___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

after jerusalem . . . again

This is just a short heads-up to let you know - in case you missed the tweet - that my short story After Jerusalem is now available to read for free on the Sci Phi Journal website.

Click here if you want to read.

Blessings be upon you. 

driftwood and the wyrd

Autumn. Season to bring the poets out  . . . and writers of weird fiction.

Speaking of which . . .
I have a short story in the first issue of The Wyrd Magazine.  Clue's in the name. But all the same, here’s what they say about themselves:

The Wyrd is an online magazine for speculative, weird and slipstream prose. We publish stories that delve into the spaces between genres, that are steeped in the uncanny, and stay with you long after you’ve read them. The Wyrd is published quarterly and will feature established and new authors who like pushing genre boundaries. Reading The Wyrd should be like going for a long ride down a forgotten country road. You never know where you’ll end up, but it’s bound to be interesting. 

Issue one contains tales by Steve Passey, Joanna Roye, Mark Patrick Lynch (that’ll be me), O.S. Delgado, Henry Szabranski, Douglas Ford and Catherine Edmunds.

Sound good to you? You can download issue one for free in PDF by going here. Steve’s story is available to read online here, saving you the fuss of downloading the PDF (even though you should – oh yes, you really should). If you fancy helping to keep the magazine going and paying the writers, then maybe donate the price of a coffee to them through patreon. Click here if you are able to and want to learn more.

My piece is called “Driftwood” and is one of the short-shorts I’ve been writing when all else – sanity and health, the novel I laughingly call “the work in progress”, longer short stories – breaks down into tiny pieces that look like they are impossible to stick back together. It’s not one of my Horatio tales but it has a similar vibe.

So . . . you know . . . just . . . head on over to the Wyrd and grab the PDF.

tickety boo

two carved pumpkin heads glow in the dark
Photo by Beth Teutschmann
If there's one thing I've had no luck with - or frankly just aren't very good at - then it's competitions. I did win one once, when I was but a pale youth with long hair and flares. That was in a colouring competition run by the local paper, and the prize was an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. It was, to be fair, a great prize back then and Evel was every boy's hero. But when it's come to writing competitions, I have had about as much luck as Evel did when he was trying to jump across the Grand Canyon.

To illustrate why, and because it is October and Hallowe'en is due, here's a short short story that was written for a Yorkshire magazine's local haunted stories competition. I don't think it's any worse than the stories that were selected as the winners - but then I wouldn't, would I?

It's called "Tickety Boo!" and it's about 1,000 words long.



TICKETY BOO!


The man sent to photograph ghosts arrived just as evening stole in on the last day of October.
          After a long whining hum that seemed to chime in the air, the railway-line rattled with his coming. Gusts of leaves turned and lifted, falling like a shroud or a sigh, and for a moment there was a sound that might have been an old steam locomotive piping out a trill whistle in the autumn air. But surely that was just the phantom echo of a past age.
           I’d been assigned as the photographer’s tour guide and told to be sure that he went away with what he most wanted. Among my kind – which is to say those of us who still have some influence on this particular night – I wasn’t considered too distracting to play the part.
           If the photographer didn’t match my own preconceived notions when he stepped from his train, then I’m certain that I, sombre and funereal, fitted none of his as I stepped off mine. A short sturdy man who squinted behind his eyeglasses, he wore his hair short and was dressed in corduroy trousers and an open-collared Oxford shirt beneath a v-necked jumper. His jacket was grey and understated and wouldn’t, I thought, offer much insulation for the time of year. A digital camera was looped over his shoulder and he carried hand luggage in the event of an overnight stay. He looked distinctly harried as he left his carriage.
             When the other commuters had faded away, the trains had left, and he stood alone on the platform, I called out to him.
          “Mister James?”
          Startled, he spun around. He had a small nose, but his glasses slid to its curled end as he peered over their frames in my direction.
          “You surprised me,” he confessed, holding up a hand. “I didn’t see you there.”
          I glided from the smoky shadows and presented my card. “Han Duet.”
          He studied the card and then looked me over. “It says here you’re a watch repairer, Mister Deut.”
          “Who better to guide you around the town? It means you won’t be late getting back for your train. Have you been here before? John Betjeman says the station’s architecture is the most splendid in the country. Just tickety.”
          “I’m here to take pictures of Huddersfield’s supposed haunted byways, Mister Deut. And I don’t have a lot of time. This is my last stop in Yorkshire and so far I haven’t captured so much as the suggestion of an apparition on camera. It’s late in the day and you’ll understand if architecture’s not high on my list of priorities.”
          “Of course, of course. That’s tickety.” When I reached for my old pocket-watch and flipped the lid, he lifted his eyebrows in surprise. I tapped the dial and said, “Let’s be on with the tour, shall we?”
          As the thick burn of sunset spread across the sky, we passed beneath the Corinthian pillars of the portico, into St George’s Square, and walked beyond the statue of the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The streetlights glowed to life as we proceeded toward Kirkgate. Of course, the stores and restaurants had been decorated for the ghoulish festivities, and already children were to be seen in garish make-up and plastic fangs. The more adventurous had opted for face paintings and the wicked fakeries of terrible scars, as indeed had more than a few adults. The presiding colour-coordination was black and red – the bloodier the red the better. As the night progressed, Mr James the photographer seemed to be the one whose clothing was inappropriate and not my own.
          “The town hall is reputedly haunted,” I told him after we’d exhausted the more famous examples of the town’s supernatural history and had been left wanting for a ghostly materialisation. I delivered a slow, knowing wink. “But the real spirits are only said to come out when the council meets.”
          “Right,” Mr James said disconsolately. “Maybe I’ll just take some shots of these people dressed up for the night. It’s probably the best I’m going to get.”
          “Why, yes, that’d be a tickety idea.” I made sure to stand beyond the reach of his lens and not to get in anyone’s way.
          Mr James photographed some youths who were dressed as Dracula, the Frankenstein monster (complete with neck bolts), and an unravelling Egyptian Mummy. “Say cheese,” he told a woman partygoer next. She pouted rouge lips through the mouth-hole cut in her simple white sheet costume, and an unseemly length of bare leg was revealed as a furry-faced wolfman embraced her. She squealed with delighted laughter as the wolfman howled and the camera flashed.
          But before long even the Hallowe’en revellers were heading home or weaving uncertainly from one pub to another. They were friendly enough but decidedly not in the mood to be captured for immortality’s sake after imbibing a couple too many light ales.
          I led the photographer back to the station. The frontage was lighted to spectacular effect at this hour. It was still a little while to midnight by my watch. As we waited on the platform, Mr James grumbled that his time in the county had been a waste. “Whitby was all wind and rain from the sea. York was stuffed with too many tourists. Harrogate too posh, and Leeds full of students. You’re the only person I’ve met who looks genuinely spooky. You dressed for tonight, I’ll give you that.”
          “Then the least I can offer you is a picture,” I said, mindful of my instructions to see he got what he wanted.
          As he angled his lens to take my portrait, I thought about how puzzled he would be the next morning, when Hallowe’en had ended, to find my profile faded and gone from his picture. We spirits have but our single night a year, and our images do not last beyond it; alas, poor Mr James would be left with nothing more than the backdrop of the railway lines on his camera tomorrow and a host of questions that would never be answered.
          “Say cheese,” he instructed.
          “Oh, I’m not really much of a one for cheese. I’m not a big eater these days.”
          “Then say something else, just be sure to smile. And look … kind of … dead.”
          “Now that’s easy,” I said, perfectly truthfully.
          “Ready?”
          “Tickety,” I said. And then posed. “Boo!”

we shall make monsters . . . audio version

A few years ago – quite a few years ago – I wrote a sort-of steampunk, sort-of tongue-in-cheek horror SF piece poking fun at the then newish trend of manufactured “boybands”. You know the sort, the four or five-piece set of healthy-looking young men with a gleam in their eyes and a polished smile beneath carefully styled hair. They’d dance, sing – sometimes well, sometimes well enough – and be pretty much indistinguishable from all the other boybands that did exactly the same thing. You’d even confuse the names of the bands and be unsure which of them was singing which song.

As far as I could work out, these bands seemed to have been born out of the manufactured hits of the late 80s, those awful sound-alike songs of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. I pretty much stopped listening to Top 40 radio when these songs dominated the airwaves, and back then Top 40 radio was pretty much all there was when it came to music on UK radio stations. (Remember, kids, this was before the internet and almost unlimited choice through streaming services. We had an AM and an FM dial, and if we didn’t mind excessive crackle, we could find some foreign longwave station looping in and out of tune depending on the atmospherics in the evening.) But those SAW songs were everywhere, and you couldn’t avoid them. If they weren’t on the radio, they were on the TV; if they weren’t on the TV, they were in the clothes store or on the speakers of the supermarket.

I got to thinking that it was all a bit Frankensteinian, and remembered – or misremembered, I’m not entirely sure – a line from Frankenstein: “We shall make monsters.” It seemed a neat little phrase that tied into the idea of the most popular records in the charts being referred to as “monster hits”. When such ideas hit you, you don’t have much choice. Go forth and apply pen.

So I did, and for a laugh called the boy band “Stepfor’d”, a contraction of Step Forward and a nod to Ira Levin’s satire on male insecurity The Stepford Wives. I think at that point, I had stopped caring that I was riffing on the back of one of the most celebrated books in history with Frankenstein, so was happy to nod at a modern classic. What was I thinking? The answer is I probably wasn’t. I was having fun. With that in mind, I’m sure that it is entirely coincidental that the first-person narrator of the tale has the initials S.A.W. 

Anyway, the tale was picked up for publication by Mad Scientist Journal and is available to buy in the Spring 2014 edition for ebooks.

If, however, you would like to listen to the tale, then the lovely people at Sage and Savant have produced an audio edition, in two parts, that can be accessed free via their site and/or which you can download from iTunes. You can either listen online or download the piece to keep. Sage and Savant is a great little site, with a cast production of an ongoing series podcast that, at the time I write, is up to episode 203. If fun SF with a steampunk bent is your thing, then this is the place to be. As well as the series podcast, S&S also has a set of short stories you can listen to by, amongst others, Harry Turtledove, Allana McFall, Greg Bear, and Alan Dean Foster. You can't do much better than that.

Composer and Sage and Savant cast member Chip Michael was generous enough to apply his talents to my tale. Thanks, Chip! If you’d like to, you can listen to Chip’s reading of my story here.

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