Archive for November, 2010

NEWS: And this is where it all starts….

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yes, this IS where it all begins…

What am I blabbering on about, you may very well ask? I’m talking about Spectral Press, or rather, the very first chapbook in the series, Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark, due out (officially) in January 2011. Today, I’ll be checking it, then I’ll put together some of the other pages (signature page layout, copyright notice page and also a page listing all the founder subscribers – if YOU want YOUR name on there, then act quickly to get a subscription now!! Details below), and then shoot it all off to GraphixMeister Neil Williams to assemble the whole thing. Once he’s woven his magic, down to the printer’s for actual production, with the added complication of getting the signature sheets printed first, then collected to send to Gary to scribble on, sent back and returned to printer’s for final collation – December is going to be one busy month….

Do you want your name listed as a founder subscriber in the first Spectral chapbook? If so, then act fast, before Monday 6th December 2010! A yearly subscription will cost £10UK/£12EU /$20US/ $25US RoW (all prices inclusive of postage and packing). Individual chapbooks will be available for £3.50UK/£4EU/$8US/$12RoW (again all prices inclusive of p+p). You can either pay via Paypal or cheque: Paypal is spectralpress[at]gmail[dot]com and for details of how to pay by cheque, please send an email to the same address and I’ll get back to you forthwith.

As an added incentive, if you do choose to subscribe before the end of this year (31st December 2010 closing date), your name will be entered into the prize-draw, where you’ll stand the chance of winning a specially signed and framed edition of  Gary McMahon’s chapbook. Alongside it will be a copy of the annotated manuscript, ie  Gary has scrawled all over it in his best red biro – he’s even signed it and ‘illuminated’ it with a little doodle of a smiley horned devil on it as well. The winner will even get a free subscription extension for another year on top of that… now that’s what I call a bargain! (Winner will be notified by mid-January)

Finally, to whet your appetite, here’s the back cover blurb for What They Hear in the Dark:

An absence is more terrifying than a presence…

Rob and Becky bought the old place after the death of their son, to repair and renovate – to patch things up and make the building habitable.

They both knew that they were trying to fix more than the house, but the cracks in their marriage could not be papered over.

Then they found the Quiet Room.”

So what are you waiting for then?

Musings on Mary Danby…

Posted in General Musings, Nostalgia with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday, I pontificated on the processes involved in the editing I’ve been doing over the last fortnight – today, I’ll ruminate on the other job I’ve been involved with over the same time period. Regular visitors to this blog will know that I have been scanning in the short stories of Mary Danby, in preparation for the release of a retrospective collection of her work to be published by Noose and Gibbet Publishing early next year. I have to admit that, before this year, I’d only vaguely heard of this prolific author, as I’d never read any of the books that she was involved in editing or writing for. Strange though it may appear, when I was a child I very rarely read children’s books, preferring to read my Dad’s small collection of sci-fi books by many of the greats, as well as authors like Michael Moorcock and Tolkien (the only concession to children’s literature I remember was reading the Alfred Hitchcock presents The Three Investigators series of books and a select few others).

Volunteering to scan in so many of her stories has been a delight, and an undiscovered gem that I’m sorry I missed when I was younger. Of course, I am reading them now through the eyes of an adult, and a slightly cynical and jaded one at that. When you develop and hone your critical faculties as you become older, it’s far too easy to dismiss such stories as bland efforts to scare children and younger teenagers. However, those same critical faculties allow you to discern that, while presumably having to write to a certain formula for the market that many of the books Danby edited and wrote for were aimed at, there’s also a firm sense that she knew how to speak to youngsters without talking down to them AND also talking to them in terms they could relate to. It’s readily apparent that she remembered what it was like to be a teenager, with all its attendant troubles, like school and trying to negotiate the complexities of friendships, first loves and the intimidating (and often very confusing) world of the adult.

In addtion, Danby never once underestimates the intelligence or sophistication of the young reader – by the time that he or she has reached the age-group that Danby was writing for, they’d probably have already discovered that life is nowhere near as rosy, cosy or simple as stories from their childhood years had painted, and that in fact life could be very unfair. Heroes don’t always win, and the people you least expect bad things to happen to often find themselves going through horrendous circumstances. A good case in point is Arbor Day, the first story I scanned. The automatic assumption, in a perfect world, is that the spoilt rich-kid Stephanie, with her lofty and slightly condescencing character, would be the one who would be brought down a peg or two – instead, it’s the other girl, Lisa, who finds herself on the receiving end of cosmic justice (for want of a better description). Or The Natterjack, where the genteel occupant of a country cottage comes up against a malign force of nature and the results are definitely not what one would normally expect (or want, for that matter).

Reading the stories through, it’s also immediately evident that they would instantly appeal on so many different levels to teens, with a broad stock of stories containing tales of revenge, sprinkled with elements of surprise, odd, macabre twists and just general nastiness. Many of them I would have loved as a child, appreciating the twists and turns and, in one or two cases, the squirm-inducing nature of the plots (Slugs being a prime example of that). I can honestly imagine reading some of these at bedtime, under the blankets with the lights out and nothing but a torch to read by. These stories are the sort of precarious thrill that every child of the type that I was would have have delighted in.

Her stories for older people, young adults maybe, I felt were less successful, although Keeping in Touch put me in mind of Robert W. Chambers (author of the deeply shiver-inducing The King in Yellow) in terms of atmospherics. Stories of haunted individuals, ghosts themselves despite being clothed in living flesh and blood, are, in many respects, scarier and more moving than tales of actual ghosts. In this tale in particular, it isn’t even the supernatural elements that frighten – it’s the narrator himself, despite his outwardly calm demeanour, that causes the most shivers. I would go on to say that, out of all the stories I’ve scanned so far, this has been by far and away the best.

I still have a couple of tales to scan as of this writing, plus I am expecting a second batch to arrive any day now. No doubt I’ll pass comment on those after I’ve finished with those as well. In the meantime, I can say that I am glad to have had an oversight corrected – albeit bearing with it a smidgin of regret that I didn’t read the Armada and Fontana books when I was younger, a time when I would have felt their impact even more. Having said that, it’s marvellous that I’ve been given the opportunity to discover and get to know Mary Danby’s body of work over the preceding weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product – and I can hazard a guess at this stage that it’ll be worth your while investing in a copy yourselves.

Some observations on editing and other things…

Posted in Writing and words with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Over the last two weeks, as many of you will know, I’ve been doing a spot of editing (as well as scanning stuff for the Mary Danby collection). Well, okay, it’s more than just a ‘spot’ , it’s actually a LOT of editing, a whole novel, in fact. And you know what? It’s been one of the most pleasurable experiences doing it. And here’s why….

As many of you also know, I ran a small record label until the very beginning of this year. I used to put 14 hour days, seven days a week, into running it, and by the last quarter of 2009 I was beginning to feel resentful of the time I was spending on the label, time which was taking away from my writing. That resentment was probably compounded by the fact that, after having spent both time and money on promotion and associated activities, sales were horrendous and I was watching the great promise that the label had slip irretrievably away. Making it even worse was that all the reviews, of both the label and the product, were all extremelyfavourable, bar one. I guess, to me, it made very little sense as to why it was failing (but, of course, there were other factors involved, like a recession, for example). So, I’ve moved on.

I still put 12+ hours into the writing/editing/publishing/reviewing/creative work I do these days, but the feeling is now distinctly different. It’s work I actually enjoy doing, and although there are still deadlines (some of which are quite tight, like the editing job), the sense of pressure is considerably less than anything I experienced when working on FracturedSpacesRecords. I actually look forward to getting up in the mornings now, rather than thinking “Oh hell! Another day of dread and drudgery ahead…. ” There were times when I just wanted it all to go away, or wished that somebody would come and take it all off my hands. That just doesn’t happen nowadays.

Anyway, back to the editing. I’ve done some editing before, short stories mostly, both my own and those of other writers, but I’d never tackled a novel. So when the client (Stephanie Tryda) asked me if I could work on her manuscript and get it all done within a two-week timeframe, I positively jumped at the chance: in effect, this was something else I could add to my skills-base. Plus, on an even more prosaic level, having a menu of projects from which to choose meant that I would never be lost for anything to do, or get bored, or be prey to distraction. And thus has it turned out.

I worked out a methodical approach. First, I read the whole book, somewhat cursorily, to get an idea of the story and the ‘meta’ aspects of the novel (flow, rhythm, cadence, style, etc.,), making notes as I went along. While I was doing that, I corrected any obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes that jumped out at me.

Then, once I’d done all that, a second run-through, this time entailing a very much closer reading. The dynamics of a novel are, necessarily, very different from that of a short story. A writer has more space to tell their tale, building up character and plot slowly rather than quickly and dramatically. The rhythms and cadences are different, too. Plus there’s style to take into account as well: how much to edit for flow and comprehensibility without compromising the way that particular author writes in. You also have to be extremely aware of the rhythms and how they affect the work in question: does it flow smoothly from beginning to end, or are there interruptions that break the flow at awkward moments? Are there parts of the narrative that can be safely removed because, in actual fact, they don’t actually add anything useful to the story, the passages amounting to nothing more than diversions, abeit sometimes very interesting ones?

Alongside that, there’s also a great deal of internet research involved. The manuscript I’m working on is an extremely complex one, stylistically and thematically. Without giving too much away, its central themes revolve around Gnosticism (which the Free Dictionary [www.thefreedictionary.com] defines as “the doctrines of certain pre-Christian pagan, Jewish, and early Christian sects that valued the revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in humans and that distinguished the Demiurge from the unknowable Divine Being”) and Sophia (Wisdom). Necessarily, there are terms used that are unique to that belief system, which have to be researched, verified and corrected, if need be. And, of course, catching all those spelling and grammatical mistakes, if any, I missed the first time round. Finally, there’s also making sure that all my edits are consistent, so whoever looks at it after me has as little to do as possible to it before sending it off to the printers.

It sounds complex, doesn’t it? Bizarrely enough, it didn’t feel like that, primarily because this is the kind of thing I like getting my intellectual teeth into – it’s stretched me in ways that some other things haven’t. Plus I saw it as a challenge – and editing (and proofreading) is something I’ve been looking to get into for a while now. The publishing isn’t going to bring in shedloads of money (nor did I expect it to), but if I can hone my other skills even further, I could, in theory, earn a comfortable income from them as well as my artistic endeavours. Going back to the record label briefly, in some ways that was quite limiting for me, whereas what I am involved with now presents a wider spectrum of possibilities. Just for starters, there’s writing, book reviewing, editing, proofreading, publishing and the painting – a wide variety to choose from. The more strings to my bow, the broader my choices.

So, in all, the last fortnight has been a brilliant push for me, skillswise and intellectually, and extremely fulfilling. Plus I would even go so far as to say that it’s also been educational. Therefore, I can honestly say that, had I stuck with the label and attempted to ride the bad times out, I doubt whether the plethora of opportunities and chances I have now would have come my way. And as for the great friends I’ve made as a consequence – well, that’s another story, for another time… =D

Authors: Adulation or Appreciation?

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

(What follows is nothing more than personal opinion, about a subject that I find fascinating, incomprehensible and uncomfortably disturbing in roughly equal measure – ultimately, there is no right or wrong here, just differences of opinion and expression. This is just me ranting on a Saturday afternoon….)

—()—

We all have public figures or celebrities that we admire to one degree or another, people who have attained some kind of status for what they do or whose work touches us in some way. For the most part, it amounts to just a grand appreciation for their art, or their charitable work, or whatever it is they do, an appreciation that they have brought pleasure into our lives in some way or that they’re doing something to change the lives of others in a positive way. We’d like to meet  or contact them, yes, just to let them know how much their work means to us, perhaps, or to show them how they’ve inspired us, or just thank them for doing what they do. Sometimes we take a piece of them away with us in the form of a photograph posing with them, or getting their autographs. Sometimes, however, some people appear to take that appreciation to beyond a norm, bordering on the sycophantic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I actually find it vaguely disturbing when people start effusing in public about how ‘awesome’ and ‘brilliant’ their hero/heroine is (when it goes beyond the norm, that is), how everything their favourite personality says or does is of paramount importance and value, and that said personality can do no wrong. I’d expect it of teens or young people, that’s a natural part of growing up and exploring their (and their values’) relationship to the world around them. But when it comes from adults, it just seems to be wrong.

Lately, I have seen a few people make gushing remarks about JK Rowling on various networking sites. Certainly, whatever you think of her writing, whether good or bad, she has done a great many meritorious things: created a bestselling book franchise, all of which have been turned into equally successful films, raised the profile of women writers, earned stratospheric amounts of money while doing so and then simultaneously putting that money where her mouth is by using some of those earnings (£10m) to fund the establishment of a centre to help in the search for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, for instance. Plus, by all accounts, she has stuck to the ideals and convictions she had before she became famous and fabulously wealthy. Worthy things all. But, does it mean that we should practically worship the ground she walks on?

The bottom line is that she’s human, just like the rest of us; she’s one of the very lucky few who are not only doing something they love, but have also risen spectacularly to the top in doing so. I’ve never read any of her work (and, quite frankly, I’m not really that interested in doing so), nevertheless I have quite a bit of admiration for her for grabbing every opportunity that came her way and also for having the persistence and strength of conviction to pursue her dream. It takes a certain type of person to do that and, quite plainly, her hard work and belief in herself has reaped massive rewards. It’s merely what all of us as writers/artists would like to happen to us as a result of the hard work we put in, but some are luckier than others.

However, when it comes to adults gushing profusely on a public forum, it becomes embarrassing and slightly disturbing, in my view. Don’t mistake me, I’d love to meet Clive Barker, the writer solely responsible for getting me interested in the horror and contemporary fantasy genres back in the 80s and inspiring me to have a go at writing myself (somewhat unsuccessfully back then, it has to be said). I’d like to sit down with him over a beer and just talk to him about his work, like I did with Brian Lumley many years ago.  Just a chance to natter about writing and the creative process with the man – ultimately, he’s just a guy who’s been lucky enough to earn a living from his work and become well-known in the process. Not everything he’s written has appealed to me. He’s human, so am I – none of us are perfect. Some ideas work, others don’t.

(Of course, I say the above from the safety of my living room – if Mr. Barker was to  knock on my front door now, I’d probably blush and faint in his presence and all that rubbishy malarky)

To look at your favourite writer’s work, and judge it uncritically, is, in some ways, doing them a disfavour. All authors want their work to be judged on its own merits and not just because it’s been written by them. They want what they do to be appreciated. I like HR Giger’s work immensely, but some paintings of his speak to me louder than others, while some I positively dislike. It might be that being a reviewer helps, inasmuch as I have to be objective as far as is humanly possible to do my job properly. If I think a favourite author’s work is not up to standard, then I’ll say so. Honesty is always more helpful than dishonesty.

When I was younger, a friend of mine and I used to have a minor disagreement over who was ‘the best band in the world’ (a silly concept in itself): he said Oasis, I championed The Young Gods. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise – taste is a subjective thing. I didn’t like Oasis, and he thought they were better than The Young Gods. And that’s all it was. The same applies to any other field of human creative endeavour – it’s merely the application of subjective criteria that lead us to favour one author/artist/band over another. When you strip everything away, however, those celebrities we ‘idolise’ are exactly the same as us – flesh, bone, blood, sinew and mucous. It’s just that they’re the lucky ones.

I think that’s why I get chills when I hear sycophantic remarks or compliments about certain people, posted where everyone can see them. There’s a slightly distasteful tang of insecurity about people saying them, especially adults. Praise where it’s due is certainly appreciated – but if your hero disappoints then don’t be afraid of expressing that disappointment. It’s a recognition that they are, after all, the same as us. And whilst I am glad that some may have found something of worth in their lives, something that they feel the need to tell everyone about, not all of us feel the same way. Generally speaking, I can easily ignore the over-the-top statements about personalities, because I also believe that it is peoples’ right to express themselves thusly, but just occasionally I feel a little shiver go through me when I read an overly-gushy comment. Like I say, I feel there’s something slightly distasteful and disturbing about it….

On the other hand, it could be that I am getting to be a cantankerous, curmedgeonly and cynical old sod as I get older (which is inherently more likely)…. =D

Obituary: PETER ‘SLEAZY’ CHRISTOPHERSON

Posted in Obituary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Back in the dim, murky depths of the late 80s, I came across a band that was to practically change my life forever (in terms of musical perception, anyway) – Psychic TV. Through them, I discovered a whole new world of independent, underground music, material that truly challenged the definitions and boundaries of what could actually be considered ‘music’. In some senses, Psychic TV answered a question that I didn’t even know I was asking: were there people out there pushing the envelope, breaking through the creative straitjackets that musical genres of the time were being constrained in, and piercing the staid narratives that had become the acceptable face of ‘popular music’ in the late 20th century?

The answer was most definitely a resounding yes. Punk, of course, enacted the blitzkrieg strike at the heart of the ‘dinosaur’ music industry in the late seventies, allowing smaller entites, both bands and labels, to emerge out of the woodwork and evolve a self-sustaining ecosystem of their own. After the initial outburst, not to say furore, created by punk, came other groupings, of which COUM Transmissions was one.

This was a performance art group, the nucleus of which was Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Later on, along with Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter, they were to morph into probably the most influential band of the emergent industrial music scene, if not the founders of the whole movement itself – Throbbing Gristle. Despite the superficially ludicrous name, TG established the parameters that were to define the early iterations of industrial music – in essence, that there were no parameters. Despite those early subterranean beginnings, industrial music is now a permanent fixture in the lexicon of popular culture, in its turn spawning other subcultures in its bastard wake (goth and cybergoth, gabba and dark ambient, to name far too few).

Peter Christopherson, who died peacefully in his sleep yesterday at his home in Thailand at the young age of 55, was a part of three of the most pivotal projects of the industrial era, at least for me – Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and, perhaps my favourite, Coil (founded with his partner Jhonn Balance, who also unfortunately passed away in 2004, a man who used to send me signed CDs of their’s on a regular basis). All three of these entites liberated and inspired me in ways that are still being felt even now, even if in recent years it was more of a subconscious influence. In 1989-90, I launched my very first foray into publishing, FRACTured fanzine, a publication devoted entirely to the fledgling industrial scene and which lasted for all of three glorious issues, only coming to an end because of a combination of youthful fecklessness and personal issues. Then, in 2008 (after rediscovering the scene thanks to Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring Records, one of the original FRACTured ‘zine correspondents), I was inspired to renew my ties with the scene by starting up FracturedSpacesRecords – this time its demise was through factors outside of my control rather than through want of hard work.

I nearly went to see the reformed TG last year, at Heaven, in London, but again personal and financial issues prevented me. Like I felt after the news of Ingrid Pitt’s death, I now find myself wishing that I’d found a way to circumvent the problems and attend the gig. More recently, Peter was part of a successful tour by X-TG, essentially Throbbing Gristle without Genesis P-Orridge. Peter was never one to sit still for long, always being driven to push and reinvent and experiment.

Yes, he may have gone, but the legacy that he left behind is enormous and profound, and is still being felt. He and his collaborators were the progenitors of an entire movement, one that still exists today, albeit with less of the frisson of electricity and excitement that the early scene engendered back then. He might not have been as well-known as either Genesis or Jhonn, or even Stephen Stapleton of Nurse With Wound or David Tibet of Current 93, but that doesn’t matter. What he brought to the emergent scene and subsequently made deep and lasting impressions on many people, myself included. And, I have to say, I am enormously grateful for that – I wouldn’t be where I am now without that influence, however unseen it was.

Goodbye, goodnight, and RIP Peter.

Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, musician, artist, sonic provocateur, was born 27th February 1955, and died of natural causes in his sleep at his home in Bangkok, Thailand, on 24th November 2010.

Some Spectral Press news…

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Nobody can accuse me of not thinking ahead – in this particular case, I’ve more or less decided which authors are going to be featured in Spectral Press IV – VII, due in 2012…

The authors are: Paul Finch, whose contribution, King Death, I’ve just had the pleasure of reading and is a deliciously creepy tale of misplaced hubris, Alison Littlewood (Inside the Circles Three), Simon Kurt Unsworth (Rough Music), and Thana Niveau (as yet untitled). Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there will be FOUR ‘issues’ in 2012. Furthermore, should Spectral I – III be successful I might even publish Paul’s chapbook in December 2011, meaning that the others’ publication dates will also come forward – to be possibly followed by a Wayne Simmons chapbook in late 2012, a story based in his Drop Dead Gorgeous milieu. It also means that subs to IV – VII will be available just after Cate’s chapbook is published in September.

Spectral Press is definitely becoming more substantial with every day that passes…. exciting times indeed. =D

News etc.,

Posted in News on November 25, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, so quite a bit of news to get through today…

First off, the scanning job is over halfway done, I think, and some of you may have worked out that it’s for a Mary Danby retrospective collection, to be published in the new year by Noose and Gibbet Publishing. Mary edited, and contributed to, many of the volumes in The Armada Ghost Book and Fontana Books of Great Horror Stories series, as well as Nightmares (Armada), The Green Ghost and Other Stories (Armada), and 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural (Sundial). Apparently Mary is also contributing a new short story for the collection, too.

Next up is the news that, all being well, a week tomorrow should see me being published for the very first time, when my story The Wages of Sin will be published by Dark Valentine online magazine. Look out for that.

Early next year, Shock Totem magazine will be publishing the first, introductory, part of a regular column, written by me in collaboration with one of the editors, John Boden. It’ll be devoted to two things which are very close to both our black hearts: music and horror, and the eternal connection between the two. It’ll stretch as far back as we can go and proceed right up to modern times, touching on both familiar genres and those that remain obstinately and purposely obscure. January 2011 is the publication date, I’m led to believe.

The editing job is coming on fine – just going through the first run-through (which I should finish today), after which I will go through it a second time and make sure all my edits are consistent and appropriate, plus further proofreading. It’s been challenging to say the least, but in an immensely enjoyable way, and has stretched me intellectually as well, which is no bad thing.

In other news, there’s a long term project in the offing which I am quite excited about, should it come off (and I’m determined to make it happen) – a collaboration with author Gary McMahon, combining my art with his wordsmithing. I aim to produce about 15 – 20 paintings, and then Gary will weave a tale around the images. I would then like to see it mounted as an exhibition, maybe at a con or two, which will eventually lead to the publication of an artbook sometime. These are very early days yet however – no timescale has been set, but completion is envisaged to be some way off, certainly. But I think the promise is definitely there.

Finally, very soon in fact, I will be starting to promote Gary’s chapbook and the launch of Spectral Press proper. Any ideas for arenas where I can let people know about this new imprint, please let me know. What They Hear in the Dark by Mr. McMahon, the launch issue, will be available within the next two months.

It’s all go here!!!! =D