Fish

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. One can rarely find 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. And it could simply be that readers weren’t interested in stories about people who don’t reflect their own lived experiences.

Dreamland

After what has so far been a grim year (the death of my publisher and friend Ginger Mayerson, the suicide of a dear friend and some huge health issues) I have some very good publishing news. Dreamland, an anthology of ‘Other’ stories, will be released into the wild on 26 August and includes my story Sky Eyes, a piece I’m very proud of. It’ll sit among some mighty stories by mighty female writers. I’ll let publisher Black Shuck Books and editor Sophie Essex describe the concept:

At heart, Dreamland is an elemental feminine landscape.

These twenty-one stories from female-identifying writers embody the disconnect between reality and the subconscious, the desire for meaning and the need for escape, the too-blue sky and the abyss.

These are voices that embrace the topography of the other: the weird, transgressive, uncanny and strange. Voices that displace, unsettle and unnerve, that are subtly subversive in their power.

Pre-orders are now being taken.

In memoriam: Ginger Mayerson

I’m shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ginger Mayerson on March 26 of lung cancer. Ginger was a musician and a writer but it was as a publisher that I came to know her. She published various journals under the Wapshott Press umbrella and my story The Falling Man appeared in her literary journal Storylandia back in 2012. It was the start of a very fruitful working relationship; she believed in my writing to such an extent that she published another story of mine in a later issue of Storylandia then asked me to put together a collection for a single author issue of the journal, followed by a second collection which she published in book form and she’d recently asked me to put a further collection together as well as editing an anthology. I never met her face to face – we joked about how I should go to her hometown of Los Angeles for a book launch, basically an excuse to drink cocktails on the beach. We emailed a lot and discussed politics as well as writing and publishing.

I don’t know what the future holds for Wapshott Press, I hope it can continue in some form, but it’s too soon for any decisions to have been made. I’m too shocked to say any more right now; I considered her a friend and it’s difficult to take in that she’s gone. We had our ups and downs, but her support was absolute and I feel blessed for our paths having crossed. My thoughts are with her loved ones.

Betwixt and between

Someone recently asked me for an update on various stories I’m working on and when there was likely to be another short story collection. His belief that another should be published was very heartening! As I wrote here some months ago, I was offered the chance by Wapshott Press to write another collection and also to edit an anthology. Both were amazing opportunities, but I had to turn them down because it would have meant 18 months of unpaid work, as well as inviting submissions from various authors who I also wouldn’t be able to pay, and writers/artists cannot live on the thanks of editors alone. There will always be projects that I’ll work on where payment doesn’t matter, but I cannot devote large amounts of time to working for free.

What I haven’t yet announced here until now is that last year I was invited to submit a story for issue one of  Ironic Fantastic Quarterly, edited by the highly prolific and internationally published Rhys Hughes. The brief was to write on the theme of Impossible Nostalgia. I rarely write to a theme, but this grabbed me and I’m delighted to say that my offering, A Visit From Someone Dear, has been accepted and the tome should be published in February of this year.

I managed to write constantly during the second half of 2020, after coming to terms with the anxiety caused by lockdown and fears for my loved ones. New short stories Into An Expanding Sun, Tartan and Sky Eyes are complete, with current work in progress, Eleven Eleven, becoming a tale that could end up being novelette length; the more I work on it, the more I realise there is to this story. And I have plans for two more stories, Getting The Fear, and Yes, No, Goodbye. At present IAES is with a publisher putting a collection of Surrealist fiction together, but I’m in no hurry to place stories these days, as I’ve previously stated here. The process of writing – and dreaming – these stories is my main focus, and having completed stories sitting here at home in physical form creates its own energy. There’s also the possibility of collaborations with writers, musicians and illustrators, but these are only at the initial suggestion stage.

Meanwhile, nature continues to be a comfort and inspiration. I’ve witnessed two starling murmurations in the last week or so, one at very close quarters, with the beating of thousands of wings just above me and nothing else to be heard. I’m taking these encounters as good signs.

Interview: Sci-Fi And Scary

Very happy to see Sci-Fi And Scary’s recent interview with me is now online at the link below. I’ve done more interviews in the last couple of years than in the previous twenty or so as a writer. They’re a very good way of reflecting on what I do and why. Inevitably there’s a sense of being validated when someone’s interested enough in my writing to ask me about it, but I hope that’s a minor motivation.

British Fantasy Society review of ‘Tomorrow, When I Was Young’

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Big thanks to Rima Devereaux for this lovely review:

“A city where the dead go about their ordinary lives, a mysterious Golden Sea Captain, a journey through space and time, a discovering of one’s multicultural past, a hymn to self-realization and an escape from the mundane. This highly unusual, beautifully written and unforgettable novella is all these things.

Zanders finds herself aboard a strange three-masted clipper ship with a ghost crew that she can’t see. She realizes very quickly that the Golden Sea Captain is a woman dressed as a man. Hints are dropped throughout about how Zanders feels drawn to the Captain, but the ending is still a surprise. The gender ambiguity of the mysterious Captain reminded me of the Fool in Robin Hobb – Travis is similarly concerned with sexual identity, explored through the use of fantasy tropes.

Zanders’ sudden transportation to this new world of the past is an awakening in other ways too. Her loved ones have all died, she has sold most of her belongings and she is disabled by having had several vertebrae crushed. But aboard the ship, she is no longer disabled. We don’t actually learn much about her former life (which is in the future, as Travis takes pains to point out), except that her grandmother was Peruvian. In the fantasy world she finds herself in, her aim is to question people about her grandmother’s whereabouts, beginning, naturally enough, in the city of the dead.

Another reminder of Robin Hobb, this time of the liveships, is the fact that the figurehead comes to life and fights for the ship. But these nods don’t make the novella derivative – it has its own powerful and lyrical beauty, fusing an exploration of sexual and cultural identity with a journey in space and time.

Travis underlines the care the Captain takes to play the part he has adopted, and by implication pinpoints the sharp and rigid definition of gender roles in the past she is portraying. The ship is a space where things are more fluid and malleable. The same is true of Zanders’ Peruvian grandmother – the ship allows a meeting that is impossible in our world, a meeting that is a genuine communion. It shows how much is lost in families of mixed heritage where a life is reduced to a bundle of old photographs given to Zanders by her aunt. The book’s tender fantasy highlights the poignancy of these themes in a way that realism can struggle to.

The divide between waking and dreaming, past and present, and past and future, are other dualisms that the novel collapses. What we are is all about recollection and perception. But the book also shows the strong desire many of us have for the past to become real to us, a living thing, more than memory, to paraphrase The Lord of the Rings.”

I find it interesting that most of the writers my work is compared to are ones I’ve never read. It’s resulted in a huge reading list for me that I’ll never finish!

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.

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.

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.