Today I am pleased to welcome Marie O’Regan to the site to chat about her latest anthology Phantoms, the joys of short fiction, and all things horror!
Today sees the launch of your latest anthology Phantoms – what inspired you to choose the theme and what kind of haunting tales can we look forward to seeing in it?
I’ve wanted to do another ghost story anthology ever since I edited Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, back in 2012, but anthologies are a hard sell with publishers these days. I’m very grateful to Titan Books for the opportunity to go back to working with ghost stories, which I love. Phantoms is a very different beast, as all the stories are contemporary. Four are reprints, including: John Connolly’s beautifully told ‘A Haunting’, the story of a man revisiting the hotel he always spent anniversaries in with his wife, this time, for the first time, alone; Joe Hill’s ‘20th Century Ghost’, which is a wonderful story about a movie-loving spirit tied to a cinema; Paul Tremblay’s story ‘A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken’, which is a ‘choose your ending’ style tale, beautifully told; and Muriel Gray’s emotive ‘Front Row Rider’, first published in Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories. Add to that original tales such as: Alison Littlewood’s ‘The Marvellous Talking Machine’ set in a Victorian entertainment emporium; Robert Shearman’s ‘Tom is in the Attic’, a haunted house story with a difference; M.R. Carey’s ‘My Life in Politics’, which deals with spirits seeking a new home and a corrupt politician, told from a young girl’s viewpoint… There are also stories by Kelley Armstrong, Gemma Files, Josh Malerman (‘Frank, Hide’), Tim Lebbon… the list goes on, but hopefully there’s a story in there for everyone.
What are the qualities of a good short horror story for you? What horror tropes turn you off?
A good short horror story, to my mind, should leave you feeling slightly uneasy – not necessarily because a story is gory, or shocking, but because it creeps you out and that feeling remains after you’ve finished reading. If you’re talking about classic ghost stories, a great example of this would be Edith Wharton’s ‘Afterward’ which I included in The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women; you’re aware throughout the story that there’s something not quite right but there’s nothing overt until the end, when you realise there has been a ghost after all, you just didn’t realise it at the time. If you’re talking contemporary short horror fiction, then I think an excellent example is Angela Slatter’s ‘When We Fall We Forget’, which is in Phantoms. The setting is very atmospheric, the characterisation is very well done and the story plays on the emotions beautifully, every thread weaving together to an affecting conclusion.
Horror tropes that turn me off? There are a few, I admit. I’m not a fan of the ‘woman in distress’ trope; some poor female is degraded in any one of a number of ways (chased, raped, abused, tortured, killed – always joyfully depicted), and the hero of the piece is some man, of course. Both men and women can be strong, and both can be weak. And they can both be monsters; that’s not exclusively male. To me, good fiction shows the complexities of all the characters, and isn’t dependent on gender. I don’t like overly graphic violence that’s unnecessary. Sometimes it is, and that’s fine as long as it’s not glorified, but sometimes too much graphic violence just reads like torture porn and that’s a complete turn off for me.
Who are your favourite short horror authors, and what short horror stories do you keep coming back to?
My favourite short horror authors are: Christopher Fowler, John Connolly, M.R. James, Charles L. Grant, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Angela Slatter, Gemma Files, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Lisa Tuttle… the list goes on. There are loads of stories I keep going back to. Christopher Fowler’s ‘The Rule Book’, from his collection Red Gloves, or ‘Hater’, both excellent but I’m a huge fan of his writing in general. One of my favourite Stephen King short stories is ‘The Monkey’ from Skeleton Crew – and another favourite, although it’s a novella rather than a short story, is ‘The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet’; there’s also ‘The Reach’… I think you can tell I’m a fan! Peter Crowther’s ‘Eater’ is excellent; Charles L. Grant’s ‘Confess the Seasons’ and ‘The Last and Dreadful Hour’; John Connolly’s ‘Sometimes Children Wander by Mistake’ or ‘A Haunting’… So many that I love.
What would you say is the appeal of short fiction anthologies for the reader? What anthologies would you recommend new readers try?
I think a short story anthology holds a certain kind of appeal. The stories are ‘bite-sized’, if you like, so you can dip in and out as and when you have time. There’s also the fact that you’re less likely to have to leave the story part-way through, as you would with a novel. And with an anthology, there’s also the fact that you get the chance to sample writing from a number of different authors, some of whom you might not have read before – introducing you to new possibilities as well as reading work from some of your favourites. As for anthologies I’d recommend, I’m bound really to recommend mine – Phantoms, and the last one, Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, or the ones I’ve edited with Paul (Kane), Hellbound Hearts, short stories based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror, or our anthology of circus-themed horror, A Carnivàle of Horror: Dark Tales from the Fairground. I love Stephen Jones’ long-running Best New Horror anthology series, now published by PS Publishing, although any anthology he edits is going to be great value. Or any anthology edited by Ellen Datlow – I’m particularly fond of The Dark. PS also do the Postscripts series, always a good read.
Do you prefer anthologies with a narrow theme or a wider theme and why?
I prefer as wide a theme as possible, purely because then you stand a chance of getting the widest range of fiction possible. Ghosts, for example, is a broad church; you can set your story anywhere or anytime.
You’ve edited and co-edited an assortment of magazines and anthologies – how did you get started with editing short fiction? When and how did you realise it was something you wanted to do long term, and who were/are your editor influences?
I got my start editing short fiction with the British Fantasy Society. First I edited their newsletter, Prism, as it was called in those days – and then moved on to their fiction magazine, Dark Horizons. With Paul, I co-edited an anthology (BFS- A Celebration) for them, and we’ve also edited many other magazines – FantasyCon programme booklets etc. I’ve taught writing, I’ve been a judge on short story competitions, a juror for the Stoker Awards two years running… and of course Paul and I have edited a number of anthologies together, as I’ve said above. We’re currently working on a few more, to be released over the next two years, but I can’t really say too much about those here.
As an ex-Chair of the British Fantasy Society and current Co-Chair of the UK Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, what would you say are the benefits of being part of such organisations? And what are your aims and future projects with the UK HWA?
I would say the value of both organisations lies primarily in their ability to form a community of sorts for people working in the genre. Writing is a lonely business, or can be, and it’s important to make friendships and keep abreast of developments in the genre as well as attend events and mingle with others working in the same field. Both societies also publish fiction by their members, which is a great way to get those vital first few stories out there. The HWA goes a little further in that it provides things like a hardship fund, legal advice for publishing disputes, a mentor scheme – it’s always looking for ways to help its members in a practical way.
As to our aims with the HWA UK – we’ve been organising pub meets, similar to the BFS Open Nights, as a way of allowing members to meet up and socialise, as well as discuss what they want from the HWA or talk to us about any things they’d like to see… we usually have a guest author to read and answer questions as well. So far we’ve had M.R. Carey, Catriona Ward and A.K. Benedict as guests – we’re trying to organise another one at the moment, but can’t confirm just yet. We’ve run two day long events – a Scriptwriting Day last year, with screenwriters such as Joe Ahearne, Stephen Volk, Stephen Gallagher, James Moran and Cat Davies, Jason Arnopp, producer Jen Handorf, among others, giving up a day to give talks/run panels on various aspects of screenwriting; we finished with a screening of Alice Lowe’s PREVENGE, produced by Jen, which went down very well. And this year we ran a Crime Writing Day, as there’s a huge crossover between horror and crime fiction. Again, it was a great day, with authors such as Stuart MacBride, Fiona Cummins, David Mark, Steph Broadribb, Roz Watkins, Paul Finch, Jo Jakeman, to name a few, giving up a day to run panels on all aspects of writing in that genre.
And in 2020, we’re bringing StokerCon™ to the UK for the first time, over the weekend of 16th to 19th April, in Scarborough. We’re working on that now, and it promises to be a brilliant weekend. You can find more details on www.stokercon-uk.com. What we want to do is build a community for fans of the horror genre and those working within it; there isn’t really an organisation purely for horror in the UK. We’re also looking at ways to improve what we offer here; perhaps an ezine for members only, that sort of thing. All members, worldwide, get monthly emails that include market information, members’ news etc.
And finally… what are you up to next?
So much stuff! First up, Paul and I are about to hand in another anthology, but can’t release more on that just yet. I have a collection coming out from Luna Press next year, called The Last Ghost and Other Stories, several short stories in various anthologies – three are due out this month: ‘Pretty Things’ in the Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ in Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories, and ‘Tap, Tap’ in Black Room Manuscripts Vol. 4. Two of those launch at FantasyCon this month, as does Phantoms, and I have a Forbidden Planet signing for Phantoms on Saturday 27th October (https://forbiddenplanet.com/events/2018/10/27/join-best-names-horror-fiction), with a number of authors coming along: M.R. Carey, Joe Hill, Catriona Ward, Laura Purcell, Robert Shearman, George Mann… and me. I’m trying to organise a couple of local events for that as well. Paul and I are working on two more mass market anthology projects that are due out over the next year or so, I’m working on a novel that I hope to finish pretty soon now… and various script and short story projects are in the pipeline. And StokerCon UK, of course. That’s just going to keep getting busier.
Marie O’Regan, thank you for joining us!
Marie O’Regan is a three-time British Fantasy Award-nominated author and editor, based in Derbyshire. She has released two collections, Mirror Mere and In Times of Want, and her third, The Last Ghost and Other Stories is due from Luna Press early in 2019, Her short fiction has appeared in a number of genre magazines and anthologies in the UK, US, Canada, Italy and Germany, including Best British Horror 2014, and Great British Horror: Dark Satanic Mills (2017), and The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories. Her novella, Bury Them Deep, was published by Hersham Horror Books in September 2017. She was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Short Story in 2006, and Best Anthology in 2010 (Hellbound Hearts) and 2012 (Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women). Her genre journalism has appeared in magazines like The Dark Side, Rue Morgue and Fortean Times, and her interview book with prominent figures from the horror genre, Voices in the Dark, was released in 2011. An essay on ‘The Changeling’ was published in PS Publishing’s Cinema Macabre, edited by Mark Morris. She is co-editor of the bestselling Hellbound Hearts, Mammoth Book of Body Horror and A Carnivàle of Horror – Dark Tales from the Fairground, plus editor of bestselling The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women and Phantoms. She is Co-Chair of the UK Chapter of the Horror Writers’ Association, and is currently organising StokerCon UK, which will take place in Scarborough in April 2020. Marie is represented by Jamie Cowen of The Ampersand Agency.
You can visit Marie at her website: http://www.marieoregan.net
[Author photo credit: (c) Ellen Datlow]