Monthly Archives: March 2011

Simon Strantzas – The Inquisition

Simon Strantzas – The Inquisition

Simon Strantzas is the author of the critically-acclaimed COLD TO THE TOUCH (Tartarus Press, 2009), a collection of thirteen tales of the strange and supernatural. His first collection, BENEATH THE SURFACE (reprinted by Dark Regions Press, 2010), has been called “one of the most important debut short story collections in the genre”. Strantzas’s stories have appeared in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORRORCEMETERY DANCE, and POSTSCRIPTS. In 2009, his work was nominated for the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. His third collection, NIGHTINGALE SONGS, is due for publication in 2011. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and an unyielding hunger for the flesh of the living. Please visit him at http://www.strantzas.com

 

1 – Which book has been most influential in your career?

If I were to be completely honest, I would say that book would be “Prime Evil”, the anthology edited by Douglas E Winter. I say this not because it had any direct bearing upon my style of writing, or the sorts of stories I aim to tell, but rather because it was the book that first introduced me to the work of Peter Straub by way of his wonderfully written tale “The Juniper Tree”. The sheer power and beauty of that story led me to more of Straub’s work, and he in turn pointed me towards Robert Aickman. From there, I descended deep into a world of writers I had never known existed, and in the end that exploration of the other side was what led me to the sort of work I produce today.

 

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

I feel the influence of many masters from many fields upon my fiction, but I imagine in terms of tone Aickman would be the greatest influence, and Ligotti in terms of worldview. In many ways these two writers are opposites, but also share much the same terrain (albeit viewed from different angles). I cannot imagine my fiction without either voice inside my head, and in some ways my constant struggle is to reconcile the two.

 

3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?

I have hopes for the best, but I fear the genre is destined to become more and more ghettoised. This is not necessarily a unique thing that only horror shall endure. By nature of technology and the way it has bound humanity together, art with widespread appeal grows less and less common every day. Instead, no matter what our interest, we can find a group of like-minded individuals that share it, and by focusing on what we like most, we begin to ignore that which we don’t know at all. In a way, we all become fanatics about our pet loves. This means that as time progresses, only those truly interested in horror will read it and write it, and the genre will risk becoming an incestuous pool of horror writers appealing to horror readers who shall in turn become horror writers, and the world beyond will pay less and less attention. Some might argue this has already happened. Thankfully, there is a wave of writers trying to push the genre to its limits, but I fear those writers are unlikely to lead anyone new to the fold. I can only hope I’m wrong.

 

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

When I read the fiction of writers like Matt Cardin or Gary McMahon or Richard Gavin (and a small handful of others) I find myself brimming with the sort of jealousy any writer would feel when confronted by a master of the form. It is the sort of jealousy that makes one simultaneously want to give up and work harder. I am privileged to live and work in a time with writers such as these.

 

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

There is none. As long as I have something to write on and something to write with, I’ll be fine.

 

6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?

In the first few years of my writing career, I plotted my tales out extensively, often to the point where my outlines were more or less first drafts. In an effort to explore my skills, I spent a summer trying to push myself to produce more and faster, and to do that I attempted to write without the net of an outline. Through this, I discovered I much prefer to work untethered, and the act of discovery while writing is more thrilling than what I had hitherto experienced. Now, I plot very rarely; instead, I start with a rough idea of what I would like to say, and simply write to discover the tale. Occasionally, this means I am far into a piece before realising that I must discard the work and begin again, but the discovery by this method is invaluable to me, and the destruction of that which does not work is strangely liberating.

 

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

Why should it be either-or? The two can co-exist, and frankly I suspect they will co-exist for a good long while, especially in a genre such as ours. Ebooks will take the place of things like the mass-market paperback, and the periodical, but those books we as reader want to cherish will remain in printed form. I do not foresee the end of paper books for a good while yet, though I do foresee more and more books available electronically only — those books that are often read once and discarded (like so many things in our consumer-based society).

 

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

For me, Weird Fiction. It is all I know how to write.

 

9 – Whom should I read next?

Frankly, I am horrible at this game. My lists tend to be filled with names anyone interested in my work no doubt already knows. Writers such as Laird Barron, John Langan, Livia Lwelleyn, Michael Kelly, Ian Rogers, Barbara Roden, Joseph Pulver, Adam Golaski, Daniel Mills, Nathan Ballingrud, DP Watt, RB Russell, Reggie Oliver, and of course the aforementioned McMahon, Cardin and Gavin. And this is just scratching the surface.

 

10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?

My next book, Nightingale Songs, is due this year, but as I am still in the process of putting things together it seems premature to mention much more about it. Instead, allow me to direct you to my previous book, Cold to the Touch, available from Tartarus Press (here) which has received a good handful of positive reviews thus far, and from my understanding is running dangerously low in stock. I shall also point you to the recent reprint of my first collection, Beneath the Surface, from Dark Regions Press (here) which is priced for the more budget-minded. The books appeal to different audiences, I would think: the former to the fan of strange, quiet horror such as written by authors such as Robert Aickman or Terry Lamsley. The latter, for fans of giants such as Lovecraft and Ligotti. I am extremely proud of both, and believe the new collection will show an interesting amalgam of both approaches.

Thanks Simon.

 

 

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Loss Of Separation by Conrad Williams

Loss of Separation

By Conrad Williams

Published by Solaris, 2011

 

Conrad Williams builds on the success of his previous six novels (including the award winning, One and Unblemished) and novellas to bring us Loss Of Separation. It’s a rich back catalogue but for me the standout is his novella Rain, a short but intensely personal piece which focussed as much on character and emotion as horror. That combination of horror through human emotion was very powerful and it’s a technique he exploits to the full in Loss of Separation.

Paul Roan was the first officer of a Boeing 777 when it was involved in a near miss (a loss of separation). Seeking solace and a new start in the remote village of Southwick seems like a way to escape the terrible guilt and nightmares he suffers, but a hit and run accident leaves him in a coma and with a body like “a badly constructed Jenga tower”. With the help of friends Charlie and Ruth he begins the process of rehabilitation in the village, but during the coma his girlfriend Tamara has disappeared so he must also now attempt to find out what happened to her.

In the hands of most other writers, that plot could easily be the basis for a fairly simple love story. In the hands of Conrad Williams it becomes a tragic tale of dark despair and mystery. The first half of the book is a slow paced dark and puzzling affair as Paul gradually comes to terms with his new life and more particularly the strange town and inhabitants of Southwick. This is a town cut off from the rest of society, a place where there is “death shot through those tides” and a place haunted by the darkness of “the craw”.

The second half of the book increases the pace wonderfully towards a fittingly climatic and devastating ending as the depths of the towns black past are revealed. The pacing is excellently handled and Conrad Williams uses remarkable prose techniques to achieve this. At times the narrative is florid and rich, almost poetic, but at other times he uses staccato sentences to introduce that element of confused adrenalin rush. There is one remarkable three page sequence where most of the sentences are two or three word fragments. It’s experimental, it’s challenging, but it’s also fantastically effective in portraying the character’s state of mind. That is where the true power of the book lies, in the characters, and most importantly the main character. Confused and suffering memory loss from his accident, Paul Roan is also haunted by the near miss incident and the loss of his girlfriend. Mix these emotions with powerful drugs, which he requires for pain control and you have a character who frequently steps over the boundaries of reality. These voyages are shown in remarkable visionary sequences which when mixed with the actual nightmares he is suffering create a powerful and unsettling sense of confusion in the reader.

This is a novel of raw human emotion and dark mystery. It has elements of M R James in the sweeping coastal panoramas and the mysterious lone figures who appear within them, elements of The Wicker Man’s residual horror in a cut off community, but most importantly this is Conrad Williams building his own tradition. This is a writer who knows how to reach into the emotional heart of the reader and fill it with untold horrors. This is a writer who is among the very best horror writers around and one who just gets better and better.

Rating 5 out of 5

 

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Gary McMahon – The Inquisition

Gary McMahon is the seven time, British Fantasy Award nominated author of Rough Cut, All Your Gods Are Dead, Dirty Prayers, How to Make Monsters, Rain Dogs, Hungry Hearts and Pretty Little Dead Things and has edited an anthology of original novelettes titled We Fade to Grey. Ramsey Campbell described Gary as “one of the darkest – which is to say brightest – new stars in the firmament of horror fiction.” So it’s a delight to welcome Gary McMahon to the Inquisition.

1- Which book has been most influential in your career?

I assume you mean a book written by someone else? In that case, I’d have to say Danse Macabre by Stephen King. That was the book that introduced me to so many genre writers I might otherwise never have discovered.

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

That’s a tricky one. When I first started writing in my early teens I was trying to write like Stephen King, then I discovered Ramsey Campbell and realised very quickly that I had no chance whatsoever of copying his dense, intricate style. I suppose Clive Barker’s influence has been important to me – if only to show me that a writer can give vent to their imagination and allow their own personal imagery to take centre stage – and whenever I’m stuck on a story I always, always think: “How would Dennis Etchison write this?” Outside the genre, Charles Bukowski influences everything I’ve ever written – he’s my favourite writer.

3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?

Cross-genre pollination. By this I mean authors letting themselves go wherever their imagination takes them, regardless of genre boundaries or limitations. The most exciting genre books out there right now span all the imaginative genres – horror, fantasy, SF, crime.

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

A Child Across the Sky by Jonathan Carroll.

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

My brain. I’d write on the walls, in my own blood and shit, if I didn’t have any other writing material to hand, but I couldn’t do it without my tiny, warped excuse for a brain to give me the ideas.

6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?

It all depends on the project. Some need outlining in detail, while others just rush out of me and onto the page. The novel I’m working on now has been in my head since I was sixteen, so it needed no detailed planning – it did, however, require some reigning in!

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

Both. One isn’t a replacement for the other – they’re simply alternative formats. It’s the story that’s important, not the medium by which it’s transmitted.

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

Dark Fiction. It’s just a personal preference, but I’ve always been fond of this genre definition. I used to cling to the term “Horror”, but lately I’ve begun to shy away from it for my own personal reasons. I’m not a big fan of genre labels anyway: let’s just call it all imaginative fiction.

9 – Who should I read next?

Me, of course. Or maybe James Sallis, an amazing crime writer I only just discovered this year.

10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?

My last book was Pretty Little Dead Things (published by Angry Robot, ISBN: 978085766 0695). More details here.

My next book is The Concrete Grove (published by Solaris, ISBN: 9781907519949) More details here.

Thanks Gary

 

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Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux

Allison Hewitt is Trapped

by Madeleine Roux

Published by Headline 2011.

Just about the only way you are going to make any impact these days with a post apocalyptic zombie novel is to have a unique selling point. This book certainly started off that way, Madeleine Roux originally unleashed this novel as a serialised blog written from the titular hero’s perspective. This confusing mix of reality versus fiction was a powerful thing and the blog quickly gained popularity, the issue is whether that online originality survives into its publication as a novel.

We first meet Allison through a blog post explaining how she is trapped in the break room of the bookshop where she works with a few colleagues. The world has suffered some kind of mass infection leading to “the outbreak” and the bulk of the population have been turned into “groaners” (that’s zombies to you and me). We follow the adventures of Allison and her friends through a series of chapters framed as blog posts, complete with comments illustrating the plight of others in the catastrophe. It’s not long before the group are running short of supplies and they decide to break out of the bookshop to a new location. We follow them through a series of adventures as they attempt to make it to Liberty Village, a sanctuary where Allison thinks her mother might be.

What we have then, is a typical zombie novel, but with a spin. The blog post idea works well initially, but you soon find yourself questioning it. The idea that when you are being chased by a mad pack of zombies, you would retain enough wits to keep your laptop and charger safe seems a bit far fetched, the idea that you would have access to power and mobile internet signals even more so. And the blog posts themselves are not blog posts, they are in fact well written chapters full of descriptive prose and dialogue, sure there are a few comments bolted on to the end of each chapter but the conceit of these being actual posts doesn’t last long.

When you strip away the facade of the blogging zombie tale you are left with a well written but rather unoriginal zombie adventure. Fast paced initially and with a tense climax the book is also let down by a rather drawn out and much slower middle section where the characters suddenly get involved in rather tortuous romantic interludes. So kudos to Madeleine Roux for trying something different and for the ability to write a perfectly fine zombie adventure, but it fails to stand out from the swarming hoards of similar titles in the way you might expect, so comes across as a bit of a missed opportunity.

Rating 3 out of 5

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The Twilight Hour by Simon Marsden

The Twilight Hour – Celtic Visions From The Past

by Simon Marsden

Format: Hardback, 128 pages

Publisher: Little, Brown. 2003

If you are a fan of the horror genre (and if your not you may be on the wrong blog!) then I am sure you will be familiar with the work of Simon Marsden. There is a good chance you may never have heard of him but you will know his work. Sir Simon Marsden is the foremost photographer of gothic, fantastic and supernatural places in the UK (probably the world) and his work has adorned book, magazine and even album (that’s CD kids) covers for the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Phil Rickman and the delightful pop combo Cradle Of Filth.

This collection brings together some of Marsden’s iconic photography with extracts from classic celtic supernatural literature from the likes of Arthur Machen, W.B.Yeats, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. What makes Marsden’s style unique is his preference to shoot on black and white infra-red film, followed by hours of post processing in a darkroom. This creates a unique atmosphere in his photography, producing a grainy, black and white image where vegetation is rendered in pale (almost white) tones and the blue sky takes on a dramatic dark and brooding appearance.

Within this collection are some of Marsden’s most famous shots including such magnificent works as Gothic Window, Castle Barnard pg 119, Eccelscreig House pg 69 and Duntulm Castle pg 26. You can see many examples of Simon Marsden’s work at his website and I would urge everyone to try and get hold of a copy of this book.

The images in this book truly transcend the average illustration and imbue the text with an atmosphere completely in tune with the tone of the stories. Here the Photographs and text work together to create fully formed pieces of art. Marsden’s own experience of the supernatural means he is not purely working at a technical level here but is truly exploring “another dimension – a spirit world”. As an aspiring amateur photographer I can only stare in awe at the technical and aesthetic skill required to create these images, to succeed on page after page is testament to a truly great artist and one I highly recommend you check out.

Rating 5 out of 5

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The Whisperer In Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft

The Whisperer in Darkness: Collected Stories Volume 1

by H.P. Lovecraft

Format Paperback, 384 pages

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, 2007

 

Clearly Lovecraft was a genius, his ideas, his mythos, his visions were all vastly ahead of his time, totally bizarre constructions, and of all of them the Cthulhu stories are some of his most extreme examples. The ambiguity comes in his ability to consistently form these dreamlike visions into a coherent, readable story. When he is good, he is a genius but when he is bad….

This is the first Lovecraft collection put together by Wordsworth Editions in its immensely enjoyable Tales Of Mystery & the Supernatural Series and as far as I can see is the cheapest way to get hold of some classic and also rare Lovecraft stories as printed books. This collection concentrates on the Cthulhu Mythos, Lovecraft’s crowning glory, an entirely made up mythology (or is it!) based on the writings of the Necronomicon and telling tales of races and gods from before and indeed beyond our time and space.

Remarkably Lovecraft never managed to write a novel, concentrating instead on the pulp fiction short story market for the likes of Weird tales. Now this is a shame as undoubtedly a novel may have helped raise his profile during his life but on the evidence of this collection and it’s longest piece “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward” it’s probably just as well, here all of Lovecraft’s flaws come to the fore. His lack of a strong plot, his use of bizarre language (cyclopean, polyphemus, shewn, and my favourite cacodaemoniacal), his inability to write cohesive readable dialogue and his need to cram words onto the page so we get whole pages without a single paragraph break make this story extremely hard work.

Luckily we also get some of his strongest short stories such as “Dagon”, “The Hound” and “The Festival” each of which succeeds either because of the excellent descriptive nature (Dagon) or the use of an intriguing plot (The Hound), The Festival manages to succeed on both levels. “The Nameless City”, “The Call Of Cthulhu” and “The Dunwich Horror” also manage to work as cohesive description driven well plotted stories.

Finally we get two of (in my opinion) Lovecraft’s strongest stories anywhere. ” The Whisperer In Darkness” is an excellent example of Lovecraft’s ability to portray a growing paranoia and unease and to infect the reader with a little bit of those feelings in a realistic setting. “At The Mountains Of Madness” also achieves this but manages to up the pace delivering an event led timeline of the MIskatonic Universities expedition to Antartica and their discovery of the presence of other life. Containing magnificently descriptive writing, some characterisation, believable dialogue and a superb backstory this is Lovecraft at his best and is the antithesis of Charles Dexter Ward.

So should you buy it, well of of course you should, £2.99 is a bargain for “At The Mountains Of Madness” alone but with 4 or 5 other excellent stories it becomes almost a required purchase, so Lovecraft remains an enigma wrapped up in a mystery (to misquote Churchill). His inconsistency was perhaps his downfall and the reason why he is not held in the same esteem as many of his peers but he deserves to be widely read as a pioneer in weird and speculative fiction and as a man who created a mythology which is still being used today. A flawed genius sure, but a genius without a doubt.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Mark West – The Inquisition

Mark West’s collection Strange Tales was published in 2003 and was followed by his first novel, In the Rain With The Dead in 2005. His most recent novel was the excellent Conjure published in 2009.

The Inquisition – Mark West

1 – Which book has been most influential in your career?

Tough question, because different books spark different things.  In terms of plot and understanding characters, it was probably a series of books I read as a kid (and much later, as recently as last year) called The Three Investigators.  Cleverly put together, great sense of location and characters that really interact.  Beyond them, for a teenager in the 80s, the usual suspects I suppose – King with “Salem’s Lot” and “IT”, Clive Barker with “The Damnation Game”, “The Colour Of Light” by William Goldman (not horror, but close at times).  Blimey, this is going on a bit now, isn’t it?  Okay, I’ll cheat – I’ll go for King’s “Night Shift” collection, which is so full of good stuff it’s frightening

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

King, again, because I grew up reading him and Barker, with his lyrical touch and approach to gore and grue.  But I like Robert McCammon a lot, I like the way he uses character and place (and he wrote my favourite novel of all time, “Boys Life”), so I’ll go with him.

3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?

Hopefully moving away from all this Dark/Romantic Fantasy rubbish – I thought it was bad enough with Buffy filling the horror shelves, but now we have to contend with “Twilight” and its countless imitators – I hate to think what I’d be able to find, if I was in my mid-teens now.  Aside from that, I think a lot of the people in the small/indie press are going to come through (a lot are already making big inroads, with mainstream publishers and plenty of books on shelves) and, fingers crossed, the small press will continue to be a vibrant, thriving scene.  Horror’s been around for years, it’ll be around for a good few more, I’m sure.

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

“Boys Life”, because it’s beautiful, it perfectly captures the sense of being a boy growing up, it’s full of adventure and friendship and love and it’s not afraid to give you a quick slap, or make you shed a tear either.

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

I suppose the proper answer is me, since the stories come out of my head.  But in real terms, a keyboard – my handwriting is terrible, so I need to type.

6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?

Oh yes, to a quite ridiculous degree.  A few years back, I got halfway through a novella before realising it wasn’t working and putting it to one side.  At that point, the ms was about 20k words and the notes, because I’d been working on the project for ages, totalled about 17k.  Having said that, I’m trying to wean myself off the process now – my latest novella, “The Lost Film”, is 47k words long and the notes are, at most, about 5k.  That feels like a much better balance to me.

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

Paper.  I don’t have a Kindle and I’m not a big fan of reading off a computer screen, but friends who do use the technology say it’s great.  I’m a paper man, I love the feel and smell of a book, I like the weight of them, it’s just what I’m used to.

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

Horror.  I don’t mind the other terms but, at the end of the day, I’m a horror writer.

9 – Who should I read next?

I know that you’re widely read, Colin, so perhaps you’d be better placed to answer that question than me!  As I said before, the small/indie press seems to be having a real boom at the moment and there’s some top quality stuff coming out from my contemporaries, so naming names could take a long time.  In fact, here’s the answer – seek out a couple of small press anthologies (like “Where The Heart Is” for example) and follow some of the writers in there.

10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?

My last book was a Kindle release of my short novel “Conjure”, which came out through Generation Next Publications more info here. As for the future, I’ve got something coming from Pendragon Press, hopefully a Spectral Press chapbook and Steve Bacon & I are collaborating on the Lost Film project, though it doesn’t have a publisher at the moment.  Otherwise, it’s just enjoying the writing and I’m about to start a new novel so I’m having fun and that’s not a bad thing to have, is it?  I generally post details at my website – http://www.markwest.org.uk – so check in there from time to time.

Cheers, Colin!

 

Thanks Mark

 

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