___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

unsung stories

There's a trend of which I approve. I know - surprising, isn't it? I'm not much of a one for trends. If people walk down a flight of stairs something perverse in me tends to want to walk up them.  But I like this trend. Short stories, free of charge, emailed to your home . . . or phone or tablet or whatever.

Mostly they're short shorts, nothing much more than 1500 words long. Which is just about right for reading on a phone, I feel.

Over at Daily Science Fiction, they've really got it down to a fine art, and have stories ranging from a hundred words or so to maybe a thousand. And they do it daily. (Well, almost; they don't work weekends.) They took one of my pieces a few moons ago, which can be read free of charge still, on their site here. It's called "In the White of the Snow," and is, I seem to recall, exactly 1000 words long.

Now, the lovely folk at Unsung Stories have taken one of my pieces. It's a longer tale, edging over a couple of thousand words. Sometimes more is more. Unsung Stories don't send a tale out daily; they send you something every couple of weeks. Sometimes less is more. If you'd like to read my tale - or frankly just want some stories delivered free into your inbox - then you can subscribe by clicking through to here.

If I have got the scheduling right, sometime this month my piece will arrive . . . like Santa.

Mince pie and a tumbler of sherry at the ready for it please, even though it's not a Christmas story.

Did I mention it's free?

up and out of here



So I have a short story in the collection KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC, edited by David A Riley and Linden Riley, published by Parallel Universe Publications. It's a piece called “Up and Out of Here”and is, I suspect, one of the lighter tales in the anthology. I was pleased that when he accepted the piece David commented on the humour in the tale. You'd be surprised how often I start a story thinking Oh yeah, this will be funny... and by the time the piece is in print people are telling me That's really disturbing, Mark, or Don't you think that's a bit dark?  Still, I think in this one the humour comes through without anyone having to get their crucifixes out and fend me off with garlic. I'm not promising belly-laughs, but I hope you might smile. Or at least twitch your lips upwards.

If that's not enough to make you think about reading the book, you might reconsider when I tell you the anthology also includes stories by Stephen Bacon, Gary Fry (who is still trying to kid us he looks like that author photo from ten years back and more), Kate Farrell, Andrew Darlington, David A Sutton, and plenty of others. T'aint just me you're getting when you hand over your cash.

My tale starts like this,

Dylan Mulch learned about flying the hard way. In one sense it was a lot like sex, in that it was something you didn’t do in public. Or if you did, then you better be damn sure everyone else was doing it too. Because if you were performing out there in the open all by yourself, you could be sure as sixes people were going to get freaked by it.

and if you would like to carry on reading, you can purchase a paperback copy or an ebook in the UK from Amazon by clicking here and in the USA by clicking here. 

Go on, I dare you.


prof fox

Somewhat appropriately, given the UK Tory government's attempts to effectively repeal the ban on hunting foxes with dogs - hashtag bloodsports, folks - I have a new story out . . . and it concerns foxes. Sort of. It's a piece called "Prof Fox" and it is available to read in the Australian anthology Roar 6, edited by Mary E Lowd, and published by Bad Dog Books. 

Here're the opening paragraphs, kindly reproduced with Mary's permission.


“The fox went out on a chilly night,
he prayed for the moon to give him light.”

Trad. folk song.


When people saw the “Prof” on Danny Foxx’s business card, they nearly always leaped to an assumption he did nothing to discourage and thought it was an abbreviation of “Professor”.
Clothes made the man, and his tweed suit played to people’s assumptions, reinforcing what they thought they already knew. As they fastened on the inscribed “Prof” Danny would study their expressions. They’d be thinking: here stood some horrible bore they needed to extract themselves from – and quickly, before he indulged himself in the finer points of one of his inscrutable Big Thought papers. Some way to spend a party that would be, they’d worry.

“Prof” – short for “Professor.” Well, what else could it be?


If you want to continue reading this one, you can order a copy here.

Here's the cover.





  

hawksmoor by peter ackroyd

Guide to “Thoughts on HAWSKMOOR.”


1.)  The Thoughts must be read in linear fashion, though what linear, in this sense, entails is subject to the individual Reader’s interpretation. The review may or may not touch on the points raised in “The Rules of Thoughts on HAWKSMOOR”. Objectivity is of a Third Person stance. Objectivity is from a First Person stance.

2.)  The flow of Time moves both ways. Time is not a Measure extending in but one direction; rather it is a Loop. Echoes move both ways around the Circle of the Loop. They may be Cacophonous, they may be whispers.

3.)  William Golding’s THE SPIRE can be Referenced.

4.)  The oldest Character can be seen in accumulation of stones and mortar for Flesh, passages and highways for Veins. Thoughts are expressions of movement, of building. Height may be seen as a form of higher Thinking; depth may be seen as pollution, corruption. Fever is a fire. Experience of Fever can bring about Change, can allow filth already about the body to prosper and invade new hollows of the city, to spread and exert influence. Reflection is an Echo that runs around the Loop, forever in Flux.

5.)  Dissection of bodies may bring Revelation or provide more questions. Dissection of bodies may be an allegory of the search for Truth in an object Deceased and therefore out of the standing of Time; an object no longer travelling in Loop. Dissection of a body can be seen as Enlightenment triumphing over Barbarism. Blood is shed.

6.)  At no Time will the Thoughts sink into archaic English and forms of address which may be seen as outré and wearying in the short-term, but which may also, over the course of a narrative so long as a novel, be acceptable for the reader. Said archaic language will not willfully be subject to Slippages, reductions in paragraph length and Accommodations to dialogue attribution more appropriate to a form of address 250 years after the supposed time of said Writing being set on paper and subject to the Telling in the novel.

7.)  The Protagonists will be talked about in Mystical Terms. His appearance, as solver of Mysteries, will be ineffable, a reflection on the body-city. His concern will be Time. There shall be Echoes. No one stands Alone. Patterns Repeat. The Antagonist will be forthright, be about his Stool, rank with Bodily Miscretions. (And words may be made up.)

8.)  Linearity is not assured.

9.)  The Resolution of Mystery is not assured.

10.)  The flow of Time will move both ways.


“Thoughts on HAWKSMOOR”

It’s no coincidence that the eponymous protagonist of HAWKSMOOR makes his first appearance midway through this novel, and then is seen as an insubstantial figure, a reflection on the backdrop of London. London is Ackroyd’s great obsession. Here is a novel playing with the concept of time, and with it literary technique and the linear notion of story as well. Characterization and engagement with such is not the novel’s concern, reducing some to ciphers and walking plot devices. What seems set in stone is not quite what we imagine it to be. Human beings are glistening tears of sweat on the stone and brick body-city that is London, without the necessary imagination required to step outside the confines of their narrow limits of perception and therefore understand the longer term point of view someone or something as old as a city might hold on matters of time and change.

Peter Ackroyd’s near delirium-inducing passages are dense – sometimes to the point of losing their meaning to this reader – and they shift from their focus too often, as well as flitting between character perspectives. Too often at the start of one chapter, the Point of View Character is not the person with whom we think we are initially investing our emotions for the length of the narration. This may be an intentional device the author is employing, but can strain the trust between reader and writer, especially when the characters that the reader invests so much time in coming to know are gone never to be seen again in the book.

There are triumphs, though. The at first trying archaic language, with its intentional misspellings of familiar words, eventually gains a momentum if the reader persists, and as the book continues it begins shaping its structure toward the more modern form of storytelling employed to convey the setting circa 250 years on from the original narrative. In reflection of this – and reflections are essential to glean anything close to an understanding of this work – the modern passages dull to a more archaic telling. Dialogue is (intentionally?) stilted, and sounds very unlike speech anyone would recognize as such outside of an Agatha Christie novel.

Foundations and their importance are explored in forms of intertextuality if we consider the book itself as a form of the story being shaped, the writing of which is akin to the building of a church. In William Golding’s THE SPIRE, a priest’s ambitions are too grand for the foundation upon which he attempts to build them; Golding knew, as does Ackroyd, that a shudder from the top of a spire trembles through the heights to the depths of a building, and that it is not always obvious from which direction the reverberations first start moving.

Time is important, and the time this book was written in must be considered. It wasn’t the only piece of work from this period – the mid nineteen-eighties – that explored the establishment of older, often benign pagan rituals being smuggled into new temples. The allegory/metaphor isn’t hard to spot in a time when wealth was the new religion in Thatcherite Britain, and stories were appearing where older Gods – meaning society and goodness of character, the rejection of greed – were secretly hidden in edifices of power. (Harking back, A CHRISTMAS CAROL isn’t much different.)

But for all its cleverness and ambition, does HAWKSMOOR succeed? For this reader only in part. While there’s much to be admired – Ackroyd’s portrayal as London as a character, and his deep and rich knowledge of the past – as a friend of mine told me when I mentioned I was reading it: “It’s a flat book, cold and distant.” I agree; there are no characters in this book that snag you emotionally. You are expected to engage with a conceit almost, rather than any personality. Certainly the role of women in the book is a small one, bordering on the misogynisticly slim.

HAWKSMOOR is the result of someone being clever rather than engaging: a read for reading’s sake, not to be returned to too quickly. It’s trying stuff and you know the ending is going to be ambiguous to the point of a fade out long before you arrive there, and I’ve read far too many endings like that to be happy with them unless the writing’s exceptional. And it wasn’t here.

You could ask, What’s it all about, Alfie? But it wouldn’t matter; the author never knew.


Disclaimer to “Thoughts on Hawksmoor”.

Opinions expressed by the Reader are seen from his/her experience of the book in question. Objectively they are subject to external Influences, private Passions and interests, and may diverge significantly from other people’s views.

editing making see

For anyone who is interested, my short story "Making See" (which appears in the Eibonvale Press anthology Sensorama) had a different route into print from most of my short stories, in that the editor Allen Ashley asked me to do a bit of a rewrite and beef some things up, particularly the ending.

This is different, you ask?

Sure.

Normally I have found that a tale is accepted or bounced as it stands. Editors and publishers often don't have the time to take stories - and ever increasingly these days books - that require a rewrite or a lot of editing and work.

I'm not being critical. It's the way the business has gone. There's only so much time in the day, only so many dollars in a wallet, and a lot of pressure to Get Things Done.

Most of my published stuff, barring some small changes here and there, is seen in the finished publication in the same shape as it was originally submitted. So it was different to get the message from Allen saying he liked the piece but he thought it might be better and possibly worthy of inclusion in the book if I did "this" and maybe "that" too . . .

Now, there are two ways of reacting to such a request.

One is to throw everything out of the window and call the editor in question lots of names and pin his or her likeness to a dartboard and spend the evening throwing spears at it, while decrying the general ignorance of the world at large for not recognising your genius and raising your to your rightful status -- which is of course, slightly above Dickens, but possibly just a tiny, tiny -- ever so tiny -- bit beneath Shakespeare, and deny them their request, letting them know just what you think of them and in no uncertain terms -- unless, of course, they may pass you a pay cheque at some point in the future, in which case you just fume until your cheeks burn red and pretend never to have recieved the email or letter from them. (You'd be surprised how many writers take this approach. No, really. You would be very surprised how many.)

The second, and far wiser course of action, is to scratch your chin, tilt your head to one side receptively, and look at the story through the eyes of the editor who has read your work and seen something there that you yourself have missed. The smart thing to do, even if you're unsure about the editor's wisdom in making his or her suggestions, it to get to work and see what happens if you follow the advice. Because you're not better than Dickens and never will be. Hell, you'll be lucky if you're better than anyone else in the publication in which your work will appear. The editor is on your side and it is important to remember that. He or she doesn't want to put something in their book or magazine or journal or whatever that they think is substandard, or which they know could be better if only the writer would just do this or do that . . .

I looked at what Allen had suggested and put pen to paper (or in this case finger to keyboard). And what do you know? What I was left with at the end of the work was a tale that was ten times better than it had been before. Even my girlfriend, who hadn't thought much of the piece when I'd first subbed it, liked the rewritten version. So already I was ahead. If Allen didn't like the rewritten piece and didn't take it, at least I would have something that was in a better shape to be subbed elsewhere. So there was another plus. As luck would have it, Allen did like the piece, and was generous enough to include it in the anthology. I'm very pleased to be in print there.

So thanks to Allen for being a hands-on editor and getting those hands dirty; the truth is that for all his work I'm the one who gets to look better for it. With anyone who reads the piece (whether they like it or not) and with my girlfriend, too. Can't get a better deal than that.

So no dartboards here. No spears. The editor is your friend. And it's a  foolish writer who doesn't at least look at what has been suggested to him . . . or her.

making see

The remarkable Allen Ashley has a new anthology out. It's called SENSORAMA. It's published by Eibonvale Press. It's an anthology based around the five senses and contains stories by Gary Budgen, Aliya Whiteley, Rhys Hughes, E Lillith McDermott, Tim Nickels, and others.

As luck would have it, I am one of the others, and I'm very pleased about that. I have a story in there. It's called "Making See" and it's about invisibility. Here are the opening paragraphs:


My girlfriend turned invisible the first week of April. Just after the flowers bloomed and the skies cleared to blue – snap, out she went like a light bulb.
      It was a side effect of a rare virus she'd contracted. Unluckily the virus had already given her a severe case of laryngitis and had taken away her voice. She couldn't even cry out to warn me not to walk into her.

You can continue reading by buying a copy of the anthology. The book is available in paperback and hardcover. As far as I know, no ebook is planned.

Buy from the publishers in the UK, who will ship to the UK, USA, and Australia, by clicking through to their site here.

Alternatively, you can buy the book from Amazon in the UK here
and in the USA here.

If by some miracle the opening paragraphs of my piece haven't enticed you to take to your credit card and add to your misery of debt (remember, retail therapy is good when it involves buying things I appear in), then check out DF Lewis's "Real Time Review" of Sensorama by clicking here.

Do be warned, he says some remarkably generous things about my tale, the shameless flatterer . . ..

a knowing noah


I received my contributor’s copy of DEAD HARVEST this week, and I have to say it’s an impressive beast. When the anthology’s editor MarkParker said he had high ambitions for the book he wasn’t joking. This is a really well done book, tightly bound, neatly set out, and with great cover art that’s strikingly displayed to full effect in the trade-paperback edition.


To make things even better, there’s some seriously good writers involved in the project too. How about reading work by, among others, these guys:


I’m in there too, but I don’t think I spoil things too badly. My piece is called “A Knowing Noah” and comes in at about 15 pages long. Not too painful in a collection of 50 stories that tops out at 700 pages in length.

I suppose the anthology as a whole is – with tales leaning heavily on the autumn/fall season and for the most part featuring rural settings, rows of corn and creepy woods and totems – a folk horror collection. As far as I know, Mark Gatiss coined the term folk horror in his BBC4 horror film series when describing The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General. It’s as good a description as I can think of to fit these tales.

The book is available in a trade-paperback edition as well as in e-book format. If you have the money, I’d say you should shell out the extra for the paperback. It’s a beautiful thing, chunky and generous, and I think the publishers Scarlet Galleon have a big future ahead of them.

The trade paperback is available here in the UK.
The ebook is available in the UK for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo*.
The trade paperback is available here in the USA.
The ebook is available in the USA for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo*.
And you can get it in all e-formats here at Smashwords.

And if you want something special, some copies have been signed by contributors Richard Chizma and his son Billy Chizmar here at Cemetery Dance Publications.

The book has been out a while now, and is racking up some impressive reviews. If you’re into horror of a more rural bent, this is one to gather up. Recommended.

* Kobo readers are able to use money off vouchers on this title in both the US and UK, so keep an eye on those Kobo-run promotional contests they run.

on saying no


The best things in life usually come from saying yes. Yes to the boy or girl with whom you shared a first kiss, yes to the course you didn’t really want to go on but which altered your views on life, yes to that holiday that didn’t appeal but which turned out to be one of the best you ever had, yes to that someone you may well spend the rest of your life with . . .

But sometimes, when you are yearning for a bit of positivity, some help getting going in the right direction, when you’ve been bogged down and all you see is the quagmire miring your ambitions, an offer comes dangling down, waiting for you to grab onto with a single YES! -- and you reach out, eager, ready to pull yourself up with all your might, to start off and finally get you on your way, young man . . . when something inside whispers, Don’t do this. This is wrong.

And with a heart dropping out of sight, you look around the stale miasma of your grotty position but nevertheless say it. Shape the word and let it out.

No.

I wrote a longish fantasy novel a few years ago. I knew it wasn’t a fashionable book and that it wouldn’t sit prettily alongside the thick secondary-world-set fantasies you could find on the shelves in Waterstones. But I thought it had some good things going for it. A strong protagonist on an interesting journey. A continuing theme throughout, that held together, with some neat (I thought) subtext, working.around the notions of doors, real and imaginary, open and closed. Although it was complicated, and pretty dense in places, wasn’t at first glance a light read, I liked the book a lot, thought I’d done good work on it. Sure, it could have been improved with a professional editor going over it, but then what book couldn’t be? It was probably as good as I could make it, with my own resources. So the time had come to send the first chapters and a synopsis out, see what would happen.

The answer was a flat, unencouraging nothing.

Couldn’t find a publisher with a slushpile who’d touch it with the clichéd bargepole. No one wanted to read it. I didn’t get any feedback. Flat form rejections. Do not pass go, do not collect £200.

I rejigged the book, edited it so that it would meet some word-count maximums for other publishers I found that were open to submissions of a certain length. Probably cut the book too much, in retrospect, if I’m being honest. But hey, I didn’t realise it at the time.

Didn’t matter. Same result. Flat form rejections.

And then, toward the middle of last year, I got a nibble. An independent publisher that had previously specialised in non-fiction work was building a new fiction list and wanted to read more than the opening chapters. Encouraged but cautious, because by now I was beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with the book I’d not managed to grasp and therefore anyone who read it and wanted to see more must be missing the same thing about it that I was, I sent the book off.

A couple of weeks later, a list of small edits were suggested, and an offer made to put the book out.

Okay, I thought, and sat down and thought about things. The edits were mostly fairly well made ones, and I could see the point in them. Some I could argue the rub on and would do. But for the most part, I thought they helped the book. So let’s do this, I thought.

Hell, an offer is an offer, agents and publishers will tell you; and they’re rare enough in the business these days. If you’re offered one, take it!

Sure.

So what did I do?

Turned the offer down, of course.

Because I had a niggle at the back of my head. No, this is wrong. There’s something not right here. I didn’t know what that something wrong was – other authors, new and established ones, were and are happily being published and their books doing okay with the publishers – but I wasn’t happy. The more I thought about it, the more I disliked the marketing that would be done for the book, the publishing schedule, the outlets that book would initially be put out through. Slowly but surely I the book didn’t feel like it belonged with this publisher.

Which sounds like crazy talk. And worse than that in some ways, stupid talk. Because if this publisher wasn’t going to put the book out, who else was going to? And what good is a book if it isn’t being read?

You might well ask. I sure did.

In the end, though, that niggle won through. I hadn’t yet signed any contract and so I pulled the book before anything went legal (and no, I don’t think I made any friends in that particular publishing house, though I explained as best I could the rationale behind my thinking and my reservations about the production process).

As soon as I’d said No, I felt better. Saddened that the book still wasn’t seeing the light of day, but better for knowing I wasn’t doing the wrong thing by going down a route I’d become increasingly uncomfortable with.

I can’t honestly say I haven’t had any second doubts. It’s over six months later now, and the book is still on my hard-drive, unpublished. And it’s likely to stay that way. So it’s natural that I should on occasion wonder what would have happened if I had said yes.

So yes, I wonder about saying yes and saying no. The difference one might have brought about in my life compared to the other.
But I don’t think about it much.

Because I still think I made the right decision.

No.

Hard to say it. But sometimes right to say it.


hour of the black wolf in paperback


So the paperback edition of my wee Western, Hour of the Black Wolf, is out and available in a large-print edition for the hard of seeing. Or, frankly, anyone else who wants a copy. It's published by FA Thorpe in their Linford Western Library imprint.


Here's what it looks like, the book:

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And here's where you can buy a copy...

In the USA

In the UK

Your local library should, if you ask the nice librarian sweetly enough, be able to get a copy in for you  . . . And you should be using your library, you really should, for all sorts of reasons.















meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

Things have been hectic.

Hospital stuff, poorly relatives, Christmas, hospital visits, New Year, hospital visits, poorly relatives, poorly me . . .

Somewhere in all of that I have managed to get some writing done, honestly. But none of it has been on this blog. That will, I hope, change shortly.

Next post I'll tell you about the paperback edition of Hour of the Black Wolf.

See? Ending on a cliffhanger, and in such a short post. Sometimes I amaze myself.

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