Monthly Archives: June 2011

News From The Abyss – 29/6/11

I have started a Goodreads group focusing on the current wave of excellent British Horror writers and you are all invited to join in the discussions. For anyone who hasn’t visited before Goodreads is an excellent meeting place for anyone interested in books and writing. Hope to see you there, you can find the forum by following the link below :-

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50566.British_Horror

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News From The Abyss – 28/6/11

The recently published shortlist for The British Fantasy Society Awards 2011 has just been released and it includes many familiar names to readers of The Black Abyss. Congratulations to all the nominees on a list which appears to be dominated by horror and dark fiction, quite rightly too given the breadth of talent in the genre at the moment. Here is the full list with my personal choices in bold:-

BEST TELEVISION

A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss – Mark Gatiss – BBC
Being Human – Toby Whithouse – BBC
Doctor Who – Steven Moffat – BBC
Sherlock – Steven Moffat – BBC
True Blood – Alan Ball – HBO

BEST FILM

Alice In Wonderland – Tim Burton – Walt Disney
Inception – Christopher Nolan – Syncopy Films
Kick-Ass – Matthew Vaughn – Lionsgate
Monsters – Gareth Edwards – Vertigo Films
Scott Pilgrim vs The World – Edgar Wright – Universal Pictures

BEST MAGAZINE/PERIODICAL

Black Static – Andy Cox – TTA
Cemetery Dance – Rich Chizmar
Murky Depths – Terry Martin – The House Of Murky Depths
Shadows And Tall Trees – Michael Kelly – Undertow Publications
Strange Horizons – Susan Marie Groppi

BEST SMALL PRESS

Atomic Fez – Ian Alexander Martin
Gray Friar Press – Gary Fry
Pendragon Press – Christopher Teague
Telos Publishing – David J Howe and Stephen James Walker
TTA Press – Andy Cox

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL

Clint – Mark Millar – Titan
Grandville Mon Amour – Bryan Talbot – Jonathan Cape
Neonomicon – Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows – Avatar
The Mountains Of Madness – Ian Culbard – Self Made Hero
Unwritten Vols 1 & 2, The – Mike Carey & Peter Gross – Titan Books

BEST SHORT STORY

‘Beautiful Room, The’ – R B Russell – Nightjar
‘Fool’s Gold’ – Sam Stone – NewCon
‘Lure, The’ – Nicholas Royle – Solaris
‘Otterburn’ – Jan Edwards – Estronomicon
‘Something For Nothing’ – Joe Essid – PS Publishing

BEST NON-FICTION

Altered Visions: The Art Of Vincent Chong – Telos
Cinema Futura – Ed. Mark Morris – PS Publishing
Fantastic TV: 50 Years Of Cult Fantasy And Science Fiction – Steven Savile – Plexus
M P Shiel: The Middle Years 1897-1923 – Harold Billings – Roger Beacham
Shrieking Sixties, The – Darrel Buxton – Midnight Marquee

BEST COLLECTION

Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King – Hodder & Stoughton
Gravedigger’s Tale: Fables of Fear, The – Simon Clark – Robert Hale
Last Exit For The Lost – Tim Lebbon – Cemetery Dance
One Monster Is Not Enough – Paul Finch – Gray Friar
Walkers In The Dark – Paul Finch – Ash Tree

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Back From The Dead: The Legacy Of The Pan Book Of Horror Stories – Johnny Mains – Noose & Gibbet
End of the Line, The – Jonathan Oliver – Solaris
Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Volume 21, The – Stephen Jones – Robinson & Constable
Never Again – Allyson Bird & Joel Lane – Gray Friar
Zombie Apocalypse! – Stephen Jones – Robinson & Constable

BEST NOVELLA

1922 – Stephen King – Hodder & Stoughton
Humpty’s Bones – Simon Clark – Telos
Ponthe Oldenguine – Andrew Hook – Atomic Fez
Sparrowhawk – Paul Finch – Pendragon
Thief Of Broken Toys, The – Tim Lebbon – ChiZine

BEST ARTIST

Ben Baldwin
Daniele Serra
Les Edwards
Paul Mudie
Vincent Chong

BEST NOVEL (AUGUST DERLETH FANTASY AWARD)

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill – Pan McMillan
Demon Dance – Sam Stone – The House Of Murky Depths
Leaping, The – Tom Fletcher – Quercus
Pretty Little Dead Things – Gary McMahon – Angry Robot
Silent Land, The – Graham Joyce – Gollancz

Of course you need to be a member of the BFS to vote but given they have just published the latest journal and this is the excellent content list, why wouldn’t you want to join?

CONTENTS

Chairman’s Chat by David J Howe
BFS News

PRISM
Editorial by David A Riley
Ramsey’s Rant by Ramsey Campbell
Book Reviews edited by Jan Edwards and Craig Lockley
Graphicky Quality edited by Jay Eales
Media Reviews edited by Mathew F Riley
The Mark of Fear by Mark Morris
Profondo Probert Column 5 by John Llewellyn Probert
Mary Danby Interviewed by Lou Morgan

NEW HORIZONS
In The House of Answers by Allen Ashley
Grey Magic For Cat Lovers by Jan Edwards
The Sound Down By The Shore by Douglas J Ogurek
Beached by Eric Boman
The Hawthorne Effect by Adrian Stumpp

DARK HORIZONS
Heaven & Helvetica by Gavin B Nash
Late in the Day by Adam Walter
Mostly in Shadow: Lesser-known Writers of Weird Fiction, Part 2 by Mike Barrett
Ten Things We’re Going to Have to Live Without After the Apocalypse by Allen Ashley
The Pet Peeve by Rick Kleffel
Cellar by J R Salling
‘Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite’ by Clint Smith
A Guttering of Flickers by Michael Kelly
The Secret in the Village of Dragonsbreath by Annie Neugebauer
The Last Dance of Humphrey Bear by James Brogden

To join the BFS, follow this link – http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/index.php/membership

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Reggie Oliver – The Inquisition

Reggie Oliver – The Inquisition

Reggie Oliver always brings a guarantee of quality to the proceedings so I am honoured he has agreed to suffer the indignation of the Inquisition. For those unfamiliar with his work, Reggie has worked in radio, television, film and theatre as well as his work in the horror fiction world. It’s the latter I am particularly interested in and here Reggie Oliver excels with his thoroughly modern yet thoroughly old fashioned tales. He follows in the tradition of Machen and James but retains his own unique style.
1 – Which book has been most influential in your career?

It has been the collected stories of M. R. James. It was this that first opened up the possibilities to me of  “modern” horror stories: unreliable narrators, multiple perspectives, time shifts, metafiction, ambiguity, pastiche, understatement, insinuation. Not bad for a man who was in everything other than his fiction an arch conservative.
2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

Stella Gibbons (of Cold Comfort Farm fame). She was my Aunt and a good friend and besides giving me excellent tips on style (having an excellent classical style of her own), she showed me by example what it was to be a professional writer. She demonstrated to me in her writing that humour was not a frivolous “add on” but an essential quality of good literature.
3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?

The possibilities are infinite. It is still an underrated genre, unlike Crime whose best exponents are (rightly of course) seen to be on a par with writers of “literary” fiction. Horror has many highly talented exponents: all pursuing their own very individual and fascinating line of approach. To mention but a few from this side of the Atlantic: Gary Fry, Gary McMahon, Allyson Bird, Mark Samuels, Ray Russell, Rosalie Parker, Anna Taborska, Joel Lane, Quentin S. Crisp, Mark Valentine,  Paul Finch. Ramsey Campbell, John Llewllyn Probert, Thana Niveau, Simon K. Unsworth… to name but a very few. “There’s richness!” as Wackford Squeers was won’t to remark.
4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

Á la Recherche de Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust – come to think of it, I wish I’d read it.
5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

My entire writing career is built round the P.C. The goose quill with the diamond nib is now in a bottom drawer.
6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?

I have something in my head. I occasionally write down a one line synopsis. I write the beginning and the end, though both often get changed. As things occur to me – incidents, descriptions, snatches of dialogue – I write them down, finally I fill in the gaps and connect them. I need, to a certain extent, to be able to surprise myself while writing.
7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

You can get my latest novel The Dracula Papers on Kindle, but how much nicer to hold this lovely shiny black volume – preferably signed by the author – in your hand and to see it adorning your shelf, thereby proving what a cultivated and discerning person you are.
8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

I prefer the description “strange stories” used by the last great exponent of “horror” in the 20th century, Robert Aickman. When I write I am not deliberately trying to be “weird” or “dark”, though it comes out that way, I am merely trying to reflect the inherent strangeness of the world I see around me.
9 – Who should I read next?

Try Quentin S. Crisp – perhaps his novel: Remember You’re a One-Ball, or one of his volumes of short stories. He is a writer with a unique vision and a captivating style.
10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?

The Dracula Papers, a novel (purchase here). Shortly to come from Tartarus, my fifth collection of stories (with, as usual, black and white illustrations by the author): Dances in the Dark

Thank you Reggie.

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Bite Sized Horror edited by Johnny Mains

Bite Sized Horror

edited by Johnny Mains

Published by Obverse Books, 2011.

Emblazoned with the Johnny Mains seal of quality on the cover this is the latest anthology from Obverse Books, a small publishing house that continues to impress with its increasingly diverse range of authors and subject matter.  This is the first in a proposed series of Obverse Quarterlies which will include a range of authors and genre’s in the tradition of the New English Library paperbacks of the 70’s.

This collection contains six horror stories starting with Brighton Redemption by Reggie Oliver, a story of child murder and ghosts. Jamesian in tone, it’s a wonderful ghost story and gets the collection off to a fantastic start. Paul Kane’s The Between takes us right up to date when a father’s desperation at a custody meeting turns into a horrific nightmare in the lift journey from (or should that be to) hell. With Lovecraftian creatures set against the personal torments of the occupants this is an excellent dark tale, one to avoid if you suffer from claustrophobia.

His Pale Blue Eyes by David A. Riley is a zombie tale but one which focuses on selfishness in society. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of gore, it does, but still manages to retain a degree of originality and intelligence which elevates above much of the standard zombie fare we are fed these days. Talking of cliches brings us nicely to The Unquiet Bones by Marie O’Regan which begins with that most overused chestnut of a broken down car with only a creepy building nearbye for shelter, oh and it’s raining. Again, though, the writer takes that well used story and develops it into a much richer tale of ancient witchcraft with a few cunning twists for good measure.

Johnny Mains returns us to the emotion of marital breakdown in The Rookery as a father struggles with limited access to his son, a struggle with tragic consequences. The rural setting adds much to this tale and the ending is very powerful and very well written. That could also be said of Conrad William’s The Carbon Heart which, after a slow start, escalated into his usual deep and intelligent writing. It’s an unusual mystery set in a city coated in volcanic ash, and has a definite noir feel but it’s not long before the story descends into much more horrific and much more typical Williams territory.

This is a short anthology but one full of highlights, the standout for me being Paul Kane’s The Between, but all the stories here deliver quality horror for you to chew on. Bite sized it may be but it’s still able to provide a feast for the more discerning palate.

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Inquisition – Johnny Mains

The Inquisition – Johnny Mains

Johnny Mains deserves some kind of medal for the devotion he has shown to the much neglected, and much maligned, horror classics of the past. In particular, his historical detective work on the Pan Book Of Horror Stories not only led to him publishing a collection of new and classic stories in the tradition of the series (Back from The Dead) but also to Pan themselves reissuing the first collection last year. As if that wasn’t enough he still finds time to write fiction himself  (one of his stories features in Bite Sized Horror which will be reviewed here next week). Oh…and he is also a thoroughly decent bloke, as proved by his recent auction to fund-raise for the Japanese people. It’s a pleasure to welcome Johnny Mains to The Inquisition :-

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

Not one book, but a series of, and they would be the Castle Rock and Derry based books by Stephen King. The Dead Zone, The Dark Half and Needful Things in Castle Rock. IT, Insomnia, Bag of Bones and Dreamcatcher in Derry. The amount of detail that goes into the layout, history and people who inhabit these towns is truly staggering and directly influence my imaginary town Effingham on the Stour which has featured in around 11 of my stories now.

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

Conrad Hill. He has a lot to answer for, that man.

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

I think there will be a return to short story anthologies in the mainstream market – but only sold electronically. Bloody depressing really.

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

Let the Right One In. That book is close to perfect.

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

Digital recorder. Brilliant for taking notes on the go.

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

Nope. Maybe a few scribbled notes on the back of an envelope. I just sit down at the laptop and see what comes out.

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

Paper. Always and forever paper.

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

Horror, but of late have been more interested in Weird Fiction, but I’m sure it’ll pass…

9 – Who should I read next?

Rhys Hughes. Worming the Harpy was one of the most intriguing collections I’ve read for a long time. The Chimney is a story I wish I had written. Have started his new collection, The Brothel Creeper and so far, it’s a great read and he’s a brilliant author.

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

Last book was my debut collection With Deepest Sympathy and my next book will be Bite Sized Horror, published by Obverse Books in June.

Thanks Johnny

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The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon

The Concrete Grove

by Gary McMahon

Published by Solaris, 2011.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of Gary McMahon’s work so it was a delight to receive a review copy of The Concrete Grove but I also approached it with some trepidation. After all, his work has been of such a consistently high standard that this book had a lot to live up to. I was also fascinated by the hints of dark fantasy in the blurb, could Mr. McMahon pull off another winner?…read on.

The Concrete Grove is an inner city housing estate in the North East of England. Dominated by drugs, crime, gangs and violence this is the place where teenager Hailey and her mother Lana find themselves following her fathers death and subsequent debt issues. Thrown in among the violence it’s not long before they are drawn into the dark underbelly of the place. At the same time Tom is struggling to come to terms with his wife Helen’s illness which has left her confined to bed. Lana and Tom find salvation in each others company but it’s Hailey who begins to see that the Concrete Grove and it’s dominating skyscraper, the needle might just be hiding even bigger secrets.

As usual with Gary McMahon the whole book has an extremely dark tone. His marvelously realised characters (all of whom are based on real life figures) are fascinating, tragic and often dangerous and the darkness of the location is the perfect match for them. At the heart of the book though is a deeper level of parallel worlds and supernatural creatures. With more than a passing nod to the likes of Arthur Machen, McMahon offers us tantalising glimpses of a much deeper mythology. It’s this undercurrent which sets this book apart from McMahon’s other works to date and in my opinion places it on a higher level.

We have seen plenty of darkness is McMahon’s work in the past and often this has come without hope of redemption, this book is different, here the story goes on and I suspect for some characters  may go on for some time in the promised sequels. Indeed the only criticism I could level at The Concrete Grove is that at a “mere” 380 pages we only just scratch the surface of the mysteries he invokes. Of course it’s a tremendous story in it’s own right but it does feel like there is a whole lot more to come and I for one can’t wait.

So although I have used up most of my stock of superlatives on McMahon’s work in the past, I am going to have to find some new ones. This book is an outstanding mix of  urban horror and dark fantasy, hints of King’s The Dark Tower series, hints of Holdstock’s pagan fantasy but above all the realisation of McMahon’s talents as the outstanding British horror writer of our times. Highly recommended.

Rating 5 out of 5

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Robert Dunbar – The Inquisition

Earlier this week I posted a glowing review of Willy by Robert Dunbar, a book which, whilst not strictly horror, was dark and intelligent. I was delighted therefore when Rob agreed to be the latest guest on The Inquisition :-

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


I trust you have assassins standing by for people who say either The Stand or the Bible.

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?


That I’m conscious of? Samuel R. Delany possibly, what with his being a god and all. But one venerates so many great artists – Baldwin, Joyce, Faulkner. Henry Roth maybe? Where do you begin?

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


Does it have a present?

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?


Either The Stand or the Bible.

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

Coffee.

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

Yes, I have to create an outline, but then I try not to let it strangle me.

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

I enjoy the whole eBook experience – lovely gadgets – but nothing compares to the sensual pleasure of holding a book in your hands.

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

Dark Fiction, always.

9 – Who should I read next?

Greg F. Gifune. Start with GARDENS OF NIGHT. It’s pure genius.

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

WILLY is the latest … and the one that almost killed me, because it all had to be written in the boy’s voice. It’s the diary of a disturbed adolescent in a “special” school, and his consciousness is so fragmented that he barely grasps the significance of the bizarre events he relates. So the plot has to emerge almost entirely between the lines. Plus he grows emotionally, day by day, becoming more coherent and insightful, which means the voice evolves, but every syllable must ring absolutely true, psychologically and etymologically, or the whole thing collapses. Like I said – almost killed me. But the kind of response it’s been getting is very gratifying. Over and over, people have praised it for being unlike anything else they’ve read. (MARTYRS & MONSTERS evoked much the same sort of response.) For a writer, that’s everything – the kind of feedback one always longs to hear. My next effort? I have a new novella called WOOD that should be out in a few months, also from Uninvited Books. It’s about a teenage Hispanic girl and an older gay guy who battle monsters (metaphorical and otherwise) in the inner city. That one was a sheer delight to work on: total romp. For more info, people can always check out www.UninvitedBooks.com or www.DunbarAuthor.com.

Thanks Robert.

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