Tag Archive: novels


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.

 

 

 

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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.

I’ve realised that it’s almost impossible to plan precisely my writing in advance. I’ve written blog posts over the years describing my intentions but a lot of the time these get modified – not least by the writing taking over and deciding for itself what’s going to happen. I’ve been thinking a lot about my career recently, not least because I hit sixty this year. Can’t believe so much time has passed! It’s frankly very scary. Anyway, I’ll talk about my realisations concerning writing – and Wraeththu – later on. First, current plans (but I – and you – might as well accept now that some of them may be subject to change):

After the successful launch of both the Wraeththu short story collection ‘Para Animalia’ and my new anthology ‘Splinters of Truth’ (the latter published by NewCon Press), I’m now concentrating on other projects. I’d planned initially to release all my Wraeththu short stories in one collection this year, including half a dozen or so new tales. But I’ve had to revise that idea. First of all, after discussing it with various friends, I’ve realised that as nearly all my Wraeththu pieces are still fairly recent, in the ‘Para’ anthologies, there probably isn’t much of  a market for a collected anthology yet. And even if there were, wouldn’t that be short-changing readers somewhat? Another consideration was that when I put all the stories into one book file and formatted it, it was already quite hefty – before any new pieces were added. So to me, this led to one major change in my work schedule this year: ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’ would comprise all new stories. A comprehensive collection can come later. I’d intended for this book to be fairly simple to compile, with just a few new additions, but no, the book has decided it’s something else entirely, and has clear views on how I must write it.

The initial idea for Wraeththu came from several directions, but primarily it was through my fascination with magic and the unseen. When I began reading books on these subjects as a teenager, I discovered alchemy, and this arcane art enchanted me. Even as a fledgling writer, it filled me with creative ideas. The alchemical rebis, the sacred hermaphrodite, was one of the most compelling images of all, and of course kick-started the idea of a race superior to humanity who were androgynous. In ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’, those words in themselves alchemical symbols, I want to explore the idea more fully.

So what has this alchemical beast evolved into? So far, the book will consist of three connected novellas, rather like a mini-trilogy, plus a few other pieces that are unconnected with them. I’ve completed the first two novellas. The first story was actually another of those ideas I’d had knocking around on my computer for decades. It was called ‘Song of the Cannibals’. When I began writing it, I didn’t know why it had that name – it had just come to me and I liked it. I imagined I could make the story fit the title as I wrote it and produced at most about three pages of it. Then I let it lie for around thirty years. Looking at my old notes (because I hate to see ideas wasted, however antique they might be), I came across ‘Cannibals’ again, and knew exactly what happened next and where the cannibal aspect came into it. Unfortunately it required junking nearly all of what I’d written, but for the name of the main character, the house where it’s set, and a somewhat sinister visitor. Here is a brief synopsis:

Tambril goes to work for a renowned alchemist/teacher named Melisander, who lives near Ferelithia. In the sprawling house, Sallow Gandaloi, which bustles with students and staff, Tambril discovers an important shrouded secret – his employer’s brother lives in a suite of secluded rooms and is most definitely ‘not right’. Melisander calls the weird Gavensel his ‘brother’, yet they are of completely different skin colours and clearly not related in blood. Yet Melisander never speaks about this. He is a fair and generous employer and teacher, and those living in his establishment, whether to learn or to work, are prepared to ignore or put up with the unnerving and ghostlike Gavensel in order to enjoy all the benefits of Melisander’s patronage. But then, one day, a mysterious visitor, a ‘crow of hara’, arrives at Sallow Gandaloi with an apparently priceless artefact to sell. Or is that his true purpose? Is he not perhaps there to steal rather than sell? And what is it he knows lies hidden in the house, something that is above priceless? Tambril, inevitably, becomes involved in the mystery, which becomes increasingly dark and threatening.

The second tale in the collection, which I finished this week is called ‘Half Sick of Shadows’, and is partly inspired (or perhaps informed) by the poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’, although bizarrely the characters themselves found the connection while I was writing, rather than me choosing deliberately to fit the story around the poem. During one conversation, a har refers to another present as ‘the Lady of Shalott’, and the whole thing took off from there. I didn’t plan this; it just came out. When the har in question seeks out and reads that poem, intrigued, he sees his own life reflected there, as he feels it fits him perfectly. That was pure coincidence rather than design. Or perhaps not coincidence at all! I can’t say any more than this about the story, as to do so would cause spoilers for the first piece.

The final story in this mini-trilogy doesn’t yet have a name. All I know is who the narrator is going to be, and an intriguing one he is too. Can’t say more – sorry! He has to be a surprise. I intend to start working on this piece once I’ve got another short story written, for a science fiction anthology to which I’ve been invited to contribute.

Something that’s been made abundantly clear to me while writing this new material is the thing that fascinates me most at the moment about the world of Wraeththu is how the original, incepted hara have adapted, a hundred years after their species was created. I’ve been hinting, and even overtly saying, for a long time in my stories that the incepted, the First Generation, are often regarded unfavourably by the later pureborns, who equate the incepted with madness, ignorance and instability. As one character in ‘Half Sick of Shadows’ says, ‘Hara like us are obsolete. We were merely mechanisms to get the whole thing going.’ The dust has settled, Wraeththu have gradually evolved into their potential, and continue to do so. But the casualties of war, those who fought for survival at the very start, the progenitors of Wraeththu, how do they fit into the new world, when very often they are scarred veterans of ancient conflicts? In Immanion, there is an establishment for such hara… I suppose much of my fascination lies in the fact that I am so much older now than I was when I first wrote feverishly of Wraeththu and their world. My dust has settled too, to a large degree. Now I’m able to observe my own youth in what I created, my own aspirations and hopes and ideals – my own silliness too, which I look upon with affection rather than regret. Wraeththu, if anything, have become even more intriguing to me.

I’ve written a great deal about hara over the past few years, and until quite recently have sometimes heard this niggling little voice in the back of my mind telling me I shouldn’t just luxuriate in the harish world. Write something else – something more commercial, harps the voice. While I’ve produced quite a lot of short stories not connected with Wraeththu over the past decade, the Magravandias Trilogy was the last full-length work not set in the world of Wraeththu, and that was released around sixteen years ago. That’s far too long, wheedles the voice. Stop indulging yourself! With this in mind, I began work on my ‘Through the Nightgardens’ project late last year, and wrote the first two instalments of this fantasy novel. I planned to write a chapter a month, and allow the first six to be available free online, illustrated by landscapes I created in the MMORPG, Rift. The first two are up, but… I’ve been so busy since the New Year, not just with writing, but with administration tasks and ‘any other business’. I’m also nearly at the end of ‘Grimoire Dehara: Ulani’, the book of pop culture magic, which I’ve been writing with Taylor Ellwood. We want to get this out around summer time. There have been short stories to write as well, as I hate to turn down offers when they appear in my mail. And shorts, while short, still take some time to write. So ‘Nightgardens’ hasn’t progressed as much as I’d hoped. It hasn’t been helped by the fact that Trion, the company who developed and maintain Rift, have changed a lot. I dislike the way they operate now and how they treat their loyal customers. This has soured my feelings towards the game and quite honestly has contributed towards me feeling less inspired to go and work on my landscapes for ‘Nightgardens’ in there. I will take both story and landscapes up again eventually, as I don’t like to leave projects half-finished, especially when I’ve already done so much work on them, but my desire to work on this was so much less than my eagerness to work on ‘Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose’. I love that project and want to complete it before I consider doing anything else.

It was a dilemma I struggled with for a while. My first love really is Wraeththu, and although my books about them have never been popular in the mainstream, they’ve always had a consistent and loyal following. That world has allowed me to explore so much about ourselves, as humans, and so much about gender, through the medium of these sexually unsundered beings. As I said earlier in this post, I’m sixty this year, and I feel now I have to write what I most want to write. I might have another 30 years left to me – or not. We don’t know these things about ourselves, but there comes a moment when you have to accept that the first half of your life is long gone, and time becomes a far more precious commodity. My writing is my legacy. I’m never going to be rich and famous; I got over the hope of that years ago. I’m never going to be the sort of writer who’s in the spotlight, grinning at cameras while I win awards. The disappointment about that disappeared some time ago too. But I do believe in what I write, consider myself a good writer who has worked hard at her craft, and know instinctively it’s what I’m here to do. I’ve never found writing incredibly easy, or felt it pour out in beautiful, perfect streams as if I’m a channel for it – as my late, much-missed friend Tanith Lee experienced. But I do feel I’m approaching the height of my powers as a story-teller, and have decided I don’t want to waste a minute of that trying to write things to please other people, in the hope it will make me more successful. My work is more precious than that and deserves more respect. I often day-dreamed wistfully of living in a big old house, much like the sort I sometimes write about, but know now that’s unlikely to happen. I comfort myself with the thought that if I’d ever had a house like that, I’d probably have been terrified in it – my imagination being what it is. Once I’d cast off these unrealistic hopes and dreams, I got down to the real reward – loving the act of writing, cherishing my developing stories, simply enjoying my work. The freedom that accepting all this gave me, which can only come with age and experience, simply opens up myriad avenues into new creative areas to explore, new stories to discover. And that’s the greatest prize of all.

New Writing Project Goes Live

Meretrice Garden

 

I was determined to get my new writing project off the ground before Christmas, so happy to announce that the first instalment of ‘Through the Night Gardens’ is ready to be viewed on its own blog page: https://throughthenightgardens.wordpress.com/

This is the first chapter of a novel, much of which will be available free online, although I do intend to flesh it out, add secondary plot lines, and eventually publish it in printed form and as an Ebook.

What makes this project different is that it was inspired by landscapes I created using player-made ‘dimensions’ in the MMORPG, Rift. It’s enabled me to realise the images in my head, not only just as illustrations to use in the story, but as actual virtual locations that people can visit, thus making it a transmedia venture. At the moment, the landscapes can only be viewed by downloading the game, Rift, and making a level 1 character in order to explore the world, but I intend to make videos of them in the New Year so that people who either don’t want to download the game, or whose machines aren’t up to running it, can simply look at the accompanying videos. I’m also working with a friend to produce an audio book of the story. But this will take time, and I wanted to get the initial story out there.

I envisage I’ll release a chapter every month, all other work commitments permitting. Four of the dimensions are finished and ready for public viewing, but for now only the first one will be made available to accompany ‘The House on the Red Cliffs’ – chapter one.

As I’ve been immersed in the world of Wraeththu for the past few years – apart from quite a lot of short stories I’ve been writing and had published – I thought it was time to embark upon a longer work outside of the Wraeththu Mythos. Here is a short introduction to the story.

 Meretrice Bilander, a planarist by profession, moves to an isolated corner of the world in order to further her experiments in creating new lifeforms, drawn from different elemental planes. She becomes intrigued by Jeriko Rayce, a man who lives nearby, in particular by the unusual – and certainly unearthly – violet flower he grows in his house: a plant whose scent is a song, whose bloom is the sound of sadness. Meretrice discovers that no one can get near Rayce, not even the shamaness whose domain lies below the red cliffs. Wards of repulsion protect him. Together, she and Catty – the shamaness – seek to penetrate the mystery of Rayce, discover why his house can’t be approached and for what reason he has the violet flower. Then one night, reality cracks and Meretrice discovers Rayce’s house can at last be reached. She and Catty unearth some of Rayce’s secrets, which sets them on a journey to knowledge that is at once both folly and irresistible. They are invited to follow a trail, either to oblivion or salvation, through the Night Gardens, other realms of existence, led by the bewitching scent of the violet flower that might be balm or poison… 

I hope you will visit the blog, and I also welcome feedback concerning its format. May you all have a splendid Yuletide.

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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_(novel) 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

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

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

Excerpt from ‘The Moonshawl’ by Storm Constantine © 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Immanion Press news:

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

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

I share quite a lot of books with my mother-in-law, Dot Hibbert, and it was she who introduced me to P G Wodehouse, an odd choice for me perhaps. But I am now reading the Blandings omnibus and really appreciate the deftness of Wodehouse’s prose. Also, although a snapshot into a bygone English age, now it reads almost like fantasy, times have changed so much. Dot and I also really like Kate Atkinson’s novels. I started reading them years ago, and especially adored the bizzare ‘Human Croquet’, but was not so much grabbed by the ‘idea’ of the detective novels Ms Atkinson did later. Now, I’ve started reading them, and find her quite the subversive! On the surface, stories like ‘Case Histories’ and ‘Started Early, Took my Dog’ are mystery/detective novels, but also full of sublime insights about life, and also ageing, which to many is a sore nerve to be licked very carefully.

I’ve recently reread all of M R James’s ghost stories, since I received the box DVD collection of the Ghost Stories for Christmas, (at Christmas), which were televised dramas of his stories. He had so many great ideas, and although I think the writing somehow muddies the awesome gruesomeness of some of the ideas, many are still chilling. The (first) TV adaptation of Whistle and I’ll Come to You is great, and the story itself even weirder. I also particularly liked the story about the hair, strange curtains with a hair pattern on them… sorry can’t remember the name, get an omnibus of his stories… that was truly frightening and had me creeped out on nights when I slept alone while Jim was at work. One effective motif James uses regularly is ‘things’ creeping on all fours rather than walking. Shudder. Especially when they are creeping in the dark towards your window.

I also recently read a John Saul oldie, called ‘Second Child’, which I picked up at the charity book stand of the fab pub we go to with the in-laws for lunch once a month. I’d read Saul before, when I worked for Staffs library, and always found him a bit meh in comparison to other horror writers, but really enjoyed this one. It’s not great literary shakes, but was just a nice page turner for the time I read in bed before sleep.