Tag Archives: men playing ghosts playing god

Hm.

During breaks from writing (when real life intervenes), I spend a lot of time assessing my position.  For example, why do I write?  Is it worth it – the sacrifice of time and energy?  Should I perhaps try a new direction?  A different genre?  Maybe I should quit, walk away, redefine myself.  That kind of thing.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean I don’t love writing – the creative part of the process anyway – I just find myself increasingly disillusioned by the business side of it, and by the conduct of certain writers and editors on social media.  But I’m going to stop there.  This isn’t that kind of post.

Recently, after a three year hiatus in which I was the stay-at-home parent, I returned to the 9-to-5.  I decided to take some time off from writing to adjust to the new routine.  Simple as that.  Again, time away from it usually makes me ask those questions above.  Something always pulls me back, though.  The itch returned about a week ago, on the back of a couple of new and promising story ideas.  But I didn’t act on them other than to scribble some notes and put them aside for possible future use.  Sometimes, and it seems more frequent in recent years, I need a sign.  A little something to spark the fire underneath me again.  I don’t know why, exactly, and I’m pretty sure you probably don’t want to read my theories.  It’s just the way it is for me now.  My ambition is still there, it’s never left – oh, it wanes at times, but it never dies:  I’m just more of a realist these days, I suppose.  Maybe something of a dumb old romantic, too.  I want the words to do the talking for me not the number of posts I make on social media.  Anyway, a couple of nice things happened to me this week, and that’s what I want to share with you here.

First, someone read one of my stories and posted their thoughts on Facebook.  The story was “The Broken and the Unmade.”  I won’t repeat here what they said, but it was complimentary.  A couple of other people joined in with positive comments about me and another story of mine.  Thank you, much appreciated.

Second, Ellen Datlow, the editor of Best Horror of the Year posted her longlist of Honorable Mentions for 2013.  I was lucky enough to receive three.  Cue the usual debate on Facebook (and elsewhere, I’m sure) about the validity of such things.  After all, don’t they mean that you’re not good enough to get into the actual book?  Well, yes and no and yes.  These things are all subjective anyway, one person’s opinion on what works and what doesn’t, as is the Honorable Mentions shortlist and even the book’s contents itself.  But I’ll tell you what it means to me:

Encouragement.  No more, no less.

It’s akin to someone saying they enjoyed my work, and I’ll take that, I’ll take that every fucking time and say thank you for it.

So, if you want to peruse the entire HM longlist (posted in four parts) then follow this link to Ellen Datlow’s site.  It’s a good place to start if you are looking to try out some new authors.

Here are my stories that each received an Honorable Mention:

  1. “Men Playing Ghosts, Playing God” – published in Black Static #35.
  2. “The Sound of Constant Thunder” – published in Black Static #37.
  3. “The Space That Runs Away With You” – published in Crimewave 12: Hurts.

Thank you, Ellen.

And thank you again to that Facebook user who said he enjoyed “The Broken and the Unmade.”

In other news…I have been asked by Interzone editor Andy Cox to interview his 2014 cover artist, Wayne Haag.  It’s something I was more than happy to do since Wayne provided this beautiful artwork for one of my stories.

Machinehouse

Once the interview is done and gone live, I’ll post a link here.

Have a great weekend, people.

Three Things I Don’t Write About (and Three Things I Do)

Firstly, let me say thank you to the lovely Priya Sharma for tagging me for this, the latest writer-craze doing the rounds. It was nice to be invited to the party for a change, instead of standing outside and wondering why no one has asked me to dance.  Thank you.

And don’t you know it…I get the chance to show off my moves and I’m out of time with everyone else on the dance floor.  Not only is my post several days later than everyone else’s but I put my left foot in when it was supposed to be right (or my Don’ts before my Do’s).  Oh well, the music’s still playing; if I keep dancing maybe no one will notice…

Three Things I Write About.

The outsider.  I’m drawn to people on the fringes, broken people who constantly struggle to relate to the world and the people around them. Why? Two reasons. One: I can relate. I prefer to observe rather than partake. I’m built that way. Two, I find these kinds of people usually have a unique and, to me, interesting view of the world. Often in real life it is those who talk the most that have the least to say. I want to shine a light on the people society forgets. Some examples from my work: In The Things That Get You Through, teacher James Graves retreats from society while he attempts to fast-track himself through the five stages of grief. With the help of a mannequin. In The Machinehouse Worker’s Song, two men are shut away from the outside world behind the walls of the titular machinehouse. The Sound of Constant Thunder is a post-apocalyptic tale about a former street custodian who has his new-found peace shattered by the intrusion of “thunder” or people.

A new thing I find myself writing about to an extent that it qualifies for this post is family, particularly parenthood. In 2011, when my son entered my life, he turned everything upside down. I quit my job, moved to another country (twice) in my quest to give him something better than the life we had at the time. It’s still a work-in-progress, but where we are now is a definite improvement. In A Trick of the Night, the devil visits a single mother’s dreams to tell her that her son is going to be responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. What follows is an overprotective parent driven to point of insanity in her efforts to keep her boy out of trouble. In The Space That Runs Away With You, I explore the scenario of the missing child and the familial devastation it can cause. In The Broken and the Unmade, I look at three generations of a Jewish family through the prism of survivor guilt. The protagonist in The Sound of Constant Thunder has father issues. And in my latest, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words (not published at the time of this posting), I have taken many real-life situations and events and worked them into a tale which, at its core, is about communication within a family.

My final pick is the beautiful in the ugly. What I mean by this is that I look for moments of beauty in even my bleakest of tales. This is no more evident than in my latest story, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words, in which I tried my utmost to convey glimpses of light in the seemingly all-consuming darkness. Indeed, is there a better, more accurate metaphor for life? I don’t think so. The longer I write what I write – dark fiction, bleak fiction, realist fiction, whatever label you want to stick on it – the more I find myself looking for the happy ending, and if not that then at least allow my characters a peek at the light on their way down the well…

Three Things I Don’t Write About.

Comedy is too easy a choice, so I’m going to have to go with weird or surreal fiction. Most of what I write is horror, but usually it is the horror of the real, the possible. I rarely write about monsters, and when I do all sorts of alarm bells go off in my brain. In Men Playing Ghosts, Playing God, death makes an appearance. In A Trick of the Night, the devil, briefly. But in the majority of my stories the horrors are real and/or psychological. It rarely, if ever, has fangs or tentacles. Indeed, a while back I wrote a story about the homeless living in the tunnels under Las Vegas and despite there being a lot of good material in it, when it came to the point where the monsters finally make their entrance, it became laughable. The story awaits revision. There are always exceptions, of course. The story I am writing now, provisionally titled, The Suffering, has a monster in it and I think it is pretty damn scary. Whether others agree, time will tell. Back to the weird and surreal… One exponent of that genre that I greatly admire is Ralph Robert Moore. Two recent stories of his spring to mind, All Your Faces Drown in My Syringe and Kebab Bob, both of which were published in the excellent Black Static magazine. The imagery and ending in the former touches on sheer brilliance, while the characterisation in the latter is so strong it manages to steal centre stage from the bizarre image of a human kebab. Now that’s a rare talent. I have little doubt that as I continue down the path of writing horror, I will venture deeper into such realms, but for now – or until the next idea comes along – I will likely stick to writing about real-life horrors.

My second choice falls into a similar category as weird fiction in that I am not adverse to “going there” I just prefer to write about other things. I’m talking about historical fiction, or fiction set in a time period other than our own. Simply put, I prefer here and now over there and then. Perhaps it is also a fear of the overlooked detail, of not doing enough research to convince the reader that they are in a specific period in history. A fear that my efforts will have all the historical accuracy of a Bill and Ted Adventure, no matter how excellent that might be. Or, again, maybe the ideas haven’t called for it yet. There is one recent exception that comes to mind. Some scenes in The Broken and the Unmade were set in a death camp during the Second World War, a subject that has fascinated me for years. However, I shied away from them too, leaving the flashback scenes until after everything else had been written before going back and filling in the gaps.

Lastly, I’m going to pair these two together because they go together like…well, you know. I’m talking about romantic fiction and the sex scene. It takes a particular set of skills (to paraphrase Liam Neeson in the film Taken) to write romance or to create a sexual encounter of the convincing kind. Many writers lack these skills, and I may or may not be one of them. I wrote a brief sex scene for The Sound of Constant Thunder. A thousand words before I, pardon the pun, hit the spot, I started to sweat and worry. Performance anxiety. As it turned out, the protagonist was a virgin and came quickly, saving me (and the reader) further embarrassment. Joking aside, his…brevity suited the character and the situation and wasn’t merely a product of my own discomfort. Still, sex scenes are rare in my work. If you want some (again, beg your pardon), go pick up a copy of 50 Shades. Romance has little place in fiction of a darker persuasion, but it’s something I’ve included to some extent in stories like The Sound of Constant Thunder and Men Playing Ghosts, Playing God, and my latest, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words. Of course, when you write dark or horror fiction the good things like romance and sex often have a tendency to turn bad.

That concludes my answers.  If anyone reading this fancies having a go, by all means, consider yourself tagged.

“The Sound of Constant Thunder” sold to Black Static

My 12,000 word post-apocalyptic novelette, THE SOUND OF CONSTANT THUNDER, has been accepted for publication in UK literary horror magazine, Black Static.

This will be my third appearance, following THE THINGS THAT GET YOU THROUGH in #31 and MEN PLAYING GHOSTS, PLAYING GOD in #35.

I’m also looking forward to sharing the pages with the talented Ray Cluley and Ralph Robert Moore (as well as those still-to-be-announced).  I’ve been a fan of Ralph’s work for years (check out his fiction, available free, on his web site) and Ray’s excellent story, THE DEATH DRIVE OF RITA, NEE CARINA, from Black Static #32 is one of my favourite short story reads of 2013.

Also out in November from TTA Press:  Crimewave 12: Hurts.

Finally, if you’re interested in reading a little more about the origins of THE SOUND OF CONSTANT THUNDER, I touch upon it in the two following posts:

Where My Ideas Come From

Toothache and Inspiration, or, Where My Ideas Come From, Part II

Des Lewis’s Gestalt Real-Time Review of Black Static #35

To follow Des’s review, which at the time of posting is still in-progress, click here.

Here’s what he has to say about my contribution, the novelette MEN PLAYING GHOSTS, PLAYING GOD:

“But the tunnel does not forget the train; it embraces its fading echoes and in infinitesimal ways quietly shapes itself around them.”

In contrast to the young students in the previous work and somehow benefiting as a separate story from that stark contrast, this poignant ‘old people’ tale has, as its main protagonist, a bereaved, but still love-seeking widower. He and his cronies trap the earlier fiction’s dark dimension-now-by-another-name and lock it up in the boiler room that is in the old age institution to which they have been consigned by their families.

“In the early days after Mary, I refused to shave and took to roaming the house wearing her bathrobe, until the scent of her faded and the stench of me took over.”

This Dines story starts as a classic ghost story which should appeal to readers who love classic ghost stories and it could have been written by May Sinclair or Elizabeth Bowen, but then, slowly, amid many really stunning sentences with crafted conceits, it becomes something else, but still ghostly, still haunting, but more ironic and absurdist. But this absurdism, as I see it, miraculously does not diminish the ghostliness. This story is on the brink of becoming a story that will appeal as a classic to many different readers with different tastes in the horror and supernatural genre. On the brink of outlasting itself, if that is not one conceit too far.

“…and I breathed again, not an ocean from my lungs but mist on the windowpane.”

Interzone #246 & Black Static #34 available, and another story acceptance

Interzone #246   Black Static #34

The latest issue of Interzone (#246) is now available to buy from TTA Press.  Here are the stories (in order of appearance):

THE MACHINEHOUSE WORKER’S SONG by Steven J. Dines
TRIOLET by Jess Hyslop
SENTRY DUTY by Nigel Brown
THE ANGEL AT THE HEART OF THE RAIN by Aliette de Boddard
THESEA AND ASTAURIUS by Priya Sharma
THE CORE by Lavie Tidhar
CAT WORLD by Georgina Bruce

Follow the link above to check out the interior artwork and the rest of the contents.  My involvement aside, I think it looks great.  But if SF isn’t your thing (and horror is) then Black Static #34 is also available now, with fiction by Nina Allan, Joel Lane, Ilan Lerman, Andrew Hook, and Sean Logan.  The line-up and interior artwork for the new issue both look fantastic.  As a reader, I cannot recommend this magazine enough.

Which segues rather nicely to my next announcement…

My latest effort, a dark novelette set in a care home, MEN PLAYING GHOSTS, PLAYING GOD, has been accepted for Black Static #35, due for publication in July.  This will be my second appearance in the magazine, following THE THINGS THAT GET YOU THROUGH, which appeared in #31 at the tail end of 2012.  The timing is perfect (once again) – because I’ve been dithering with the latest project and losing faith.  Time to pick myself up and get moving again.