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Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Chloë Yates

Gooood morning funky peeps.  Today we’re kicking off the new year with the author of Wicked Women story ‘How to be the Perfect Housewife’ – Chloë Yates, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

chloeThis is one of my first interviews so I should apologise in advance because I’m made almost entirely from nonsense. I’m an English immigrant who’s been living in the middle of Switzerland for nearly a decade (no, my husband’s not a banker). It’s an incredible place to live, I’m very lucky, but I miss dear old Blighty. No kids, lots of books, and one elderly dog, Miss Maudie, who thinks she’s the Supreme Being. She’s probably right.

What do I like to write? At the moment WORDS WOULD BE GOOD! Damn it. I digress. My husband once called my work ‘charming anarchic oddness’, I told him to sod off. I’ve been told it’s ‘sinister’ (hat tip to KT Davies) but I tend to think I’m writing things that are quite jolly, a bit grim maybe but usually jolly (perhaps it was too much Enid Blyton as a kid). Take Kitty Darling in ‘How To Be The Perfect Housewife’, she’s pretty upbeat… isn’t she?

Frankly, I’ll have a bash at anything. Defining one’s work by genre is only useful for marketing and libraries. The work itself shouldn’t be constrained to fit into preconceived definitions, that’s the antithesis of speculative fiction, surely? Possibility is everything. There’s comfort in tradition and tropes, I can’t and won’t deny that, but I say mix it, mash it, spin it, wear it your own way. Ain’t no party like an interstitial party, son.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been impotently scribbling stuff for years but only really started to send my work out about three years ago. I sent a very short story, called ‘Don’t Do It Salvador!’ to the fabulous Kate Laity’s inaugural Postcard Fiction Contest in 2012 and won.  That gave me the confidence to enter Fox Spirit’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day competition the same year and, along with two other writers, I won that as well. ‘Leave the Pistol Behind’ was then published in Fox Spirit’s Piracy Fox Pocket. Those two women – Kate and Adele (the Prof and the Cap) – are my spark plugs. I can’t begin to explain how supportive they’ve been of both my work and of me. I will never be able to thank them enough. They’re phenomenal women and I’m bloody lucky to know them. Without them, I’d likely still be fiddling with myself in the dark. So to speak…

Which authors have influenced you and why?

All of them! I’ve always been a reader – my mum still proudly tells people how I read Jane Eyre when I was only five and a half. There were always books in our house and I wasn’t censored, so I pretty much read anything. I was obsessed with Enid Blyton books as a kid and the shelf I kept them on got so loaded it fell down. Imagine nearly being crushed to death by Blyton! That affects a person. As a teenager, I devoured Stephen King and Dean Koontz, wrote a million Terry Pratchett pastiches, read Hammett and Chandler, the Pern books (because Mum’s a fan), Cherryh, Atwood, Ellison, Clarke, the list goes on and on. I even remember reading a Philip José Farmer story about zombies having sex with prostitutes and their willies breaking off or some such business… these are the things that scar a kid, no?

As an adult, Caitlin Kiernan and Poppy Z Brite have influenced me. Not in terms of style, perhaps, but definitely in terms of telling the story you need or want to tell in the way you want to tell it. That’s an important lesson for any writer.
Art influences me a great deal too; my dad’s an artist, so I grew up surrounded by the smell of Swarfega and ink, but it was Mr Y who really ignited my love for it. I’m rather partial to Surrealism, especially that by women. When I discovered Leonora Carrington’s work, I was blown away. Then I found her written work and it changed me. It loosened my girdle, if you will, made me more inclined to go with the pictures in my head and not tame them into something more ‘acceptable’. Read her novel The Hearing Trumpet or the short story ‘White Rabbits’ in the Vandermeers’ Weird anthology. In fact, do both.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

The Wicked Witch of the West. I was obsessed with the 1939 The Wizard of Oz as a kid, and was genuinely upset every time that little cow chucked water on her beautiful wickedness. I don’t blame her for being pissed off – they were her shoes! We’ve only got Glinda, the desperate ‘Wizard’ and those whiny bloody Munchkins’ word that she’s up to no good. She wants to take control over a country currently controlled by an information withholding, passive aggressive bubble-driver and a snivelling impostor. More power to her. Also, I’ve always thought she looks like my Mum. In a good way…

You recently narrated a story for the Cast of Wonders podcast – how did you find the experience and is this something you would like to do more of?

I’ve done two or three now, and it’s fun to do something different. It can be a little taxing, hearing myself drone on for ages, but other people seem to like it so that’s a Brucie. Finding the right time to do it can be a challenge because the kids in the apartment upstairs were born with lead feet. I can go through about a million takes because of their sudden hippopotomatic incursions. I want to get it as right as I feel I can, so it can be more time-consuming than I originally thought, but that’s something I need to get better at. I’d happily do more.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you?  And do you have any plans for longer works?

For me, certainly at the moment, short stories are the exploration level of writing. I’m trying things out, looking at different styles, working out my kinks, finding my way, and so on. I love flash fiction, things less than 2000 words. It’s like being a prose ninja. You run in with an idea, smack your audience upside the head with it, and then run off, leaving them to wonder, with any luck, what the hell happened, if there’ll be more, and how lucky they are to be alive (maybe not that). There are plans for longer works – I’m writing a collection for Fox Spirit at the moment, and after that I’ve got to crack on with the novel I’ve discussed with Adele. A woman gets mixed up in some nasty business and, after trying to go on the run, ends up in another world. It isn’t steampunk, it isn’t high fantasy, I’m not sure what it is, but it should be fun. I’ve also got an idea involving Primordial Gods in an unlikely setting, as well as some thoughts about an Elizabethan adventuress. So I’d best crack on!

Much of your fiction and poetry combines the comedic and macabre, and this seems to be a popular genre combination across multiple storytelling mediums, from the big screen to the printed word – why do you think these elements mesh so well?

The whole comedic/macabre mash up is appealing because laughing in the face of evil gives us a sense of control or at least the semblance of it. Evil can only truly win when you can’t turn around and laugh in its face. It’s defiance, the good old two-finger salute, that keeps us going in the face of so much darkness. There’s an old cliché that’s goes along the lines of ‘wherever there’s darkness, you should shine a light’ – or is that a Katrina and the Waves song? Anyway, for me that light is laughter.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Dong covers. You know the ones? High fantasy books with a big arsed penis-replacement sword on them. Puh-lease.

What are you up to next?

It seems a long way off, but next year I should be attending Edge-Lit and redcloaking at Fantasycon again. Maybe even another con, we’ll see. It’s invigorating to be around likeminded souls. I’m at home alone most of the time, so I think it’s essential to my sanity to consort with cohorts at least once a year. Also, redcloaking at Fantasycon means that I can attend without hanging around like a bad smell. I’m not always entirely sure what to do with myself, so it’s a good way to go but not lurk. You know what I mean?

Workwise, I have more stories coming out in the remaining Fox Pockets series plus, at some point, another in an anthology called Eve of War, which sort of follows on from their BFS award nominated Tales of Eve. Next year should see my instalment in the Feral Tales series from FS come out. Adele keeps on at me to branch out and write for other people and to get myself an agent. I’m still learning though, still pretty inchoate as a writer, so I’m not rushing but I do need to let fly, to take myself seriously. I’m working on it.

Thank you for joining us Chloë!

Chloë Yates is a writer of odd stories. English born, she currently lives in the middle of Switzerland with her bearded paramour, Mr Y, and their disapproving dog, Miss Maudie, surrounded by books, effigies of owls and the great god Ganesh. Chloë got her first taste of success in May 2012 with her very short prose piece ‘Don’t Do it, Salvador’, which won the inaugural Postcard Fiction Contest, published at: http://kalaity.com/2012/05/23/writer-wednesday-post-card-fiction-prizes.

Her story ‘Leave the Pistol Behind’ was one of the winners of Fox Spirit Books’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day in 2012, and her noirish chops have slathered into the Noir series, edited by Kate Laity – Weird Noir (2012) Noir Carnival (2013) and Drag Noir (2014). More of her work features in several anthologies, including all but the second volume of Fox Spirit’s Fox Pocket series.

Occasional ranting occurs in her blog at http://www.chloe-yates.blogspot.com and she wanders through twitter under the sobriquet @shloobee. She’s currently working on a big idea or two and writing more short stories.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Adrian Tchaikovsky

And today, my lovelies, we’re rolling into the holidays with the author of Wicked Women story ‘This Blessed Union’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

Adrian_Tchaikovsky_001I’m that guy who writes about spiders taking over, while rooting for the spiders. There’s more to it as well – my interests include biological sciences, historical combat and gaming of all kinds, but they’re going to put the spider thing on my tombstone. Or you can substitute various things for spiders – insects, aliens, robots, the next wave of human evolution, but I am consistently the champion of the other.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I first started writing (terribly) around age 18 after reading the Dragonlance books and realising that here someone had taken a RPG campaign and turned it into a set of novels. If they could do it, I could do it. And of course I couldn’t, but I kept on going and improved with practice.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Probably the most important writers of my early life were Diane Wynne Jones, Michael Moorcock and Peter S Beagle. Going forward, there are those like Mary Gentle, China Mieville and Gene Wolfe, who I’d love to be able to approach more in my own writing (I actually wrote this to Wolfe once. He replied “You should be trying to write the best like Adrian Tchaikovsky that you can.”)

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

I’m going to go way back in time to Inanna, goddess of the Sumerian pantheon. Inanna wasn’t the god in charge, but she seemed to have been by far the deity the people were fondest of. She was a rule-breaker, a trickster, constantly getting into trouble, feuding with her family, having tons of sex and generally living her own life and to hell with the consequences – a genuine kickass fantasy heroine right back from the dawn of recorded storytelling, doing all the things that later on became the province of male deities and heroes.

Your standalone ‘Regency-ish military fantasy romance’ Guns of Dawn has a dynamic and passionate heroine in Emily Marshwic – what influences were behind her creation as a character and what drew you to an echo-Regency setting?

adrian gunscoverGuns of the Dawn (out now in paperback!) has a huge debt to Austen. It’s not really Pride and Extreme Prejudice but my Emily would probably have got on well with Lisa Bennett before her call up papers came, and equally well with Sharpe after her time in the service. The not-quite-Regency setting seemed the perfect point in not-quite-history to set it – not just because that’s the period where peoples’ everyday lives become so much more fleshed out, with a boom in people reading (mostly female-written) novels of manners, but also because of the sort of warfare involved. Like the sergeant at Gravenfields says, a gun can make a killer out of anyone.

You’ve said that your SF novel – Children of Time – is your most ambitious work to date, what kind of challenges did you find in writing it and are there any plans to revisit that universe in any form?

I’d love to revisit the Portiids at some point. Children of Time was a profoundly personal piece for me, born of nothing more than a knowledge of the Portia labiata and an interest in exploring what she might evolve into given a free rein. Despite a certain amount of magicianly hand-waving behind the scenes I was determined to make the science as real as I could (which may or may not be very real), and so I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of scientists to try and make it all plausible.

Next year sees the release of a collection of Lovecraftian stories from Alchemy Press – what can you tell us about The Private Life of Elder Things – how did it come about, who’s involved and what can readers expect?

I have always been fascinated by Lovecraft’s creatures. Whether by intent or not they’re often more relatable than his human characters. He was very good at walking that fine line to give something that is alien, and yet just comprehensible enough to remain interesting. The idea of Private Life is to take a few Lovecraftian staples and explore how their worlds touch human experience in new ways.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

I tend to go back and forth in my reading tastes – I’ll read a couple of long works, then I’ll go back to anthologies. Short fiction is always fresh, gets to the point quickly and then wraps up. It’s a very economical writing form, and it can deliver enormous emotional or intellectual payout. Some of the best short fiction I’ve read comes from Ted Chiang, Chris Beckett, Gene Wolfe (again) and Ursula le Guin.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

The sort of plot where the hero is chosen by destiny beforehand. Only He can save mankind. Not you, not any of you rabble, but him. Feh.

What are you up to next?

adrian the-tiger-and-the-wolfMy new book from Tor UK is The Tiger and the Wolf, which is set in a bronze-age tribal society where everyone is a shapeshifter. Also, later next year, I’ve got Spiderlight coming from Tor in the US, which is best described as deconstructionist heroic fantasy. A band of D&D-style adventurers are on a quest to defeat a dark lord, guided by a prophesy. The problem is that the prophesy requires them to recruit a Mirkwood-style giant spider into the party. Hilarity ensures…

Thank you for joining us Adrian!

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist.  Guns of the Dawn, his new fantasy novel, is out now.

You can find him on at his website here, on Facebook, Goodreads, or as @aptshadow on Twitter.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: A.R. Aston

Today we welcome the author of Wicked Women story ‘No Place of Honour’ – A.R Aston, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

I am 24 years old English and History graduate from the long vanquished kingdom of Mercia (or the East Midlands of England if we must insist on being modern). I have been writing in the speculative fiction and fantasy genres for years, though I have yet to earn a crust with the work I have sold; more like delicious crumbs.

When not writing you can find me voraciously reading anything and everything I can get my hands on, like some tea and bacon sandwich-fuelled Johnny Five.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I have been writing casually for as long as I have been able to.   I began getting serious with my work when I started writing fiction on writing forums, where I finally got an audience for my work, and even more vitally, harsh critiquing. Those years online, having my work dissected and flayed bare by people who had no interest in sparing my feelings or coddling me was invaluable to me, and I think helped me when in 2011 I first got published professionally for a small press. Luckily enough for me, my first piece was accepted within a few months of submission. This I later learned was spectacularly speedy in publishing terms, and I was unwittingly fortuitous. The real work of writing is as much learning from the many, many rejections and learning patience as it is from actually having works go to print. Writing is not an industry one goes in for an easy life.

Over the years I have had numerous fantasy, sci-fi and horror short stories published with various indie publishing, and have co-edited three anthologies with old veterans of my writing forum days.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Oh too many to count. In the world of science fiction, I find the world-building of Alastair Reynolds poetic and sublime in the traditional sense of the word. His depiction of the Lighthuggers of Revelation space made me think of relativistic space travel in an entirely different manner. Stephen Baxter’s joyous excitement over his created worlds is infectious, and the way he and Pratchett logically and explosively extrapolate the uses and effects of the universe in the Long Earth sequence is a particular inspiration to me.

More recently, Ann Leckie’s work with gender and consciousness in the Ancillary trilogy has given me numerous ideas to explore in one of the novels I am currently writing

JRR Tolkien is in many ways the foundation stone upon which modern fantasy is built, so it would feel churlish of me not to also cite him as a massive influence.

I also love Joe Abercrombie, the self-proclaimed lord of grimdark. His dialogue is witty and sharp as a rapier, and he has created some of the most likeable assholes I have read in a long while.

Both history and fiction is replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

I love the story of Julie d’Aubigny, the legendary bisexual, cross-dressing female duellist and opera singer who roamed 17th century France fighting in illegal duels, singing opera for kings and having numerous torrid love affairs with men and women alike. She is a figure who defies any category imposed upon her by the society of the time. Hers is a wild story made all the more impressive for being predominantly non-fictional.

As for fictional wicked women; I am rather partial to Thorn Bathu, the snarling, scarred heroine of Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World.

You recently had your story ‘For a Fistful of Diamonds’ published in Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight – how did you approach your take on the genre for it and what makes a good superhero story for you?

The idea of the superhero is incredibly broad and diffuse as a genre, incorporating everything from detective noir to interstellar space opera, political thriller to comedic heist. Thus, I felt it important to not stray too far from the core aspect of the genre, exploring the extraordinary powers of my protagonist, and their effect upon his psyche and his place in society.

I wanted my character to be a pyrokine, but explored in an inventive way no one else has done before. Hopefully I have succeeded, and laid the foundations for a far larger and more expansive world.

What can you tell us about the Outliers Project?

The Outliers Project is a collaborative effort between me and four other authors to produce a ten book series of linked novella anthologies. It is a global tale of a world in which a minority of entities have been endowed with powers of ancient pedigree. We wanted to create a superhero mythology which felt plausible and allowed us to delve into the details of how a world like ours would cope with the revelation of gifted individuals, and how empowered people would fit into our world. You may have already read the first forays into the Outliers universe if you have read the final four short stories of Emby PressThe Good Fight: Superhero Monster Hunter, which hints at the tone of the coming event.

What excites me most about this project, and what I feel differentiates it from other superhero settings, is its focus. It is a series without a reset button, where the world is changed and stays changed, and no one is safe. There is a destination; a full story in ten parts, building relentlessly to a startling and thrilling conclusion. I really hope readers will enjoy our stories once we release them out into the wild world.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

As a reader, good short fiction is a delight that allows me to dip into rich settings as and when I please, without the immersion and time a good novel demands. Short stories are the tapas bar to the novel’s four course meal with all the trimmings.

Short fiction is a challenge for an author, as it demands you create and populate a world readers can relate to and adore over the course of but a few dozen pages. It forces you to be a prose impressionist in a way; painting just enough to hint at a deeper premise and a world for your readers to complete. I like the discipline of the format, as it forces you to think about every sentence you use and to be ruthless in self-editing; if it doesn’t serve the central premise, it is extraneous.

Horror definitely suits short fiction, as good horror needs but a few words to plant terrible seeds that allow a reader to populate with nightmares more terrible than the author alone could conjure. I was once involved with an anthology that collated together one hundred 100 word pieces of micro-horror that demonstrated how few words were required to incept some properly creepy images into the mind of a reader.

My favourite piece of short fiction of all time is probably Ray Bradbury’s ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’. It is such a beautiful and nightmarish vision of a post-nuclear world, which is all the most impressive for lacking any characters that are not poignantly posthumous.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

I would do away with a cliché which often occurs when a writer wants to show a clash between an industrial human culture and a less advanced one, where the human/white male protagonist begins as an enemy of the noble savage race, but eventually becomes one of them, and learns their mystical ways, eventually leading them in a battle against his own kind.

Done. To. Death.

Basically, these stories always end up devolving into some variation of Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas. I find the plot boring and predictable, and I think it is often a waste of a fascinating premise or setting. My ur-example of this would be Cameron’s Avatar. The setting he created was full of interesting technologies, fascinating creatures and stunning imagery, but it was all in service of a plot which seemed to have no ambition.

So yeah, that can be banished to room 101.

… That and zombie apocalypses. A zombie story without at least a necromancer in there somewhere is just lame.

What are you up to next?

Outliers is currently looming on my horizons like the swaying surface fins of a submerged leviathan; I shall soon enough be up to my ears writing and plotting ten novella anthologies, culminating in a staggering multi-author finale which I hope will blow our readers’ proverbial socks off! Fun times ahead. Look out for the first

Whilst writing these novellas, I am in talks with publishers into having my debut fantasy novel, The Hobgoblin’s Herald, published in the next twelve months. In addition, I am writing its sequel and have the scaffolding up on several other novels under construction. Saying I like to keep myself busy would at this stage feel like an understatement…

Thank you for joining us A.R. Aston!

A. R. Aston is a speculative fiction writer from the former industrial town of Swadlincote, located deep in the Heart of England (in the left ventricle if you must know…). An avid student of history and english literature, he has always had a passion for the written word. When not writing, he can be found reading voraciously, creating a functional time machine, and composing spurious facts about himself.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Tom Johnstone

Today we welcome the author of Wicked Women story ‘Kravolitz’ – Tom Johnstone, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

Tom pic 2I like to write short fiction. I’ve never written anything over the 8-10k word range, partly through choice, partly due to time constraints, as I have a family and a full-time job. Also the ideas I have seem to lend themselves to the short form, though they sometimes end up being longer than I intended. Basically, I write what I like to read, something writers are often advised to do; and generally what I like to read is short horror, though I do enjoy novels / novellas too, as well as fiction of other genres (crime, SF) and none. Having said that, I’ve also written comedy sketches and the script for part of a mosaic graphic novel.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I can’t claim to be one of these prodigies who started writing at the age of two, and made their first professional fiction sale a year later. I’m exaggerating somewhat of course, but in this as in many things I am a late developer. I didn’t really get going on my writing career (if you can call it that) until my mid-to-late thirties, about ten years ago. I responded to Telos’s open call for Doctor Who spin-off novella submissions, and one of the editors responded favourably to the sample chapter I sent them, though I wasn’t experienced enough to follow this up adequately, and there was too much going on my life to do the project justice. I sent a few short stories off to various publications after that with little success, as well as comedy scripts to satirical cabaret shows like Brighton’s The Treason Show and London’s Newsrevue. The sketches could be quite lucrative on those occasions when they used my material, and I even got a paid credit on a BBC Scotland radio show called Watson’s Wind Up, though I don’t think they actually used my one-liner and they’ve since cancelled the show…

After a while, I gave up on the sketches. I began to find the hit-and-miss nature of writing sketches that rarely got used a little trying, and what I really wanted to do was write horror stories, mainly of the weird and supernatural sort. I still put both humour and politics into these, and I began to hone my craft, securing publication in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Tales, Supernatural Tales, Strange Tales (Vol. 5, Tartarus Press), The Black Book of Horror (9-11, Mortbury Press) and your own Wicked Women.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

There are the obvious ones like M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft, and their bastard literary offspring Ramsey Campbell. Once he’d outgrown his earlier reliance on Lovecraft (as the kind of wunderkind I mentioned before with such envy!), Campbell’s also an example of the importance of a distinctive voice in the successful author of fiction of any kind, something I feel I’m struggling to find.

Joel Lane, John Llewellyn Probert, Simon Bestwick and Anna Taborska have all written fiction that has suggested to me different ways in which horror could be hard-hitting and political without being didactic, (against the assumption that its dark view of human nature is inevitably conservative) something that has had a strong influence on my approach to writing. Though I’d encountered Joel’s work before, I was reintroduced to his spare and enigmatic short tales through the Black Book of Horror series, which was where I also encountered John’s wonderfully sardonic and vicious contes cruelles, as well as Anna’s powerful, harrowing ‘Little Pig’. I enjoyed the unpretentious vitality of the Black Books, which also introduced me to horror writers, then new to me, who are now familiar names in the horror world: Thana Niveau, Reggie Oliver, Gary Fry and others, who have all influenced my writing in different ways.

Going back to more famous, classic and best-selling writers, I’ve also studied the work of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, two more excellent examples of writers in the horror field each with a strong and unique voice. I’ve observed with interest the success of British horror novelists like Adam Nevill, who has brought the themes of classic weird fiction authors like Machen and Blackwood (also two major influences on and forerunners of Lovecraft) into the modern mainstream idiom, as well as Alison Littlewood and Sarah Pinborough, with their ingenuity in synthesising crime fiction with supernatural horror.

Then there are authors whose work is not categorised as ‘horror’ as such, but have a ‘mainstream’ or ‘literary’ appeal as well as a strong weird or supernatural flavour: Sarah Waters, Susan Hill, Peter Ackroyd in novels like Hawksmoor, The House of Doctor Dee and Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. Another good example of horror fiction crossing over into the mainstream is Jeremy Dyson’s The Haunted Book, a creepy faux ‘true-life’ ghost story book whose clever production design gimmickry reinforces its conceit and reasserts the value of the physical book.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Often women misbehave simply by doing the things that are defined as heroism or leadership in men. The science fiction writer who shows this most strikingly is Joanna Russ. The Female Man asks: why do men always get to do the fun stuff in SF? We Who Are About To… challenges the imperialism of the ‘conquest of space’ narrative, via its homicidal, one-woman awkward squad of a narrator. It says a lot about Russ’s insubordinate stance that one of her novels is called On Strike Against God.

Since Russ is sadly no longer with us, I’d also like to plug a few contemporary female horror writers, either because their work explores aspects of female transgression, or because their work is itself transgressive, or both. Or maybe because they’re just awesome! Priya Sharma’s protagonists are often flawed or damaged women, who sometimes pay a terrible price for their mistakes. This is certainly true of ‘The Ballad of Boomtown’ and ‘The Rising Tide’, but in neither case do you get the impression that the author is inviting you to cast judgment on the women for their actions even if some of the other characters in the story might be doing so. Anna Taborska at her best writes gutsy, no-holds-barred tales of human cruelty, but with a fierce sense of compassion grounding them. Read her collection For Those Who Dream Monsters (Mortbury Press)! V.H. Leslie’s acclaimed stories, recently collected in Skein and Bone (Undertow Books), are dark fairy tales of women who fall foul of patriarchy in various unpleasant ways, yet told in beautiful prose and with an arch sense of humour.

To answer this question properly, maybe my favourite fictional wicked woman, the ultimate female miscreant, must be Yamasaki Asami from Ryu Murakami’s novel Audition, the basis for the notorious Takashi Miike J-horror movie. The book’s by a man of course, which may be part of the reason why she’s such an effective creation, a male fantasy of desirability and sexual availability, who turns out to be the distillation of our worst nightmares.

On second thoughts, perhaps an even better wicked woman is Stevie in Kaaron Warren’s brilliant horror novel Slights. As an Australian study of suburban scandal and misbehaviour, it makes the much-feted mainstream hit The Slap seem very coy and safe, and though Warren’s book and her heroine are both hilariously and raucously bitchy, it has a terrifying idea of the after-life at its heart. As an ostracised woman, Stevie’s a twenty first century literary descendant of Merricat Blackwood from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s kind of the flipside of Audition too, because we see the world through the wicked woman’s eyes rather than seeing her through male eyes, and Stevie is brazen in her refusal of social norms, rather than wearing a mask of fragile docility as Asami does!

You co-edited Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease with Joel Lane – tell us how that came about and what readers can expect from the stories within.

Tom horror uncutI met him at a Convention and got into conversation with him about his stories ‘A Cry for Help’ and ‘For Their Own Ends’, two stories that use horror and weird fiction to explore the implications of the threat of privatisation in the NHS. We discussed the possibility of an anthology of horror stories centred around the cuts and austerity measures the government was bringing in, as I kind of follow up to the anti-racist / anti-fascist one he co-edited with Allyson Bird: Never Again.

We started work on it, but it was a little stop-go, as he had long-term health problems, and these sadly contributed to his untimely death. However, we’d already found a publisher, Gray Friar Press (who’d published Never Again), and its owner Gary Fry was very enthusiastic about the project. He said he still wanted to go ahead with it, almost as a kind of tribute to Joel. I also wanted to see it through for the same reasons. Writers had already sent in stories, and I chased up some of the people Joel had approached, many of whom thought the book had been put on hold because of his death. I also decided to reprint Joel’s ‘A Cry for Help’, again as a tribute, but also as a clear statement of intent, to open the volume.

Readers will find stories showing the spectral implications of the ‘Bedroom Tax’, food banks where you have to queue to join the queues, a privatised hospital that expects extreme ‘donations’ from patients who can’t pay, a government loyalty card that rewards snoopers, a tale of upper class, Bullingdon-type thugs that makes The Riot Club look tame. Other stories take a more psychological approach, such as stories by John Howard, Priya Sharma and Stephen Hampton, which suggest that the credit crunch and the slump in the property market can literally drive people mad. As I suggest in my non-fiction addendum to the book, quoting Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, economic unease is an abiding theme in horror and supernatural fiction: the fear of losing everything is a powerful undercurrent in the genre even when it’s hidden. Acclaimed authors showcased include Anna Taborska, Alison Littlewood, Stephen Bacon, Thana Niveau and Gary McMahon.

Has editing the anthology changed how you approach your own fiction?

I found myself writing quite a bit of ‘austerity horror’ myself! Before he died, Joel and I agreed we weren’t going to publish our own stories, to avoid accusations of favouring our own work over other, possibly more deserving talents. In his own case, I think he was being a little over-modest, and when he died I worried about over-ruling him by re-printing ‘A Cry for Help’ posthumously, but a writer who knew him better suggested I should go ahead and publish it!

As for my own efforts, I still took the view that it was better not to use my position as now sole editor to make a portion of the anthology into my own vanity press, which sounds a little pompous, but I knew some might see it that way. So I decided I should test my own attempts at writing stories in this vein in the open market as it were. Well, they can’t have been that bad, because most of them have found publishers! ‘Masque’, tackling NHS privatisation, appeared in Shroud Magazine (#15), in the States, where they already know the full implications of private healthcare; ‘Under Occupation’ and ‘Mum and Dad and the Girl from the Flats Over the Road and the Man in the Black Suit’, both which feature the ‘Bedroom Tax’, the former in the anthology Darkest Minds (Dark Minds Press), the latter awaiting publication in Supernatural Tales

Is there any particular genre you’re drawn to and if so what’s the appeal of it?

I tend to be drawn to horror, because of its flexibility. At its best, it’s barely a genre at all, more a state of mind. It encompasses everything from the elusive chills of the ghost story to extreme zombie spatterpunk, science fiction body horror, etc. It can be both intensely physical and metaphysical, often simultaneously. Having said that, the side of it that appeals to me more as a reader and writer is the more supernaturally-orientated one. I also enjoy science fiction and crime, both of which share common ground with horror, but I’ve very little experience of writing them, or aptitude, I think, because of the discouraging technical aspects I think necessary to achieve credible results in both, e.g., research into, say, quantum mechanics for SF, or forensic police procedure for crime. For this reason, I tend to stick to my comfort zone of supernatural horror, though I have been working on a longish short story in the spy thriller genre!

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

The space opera cliché of inter-galactic free trade: to me, it’s infinitely depressing and rather anthropocentric to think that neo-liberal capitalism will conquer the universe as well as Planet Earth!

What are you up to next?

Well, my hit rate for getting stuff published seems to be improving, with quite a few stories in the can and a substantial backlog of stories awaiting publication in various anthologies and other publications. My stories are starting to attract a bit of positive attention, with the Best Horror of Year editor Ellen Datlow including two out of the three I had published last year on her list of Recommended Reads (A.K.A., Honourable Mentions), one of which was my Wicked Women contribution ‘Kravolitz’, so thanks for facilitating that by publishing it! She’s also plugged a couple of my more recent published stories (‘Under Occupation’ from Darkest Minds and ‘What I Found in the Shed’ from Supernatural Tales, #31) on the SFEditorsPicks list, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I feel like now’s the time to build on this, and bring out a single author collection. I know it would mean more work, because I don’t just want to throw something together that would rely on reprints; I’m thinking more on the lines of a sequence of conjoined short stories, kind of a literary concept album, at least for a major section of the volume. But it’s early days. I haven’t really planned it, or approached any publishers yet… (Hint! Hint!)

In the meantime, I’ve got two stories awaiting publication in Supernatural Tales, and others elsewhere, including ‘Holywood’, my sequel to M.R. James’s ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’, which is to appear next year in the Third Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows (Sarob Press). I’m presently working on a very interesting project with Alchemy Press, somewhere between a tribute anthology and a posthumous collection, involving the unpublished and incomplete stories of the late Joel Lane. A group of writers are going to take his handwritten story notes and unfinished tales, and each one has to take his or her assigned piece and complete it basically. It will be interesting to see what will happen, as some of them are extremely detailed, while others are bafflingly cryptic. As I was in the middle of collaborating with him on Horror Uncut when he died, and was like many extremely shocked when I heard of his death, it seemed like a lovely idea and I’m proud to be part of it.

I also had my second taste of Fantasy Con this year, the first being 2012 in my home town of Brighton. This time I did a reading there for the first time, to an audience of four, but two of them were Carole Johnstone and Priya Sharma, so quality if not quantity… Luckily I have done public readings before, so it wasn’t too daunting! Horror Uncut was also nominated in the anthology category, which was very exciting, as well as Laura Mauro, another emerging wicked woman of horror, in two categories for the story she wrote for it, ‘Ptichka’. Unfortunately H.U. didn’t win, and neither did Laura, but plaudits for those that did, and good to see that one of them was Fox Spirit in the small publisher category!

That also covers the random fun stuff aspect of the question, as my experience of Fantasy Con this year was both random and fun. I met a hell of a lot of really lovely people there too!

Thank you for joining us Tom!

Tom Johnstone’s fiction has appeared in various publications, including the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Black Books of Horror (Mortbury Press), Brighton – The Graphic Novel (Queenspark Books), Supernatural Tales, #27 & #31, Wicked Women (Fox Spirit Books), Shroud Magazine, #15 and Strange Tales V (Tartarus Press). As well as these writing credits, he co-edited the British Fantasy Award-nominated austerity-themed anthology Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease with the late Joel Lane, published September 2014, by Gray Friar Press. Find out more about Tom’s fiction at: tomjohnstone.wordpress.com.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Christine Morgan

Today we welcome the multi-talented Christine Morgan – author of the Wicked Women story ‘The Shabti-Maker.’

christine pic01Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

I like to write fun stuff, where fun can be anything from outrageously over the top purple prose to humor to extreme horror to silliness to smut. I like to play with language, to experiment with it and goof around. I enjoy the challenges of doing mash-ups, crossovers, and pastiches, particularly if I can meld things that might not normally, in a sane world, go together.

I also have a lifelong love of mythology, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology and folklore. A lot of my stories involve historical settings, mythological elements. Ancient cultures fascinate me, as does the idea of writing from perspectives greatly different from my own. Whether that means child POV characters, animals, aliens, elves, inanimate objects … each is its own interesting puzzle.

On a personal level, I’m in the middle of the whole classic life-upheaval just now, having recently divorced, moved to a new state, started over in a new job, only child’s all grown up and off to college, etc. In one sense, it’s terrifying. In another, liberating; this is the first time since my sister and I started sharing a room that I’ve had a space entirely of my own. Well, my own and the four cats; I’m training to become a crazy cat lady in later years.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

Even as a kid, I was a big reader, a big maker-upper of intricate stories for my toys (my Barbies had some soap-opera stuff going on, let me tell you), and the one among my circle of friends who’d more often than not be the idea person for what we should play next. I remember writing assignments in grade school, and doing one piece about a brave daddy fox trying to lead the hunters away from his family.

I got into roleplaying games as a teen, and drama club in high school. There may have been some painfully Mary Sue bits of Lord of the Rings fanfic way back when; I’m glad I haven’t found any of those in the archives. Writing down the gaming adventures was the next logical step, which eventually became a series of fantasy novels.

Always sort of figured I’d do the classic career path of becoming a teacher while writing on the side. A change of major later, I went into residential psych, but the writing on the side part has stayed much the same.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Every single one I’ve read and some I haven’t … one way or the other.

Though I got officially ‘started’ writing fantasy, I knew even then my true calling tended more toward the horrific. I’d been reading Stephen King since age 10, and would go to fantasy conventions only to find myself the odd duck out when people were listing their favorite authors.

But then, a few years ago, it all came back around full-circle again … I’d been tinkering with historical fic, with the pirate era, tall ships, and so on … but then I discovered Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, and the lectures of Professor Michael D.C. Drout, and everything clicked … it was Viking time. Vikings hit everything I liked best.

I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to catch up on some of the literary classics I missed with that change of major, and experiencing the variety of genres, voices, and styles. Wodehouse is a kick; I’ve done a few stories aiming for that kind of tone. I’ve mashed up Austen and Lovecraft. I hugely enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, and Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachian series, Robert McCammon’s everything but especially his Matthew Corbett books … variety, whatever, bring it, I will give about anything a chance.

These days, I’m reading and loving a lot of extreme horror and bizarro. I’m phobic about nearly everything, I’m a total wuss, I can’t even put in eyedrops or pull out a giblet packet without squicking, but I cannot get enough gross, weird, sick, twisted fiction.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Well, I’m not sure for misbehaving, but Aud the Deep-Minded is one of my favorite ladies of history; she was an early Icelandic settler, commander of her own ships and men, politically savvy, powerful, scored good influential marriages for her children and grandchildren. To earn a moniker like that – Deep-Minded – proves that she was known and respected for her wits and her wisdom.

There’s also Freydis Eriksdottir, sister of Leif Eriksson … now, SHE was wicked … in the sagas, she manipulates men into feuds, kills a bunch of people with an axe, and may be most famous for the anecdote of how she, while pregnant, charges out of her hut during an attack by skraelings (Native Americans), rips open her top, smacks herself in the breast with a sword, scares the attackers away, and shames all the men for their cowardice.

You’ve recently had Murder Girls published by Evil Girlfriend Media – how did that come about and what can readers expect?

murdergirlsadMurder Girls had originally been released in ebook by KHP Publishers, but Katie at Evil Girlfriend just loved the premise and approached me about doing a revised print edition.

It’s the story of five college housemates – brainy Rachel, sporty Jessie, angry Darlene, shy Gwen, and mysterious Annamaria – who are just each doing their own things one evening when Rachel, watching a program about profiling serial killers, remarks, “I bet we could get away with it.”

And why not? They’re sure not the profile. Add in a pervy peeping tom with the world’s worst timing … next thing you know, the girls are standing around a body, with a mess to clean up … and a new hobby that quickly becomes an obsession.

With this one, I wanted to examine some gender-role issues, to put the shoe on the other foot as it were. You see those studies or classroom questionnaires about safety, about rape-prevention, about all the million-and-one ways women are conditioned to be on their guard or else, and how rarely men have to think about any of that instead of living it every single moment of every single day.

So, there’s some social commentary, and some looks at the ways we’ve become desensitized to violence and screwed up about sex … but hey, let’s be honest: it was also a chance to have a bunch of college girls carving up dudebros. Some of the scenes were disturbing and uncomfortable to write; I hope they’re that way to read as well.

You’ve written across many genres ranging from traditional fantasy to historical horror – do you have a current favourite genre to work in and if so, why?

Think I already covered this, but, to say again, gimme those Vikings! Historical horror and dark fantasy, with over-the-top descriptions, purple prose, adjectives, blood and gore and slaughter! Or those weird combinations. Myth-meets-Mythos; I’ve done Lovecraftian stuff mixed with ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient cultures; I’ve written Egyptian themed stories, and Aztec/Maya, and even all the way back to caveman days.

But yeah, the Vikings is what I keep coming back to. The cadence and rhythm of it, the language, alliteration, kennings. Besides, no other stories are quite as much pure fun to read aloud. I get to use my Viking voice. I write with that original oral tradition in mind; they have to sound right in my head, they have to read right, it’s awesome. Listeners seem to really respond to it, too. The Viking readings always go over well.

You’ve also edited several anthologies – has this changed how you approach your own fiction?   

It certainly has made me all the more conscious of proofreading and polishing and following the guidelines … as an editor, I admit, I’m looking for good stories, yes … but I’m also looking to not take on too much extra work for myself. Maybe that’s lazy of me; I don’t know.

It also makes me appreciate everything editors do even more. That’s hard work. The selection, the balance, the dealing with however-many individuals, the juggling. And the rejections! Augh! Rejection letters are no fun from either end.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

I used to think I couldn’t write it. I used to think – being wordy by nature, as this interview no doubt demonstrates – that I was just geared toward writing longer works. Novels, but not only novels; each novel wanted to be a trilogy. When I was doing fan-fiction, it was the same way, except as installments in an ongoing series.

I suspect my roleplaying game background had something to do with that; I’d trained myself  to be in campaign mode, so there always had to be more adventures lined up, more plot hooks to explore, new characters to introduce and follow up on. There was always a NEXT waiting in the wings.

I won’t say I’ve unlearned that, or trained myself back out of it, because  I haven’t. I’ve just also worked on narrowing my focus, condensing and containing ideas which might otherwise sprawl. It’s most important in horror fiction, since horror is more emotion than setting, and horror seems somehow to be more effective in shorter doses. Easier to sustain.

As for recommendations, I love anthologies because you can sample, you can try a little bit of one story and then another, see what suits you, try things out from a variety of authors. Themed anthologies are always a favorite of mine, to write for as well as to read. I like seeing how different people approach similar subjects or challenges, and how creative they can get.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

The epic prophecy. Any time something opens with the whole voice-over info dump about how, long ago, the wise foretold blah-de-blah and then it’s some doofus destined to save the world no matter how reluctant, foot-draggy, or inept … and they DO.

What are you up to next?

I’m currently working on final edits and layout for the third Fossil Lake anthology, UNICORNADO! The contributors really hit it out of the park on this one; I wanted weird unicorn and/or natural disaster tales, preferably both, and they delivered bigtime. Looking at a February 2016 release date, after which it’ll be time to decide on a theme for the fourth Fossil Lake!

I also have about four unpublished novels to revise, two novels and a novella to finish, a few short stories I promised to submit to anthologies, and I recently had an idea for a sort of bizarro not-quite-kids-book kids book.

And my first Viking collection will be coming out in 2017 from Word Horde! Reprinting many of my earlier Viking stories, plus some original … it’ll be called The Raven’s Table, and I am very thrilled and excited to see this happen.

Thank you for joining us Christine Morgan!

Christine Morgan spent many years working the overnight shift in a psychiatric facility, which played havoc with her sleep schedule but allowed her a lot of writing time. A lifelong reader, she also reviews, beta-reads, occasionally edits and dabbles in self-publishing. Her other interests include gaming, history, superheroes, crafts, cheesy disaster movies and training to be a crazy cat lady. She can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/christinemorganauthor and https://christinemariemorgan.wordpress.com/

Interview with Steve Lockley

Today we talk to the multi-talented Steve Lockley – author and editor in a range of genres, ghostwriter and collaborator extraordinaire.  His debut solo collection Always a Dancer and Other Stories has recently been published by Fox Spirit Books.

steve lockley picTell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

Hah start with the easy one!

Derbyshire born but have now been living for more than half my life in Swansea – from the furthest point from the sea to just a few miles from it. After spending far too long working in financial services in one form or another, I took the plunge 5 or 6 years ago to try my hand at writing full time.

I like to be able to write whatever comes into my head. Some of those ideas may clearly be ghost stories, some may be horror or a thriller but it may not be clear which. I’ve written a few SF stories but I’ll be honest and admit that you won’t find very much science in them.

I’m now as much an editor for other people as I am a writer myself but it’s still so much better than having a proper job.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’m one of those who started writing as a child and never really stopped. For a long time I had this yearning ambition to be a song writer, or more accurately a lyricist. I wanted to be Bernie Taupin, not Elton John. I had one very minor sniff of success after years of trying but then decided to try something else. I flirted with poetry for a while and even managed to get a few published in small press magazines but soon realised that I wasn’t really any good at it. There  are more than enough mediocre poets out there for me to add to the list.

Somewhere along the line I stumbled across Nik Morton’s excellent SF ‘zine Auguries and thought ‘I could do that’. I tried my hand at a writing a short story on a borrowed manual typewriter and sent it off without really having any idea of the right way to lay out a manuscript – this was long before the days of the internet remember – and waited. Eventually the manuscript came back in the stamped addressed envelope I had included with my submission, covered in red comments. I assumed that this was a rejection, shoved it back into the envelope, and forgot about it for the rest of the day. It was only when I read the covering letter that evening that I realised that Nik actually wanted to use the story if I was prepared to make the changes he was suggesting. Somehow I managed to feel the deflation of rejection and the elation of acceptance in the same day, from the same story. I learned a lot from Nik’s notes and I will remain forever grateful to him for taking the time to encourage a new writer.

Which authors have been an influence to you?

Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Ramsey Campbell, M R James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Dunsany, the list could go on forever. I suspect that I owe as much to libraries and librarians as I do to any individual author. My mum used to take me to the local library almost every week and by the time I was nine or ten I had read or at least tried most of the SF and Fantasy novels in the children’s section. Thankfully one of the librarians showed an interest and took me into the adult section. It was only then that I realised that the same authors; Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Wyndham and the like had books published for adults as well as for younger readers

It was also thanks to that librarian that I made a terrible discovery. I discovered that John Wyndham had died recently (this would have been 1969) and that once I had read all of his books on the shelves that would be it. No more. Until that moment I hadn’t made the connection between the name on a book jacket and a real person.

always a dancer coverAfter thirty years of publishing short fiction, Always a Dancer is your debut solo short story collection – how did you choose which stories to include and are there are any stories you regret not being able to include?

This is the problem with being a Jack of all trades. It was always intended that this would be a collection of my solo stories rather than those I had written with Paul Lewis or Steve Savile (and there’s probably a collections worth of stories in each of those partnerships), it became clear that the majority of what I thought of as my best stories fell into the horror/supernatural genres. Selecting the pieces that sat together proved to be reasonably easy.

There are a number of other tales that would not have sat as comfortably with this selection though and while I’d love to see them aired again they would not have worked in this book. I probably have enough stories to put together a crime and mystery collection of a similar length to this one if my historical whodunits and Sherlock Holmes stories were included. Maybe I’ll get someone interested in that one day.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you?

Fear. When I started writing I thought about trying my hand at a novel but was afraid that I could spend a year working on something for it to never find a home. In the same time I could write 20 short stories and even if only one of those reached publication I would have achieved something. I don’t think I’ve ever really got out of that mentality but for the last couple of years I’ve pushed myself to trying longer stuff. Once I get past 50,000 words though I start to get a nosebleed.

There are also some ideas which are only big enough for a short story. It may be that if I held on to them long enough they might work their way into part of a novel but I always find that ideas come out best if you work with them while they are fresh and I’m excited about them.

You’ve written across multiple genres including horror, fantasy, crime, SF and media tie-ins.  Is there a genre that you feel particularly drawn to?  And if so, why?  

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer of supernatural fiction even though I’ve been drawn to different genres. Often it’s the case that an idea for a story drops into my head and I want to find a way of telling it.

The media tie-in stuff I’ve done has been for shows I’ve loved. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to write a novel based on the TV series The Ghost Whisperer. The novel is called The Empty Desk and is due out from Harper Collins later this month. If I had to make a call I’d say that I’m most at home with the supernatural stuff.

Having edited anthologies – did the experience change how you approached short fiction writing?

It’s amazing how much you can learn by reading stories that clearly don’t work. Sometimes you can see what the problem is and you can help put it right but at others you can see that it would be much better told in a completely different way. It certainly helped me see some of the problems in my own work.

Having edited things like the Cold Cuts series of anthologies I’ve been able to pick up editing work for a number of self published novelists. I never dreamt when I set off on this long strange trip that I’d end up editing Paranormal Romance!

You’ve accomplished a great deal in your writing career – with multiple novels, collaborative works and shorts – which of your previous works are you most proud of?

Thank you, though I have to admit that I don’t see it as accomplishing a great deal, it’s more a case of sticking around long enough to get the chance to do things. Asking me which I’m most proud of is like asking me which of my children is my favourite!

I have a soft spot for The Ragchild, largely because it was the first novel to have my name on it but I’m thrilled with the new collection. There are a number of stories in there that I think represent leaps forward in what I felt capable of doing but I don’t think I could even pick just one of them out for special mention. It wouldn’t be fair.

You’ve collaborated with Steven Savile, Paul Lewis and Mike O’Driscoll – what’s the appeal of a writing a collaborated work?  And how is the collaborative process different with each of your co-authors?  

I learned a lot working with Mike though all we have to show for it is the first draft of a YA novel that may never see the light of day. We have very different styles and the only way we could make it work was by one of us writing in the real world and the other in the ‘other world’. We also worked together in putting on a horror convention called ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ when Swansea hosted the Year of Literature.

Writing with Paul has been much easier in that our styles are closer. Paul likes to have much of the story mapped put before we write the first few words. Sometimes that can be a little constricting but we get there ion the end. Neither of us was confident about tackling a novel until we came up with the basic idea for our novel, The Ragchild, and getting that accepted by Razorblade Press gave us much more confidence in what we were doing. It also opened up the doors to quite a few things including contributions to a couple of Doctor Who anthologies.

Steve is a joy to work with. Most of the time all we need is a general idea of where we need to be going then he winds me up and lets me go. I usually run with the first draft then hand it on to him complete with typos. Eventually he turns my very rough stuff into something shiny. I’d like to think that we end up with something that is still different from anything either of us would do on our own

You’ve also been working on a collaborative novella with Tim Lebbon, how’s that going and do you have plans to collaborate with anyone else in the future?

Ah, you really have been doing your research! Tim and I have had this idea for a novella that every now and then we bat backwards and forwards. It keeps stalling as we get caught up with other stuff and find it hard to find the time. I’m sure that we’ll get back to it before too long.

There are the embryos of a few other collaborations with the likes of Sam Stone, Gary McMahon and Colin Parsons sitting in Dropbox which may also be completed at some point. As you can imagine, they are all very different.

Rumour has it you also do some ghost writing – how did you get into that and are there any differences in your writing process for ghost work?   

When I decided to take the plunge to become a full time writer I wanted to make sure that I gave myself the best chance of being able to earn a living. I was introduced to an agency in the US and they gave me a couple of projects to work on just when I needed it. It can be soul destroying but the money made sure that I could keep going.

The major difference, particularly on the jobs I’ve done through the agency is the amount of preparation needed up front. They ask for a very detailed outline which needs to be stuck to pretty rigidly. It takes away some of the element of surprise for me.

I‘d guess that I’ve ghosted 10 or 11 novels now and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. It’s certainly made me a faster writer. A lot of the lessons I learned I’ve also been able to apply to the editorial work.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Six friends go on a road trip and take a wrong turn/get lost/break down in the middle of nowhere…

What are you up to next?

As I’ve already said, The Empty Desk is due out later this month. I’m really happy with that and can’t wait to see what other people think about it. There are a couple of other short stories appearing in the next few months. One of them has been waiting for several years to see the light of day.

The Ragchild has been out of print for far too long so I’m working on revising that at the moment to get it back out there. At the moment I’m tempted to re-release it myself and see how it goes.

I’ve just signed a contract to write a Steampunk novel for Telos but I don’t want to give too much away about that until all the ideas have solidified in my mind. I’ll spill the beans on this in my newsletter once I’m confident enough to talk about it.  There are a couple of other things bubbling under which I’m hoping to finalise in the next few weeks

I’m also going to be editing a series of Paranormal Romance novellas to be released month by month next year. I’m still looking to fill a couple of slots and would be more than happy to hear from authors already writing this kind of material

I’ll be at Bristol Horror Con tomorrow and Fantasycon next weekend. I haven’t been to Fantasycon for a couple of years but I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends that I have neglected for far too long. With a little luck I should also make it to Sledge-Lit in Derby.  I love going to these kinds of events but living in Swansea means that I have to travel an hour just to get out of Wales let alone get to wherever the event is. If anyone tells me they’d like me to be somewhere though I’ll do my best to get there.

If people want to keep track of what I’m up to they can sign up for my newsletter http://eepurl.com/bwGayz

Steve Lockley, thank you for joining us!

always a dancer coverAlways a Dancer and Other Stories is “a collection of tall tales…that ranges from the whimsical to the horrifying, from wistful to chilling. There are dark tales of old rites and all manner of men and beasts to encounter. Featuring some established favourites and some never before released stories collected together for the first time”, available in paperback and ebook editions from your local Amazon.

You can find Steve Lockley on twitter as @Ragchild

Interview with Paul Kane

Today we’re joined by Paul Kane – author of the recently published Monsters collection (Alchemy Press), the novella Flaming Arrow (Abaddon Books), and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Solaris Books)

Paul Kane picTell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

My name’s Paul Kane and incredible as it might seem, especially to me, I’ve been writing professionally now for almost twenty years. In fact, SST publications are bringing out a ‘Best of’ collection next year to mark the event called Shadow Casting, which will feature stories that have won awards, been in ‘best of’ anthologies and made into film/TV. I’ve written everything from genre journalism, which is where I cut my teeth, to Comedy, Crime and Science Fiction – technically, my best known books are SF as they’re post-apocalyptic reworkings of the Robin Hood mythos. But at heart I’m a horror writer, I guess. In terms of the formats I like to write in, as well as shorts and novelettes, novellas and novels, I absolutely love scriptwriting – TV and movies, but also more recently graphic novels. I wrote a 100 page one of those over the summer and had a blast.

What was the first horror story you read and what kind of impact did it make on you?

I don’t know if you could call it horror, and it was read to me at an early age before I started reading it over and over myself, but the story was Enid Blyton’s ‘The House in the Fog’. It’s a weird little tale where this boy gets lost in – surprise, surprise – some fog and wanders into this mysterious house where strange things happen. I remember him growing a furry tail at one point, which I suppose was my first exposure at a tender age to Body Horror. I just couldn’t get enough of that story, and kept pestering my granddad to read it to me again and again. I’d say that was largely responsible for putting me on this path towards writing imaginative stories myself.

Which authors have influenced you?

Oh, all kinds – way too many to list here. I went through a period growing up of reading everything SF, Fantasy, Crime and Horror related – which I call my ‘real’ education. I absolutely adore the Dune books by Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury’s writing and Arthur C. Clarke. Colin Dexter was my go-to guy for crime growing up – the Morse mysteries were superb. And of course people like Tolkien for fantasy… In terms of horror, the authors who had the most impact on me during this period were James Herbert, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Graham Masterton – the usual suspects in other words. Then later, people like Neil Gaiman, Christopher Fowler, Poppy Z. Brite, Simon Clark, Michael Marshall Smith – I could go on all day.

But the author who has influenced more than any other and continues to do so is Clive Barker. Anyone who knows me and my work will understand the importance of him and his fiction, his plays, his films and artwork. Clive’s Books of Blood came along at just the right time for me, and were a revelation – if you’ll pardon the expression. They blew me away! Their range and scope, and just the beauty of the writing. Then I read ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and saw Hellraiser, and the die was pretty much cast. I’m very lucky in that over the years Clive has become a friend and I’ve worked with and for him on a number of projects – just last year I had the pleasure of adapting ‘In the Hills, The Cities’ into a motion comic script – and not many people get to say that about the people they read and loved during their formative years.

monsters-cover-002Monsters from Alchemy Press is your 10th print collection and contains stories that cover a career of almost twenty years of publishing.  What is it about the short fiction form that appeals to you?

I started off writing shorts when I first seriously started to think about sending out fiction to markets, because I think it was that old chestnut of not having enough confidence in a longer piece. The novels I had tried to write when I was about fifteen, sixteen were absolutely terrible; I still have some of them and they’re a source of constant amusement. So I suppose I was taking baby steps with the shorts, using them to find my feet and my voice, which I eventually did. It’s funny, because they’re a completely different beast to novels, and yet a lot of writers use them as a stepping stone to longer fiction…

But anyway, they’ll always have a special place in my heart because they’re what got me the attention initially, and I do still love to write them, especially in-between novels or novellas. I think one author once said – it might even have been Stephen King – it’s like the difference between a kiss and a full blown relationship, and that’s true for a reader and a writer. Shorts also allow you to experiment a little more without worrying too much if it doesn’t work out; you haven’t wasted too much of your time if they don’t. They also let you explore lots of different aspects of life in various ways, using an assortment of techniques, which you might not be able to do in a novel because you’re trying to keep this whole juggernaut going and on track.

Which of your short fiction are you most proud of?

That’s a tough one, because it’s like asking you to choose between your children. I suppose I’ll go with the ones that other people liked the most: the award-winning ‘A Chaos Demon is for Life’; ‘Rag and Bone’ which appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror; ‘The Weeping Woman’, which was turned into a short film… All three are in Monsters coincidentally, and the limited edition hardback comes with a free DVD of that movie, directed by award-winner Mark Steensland, starring Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys and with music from legendary Fulci-collaborator Fabio Frizzi.

And are there shorts by other writers that have stuck with you?

Definitely, but again too many to list. However, I will mention ones like: Chris Fowler’s ‘Hated’ from the collection Flesh Wounds, about a man who is on the receiving end of a hate curse; Simon Clark’s ‘The Burning Doorway’ in which a crematory attendant sees figures get up and create a door to paradise inside a furnace; Robert Shearman’s ‘Mortal Coil’ where everyone is told when and how they will die; Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Homecoming’ about monsters at Halloween, which influenced my recent short ‘Michael the Monster’ from A Darke Phantastique; Neil Gaiman’s retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff ‘Troll Bridge’; a bit of cheat as it was in the anthology we edited, Hellbound Hearts, but Sarah Pinborough’s ‘The Confessor’s Tale’; and then of course a Clive one – and I’ll go with ‘Human Remains’ here, as that’s always stayed with me since I first read it. The perfect meditation on what it means to be human and how we should be grateful to be alive in the first place. As I say, there are tons of others, but we’d be here all year.

flaming arrowYou’ve also recently published Flaming Arrow, the fourth contribution to your Arrowhead series in Abaddon’s Afterblight world – what was it like returning to the series and what can we expect from this new instalment?

That came about after the omnibus edition of the three Arrowhead novels – Hooded Man – sold out of its first print run incredibly quickly. It coincided with me thinking about what might have happened to the characters I wrote about a few years down the line, and so when new Abaddon editor David Thomas Moore dropped me a line and said did I want to pen a new novella in that universe, I already had a story half-forming in my mind and jumped at the chance. It was actually a little like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers again, because I’d already written close to a third of a million words about these people and their lives. Anyone who’s seen Hooded Man knows it’s a doorstopper of a book!

Picking up the tale several years after Arrowland gave me the chance to examine things like the generation gap in a way I hadn’t before, with Robert now an older more grizzled Hood, thinking about handing over control of his Rangers to his adopted son, Mark. But, of course, things don’t go anywhere near according to plan and we see chaos erupting at home in Britain. At the same time, Robert is on a tour of Ranger stations abroad and finds himself facing a new kind of foe; genetically engineered monsters this time, which allowed me to do a tighter, siege-like story, in contrast to all the huge battles I’d tackled before. All in all I had a whale of a time writing it, and from the reviews so far people seem to be having just as much fun reading it.

Clive Barker calls you the resident expert on Hellraiser and Peter Atkins goes further and calls you the world’s leading expert on this iconic series – how did you discover Hellraiser and what’s the appeal of it for you?

As mentioned, I came across Clive’s fiction first, reading ‘The Hellbound Heart’ in the anthology Dark Visions, edited by George R.R. Martin. Then I remember seeing this video in local stores which had a picture of a guy with all these nails banged into his head on the cover, stupidly not connecting the two until I started to read the blurb. I wasn’t old enough to see Hellraiser at the cinema and couldn’t even buy the video myself – I think I borrowed it from a friend’s brother initially – but I recall being desperate to see it! When I did, it scared the crap out of me, naturally, but at the same time I could see that something else was going on. The story was layered, the effects were excellent – I mean just look at Bob Keen’s Frank; it’s amazing and still holds up today – and you had this new way of summoning demons through a kind of Pandora’s Box.

The Cenobites themselves were a particular highlight for me, they were just so unique. Nobody had ever done them as these ‘magnificent superbutchers’ – as Clive describes them – before. In the past they’d been all horns and scales, or demon babies. Basically, it just had the whole package and I fell in love with the film and the mythology instantly. It’s also one of those mythos that can just expand and expand, as the sequels and comics and our anthology have shown. There’s a reason it’s still as popular as ever almost thirty years after the original.

You’ve also edited anthologies – do you find the experience has sharpened or changed your approach to writing?   

Editing anthologies, like teaching creative writing classes – which I used to do up until a few years ago – definitely help with your own writing. They help you to spot mistakes and on the flip side see how good stories are constructed. You have a distance there with other people’s stories that you don’t have with your own, so it kind of trains you to do that when it comes to editing your own stuff. You end up approaching it objectively, especially if you put it to one side for a little while before coming back to it. Both help to sharpen your own writing, forcing you to look harder at stories, to spot what’s good and what’s bad – but also to help with your own judgement about such things.  I’ve loved editing anthologies, from the very first in the small press to mass market ones later on such as The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Beyond Rue Morgue. It’s a real treat for me and a change of pace from working on my own material, which keeps everything fresh.

Do you have a dream anthology you’d like to do but haven’t yet?

I do, and funnily enough I got very close to doing it last year. There were lots of phone calls backwards and forwards to the US, but in the end it didn’t happen. I never say never, though, so I don’t want to mention what it is in case it ever comes around again. For a little while back there, though, things were incredibly exciting.

And how have you found the process of co-editing with Marie?

Oh, I thoroughly enjoy it. Marie and I have very similar tastes in fiction, as in everything else. I can’t think of anything better than working with your best friend, apart from – of course – being married to her, so I count myself incredibly lucky in every respect there. I’ve edited anthologies on my own, but do prefer to have another set of eyes on the case, whether it’s Marie or someone else, as you can go a bit wordblind. Plus which, other people bring different things to the table. Charles Prepolec, for instance, was perfect for a project like Beyond Rue Morgue and I knew this because he’d edited my story ‘The Greatest Mystery’ for his Holmes anthology Gaslight Arcanum. Having said all that, I’ve just put an anthology to bed that I worked on by myself, but that’s a rather unusual case… and I can’t say too much about it at this time.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Blimey, I’m probably the wrong person to ask that as I love all the clichés, good and bad. Vampires that turn into bats, werewolves howling at the moon, cobweb-filled castles, mad scientists, shambling zombies. I’m a sucker for all of that stuff. Maybe cats jumping out at people who are going down dark corridors – that’s probably had its day. I’d like to see a badger jump out at someone or something, that would make it a bit different.

And finally, what are you up to next?

holmes hellIt’s been one of the busiest times I can remember actually. You catch me as I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a mass market novel (the only just announced Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell for Solaris . So it’s been writing that and the graphic novel over the summer, as well as going to various conventions, like Edge-Lit and Derby Literary Festival.

I was a guest at three events, the BSFA/BFS SSF Social with Jacey Bedford in June, HorrorCon in July and Liverpool HorrorFest in August. I had a great time at all three. I also attended the launch of the Leviathan documentary at the Cinema Museum in London, as I have a 30 minute featurette on the DVD talking about the Hellraiser sequels. I’ve been doing quite a bit of PR work to promote Flaming Arrow and Monsters, as well, including interviews like this one, blog posts, podcasts, TV appearances…

Other releases out or due out include: the latest Dalton Quayle from Pendragon, The Bric-a-brac Man, which contains two new comedy horror novellas; Hellraisers, which is an interview book from Avalard featuring brand new chats with all the major players in the franchise; the sequel to RED, Blood RED – also from SST – which contains both the original novella, the brand new short novel and a host of extras, such as an extract from the award-winning screenplay based on RED, character sketches and so on… that comes with a Dave McKean cover and an introduction by Alison Littlewood; the graphic novel of Lunar – which is also being turned into a feature film by The 7th Dimension director Brad Watson, based on my script; plus a new collection called Disexistence which gathers together a lot of my new shorts from the last few years, introduced by Nancy Holder… There’s more, but that’ll do for now!

As for upcoming appearances, I’ll be at FantasyCon in October doing stuff and plugging stuff, and one of the guest speakers in November on a course in Derby called ‘The World of Writing and Publishing’, where I’ll be talking about how to make your living as a writer.

Thank you for joining us Paul!

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over fifty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014, plus HorrorCon and HorrorFest in 2015, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film) and the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), with the sequel to REDBlood RED – forthcoming from SST Publications. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

You can buy Monsters from Amazon here and Flaming Arrow from Amazon here or direct from Rebellion here.

Interview with Alec McQuay

Today we welcome the author of the kick-ass Emily Nation (Fox Spirit Books) to answer a few questions – Alec McQuay, take it away….

alec mcquay picWho is Alec McQuay and what do you write?

Hi! Alec is a… Wait, I’m not famous enough to get away with 3rd person. I’m a genre fiction writer from West Cornwall and I like to write across different genres. Fun for me, a nightmare for those who have to allocate it a place on Amazon / a bookshelf. At the moment my work is centred around the western and steam / cyber-punk world of Emily Nation.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing odd bits of fan-fiction since I was about ten but I’ve been putting in serious time on it for probably the last six years or so, since I became a dad. I ended up writing my first novella because I was awake at all hours and needed something to occupy my time and when that got picked up by Fox Spirit, I just kept at it.

Which authors have been an influence to you?

I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett most of all – he was a phenomenal writer, world builder and character creator and also a wonderful human being. I had the privilege of meeting him at a book signing and he was so warm and friendly, in spite of my awkwardness. I also love Brian Jacques and his Redwall series, along with Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin (Tank girl creators) Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta etc) and Gerry Duggan, who was head writer on the most recent Marvel Now! Deadpool series. I love their humour and the darkness of their writing.

emily-nation-ebookLet’s talk Emily Nation – what’s it all about and what led you to writing about post-apocalyptic assassins?

The book is about the titular character making a complete balls-up of a job and having to deal with the consequences. She was young, over confident and armed to the teeth and instead of nipping a problem in the bud, she created a power vacuum that lead to the destruction of the things she cared most about. Long afterwards she is sought out to return to the scene of her mistake and help deal with the chaos she helped to create.

I’m drawn to assassins because they’re quite frightening. They can be anything from an exceptional fighter who can outdo much larger, stronger opponents toe-to-toe, right up to a killer in the distance who you never even know are there. If you upset the wrong person, a woman with a rifle could be taking aim at you right now, from a rooftop a mile away. Nothing you could do to stop them and you’d never even be able to raise the alarm. Much scarier to me than a monster under the bed. The setting I love because you can do anything with it – you can take anywhere you like and warp it in the wake of a natural, man-made or even magical disaster. There’s just so much potential!

Who is your favourite character from Emily Nation and why?  And how about your least favourite character?  What makes them less appealing to you?

Naturally I love Emily, but Jemima is my favourite. She is absolutely lethal and you get the sense that she has been through a hell of a lot that she doesn’t talk about, but she doesn’t let it define her. She’s violent, she swears (a lot) and while she has a sexualised aspect, she has complete agency over how she presents herself. If you’re daft enough to ogle her and she breaks your nose for it, that would be your fault.

My least favourite character is Mr King. Everyone has to have some depth to them and a motivation for what they do, but beneath his hard exterior he’s just a callous, nasty little shit of a man. I’ve known quite a few people who go out of their way just to be unpleasant and he’s pretty much a patch-work quilt made from thirty years-worth of gits.

You also went post-apocalyptic in your novella Spares – what’s the appeal of the post-apocalyptic scenario and how does it influence the story in Spares?

I’ve grown up either surrounded by stories in those settings (Mad Max etc) or surrounded by people going on about this, that or the other being poised to bugger the world up beyond repair. Climate change, war with any one of so many other cultures, aliens, meteors, the Sun spontaneously turning into a huge ball of peanuts and sending us all into anaphylactic shock. If it’s not the environment then we’re all eating too much / little protein, too much / little carbs, everything is going to give you cancer, we’re going to create robots and those robots are going to call us names and beat us up… It just never ended. Mind you… ask a Native American or an Australian Aboriginal person about what it would be like to live in a post-apocalyptic setting and they might just laugh and tell you to take a look around.

The love of the post-apoc setting spun out of all that really, and Spares in particular with our obsession for living longer rather than better. The more time we have to do a thing, the less urgently we approach it. That’s natural to a degree so that we don’t exist in a constant state of panic, but if something happened and suddenly we’d never die, but everything still wore out? How would we cope? How would immortality change us? I had fun with it but one day I want to come back to that setting and give it a lot more time and a lot more thought. Some people barely have enough humanity to last them a lifetime. What the hell would they do with eternity?

What are your recommendations for other post-apocalyptic adventures?

In terms of movies, the four Mad Max movies to date with a particular love for Fury Road. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend is a wonderful book (albeit a sub-par movie) if you’re a fan of zombie-apocalypse settings and games wise, give Borderlands a go. It’s part post-apoc, part western, funny as hell and a really great ride. One of the downloadable content packs is called Island of Doctor Ned and is a zombie-outbreak type area that is at least seventeen different kinds of fun. Ticks multiple boxes.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

I’d be in deep trouble if I said post-apoc, right…?

One of my major gripes in genre fiction, movies, television and allsorts is the idea that violence is absolutely fine so long as no-one is swearing. I’ve played games where people are killed by having giant chainsaws rammed through their torsos, they’re held aloft and the chainsaw’s motor is revved hard until blood spills out everywhere and the victim is dead, but no-one said anything naughty. I’ve seen shows where people have bamboo rammed under their fingernails and their response sounded like AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH. I’ve seen movies where people are torn apart by horses tied to each of their limbs and they didn’t curse once. I’m not saying everything adult in nature has to be saturated with bad language but if you feel that the depiction of horrific violence is less offensive or “adult” than seeing a human being tortured, killed or eviscerated, well then I think you should jump into Room 101 along with the cliché.

If you could kill off any character from any other book, who would you choose and how would they die?

I want two but they’re from the same book(s)! I would take Vernon Dursley and Delores Umbridge (of Harry Potter infamy), have them grabbed by the lapels by a swarm of disgruntled Hogwarts owls, hoisted to about 20,000 feet and dropped into an industrial wood chipper. I have an absolutely pathological hatred of cruel people and bullies who abuse what little power they have to just be foul to other people. Reading those two made me very cross.

What are you up to next?

Currently I’ve got a lot on my plate – I’m writing Emily Nation 2, working my way through a novella series with a group of writers producing a superhero series by the name of Outliers, I have some short fiction in the works for Fox Spirit and I’m training for my first powerlifting competition in November. Never enough hours in the day, but I love it.

Thank you for joining us Alec!

Alec McQuay is a horror, fantasy and science fiction writer hailing from Cornwall in the south-west of England; an area renowned for natural outstanding beauty and the worst internet connections in the country. Capable of going off at odd tangents, bizarre flights of fantasy and generally being incapable of taking things like bio-writing seriously, Alec spends most of his time scribbling notes and ideas on his phone and talking the ears off his wife and friends about whatever mad-cap scheme he intends to write next.  You can find him at his website https://alecmcquay.wordpress.com or on twitter as @VampiricChicken

Emily Nation is published by Fox Spirit Books and is available from Amazon.

Interview with Jan Edwards

Jan in Hat 001Jan Edwards is a woman of many talents – writer, editor, publisher, bookseller, Reiki master, tarot reader, quilter, motorbike chick, Britain’s first female master locksmith, gardener, cook, potter and sculptor…

So, first let’s talk about Jan the writer. When did you first start writing and what genres draw you.
It always sounds like such a cliché to say I have always written, for as long as I can remember, but I suspect this is quite true with the majority of writers. I amused the family no end by talking in the third person for a week or more when I was around seven years old, because I wanted to see what I would sound like as a book and at secondary school I filled many school notebooks with fiction (mostly during lesson times). I wrote primarily for myself for years and only really started thinking about writing for publication in my late thirties when the family and business needed less of my time.

What draws me? I have always been fascinated by folklore, myths and legends, especially those that give rise to local customs, so fantasy was a natural path. A great deal of my short fiction has been dark fantasy, urban fantasy and horror and many of those stories have been drawn directly from those sources. Sussex Tales, my mainstream novel, also has a lean toward those local customs with the added bonus of country wine recipes and rural herb lore.  Currently I am writing a crime novel set in WW2 which is more historical than mythical –though I still find myself caught up in the same levels of research. As you can see there is no one genre that draws me; except for a recurring love of those old legends.

Which authors have inspired you in these genres?
This is the kind of question I always hate answering mainly because my influences and inspirations are so wide. Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier have always been huge influences, as have Arthur Conan Doyle, Joan Aitken, Michael Moorcock, Robert Holdstock and so many more. Ask me tomorrow and I will find a half dozen others.

When it comes to more recent authors it is even harder to choose because we all read so many new titles by so many people that to name one or two above the rest would be unfair to the dozens of other equally spiffing writers. I could list all of the recent and forthcoming Alchemy Press authors such as Pete Atkins, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Bryn Fortey, Mike Chinn, Anne Nichols, Adrian Cole, Pauline Dungate, James Brogden, Paul Kane, Marion Pitman, David Sutton,  John Grant et al – or the Penkhull Press writers; Misha Herwin, Jem Shaw and Malcolm Havard – but that would be unfair to all of the other writers that not yet published by either press!

Recently read books that I’ve enjoyed most especially (who are not Alchemy Press writers – all of whom are fab!) have been by (in no special order) Jo Walton, Joanne Harris, Jim Butcher, Lou Morgan and Paul Finch. There are others of course but these are the ones that have stuck with me, which is always a good sign.

Have you ever been tempted to retell Pride and Prejudice with a genre slant? 😉
It has crossed my mind, though it has been done so many times already that I am not sure it would be a project people would want to see. A regency urban fantasy might be quite fun to do if I got my act together. Elizabeth Bennett is one of the greatest characters in literature. She could be parachuted into almost any setting and still work. I suspect she has been paid homage (and occasionally pastiched) by many, many, writers – albeit under different names.

leinster coverYou’ve just had your supernatural fiction collection Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties published with The Alchemy Press. Tell us a little more about that.
Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties  (to paraphrase) is exactly what it says on the cover. A collection of supernatural fiction (in paper and kindle formats). All but one of the stories included have been previously published, and some of the stories had a limited audience on first publication it seemed like a good idea to give them a second airing. The single original story in there is not strictly speaking new as it was accepted for Twisted Tongue magazine which folded before my story was published. They are all supernatural in origin, either traditional ghost stories or tales that revolve around a spirit of a kind. I am not a writer of visceral horror, but rather (I hope) the sort that raises an uneasy sensation in the back of the neck when you are walking home in the dark!

You’ve got another collection – Fables and Fabulations – coming out soon. When, with whom and is there a particular theme to it?
Fables and Fabulations is coming out very soon as a ‘Penkhull Slim’ volume with the Penkhull Press. Again these are all previously published stories gathered together in a single volume, but unlike Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties there is no particular theme beyond fantasy in its broadest sense. Fables and Fabulations opens with the vampire tale ‘A Taste of Culture, (first published in the Mammoth Book of Dracula and ends with ‘Winter Eve’, (from Ethereal Tales #9) which is an urban fantasy on Halloween and the water horses of legend galloping across Pontypridd common.  There is also are SF and horror tales in the mix so hopefully something for everyone.

Next, Jan the editor. You’ve edited multiple publications for the BFS, and co-edited for both The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books. What’s the appeal of this side of publishing for you?
I do love the process of putting an anthology together. Sifting through the submissions and coming across those gems of short fiction is hard work but infinitely rewarding. The downside is in having to reject some really good stuff, either because it doesn’t fit or there is a similar story that you like just that little bit better. It is also a great way to network with other writers!

Do you have a dream anthology project you’d like to do or authors you’d like to work with in the future?
There are so many projects that would be fun to do. Something with a pagan theme perhaps – ‘Quarters and Cross Quarters’ (a working title) or maybe as an retired locksmith something like ‘Picking Over Locks’. That said I prefer not to have my themes too narrowly set. By the time you have read the sixth story about one-legged zombie hunters or Unicorns at Halloween even the best of fiction can lack originality.

Who would I like to work with? Hmm. Well the Alchemy Press books of Urban Mythic 1 &2 and Alchemy Press book of Ancient Wonders as well as the Fox Spirit book of Wicked Women all have some stellar line-ups. Top notch established writers and talented new arrivals. And of course with Alchemy Press I have worked with some fabulous writers already mentioned. So who left? I would love to get stories from Charles de Lint or Jim Butcher, Joanne Harris or Sarah Pinborough. But there are dozens, maybe hundreds of writers I could name and would hate to make a list and forget to include folks I admire but who slipped my mind just for a moment.

Do you have any recommendations for short fiction or anthologies by others?
Other than Alchemy Press authors you mean? See above. There are a zillion great writers out there I could name! The Terror Tales series of anthologies from Gray Friar Press are always worth reading. Sadly the Mammoth imprint is being phased out – I was thrilled to get a story accepted for one of their last titles Mammoth book of The Adventures of Moriarty. PS publishing put out some cracking anthologies. As a writer I enjoy an anthology that has variety. As an editor, though I use my e-reader as everyone else does, I still feel that books should be a thing of beauty, and I place a lot of value on production values. Layouts should please the eye and typos be few and far between. Most of all, with both hats on, they should entertain. I suspect only the editors like every story in a given anthology, but the good thing about them for a reader is that if there is one story in a volume that doesn’t grab you there is a good chance the next one will.

What are you up to next?
I have Fables and Fabulations coming soon, there are short stories due out in three anthologies in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis, Tales From The Lake: vol 2 and Terror Tales of the Ocean, and one other yet to be announced. I have a main stream novel due out with Penkhull Press in the spring and a crime novel and urban fantasy series in edit.

On ‘fun stuff’,  you can catch me in a panel at Fantasycon 2015 in Nottingham, where Alchemy Press will be selling books and launching Music in the Bone, a collection by Marion Pitman.   We shall also be at Novacon in Nottingham selling books, I shall be on  panel about editing and  we will be launching Anne Nicholls’s collection Music From the Fifth Planet; and then there is Sledgelit In Derby where we are selling books and hopefully soft launching the collection The Complete Weird Epistles of Penelope Pettiweather, Ghost Collector  by US writer Jessica Amanda Salmonson .

On other stuff Alchemy Press have multiple short listings in the British Fantasy Awards. Best Anthology: The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2, edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber;  Best Collection: Nick Nightmare Investigates, by Adrian Cole (co-published with Airgedlámh Publications);  Best Non-Fiction: Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic, by John Howard and Best Independent Press: The Alchemy Press itself. (we won this award last year.

Fox Spirit are also in the running for multiple in the BFA shortlists with:  Best Anthology  with Tales of Eve; Best Fantasy Novel Breed by K.T. Davies; Best Short Story with ‘Change of Heart by Gaie Sebold which appears in our Wicked Women anthology (edited by Jenny Barber and Jan Edwards ) and finally for Best Independent Press

Penkhull Press and Renegade Writers have a story café at the Gladstone Museum in Stoke for Halloween.

I have no doubt other things will be slotted into the calendar before the new year. You can always catch up with what I am doing on my blog site.

Jan Edwards, thank you very much for joining us!

Jan Edwards was born in Sussex and now lives in the Staffs Moorlands with 3 cats and husband Peter Coleborn.  Jan is a writer of fiction, freelance editor, Master Practitioner in both Usui and Celtic Reiki and Meditational Healer and founder member of the Renegade Writers group.  You can find her at her website https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com or on twitter at: @jancoledwards.

Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties can be found in paperback or ebook editions from Amazon.

Urban Mythic 2: Tanith Lee interviewed

tanith-leeAuthor of “The Mermaid” in Urban Mythic 2, Tanith Lee answers a few questions!

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing. How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing since the age of 9 – about 57 years. Being slightly dyslexic (something unrecognised in my childhood) the school couldn’t teach me how to read. My father stepped in and taught me in a few months. About a year later, by then reading as a locust feeds, I began – as if logically – to write.

What is at the root of your Urban Mythic story?

The story came from an idea a friend told me and said I might use. It was so straightforward – shocking.

You’ve written widely across a multitude of forms and genres including horror, SF, fantasy, historical, detective, contemporary-psychological, children’s and young adult; in novel, short story, radio play and TV script form: do you find yourself drawn to any one in particular? 

All and any, if they call to me. When the inspiration comes, I’m off.

Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried yet but would like to?

Anything, probably, again if I get that alluring signal.

What do you think of the current state of the fantasy/sf/horror genre?

I don’t take a lot of notice of that. I read the ones I love, and now discover new loves. But I read mostly, and widely, outside the three main ‘fantasy’ areas. Always have.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

None. From wonderful epic ideas and phrases can come rubbish. And from (perhaps) limited or clichéd ones, gardens of Hell and Paradise may flower.

What are you up to next?

Some (Main House) reprints of some of my past work, and some new, for the USA, are under discussion. I’m also putting together lots of Lee short story collections, all including new original unpublished tales. These for UK, Australia and the USA. Conventions – I love them, but right now, no time.