that’s not something I *want* to do. Even the lure of potential big money doesn’t inspire me to start thinking of a suitable story. In order to write, I have to love what I’m working on and, most importantly, believe in it. Friends have often said to me ‘churn out some chick lit’ or to write about whatever is the current fictional flavour of the month, but I haven’t the heart. Even if I tried, I know my efforts would inevitably turn into something supernatural or weird, because that’s just the way I’m wired. Ordinary simply doesn’t interest me. In my hands, Bridget Jones might possibly have become a psychic mass murderer!

I have synopses for a lot of books on my computer, but inevitably the one that drew me the most was another supernatural mystery, in the same vein as ‘The Moonshawl’, again set in the world of Wraeththu. I’m just not done with those characters, and am still very much *in* that world.  Plus the idea for a story had already come to me, while I was finishing off ‘The Moonshawl’. I’m fascinated by the concept of mass hysteria, how fear itself can be an infection, how superstitious beliefs can become reality if a collection of minds focus strongly enough to vitalise it. I had a vague vision of where this story would happen. Not in the gilded fey lands of Alba Sulh or the exotic yet civilised countries around Almagabra. Not even in the uncharted regions of Jaddayoth, which even in the original Wraeththu trilogy were already feeling the effects of civilisation. I expect it has become a popular tourist location by now!

I wanted to go further, into the corners of the world where the civilising influences of the strongest and most organised tribes had not reached. I saw misty mountains, immense forests, silence, sacredness, savagery, mystery. I saw a pristine body of water worshipped as a deity. I then discovered such a place actually exists: Lake Baikal in Siberia. So I had my basic premise – hara affected by mass hysteria – and a suitable locale.

In the Wraeththu world, civilisation has been pushing both east and west, from cultures who – in the time frame of that world – are only just making contact again following the fall of humanity. Decades have passed, nearly a century. And in that time, all the flotsam of Wraeththu has been driven into the most unfrequented areas. Where else but the frozen north? Into the great territories of Siberia and Mongolia, natural wonders that even in our world are not that familiar to the average person.

But this being a Storm story, the mass hysteria is not simply hysterical. There are supernatural elements at play, or maybe hypernatural. The tribes around Baikal (which will have a different name in the book – just not decided on it yet) have been fashioned from feral hara escaping Gelaming justice (i.e. remnants of Uigenna and Varr tribes), and  others driven out from various once-European countries, who have mingled with hara derived from the native human population of the area.  This is a melting pot of different cultures and beliefs that have dissolved into each other to form a new whole.

A young har falls dead inexplicably in the shallows of the lake, and then his companions, who’d been with him, become ill, debilitatingly so. As these are hara, and sickness is rare and when it does occur short-lived, these developments are terrifying. The local braihara (shamans) cannot cure the condition. They do not know what it is or what caused it. The ruling hara know how to protect themselves physically and psychically, but this is something else they cannot defend against. And it’s targeting their sons. Reluctantly, the most prominent phylarch seeks the aid of the Gelaming, who have an agency in the area. The Gelaming are regarded with contempt and suspicion, but their help seems the only path left open. The Gelaming agents, though, cannot help. They too are mystified, so they contact Immanion, seeking the bigger guns who might eradicate the threat.

So that’s the setup. I then had to decide upon the characters, the protagonists who would be sent to this wild land to solve the mystery. I wanted this to be Ysobi and Nytethorne’s first case, and Ysobi’s old friend Malakess can conveniently involve him in it. But I wanted more than that, something that might potentially interfere with the case. That’s when I decided to include Gesaril, Ysobi’s erstwhile nemesis, in the party heading into the unknown.

It’s not my intention to have another angst-ridden emotional nightmare enacted between them. Fourteen years have passed since the original events described in The Hienama and Student of Kyme. Both hara have found contentment in their lives. Gesaril has powerful friends in Immanion; he’s eager to progress in his career, which involves working with underdeveloped tribes that might require help. This new case, endorsed by Malakess (very powerful), and offered by Gesaril’s mentor Fernici (very influential) is too good to turn down. The downside is that Ysobi is part of the deal. Gesaril can overcome any lingering personal feelings, yes, but when faced with an ex who was part of a fraught and messy breakup, it’s not easy to feel totally comfortable, no matter how much time has passed. Also, Gesaril is aware he’ll have to prove himself among his own party, not just to his supervisors in Immanion. And what he has to face amongst the savage, throwback tribes in Akruviah, as the area is known, will test his strength of every type immeasurably. None of the group have any idea of what they’re heading into.

There is one particularly unpleasant event I’ll have to write I’m not looking forward to, as I’m rather squeamish. I don’t do graphic details of such things, as I hate that sort of torture/killing porn found so often now in books, films and TV shows, but even so, can see them in my head as I’m carefully writing the scenes – implying rather than describing. As a writer, you can’t avoid horror completely, because it’s part of life, and to try and ignore it is to create a simplistic world that’s cosy and fluffy and – well – not real.

So far, I’ve got copious notes to work from and am doing a lot of research on the area and on mass hysteria. I see there’s a new movie out soon, called ‘The Falling’, on the subject, which I’ll have to see. I’ve also read Meg Abbott’s novel ‘Fever’, which is a real page turner and a fascinating study of this group phenomenon, especially among younger people. (Typically, there are synchonicities. Even though I’d decided to write about Baikal before reading this book, ‘Fever’ also features a lake as a possible cause, although that’s where the similarities end, other than the basic idea of group hysteria.) I’m also reading about eagle shamanism, and other aspects of Siberian/Mongolian pagan beliefs.

As far as the plot goes, I’m weaving that as I go along, as I did with ‘The Moonshawl’. So far, I’ve written twenty pages of the book, and that’s really just setting the story up. It’s taking some work to include enough information to satisfy readers new to Wraeththu, but not too much for readers who’ve read all the previous works. As I said, I don’t want to dwell too much on the past history of Gesaril and Ysobi, but it must inevitably play its part, because it contributes to what makes them the hara they are. Also, I think readers enjoy reading about awkward situations and character conflicts. It’s like hearing gossip!

I don’t know how long it will take me to write this book, as I don’t get as much time to write as I used to, and also don’t write as fast as in earlier years. However, I’m aiming to release it early next year at the latest. I feel that once I get over all the setup and can get to the meat of the story, the writing will speed up, as it did with my last novel. But I am working very carefully on the setup, with lots of rereading and rewriting, it’s so important to the frame of the story and has to be just the right balance of past, present… and of course future.

As a taster, here is a segment told from Gesaril’s point of view (at this moment, I’m intending to give both Gesaril and Ysobi first person narratives of their own, as I did for Gimel and Rayojini in ‘Burying the Shadow’). This is not the finished draft by any means, so forgive any roughness and gaps. I’d just like to share the experience of creating this new story.

Except from ‘The Shadowbirds’

Piegull was eight years old when he died. Only a few weeks past feybraiha, vibrating with lust and energy he was ready to throw at life, there was no clear reason for his collapse. They said it was sudden. One moment he and his friends had been racing their hounds beside the great lake, the next Piegull’s body had arched backwards into an unnatural, tortured bow, yet amazingly remained on its feet. A plume of liquid, which the observers said smelled of pus or rot rather than vomit, spurted from his mouth, which was drawn into a rictus grin.  For a few stultifying seconds, as his friends either closed in to assist or shrank back in disgust, Piegull shuddered on his feet. Then his eyes closed. His mouth closed. He fell dead into the shallows where the lake licked the shore.

Two of the young hara who were with Piegull when this event occurred swore later that strange dull green lights had danced above the surface of the lake for nearly a minute. Not far off, quite near, but not close enough to touch. Others did not see these lights.

The young hara carried Piegull home; perhaps they should not have done. Perhaps he should have been burned where he fell. For within hours of Piegull’s body being laid on a bier outside the braihar’s dwelling, other young hara of the tribe fell sick. Illness: a terrifying thing for hara because in extreme forms it is rare. Our bodies are resilient, can fight back, laugh at the organisms that seek to dominate and wither our flesh.

The other young hara did not die, but they were crippled. Haunted by hallucinations of shadowy figures loping around their beds, or eyes gleaming from the dark corners of night time rooms, they became weak, listless, the skin loose upon their bones as if from dehydration. Water, they could keep down, but not milk, nor indeed any solid food. Their eyes sunk into their heads. They whimpered piteously like abandoned puppies.

At first, only the hara who were with Piegull by the lake were affected, but after a week, another young har fell sick, this one not yet at feybraiha. This was the son of Catblood, a har close to the tribe’s leader, Talysman. The braihar of the tribe, and even those called down from the mountain forests to assist him, were not only unable to cure the affliction, but could not divine its cause or origin. Had the lake poisoned the young ones? Had the malediction of another tribe erupted within them? Nohar knew the cause, although many suppositions were offered.

At last, driven by need more than desire, Talysman sent his theruna, Grail, to the Gelaming station fifty miles south. These prissy interlopers, these sly do-gooders, these mealy-mouthed, would-be conquerors, perhaps they might be able to help, seeing as they were super-hara, or considered themselves to be. Talysman was torn. Part of him didn’t want to believe the Gelaming could succeed where his most trusted hara had failed, while another, perhaps more sensible part, hoped that they could. Grail told the Gelaming this when he arrived. He said also that Talysman had to keep his position firm within the tribe; he must solve all dilemmas, vanquish all foes, make miracles. ‘So make a miracle happen for him,’ said Grail, to the astonished har, Therumin, who interviewed him.

Therumin went to investigate the case himself, found only a mystery. He took a healer with him, whose powerful agmara – the life energy of all – had no effect whatsoever on the afflicted hara. Therumin later admitted to us freely he’d anticipated only an afternoon’s work, for the healer to practice his art, then they’d return home. He’d expected a happy result: the tribe would be grateful, and – more importantly – perhaps the beginnings of a more trusting relationship would be forged. This did not happen – any of it.

Talysman would not speak to the Gelaming himself; Grail and the braihar led them round.

After a few hours, the healer murmured to Therumin, ‘This is beyond us. This is… I don’t know what it is. But we should know. We must know.

The implications hung like burned rags in his words. If these hara could be made sick like this, might not the illness travel, become an epidemic? Was this perhaps a remnant of some human biological weapon? Humans had tried many things to kill hara; such weapons had been generally the most effective. Yet we believed we’d conquered those long ago, made them toothless. Had something survived in the soil around the sacred lake, something we’d not encountered before?

The lake too was mysterious, always had been, long before Wraeththu walked the earth. Could its waters be responsible, as some had suggested? But the lake was regarded as a hostling to those who lived around it; inexorable, inscrutable, but ultimately benign.

Therumin knew he should not waste time. As soon as he returned to his station, he had his pod of listeners contact Immanion.

In Immanion, after some discussion had taken place, the Guild of Listeners contacted the Temple of Wellbeing, who contacted the office within it presided over by my mentor and employer, Fernici. I knew he’d always had an interest in that part of the world – mostly our work revolved around hara from the earliest of times of our species, who’d not evolved as they should have done, who were afflicted or maimed in one way or another, if only socially or culturally. Occasionally, the work had involved sizeable groups of hara, not merely individuals.

Fernici summoned me to his office. He is an ethereal creature in some respects; a century old yet appears still kissed with the fine brush of feybraiha. His inception, they say, was unusual, yet he does not speak of it. ‘The thing is, Gesaril,’ he said, his long hands expressive as they moulded the air, ‘throughout our history, the flotsam of Wraeththu has been continually swept northeast from the west, or northwest from the east. Up into the cold – I expect that was the idea. But what lives there now…’ He was pacing. He always paces when his interest is most ignited. ‘…strange evolutions, throwbacks… They killed some of our agents up there around a decade ago. Now, the station near the lake is heavily fortified. Yet it is intriguing, like a nature reserve. Dangerous predators, beautiful in their savagery perhaps…’ He shook his head, laughed. ‘Listen to me! Almost salivating!’ He paused, fixed me with his swift arrow stare. ‘I’d like you to go. Investigate. If possible, solve the problem.’

While I’d been on field trips before, they had not been particularly major cases. I was flattered Fernici wanted me on this job. ‘When do we leave?’

‘Oh, not me,’ he said, waving an arm at me and turning his back to examine a sheaf of papers he’d left on the low table that served as a desk, ‘much as I’d like to go, I can’t at present, so I’ll send only you from this department.’

Not you?’ I said, alarmed.

‘There will be a team,’ he said, ‘security, a couple of other investigators. I’ll speak to Malakess.’

‘Oh…’ A heaviness dropped over me that was faint dread. I hoped Malakess wouldn’t be on the team. Despite our attempts to be polite to one another, there was still discord between us; slight and easily ignored in the vastness of Immanion but perhaps prickly and uncomfortable within a small team far from home.

‘I doubt he’ll go himself,’ Fernici added, having read my discomfort accurately. He peered at me keenly, ‘Gesaril, it must be at least fourteen years ago, surely?’

I glanced away from him. ‘One of my faults is I find it hard to forget excruciating embarrassment.’

Fernici smiled. ‘Well, this is work, so overcome your personal feelings.’ His smile widened to a grin. ‘Also, it could be worse, couldn’t it? Malakess is the least of your historical demons.’

I grimaced at him, wishing wine on the occasional nights we had spent together had not loosened my tongue.  We’d swapped stories of our histories, (or more accurately I had told him much of mine), but the problem is that however therapeutic such spillings might be, the result is always that somehar knows more about you than you’d like. Still, Fernici’s words tolled a bell within me like an omen. Malakess har Kyme, with whom I’d once been intimate back in our home country of Alba Sulh, was a pale ghost in comparison to the one he’d once reminded me of. Malakess was a substitute, an imitation. I realised I’d not thought of the original demon for perhaps nearly a year: Ysobi har Sulh. So, that was healing too, I suppose.

I’ve struggled how to begin this post…

My friend, mentor and inspiration – Tanith Lee – died on Sunday. I got the news today (Tuesday). I knew she’d been ill for a while. She sent me a letter some weeks ago – we usually talked on the phone regularly, but her cancer treatment had affected her voice, so we could no longer do that. In the letter she told me she was dying. I sat there, the paper in my hand, unable to take it in, not sure what to feel or to think. This was a woman who’d inspired me all my writing life and had eventually – through luck and circumstance – become a dear friend. How do you reply to a letter like that without sounding clichéd or over sentimental? It was difficult. I was under the impression that although her prognosis was poor, she’d still have some time with us. Only last week, she was working on the edits I’d sent for her latest book with Immanion Press. I had no idea the end would be so close.

But while it’s in the hearts of all those who loved Tanith to grieve and mourn, we should also remember all that was wonderful about her, the way she touched our lives.

I remember being in W H Smiths and seeing the newly released ‘The Birthgrave’ on the fantasy shelves. I picked it up, browsed the pages a little, and was immediately taken with Tanith’s engaging first person narrative. I bought it, devoured it, and subsequently bought everything else she ever wrote, in some cases tracking down very hard to find small press titles in the days before the Internet made such searches less difficult.

At that time, Tanith was the same age I was when I first got published – around 26. There was a 10 years age gap between us. I wrote her a fan letter after reading a few of her books, and she replied, sending me a photo. I still have that letter.  Over the years, my collection of her books grew, and then I reached the stage in my life when my own writing began to be published. I asked people in the industry about Tanith, curious about her, but at that time she didn’t attend conventions and was regarded as rather retiring. This changed in 1988 when I met her at a Worldcon in Brighton.  She was charming, not at all the terrifying creature I’d been given to believe she was.

It has to be said that many reports I’d been given about Tanith over the years painted her as a ‘difficult’ author. This was from editors who’d worked with her. She was regarded as rather fearsome. But I have to say that when I eventually had the privilege of working with her as an editor, I never had one difficult moment with her. I think this was because I respected her work and didn’t try to change it. When I was editing, I’d mark things I thought were typos, and query them, but I’d never try to meddle with her ‘voice’. Sometimes, her sentences were unconventional, but they were hers – her voice – which I recognised, because I’d read everything she’ d ever written. So I didn’t interfere. When we began working together, I saw it as a partnership. I provided the publishing, but we worked together on the appearance of the books and their covers, most often incorporating artwork from her husband, John Kaiine (a wonderful artist) or even drawings or ideas from Tanith herself. I let Tanith have free rein with the content.  This was an enjoyable experience for the three of us.

When Tanith first asked if Immanion Press would be interested in taking some of her work, I was – as you can imagine – over the moon about it. She wanted to publish a series of books that didn’t fit into any particular genre. These were the Colouring Book series, which are thrillers, mysteries, supernatural stories and even one spy story. Sad to say, Tanith didn’t finish this series. She still had a couple of colours she wanted to write about, but even so, we published seven of these titles. Her other interest was in publishing themed collections of her stories, which we’d just begun working on, with the Ghosteria collection, and latterly with Legenda Maris, stories of the sea. Tanith had other titles she planned to do involving werewolves, vampires and dragons, but sadly these will not see light of day now, since she always included unpublished stories in her collections and wasn’t able to write any before she died.  We had an arrangement: whatever she wanted to publish, Immanion  Press would see to it. This enabled her to produce titles that otherwise might not have been published, although to be fair, I think any of the independent presses who supported her would have been happy to help out.  People like Ian Whates, Vera Navarian and Craig Gidney, along with myself, (and others whose names unfortunately I don’t know), were eager to publish and promote Tanith’s work, in a time when big publishers just weren’t interested in it. This was unforgiveable by them. So much trash gets published, and we see constantly the lesser writers who are launched into success and prominence. It’s not about what’s good, but about spin and PR. So many excellent authors, who were active when I was first published, fell by the wayside – and they shouldn’t have done. They gave up in the face of great indifference from the major publishers. The only reason I’ve survived is because I took the bit between my teeth and created my own publishing house. It’s interesting that nearly all the independent presses who’ve supported Tanith in recent years are run by people who are writers themselves. We’ve never had any sense of competition between us, because we all loved and respected Tanith, and she was respectful of us all too. There was plenty of her to go around. In fact, in some cases she brought us together. I wouldn’t know Craig and Vera if it wasn’t for Tanith making the introductions.

I was also lucky to republish John Kaiine’s remarkable novel ‘Fossil Circus’. I wish he’d write more! This would never have happened if I’d not met the pair of them.

So, apart from our professional connections, what was Tanith like as a person? To me, she was wry, wise and magical. If I had a problem, talking to her would make sense of it. She was the archetypal British eccentric – a dying breed, sadly. When I was down, she would lift me up. She’d enable me to see things from a different perspective, always with a touch of humour.  We’d bitch about things we didn’t like and applaud films, books and writers we both adored. It’s only now, once she’s gone, I realise how much a part of my life she had become. I took her for granted, but in a good way. Now I’ll never get those lovely phone calls in the afternoons, when we’d fritter away an hour or so just nattering.

In a way, Tanith will never be gone, because her work lives on and is eternal. This evening, I felt tired and lay down on the sofa in my work room. Cats joined me, as they tend to do. I dreamed of Tanith, and in that dream, we were both on the sofa, surrounded by cats – more than I actually live with. She was warm and breathing, and even in my dream I marvelled at that, because I knew she was dead. She didn’t say anything ponderous to me; we just chatted as we always did. What are dreams? Wishful thinking, a glimpse of another reality, or something else? I don’t know, but the dream comforted me, and I awoke from it feeling less distraught than I was when I went to sleep.

I don’t want Tanith to Rest In Peace, as is always said of someone who leaves this life. I want her to be soaring somewhere else, somewhere amazing, beyond our comprehension. I’m glad to have known her, and glad also that her work will always be there for me. Such are the brightest stars that shine upon us.

‘The Moonshawl’ is out today! We’re having a promotion on Amazon in which the ebook version of the novel is available free for five days. And there will be a Goodreads Giveaway also in the next day or so.

As part of the promotion for the book I’ve done some guest posts on a few blogs, and here are links to the first of them:

Many thanks to the owners of these blogs/sites who allowed me to visit!

I’m yet to decide for sure what full length novel I’ll be working on next year. I do have several short stories to finish, plus the anthology for Ian Whates’ Newcon Press, which will include several new pieces. I’ve also been talking with Taylor Ellwood (my colleague at Megalithica Books) about doing further work on the Grimoire Dehara magical system.  Plenty of ideas – just have to make a decision about order of work!

I’ve always been a fan of the story ‘Rebecca’, the novel written by Daphne Du Maurier, the Hitchock film, and the later TV series, featuring the ever reptilian Charles Dance as Maxim (was never comfortable with that casting.) I knew that several novels had spun off from the original story over the years, but considered this a travesty, a calculating ploy by the publishing industry to claw in more bucks, rather than any honest attempt to continue the story with integrity. As it happens, I was wrong.

Only recently, and after a conversation at one of my ‘writing and dining’ evenings with my friends Louise Coquio and Paula Wakefield, I decided to get hold of these novels, see for myself. The three of us are interested in the Gothic in fiction and all engaged in writing rather dark stories of our own at present. Our discussion of inspirations led us to Du Maurier and inevitably to ‘Rebecca’. Paula had read one of the ‘sequels’, ‘The Other Rebecca’ by Maureen Freely and said that she’d enjoyed it and that it was written well. Lou had been given another of the three, ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ by Sally Beaumann, but hadn’t yet read it. We took a look at Amazon and discovered the third book ‘Mrs De Winter’ was by Susan Hill, one of my favourite ghost story writers. The next day, I ordered all of the books.

I will assume that anyone reading this will be familiar with the plot of the original novel, but if not, it can be found easily online. Here’s a link so my following article will make sense. But if you haven’t read that book, why not?! Be aware though that spoilers concerning the original novel inevitably litter this article.

As Paula had recommended ‘The Other Rebecca’ (2011) I read that first. It’s a modern retelling of the story, with allusions to the original and includes quite clever twistings of that narrative. The Midwinters, as the original De Winters are renamed, are mostly monstrous. Mrs Danvers is not the cadaverous, looming creature we know from ‘Rebecca’, (sister in spirit clearly to the housekeeper of Hill House!), but a more youthful, red-headed, while completely bonkers old friend of Rebecca’s – Danny – who is still very much attached to the family after Rebecca’s death and cares for her rather dislikeable children. (Maxim and Rebecca had no children in the original.) The story is told in the first person and the protagonist is a writer of minor importance struggling to make a career, while (like the original un-named second Mrs De Winter) being fraught with insecurities and anxieties. After her marriage to Maxim, she comes into a crazed nest of creative people and is at a loss at how to cope with them. They’re cruel, sneering and condescending. Maxim’s sister Beatrice, the stout rock of Du Maurier’s novel, is presented as still strident but scheming and untrustworthy. She’s one of the more sympathetic characters, though. Big plot spoilers next, so skip to the next paragraph if you intend to read this book……………………….

There is a ‘Gone Girl’ twist to ‘The Other Rebecca’, and the latter novel definitely came first. As with ‘Gone Girl’s male lead, the selfish and priapic Maxim is being set up all the way through the story. The difference to the original ‘Rebecca’ is: I didn’t particularly care what happened to him. He’s an unpleasant character, in turn whining and then callously aloof, bragging about his sexual conquests. Whatever his faults, I never saw the original Maxim as a whiner, blubbing into his wife’s arms. He kept himself rigidly contained. If he’d ever had affairs, he would never have mentioned them, and certainly not to his wife. But this is a modern novel. The original Maxim would be an anachronism in it. As with the major characters in ‘Gone Girl’, Rebecca and Maxim are loathsome, spoilt, hedonistic and careless. Self-obsessed and narcissistic creative souls, who happened to have great talent, despite their failings. The bone of contention between them was always their work. (Still part of the spoiler: a neat detail is Danny ‘getting messages’ from Rebecca, which you imagine are lies or delusions, rather than true psychic communication, but of course… they’re actually real, and Rebecca orchestrates everything from afar.)

But despite the nature of the characters, or perhaps because of it, the author pulls it off. While I did find the over-extended Midwinter family and its inter-relationships hard to follow, I suspect this is deliberate, since the protagonist herself can’t keep track of the milling relatives either. Sometimes the story is too inscrutable and I found myself rereading parts to see if I’d missed something. Maybe a second read through is required to ‘get’ everything. Danny like Mrs Danvers is still obsessed with Rebecca, who was a famous poet, and is engaged in collating her correspondence in order to write a book. She keeps Rebecca’s workroom as a shrine. In this story, it isn’t the dead woman’s silky negligees that are the fetishes, but her comfy slippers under the desk, the ash trays, the little clay models her children made. Danny isn’t a reliable biographer. She has an agenda, and while there’s no indication she has a murderous hatred towards and jealousy of the protagonist, she does see this woman as an instrument to help her achieve her aims. This is a world of novelists, tabloid journalism seeking thrills, and professional rivalry.

Manderley, the De Winter house, was a major character in Rebecca, but Beckfield, the house in ‘The Other Rebecca’ plays no great part. It’s Bea’s house. Maxim and his wife live in a large cottage in the grounds. Strangely, though, when the new wife arrives at Beckfield to attend a sprawling garden party, full of twittering authors, artists and poets, the first thing Danny says to her is: ‘Welcome to Manderley.’ A knowing aside, as if the book ‘Rebecca’ exists in that world and Danny is aware of the peculiar similarities between her life and the novel.

Apart from borrowing the central idea and skeletons of the characters from Du Maurier, Freely has written a book unconnected with the original. But I didn’t dislike it, read it quickly, and appreciated the strength and skill of the writing, although even as I’m writing up this review can’t remember the end. It’s not a book I’d want to read twice.

I wanted to save Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ (1993) till last, as I like her writing so much and considered the Beaumann novel might be lightweight, as I associated her work with ‘women’s romantic novels’, a sort I don’t like to read. (Happily, later proved wrong on that count!) But I just couldn’t resist picking up ‘Mrs De Winter’ after the Freely, probably because I wanted to snuggle into writing I knew I’d really enjoy. And I’m glad I did because chronologically (in the ongoing story) this is the book that should be read after ‘Rebecca’. Beaumann’s carries on from Hill’s.

Hill keeps the voice of the original novel and this is truly a sequel. Maxim and his wife are still in exile at the start, living in posh hotels, with few belongings, wandering about Europe, settling for a few months here and there. Ten years have passed. They have a found a quiet space between them, where it’s comfortable for them to live, after the traumas of the past and their flight from England at the end of ‘Rebecca’. But even so, right from the start we’re made aware that Mrs De Winter can’t suppress the memory that her husband killed Rebecca. He has a murderer’s hands. Much as the mild, damaged man she cares for now seems removed from the person who could commit such a crime of passion – he still did it. His wife also misses her home country immensely. When they receive a call from Giles, Beatrice’s husband, to tell them she has died from a stroke, Mrs De Winter’s first thought is that they must return home for the funeral. Maxim stalls, clearly terrified of the prospect. But duty wins through and they return. Manderley is long gone, and is never mentioned by the family. Mrs De Winter doesn’t know if it’s still in ruins, has been restored, or whether the land has been bought up and modern houses built on it. We never find out. But once she’s back on English soil, she knows she can’t bear to leave it again, and wonders how she can persuade Maxim to let them settle there. The past is done. There’s nothing left to haunt them, no reason not to come back. (Slight spoilers follow but nothing major.)

But of course, the central conflict of the story is that there is a reason to stay away. A simmering desire for vengeance still burns in the hearts of those who most loved Rebecca – or were obsessed by her. The first sign of trouble is a wreath left on Beatrice’s grave, which Mrs De Winter stumbles upon after the funeral. Perfect white flowers in dark green foliage, and a card signed with the single letter R, in Rebecca’s distinctive curling script. This must be a cruel joke. Mrs De Winter eventually takes the card and hides it.

Suppressing this information, coupled with a visit to Maxim’s former estate manager, Frank Crawley’s new home in Scotland, plus the sheer bewitching glamour of the British countryside, enables Mrs De Winter to convince Maxim they can come home at last. On a final motoring tour of England before they return abroad, they come across the house Cobett’s Brake, a vision of beauty and old England. Not immense as Manderley was, but a comfortable, sagging manor house in the heart of the countryside. Both fall in love with the place, even though Maxim is clearly nervous of admitting that to himself, and for a while he stalls and insists they return to Europe. Mrs De Winter simmers with resentment and anger, but it’s not in her nature to shout and stamp her foot about it. While touring Italy, she has a peculiar experience when Manderley housekeeper Mrs Danvers’ voice returns to her, whispering in her ear, savaging her self confidence. But again, she remains silent. And when on her birthday, Maxim presents her with the information that Cobett’s Brake is now hers, (he has secretly negotiated its purchase with Crawley), she feels her life is to begin anew. And so it does for some time. She and Maxim enjoy an idyllic few months in their new home, which is as far from Manderley as it’s possible to get. It’s like a mother to Mrs De Winter. She feels protected there.
But then, on a visit to London to visit a gynecologist, (she hopes to have children), she bumps by chance into Rebecca’s louche cousin, Jack Favell. He looks as if he’s been living on the street, and because Mrs De Winter lacks the strength of character to tell him where to go, or indeed call the police when he follows her into a hotel, she ends up having tea with him, giving him money, hoping this will be enough to get rid of him. As if! Then, on her return home, the newspaper clippings of Rebecca’s death start to arrive. And so begins the build up to the storm that will engulf Mrs De Winter and her world. As her strength wanes, Mrs Danvers comes back into her life, turning up at the house, apparently on a polite social call, as she’s been engaged as companion to an old lady in the area. As terrified of and intimidated by this dour female as she ever was, Mrs De Winter keeps Mrs Danvers’ visit and proximity secret from Maxim, and limply allows Danvers to manipulate her. She even accepts an invitation to tea at Danvers’ place of employment. Whatever spurts of strength she experiences are literally like damp squibs, sputtering a bit but failing to explode.

As the secrets build up, and the storm clouds build, and Mrs De Winter attempts to hang on to control of her life and protect Maxim from the past, we know that her world will inevitably tumble about her. We knew that from page one, really.

The spare version of the plot above makes the story sound more exciting than it is. ‘Mrs De Winter’ is a very slow-moving book. The De Winters don’t get to Cobett’s Brake until two thirds of the way through the novel, and it’s only then, really, that the story gets going. Until that point, there are endless – if beautiful – descriptions of countryside, houses, nature and weather. Endless self pity. Too much of all that, and not enough story. But I thought then, and still do, that this perhaps was intended, to make the novel ‘literary’ rather than ‘popular’ – the exciting elements are played down. I got fed up of Mrs De Winter telling me she’d found new strength, only to find that no, she hadn’t. She was as limp as ever and remained so throughout. Rebecca would have had none of the nonsense her successor passively subjects herself to. She’d have had Favell and Danvers out of her home with a gun pointed at their heads the moment they appeared. But still, the fact remains that Maxim was guilty of murder, however much he was pushed to it. And he did get away with it.

I did enjoy the book but not as much as I’d hoped. On the cover, one of the gushing blurbs called it a ‘ghost story’, so I was hoping for one of Hill’s superb, eerie tales with more than a hint of the supernatural. But the ghosts in ‘Mrs De Winter’ remain firmly in people’s minds. That didn’t disappoint me so much, though, as the fact the story was turgid, too slow, too full of hand wringing and sighs. It would have been more satisfying for me if Mrs De Winter had in fact grown up, grabbed her demons by the throat and turned the tables on them. However, the voice of the narrator is perfect, and it’s a convincing sequel to Du Maurier’s original. This book was my second favourite of the three.

But first prize must go to Sally Beaumann’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ (2001). Again, she keeps the voice of the original well, in terms of time and place, but the first narrator, in a novel of four parts, is the aged Colonel Julyan, who presided over Rebecca’s inquest. He’s always had his suspicions about what truly happened, but the mistake that Favell made, and perhaps readers too, is that he didn’t keep his suspicions quiet in order to protect Maxim and his family name, as was implied. He kept his silence in order to protect Rebecca, as he’d been very fond of her. The novel starts with him reminiscing over the past, because an upstart author wants to write yet another book about the Manderley mystery, which has become folklore in its part of the world. Julyan recollects his long relationship with the De Winter family, and I loved his description of being a boy, playing at the great old house. His portraits of the terrifying De Winter matriarch, (Maxim’s grandmother), the kind but wilting Virginia (his mother) and her glorious sisters, and of Bea and Maxim as children, are wonderful. The story draws you right in from the start because what happened to Rebecca was wholly tied up with the way the De Winters were, an ancient family going back eight hundred years. There’s more than a whiff of authors like P G Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, in the light, acerbic wit of the writing. This is nowhere near a ‘women’s romantic novel’.

I was surprised – and pleased – to find ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ keeps to the ‘canon’ found in Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ – i.e. what happened to the De Winters when they returned to England, or at least as much of that as Julyan and other major characters can possibly know – which is only the bare facts. Still, this novel carries on neatly from Hill’s, and it seems to me that Beaumann must have known of that book and kept to the same story. Or the similarities are just uncanny coincidences…

Part Two of the story is told by Terence Grey, the writer who’s in Kerrith investigating the story of Rebecca. Grey is a complex character, with secrets and tragedies of his own. His interest in the old story lurches towards obsession, dangerously so. Through Grey we meet some of the other characters from ‘Rebecca’ and hear their version of events – such as the cousin Jack Favell, Frith the erstwhile butler of Manderley, and other colourful Kerrith characters. The truth about Rebecca, it seems, is more convoluted than everyone thought. Her own history is revealed in tantalizing glimpses – the girl she’d once been and the woman she became who was mistress of Manderley. The reader begins to learn about her heritage. While Grey investigates, an anonymous individual is sending notebooks of Rebecca’s to Colonel Julyan, and is also perhaps the same person who leaves a wreath at Rebecca’s old boathouse cottage, and sends a piece of her jewellery to Favell. Mysteries mount, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

Part three is Rebecca’s own tale, as found in the second notebook sent to Julyan. But we know already that Rebecca is often a minx. Is her testimony reliable? Whether this is true or not, it’s riveting to read. A free spirit, Rebecca was born ahead of her time, totally unsuited to a woman’s life in the early part of the 20th century. She suffered for her difference, as she was rarely understood. And the tragic way she narrates her story to an unborn child she believes she is carrying is moving while being unsentimental. Naturally, Rebecca’s tale is cut short by her own death. Many threads are left dangling.

Part four is related by Ellie, Colonel Julyan’s daughter. Hers is a strong, true voice, but even she has her obsession with Rebecca, seeing in the dead woman a promising template for female emancipation at a time in history when women were fighting for their rights, and most men still regarded them as mistresses, mothers or domestics. Ellie’s is undoubtedly the most political account, but she is also a vibrant, convincing character with her own desires and dreams. Ellie uncovers more mysteries, and in one case solves one, while simultaneously growing as a person. During her account, the narrative never falters. All four narrators, each with their distinctive voice, carry the story along at a good pace, but it is still deep and ponderous – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is not a short or shallow book by any means.

Most, but not all, the threads finally weave together and the reader is left to make up their own mind. You don’t feel in any way short-changed by that, though. What Beaumann has done is create a convincing account, including the difficulty of discovering historical truths, when the main protagonists are dead. Some truth died with them. Rebecca affected everyone she met, often dramatically. She is perhaps all the things everyone ever thought her to be, and more, a girl who fought to survive throughout a difficult childhood and adolescence, who set her will at making an adult life for herself, to her liking. But she is always human, believable. Her gift to Ellie is revealed at the end of book, perhaps far different from what you expect all the way through. I loved that. My favourite book of those I’ve read over the past few years is ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters, but Sally Beaumann’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ will now be stored on the same shelf.

Of these three Rebecca novels only the Hill and the Beaumann can be seen as continuations of the story. In fact, with the original they effectively make up a trilogy. And yes, there could be more to tell, should some other writer be urged to take up the tale. The Freely is entirely separate, while still quite an interesting read. But it’s not connected with the beguiling, mysterious Rebecca as we know her.

I’ve been meaning to do a new blog post for ages but have been very busy! My new Wraeththu novel, ‘The Moonshawl’ has now been edited by Wendy Darling and I’m currently working on her suggestions for improvements. We’re aiming for an early December release for the book.

I’m also writing an article that will appear on here very soon, on the various sequels to Daphne Du Maurier’s novel ‘Rebecca’ – or ‘inspired bys’. I have to finish reading the last one in order to complete the piece.

I noticed today that some responses to my posts have ended up in the spam folder without my realising it. I’ve now ‘unspammed’ those. Thanks to those of you who responded to my earlier post about e-cigarettes and to which I didn’t reply.

Once ‘The Moonshawl’ has received its final polish, I’ll be back working on half a dozen or so half-finished stories for my Newcon Press’s ‘Imaginings’ release. ‘Imaginings’ are collections of short stories by single authors, and I’m very proud and pleased to be invited to join the great list of writers already published in this series. I don’t have a release date for this book, as I’ve still to finish off the stories, but I imagine it will be mid to late 2015. Only a couple of the pieces in the book have been previously published, since Ian wants only uncollected stories in the book, and the ones that haven’t already appeared in my own Immanion Press short story collections have been mostly been in Ian’s anthologies of various themes. He didn’t want to include stories he’d published. But this has given me good reason to complete ideas that have been languishing on my computer for years.

Can I just remind interested parties again that we are open for submissions to the next Wraeththu short story collection ‘Para Animalia’, which will include stories that in some way concern both hara and creatures they might work with magically or in day to day life. Anyone wanting the guidelines, please contact Immanion Press at info(at)immanion-press(dot)com

Book News

Immanion Press’s first blog hop is now over, bar selecting a winner of the competition. It was interesting to try this way to promote Para Kindred, and I’ll certainly do similar promotions for future Wraeththu anthologies. Thanks to Nerine Dorman and Shauna Knight for their help and advice on this procedure!

As far as the Wraeththu Mythos is concerned, my own current novel, ‘The Moonshawl’, is edging towards its climax. I’ve got to a part now where I really have to put myself inside Ysobi’s head and think, ‘ok, what would this character do next, credibly?’ He’s acquired a lot of needed information about the mystery he’s investigating; now he needs to take action. But as to which other characters are with him on this final stage I’ve yet to decide – or maybe I should let the character decide simply through the writing.

I’m happy to report that we have Wraeththu Mythos novels by other writers on the horizon, from Wendy Darling and anthology contributor E S Wynn. Wendy, of course, has been involved in the Mythos for many years, and was the co-author of ‘Breeding Discontent’ as well as co-editor on all the Mythos anthologies. Her novel ‘Angry City’ explores the early days of Wraeththu, as does Earl’s ‘Hollow Hills’. Both of these books will present gritty visions of the mythos, and I’m really looking forward to reading the completed manuscripts.

Para Kindred contributor Nerine Dorman is also working on ideas for a mythos novel set in South Africa. I loved the story she gave us for PK so again I’m really looking forward to what she’ll come up with for a novel. I’ll post news about that once she’s worked out a plot line for it.

Wendy and I are currently swapping ideas for the theme of the next Wraeththu Mythos anthology. So all in all, things are looking interesting for the future of Wraeththu.

Short Stories

Happy to say that my story ‘The Saint’s Well’ was accepted by editor David Barrett for his ‘Mammoth Book of Tales from the Vatican Vaults’. I believe this will be out next year, but will give more details when I know for sure. I really enjoyed writing this story and am glad to appear in the excellent line up David has secured for this satisfyingly fat collection!

A Storm Constantine ‘Imaginings’ short story collection is in the pipeline with Ian Whates’ Newcon Press. This is scheduled for mid 2015. The collection will include a few previously published but uncollected stories (none that have appeared in Newcon Press anthologies), and also a selection of new pieces.

Currently Reading…

I’m a fan of ghost stories and have been reading some of the Dark Terrors collections. I’m not a fan of gore, however, and am somewhat disappointed sometimes that well set-up stories then conclude with the cop-out, typical horror ending: ‘the protagonist is murdered in horrible detail by whatever supernatural thing is in the story’. Some of the best stories are brave enough to do something different. After reading Liz Hand’s ‘Near Zennor’, I had to order her own collection ‘Errantry’ that includes it. What I loved about Liz’s story is that it’s supernatural, eerie, but also credible. The supernatural part is just ‘off centre reality’ enough to be believable. Also beautifully written. I’ve just started reading ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, but Liz’s book is next on my reading list.

I’ve also got into Simon Kurt Unsworth’s work, firstly through his book ‘Quiet Houses’, which I got for my Kindle and then through other pieces of his in anthologies I’ve read. I loved ‘Quiet Houses’, not least because one of my greatest loves in supernatural fiction is haunted houses. The protagonist (a paranormal investigator) at one point investigates a haunted Victorian public toilet! I believe Simon has a new collection in store, which I’ll also be quick to order. Evocative writing, interesting new slants on the haunted house. I posted a link today on my FB page concerning creepy photos of abandoned buildings, such as hotels, amusements parks and asylums. They could well illustrate Simon’s ‘Quiet Houses’.

Cats… Well, There Has to be Cats

New girl Pashti has discovered a new pastime – net curtain climbing. To Pashti, I imagine the navigation of our half window net curtains in the living-room is the equivalent of some perilous jungle vine network. She swings herself around, generally in pursuit of moths, throwing herself onto the tiny ledge of the sash window’s ledge, wobbling precariously, sometimes falling, only to rescue herself with a timely grab of the nets, then to swing wildly as she scrambles to safety on the thin ledge again. From outside, our nets now appear full of rents and tears, lending the house a rather Steptoe ambience! I learned today from friend and neighbour Danielle Lainton, who lives opposite me, that several neighbours on the opposite side of the road have been observing Pashti’s antics with amusement. She provides street entertainment, it seems. Someone said to Danni: ‘Has your friend Storm got a new cat? A sort of mottled, weird looking animal?’ Yes, that must be Pashti, lol. People who aren’t familiar with orientals don’t quite understand her exquisite beauty. Our friend Bob Forse called round yesterday. Pashti’s greeting to him was to launch herself from the ground right onto his chest, all claws out, and cling there. He said, ‘you’ve been feeding her after midnight and got water on her, haven’t you?’ She is rather a little gremlin, bless her, but despite the injuries she inflicts on guests, everyone loves her. She’s clearly worked out that climbing people, or destroying parts of the home, if accompanied by ecstatic purring, means she doesn’t get chastised.

This is the second of my two contributions to the blog hop, this time based on my story ‘Without Weakness’. Fernici’s story, of course, did not end with him going to Immanion; if anything that was just the start. Whether I’ll ever get time to explore his adventures as a Listener and an otherlane explorer, I don’t know, but here is just a short vignette, concerning what happens when Fernici comes face to face with Ashmael once more. That is certainly a tale that hasn’t yet ended!

A Social Incident
by Storm Constantine

Fernici stood at the edge of the gathering, not wanting to feel intimidated but unable to help himself. His companion, Reydis, had momentarily left him alone, and this was his first big social event in Immanion since he’d arrived. It was being held in a salon of the palace Phaonica, and Fernici didn’t know anyhar there. It wasn’t too grand a gathering because no Aralisians were there, but it was still overwhelming to Fernici. He had half hidden himself amid immense obsidian pillars at the edge of the room and hoped Reydis wouldn’t be long.

As if this nervous thought conjured a har into being, an apparition dressed in matte peacock blue silk manifested before Fernici. He’d glided up from the side. ‘You’re the newly incepted little har, who Ash found in the wilderness, aren’t you?’ this being drawled. His eyes were a cruel green.

‘That would be me,’ Fernici said,’ scanning the crowd, desperate to find Reydis’s face among them.

‘How are you finding Immanion?’ asked the apparition, and by that question, Fernici knew the har was really asking ‘How are you finding civilization?’

‘Very big. It will keep me occupied for a time simply exploring it.’

The har laughed. ‘Yes, you could say it is very big.’ He put his head to one side. ‘You’re something of an enigma, aren’t you?’

‘Am I? I’m not sure what you mean.’ Fernici braced himself for some slicing remark about a human being incepted so late upon the Wraeththu timeline.

‘I wonder what’s so interesting about you, that’s all.’ The har grimaced, but in a sly way. ‘Whenever any of us ask Ash for the story of what happened out there, he won’t speak. Was it all so terrible?’

‘I… no, I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Well, you must be somehar of note, something interesting, to be here now. We wonder what the story is.’

‘There’s no story other than that I was incepted and brought here.’

‘Oh, I think you hide your light, tiahaar. I can smell a story.’

Fernici realised he was at the point where the only way he could extricate himself from this uncomfortable conversation was to say something rude. He looked at the har, this elegant and confident creation. Did he mean to be insulting or was it simply the way socializing was in Immanion? Fernici had no idea, but he did sense that it might not be advisable to offend this har.
‘Well, if it is a story, and I don’t think it is – much – when they tested my abilities after althaia, the results for one of them were good. They thought there could be work for me here.’

‘Which ability?’ asked the har, both his eyebrows raised in amusement.

‘Psychic ability. They thought perhaps the Listeners…’

‘Oh, how dull.’ The har grinned. ‘Never mind.’ He glanced around, perhaps looking for somehar else to bother, then clearly noticed the opportunity for sport. ‘Oh look, there is Ashmael.’ Before Fernici could do or say anything, the har had raised a hand and in a voice like a bell called, ‘Ash, over here.’

Fernici saw Ashmael raise his head, the blankness that came over his features. Ashmael hesitated, then crossed the few feet of floor between them. Fernici was shocked again at how tall he was, almost alien. ‘Good evening, tiahaar,’ he said and then nodded his head at Fernici. ‘Hello, Fernici, you have settled in well?’

‘Yes. Thank you.’

‘I was just talking with your little protégé…’ said the peacock har.

Ashmael laughed politely. ‘No protégé of mine, I assure you.’ He smiled stiffly at Fernici. ‘No offence, tiahaar, but I consider you are your own creation, not mine.’

Fernici, for a moment, was flooded with the remorse of lost opportunities. He realised that Ashmael’s pride would never forgive him for what he’d done, and yet, it had been entirely the right thing to do at the time. Fernici had said no when Ashmael had offered himself after the althaia, and Ashmael Aldebaran Har Gelaming was not used to being refused. But what could Fernici say to mend this affront, especially in front of this gossipy other har, who would no doubt report any conversation across the entire gathering?

‘Well, thank you for your part in it,’ he said eventually, inclining his head, but wincing inside.

The peacock har laughed. ‘Oh, two corpses in a badly-written play,’ he declared. ‘And you say there is no story.’

There was a silence, and perhaps having decided he’d got enough gossiping meat to be going on with, the peacock har drifted away.

And now we are along together, Fernici thought, with a bottomless gulf between us.

‘They found you useful employment?’ Ashmael asked, but Fernici could tell he didn’t care.

‘I’m training for the Listeners,’ he said. ‘They said I could take it further one day.’

‘Makes sense.’ Ashmael looked around himself, perhaps hoping to spot an escape route, somehar he must go and speak to.

Fernici thought he might mention the invitation Ashmael had extended for Fernici to visit him, the last time they’d been together, but was afraid Ashmael would only look at him blankly and pretend he didn’t remember. If Ashmael wanted to see him, he could make that invitation again now, but Fernici knew it wouldn’t come.

‘Don’t stay on my account,’ he said, offering – rather mercifully, he felt – the escape route. ‘Reydis is here with me. He’ll be back shortly. I expect you’ve got lots of hara you need to talk to.’

‘Well, yes, that’s true.’ Ashmael smiled unconvincingly. ‘You look well, Fernici. I’m glad things have worked out for you. Until later, then…’ He inclined his head and walked away.

Fernici steadied his breathing. This encounter had had to come. He’d known he’d have to face it, yet knowing that hadn’t made it any easier. The reason he’d refused Ashmael was because he’d liked him too much. He’d wanted to be fully har, to understand his new self, before any meaningful closeness with another har could even be considered. But clearly Ashmael could not see past the word ‘no’. Now it was too late, yet perhaps for the best. Fernici could always tell himself it was for the best.

Reydis wandered up, carrying two drinks. ‘Sorry that took so long,’ he said, ‘but hara kept waylaying me! Were you all right on your own?’

‘Yes,’ Fernici said, taking the drink. ‘I’m all right on my own.’

Here we are on Day 3 of the Para Kindred blog hop and it’s my turn to post! For anyone reading this who doesn’t know what this venture is, here are the details as from the Immanion Press blog:

“Welcome to the Immanion Press blog hop for the new Wraeththu anthology, Para Kindred. Every day until 25th June the PK authors will be posting a blog post about their story in the collection. Read every contribution to the blog hop, answer all the secret questions about the posts, and you will be entered into a prize draw to win an item from the New section of our Café Press store.”

So without more ado, here is my contribution, inspired by my story in the anthology, Painted Skin. I have to confess it does have a major spoiler in it concerning the story, which if someone wants to read it to enter the competition, and also read the story in PK without knowing anything about it, it might be a tad difficult! My secret question, plus details of previous bloggers will appear at the end of this article.

From Out the Earth, Amid the Pines...

There was once a harling named Cherrah, who lived in the far north, where the mountains meet the sky. He knew, because his hostling had told him, that his tribe was not like other hara. They were creatures far older, who had lived hidden for a very long time, when humans had ruled the world. But when humanity had fallen, they had crept from the cracks in the earth and found other cracks to creep into; the minds of hara, their flesh.

One night, Cherrah was woken by the cries of an owl outside his window, and went to follow its ghost shadow on the soft snow. At length, he came to precipice over a chasm so deep there were stars trapped in its depths, which had fallen and could not get out. The owl spread its white wings on the night and said, for it was rather more than an owl and could speak, ‘Here is the pit where your heart will lie.’

Cherrah grew up and on the night before his feybraiha, the owl came again and, as before, the harling followed it out into the darkness of the high murmuring pines and the endless sky. The owl led him to the biggest pine in the forest and then swooped down upon him and opened up his back to the spine with its claws. ‘This is where your beauty lies,’ said the owl. Cherrah fell back against bark of the tallest pine, his body aflame with pain. And it seemed the tree pitied him, for Cherrah could feel it filling his empty back with parts of itself, so that from the front he looked like a har, but from the back was a hollow tree.

The harling went home to his tribe, where everyhar was gathered waiting to celebrate his feybraiha. They stood around a fire, all in clothes of russet and green. His father came over and put a cloak of dark green wool about his shoulders that hung all the way to the ground, and his hostling came forward and pulled the hood of the cloak so that it covered the top of Cherrah’s face. He could peer out beneath the edge of it, and as he did so, he saw his whole tribe turn their backs on him, as if he must be forgotten. But it was not this. It was merely to show him they were all like he was, kindred to the pine.

‘It is not always,’ said Cherrah’s hostling, ‘that you will show your true nature. As we crept from the earth so we brought its secrets with us. You will learn how to seal your flesh, and your face is enough like a har to fool any who might look, not of our tribe.’

‘But can’t I stay with the tribe, so nohar else might ever see or have to be fooled?’ said Cherrah.

‘No,’ said his hostling. ‘You will go out into the world and be part of it. Your father will take you to the cities of hara and you will learn his trade of clockmaker, and bring our arts to these cities, for we have a way with time. This is your duty to your tribe, to bring us riches.’ His hostling kissed him upon the brow. ‘But for tonight, you need think of nothing but he who waits for you. There he is, beyond the fire. Do you see?’

And then the har came to Cherrah, who would lead him to adulthood, and he went into a moss-roofed house a harling and came out in the morning a har.

On the night before he was to leave for the cities of hara, the owl came again to Cherrah. ‘I won’t follow you,’ he said. ‘You bring only bad to me.’

And the owl replied, ‘Truth is never bad. My task was to take you to the forest, which I did.’

‘But you opened my back with your claws, and now I will never be truly har but half tree, because of the pine’s pity.’

‘Rather my claws than any other kind,’ said the owl, ‘for what I did was with love, not fear or cruelty. And you were always half tree. Come, follow me now. This is the final thing I can teach you.’

So Cherrah followed the owl, expecting something he would not enjoy or that would make him sad. The owl led him high into the mountains where breath turns to frost upon the air and the sky fractures with cold like glass.

‘Do you feel the cold?’ asked the owl.

Cherrah drew his green wool cloak about him. ‘Of course. It’s always there.’

‘Does it pain you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Does the cold bring pain to your body, discomfort?’

‘Of course not.’ Cherrah took off his cloak, folded it, and set it upon the ground so he could sit on it. He gazed out across the jagged peaks with their green cloaks of pines. Tomorrow, he would be gone from this land and didn’t know when he would be back.

‘You are more than har,’ said the owl, perching on a fallen tree nearby, ‘for as the cold does not blight your flesh, neither can water drown you, nor fire consume you. You cannot be crushed. You can walk inside the mountains and listen to them speak. Ordinary hara can die by the elements but you cannot, because you are their creature. And that is a reason to be happy not sad.’

‘But I will be lonely,’ Cherrah said, ‘I can already feel it, looking at this landscape to which I belong and which I must leave. Loneliness might crush, or burn or drown me. As could love, because you’ve already told me my heart lies in a pit from which it can’t get out.’

The owl lifted its wings wide upon the night. ‘Ah, but you are a creature that came from the secrets of the earth,’ it said. ‘Your hara do not obey the ordinary laws. You came from a fairy tale and everyhar knows that such tales can end in miracles. You must never give up hope, because a miracle might always be around the next corner.’

‘I suppose I must be content with that,’ Cherrah said, ‘and thank you for words that did not make me sad and no experiences with claws that hurt me.’

‘Goodbye, Cherrah,’ said the owl.

Cherrah returned to his tribe and the owl stayed behind in the white mountains. In the morning, as he readied himself to leave, Cherrah put into his bags a sprig of pine, an owl feather and a small cold rock to remind him of home. Then he followed his father out into the world, hoping to come upon a corner in a city that had something wondrous round it.

Secret Question:

What can Cherrah do in the mountains that ordinary hara cannot?

Previous blogs:
Monday 16th: Earl S Wynn –
Secret question: Who do the spirit wolves watch over, according to legend.

Tuesday 17th: Maria J Leel –
Secret question: Where was Chenga’s servant Dolah planning to escape to?


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