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Interview with Peter Coleborn & Jan Edwards

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Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards to talk about their new anthology The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, the joys of editing, horror and short fiction!

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Today sees the launch of your latest anthology The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors – what inspired you to choose the theme and what horrors can we look forward to seeing in it?

Peter: Besides the very general theme ‘horror’ the book has no theme. I feel that stories in themed anthologies, especially tightly themed ones, can become too similar. I enjoy variety. I enjoy coming across something unexpected. In this I mirror the views expressed by Mark Morris, editor of the wonderful New Fears series.

I use the word ‘horror’ as a wide catch-all net. What you will find between the covers is 25 well-written yarns that will hopefully chill you, or at the least make you go: wow, I didn’t expect that. Weird stories. Creature features. There are stories that may have been at home in The Pan Book of Horror Stories, perhaps in New Terrors (edited by Ramsey Campbell), or in one of Stephen Jones & David Sutton’s anthologies. Other anthologies are available.

Jan: Taken at its roots the term ‘horror’ is a wonderfully broad remit that encompasses everything from Hammer Films to Grimms’ Tales. Horrors gave writers scope to write about anything and everything – and they did.

Tightly themed anthologies can become frustrating. After the first six tales about two-tailed dogs in a bone factory any sense of tension and wonder has pretty much worn away.  Of course the answer is not to read a tightly themed anthology at one sitting.

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With the APB of Horrors #2 opening for submissions in January 2019, what are your long term aims for the series and are there any particular types of tale you’d like to see submitted for Volume Two?

Peter: All being well – health and wealth wise – I’d like to see this become an annual event. I’d like to see a few more ghost / supernatural stories next time, otherwise more of the same – good quality horror fiction. I rather not see the usual horror tropes unless handled well / differently.

May I also mention artwork? Well, I am! One of the things I liked about the British Fantasy Society days was that there were so many pen & ink illustrations. I wanted to emulate that in Horrors so I managed to get 26 original Jim Pitts drawings for volume one – and all being well I hope to do the same for volume two onwards. The illustrations, I think, add a little class to the book.

Jan: I can’t add much more to the points Peter has raised. Yes, a few more ghost stories are always welcome. I am a fan of the good spooky tale – and folk horror, naturally – that uses imagination without resorting to ‘jolt’ tricks. Whether supernatural horror or not, anyone submitting work will always do well to avoid the ‘tropes of fashion’, for want of a better term, unless they have a genuinely different twist to perform.

What are the qualities of a good short horror story for you? What horror tropes turn you off?

Peter: Well-written tales are a must, otherwise it is difficult to describe the quality of a good story. If you can be precise about definitions then the story may lose that sense of wonder that grabs you. Generally, I like stories about people in strange or weird situations. I’m not a fan of people becoming victims for no reason whatsoever except to end them in particularly gruesome ways. Bloodshed is fine, but keep it in check. Subtlety is good!

Jan: As with the previous question, it is the things that go bump in the night that most people find scarier. The mad axemen will make you sweat a little yet they can usually be fought off or outwitted. We are hardwired to be far more afraid of the unknown, those things we cannot see or touch. The horror is always in the anticipation. Yes, there is horror in the more visceral but that relies far more on revulsion than genuine fear in many cases.

Who are your favourite short horror authors, and what short horror stories do you keep coming back to? 

Peter: I find this sort of question difficult to answer, to be truthful. I enjoy a range of short stories from a range of writers. Of those no longer with us, I would select Karl Edward Wagner as one of my favourites, as well as Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, etc… As for living authors: I rather not say because I’m bound to miss someone out.

Jan: I always hate these favourite or most influential writer questions. Partly for the reasons Peter has given but also because the moment I have delivered my choice I come up with a half dozen others. So not going to name names because they know who they are. But if pushed then I’d have to say that Daphne du Maurier will always take some beating in the short story stakes.

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What would you say is the appeal of short fiction anthologies for the reader? What anthologies would you recommend new readers try? 

Peter: Read Alchemy Press anthologies (and collections)!

I’ve mentioned a few earlier. In the UK I would always recommend you seek out any anthology edited or co-edited by Stephen Jones. Jones and David Sutton probably taught me more about anthologies than almost any other editor. Mark Morris’s New Fears series promises to be a top-notch home of quality horror – long may it exist. There are also several anthologies in the UK small press arena that are worth checking out.

In the US, go for Ellen Datlow anthologies. If you can find them, try Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley, Prime Evil edited by Douglas Winter, Masques edited by J N Williamson, Unknown Worlds edited by Stanley Schmidt and Martin Greenberg (this last is more weird fiction rather than horror).

Also, read the best of annuals, those currently edited by Stephen Jones, Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Johnny Mains. And dig around second-hand bookshops for the best of series edited by Karl Edward Wagner and Gerald Page.

And of course, read the magazines such as Black Static.

Jan: For me at least, though the novel allows scope for building tension and ramping up the chills, horror often works best in the brevity of the short form. For example I have always found Stephen King’s short fiction far more thought provoking than the majority of his novels. It brings us back to the unknown. The less you know, or is explained to you, the more scope your brain has to speculate.

What would I recommend? The best of annuals are a showcase for the best in the field selected from the plethora of anthologies and collections produced every year. Peter has listed most of the better known in those categories but there are always others. The great thing about them is finding authors who are new to you and appeal to your tastes. Like Forest Gump’s infamous box of chocolates, ‘you never know what you’re going to get.’

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You’ve edited a variety of publications for the British Fantasy Society as well as your work for the Alchemy Press, Penkhull Press (and Jan’s work for Fox Spirit Books) – how did you get started with editing short fiction? When and how did you realise it was something you wanted to do, and who were/are your editor influences?

Peter: I first edited magazines for the British Fantasy Society, including Winter Chills (aka Chills from number 5), which received some favourable comments from Ellen Datlow. That started me off. In the late 1990s I felt that the BFS wasn’t able to do the kind of thing I was after so I started The Alchemy Press. The first publication was a slim collection of Damian Paladin stories by Mike Chinn. (I should say here that Mike has been a huge help with all this editing and publishing lark – thanks Mike.) The next books included story and poetry collections by Kim Newman and Jo Fletcher. The first anthology Alchemy did was the loosely themed Beneath the Ground edited by Joel Lane (RIP, Joel. He would’ve been 55 this year), then Swords Against the Millennium edited and co-published by Mike Chinn/Saladoth Productions.

After a break of a few years – blame the BFS and FantasyCon – I decided to launch the press again with two anthologies, The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders (edited by Jan and Jenny Barber) and The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes (edited by Mike Chinn). Then there were several other anthologies and collections. I usually did the backroom stuff – final edits and design work.

The first Alchemy Press book with my name on the cover was Something Remains in 2016, a tribute to Joel Lane – I’m very humbled to have produced this book. And now we have The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors due on 1st November (and launched at FantasyCon in October).

Jan: Like Peter, I started small, editing anthologies for writers’ groups and graduating through journals such as Dark Horizons up to open call anthologies. So yes, the BFS has a lot to answer for! Dark Horizons, and its later siblings, spawned many an anthologist and championed many a writer in its time.

I teamed up with Jenny Barber for both Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit to produce some dark fantasy anthologies. When we first started planning Ancient Wonders almost all anthologies being produced in the UK at the time were more traditional horror. We wanted to produce volumes that were dealt with the themes of fantasy and folklore. From that came the two Alchemy Urban Mythics and Fox’s Wicked Women.

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Editing The Alchemy Press Book of Horror with Peter is a return to editing after a little break, mainly because I have been more heavily involved in writing crime fiction in various forms.

And finally… what are you up to next? 

Peter: Besides The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, I’m also publishing this year the second collection by Bryn Fortey, Compromising the Truth. Bryn’s first collection, Merry-Go-Round and Other Words was also published by us, a few years back. Bryn is a wonderful gent who had stories published in The Pan Book of Horror Stories – so we’re going full circle in a way.

I sent Bryn a mock up of the cover, based on one of my photos, which he liked so much he wrote a new and brilliant story for it, ‘Ain’t that the Truth.’

Otherwise, I’ve decided that I will keep Alchemy Press low key and publish just two titles a year, one anthology (Horrors 2, obviously) and a collection (which is hush hush at the moment). As you can tell, I am a short story fan.

The Penkhull Press is a non-fantasy/horror imprint formed by a few local writers, a sort of co-operative. Penkhull has published novels and short story collections, for which I seem to end up doing all that backroom stuff – but that’s okay, that’s fine. One of our books, Winter Downs by Jan, a World War Two crime drama, won this year’s Arnold Bennett Book Prize, which is fabulous news.

Jan: I have three more WW2 crime novels in the pipeline, and intend to get my urban fantasy trilogy out at some point (which is also crime in its way, but with supernatural elements thrown in).

I also have my novella, ‘A Small Thing for Yolanda’ just out in the French folk horror anthology Into the Night Eternal and have several short stories in gestation that are intended for crime anthologies, and at some point I will finish my ‘Captain Georgi’ cosmic horror collection, though as always its finding the time!

Thank you for joining us Peter & Jan!

The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors is available in ebook and paperback formats from Amazon and all good retailers!

Peter Coleborn created the award-winning Alchemy Press in the late 1990s and has since (co-)published a range of anthologies and collections, including The Alchemy Press Books of Pulp Heroes and Urban Mythic, and collections by John Grant, Anne Nicholls, Marion Pitman and others. He has edited various publications for the British Fantasy Society (including Winter Chills/Chills and Dark Horizons) and co-edited with Pauline E Dungate the Joel Lane tribute anthology Something Remains in 2016. Besides editing and publishing he mucks around with Photoshop a lot, as you can tell by the cover artwork.
www.alchemypress.co.uk

Jan Edwards has edited been anthologies for various presses, notably Fox Spirit, The Alchemy Press and the BFS for over twenty years, including: (co-edited with Jenny Barber) Wicked Women, Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders and APBO Urban Mythic 1&2. The Alchemy Press book of Horrors (co-edited with Peter Coleborn) is just released. Several of her anthologies have been shortlisted for awards.

Jan is also a writer of short fiction, which can be found in many crime, horror and fantasy anthologies. Her fiction has appeared in books as diverse as The Mammoth Book of Moriarty, Terror Tales of the Deep and the Dr Who DVD and anthology Daemons of Devil’s End; some of those tales have been collected into: Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties and Fables and Fabrications. Her supernatural crime novella ‘A Small Thing for Yolanda’ appears this year in Into The Night Eternal: Tales of French Folk Horror.
Her novels include Sussex Tales (winner of Winchester Slim Volume award) and more recently, Winter Downs: Bunch Courtney book #1 (crime novel; winner of the Arnold Bennett Book Prize). In Her Defence: Bunch Courtney #2 is due out late in 2018. Jan is also a recipient of a BFA Karl Edward Wagner award.
Blogsite: http://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/ Twitter: @jancoledwards

 

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