Blessed are the bee keepers

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I’m delighted to announce that on 30 June – exactly five years after his passing – Timeless published the extra special boxed Bee Keeper Edition of Contagious Magick of the Super Abundance (The Art and Life of Ian Johnstone). This project has been ongoing for some time – as you will see from Timeless’ text below – and I was commissioned by Mikel Quiros to write a suitable story for the accompanying booklet. Mikel’s work creating these boxes has been exquisite and it’s been a further honour to be involved in this wonderful project.

“Limited edition of 10 copies of which 8 are for sale.

The centre piece of this magickally charged specially boxed edition is one original brass copy of one of “The 23 Stab Wounds of Julius Caesar” measuring 20 x 27 cm, handmade and initialled by Ian Johnstone himself.

In a dream Ark Todd instructed his late partner Mikel, who effectively created the edition under Ian’s guidance, to ceremoniously bury all of the “Brass Wounds” on the Winter Solstice of 2019 in the exact place where their apiary used to stand. The Spanish soil worked its magick on the resurrected Brass Wounds. The wooden box holding the Wound was handcrafted by Mikel using the actual wood, oak for the box and chestnut for the lid, of the apiary.

The book itself is contained within the box in a pouch handsewn using all IJ components, e.g. a rich dark green velvet from Ian’s curtains.

The final testament and a loving homage to a great artist and a special human, gone too soon.

Ian Johnstone 2.IX.1967 – 30.VI.2015″

I still believe in monsters

I’m happy to announce that Gingernuts of Horror has just published a short piece by me discussing childhood fears and how they influence my writing. Truth be told, I’m not completely happy with it as a piece of writing, but the subject matter is accurate and I think it’s likely that many people will be able to relate to some of what’s discussed. I think childhood’s a time of great truth – but, sadly, little chance of having it acknowledged by us adults.

Review of ‘Tomorrow, When I Was Young’

Many thanks to Adam Groves of The Bedlam Files for this review of Tomorrow, When I Was Young:

“Oftentimes it’s how a story is told rather than the story itself that’s most important. Case in point: this novella, a most peculiar fantasy about a mortal woman named Zanders who finds herself aboard The Giantess, a ship making its way through a world that corresponds to our own but for the fact that life, death, past, present and future all co-exist, and mythological creatures pack the seas. The Giantess is manned by a transgendered figure who identifies as the Golden Sea Captain, and who grows quite close with Zanders.

Crucially, we’re thrown directly into the action on the Giantess, with the explanation for Zanders’ presence on it left open-ended until later on in the story. It is, in essence, an “answers first, questions later” structure in which the traditional dream-reality narrative dynamic is inverted, with the surreality of the Giantess’s voyage assuming “normal” status and the details of Zanders’ former life, consisting of tragedies and haunted memories, presented as a “series of dreams.”

Hence the story’s central conceit, involving a mysterious Peruvian ancestor of Zanders with whom she’s become obsessed. Zanders comes to view her ancestor as an anchor to her rootless, grief-stricken existence, “something from her family’s history that she’d know was fact.” She decides to utilize her time on the Giantess to seek out this person, and the Captain is quite eager to accede to Zanders’ wishes, steering the Giantess on a course for Kensal, the city of the dead—and, when that fails to turn up any trace of the desired party, to Peru.

In keeping with the novella’s consistently unpredictable gist, the finding of Zanders’ ancestor is presented in a manner far removed from the expected mystery to be solved. That mystery is indeed solved, but the author’s true concerns are far more ethereal.

The closest antecedents I can think of to TOMORROW, WHEN I WAS YOUNG are THE SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS (both the Bruno Schultz novella and 1973 film adaptation), which also concerned a dream-region marked by a decidedly fluid sense of reality, and the writings of England’s M. John Harrison, whose frank approach to the surreal and fantastic is reflected here (in lines like “She had never met the dead before and wasn’t sure how to act around them” and “Over his years as a Captain, he had found ghosts to make the best crew”). Ultimately, though, it’s pretty unique, a potent example of freeform fantasy done right.”

The response to this story has been very interesting. I’m trying to work out why. I think one reason is that Eibonvale Press has a big reputation and a wider reach (particularly in the UK) than some of the publishers I’ve worked with, and are more proactive regarding promotion and publicity – I’m usually left to my own devices in those areas. So in part it may be that more people are buying the chapbook. As for the story itself, a lot has been said about The Golden Sea Captain. She actually made a brief appearance in Beautiful Silver Spacesuits and the name was a springboard for Tomorrow… I wouldn’t say the character is transgender: The Golden Sea Captain is female and happy to be so, but there are historical examples of women passing as male in order to do certain jobs or just live the life they want. In order to convince the outside world that the Captain is male, she needs to believe it herself, which is why the character is referred to as male when carrying out his duties or is dressed – when naked, she reverts to female.

To my surprise I’ve also recently discovered mention of Trigger in a review of Vastarien. Most reviewers haven’t mentioned the story, which is basically a ‘real time’ account of someone self-harming and committing suicide. These are very heavy subjects and I suspect many just didn’t want to engage with it, so I was happy to see it described as “grimly poetic” in a review on Goodreads.

The woman with shining eyes

Thanks to Kendall Reviews for giving me the opportunity to discuss why I write horror. I’ve written a few articles/answered interview questions on this subject a few times now and I try to use a different angle to approach how I answer so that I’m not endlessly repeating myself. Over time influences and motivation change, so hopefully this piece casts a slightly different light on the subject and it’s useful for me to reassess what I do and how I’ve evolved as a writer and as a person.

So(u)litude

Photo: Julie Travis

A few weeks ago I was approached by a publisher (who I’ve worked with before) with a very tempting proposal – to write several new stories for a single issue of the publisher’s journal and to edit an issue featuring authors invited by me to submit to it. This was more or less a dream come true, but there was a hitch in that I (and the other writers involved) wouldn’t be paid for what was going to be 18 months’ hard work. After discussing this with friends, I turned the offer down. I just can’t work for free any more (although there will always be exceptions). I don’t like to think of my writing in terms of money but on a practical level I have bills and rent to pay. And a couple of friends made the point that it not only devalues my work but undermines the efforts of other writers to be paid. The publisher meant well – and really cannot afford to pay. It was the right decision. It’s likely that I haven’t made this decision before now because of a hangover from the anarcho-punk scene I was in during the 1980s, where making any kind of money was more or less forbidden. This was taken to ludicrous levels, where I was seen as ripping people off for charging 50p for a fanzine that cost 66p per copy to print! There are so many creative projects that wouldn’t happen if everyone involved was paid, and I’m currently involved in two such unpaid projects, but they’re very special and personal: The da-Dark Outside (see my previous post for details) and another that I can’t announce yet – another commission to work on an amazing literary/art product. When this will appear is anyone’s guess at the moment – the project was more or less completed before much of the world ground to a halt, although technology is making some things still very possible and I hope the project will be completed in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, other work continues – the second issue of Dykes Ink is progressing and could in theory be ready to go to print fairly soon, but current circumstances make this impossible, of course. I’ve written a short article about how childhood fears affect and influence my fiction, which will hopefully appear on the Gingernuts Of Horror webzine in June as part of their Pride In Horror month. As for fiction, I’m back working on Sky-Eyes and the story (currently around 9000 words long) is heading towards completion of the first draft.

The da-Dark Outside

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be contributing to The da-Dark Outside’s 2020 broadcast. From their website:

“March 28th will see The Da-Dark Outside returning for another site-specific 24 hour radio broadcast of sounds, words and music that you’ve never heard before.

Why the name Da-Dark Outside ?
Well, the broadcast location this time is in Kurt SchwittersMerz Barn* as part of Aerial

As per the usual Dark Outside terms and conditions, only recordings that have never been heard before outwith , say, a handful of people can be accepted.
It can be anything – 3 seconds of that odd noise you heard when you had your phone out that you managed to record, poetry, stories, music of any genre or genres yet to be invented, remixes that the record label rejected, those tracks destined for a future releases extra tracks, rough mixes, demos, collaborations, an excuse to try something new and different from your usual style, field recordings… absolutely everything. As long as nobody, or very few people have heard it.

There is a pecking order for things in case more than 24 hours gets submitted with things recorded specifically for it going to the top of the pile with things you might be able to use The Dark Outside as a promotional tool for your next release at the bottom.

The deadline for submissions is March the 1st – ish give or take a few days with the broadcast starting on March 28th at noon.”

The contribution I’m making is a live recording of the one and only rehearsal by the penultimate music project I was involved in, back in 1986. The band – New Gold Dream – consisted of Leda Baker (lead guitar), Yvette Haynes (drums) and myself on bass guitar. The track (Hope) is around two and half minutes’ long, instrumental and…well, I’m not sure of the genre. Yvette and I had been in various versions of the same band (The Joy of Living), who wrote mostly basic punk/pop and Leda had some very skilled teachers and it shows on the track (which has only been heard by half a dozen people at most). The band never got off the ground because myself and Leda were invited to join Rubella Ballet and Yvette was already working with another band (A Strange Desire, who appeared in The Dark Outside’s 2019 broadcast). I wish we’d stayed together for a bit longer, as my bass playing had got to a reasonably good level and I think we could have become something rather good.

*Langdale, Cumbria, England

Rising Shadow

Very happy to see this review of Tomorrow, When I Was Young on Rising Shadow. Reviews are very hard to come by so I always appreciate the time taken to do this – whatever the opinion is. I find it interesting, of course, to hear another person’s thoughts on my work and I’ve been moved by some reactions over the years. Essentially I’m writing for my own purposes and often wonder if anyone else will make sense of my stories, but this particular reviewer has really got the essence of the tale, I think. Thanks RS.