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The Harvest of Smoketide

Smoketide is the Wraeththu equivalent of the autumn equinox, which is upon us! It’s been such a busy year – and I’m horrified to find it’s now in its last quarter. I took on a lot of work but fortunately most of the projects are either finished or nearing completion. Only a couple have been shuffled into next year.

The Wraeththu seasonal anthology ‘Songs to Earth and Sky’, featuring stories by me and a few other writers is on track to be published on 14th December – the deharan festival of Adkaya. I’m in the process of organising a launch event for it, in collaboration with local businesswoman Maggie Jennings, who runs ‘Hart’s Magical Gifts’, a New Age/Witchcraft shop in Stafford.  More details of that when the event has been fully organised.

I’ve written three stories for this collection. The first one, ‘A Message in Ashes’ focuses on the festival of Rosatide on 1st February. This is traditionally a time of reawakening, of the first stirrings of spring. But what came to me for this piece isn’t simply about the turning of the year. As I began writing it, and more so as the story developed, I found myself thinking about how much us humans are prey to disease and conditions, and we are terrified of them, but for a species who is less prey to these horrors, when they do strike, they will be triply terrifying – if not more so. ‘A Message in Ashes’ is told by a narrator who witnesses a har born without the full protection a harish form should provide against disease. It’s not a miserable tale, but inevitably has its poignant moments. Primarily, it’s about learning, coming of age, growing up – in the sense of undergoing inner realisations rather than physical changes.

The second story ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’ revolves around the festival of Reaptide –more commonly known as Lughnasadh or Lammas, on 1st August. I’ve always found this time of year to be wonderfully spooky – the weeks when ghosts might walk at mid-day. As I was writing it, I came across a usefully inspirational film on this subject on Netflix. It’s now called ‘Trauma’ (and you can also buy the DVD under that name, which I subsequently did), but its original title was ‘Lavender’.  It’s not particularly gory, nor particularly horrifying, but it is creepy and atmospheric. A photographer is drawn to take pictures of an old house, which she doesn’t realise has some historical attachment to her. The story goes on from there, and while it doesn’t offer anything radically new to the haunted house genre, it is a pleasurable watch for fans of ghost stories. But some aspects lifted it above the run of the mill norm. The thing that appealed to me most was the landscape of high summer, how the ghosts there walk at mid-day, in full light, often unseen, and that sunlight can be no less scary than darkness. I watched the film 3 times while writing the story to get into that ambience – the slant of light across a field, with the shadow of trees reaching out like hands; a hazy horizon beneath the sun; the heavy branches of trees weighed down with their foliage, the somehow pregnant stillness and a sense of imminence – something waiting to happen in the hot, breathless day. That was the feeling I sought to put into my story.

My tale is also inspired by an old house known as Guy’s Cliffe in Warwickshire, and the landscape around it. The place is well worth a visit. For a long time, the ruin of the house was off-limits, privately-owned and inaccessible, but in recent years it came into the hands of the Freemasons of Warwickshire, to whom it was donated. Now, it’s open to the public and you can book a tour around the house and land. Not much of the house remains, but the Masons have a couple of temple rooms in the old chapel, which is still intact. Parts of the remaining building have been converted into function rooms that can be hired for events. The old mill to the estate is now a restaurant called The Saxon Mill, (and an excellent one at that). The mill wheel still turns in a shadowed chamber, and wooden decking now allows visitors to sit right at, if not over, the lake side, to catch glimpses of Guy’s Cliffe through the trees. The lake is technically a river, but is wide at that point, with a thundering weir behind the inn. In summertime, the huge ancient trees are lush, their foliage hiding most of the old house. Nearby, across a crop field, lies a weird old church with a pyramid-topped spire. There are several tales about the house and its environs that I won’t go into here, but when I was writing ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’ I was transported back there continually. The story involves a young har who goes to work at a large garden nursery specialising in roses for medicine and magic, which has developed from the ruins of an old rural estate. The land is haunted, of course, and as Reaptide draws near, the ghosts wax strong. The present begins to mirror the past, with weird and dramatic consequences, and a mysterious ‘guiser’ troupe set up camp in the field by the river – masked mummers, who might not be what they seem. Verdiferel, the dehar of Reaptide, can be tricksy and cruel, or he can be kind and benevolent. It depends which mask he wears, and the har who catches sight of the dehar at this time of year is responsible for shaping the mask – often without knowing it.

The final story is a sequel to ‘The Old Fierce Pull of Blood’, and is named ‘Solarisel’s Covenant.’ This is set many years after the Reaptide piece, at Adkaya. This mini-festival lies two weeks before the winter solstice, when the dehar Solarisel gives birth to the pearl that will hatch at Natalia into the infant sun-dehar, Elisin. Isoldis, the protagonist of the Reaptide story, is en route to a growers’ assembly some distance from home, and as the snow falls in the build up to Natalia, he comes across a secret at an old coaching inn. He’s never been there in his life, yet it appears the staff know him – he’s told he’d been a guest there only a couple of night before. Isoldis thinks at first the guest must have been a har who looks like him, then events unfold during the night that reveal a different reason, if not a different reality.

The other stories I’ve had in so far for the collection are two from Nerine Dorman (The Dreamstone for Bloomtide, the spring equinox, and ‘Isangxa’s Gift’ for Cuttingtide, the summer solstice.) These stories are set in South Africa, so deviate from the typical seasonal trappings found in northern climes. I like the way this expands the mythos into new territories. Nerine has come up with some colourful, new, indigenous dehara too. E. S. Wynn has written a story based around Shadetide, known to us as Halloween, which involves a har taking on the persona of Lachrymide, the dehar of this season, to combat a threat to his tribe. Fiona Lane’s contribution is set at the winter solstice festival of Natalia, when a disruption in the cycle of the seasons calls for a hienama to take radical, magical action. Fiona always writes with a witty touch, and this story doesn’t fail to deliver that, but it’s also immensely poignant and touching – it literally brought tears to my eyes when I read through it. Two further stories are due for delivery in the very near future to complete the book. Cover art will be by Ruby.

The second book from Immanion Press due to be published on 14th December is ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, ghost stories for Christmas. This is a traditional English sub-genre of the ghost story and you’ll find many collections of such tales on Amazon. The original idea was that this book would follow in the foot-steps of ‘Dark in the Day’, the weird fiction anthology we published to showcase the work of creative writing students at Staffs University, along with established authors. As it turned out, I didn’t get any stories from existing students at the university, but went ahead with the project (since I’d formally announced it), and asked for stories from writer friends and colleagues, so I’d have enough to fill a book. I was surprised that young or aspiring writers don’t leap at the chance to be published in a ‘proper book’, with comparatively little effort on their part, so that it might aid their chances of publication once they’ve finished their studies. I know I’d have been really grateful to be offered something like that when I was starting my career. But I guess times have changed… Anyway, contributors to the anthology include Rosie Garland, Wendy Darling, Louise Coquio, Hannah Kate, Nerine Dorman, Rhys Hughes, J. E. Bryant, Fiona McGavin, Jessica Gilling, Misha Herwin, Adele Marie Park and Fiona Lane. As you can see from that list, I asked several of the Wraeththu Mythos writers to submit, and I’m grateful they obliged me! Cover art will be by Danielle Lainton.

As for the third book in the Dehara magical series, ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, the plan is to bring it out this year – it all depends on how much time Taylor and I get to finish it. We’re about a third of the way through and will do our best! The book will be illustrated by Ruby and have a cover by her to match the previous two paperbacks. There will also be a hardback limited edition of the title.

The two books that have been shuffled into 2018 are ‘She Demon’, my collaboration with Andy Collins, which is a collection of path-workings with various faces of the dark goddess, and ‘Para Spectral’, the fifth of the Wraeththu Mythos ‘Para’ anthologies. Time has been an obstacle with both these books. Andy has been swamped with work, and I’ve had a lot on my plate with the other books I’ve been working on. As for ‘Para Spectral’, some of the prospective authors have been writing stories for other Immanion Press books I’ve mentioned previously, (along with all their other work), so it made sense to move this title forward to give everyone much more time.

That’s all the news on my work for now. I have tentative plans to start a new novel next year, but will have to see how time and other projects go!

 

 

 

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Every time I start a new blog post, it always seems as if I have to begin with ‘sorry for not having posted for ages’, or something similar. I’m not the best of people with social media and blogging. I know what good things they are in many respects, especially for the self-employed, and extra-especially for writers. ‘Get yourself out there more!’ I’m told, by informed friends and acquaintances who use the internet to its limit to promote their work. ‘I will,’ I answer, (usually just to shut them up). I don’t mean it, of course. Is it because I’m lazy, or too busy, or simply feel distaste for this voracious medium? Maybe a bit of all three. I’m certainly not the type to share intimate details of my life with strangers online, or even people I know vaguely. Close friends will get to hear news over the phone, and that’s where it’ll stay. Sometimes I’ll post pictures of my friends and I on Facebook when we’re visiting a site of interest. The only other personal thing I’ll post is pictures of and anecdotes about my cats. (A little disappointing how they always get a ton – literally a ton – more ‘likes’ than posts about writing, whether that’s my writing or someone else’s.) Otherwise, to me, Facebook is for work.

I had a submission the other day, whose accompanying mail began by explaining in great detail the social media success of the writer, how they were such a booming youtuber and so on. Eventually, this mail said, (and here I’m exaggerating just because I can), ‘Oh yeah, and they just wrote this novel.’ My first instinct was to reply with a succinct profanity, but then I let it simmer for a few days and replied, along the lines of: the work is more important than the social media popularity of the author. Unfortunately, the work, when I got to it, was dull, derivative and not any great shakes style-wise. Pass! However, I was so tempted to end my rejection email with, ‘This one isn’t for me, but I guarantee the author will find great success elsewhere.’ I know a lot of (perhaps more sensible) editors and publishers will take one look at all those thousands of ‘youtube’ hits and think to themselves, ‘magnificent, look at all that potential self-promotion’. And quite honestly, they’ll be right. No matter how mediocre the work, if thousands of people are into your blog, there’s a good chance they’ll buy the book you write. I’m old-fashioned and curmudgeonly, I know, but I find that depressing. Does success really have to depend so heavily nowadays on social media and the fleeting popularity you can get on there – often for sod all? For people who share my distaste, I recommend the Charlie Brooker ‘Black Mirror’ episode (series 3 on Netflix), ‘Nosedive’. That to me says it all.

Anyway, onto more cheerful subjects. One of the reasons I’ve not posted is, as I’ve stated honestly (honest) above, is that I’ve just been really busy. For some reason, I took it on myself to produce six books this year – books that will involve my own work, not just other people’s. Five of those titles are through my own Immanion Press, and one is through Ian Whates’ NewCon Press. First off, I’ll talk about the latter. A mockup of the cover (which might be slightly different eventually) is below:

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Back in the 1990s, Louise Coquio and I ran a small press fiction magazine called ‘Visionary Tongue’. I suspect that the majority of people who read my blog and look at my posts on Facebook already know about this venture, and perhaps even contributed to it. But for those who don’t, the thing that set VT apart from other little magazines was that we recruited a team of successful, established writers to act as editors and mentors for new authors. Each accepted contributor got to work with a ‘pro name’, who passed on tips and advice about the stories, as well as a thorough edit. No-one had done that before. Lou and I didn’t realise what a huge job this would turn out to be, and as other commitments mounted up, we realised we hadn’t got the time to continue running the magazine. We passed custodianship to Jamie Spracklen, who kept it running for around a dozen more issues. Some of our contributors went on to have strong writing careers – such as Liz Williams, Justina Robson and Tim Lebbon. When Ian asked me last year if I’d ever published a collection of VT stories as a book and, if not, he’d happily do one, I said yes at once. But… tracking down authors proved impossible in some cases, and even with the help of Jamie and his co-editor Donna Bond, I’ve not managed to trace them all. Ultimately, Ian and I have decided to publish the stories and poems of these ‘missings’ in the book, with the disclaimer that we searched as much as we could, and free copies of the book will be waiting to be handed to ‘missings’ should they ever come across it. Another time-consumer was translating all the stories into electronic versions, since the files for many of the older issues have been lost, as were some of the magazines themselves. Some stories had to be scanned and then carefully edited, which is always a long job. Still, the book is shaping up now and is all but done. I’ve used illustrations that artist Ruby did for the original magazine throughout. The cover too is by Ruby, an adaptation of cover art she did for issue 20. This book is due to be published in September through NewCon Press.

Projects 2, 3 and 4 are Wraeththu-related. Not all of them might appear this year – that depends on contributors. First off, there’s ‘Para Spectral’, a collection of supernatural stories set in the Wraeththu mythos. Whenever Wendy and I start a new ‘Para’ anthology, I always want to get it out the same year. This never happens. The books always take longer than I’d thought – but this is generally down to contributors being so busy and needing extra time to finish submissions. Wendy and I usually write two stories each to go in the ‘Para’ books, so that’s more time I need to find.

The next Wraeththu book is ‘Songs to Earth and Sky’, which revolves around the Deharan Wheel of the Year. This is a reimagining of the familiar Pagan cycle of the seasons, with its eight festivals – several of which survived into the Christian era as Christmas, Easter and so on. The Wheel of the Year in the mythos is known as Arotohar, and each has one – or in some cases two – dehara (or gods) connected with them. I invited a few authors to contribute to the collection, which I’ve long wanted to write. I knew this would be a huge job to do alone, (as I have plans for its interior, as well as simply writing stories), so I chose a few writers to help with the work! Each selected a seasonal festival to base their story around. At the moment, I have two stories to write myself for this anthology but it might end up being three. The proposed (and most desired) release date for this book is December 2017. I want to try and bring it out on the day of Adkaya, which is a few weeks before the winter solstice, a ‘sub-festival’, when the dehar Solarisel delivers the pearl of the sun-harling Elisin, which hatches at the solstice. This seems a propitious time to release the book, so I hope we can keep to the deadline! I’ve just finished writing a story based on Rosatide (or Imbolc), which is currently entitled ‘A Message in Ashes’. This title might change. I’m really pleased with this piece, and again (as with a couple of my recent mythos stories) I’ve been drawn to a harish community out in the wilderness, who are very much in touch with nature. My dream world, obviously. This story took on a life of its own once I began writing it, and has some poignant, if not tragic, moments. I really enjoyed writing it.

The final book related to Wraeththu is the third volume of the ‘Grimoire Dehara’ series I’m writing with Taylor Ellwood. The Deharan magical system is based upon the fictional system in my Wraeththu books, which we’ve expanded into a pop culture magic system. As there was over ten years between book one and two, Taylor and I both feel we need to bring the third one out as soon as possible after the second. This will be the volume that focuses upon ‘Nahir Nuri’, the third tier of the system. We’ve endeavoured to keep these books of interest and use to practitioners who aren’t familiar with Wraeththu, but are intrigued by its androgynous nature in a magical sense. The book will again be fully illustrated by Ruby and me, and will be out in the final quarter of 2017 – all being well.

After these titles, we have ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, which is a book of traditional Christmas ghost stories. Again, I’m not sure if this will be out this year or the next, but will endeavour to make it this year.

The next book I’ll talk about is currently entitled ‘Brides of Blood and Shadow’, although I’m desperately trying to come up with a different word to ‘Brides’, which has a good ring and rhythm to it, but it’s not what I want to convey about the book. This is a book of pathworkings with what are known as ‘dark goddesses’ – not the motherly types, or love goddesses, or goddesses of hearth and home. These will include deities such as Hecate, Ereshkigal and The Morrigan. Andy Collins and I will write the actual pathworkings together, although I’m doing all the accompanying essays, explaining the symbolism of each goddess. Caroline Wise is writing a guest article for it. Again, I don’t have a firm release date for this. Researching each goddess is taking me some time, (as we’re including some quite obscures ones), along with all the other projects I’m working on simultaneously.

It’s strange but I’m finding it most effective to spread my work out over my working week on these books. I’ll do a chapter of the Dehara, then work on one of the short stories, then write essays on a couple of goddesses. It might be an illusion, but I feel I’m making more progress this way.  Of course, with some books I’m having to wait on the work of others so can’t do much about that. This is good, though, because it means I can concentrate fully on the other books (and stories) and hopefully have them finished by the time I have enough material to put the anthologies together.

So that’s about it for current projects. If anyone would like to submit to ‘Para Spectral’ or ‘The Darkest Midnight in December’, please let me know and I can send details. Mail to editorial(at)Immanion-press(dot)com

 

2016 has been a productive year for me, with a lot of work going on behind the scenes for both Immanion Press and its non-fiction imprint, Megalithica Books. I’ve written quite a few short stories, released the ‘Dark in the Day’ weird fiction anthology (edited by Paul Houghton and me), as well as ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’, (written by Taylor Ellwood and me). I have lots of plans for the future.

Yesterday was publication day for my new Wraeththu Mythos book, ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’. It’s also having a simultaneous release in e-book. The latter will be on sale at the end of the month in a Kindle promotion. This book, a trilogy of connected novellas, began life as a collection of all the Wraeththu stories I’d begun over the years and had never finished. However, it changed course almost immediately as, once I began work upon the first story ‘Song of the Cannibals’, I knew I had something bigger than a short on my hands. It became a layered tale that folds back on itself, a narrative delivered by three different characters. While each story focuses on a different part of their shared history, there are some overlaps, which are subject to personal interpretation on the part of the narrator. That kind of thing really interests me.

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The story begins around 20 years after the fall of Fulminir, the stronghold of the Varr leader, Ponclast. I’ve always been intrigued by that dark fortress and what happened there. Part of its history I didn’t know myself until recently, when it opened its doors to me in a creative sense. When, as a young author, I first wrote about the Varrs, I wanted to ensure they appeared brutal, almost unharish, and was extremely heavy-handed with certain details of that, as I didn’t have the experience and skill to make it chilling in a more subtle way. Wendy Darling, my editor, spoke to me recently about Ponclast’s unspeakable murder of his son Gahrazel, in ‘The Bewitchments of Love and Hate’ and how it related to the new work. The repulsiveness of the method Ponclast employed is almost worthy of ‘Game of Thrones’ for nauseating ghastliness. Looking back, I wouldn’t write the scene in precisely that way now. It closed certain doors upon that aspect of the mythos and its characters. Then I realised that ‘Bewitchments’ was told from the character Swift’s perspective – and first person narrators can be unreliable – plus the fact that he learned of Gahrazel’s death in a vision. I haven’t challenged what Swift reported; it’s simply not commented upon, not least because the characters in the new book wouldn’t have access to that information.  Some of the original narrative may be true, some of it not. Perhaps all true or all untrue. Or else even Gahrazel’s perception of his death – or his ghost’s perception – is skewed. I’ll leave it open for now.

There is one particular, distressing scene in ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ that when told from two perspectives offer a different story. Both, in fact, are true, but subject to personal filtering. Fascinating stuff to write about.

When I first came up with the character of Ponclast, he was a rather one-dimensional, ouana-prevalent baddie, but as time has gone on, and through different novels and stories, he’s become a more rounded individual. Not a kind and fluffy type by any means, but not a stereotypical evil overlord either. His origin story, ‘Pro Lucror’, which appeared in the Mythos anthology ‘Paragenesis’, provides some insight into why and how he turned out the way he did. In ‘Shades of Time and Memory’ and ‘The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence’, from the second Wraeththu trilogy, he changes considerably, and perhaps goes part way to a kind of redemption. My colleague, Taylor Ellwood, who works with me on the Deharan magic system, felt that Ponclast should be part of the second book in the ‘Grimoire Dehara’ series. His complex character takes the role of an underworld deity in the system. I’ve come to realise that Ponclast has captivated quite a lot of people over the years, who are interested in his character development. Quite an achievement for a har who was initially supposed to be little more than a bit part player. ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ came out earlier this year. As well as adding depth and detail to Ponclast’s character, it also includes other mythos-expanding aspects that may be of interest to readers of the Wraeththu books, as well as practitioners of magic.

Now for next year’s plans… Some of them are at the developmental stage, when they might or might not happen, so I can’t give too many details. But I can mention the ‘Visionary Tongue’ anthology I’ll be compiling, which has been commissioned by Ian Whates for his NewCon Press, and is earmarked for an autumn release next year, to coincide with Fantasycon. ‘Visionary Tongue’ was a magazine edited by Louise Coquio and me about 20 years ago. Writers who went on to be quite famous names contributed stories to it, such as Liz Williams, Justina Robson and Tim Lebbon. After issue 16, Louise and I handed the caretaking of the magazine to Jamie Spracklen, as we no longer had the time to devote to it, nor the personnel to help us. Jamie has produced about 10 more issues since and is helping me, along with one of his editors, Donna Bond, to compile the anthology. I’ll be getting in touch with writers over the coming couple of months. Some I’ve already contacted and have received permission for reprints.

Taylor and I will be working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, which we intend to publish around autumn time too. This will appear, like the second volume, in a limited edition hardback, a paperback and e-book. As with the other books, this expands upon the pop culture magic system based on the Wraeththu Mythos.

I will begin work on a new novel, or series of stories, but I’ve yet to decide exactly what. There is also another non-fiction title I want to write. More details in the New Year when things are more certain.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported my work over the past year. I hope those of you who read ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Here’s to exciting new projects for next year! May all of you have an exceptional Yuletide.

 

 

 

Summer is virtually here already, but at least most of my plans this year have worked out. A couple of projects have slid into the cupboard under the stairs, but at least one of those is due to be hoiked out and dusted down very shortly.

I’m putting the finishing touches to the ‘Dark in the Day’ weird fiction anthology, which I’m co-editing with Paul Houghton, the Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Staffs University. The book will include the work of several students at the university – both past and present – as well as stories by established writers, and maybe (still not quite decided on this), one or two authors from the early 20th century, whose work is now public domain. The main problem with the latter idea is that the work of dead writers Paul and I would most like to include – Robert Aickman, Oliver Onions and Algernon Blackwood among them – is still very much tied up in copyright, mostly with agents and estates (rather than actual relatives), who demand high sums for reprinting. This is beyond our means. There is other writers’ work available to us, but these wouldn’t be our first choices. But anyway, we do have some great stories from current writers, a few of whom have donated previously unpublished works. I’m also really pleased that John Kaiine, Tanith Lee’s husband, has allowed me to print one of her stories in the collection – as far we know, this has not been published before. Other new stories are from Rosie Garland, Elizabeth Counihan and – me.

I didn’t intend to write something new for this book as I’m so busy, and thought my piece ‘At the Sign of the Leering Angel’ would be a fair example of a weird tale to include in the anthology – it has previously only been published in ‘Dark Discoveries’, a magazine in the States. However, one night in bed last week, while I was reading the ghost (and weird) stories of Edith Wharton before going to sleep, one line from ‘The Looking Glass’ stuck in my mind. From that, a whole story grew. I wrote it in two sessions a couple of days later. The line was ‘…like a guide leading a stranger through the gallery of a palace in the twilight, and now and then lifting a lamp to a shimmering Rembrandt or a jewelled Rubens…’ An image came to me entire of a secret gallery of unsettling works… the story grew swiftly from there.

At the time, I was – and still am – working on a science fiction story for an anthology to which I’ve been asked to contribute. I was keen to get this piece finished last week, as I want to return to ‘Blood, The Phoenix and a Rose’ (my next full length work). But because ‘The Secret Gallery’ made its presence felt so strongly, I had to write it without delay. As a tribute to Ms Wharton, one of the paintings in the gallery is named ‘The Looking Glass.’

This story was also influenced from another direction, or rather the influence insisted to be included whether I wanted it or not. A few weeks ago, I saw the film XXY on DVD, a story about an intersex teenager growing up in an isolated community in Uruguay. The film had a beguiling, fairy-tale ambience, (not least that the family name is Kraken, a mythical sea-monster), and I loved the main character, played by a young female actress, who captured perfectly a shifting ambience of gender. I felt that this character, who might or might not have sharply-honed senses, if not a degree of psychism, would surely go on to have a life of strange and wondrous adventures. She is named – appropriately androgynously – Alex, and my character in ‘The Secret Gallery’ also has this name. The Alex of the film haunted this story. When I’d finished writing and was re-reading the piece, I thought ‘it’s clear now my character is that Alex, who she grew up to be.’ The gallery itself, unintentionally on my part, seems to mirror the protagonist’s life. But then, I suspect, that gallery mirrors the life of any who find their way to its hidden gate.

The weird anthology’s cover will feature a photograph by author Michael Marshall Smith. I always enjoy seeing the strange and haunting photos he posts on Facebook, so asked him if he’d mind if I used one as cover art for this book. Happily, he said yes. The book should be out in the early autumn.

Taylor Ellwood and I have finished writing ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ and are now only waiting for the final few pictures from Ruby to go in the book. I envisage this title will be out in July at the latest. We’ll then start work on the final book in the series, ‘Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri’, rather than wait another ten years to do the next one – as happened with the first book! ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ will be published through Megalithica Books, as part of our non-fiction list, as it’s a pop culture magical system based on the magic in the Wraeththu books.

‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, my three linked Wraeththu novellas have been left alone for a few weeks while I completed the grimoire and worked on short stories, and the editing for ‘Dark in the Day’. However, if all goes well, and I get my science fiction piece finished before Tuesday, (writer meeting that night, so I want to take it with me), I’ll get back to the novellas later in the week. Two of them are written, although need a little work, and I have the idea worked out for the third. I hope to get this book out later in the year, if I don’t get too distracted by other tasks.

I noticed in the ‘Blog Post’ folder, when I was creating a Word document for this post, that my post from June 2015 was about ‘The Shadowbirds’, a novel that was a follow-up to ‘The Moonshawl’. I can’t believe a year has passed since I first thought about that book. I’d begun writing it, too, but then ideas for the current project elbowed it out of the way, and I had to run with that as it was demanding to be written! However, I do still intend to return to ‘The Shadowbirds’ at some point.

Early in my career, I managed to write one novel a year – and this was when I had a day job too – but as time passed, and work for Immanion Press increased, it’s been difficult for me to produce novels so regularly. I’ve also upped my output for short stories, as this is a good way to get your work better known out there in the world. Plus, I enjoy writing them.

My ‘Through the Night Gardens’ project has been put on hold too, and part of the reason for that is I’m not as happy as I used to be in the game Rift, in which I’m creating landscapes to go with the story. The world of Rift is still enchanting to me, but I’m not enchanted by the way the developers now treat their customers and seek to milk relentlessly people who enjoy creating dimensions (the landscapes) in that game. I forgave a lot, but when it got to the point where new art assets were concealed within ‘gambling bags’ you had to buy with real money – and then not be guaranteed contents you’d want or could use – my dissatisfaction spilled over into actual resentment. I understand parting with cash is part of the deal. Rift is free to play, (although I do have a patron subscription to help support it), and needs income to survive. I shelled out quite a lot at the start of my project to fund it, but I prefer to spend my money on what I want and need, not be cheated by randomness, the dreaded RNG of all MMOs. I don’t think that belongs in an activity like dimension-building. I hate leaving projects half finished, especially as I’ve created a special blog for ‘Night Gardens’ and made a fanfare about this transmedia endeavour, so I expect I will return to it at some point, but I can’t escape the fact the experience has been soured for me. This, coupled with all the other work I’m doing, means ‘Night Gardens’ got pushed further back in the queue.

That’s it for current work news – more when I know it. I do want to put down my thoughts about the Warcraft movie, but will save this for a WoW blog post (The Necklace of Evil Faces) – I’ve neglected that blog for a while.

Happy New Year to everyone – hope you had a good seasonal holiday. I have lots of plans for writing projects this year so it’s time to share news of these forthcoming ventures!

First off, I’ve put the next Wraeththu novel on back burner (although safely with a great many notes on the story) for a while, as I’ve launched a new fiction venture – ‘Through the Night Gardens’ –a novel told in part as a serial, which will appear for free on the blog Through the Night Gardens This is a transmedia project, in that it encompasses landscapes created in the MMORPG Rift, and I have plans also to produce an audio book of the story, as well as videos of the landscapes I’ve designed for it. Eventually, this will become a novel produced in the traditional, printed form – and will then include sub-plots and other additional material. For the interactive part, I need to keep it relatively simple, but I hope also this will whet readers’ appetites for the larger work to follow. The first chapter is now online and I intend to release at least one more chapter this month.

However, even though ‘Night Gardens’ is taking a larger part of the stage this year than I thought it would, it doesn’t mean my Wraeththu stories will be totally neglected. Wendy Darling and I are in the latter stages of producing the next shared-world anthology ‘Para Animalia: Creatures of Wraeththu’, which I envisage will be available round about March at the latest. The book includes two new stories from me, and from Wendy, and also tales by E. S. Wynn, Fiona Lane and Nerine Dorman, as well as other Mythos writers. Here is a preview of the cover art by Ruby:

Para Animalia front smaller

I’m also working on a Wraeththu short story collection of my own that will include previously unpublished early works, as well as completely new stories, plus all the Wraeththu Mythos stories I’ve written to date, so as to collect them all in one volume. I don’t yet have a title for this book, but will be writing the stories alongside the chapters for ‘Through the Night Gardens’ throughout the early part of this year. It will contain around half a dozen completely new tales. I’m loosely planning for the Wraeththu collection to be available in the summer.

Additional to these projects, I’m working on ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’ with my colleague Taylor Ellwood, again with the aim of publishing it this year. This is the pop culture magical system based on the Wraeththu mythos, the first volume of which was ‘Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana’. We’ve been asked repeatedly to release the other two volumes in the series, and now have the time to commit to this project.

My short story collection ‘Splinters of Truth’ will be published by NewCon Press to coincide with the Mancunicon convention, this year’s Eastercon, which is held in Manchester.  I will be on hand to help promote the book, as well as appear on a panel with my fellow Night’s Nieces, the writers who donated stories to the Tanith Lee tribute of the same name, which Immanion Press published in December last year.

Immanion Press will be releasing a paperback edition of ‘Animate Objects’, the short story collection by Tanith Lee, which was a special limited edition hardback published to commemorate her ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the World Fantasycon in 2013. Tanith fans are often completionists concerning her work, and as only 35 copies of this book were printed, we’ve had a lot of enquiries about it from readers who are desperate to acquire it. Tanith’s husband, John Kaiine, has given the go-ahead for new paperback edition, which will include an additional story and different interior artwork to the original.

That’s the news round-up for now. More to come later.

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.