I’m delighted to announce that my short story Tartan will be published in the next issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, which should appear either later this month or in July. I’d been invited to submit a story by co-editor Stephen Theaker but had no idea what he’d make of this particular one. I’ve referred to the tale before on this site, (in this post from October 2020) but it bears repeating: the story is based on the public (at least here in the UK) perception of murderer Ian Brady, who, along with his then partner Myra Hindley, have been held up for the last half century as the epitome of evil. The Moors Murderers, as they were dubbed, tortured and killed five children in the early to mid-1960s, and narrowly missed being hanged for their crimes, as the death penalty had just been abolished. The public felt cheated of what many felt to be the only suitable punishment to fit the pair’s crimes. The public’s resentment and anger only increased over the years – during which two of the bodies were found, others weren’t where Brady or Hindley claimed (which involved both visiting Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester, with the police). During her decades in prison Hindley claimed she’d been coerced into kidnapping the children and hadn’t killed any of them; she wanted parole and had some high-profile people on her side. Brady – who never wanted to be released – died in 2017 still refusing to reveal where one victim was buried, a last act of cruelty to the victim’s family. It was not unusual to hear people wishing the most appalling deaths on the couple; the case deeply affected the country and continues to do so. I wasn’t born until the late ’60s but my parents were very aware of the case at the time and their anger never really left them. The murders left their mark on British culture, too, most famously in Manchester band The Smiths’ Suffer Little Children (and they’re also referred to in Reel Around The Fountain) but also in the anarchist band Crass’ Mother Earth. The Smiths’ tracks are deeply mournful whereas Mother Earth is aimed at the lurid tabloid press’ (and some of the public’s) desire for violent revenge, claiming such feelings make a person as bad as Hindley. Much as I love the song, it seems a bit of a stretch to compare justifiable anger with the deliberate cruelty of Hindley and Brady, but it’s an important aspect of the enduring feelings about the case.
Tartan is one of my most symbolic stories. I rarely pick characters’ names out of thin air, but almost all the names in this story relates to the Hindley/Brady case (most notably the central character Chrome), as does the title. It’s also set in Weston-super-Mare, which has a lot of occult connections but is also a traditional British seaside town that’s become known somewhat as a ‘dumping ground’ for people suffering mental illness.
In time, when those who were around in the early 60s are no longer with us, the horror of the Moors Murders will fade somewhat into history and, possibly folklore. After all, there are more contemporary monsters to replace them – Peter Sutcliffe/The Yorkshire Ripper, Dennis Nilsen, Fred and Rose West, Harold Shipman. And, we can grimly assume, there will be others.
2022 has begun with a very optimistic project – writing my first film script. I’ve wanted to make a film for many years but it’s been too daunting to even start, so focusing purely on a script rather than the entire film-making process has made it more realistic. I’m aware that some writers are against adapting either short stories or novels for the small or big screen, and I appreciate that point of view as it can feel dismissive of writing as its own craft, as if it’s a writer’s ultimate goal. For me, as a lifelong film fan, it’s a natural thing to dream of doing – complete with Ray Harryhausen (impossible now, of course) taking care of the special effects! – but the written word has a magic of its own and should never be dismissed as a stepping stone to anywhere else. Therefore, despite the temptation to adapt an existing story, I’ve decided to write a story specifically for a script. It will make for slower progress but means I can think and write in a more cinematic way (although it could be argued that my stories are very visual anyway). The format and the terminology of a film script is very alien to me but I’m picking it up as I go along and am approaching it in a far more organised way than I do my fiction – writing backstories for my characters etc, rather than getting to know them en route as a short story progresses and doing much more planning. There’s only a certain distance I’ll go down that road, though, as I’ve no intention of adhering to a hugely rigid structure. The other major possible pitfall I’m very aware of is that many contemporary horror films are including a ‘folk-horror’ element, to the point where it’s becoming a lazy option, I think. I’m happy to admit that the term ‘folk-horror’ applies to a lot of my writing, but the script for Charcoal is deliberately focussed more on dark fantasy with a strong Surrealist and arthouse element. Dreams are such a big part of my life that they naturally weave themselves into my fiction, so a recent dream – where four owls flew into my home through an open window – will feature strongly. I’m not going to think too far ahead with this; the script, the story, is the thing. And the setting – an old Council housing block c1890, in a non-sensical location (a bleak moor) – is becoming more and more attractive given the insane political and social decay we’re experiencing.
I’ve never been as disciplined as perhaps I ought to have been in terms of documenting exactly when stories were written, and it would have been very helpful to have a database of characters’ names etc, but I’m usually so immersed in the writing that it doesn’t occur to me to do so at the right time. But today I’ve completed the first draft of another new story (Yes, No, Goodbye) and have paused for long enough to take a look at what I’ve worked on during the last year. It’s been a turbulent time; bereavement and ill health balanced by positive reconnections with elements of my past. What has really surprised me is how much writing I’ve done. Short stories completed in the last year: Into An Expanding Sun, A Visit From Someone Dear, Tartan, Eleven Eleven, And When It’s Twelve O’Clock, Yes, No, Goodbye (draft).
A Visit… was accepted for an anthology of fiction, Impossible Nostalgia, that was due to be published in February this year. As yet I have no information as to when, or if, this anthology will appear. I wrote the story especially for the anthology; it may never have been written otherwise, so I’m grateful for that. The other stories may never be submitted for publication, although I am open to doing so should the right publication appear. I’ve learned much from tuning in to whatever frequencies these tales were/are occurring on. Because all I really do is hold the pen to paper. Music, as ever, has helped facilitate this; in recent months I’ve been playing music by While Angels Watch and Flowers In The Dustbin. I have personal connections with both bands, going back to the mid 1980s and the punk squat scene in Hackney, east London, in fact I saw FitD play live more than a hundred times and WAW is the project of Michael De Victor, one time guitarist for FitD. Everything is connected.
Delighted to announce that Dreamland is now officially published and available from Black Shuck Books. I received my contributor copy today and it looks marvellous. I’m only familiar with the work of one of the other contributors – the amazing Priya Sharma – but that’s down to my being out of the loop. A collection of ‘other’ stories, with an emphasis on the Surreal, by female writers, was such an enticing prospect that I made a now rare submission. My story Sky Eyes centres around a squatted industrial building in South London, home to the Beast-Boy, a character who first appeared in This Is How A Star Dies (from Contagious Magick Of The Super Abundance: The Art And Life of Ian Johnstone) a couple of years ago. It’s becoming natural to me to have a link of some kind between stories – for example The Golden Sea Captain from Tomorrow, When I Was Young first made a fleeting appearance in Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. Some characters, places or ideas have a life of their own. As to what Sky Eyes is about – as far as I’m aware it concerns the battle against apathy and negativity. And a reminder that extraordinary things happen in the most ordinary places.
The Beast-Boy is an unapologetic, very sexual gay character, inspired by the brief Mikel Quiros gave me when he commissioned the story for Contagious Magick. I based him, unsurprisingly, on Ian Johnstone. Any fans of Johnstone’s work will of course be fully aware of Ian’s sexual orientation and his toying with gender, but Sky Eyes was not written with any thought of publication. I just had to bring the Beast-Boy and his world into being. I wonder how the story will be received. Times have changed and there are far more openly gay writers around. I haven’t read much fiction over the last few years but I would hope that this change is deeper than people wanting to be seen to be more open to stories with a very different worldview than their own. I have good reason to be cautious; when slipstream fiction came into being I came across some very homophobic attitudes in the UK scene and for some years I only submitted fiction to North American publications, which were far more open to difference, although I did send an excerpt of my first novel, The Gathering, to Onlywomen Press, based in the UK. They were extremely interested (the excerpt did include a character who was able to change their sex at will) and asked for a couple of chapters, then recoiled in horror because two of the central characters were a heterosexual couple! I was exasperated enough to write to Sarah Waters, a hugely successful author of historical fiction (and several tv adaptations of her novels) that very much included lesbian characters. I asked her whether she’d faced pressure to ‘straighten out’ her work or, indeed, to dispense with heterosexual characters completely. Her reply was extremely kind and supportive – she said she was surprised at how accepting everyone was of her gay characters and had never been under pressure to change and suggested I go for a ‘three pronged attack’ – to gay publications, straight publications and full on genre publications. It helped me believe in what I was doing. Some years later I was interviewed by Peter Tennant for TTA Press regarding my first collection (for Storylandia, Wapshott Press) and he asked whether my inclusion of ‘other’ characters was a matter of ticking boxes. A fair question for those who don’t know me, and it was a good chance to explain that I was just reflecting my lived experience and the communities I’d lived amongst. Of course, I can only speculate as to who reads my work in anthologies or magazine, but I’ve been aware of at least one story (Pieces, Urban Occult), set in the multicultural gay community in Stoke Newington, north London, that was consistently overlooked in all but one review. Homophobia? Racism? One can rarely find overt proof of such things – the obvious argument could be that the story just wasn’t up to much – but sometimes one’s instincts just know why a story doesn’t get any attention.
The results of the 2020 BFS Awards were announced on February 22. Congratulations to all the winners, particularly Laura Mauro, who won the category I was nominated in (Best Short Fiction) for The Pain Eater’s Daughter and Priya Sharma, who won Best Novella for Ormeshadow. I’ve always had mixed feelings about awards, and this experience – my first, and likely only, nomination (although an anthology I had a story in – Necrologue: The Diva Book Of The Dead And The Undead – won a Lamda award) – hasn’t changed this. That said, I would have happily accepted had I won and it’s possible that my nomination will result in more people being aware of what I do. For the most part I have little interest in self-promotion, but I’m always open to connecting with kindred spirits, so I’ll be happy if the nomination is successful in that respect.
I currently have two stories with an editor who’s putting together an anthology by female writers that sounded strange enough for me to submit to. New story Eleven Eleven is progressing, over 7000 words now and still a way to go before the first draft will be finished. I’m finding the combination of old folklore associated with the New Forest, where the story’s set, and the new folklore that’s appearing as I write, is making for a tale that really doesn’t know where to stop.
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.
I’m very happy to announce that Monsters Out of the Closet, an LGBT horror podcast, has just released an episode, Wild, that includes my story, The Cruor Garland (at around the 17 minute mark), alongside T R North’s A Mockery of Birds. It’s a very different experience to hear, rather than read a story and I’m grateful to Matt, Eric Little, J M Dow, Meredith Katz, Casey Lucas, Mason Hawthorne and Troy Gardener for providing the voices and narration to the story. The incidental music provides the perfect backdrop, so thanks also Eric Matyas and Kai Engel for composing such atmospheric sounds and a big thank you to podcast editors Nicole Calande and Shriya Vencatesch for having faith in my work.
I’ve also just been interviewed for the MOotC website and I’ll post here as soon as it’s been published.
Tomorrow, When I Was Young is now available from Eibonvale Press and will be on sale at FantasyCon in Glasgow. A huge thank you to David Rix for all his work – as well as for designing the excellent cover. The story is probably more fantasy than anything I’ve written before and it’s possible I could write further episodes at some future date, but that wasn’t my original intention so the story stands alone.
Work has continued on a project that’s been in progress for around eighteen months. I’ve still not able to make an official announcement about this, but I hope to soon. It’s a unique and very moving project and well worth the time and energy spent on it.
In DUV news, Dykes Ink zine is now available in Housmans Bookshop in North London. We have also been involved in talks about a possible collaboration which could be huge – more information will appear if it comes off.
Greetings on this Solstice day, wherever you are in the world.
I’m delighted to announce that my new short story collection is now available from Wapshott Press and Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions). There is, perhaps, an accidental theme in this book, having (mostly) been written in the years following the death of my Mother and of a close friend. But at least one of the stories is a good, old fashioned horror tale, albeit with contemporary characters and settings. If I was trying to pin down what I do, the closest I could get would be, “feminist/queer/pagan/surrealist/occultist/dark fantasy”. Not necessarily in that order. But should I pin it down? People, including myself, like points of reference, landmarks and suchlike. Ideally, an open mind should be kept about all things – but when was the last time I read a book that wasn’t from my various genres or obsessions?
The cover photo is a detail from the Jhonn Balance Memorial Woodland, Cumbria, England, taken in April 2016. It seemed appropriate to add a green hue when taking the photo; for me, green stands for Life, nature, the environment. The location is extremely relevant to the theme of the book in various ways, and I’m really happy that editor Ginger Mayerson went with this image.
Story notes for all the tales in this book will appear soon.
Devon band The Morales, who asked permission to use a photo of mine on a forthcoming release, have now changed their name to the Wish Hounds and will release their first EP at the end of May. My photo of Bodmin Gaol should appear in some form on the back cover. I’m really looking forward to seeing this and am delighted for the band. I know from experience how many obstacles can get in the way of these things, so all power to them for persevering.
Wapshott Press are now working on various aspects of the book and I’ve been updating my bio and the Foreword as well as providing some ‘blurb’ for the back cover/Amazon etc. I still don’t know what the cover will look like, but there is now a publication date: 21 June 2018. I could have asked for an earlier date, but it feels right to release We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth on the Summer Solstice. An article on folklore and the landscape should appear online a couple of weeks before the book’s publication – I’ll reveal where when it appears!
I’m making slow progress with a new short story, The Plastic Factory, but am currently focussing on lengthening my piece for Birds And Boys. It’s possible I’ll publish the new story here when it’s finished.