Archive for January, 2011

Another blisteringly good review…

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

This one was posted to Paperback Horror yesterday, and was written by Colum McKnight….

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What They Hear In The Dark is a perfect example of short horror fiction done well. A horror story, for all intents and purposes, should be designed to elicit certain emotions from the reader, and this chapbook does that in spades. I dare anyone to read this and not get a massive chill up their spine. It just isn’t possible.

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.

The 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.

In a very short 22 pages, McMahon achieves what some horror authors can’t seem to pull off in a full length novel, proving that finding chills, thrills, and absolute terror, is completely possible in short fiction. And McMahon pulls this off beautifully with incredible description and wonderfully beautiful prose. The pain and emotion of the two main characters is absolutely palpable, making this a very quick, but also very tough read (in a good way). It’s hard feeling for the characters in a story, but especially so, if the author is someone like McMahon – who seems to be able to make the subject matter so personal that you feel you’re intimately involved in their lives.

Every aspect of this story is frought with a haunting menace that barely even begins to describe the terror within. The most perfect part of this story lies in the fact that everything is almost entirely left up to the reader to imagine. Granted, McMahon steers the story this way and that in order to bring the reader on a very specific course, but he also imbues the tale with enough vague references and emotional disturbances to make you feel completely out of control, but also able to recognize the fact that the author has you safely nestled in the palm of his hand. It’s very hard to take your eyes off the page once the writer hits his stride.

The atmosphere is gloomy and dim, bringing to mind some of the darkest tales of sadness and sorrow I’ve ever read. The whole thing feels…grey. It’s almost like everything was designed to make you feel whatever you want to feel, but also directing the reader on a very dedicated path. McMahon is truly a brilliant writer, and this small taste speaks volumes as to his wonderful talent.

Don’t miss out on this little chapbook. Again, it’s a quick read, but completely worth it and very re-readable. Every read-through will bring new images to mind, taking you on a journey of sorrow, despair, and emotional terror – time and time again.

You can visit Spectral Press’ website here. Information on how to grab a copy of this chapbook can be found here, and you can check out the author’s website here.

PBH.

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And finally, I found this on Chris Bissette’s blog, one of Spectral’s customers… and this last paragraph of his blog is the kind of thing that encourages me enormously:

“The imprint is invitation only. I’m going to add them to my list of people I’d one day like to be asked to write for, which includes Subterranean Press and PS Publishing. I’d best get cracking on becoming a successful writer, really.”

Now THAT’S a compliment if ever I read one…. and you can read the rest of what Chris had to say here.

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And yet another satisfied reader…

Posted in Customer Reviews with tags , , , , on January 26, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

I received this customer review from Clayton Stealback yesterday via Facebook… glad to read of another satisfied reader!

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“Let me start by saying that I am very impressed by Spectral’s first chapbook. The quality of the artwork, layout, and the print make these wonderful to read and essential to collect.

Spectral’s first release features a masterfully rendered story by Gary McMahon. Here Gary gets straight into the story – no messing about – setting the rather oppressive scene of a couple recently moved into a dilapidated house, cleverly describing the couple’s surroundings though their feelings and their senses to create an impressionable bond between reader and characters. So, pretty much the entire stage of the story is described in the first few pages…then the magic really starts. Upon setting up the scene, Gary brilliantly starts to delve into the character’s minds, ruthlessly peeling away their outer layers to reveal their truest, deepest feelings and the darkness harboured within. It’s very skilfully done, and there’s a kind of reflective quality about the scenes and the characters that manage to complement each other, bringing the whole story to life and making it lucid. Tim Lebbon got it exactly right when he quoted that Gary’s horror is heartfelt.

And finally, let me end by saying that if this is the kind of quality Spectral is aiming for, then I’ll be signed up for life.”

Today’s Spectral review…

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

This is pablocheesecake’s take on What They Hear in the Dark, posted at The Eloquent Page review blog:

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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.

Written by Gary McMahon What They Hear in the Dark is an intimate tale about love and loss. Rob and Becky have suffered a terrible tragedy and are trying to put the past behind them and continue with their lives. They have a new home, and hope to make a new start. It quickly becomes evident, however, that neither of them has been able to move on. When the story begins Becky and Rob have reached the stage where they are barely able to communicate with one another. The spirit of their murdered son seems to hang in the periphery of their lives. The story takes a turn when they discover a strange windowless room in their new house that is utterly quiet. Becky and Rob have very different perspectives of the Quiet Room. Becky is reassured, feels at peace and closer to the spirit of her lost child. Rob, on the other hand, is repulsed. He is trapped by the memory of the teens responsible for his son’s death.

The author’s writing reminded me of when I first read Clive Barker. What They Hear in the Dark could easily be an entry in The Books of Blood. Though the story is short there is a wealth of insight into the couple’s relationship. There are brief glimpses of Rob and Becky in happier times and this makes their current situation that much more tragic. McMahon handles what is very delicate subject matter with aplomb, and I was thoroughly engrossed by Becky and Rob’s story.

Kudos must also go to Spectral Press for their first release, and I look forward to the next. For further information regarding Spectral Press and their forthcoming publications please check out the following website –

http://spectralpress.wordpress.com/

A satisfied customer…

Posted in Customer Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Here’s what a good friend of mine, John Boden of Shock Totem magazine, said about What They Hear in the Dark, (and posted on his blog) after reading it… chalk up another satisfied customer…

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What They Hear In The Dark” by Gary McMahon (2011 Spectral Press)

I read this in half an hour. Which is a perfect chapbook, if you ask me. I will start by saying that this is a sharp looking booklet. Nice artwork and sharply done…Nice collectible feel…and then we get to the actual story. I am not familiar with McMahon’s work, but I am good friends with Spectral Press founder Simon Marshall-Jones, and know him to be a stickler for quality. This is a superb tale about a haunting. A couple buying an old house to renovate and work through a personal tragedy only to find themselves haunted by emotions heavy and horrifying. McMahon’s descriptions of the emotions at work here are fantastic. I am eager to check out more of his work…and extremely anxious to see what is next from Spectral Press.

A turning point…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Today, I am ‘celebrating’ an anniversary – but not just your usual anniversary. Superficially, it’s something that many would rather not remember, or even ‘celebrate’, but nevertheless, despite the potential it had for damage, it actually ended up being a very positive thing.

So, what am I talking about? This was the day fourteen years ago, 21st January 1997 (which was actually a Tuesday), when I was told by one of my GPs that I had suffered a stroke. Or, to be fancy-pants about it, a thrombo-embolic infarct. I’d been having dizzy spells for three or four months previously, putting it down to something to do with my diabetes. Then on the Friday prior to the ‘big’ one I woke up in the small hours feeling less than I normally did – my legs felt like lead and my speech, when I tried it, was slurred. Anyway, I went back to sleep and felt fine in the morning.

On that Tuesday morning, however, I felt REALLY dizzy and my walking was only a close approximation. I got dressed after much effort and then staggered a half mile to my then doctor’s surgery (I was staggering so badly that at one point a police car followed me – they must have thought me drunk at 8am). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was rushed into the first available doctor’s slot, where, after some questioning, a physical exam including reflex tests, I was told I’d had a stroke. The only reason I believed him was because it wasn’t April 1st.

I then staggered back half a mile to my home, after the doc asked me whether I could get to hospital that day and I said ‘Yes’ – to which he replied with a cheery ‘Off you go, then!’. I called in at a couple of friend’s houses along the way, to leave them notes that I was going to be in hospital. I even phoned another friend when I got home to apologise that I couldn’t make it to see her and her boyfriend that evening because I’d just been told that I’d had a stroke. She went ballistic – at the surgery for not offering me an ambulance, at me for saying I was going to take a bus to hospital, and also for taking it so lightly. In the end, she it was who drove me there.

And, as soon as we parked up and I got out of the car, I lost all movement down my left side. And so I was wheeled in, to begin a nine-week stay, enlivened by interminable sessions of physio and occupational therapy. I spent two weeks on a neuro ward, where the staff tried to figure out why I had a stroke so young (I spent my 34th birthday in hospital). Then I was moved to a rehab unit, where I was taught how to walk again and to use my left hand and arm. My speech was sufficiently slurred that I had to have speech therapy as well. The biggest killer, though, was boredom – weekends we were more or less left to our own devices. Sometimes friends would come to take me out for the day, but mostly they came to entertain and keep me from going barmy with it all.

After I left hospital, under my own steam, there was a further year of less intense physiotherapy and, once that was over and done with, I had more time to think about what had happened. Inevitably, this led to a plunge into depression, which, I have been told, was as a direct result of changes in the brain due to the stroke. I am still prone to it even now, but less regularly – no rhyme or reason, one day I’ll be fine and then the next I’ll be right down in the pits. Over the course of seven years or so, I had tons of counselling, an endless series of shitty accommodation and a slide into alcoholism. Only the timely intervention of a good friend prevented things getting any worse.

When all is said and done, however, even with all the subsequent crap, it was probably a good thing I had the stroke when I did – I was heading for meltdown, both physically and mentally. It would be no exaggeration to say that I would have ended up dead, whichever way you cut it. The stroke, as much of a pain in the arse that it was, still has to be counted as a fortuitous gateway to a whole host of opportunities that have since come my way. There were some incredibly low-spots along the way, some of which I am still dealing with, but I am probably in better health now than I have ever been – plus I am a lot more proactive with the diabetes, which was probably one of the factors that caused the bloody thing in the first place.

So, in a way I am indeed celebrating what some would see as an unfortunate event, but which in actuality gave me a new lease on life. In some ways, this is what drives me to do the things I do today – the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard, to make up for lost time. And yes, I did ‘lose’ seven years to depression and alcohol and this is my way of clawing it back. I don’t expect favours just because I had a stroke and my mobility is somewhat limited, nor do I want to be treated differently either. There are people far worse off than me, so why should I complain. I’m just glad to be alive to be doing what I’m currently doing and to be married to the woman I chose to be my wife – without Liz it would be true to say that I would be nowhere near where I find myself now.

All I need now is a bottle of fine rum and I’d be set for the day… =)

Spectral Volume II

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on January 20, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

And so here it is, the cover to Spectral Press Volume II, Gary Fry’s Abolisher of Roses – again it’s been designed by the inimitable Neil Williams and based on a beautiful photograph by my good friend Branwyn Reeves:

©2011 Gary Fry/Spectral Press - cover design ©Neil Williams - cover photo ©Branwyn Reeves

“It’s not always the guilty who have the darkest secrets . . .

Peter has been married to Patricia for nearly thirty years. He’s a practical man, the owner of a thriving factory and the father of two fine lads.

He also has a secret mistress.

One day, his wife takes him along to an outdoor arts exhibition involving some of her paintings, staged in a dark, deep wood. The fact that Peter would rather go for a pie and a pint and to watch the match is something he keeps very much to himself.

But his are not the only secrets in this marriage. And as Peter strays off the only path through the woods, he soon realises that Patricia has quite a few revelations of her own . . .”

“Fry is a writer whose technique is as accomplished as his intellect and imagination are powerful.”–Reggie Oliver

It’s available for pre-order now for £3.50 (inclusive of p+p) – email Simon Marshall-Jones at spectralpress[at]gmail[dot]com for more details.

Metamorphosis

Posted in General Musings, Personal with tags , , , , on January 19, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Throughout the short life of this blog, there’s been a distinct series of metamorphoses in emphasis in my ‘professional’ life, for want of a better phrase. The initial idea of maintaining this blog was to chart my career as a writer of genre fiction. For a short while I did indeed write almost constantly, churning out short story after short story – I even managed to get a couple of acceptances. I imagined that my course was set.

Then, after five months maybe, came the first metamorphosis – still writing, but this time with my reviewer’s hat on. I still do a bit of reviewing now and then, but currently I am not accepting or taking any more books until I have cleared what I already have and promised to review. And since I now run Spectral Press I have found that constraints on my time are even tighter. The latter has taken me by surprise a little, although to be fair I did expect to busy and, indeed, wanted to be so.

Which leads me on to the second metamorphosis – into that of editor. Out of all the projects I’ve been involved with, I think that the editing will be the most useful, not just in terms of my own imprint, but in the broader context of soliciting editing jobs for others. There’s a deep-seated part of me that loves what editing represents – English was always a subject I loved at school and if I’d had my wits about me back then I would have opted to go to university to study that instead of art. Let’s just say that events between my art school days and my recent past haven’t stood me in good stead. Don’t get me wrong, I still love painting and drawing, but it’s tempered with a sad realisation that it’s never going to be anything other than an occasional hobby.

Words are much more to my liking – and ever since I had a go at editing SL Schmitz’s Let it Bleed novel at the end of last year I have been bitten by the bug. I’ve applied (unsuccessfully) for one editing job – of course, experience counts for a great deal and editing one or two books does not make me an editor, let alone a good one. I still look out for editing jobs here and there – I want to add to my portfolio so to speak, so that when I DO apply to a publishers I at least stand a chance. Plus, of course, any outside editing experience will ultimately feed back into what I do for Spectral (and vice versa, naturally).

I suppose this is all part of how life plays out. Just like the cells in our bodies, nothing is ever the same from moment to moment. And that’s what makes it all so exciting for me – who know where I’ll be in six months?

Yet another new review….

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

This is the sixteenth review, again a very positive one: this one’s from Sheri White and was posted at the Rise Reviews site:

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After their only child, Eddie, is murdered by a group of young boys, Rob and Becky buy a house to fix up, hoping it will help them get through the agony of losing their son. While renovating, they find a room that is not in the plans of the house. They call it “The Quiet Room,” because the room is completely sound-proof. Nothing can be heard in there, not even the sound of one’s own voice.

Rob starts dreaming about the room and comes to believe there’s something evil inside. But Becky believes her son is in the room, so she starts spending a lot of time in there. Rob worries for Becky’s mental health and safety but she refuses to accept there is anything wrong with the room.

What They Hear in the Dark is a sad tale of grief and loss, with elements of dread throughout. Although he believes “The Quiet Room” is evil, Rob is drawn to it despite himself. At the end of the story, Rob unfortunately finds out just what lives in the room.

I enjoyed this story very much. Gary McMahon’s words flow beautifully; you can feel the emotions the characters are experiencing. And while What They Hear in the Dark is a bit depressing, it is also creepy and chill-inducing at times.

This chapbook will sell out shortly after it’s published, I predict, so get a copy as soon as you can. You won’t regret it. (My emphasis)

New review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Another great review, this time from author Dave Jeffery:

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When a young boy is murdered, his devastated parents attempt to rebuild their shattered lives by ploughing their efforts into a renovation project. The process is meant to be cathartic, a process of healing the wound left in their lives. Yet as they work they find a room. They call it the Quiet Room, a façade hidden behind aged paper, a place where time seems to stop and space seems to have no meaning. But even this strange and ethereal place reflects the disparate nature of their relationship. Both Becky and Rob feel different when they are held in the room’s dark embrace. A mother senses her lost child. A father senses only hate and malevolence. Insidiously the place that is meant to bring them together only drives them further apart.

What they Hear in the Dark is the first publication from Spectral Press. In McMahon Spectral has found an author who knows his craft and has the wherewithal to weave a story that creates horror in visceral and cerebral layers. But it is more than this, whilst the story certainly contains content that will leave any parent either counting their blessings or recoiling in horror, it is also delicate, a tale of loss and despair that is both beautiful and deft.

A wonderful introduction to Spectral Press and a privilege to read; What They Hear in the Dark comes highly recommended. (My emphasis)

 

Something a tad different…

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , on January 12, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

In today’s blog, I thought I’d write about something a little different – music, or, more specifically, one particular singer: Liz Fraser.

I remember when I discovered this unique singer’s voice: 1983-84. I was in the last year of art college (or, more precisely, the last year before I would have been kicked out had I not left of my own accord), and I was madly in love with a certain young lady (we never actually got it together -typically I liked her more than she liked me). She it was who introduced me to the wonders of the Cocteau Twins, a trio featuring Robin Guthrie on guitar, Will Heggie on bass (eventually replaced by Simon Raymonde) and Fraser on vocals. It was honestly like nothing I’d ever heard before – a richly-layered cornucopia of instrumentation, utterly phantasmagorical and dreamy at the same time, and all topped off with Fraser’s vocal stylings, which ultimately led to the music being categorised as dream pop.

Certainly in the early years of the Cocteau Twins (a name apparently culled from a song of the same name penned by Johnny and the Self-Abusers, better known today as Simple Minds), Fraser eschewed traditional lyrics in favour of the sounds and textures created by the words themselves. There has been considerable debate amongst fans as to the meaning of her ‘lyrics’, but Fraser herself has shown great reluctance in discussing them – and this, in part, is why I particularly like their music, and Fraser’s approach. There’s a distinct sense of otherness about their oeuvre, and to invest specific meaning other than my own interpretation would somehow spoil it for me. Her atmospheric vocals, often combining a ‘pop’ sensibility and approach to melody (along with operatic swoops and non-traditional vocalisations) are what make the songs, not what the lyrics mean. In other words, it was nothing less than the invention of a new musical and lyrical vocabulary and syntax – and this is why, even today, her work stands out, head and shoulders above many others.

I’ve been listening a lot lately to 80s music, and realising that, despite the general awfulness of that decade (on both the personal and social scale), there was still a great deal of invention and just simply great music around. I have a new appreciation of what went on back then musically, but I realised that, above all else, Liz Fraser’s voice still has the power to move me like no other voice ever has before or since, almost three decades since I first heard her on Pearly Dewdrop Drops (the first record of theirs I bought).

The Twins broke up in 1998, but Fraser has been involved in all manner of collaborations (including the seminal Massive Attack song Teardrop), although her output is considerably less these days (and more’s the pity). One of her early collaborations was with This Mortal Coil (the 4AD ‘house band’), which produced the haunting Song to the Siren, a cover of the Tim Buckley song. (In a side note, Fraser also had a personal relationship with Tim’s son, Jeff  Buckley.) That version is one of the most beautiful cover versions I have ever heard – and we played it at Liz and mine’s wedding. It’s also the song I want played at my funeral.

I’ve been discovering songs that I never knew she’d recorded, and rediscovering ones I already knew well, ranging liberally from all eras of her career. One thing they share in common, however: the power to send shivers running up and down my spine. I honestly don’t think there’s any other singer out there who can do that to me, at least not on a consistent basis.  And I truly hope that the ‘new’ album of material that was meant to be released by Blanco y Negro does finally see the light of day – one can only anticipate the delights that one has yet to hear from this unique singer.