Tag Archive: reading


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.

Book News

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

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

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

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Currently Reading…

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

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

Cats… Well, There Has to be Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.