Archive for August, 2010

Quandaries, eh?

Posted in General Musings on August 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yes, I admit that I find myself in a small quandary. The reason is the accompanying miniature of the poster for the film I am dithering about going to see: The Human Centipede. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not in the least bit squeamish about watching films like this, at least, not normally so. However, the film itself has been termed ‘torture-porn’ and there’s something vaguely unsavoury about that epithet that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

I’ve seen a good proportion of the so-called ‘video nasties’ in my time, and very few of them left any impression on me or upset me in any way ( the only exception to that was Cannibal Holocaust and that was mostly for the scenes of animal cruelty in it, which just seemed totally pointless and completely unconscionable in its search for realism). Most of the nasties, to my eyes, seemed poorly made with all-too-obvious special effects and painfully amateurish rubber prosthetics. A few were genuinely nasty, and deserved their reputation.  However, as I stated in a previous post (the one I wrote on Evil Dead recently), some of the choices that were blacklisted left me scratching my head as to why they had achieved their dubious status. Perhaps it was the subtexts rather than the actual gore that earned them their notoriety. Who knows…

The Human Centipede, however, strikes me as very different. It seems deliberately aimed at a sector of the market that likes to be grossed out just for the sake of it. Nothing wrong in that per se, but it seems that this particular examples straddles that fine line between providing genuine shocks for entertainment and just plain nastiness. There doesn’t seem to be any point to this film other than to be as violent and misanthropic as the film-makers are able to get away with, and to induce the viewer’s stomachs to churn endlessly.

You could argue that it’s a complete and utter fantasy, and I would agree with you up to a point, but only insofar as it’s hardly likely to ever be done in real-life. Even so, it begs the question, just how far do you take things in the search for that ultimate gore-thrill, before it becomes not only pointless, but fodder for those self-appointed guardians of culture or morals when they call for such ‘depravity’ to be banned outright, for instance? In reality, I doubt that it would ever get as far as a complete ban on horror and such, but it would certainly set back our claim that we’re just ordinary folk who get our kicks through the precarious thrill of being scared witless.

I guess the only way I can ever resolve the issue in my own mind is to actually go and see it. I certainly refuse to be counted amongst the numbers of those idiots who complain and protest against something without ever having either seen the film or read the book in question (an all-too favourite activity of certain ignorant types, sadly). Additionally, I would never presume to stop anyone from going to see the film (or read a particularly nasty horror book, for that matter) just on the shaky grounds that I find it objectionable, if that’s their thing. I will , however, admit to more then a smidgeon of curiosity and intrigue about The Human Centipede that is gently shoving me in the direction of the local cinema (if they ever show it, that is), plus I wonder if I can watch it without feeling total disgust. I can guarantee, though, that it’ll probably still leave me wondering….

Books and newsy-type bits

Posted in Books, News on August 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Before I delve into the main post of the day (which I am still in the process of thinking about), here are some bits and pieces to keep you temporarily occupied with. First up, I received a couple of new books for review:

Veins, by Lawrence C. Connolly (Fantasist Enterprises)

Vipers, by Lawrence C. Connolly (Fantasist Enterprises)

Lawrence is also a musician and accompanying Veins is a soundtrack, a CD of which arrived with the books. Will be interested to see how it fits into the atmosphere of the first novel….

Secondly, my Imagination is a precious thing… blog, which I posted some weeks back, has been reproduced in House of Horror webzine #15, and the article can be found here (thanks to Sammi Cox for that!). While you’re there, why not have a look around at the other articles and stories contained therein, as well as the ones from previous issues. It’s definitely worth it…

Thirdly, Beyond Fiction wants YOU! Or more precisely we’re looking for reviewers:

“Would you like your name spread all over the internet? Do you like writing reviews of books, films and games? Do you sometimes think, I could do better than that when reading a review of your favourite book or film?

Well, now’s your chance. Beyond Fiction is recruiting reviewers for these pages and we’re inviting YOU to send samples of your work to us. We’re looking for top quality reviewers, who can provide us with in-depth write-ups of genre material, with a love for media, an excellent command of English and an ability to write clearly. You will also be encouraged to interview the writers and creators of some the best in popular genre media today.

Please send us a sample or two of your reviews (max 500 words each), along with a covering email telling us if you’ve already been published (and which magazines/websites your work appears in) or if you’re a new reviewer. Please email to:

beyond.fiction.review@gmail.com

We’re waiting to hear from you, and good luck!

You never know – it could be worth a try…

That’s all for now – back soon with the main feature of the day… =D

Something for the future

Posted in General Musings, News on August 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

As some of my Facebook friends know, my wife Liz and I are moving to Scotland next year, specifically to the northern/northeastern coast – to the county of Caithness. We already have a piece of land in mind, a 2-acre plot in a village called Barrock, which is situated somewhere between Wick, Thurso and John O’Groats. We’re building our own little house, a Scandinavian Log Cabin to be precise (take a look at the picture here), and in addition we’ll be purchasing two other cabins, like these, one of which will be a writing den for me and the other one a place for Liz to do her sewing and whatnot. We will also be putting a yurt up on the land, too, which will serve as the guest accommodation. We’ll be as self-sufficient as it’s possible to be, growing our own vegetables and rearing chickens and goats. This is mostly because we’ll be fairly isolated and it just makes sense to have as much to hand as possible.

Now, apart from the prospect of moving to and living in such a beautiful part of the country, there’s also the fact that there’ll be inspiration aplenty up there. Barrock is a few miles from the most northerly point of the British mainland, which is Dunnet Head (not John O’Groats), and we’ll be within sight of the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Isles. West of it, on the road towards Durness, is some of the most spectacular scenery that anyone is ever likely to set eyes upon, composed of rolling muirs (with deer roaming across it), pristine lochs and mountains. The last time we were there, last October, the lovely landlords of the cottage we were staying at (John and Bev) drove us out to Melness, situated on the banks of Loch Eribol, with Benn Hope looming over it, and that’s where both Liz and I really fell in love with the place. I, for one, have never been so moved by the scenery as I was by Melness.

BUT, there’s more, and this is the main reason why I am writing this post. Liz and I have been thinking about the possibility of holding Writer’s Workshops on our land. Maybe once a month during the spring, summer and autumn seasons we will invite professional/semi-professional writers to come and hold court at our little retreat from civilisation, imparting their knowledge to five or six paying students. Meals will be included, all cooked by Liz, and made with the vegetables and produce of our land. Already, my good friend Simon Kurt Unsworth has offered his services as teacher (even down to the wearing of a brown corduroy jacket [his idea!]), which will be an added attraction. Plus there will be the chance for fireside festivities (readings/storytelling?) during the evening, as well as opportunities for walks and rambles on the coast and over the muirs. No doubt there’ll be some who will want to visit the Orkneys – ferries go from Scrabster (Thurso) to Stromness every day. And, in winter, we will be holding little ‘festivals’ for friends and family, where much good food and drink will be consumed.

We are also looking at writer’s retreats: an author renting another cabin on our land so that they can get away from it all to get that novel/story written. Meals, again, will be included. There’ll be peace and quiet in abundance, plus more time and space than anyone could wish for. The surrounding scenery will provide more than enough inspiration.

This, at least, is what we are currently planning. We both happen, however, to think that these plans will work. The isolation, plus the beauty of the landscape we’ll be in, have a great deal of appeal to the artist and writer in all of us. However it pans out, life, as it hard as it might be from a freehold standpoint, will be infinitely better than living in a city, at least from this writer’s perspective. Whatever, I would like to hear people’s thoughts on the subject, as to whether it’s a viable idea or not.

On a personal note, it’s been a dream of mine for over two decades to move to Scotland, ever since I first set foot there in 1988 or so. For some inexplicable reason, I always feel like I am coming home when I travel there. I never imagined that I would actually make the move, but things have been set in motion down here that will make the dream a reality. Liz had never been north of the border until I suggested we have a holiday there a couple of years ago. As soon as she got there, she knew it was exactly where she wanted to be. So now, we are more than following the dream, we’re making it happen.

Hope to see some of you come and join us up there!

(The photo above depicts the rocky arch of Thirle’s Door, Duncansby Stacks, Duncansby Head, Caithness. Although not seen in the photo, the Orkneyslie to the north, and to the west are Dunnet Head and John O’Groats. This is just the kind of spectacular coastal scenery that abounds in the north-east of the Scottish highlands.)

Books and stuff

Posted in Book Reviews on August 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

More books popped through my door today… which were:

How to Make Monsters, by Gary McMahon (Morrigan Books)

Rain Dogs, by Gary McMahon (HumDrumming)

Also, a couple of  PDFs plopped through my email inbox:

Conjure, by Mark West (Rainfall Books)

Morpheus Tales Dark Sorcery Special, by Various (Morpheus Publishing)

Plenty to occupy myself with in the evenings now that they’re starting to draw in… =)

The Terror, by guest reviewer Paul Kane

Posted in Film on August 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

As an experiment, and to broaden the scope of Ramblings of a Tattooed Head, please let me introduce the first in what I hope is an occasional series of reviews by guests. To kick things off we have a review of Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, written by author Paul Kane.

—()—

The Terror (1963, Pegasus Entertainment DVD) Out 9 August. £5.99

Not to be confused with Dan Simmons’ masterly novel from a couple of years ago, The Terror is actually one of Roger Corman’s pretty much forgotten early movies –  worthy of note because it features not only Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff, but also a very young Dick Miller (Gremlins) as a butler. The movie marked Nicholson’s third appearance in a Corman flick, after 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors and 1963’s The Raven, but also led to the actor going behind the camera – in an uncredited directing capacity (along with Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and Jack Hill). Ever the opportunist, Corman reportedly shot footage of Karloff and other actors walking across sets (most notably those left over from AIP films like The Haunted Palace) in the hopes some kind of story could be woven around it later. Little wonder then, that the whole thing has a certain disjointed quality to it.

Separated from his regiment on the north German coast, Napoleonic soldier Lt Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) collapses from his horse onto the beach and sees a vision of a beautiful woman. After helping him, the mysterious Helene (Sandra Knight) walks into the water and vanishes. Duvalier follows, but quickly finds himself out of his depth and is this time rescued by a strange old woman, Katrina (Dorothy Neumann): the local peasant witch. Once recovered, his efforts to find out who Helene is take him to the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff), who is convinced she’s the ghost of his dead wife, Ilsa, coming back to haunt him.

As Duvalier investigates further, he uncovers the truth about what happened the night Ilsa died – and why she might have reason to plague the Baron. But at the same time there seems to be something else going on, a revenge conspiracy that is fated to backfire on the person initiating it. Can Duvalier get to the bottom of who Helene really is, and help save the Baron at the same time?

Though not as slick as Corman’s other offerings in this vein – how could it be when there were five people filming the picture? – and while it doesn’t quite have the charm of the Poe films he’s probably best known for, this is nonetheless an intriguing and hypnotic film. Somehow the filmmakers manage to come up with a genuinely surprising twist at the end, that throws everything we’ve learnt up to then into confusion, and some of the horror set pieces – in particular one where a man gets his eyes pecked out by a bird – still hold up today (although fans of more modern shockers will no doubt snigger at a few of the other, cheaper effects). Nicholson hasn’t really come into his own by this time, though there are hints of the OTT performances to come, but the ever reliable Karloff more than makes up for this: a master of drumming up suspense and tension in a scene. The lack of extras are a pain, but this one’s definitely worth getting your hands on if only for nostalgia value alone.

—()—

Paul Kane is a professional journalist and author of horror/dark fantasy short stories and novels. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book The Hellraiser Films and their Legacy.

I also encourage others to submit reviews of films, books and other media. Leave a comment on here with your proposal and I will get back to you as soon as I can!

White Cat, by Holly Black

Posted in Book Reviews on August 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Seamlessly integrating magic believably into a real-world setting is a hard task to accomplish. It has to be introduced into a story in such a way that we accept it without question as readers, inducing that famous ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. It has to be said of Holly Black that she manages to do just that in her latest YA novel, White Cat (the first of a trilogy), where the use of the outlawed ‘curse-working’, as she’s termed it, is so flawlessly ingrained into the world and milieu she’s created that the reader doesn’t actually realise that there’s anything weird or fantastical about the premise.

Cassel is the youngest son of a curse-working family, a family which also just happens to be one of the five big crime families in America. There’s only one big problem in his life, however: he’s the only member of his family who isn’t a curse-worker, and as such is a big disappointment to his family, especially to his two older brothers, Philip and Barron, who positively hate him for it. The book opens with Cassel waking up at night on the roof of the exclusive school he attends, Wallingford Academy, having apparently sleepwalked up there from his dorm while having a dream of following a white cat. It’s an act that manages to get him excluded from school for a while: however, the cat isn’t a figment of his imagination – she’s very real and is just about to make his life very complicated indeed.

As the title implies, the cat is central to plot of this story which mixes the faintly supernatural and the exploits of mobsters. Black carefully reveals all the little secrets and puzzles of Cassel and his family drip-by-drip, as his life gradually unravels and he’s not quite as certain about the way things are as he used to be. The narrative threads don’t really start to mesh together until roughly a third of the way through, but from then on the story clips along at a good pace. However, a clever reader will be able to start putting all the pieces together long before the end comes together if he/she has been paying attention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – even if the reader DOES figure out what’s happening there’s still a solid enough and well-written story behind it to keep the reader fully engaged.

The idea that magic can co-exist with technology like computers and mobile phones seems, on paper, to be a recipe for disaster, or at the very least a jarring juxtaposition. However, Black subtly weaves the idea throughout the story and, although it’s a major component of Cassel’s world, it isn’t overplayed to the point where it’s constantly pushed into the reader’s face or becomes a jarring note, or even becomes an attempt to spice up an otherwise prosaic story. In addition, curse-working brings together and neatly explains the plot threads and the action nicely and consistently.

Bearing in mind that this is a YA novel, don’t go looking for anything deep or meaningful here – it’s just a good story, competently told and with the characters drawn as much as they need to be. Admittedly, this reviewer found the adult characters somewhat more interesting (if, maybe, a little stereotypical), with Cassel’s school friends being less easy to engage with or relate to. Our erstwhile hero’s character, however, does grow a little over the course of the novel, if not in confidence and stature, then at least in awareness of the true nature of what’s going on around him, knowledge that is at times very painfully bought.

A good solid premise, marred a little by some fairly typical characterisations. The latter is not enough to deter this reader from following Cassel into the next volume, Red Glove, which is due out next year.

The original review can be found here.

—()—

Reviewed by Simon Marshall-Jones

Publisher: Gollancz

Publishing date: 17th June 2010

ISBN: 0575096713


Guest-blog: CARL FORD

Posted in Guest-blog on August 26, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Way back in the day, when the internet was nothing but a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, we had things called ‘zines to keep us going. One of the very best that came out in the late 80s was Dagon, run and edited by Carl Ford. The ‘zine was a mix of game scenarios, articles and fiction, all based around the vision of one man – HP Lovecraft. For me, it was a regular fix of info and stories – I wasn’t so bothered with the gaming sections for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, as there weren’t any others where I lived who were interested in role-playing games. It was, however, where I read some of my favourite authors for the very first time. Here, Carl talks about the genesis of Dagon, and of his love of weird fiction in general.

—()—

Confessions of a Geeky Goth

There’s an element of synchronicity floating around in my life right now. So when Simon asked me whether I’d like to write a guest blog about my reminiscences of publishing Dagon, despite the fact that it’s been some 23 years since I last published an issue, it wasn’t a total shock when, coincidentally, another website asked me for the same, that very day. Having agreed to write for Simon, and a perennial sufferer of writer’s block, I politely declined the second offer.

For the record, Dagon was a small press ‘zine that I first published whilst at college at the start of the 80s. Knocked out as single-sided photocopies, I think the initial print run, intended for friends and a couple of the guys in the original Dalling Road branch of Games Workshop, amounted to 10 copies! The original format combined my love of the recently-published role-playing game by Chaosium entitled Call of Cthulhu and my enthusiasm for the writings of HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. At the time, Lovecraft’s writings were all out of print, but I’d been steadily collecting horror novels and shorts as a pre-teen. My introduction to the Mythos came via battered copies of a 1963 Panther paperback of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (editor’s note: which, in another example of synchronicity, I just happen to reading at the moment) and a Consul edition of The Mask of Cthulhu, given to me by my grandfather who helped out on a second-hand book stall in the Shepherd’s Bush Market. The stall disappeared by the mid-70s, but I still have the two hoary books, which I will always cherish.

The 80s were a great time for those who liked the dark side: punk was morphing into the gloomy shadows of goth and the girls looked great. Alas, being a wimpy-looking geek with the sexual allure of squashed roadkill meant that the only thing I ever pulled was a muscle delivering copies of the local Informer door-to-door. In fact, I’d been doing that only a couple of days when I went down with pains in my stomach. Following numerous tests at the hospital, it was revealed I had cirrhosis of the liver resulting in my spleen being twelve times normal. Apparently, the spleen had been taking up all the good things in my diet (including hormones) and converting them to waste. Upon admittance to the hospital my height was 5′ 3″: shorter that the average girl and slimmer than the average lamp-post. I decided to immerse myself into geekdom, hang out with other guys who couldn’t pull, and put sex on the backburner.

The early issues of Dagon were knocked out on an old Corona typewriter as stick and paste jobs with editing courtesy of Tippex. I’d write most of the material, mainly gaming scenarios and filler that included articles on the Mythos and Lovecraft’s circle. By issue 11 I had started to attract a small cult following and word got around. At the time, Dagon was the only British ‘zine devoted to the subject, and contributors from the Lovecraftian stable soon agreed to supply me with material. Authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, TED Klein, Thomas Ligotti, and Brian Lumley began to contribute fiction,and prominent Lovecraftian scholars that included Peter Cannon, Robert M. Price and ST Joshi, followed suit. I was also fortunate to acquire the illustrative services of Dave Carson, Allen Koszowski, and Gahan Wilson for the despicable artwork. This collective of big names helped Dagon to garner several British Fantasy Society awards for Best Small Press, and I was fortunate to pick up an award for Most Promising Newcomer (formerly the Icarus Award) for editing/publishing.

Alas, fame was not to be. I’ve never been the most confident of people, and my hellraising is almost legendary. Following the publication of 27 issues, a couple of projects involving a portfolio of Dave Carson’s Lovecraftian artwork, a chapbook by Brian Lumley, entitled (here it comes again) Synchronicity, or Something, and a string of illnesses including life chronic pneumonia, meningitis, and the side-effects associated with cystic fibrosis, and not forgetting numerous nights on the London tiles and a short dalliance as vocalist for a forgettable two-chord punk band (we had one song concerning the Cthulhu Mythos entitled Madness of Madness) meant that life was too short to sit behind a typewriter long into the early hours with just the ghouls for company. Lovecraft was now becoming big business and I’d done my little bit for fandom. I soon discovered girls, goth and clubland, and didn’t miss typing the address labels for a 500-strong subscriber base and packing several hundred issues for shop sales.

Dagon had proved an amazing experience and introduced me to a new circle of friends from the worlds of fantasy and horror, some of whom remain dear friends to this day. The publication itself has something of a cult following, and copies (especially the earlier ones) have changed hands for silly prices. Oddly, the day after Simon asked whether I’d contribute this piece, happened to be the 120th anniversary of Lovecraft’s birth – synchronicity again, or something far more sinister. Perhaps the stars have finally come right.. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, or maybe he’s awakening once more…

—()—

Thanks to Carl for this really enjoyable article, and also for bringing back great memories of sending off a postal order every two months and then waiting patiently for the new issue to arrive by return of post. In fact, I recently contacted my brother in Wales to see if those old issues are still packed away somewhere – would be absolutely brilliant if they were still there. It’s like waiting for the new issue all over again….. =)


Books and other review media

Posted in Book Reviews on August 25, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

It’s that time again: notification of new material to be reviewed. So, without further fuss, here’s what I’ll be having a go at:

Blonde on a Stick, by Conrad Williams (MaxCrime)

The Crown of the Blood, by Gav Thorpe (Angry Robot)

Mr. Shivers, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit)

In addition, I have received the following as PDFs:

Fungus of the Heart, by Jeremy C. Shipp (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

The Places Between, by Terry Grimwood (Pendragon Press)

Girl with No Hands, by Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)

And now, for something completely different: my good friend, Gary Cole-Wilkins, kindly sent me two of his CDs for review, namely:

Death to the Antenna, by The Antenna (Righte0us 8-Track)

A Parallelogram of Suitcases, by Gary Cole-Wilkins (Self-released)

This will be a very interesting exercise – I haven’t reviewed music for a while, and both of these are outside my comfort zone. But it’s something I will definitely have a crack at, providing I get the time…. and when I do, they’ll be appearing exclusively on “Ramblings…” and nowhere else.

The twists and turns of Fate…

Posted in General Musings on August 25, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday, I received a bit of a setback. One of the magazines/books I was due to appear in, The Asylum, is NOT now going to appear, which means that my story, Transfiguration, is once more looking for a home. The editor reluctantly had to let the idea go, as she is now involved in quite a few book projects of her own with tight deadlines, plus she told me that there were only a few stories submitted that were of sufficiently high enough quality to be included, and that generally speaking, the standard of stories was quite low.

The thing for me, though, is that I’d been thinking about this particular story for a little while before this news, wondering whether I should revise it as I have improved a bit since since I first wrote it, even though it’s only been a matter of months. I had realised since that the premise of the story could be strengthened, plus there were certain aspects of it that definitely needed rewriting. So, in all honesty, the news I received yesterday morning didn’t disappoint me as much as I would have thought. I could go so far as to say that it was quite fortuitous, in fact.

It did get me to thinking afterwards, however, especially consequent to talking to the editor privately. Inevitably, she’s come in for quite a bit in the way of a backlash as a result of her decision not to go ahead. I suppose that was entirely predictable. I guess some people need to have someone to pin the blame on or take out their frustrations. Whatever the faults or otherwise of this particular case (and the same goes for any other instance), I thought I’d look at it positively, instead. (And btw, before you ask, I am not having a go at anybody who had a different rection to mine, or trying to stake out a claim to the moral high-ground… apologies if it appears to be that way, but I can assure you it’s not!)

In which case, I just decided to take it as a lucky opportunity to rewrite the story. I think, as a new writer trying to break in to the ‘market’, I need to be cautious about throwing wobblies just at this moment. Plus, in some respects, I have some sympathy with the editor and can see the difficulties she had in coming to the decision, purely from my time running a record label. Having to make choices regarding which material to release and which to reject could be very hard at times. Added into that is how the artist, who has a lot of pride in what he/she has produced, might possibly react when told that I wouldn’t be releasing their latest album, as good as it was. Most reacted very professionally, and then went on to seek other labels on which to issue it. One or two complained that if it was that good, why wasn’t I releasing it, or that I obviously didn’t know what good music was. Extrapolating from just that, I could easily imagine what species of reaction I would have got if I’d had to tell someone that, even though I promised I would release their album, economic factors, for instance, mitigated against it. Luckily, it never got that to that.

So, now Tranfiguration is homeless and drifting, but, if I have anything to do with it, not for too long. I’ll rewrite the bits that I think need shoring up, maybe add a bit here and there, and then send it right back out. Whatever disappointment I may be subconsciously feeling I am going to alchemise into action. This is just the way I deal with things like this – I did exactly the same when I suffered a stroke nearly fourteen years ago. Like I say, I am not trying to make a point of moral superiority here – for me it’s just a waste of valuable writing time complaining about it, simple as. I think I need to move on with it and get the story a new home before it starts sulking about being forgotten.

On the plus side, I still have two other stories coming out: Feathers is still scheduled to appear in the A Dream of Stone anthology from Paraphilia Books (fantastic title, don’t you think?), launch date TBC; and on December 3rd, The Wages of Sin will appear in the Winter issue of Dark Valentine online magazine. Links will be posted once they’re out.

Some further news: I, along with Mark West, Adrian Chamberlin and Mark Deniz, will be publishing a chapbook of four short stories, all of which will be connected together to make a novella. That’s about as far as we’ve got, but details will be thrashed out within the next month or so – certainly, three of the four of us will be talking about it over a pint or two at this year’s FCon. I don’t think it’ll be too long before I’ll have more info for you, however – but, from my perspective, I think it’s looking like the future is getting sunnier.

NEVER AGAIN anthology story notes: PART TWO

Posted in Books on August 24, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Below is the second part of the story notes to this forthcoming anthology, the first part of which was posted on this blog last week and can be found here. Who better to explain the inspirations behind the stories than the very people who wrote the ones which were chosen to be featured within its pages. The publisher’s website describes the anthology thusly:  ”Never Again is an attempt to voice the collective revulsion of writers in the weird fiction genre against political attitudes that stifle compassion and deny our collective human inheritance. The imagination is crucial to an understanding both of human diversity and of common ground. Weird fiction is often stigmatised as a reactionary and ignorant genre – we know better”. The anthology will be published by Gray Friar Press, and is due to be launched at FantasyCon 2010 in September. The anthology is edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane.

—()—

Lisa Tuttle

In the Arcade

I wrote In the Arcade in September 1974, in Austin, Texas, where I was working a 2 to 11 p.m. shift as a typist, and typing out my own stories in the few hours I had between managing to haul myself out of bed and having to leave for work again. I’d been reading some heavy-duty non-fiction about Nazi Germany, with the intention of collaborating with another writer on a piece of fiction about Hitler being discovered alive and mad somewhere in America. (A work never finished, and probably just as well.) The Nazis did not invent genocide, but they were the first to industrialize, bureaucratize and modernize that terrifying aspect of human nature which starts with dividing our fellow humans into two groups—”us” or “them”—and rapidly rushes downhill into fear, hatred, cruelty, dehumanization and mass- murder. Unfortunately, that’s a horror story that seems set to run and run. My little story is a Twilight Zone—style speculation on something that might have happened if the Nazis had won their war.

Although written in 1974, it wasn’t actually sold until October 1976—I usually kept notes of rejections, but don’t have any for this one, so I don’t know if I was slow to send it out, or if it sat in the slush pile for two years, but the backlog of stories at Amazing Stories must have been considerable, since they did not get around to publishing it until May 1978. Then Gerald Page picked it up for his Year’s Best Horror Stories.

David Sutton

Zulu’s War

It was Blair and the Iraq war. It made me so angry, so wound up that he ignored the facts and the will of his voters. Zulu’s War translated my anger, but it hasn’t got rid of it. The war criminal still tours the word stage and now, to add insult to (real) injury he pays blood money to the British Legion. I vented my anger through the characters in my short story, but of course the real characters, the troops who served in Iraq, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed or maimed, were the blood-splattered victims. The sanctimonious freak, as usual, gets off to live his money-clotted, self-centred life. Can you tell I am still furious. This is what happens when we are unable to influence our political inferiors. We—millions of us—are just powerless. And that is truly frightening when such a monstrous ego gets into power.’

Rosanne Rabinowitz

Survivor’s Guilt

The ambience of a certain kind of mittel-European reminiscence literature hovered about me as I wrote Survivor’s Guilt… Ann Michael’s Fugitive Pieces, the Manns, or perhaps further afield to Cesare Pavese and Primo Levi. Though it’s been years since I read these writers, I remember books suffused with melancholy and longing for people and places forever lost to fascism and war.

‘Meanwhile, a German friend said that many of his compatriots have no idea that a social revolution had taken place in their country amid the wreckage of WWI. Led by councils of workers and ordinary people, the revolution of 1918-19 tried to create a society based on cooperation and freedom. The repercussions of its bloody repression were profound. The Freikorps, an elite paramilitary grouping used by the Social Democratic government to suppress the workers councils, later formed the nucleus of the Nazi Party and the SS.

‘I also give a big tip of the hat to historians whose work unearths ‘hidden narratives’ of the past—CLR James, EP Thompson, Peter Linebaugh, Silvia Federici and others. I try to write fiction in the same way, and their approach has informed my delving into the submerged history of the German revolution. Several individuals mentioned in Survivor’s Guilt —Ernst Toller, Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam—were real people. In fact, Toller’s memoirs and writings from prison provided much information and inspiration. So this story is dedicated to them, and others who struggled to bring a better world into being at a very bleak time.

‘Another presence in this story is the elusive writer B Traven. He’s best known for novels such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rebellion of the Hanged and Death Ship. His work expressed affinity with the indigenous people of Chiapas, poor working people and the dispossessed. There’s a suggestion of him in the character of Gunther, though Gunther emphatically forges his own fictional identity when he behaves in ways that would have Mr Traven rotating rapidly in his grave.’

Andrew Hook

Beyond Each Blue Horizon

‘The genesis of this story originated in a dream whereby the denouément came to me complete. It was such a striking image that I knew I would have to use it in a story. The opportunity to develop it came with a call for submissions for the Book of Voices anthology (Flame Books, 2005), which was published to support the Sierra Leone PEN organisation—part of the international organisation which promotes literature and human rights. The Sierra Leone PEN was established to reinvigorate the diminished writing community after the civil war and encourage those writers who remained to play an active role in society. I decided to explore the scenario of inaction, whereby absolving responsibility or distancing ourselves from potentially harmful political situations makes us just as culpable and detrimental to the force for good as those who wish to violate us.’

Rhys Hughes

Rediffusion

My story Rediffusion was inspired by one writer. Kafka. I discovered Franz Kafka when I was about 15 and I was strongly affected by his work. His novels and stories seemed to reveal a dark truth about the workings of society that I’d never encountered in the work of any other author. Kafka’s protagonists, although active and intelligent (or perhaps because of it), are always forced into passivity and stasis through the horribly farcical obstinacy of large faceless bureaucrats and fascistic controllers. Our own world is Kafkaesque in the extreme.

‘My dealings with the Television Licensing Agency in recent years have been exquisitely Kafkaesque. I don’t own a television and I have never owned one. Every few weeks I receive another threatening letter assuming that I do watch TV and that I haven’t paid for a license and warning me that action is required immediately (no, it’s not; they have no legal power to require anything, the most they can do is request action, and I’m within my rights to ignore such a request). I find it utterly bizarre that the onus is on me to prove that I don’t have a TV set, and in fact it’s not; the bluster, deceit and sheer mean-spiritness encapsulated in these letters is an object lesson in how to assemble, piece by piece, threat by threat, the Kafka nightmare. That’s why I wrote my story.’

Nina Allan

Feet of Clay

‘The theme of Never Again was so huge the only way I could think of tackling it was by coming at it sideways, through the experiences and reactions of a particular group of characters. In a way I suppose my story is an exploration of the theme of ‘the sins of the fathers’ being visited on their children, only in the case of Hanne Ganesh it is her suffering that is handed down, first to her lonely son Jonas and then, in the form of a bequest that is both metaphorical and frighteningly actual, to her granddaughter Allis.

‘I very much wanted to portray ordinary people fighting back against fascism, and yet at the same time show how the use of violence in any context, even a righteous cause, is bound to have questionable consequences.

‘It’s difficult for any European writer to even think about fascism without referring back to Hitler’s Germany, but it felt important for me to bring the story home, as it were, and the decision to have Feet of Clay set in the present day and in the familiar landscape of my own country was a very conscious one.

Feet of Clay bears an interesting relationship to the story I wrote immediately afterwards, Bellony, which is to appear in the Eibonvale Press anthology Blind Swimmer, also due to be launched at this year’s FantasyCon. The deadlines for these pieces were uncomfortably close together, and in order to quell my panic about being able to finish them both on time I began increasingly to think of the two stories as a pair. Although on a narrative level Feet of Clay and Bellony are completely independent from one another, those readers who happen to sample them both will discover some surprising and (I would hope) intriguing overlaps in the area of both character and theme.’

Steve Duffy

The Torturer

‘Among my numerous uncles, some alive, some no longer with us, there are two in particular I want to talk about. One of them left Vienna in the late 1930s on a so-called “Kinderpass” or child’s passport, after Austria was annexed into the Third Reich. The rest of his family never made it out; they vanished into the ghettos and the camps. My uncle made it to Manchester, where he grew up an orphan and later married my mother’s sister. One of her brothers, meanwhile—another much-loved member of our close-knit family—joined the Army and became a military policeman, in which capacity he served in Cyprus during the 1950s. This was the time of the EOKA nationalist group’s struggle for “enosis”, or union with Greece; force was met with force, and my uncle was tasked with the interrogation of prisoners. Sometimes, blind eyes were turned to the ways in which these interrogations were conducted; certain things were, if not approved of, then at least let pass without official examination.

‘Of course, all this doesn’t mean that the one uncle was an angel, nor that the other uncle was a monster.  Far from it.  It’s rarely, if ever, that straightforward. The lesson I choose to draw from it all is that there isn’t always a clearly demarcated “us” and “them”, necessarily; there’s mostly just a bunch of people dealing with situations, reacting as best they can to their upbringings and environments. And the more positive influences we can exert on them, from as early an age as possible, then so much the better.’

Thana Niveau

The Death of Dreams

‘The UK tabloids are some of the nastiest in the world. They make a living by destroying people’s lives and dignity in the name of the public’s alleged “right to know”. I learned firsthand just how nasty they can be when friends of mine found their private lives on display for the world to mock. The incident has stayed with me ever since, demanding to be put into a story.

‘When the idea for Never Again came about, I thought at first that I wouldn’t contribute. I didn’t want to write with a political agenda and I didn’t know what I could say about fascism that others haven’t already said so much more eloquently. Joel Lane suggested I get personal and think along the lines of general intolerance and from there the story wrote itself. The self-righteous tabloids are the epitome for me of “attitudes that stifle compassion” and I imagined the horror of a society with no privacy laws. We all have unbidden thoughts and dreams we wouldn’t want anyone to see. What if those private ideas could be recorded to provide shock value entertainment for the masses?’

Ray Russell

The Decision

The Decision is an attempt to show that even when wrapped up in our own problems, not understanding what is going on around us, we can still act the right way. If we don’t take the opportunities offered we are complicit in discrimination, and will carry that with us into the future.’

Gary McMahon

Methods of Confinement

‘As far as I can recall, Methods of Confinement, was written after somebody close to me visited a family member in prison. The journey and the meeting that form the basis of the tale actually happened, and when the anecdote was related to me I started thinking about how society puts us all into little slots, prison cells within the complex structure of civilisation. Some forms of fascism are subtle; they don’t involve violence or hate crimes. Often we are not even aware of what is happening—that this kind of insidious social fascism is at work.

‘According to our social group—where we are born, how rich or poor our parents are and what they do for a living—we are herded into a cell and expected to stay there, and the unseen forces behind society almost dare us to try and escape. My story suggests a way that this set-up might be policed, and involves someone being given a brief glimpse behind the scenes. A glimpse that asks more questions than it answers.’

Matt Joiner

South of Autumn

‘This was sparked off by the Cure song All Cats Are Grey. The lyrics suggested someone who’d been released into a world he didn’t recognise any more, still feeling persecuted. Then the image of the Wall came to me, walking round town one lunchtime.

‘I wanted to write about survival. And its price, which for the central character is his sense of reality. He’s not sure he really has survived; his imagination’s been poisoned by the old regime.

‘It became more of a fairy tale than I expected, but I found I couldn’t tell it any other way…’

r.j. krijnen-kemp

Volk

‘Volk was a breakthrough story for me. It was the first time that I was brave enough to throw the rule-book out the window and follow the dictates of my own imagination. I’ve continued to try and write in this manner, which has frequently resulted in readers saying they don’t understand the story. But that’s OK, because neither do I. It wasn’t until Joel said to me that Volk was about fascism that I realised it was. I believe that readers, not writers, create meaning from fiction.’

—()—

Once again, I must express my thanks to Allyson Bird for asking the authors to write down their thoughts, and also express my thanks to each of the individual authors for taking the time to write them.

The anthology itself is now available for pre-order from Gray Friar Press. Once again, the link to the first part of this article can be found here.