My weird dark shadow and a new short story

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an author’s panel on Zoom moderated by Kate Jonez of the publishing company Omnium Gatherum. Unlike many people, I have been slow to warm up to Zoom in These Pandemic Times, but I really enjoyed chatting with my fellow authors Simon Bestwick, Tom Johnstone, and Mark Kirkbride. I am a weird dark shadow because of (redacted for boring) issues getting up and running and didn’t set my lighting properly! The panel was partly to celebrate the release of novellas by Johnstone and Kirkbride, Star Spangled Knuckle Duster and The Plot Against Heaven respectively, but our conversation was wide-ranging. I actually found it a bit difficult to do a panel without an audience–there’s no sense of whether you’re going on too short or too long, whether or not you’re engaging people!

All of us on the panel are Omnium Gatherum alumni in one way or another. A few years ago, Omnium Gatherum published Simon Bestwick’s novella Angels of the Silences (see my blurb at the link!) and a story by me, “The Receiver of Tales,” appeared in the Omnium Gatherum anthology Little Visible Delight in 2013 (later reprinted in my short story collection You’ll Know When You Get There).

Sisterhood Twitter

Speaking of short stories, my story “The Anchoress” will appear in a forthcoming anthology from Chaosium, Sisterhood: Dark Tales and Secret Mysteries. This features an exciting lineup that includes Alison Littlewood, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, S.P. Miskowski, Livia Llewellyn, Nadia Bulkin, Gemma Files, Damien Angelica Walters and many more.

a chat with Timothy J. Jarvis for Swan River Press

As you may know, Dublin’s Swan River Press publishes an unthemed anthology of strange and unsettling fiction known as the Uncertainties series, and I had the pleasure of editing volume 3. The talented Timothy Jarvis was the editor of Uncertainties 4, and after many delays, pandemic-related and otherwise, Tim and I sat down, virtually speaking, and had a chat about the editing process, the book and many other things. We are quite simpatico in many ways in how we approach this type of fiction, and while we’ve been acquainted in real life for several years, I don’t think we’ve ever appeared together on a panel chatting about this sort of thing, which I would absolutely love to do. Till then, here’s my interview with him in which our topics range from David Lynch to Arthur Machen, surrealist cinema to Alberto Manguel to the destabilizing effects of the pandemic and more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Links to buy:

Uncertainties volume 1, edited by Brian Showers

Uncertainties volume 2, edited by Brian Showers

Uncertainties volume 3, edited by Lynda E. Rucker

Uncertainties volume 4, edited by Timothy J. Jarvis

“The Preacher’s Wife is a Witch”

After considering and rejecting several framings for this piece over the last few days, I’ve decided to just let Autumn Christian‘s writing speak for itself, which it is more than capable of doing. This short piece “The Preacher’s Wife is a Witch” suggests to me that she’s a writer to watch, and you can subscribe to her newsletter and get more work like this delivered straight to your inbox here.

And as you read her cautionary tale, remember: you might be very surprised, when the time comes, at just who is willing–nay eager–to whisper your name in the ear of the witchfinder general.

 

“unanimity of voices”

You do find some lovely things online while passing through the circles of hell that comprise social media, which is why I’ll probably figure out some way to keep an eye on certain corners of Twitter even after I delete my account. There are a few things I’ve read in the last few days I want to recommend to you but I’ll stick to one a day for now in the interest of keeping these posts somewhat bite-sized.

Anne Louise Avery’s Twitter feed is reason alone to gird your loins and pay a visit to that otherwise horrific platform. She posts gentle, fierce, cozy, moving, deceptively simple but in fact quite profound tweet-sized stories about the daily lives of little forest animals (who also live and thrive in cities): Old Fox, Wolf, Pine Martin, Ermine, Mouse, Grand Cub and many many more who read books, prepare lovely meals and look after each other. They take long train journeys; they open shops in Paris and remember childhoods in central Europe. If it sounds unbearably twee, it is anything but. Avery’s writing is suffused with a sense of longing, melancholy and impending loss, with an unflinching moral core at the center of it all, a resolute stance against the wrongs of the world, and her characters suffer from loneliness, from fear, from sickness, from uncertainty, from an emptiness they are not quite sure how to fill. It only now occurs to me, as I write this, that it is perhaps the only type of storytelling I have encountered that I would compare to Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, deceptively simple tales that look like sweet, charming vignettes for children while actually being moving and mature meditations on the breadth of the human condition.

Given how much I love Avery’s small stories on Twitter, I was unsurprised to find that her travel/nature writing is just as breathtaking, as in this piece on walking The Cotswald Way in England at the online magazine Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, where she is also an editor. Here are just a couple of sentences to give you a sense of her gorgeous, evocative prose:

Rhythmically climbing and descending, it tumbles down through dark, still beech woods to the valleys and villages below, all cow bellows and bird song and church bells, then up steep field paths edged with willow-herb, meadowsweet and scarlet poppies, to the intoxicating wind, sun and rain of the pagan high hills, where the track winds through Iron Age forts and adder-haunted heaths. Golden, black-spiked gorse, seed pods popping in the sun, rule the uplands: standing guard in these ancient silent places.

Avery’s account is not all bird song and flora: it is marked by the all-encompassing specter of grief, the strange collision of the violence of war with the indifference of nature (this makes me think of Terence Malick’s transcendent The Thin Red Line, a film that has been on my mind a lot lately for some reason) alongside the mundane, devastating loss of a parent, all bound up in the experience of landscape.

There is a fine, long tradition of brilliant English nature writing or English nature writing twinned with travel writing, a deep understanding of and connection with landscape that I just love, and her writing feels rooted in that yet–like the best writing, of course–finding its own way and voice. They need no introduction from me, but Robert Macfarlane and Tom Cox are in this tradition as well–the latter writes some extraordinary pieces on his linked blog, I feel like there is a common thread here between this type of writing, the work of such English fantasists as Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, who are also deeply connected to landscape, and the tradition of English “folk horror.” They all chronicle a land that is ancient, and beautiful, and terrible, and extraordinary. The UK as a whole but England in particular is going through some hard times right now, but England is so much more than the incompetence and perfidy and greed of the petty and the ignorant and the small-minded. These old, magical stones and roads and ways and rivers and hills have survived* worse, and will again.

*in a manner of speaking; I really must write about Rym Kechaca’s extraordinary Dark River here at some point, a book I read last year prior to its publication earlier this year by the excellent press Unsung Stories and haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

The Moon Will Look Strange: Deluxe Limited Hardcover

TMWLS Combo pic

I’m delighted to announce that the very fine Undertow Publications is releasing a gorgeous limited edition reprint of my first short story collection, The Moon Will Look Strange. There will only be 100 copies. You can take a look at the specifications and preorder here. The amazing Vince Haig is responsible for the beautiful design.

I’m particularly pleased to be first in a line of “Contemporary Classics” released by  Undertow that will include Joel Lane’s The Lost District. I’ve written here before about what an influence and inspiration Joel was for me.

In other news, I am on the jury this year for the Shirley Jackson Awards, which means that outside of the usual work-sleep-eat survival stuff, my life is mainly consumed by reading like a maniac. This is a huge honor and also provides the opportunity to read a lot of really amazing fiction and is also a lot of work! Unless I have any more publication news to share, I’m unlikely to resurface again here until after the nominations are announced in late spring, but I’ve got quite a few projects going on and a lot to say, so I’ll be back when I can. In the meantime, you can always find me on Twitter and Facebook (though I post less on Facebook and am also really bad about keeping up with friend requests unless we’ve met, so . . . )

And of course, the paperback and ebook version of The Moon Will Look Strange is still available at all the Amazons. There are also copies of my second collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, available from Swan River Press.

New interview and more

First! Brian Lillie asked me lots of great questions for his blog 31 Hath October.  Check out my answers (well, plus his questions) here!

Next! I wrote a chapter on “Finding Your Voice” in Writers on Writing, vol. 4, edited by Joe Mynhardt over at Crystal Lake Publishing. It’s an ebook available on Amazon and is out now.

And! If you are looking for some great horror stories to read, Adam Nevill offers up a list over at The Quietus, including my story “The Dying Season” from Aickman’s Heirs and lots of other great stuff.

Dancing With Shadows: The Charles L. Grant Blogathon

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This post is part of the Charles L. Grant blogathon as curated by Neil Snowdon. All posts for the blogathon are available at that link as they appear.

I can’t remember in which of two ways I first encountered Charles L. Grant: was it through his series of Shadows anthologies, or his short story “If Damon Comes”? It would have been at roughly the same time, sometime in my late teens, and both made deep impressions upon me. The short story I found in David Hartwell’s anthology The Dark Descent, a book whose influence on me cannot be overstated, and it absolutely terrified me. I remember I read it over and over again, perhaps in the hopes that would somehow diminish its power, only to find the opposite happening.

It was a frightening story, but what made it work was Grant’s technique: his elliptical approach to storytelling, what he did not include. There was also the mundane tragedy of the story at its core, that of a broken marriage, a broken family. Grant was a master of getting at the psychology of his characters and revealing sometimes-uncomfortable truths about human nature.

I have always been under the impression that it was Grant who coined the term “quiet horror” although as I write it now I wonder if I’m wrong, but it was a term often applied to his work. “If Damon Comes” is a masterpiece of quiet horror and demonstrates how devastating and scary such an approach can be.

And then there were the Shadows anthologies. I must have read all of them, some of them multiple times—along with Stuart Schiff’s Whispers series, in my mind the two are indelibly linked—not even realizing that I was giving myself a foundational course in then-contemporary horror fiction, just reading them because I loved them. They were like a Who’s Who of 1970s and 1980s horror. Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Steve Rasnic Tem, Manly Wade Wellman, Lisa Tuttle, Joe R. Lansdale, Tanith Lee, and Melanie Tem were just a few of its influential alumni.

I met Charles L. Grant once. It was either at the very end of the 1990s or the beginning of the 2000s, at a World Horror or World Fantasy Con. I waited in line to have him sign a book for me—Jackals, not one of his best novels, and published as the commercial horror boom was waning—but I’d been reading it on the way to the convention. I was in awe of him—I was in awe of anyone who was a writer—still kind of star struck with the idea that I could walk up to these people that I’d read and admired and, well, technically make conversation although in my case it generally just amounted to me approaching them with a book held out before me like some kind of shield and shyly mumbling something about how much I liked their work before slinking away. Anyway, what I remember about meeting him was that he was gruff and funny. I handed the book to him babbling something about how I hadn’t finished it yet but I was really enjoying it and he scrawled in it “Lynda, Finish the damn book!”

I love the vein of “quiet horror” in which Grant wrote. His manipulation of language and the slow burn of his storytelling isn’t for every taste but rewards those who have the patience for it. And this is the perfect time to seek him out, for in my memory of his work, in Charlie Grant Land, it is always autumn.

books to buy and read

Mostly, this blog post is all about telling you to buy things. Let’s think of it as an embarrassment of riches!

First of all, my new collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, which officially launches at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival this weekend, is now available. All pre-orders have now been sent out, and the first 100 numbered copies are history, but unnumbered copies are still available! If you happen to live in Dublin or will be in Dublin, there are also copies at Alan Hanna’s Bookshop in Rathmines.

Also available! Uncertainties: Volume I, which contains my story “The Seance.” For reasons not worth boring you with here, there is also, already, an Uncertainties: Volume II, which I am not in, but which a lot of other fabulous people are in, and so you might as well pick up the pair while you are at it.

Fear not! I am not merely a shill for Swan River Press. You should also pick up the Alchemy Press title Something Remains, now available for pre-order at Amazon UK and Amazon US and, I am certain, all the other Amazons out there. This is the tribute anthology that is (sort of) co-written with Joel Lane that I blogged about recently. This will launch in September at the British Fantasy Convention and a lot of contributors will be on hand, so if you’re attending, you may want to pick up your copy there.

Finally, not something to buy, although I expect you will want to buy things or at least pay a visit to your local library after following this next link! This is very late, but weeks ago Mark West posted the American Horror Mixtape, companion to the Brit Horror Mixtape. This time around my candidates included Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People,” and a number of my other favorites made it on there as well. I was also surprised and happy to see that Laura Mauro (a very good writer whose short fiction you should check out) had included one of my stories on the list! Go there to see whose story ultimately made my cut.

 

Advance reading recs

I’ve had the pleasure of getting sneak previews of a couple of things coming out soon, one a short novel and one a novella.

sentinels

David Longhorn is the editor of the well-regarded Supernatural Tales magazine [disclaimer: yes, I have had a few stories published there] and his debut novel proves that he’s as adept at storytelling as he is at selecting stories. Sentinels is the first of a trilogy and has the same old-fashioned feel to it as a Jonathan Aycliffe novel (and here I mean “old-fashioned” as a compliment). Fast-paced and fun, Sentinels, set in England in 1940, mixes horror with international intrigue (Nazis! Spies!) and a dash of M.R. James (and maybe some Tombs of the Blind Dead, although that my just be my own undying fondness for that film coming through that made me picture the “Raggedy Men” as those scary undead Templars). I can’t wait for the next installment. This is available on Amazon on June 17, and you should check it out–you can preorder it for a mere 99 cents as an ebook, and it’s also available as a paperback. (Also available on Amazon UK.)

muscadines

If you aren’t already familiar with her, Shirley Jackson Award-nominated S.P. Miskowski writes stories about very bad, very real women. In other words, not women who are, say, bad but sexy. Or “women that you love to hate.” Miskowski’s characters are complex and terrifying and they probably will remind you of at least one person that you know or have known. Or maybe that’s just me.

Muscadines is a very dark novella that is coming soon from Dunhams Manor Press.  Here’s what I had to say about it elsewhere: “Narrated in prose as languid and deceptively dreamlike as a Georgia summer afternoon, S.P. Miskowski’s Muscadines feels like a fairy tale recast as a Southern Gothic—a fairy tale of the old, savage, unsanitized-for-modern-children’s-consumption variety. Nobody does very bad women like Miskowski, and this deeply disturbing story further establishes her as a master at exploring the psychological terrain of the kind of women who aren’t supposed to exist.”

 

 

 

 

 

A horror mixtape with Mark West

Last year, writer and all-around good guy Mark West curated a blog called King For A Year in which writers and readers went back and reread (or in some cases, read for the first time) a book by Stephen King and wrote about the experience. It was great fun for all involved, seeing what was up each week, and I went back to Carrie, a book I hadn’t read since I was a teenager. So, needless to say, when Mark got in touch with me proposing a much smaller project, I leapt at the chance to join in.

This would be a single blog post: The Brit Horror Mixtape. Mark asked each of us to contribute a few words about a favorite (maybe I should make that favourite) British short horror story.

Just a single story! Harder than it looks! Would I choose something by Robert Aickman, Daphne Du Maurier, Arthur Machen, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Tuttle? What about Oliver Onions’s “The Beckoning Fair One”? I narrowed the field down by deciding I wanted to choose something by a writer who was still living, then I eliminated writers whose body of work was more influential for me than any single short story.

The choice then was pretty clear. Not that the writer I chose isn’t one who has other work that has also affected me deeply, but if you asked me to name single stories (I’m not going to pick a number, because numbers are arbitrary and silly) that had profoundly affected me as a writer both stylistically and thematically but also changed, in some small way, the way that I see the world, this one would be one of the top ones on the list.

There are lots of other great choices on there as well–I was glad to see both Arthur Machen’s “The White People” and Daphne Du Maurier’s “The Birds” on there as well as double honors for Angela Carter along with two classic chillers, M.R. James’s “The Mezzotint” and W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” It’s actually a damn good list, a wonderful starting point for exploring British horror fiction, and you should check it out.