Archive for the Guest-blog Category

Guest blog: STEPHANIE L SCHMITZ

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

In what seems like an age, here comes the first blog in a while and it’s a guest blog to boot. SL Schmitz is an American author who has just released her first full-length novel, Let it Bleed, published by Dead Tree Comics and which I edited. Here she talks about a much anticipated event which is happening this weekend in Austin, Texas – the World Horror Convention 2011 (which visited these shores last year, in Brighton). I know many of my friends have winged, or are winging, their way over there to attend, and Stephanie explains the allure of such a meeting of friends, colleagues and fans.

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Some people get excited meeting movie stars. Other people dream of meeting rock stars, or television personalities. Am I strange? I don’t care about meeting famous people; I am probably among the few who worship and adore David Bowie, but have no desire to meet him. I am in awe of Patti Smith and Nick Cave, but would have absolutely nothing to talk about with them. Our conversations would be stilted, boring. Meet Princess Diana when she was alive? Why? Beyond the courtesy, there would be very little to discuss. But there is an event which I am greatly looking forward to, more than any other event this year: the World Horror Convention in Austin, TX.

There is something unique about the community of Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy, Mythpunk, and all other genre writers. With all of the changes happening in the publishing world today, the authors involved in indie publishing  feel like they are on the pioneer trails; as if they were living in the wild, wild e-west of creativity and exploration. Via social media sites we chat with one another, delighting in each other’s publishing successes and journeying together through the perils of reviews and blogs. It is a community well worth exploring, but demanding of respect – whoa to the author who pushes too hard to be “liked” or who cannot stop spamming about their self-published epic novel. Banishment can and does occur.

And finally, it is now the end of April 2011 and various authors, editors, publishers, reviewers, directors and more are all making their way to Austin, Texas for the great and secret show known as the World Horror Convention. There, we will shake hands and hug the ones we have only met through email and comments. We will gladly buy one another’s books and listen to one another’s readings. There will be pitches and launches and press parties and many, many cocktails. There will be accents from all over the globe. The horror writing community is small, but it is growing. Not like the crazy fads of Steampunk or the hero worship of comic books – there will not be 50,000 people all dressed up like Princess Leia or Jules Verne at this convention.  Oh, there might be a Countess Bathory or a Lord Varney here or there, but overall this community is more subtle. We are shy folk, most of us prone to dark corners and quiet garrets where we scribble the most gorgeously awful scenes of zombies and vampires and dragons. We just want to meet one another, and make connections. We want our peers to read our stories, and we want contracts to be signed, books to be bound.

So as I leave for Austin, I carry more copies of my own novel than I do clothes to wear. And I have room for all of the purchases that I shall be making! When I return, I will have 50 extra lbs. of books to read, and will devour these new stories gladly. Hopefully, they will all be signed, and I will have the memory and the memorabilia to sustain me until 2012.

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Stephanie’s website can be accessed here and you can purchase Let it Bleed from here via Amazon.

GUEST-BLOG:Willie Meikle

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , on January 5, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Willie has visited these virtual shores before, but he sent me this little item on the writer’s dream vs the unvarnished reality of things yesterday – but, despite that, no matter how far away that dream appears to be, a writer will always carry on doing the one thing they know best, regardless, and just for the sheer love of it. I think it’s an attitude many should look at and adopt….

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Musings of an old fart
I’ve been doing some serious thinking recently about my writing. Again.

Up front, let me say I have few pretensions. I’m not a literary writer. I don’t spend days musing over “le mot juste”. I just get on and tell the story to the best of my ability. That has led to me being called a hack, but if a hack is someone who values storytelling above literary merit, then I suppose that’s what I am.

I know I’m capable of producing readable fiction, quickly. I’ve written fifteen novels in the last eleven years, and had eleven (so far) published in the small press. And there lies one of the things I’ve been thinking about.

I’m unsure about my eye for the market. I write what I want to write, producing books that I would want to read. But I’m a fifty-something man steeped in pulp fiction from an early age. I want the big deal, to see my books on shelves in shops all over the world. That’s always been the dream, but my obsessions just don’t cut it in the marketplace.

I’m not dissing my small press publishers. I’m eternally grateful to them, and they make me warm and fuzzy happy. In 2011 another part of the dream gets fulfilled when I’ll have a hardcover edition of one of my stories in my hands in a professional anthology. That will be more than great. I’ll be happier than a whole bunch of sandboys.

But there’s still that big dream to keep pursuing. Over the last couple of years I tried to write in different genres, different styles, but I was never comfortable. Once I realised that it wasn’t working, and went back to The Midnight Eye, it felt like meeting an old friend. But Derek Adams doesn’t bring the big dream any closer to reality.

So I have this dichotomy in my brain… writing The Midnight Eye makes me happy. Having the big dream depresses me.

I still have the gap between them to fill. And I’m still unsure if there’s a way to close it.

—()—

Willie Meikle is a Scottish genre writer, living in Newfoundland, Canada. Lucky bastard.

Guest-blog: WAYNE SIMMONS

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , , on November 18, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

My guest-blogger today is a man who understands and I can completely get where he’s coming from – Wayne Simmons. He is the very heavily tattooed author of the UK bestselling horror novel, Flu (available now from all good bookstores). His novel, Drop Dead Gorgeous,  is due to be released in February 2011 through Snowbooks.

Here he talks about the very thing we have in common – and no, it’s not about the lack of hair on our heads.

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So let’s talk tattoos.

I love them. I love the process of getting a new tattoo. The thinking. The planning. Sourcing a good artist to do the work. Booking the appointment. Showing up on the day, the smell of disinfectant as I walk through the door.  I love all that.

And it’s okay: I love talking about it, too. I won’t roll my eyes if you ask me about my tattoos. I’m proud of them and delighted to show them off, to talk about the artists whose hard work has gone into creating them. Feel free to ask me what they mean – that’s cool – but the answer may surprise you. You see, there’s little deep going on here.  I just think tattoos look cool. My pale, freckle-speckled skin looks better with them than without them. And that’s the height of it, really.

But then there’s my favourite question of all, slurred by some drunken geezer at the local pub. “Here, mate. Great tats. But what’ll you do when you’re eighty, like?”

And my reply? Hopefully get more tattoos. Or maybe I’ll be dead and some sinister collector will be peeling my skin to hang on their wall. Or maybe you and I will be in the fold, mate, staring at afternoon telly. But come bathtime, I’ll be looking a lot more interesting than you, Sunny Jim. Hellloooo, Nurse!

My forthcoming (re)release, Drop Dead Gorgeous, stars a surly tattoo artist. She’s the book’s anti-heroine, a chain-smoking, coke-snorting diva who hates the rest of the world marginally more than she hates herself. But she loves tattoos. The whole world falls dead around her and what does she do?

Run? Hide?

Nope.

She sits on the floor, next to her fallen client. She fires her kit up. And she finishes the tattoo.

My kind of girl.

So, if you’re reading this and have been thinking about getting your first tattoo, here’s my advice:

Hell yeah! Go for it.

—()—

Many thanks to Wayne for writing this… it’ll be a veritable feast of colour when the two of us finally meet – so don’t forget to keep sunglasses handy just in case YOU are at the convention where that meeting happens….

Meet Wayne online at www.waynesimmons.org

GUEST-BLOG: Mark Morris

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

'Toady' cover image is © Mark Morris - used with permission.

My guest today is Mark Morris, author of Toady, StitchThe ImmaculateThe Secret of AnatomyFiddleback and The Deluge. He has also written four Doctor Who books, as well as scripts for audiobooks.

He also writes short stories, novellas, articles and reviews, which have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, and he is editor of the highly-acclaimed Cinema Macabre, a book of fifty horror movie essays by genre luminaries, for which he won the 2007 British Fantasy Award.

Here he talks about the internet, book promotion and the age of electronic networking, speaking from the perspective of someone who had begun writing well before the advent of the web.

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I was chatting to a couple of good chums – author Gary McMahon and Angry Robot editor Lee Harris – over drinks in Leeds last week, when I happened to mention that Simon had asked me to do him a guest blog (ie this guest blog. The one you’re reading now). My comment led to a discussion of how, over the past twenty years or so, the methods have changed by which writers, publishers, editors and agents promote themselves and their wares, particularly with regard to the impact that online promotion has had on the writing community (well, I say ‘community’, but it’s hardly the cosy little enclave of like-minded souls that that word applies. Perhaps a more appropriate phrase might be ‘writing world’, or even ‘universe’).

Anyway.

When my first novel, Toady, was published in 1989, the idea of promoting one’s work via a worldwide system of interlinked computer users was the stuff of science-fiction. Back in the prehistoric 80s the general consensus was that there wasn’t a whole lot that authors could do off their own bat. Oh, you could turn up for magazine/radio/TV interviews and/or book signings/personal appearances arranged by your publisher, but short of hiring a campaign van and touring the highways and byways of the nation, bellowing details of your latest missive to the masses and flogging copies out the window, the opportunity to connect with the majority of your target audience was limited.

And then, from the late 90s onwards, so rapidly and comprehensively that we now can’t imagine a world without them, we were engulfed by a tsunami of websites, blogs, discussion forums and social networking sites. And all of a sudden, the previously unattainable – or at least hard-to-get-to – was right there, at our fingertips. That out of print book you’d spent months trawling second-hand bookshops for? Just order a copy off Amazon for a few pence. That programme you missed on the telly? Catch up with it on iPlayer. That writer/actor/pop star you like, but would previously have only been able to contact by sending a letter to their publisher/agent/record company? Just drop them a message via Twitter or Facebook or their personal website.

Of course, this brave new world of easy pickings and limitless opportunities is unbelievably wonderful – especially for someone who grew up in the 70s. If you missed a favourite TV programme back then, it stayed missed; there was no buying the DVD or catching up with it online. I particularly remember the gut-wrenching trauma of missing episode 6 of the Doctor Who story The Green Death in 1973 because it was my best friend’s birthday and we were going camping for the weekend to celebrate. Not only was this the last episode of the story with the giant maggots, and the last episode of the entire season, but most importantly it was the last episode featuring popular companion, the lovely Jo Grant. It wasn’t actually until twenty-odd years later, when the video came out, that I got the chance to see Jo’s tearful farewell. When I did, I remember sitting there, enraptured, unable to shake off the feeling that I’d finally found a long-lost and much-treasured item that I’d spent two-thirds of my life searching for. Of course, videos have been with us for a couple of decades now (and DVDs about half that time), but I still love the fact that you can own movies and TV shows that – usually from a single showing – had such a profound effect and influence on you as a child. I try explaining this sense of glee and wonder to my teenage children, and they look at me with expressions that waver somewhere between pity and condescension. For them, TV shows and movies aren’t special, they aren’t events; they are merely commodities. Because, like everything else, they are readily available, all the time, at the touch of a button.

As I say, that’s brilliant, and I love it – but it’s also a bit of a shame. When things become easy to acquire they lose their aura of magic and mystique, their sense of preciousness. I remember fruitless, frustrating hours spent trawling second-hand bookshops for a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s then out-of-print first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother. Time and again I’d come away disappointed. But when I (or rather, my wife) finally tracked down a copy… oh man, it was such a brilliant feeling. And precisely because that book was so hard to come by, it now means so much more to me. Far more than if I’d simply logged on to Amazon and pressed a button to buy one of the numerous second-hand copies currently on offer.

I’m digressing a bit here, but not much, because the point I’m trying to make is that when everything is available all the time, it becomes extremely hard to make something stand out, to make it seem special. Big names and big franchises – Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter – have a ready-made audience and can almost generate their own publicity (in fact, sometimes they go out of their way to be secretive, to provide as little information as possible, as with, for instance, the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, so as not to flood the market and succumb to audience-fatigue before the damn thing has even appeared!), but for the majority of us – the mid-listers – the irony of having a ready-made publicity machine at our disposal (ie the internet) is that it becomes increasingly harder to be heard amid the worldwide throng of voices.

Of course, I do what almost every other jobbing, moderately successful, moderately well-known (in certain circles) writer does by way of promotion these days – I have a website, a blog (though that’s currently in a state of suspended animation due to a number of boring technical factors), and I’m active on Facebook and, until recently, Twitter. I use these online resources to keep in touch with mates, meet new friends and fans, express my opinion (for what it’s worth) on a variety of topics, and let people know about upcoming novels, stories, projects, personal appearances etc.

But sometimes (a lot of the time, in fact) I wonder whether any of that makes any difference – and this was the crux of the discussion I was having with Gary and Lee last week. At the end of the day, with so much else to compete against online, I honestly wonder how effective one’s own little corner of the internet actually is. How many extra books do you sell because you mention it on Facebook? How many more people turn up to a bookshop or library event, or buy a ticket for a literary festival you’re appearing at, merely because you talk about it on your blog? I even wonder how many people actually take the time to read a blog by someone like me (less than 10? A couple of dozen? Several hundred?), and of those people how many of them are positively influenced by what you say, to the extent that they would go out and buy your book not because they already like you and your work, and would probably have done so anyway, but because they’ve been galvanised into it purely by the strength of your words.

In short, what I’m wondering is whether websites and blogs and Facebook updates actually do draw in potential new fans, or whether we’re all merely preaching to the converted.

I’d be interested to know, because I have absolutely no idea. If you’ve read this far, then I would genuinely like to have your opinions and comments. All I know is that I’ve never had a stranger come up to me at an event and say: ‘I came here and bought a book because I read about it on your blog’. But I’ll continue to do it because… well, because it’s what you do; and because it’s nice to keep up with friends and acquaintances and to feel part of a community; and because, however much you might often feel that your voice is being swamped by the clamour around it, there’s a chance that you just might be making a difference to someone’s life somewhere – that someone out there might hear you and feel enlightened, or informed, or amused, or inspired, or invigorated by your words.

And, if nothing else, that’s important.

—()—

Many thanks to Mark for taking time out to write this!! His website can be found here.

GUEST-BLOG: Nicholas Royle

Posted in Guest-blog with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

My guest today is the man responsible for publishing the Nightjar Press chapbooks that I’ve been enthusing over – and was also part of the inspiration behind my launching of Spectral Press next year (the other part of that inspiration is Tartarus Press). Nicholas is a writer as well as a publisher/editor, and he’s also fascinated by birds (the ones with feathers, before you say anything). Here, Nicholas describes how that fascination, combined with the publishing, fortuitously helped him come up with a name for his most recent enterprise.

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It seems to me that my generous host managed to decide on a name for his small press in a remarkably short time. And a good name it is, too – Spectral Press. I took a lot longer musing over what I finally opted to call Nightjar Press. The first small press I ran, in the early 1990s, took no time at all to name. I earned my living with a very tedious office job at the time and, to make my days more bearable, I wrote short stories about the Office Idiot. I gave him the name Egerton, in homage to M John Harrison, who had used the name in one of his stories. I liked the name and somehow it was a good fit for the Office Idiot.

A young man called Michael Smith started working in the office. He wrote short stories, too! Would you credit it? He showed me some and they were very good. Even more unlikely, Mike started writing Egerton stories as well. So when Mike showed me a story that was so good I was inspired to set up a small press to publish it (in spite of its not including the Egerton character), the name of the press came quickly and easily – Egerton Press. With my Egerton hat on, I published two anthologies (Darklands and Darklands 2) and a collection of Joel Lane’s stories, The Earth Wire, then when nothing further happened I had to conclude that Egerton Press had had its moment.

So, fifteen years later, having realised I wanted to start publishing again and having won the kind approval of my lovely wife, I needed a name for a press that would specialise in short stories published as chapbooks. I had, in the previous few short years, become increasingly interested in birds. My favourite bird is the jay. Jay Press? No. Sounded too much like a nineteen-year-old first-time novelist in skinny jeans with an old-skool leather satchel and a pair of unglazed black plastic spectacles. Gannet Press? Better suited to a publisher of restaurant guides. Woodpecker Press? Something used in the manufacture of cider, surely. I was tempted by Goldfinch Press; who wouldn’t be? The goldfinch must be the prettiest British bird, cover star of many an ornithological field guide. Plus, it was associated with death in the Middle Ages.

Name me a bird that hasn’t been associated with death. Easy: wren, blue tit, sandpiper, Manx shearwater. OK, but cuckoo, bittern, magpie, nightjar, vulture, most owls and virtually all members of the crow family except the jay – all drenched in death. The nightjar emerged as favourite. I had never seen one, but I’d been out listening for them and had heard one. Its song – a churring – is a ghostly clicking not unlike the sound produced by a Geiger counter. Its alternative names – goatsucker, corpse fowl. That’s just asking for it. Sylvia Plath called it the ‘Devil-bird’. Generally, it seemed, the nightjar enjoyed an uncanny, supernatural reputation. Given the sort of fiction I intended to publish, it was, as they say, a no-brainer.

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Many thanks to Nicholas for taking the time out of his busy schedule to write this. Also, thanks for publishing those Nightjar chapbooks. the very ones that gave me that “Eureka!” moment just when I was wondering which particular direction to head in. From small acorns do mighty oaks grow, and all that.  =D

The Nightjar Press website can be found here.


The Big C anthology

Posted in Guest-blog, News with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Yesterday, I announced in a somewhat oblique manner that I had been asked to provide a cover painting for a forthcoming book – well, I can now reveal that it is The Big C anthology, to be edited by Willie Meikle and Stephen James Price (of Ghostwriter Publications), dedicated to raising awareness of cancer and money for cancer charities. Here, Mr Meikle explains why he decided to put this together.





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My Dad has cancer. More than one kind in fact. He’s fighting hard, but cancer is a devious bugger. It hides, it lurks, and it pounces when you think it’s down and defeated.

Cancer is a monster.

I write about monsters, and have been doing so for a long span of years. Just recently I’ve started thinking more about why and taking a harder look at my motivations. A look back at several recent things I’ve done was revealing. The Invasion features an alien invasion that comes in the form of an organism from space that eats anything in its path, transforming it into something different and unnatural. My short story The Colour that Came to Chiswick features a colour out of space that gets into beer and, when consumed, eats the drinker away from the inside out. A story sale to another anthology features gross body changes and loss of identity, and even my current work in progress, ostensibly just a little creature feature disaster story, features genetic modification leading to crawling chaos. I may not have been consciously aware of it, but it’s obvious to me now that the Big C has been on my mind.

Cancer has been a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. I first came across it in the late Sixties. My Gran’s brother came back to town to die with his family. I was fascinated by this man, so thin as to be almost skeletal, wound in clothes that were many sizes too large for his frame, his skin so thin that I could see his blood moving… not pumping, for it had long since stopped moving enough to keep him alive long. He rarely spoke, just sat by the fire as if trying to soak up heat, his eyes frequently wet from tears, not of sadness, but of pain. He lasted for months in that condition until it finally took him and I knew then that cancer was a monster.

Since then it has taken others, both friends and family, a young mother with two pre-teen children, a cousin who was like a big brother to me, and a girl I never got to know for she was taken before her twentieth birthday. Other family members are still fighting. There’s my Dad, who meets it all with a good humour that is humbling, and my godmother who has battled bowel cancer into remission twice.

Cancer is a monster. I can’t fight it for them. But as a writer there is something I can do.

Just yesterday the idea came to me. I’m not the only one who writes about monsters. Maybe together, there was something we could all do. The idea grew and grew in my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. So I did something about it.

I’ve been discussing a possible cancer-themed anthology with Stephen James Price who has taken over Ghostwriter Publications. He’s agreed in principle to a POD paperback and ebook release, all proceeds to cancer charities. Steve and I will be joint editors (and possibly contribute a collaborated story.)

Provisional title is THE BIG C.

I’ve been inviting some writers I’ve always wanted to work with and whose work I admire. I’m proud of these virtual friends, as they’re coming through for the project with enthusiasm.

Recruitment is going well. Provisionally signed up so far I have: Gary McMahon, Scott Nicholson, Steven Savile, Steve Lockley, Steve Duffy, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Allyson Bird and John Shirley.

And we’ve got a cover artist signed up too… Simon Marshall Jones. He does great work that’ll be perfect for the book.

I’m still waiting to get decisions from others I have invited, but I already feel energised and ready to take the project on.

Cancer is a monster.

I plan to fight it the best way I know how. Watch this space.

—()—

I am really rather chuffed that I was asked to provide a cover for this endeavour – my wife Liz went through an ovarian cancer scare last year, and her mother and aunt died through the disease’s ravages. So, even if Wille was unaware of this before he asked me, this project is something that actually has some relevance to me and my nearest and dearest. Which makes it even more important that I produce my best work – I already have an image in mind for this, one that I feel will express the dread this disease holds for many.

The book will be published next year, in time for the convention season. Keep checking here for regular updates.


Guest-blog: SIMON BESTWICK

Posted in Guest-blog on October 7, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Today’s guest blogger, Simon Bestwick, writes horror fiction and the odd bit of crime, and wonders in spare moments if there’s any connection to the fact that he lives in Lancashire.  He’s the author of a novel, Tide Of Souls (Abaddon Books), and two collections, A Hazy Shade Of Winter (Ash-Tree Press) and Pictures Of The Dark (Gray Friar Press).  Most recently he’s had stories published in The End Of The Line (Solaris Books) and Never Again (Gray Friar), and his novella Angels Of The Silences is due out shortly from Pendragon Press.  There will also be a chapbook out from Spectral Press, which is edited by a certain tattooed gentleman of your acquaintance.  Ideally he’d like to con somebody into paying him to write for a living, as it’s so much better than a proper job.

Here, Simon has a rant about the horror of the new culture of ‘fame and celebrity’, especially in the light of such reality TV programmes as X-Factor and Big Brother.

—()—

Finally came up with a guest blog, thanks to a grumpy comment (Grumpy? Me? I’m never grumpy! =D – Ed) on Facebook by this blog’s discerning and tattooed proprietor (thanks for that, Mr Marshall-Jones, as well as for the space to pontificate):

‘Is it just me, or has civilisation become so enamoured of crassness and stupidity that it appears to promote them as positive virtues?’

And the answer, for me, came back: yes.

Julie Burchill is, if nothing else, an infallible barometer of cultural sickness.  Whether it’s Thatcherism, the Iraq War or chav culture (and there’s a fucking oxymoron, but we’ll get to that), the rule holds true- if she likes it, it’s usually a very, very bad idea.

And Burchill loves her reality TV.  It’s democratic, you see.  It gives everyone a chance to be famous, not just the clever or talented.  Creates opportunities for those who’d have none.

Yeah, right.

What’s this got to do with reality TV?  Well, that’s not hard to work out.  But has it got anything to do with writing?

Bear with me.

I’m not saying reality TV, on its own, is causing the collapse of civilisation.  It’s just one symptom of a deeply sick society.

That’s if we can still say we live in a society, which Wikipedia (OK, so I’m lazy) defines as ‘a group of people related to each other through persistent relations such as social status, roles and social networks’?  Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing.  We’re only just starting to see the full, appalling implications of that statement play out now, as chav ‘culture’ (I said we’d get to that) crawls out of the slime.

Quick disclaimer: when I say ‘chav’, I do not mean: poor people, single mothers, kids in tracksuit bottoms or baseball caps, or those who simply happen to be members of the ‘underclass’.  Chav is a state of mind.  Or lack of one.

I’m talking about vicious, pig-ignorant little gobshites that act like fucking beasts and hurl abuse at anyone who looks different.  The ones you’re afraid to say a word against for fear of murderous violence.  The cowardly scumbags who kicked Sophie Lancaster to death for looking different, and their twenty-odd friends who watched, laughed and took pictures on their fucking camera-phones.  Another symptom, another product of a fucked-up culture, lawless and authoritarian all at once, consumed in voyeurism and distraction – victims too, yes, but that doesn’t take away the fear countless people live in because of them.

Still, they’re another set of ready-made scapegoats when we need a change from immigrants.

Crassness and stupidity?  If only they were the worst. Callousness, indifference to suffering- that’s a virtue too.  Don’t believe me?  Just bring up immigration or benefits as a topic and listen to the cretinous, lizard-brained fucks brainwashed by the Sun and Mail flaunting it as a badge of maturity.

Want more?  Ignorance, wilful ignorance, staying wrapped in a little bubble of knowing no better but choosing to know no better- that’s considered a virtue now.  To any sane human being, it should be an abomination.

Speak no ill of the dead and all that, but I detested Jade Goody.  Not because she was ignorant, because she was wilfully ignorant.  Any time someone challenged her ill-informed, bigoted views with anything as silly as facts, what happened?  They were shouted down in a blizzard of screeched abuse.

Definition time again.  What’s ‘fame’?  Ah… if you punch it into Google, there isn’t a definition of the term in sight.  At the top of the list of hits on the search engine, you’ll see the IMDB listing for the movie.  Not that I have any objection to stuff that evokes the image of women in leotards and woolly leg-warmers (get back to the point- Ed.)

If we try the word famous, we get:

‘Having a widespread reputation, usually of a favorable nature; renowned; celebrated: a famous writer.’ (Ha!)

Fame was about recognition for achievement.  Robert De Niro is famous for being a great actor.  William Shakespeare is famous for having been a great writer.  Get the idea?

But fame is now an end in itself, nothing more.  Jade Goody wasn’t unique- there are a million more like her out there.  She was a mediocrity elevated by reality TV to a household name- in the final analysis, deserving as much pity as she did contempt.

Oh, they made her famous.  But famous for what?  She was just one who got chewed up and spat out by the ever-hungry machine that provides distraction and entertainment without (god forbid) inducing anything that resembles thought.  Just one of the unending line of suckers offering themselves up as human sacrifices to the malignant pagan idols of Simon Cowell, Davina McCall and Jeremy Kyle.

How many have done so who might otherwise, given encouragement and guidance, have read a book or two, acquired some knowledge, broadened their horizons and genuinely made something of themselves, achieved something of real benefit?  Because that’s not encouraged anymore.  As the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens, everything depends on keeping the burgeoning ranks of the have-nots happily, wilfully ignorant.

And god forbid you should let politics into your life or anything.  Public services are about to be slashed to the bone, driving the UK deeper into recession, and most people’s idea of democracy is picking the winner on the fucking X-Factor.  Debates and choices over trivia, the illusion of freedom, while civil liberties are stripped away under the guise of ‘protecting’ us.  On the one hand, we’re sleepwalking into a police state; on the other, the very fabric of what creates a community is being rotted away by those who appoint themselves its guardians.

Rome is burning, and we’re fiddling while it does.

And that brings me to the real fear.  I can handle the concept of my own death.  I know that will happen one day.  But what’s scaring me now is that the very civilisation I grew up in is dying, devolving into a new kind of barbarism, complete with Playstations and plasma screen TVs.  One where everything I do as a writer will be meaningless, either because books are burned or unpublishable if they fail to toe the line, or because no fucker bothers reading anymore

I want to ‘believe in better’.  I want to believe there’s a way back.  I don’t want to believe we’re on a one-way trip to that kind of world.

But I fear it.

And at the heart of it, what’s horror about, if not the fragility of everything we love?  Our ‘control’ of the world around us is largely illusory, either as individuals or as a species.  Whatever you value can be taken from you in a heartbeat, by accident or malice or blind chance.

But being a writer is about spinning flax into gold- turning those dreads and terrors into something else.  Into art.

Why write?

Because I need to.

Because I’ve got no choice.

Because if I act out my worst fears and dreads on the printed page, then maybe, just maybe, they won’t come true in real life.

Because good writing is a shock to the system, a jolt- the axe, as Franz Kafka said, that smashes the frozen sea within us- and maybe- again, just maybe- something I write will actually do some good.  Nudge the course of maybe one life towards a better path.

And most of all, perhaps, because when I write, even when I’m really writing about how little control any of us have over anything, I can tell myself I’m at least in charge of this– this page, these words.  This moment.

—()—

Nothing like a fiery rant to start the day off!! Thanks to Simon for writing this – it’s something that I (and many others) have strong feelings about, especially considering, in my case, where I used to live and where I find myself now. Plus I have often lamented the turgid  state of a typical Saturday night’s television for a long time, sounding like a younger version of Victor Meldrew. Glad to know I am not the only one…

Guest-blog: ALISON LITTLEWOOD

Posted in Guest-blog on September 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

You may not be familiar with the name of today’s guest-blogger, but I can guarantee that you will be very soon. Alison has already appeared in a number of high-profile magazines with her short stories and was recently chosen as one of the authors to be included in the Never Again anthology from Gray Friar Press. I met the very personable Miss Littlewood at this year’s FantasyCon and I can honestly say that she is an absolute delight to talk to – plus her smile is infectious.

Here, she talks about how and why she started writing.

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Hopping Aboard the Horror Train

When I was younger, I didn’t read much horror. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it – I borrowed my brother’s James Herberts and Stephen Kings – it was just that I wanted to read EVERYTHING. (Unless it came packaged in pink covers and swirly writing, that is – I never was much of a girly girl.)

But when I started writing, something happened. One day – this is way back in 2004 – I thought I’d try the BBC’s ‘End of Story‘ competition. This entailed, fittingly enough, finishing a story begun by a famous author. And I read through the story starters, racking my brains as to what I’d write, until I got to Sean Hutson’s. Suddenly my head was full of ideas. Assassins? Severed thumbs? Nightmare train journeys, redolent of hell? Oh, yes. This was the one for me.

I discovered that dark fiction was the most fun you can have with a pen, and I wrote that story with a smile on my face – or rather, a slightly twisted but very gleeful grin. It never really left.

I’ve been writing horror and dark fantasy ever since, along with the occasional visit to the land of science fiction. And the more I write it the more I love it, so the more I want to read it…and the more I want to write it…and so it goes on, or at least until the bookshelves collapse.

Of course, sometimes I think I write the dark stuff because I’m a born worrier. I’m always thinking of the worst thing that could happen – why not use that to feed my story ideas? (Let’s face it: it’s about time that one started to work in my favour.) At other times, I think it came out of nowhere. But then I remember how much I used to love fairy tales when I was a kid.

Back when I was about five I devoured them, cried over them, loved them. One I remember in particular is The Red Shoes, by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s the story of a child who dreams of her dancing shoes when she should be praying in church. And so she’s cursed to dance – but dance ceaselessly, relentlessly, until she’s exhausted and bleeding and the best option she can think of is to beg a passing woodcutter to chop off her feet.

Ouch. Sometimes, I think it was there all along.

Now I’ve been fortunate to have had stories published in Black Static, Not One Of Us, Dark Horizons, Murky Depths – and New Fairy Tales. Recently I was included in the Never Again charity anthology from Gray Friar press.

I’ve also become a serial first drafter of novels, but recently managed to finish one, so hopefully it won’t languish in the dark forever…

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Well, I for one hope that that novel doesn’t languish in the dark for too long, either…..

Many thanks to Alison for taking the time to write this little piece, and I sincerely wish her all the success that is bound to come her way. You should definitely be on the lookout for anything by this up and coming author, before she hits the big time.

Alison’s website can be found here.

GUEST REVIEWER: John Llewellyn Probert

Posted in Film, Guest-blog on September 28, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

MGM’s Legends of Horror DVD boxset

Firstly, my thanks to Mr Marshall-Jones for offering me the opportunity to wax lyrical about anything I fancy on his blog. Recently at Probert Towers we’ve been having fun with the Hays Code. Or rather, we’ve been having fun watching movies made before and just after this compromising, restricting, subjective set of rules was brought in to govern the content of Hollywood movies in the mid nineteen thirties to “protect” audiences from scenes of excessive violence, sexuality and good old Deviant Behaviour.

If you want to see for yourself what kind of effect this censorship had on films of the time then you need go no further than the MGM Legends of Horror DVD boxset. For your money you get the pre-code horrors of Karl Freund’s Mad Love, Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu, and Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X, as well as post-code movies The Devil Doll and Mark of the Vampire from Tod Browning, and The Return of Dr X starring Humphrey Bogart.

The precode movies range from the excellent (Mad Love) through to the more ordinary (Doctor X) but are never less than interesting. The sight of Peter Lorre pretending to be the Rollo the guillotined knife thrower with his head strapped back on is still pretty unsettling, and the tortures devised by Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu suggest that left unchecked Hollywood may have ended up making the Saw movies in the forties rather than the noughties. As examples of their type they’re not bad at all, and if you like these then you should certainly check out the nasty and naughty Murders in the Zoo (1933) and the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi double-headers The Raven and The Black Cat (both 1935), all of which contain nastiness that Hollywood wouldn’t be allowed to include in its product for many years following.

Was the Hays Code responsible for a decline in quality? Probably not, in fact I suspect that all it did was prevent ludicrous ‘B’ programmers from adding unpleasant cruelty to their already ludicrous, incomprehensible and badly-researched plotlines. The Return of Dr X (1939) stars Humphrey Bogart as a medic back from the dead after going to the electric chair because he “wanted to see how long a baby could go without eating for”. Hardly the genius surgeon (there must have been far better, exotic and more lurid ways to end up executed, even post-Code, and I bet Lionel Atwill would have known what they were) he comes back to life as a result of blood transfusions. The lecture we get on blood groups is as if Karl Landsteiner, the world-famous scientist who actually discovered this stuff, never existed, and Bogie’s back from the dead just long enough to take a pretty nurse off to his matte painting of an old shack in the swamp where he promptly ends up shot and uttering an ‘important’ last line that’s about as meaningful as the rest of this twaddle.

Certainly the Hays Code didn’t lead to a decrease in daftness or elderly actors dressing up in women’s clothing, as The Devil Doll testifies. Based on Abraham Merritt’s novel Burn Witch Burn (you can read my review of that, along with its precursor Seven Footprints to Satan, on the Vault of Evil website) the film starts off bonkers and gets worse. Lionel ‘I’ve had the bit of my brain removed labelled “restrained acting”‘ Barrymore escapes from Devil’s Island with a friend. Lionel wants revenge on the men who caused him to be unjustly imprisoned. Thankfully his friend has altogether more utterly ludicrous ambitions that involve shrinking the population of the world to the size of little dolls to solve the world’s food problems. He shows Lionel some plastic models of dogs and then, in a bit of fairly ambitious special effects for the time, we get to see the miniaturised dogs walking around. The serving girl gets the treatment next, which as well as shrinking her cures her of her ‘mental retardation’ for no reason that’s explained. Lionel’s friend dies of a heart attack, which is Lionel’s cue to go to Paris, dress up as an old lady, and use the doll-making device to create miniature assassins and in one case at least to presumably assuage his boredom (there’s no other reason for him shrinking a horse and where the hell does he get the room to do that anyway?) Clearly far too comfortable in his old lady getup Lionel finally clears his name and we get a rather odd coda that’s presumably Browning’s nod to the Hays’ Office to let him off the blatant female microphilia we’ve seen in the swampland laboratory scene.

However daft The Devil Doll may be it’s neither as patchy nor as ultimately unsatisfying as Mark of the Vampire, made by Browning a year earlier and featuring another performance from Lionel Barrymore who has obviously been told to forego his usual timidity and really play things up. Bela Lugosi’s in this one too, in all the scenes that get used as stills, and with just one line. The vampire bits are superbly atmospheric but once we get on to plot it’s almost as stagy as Browning’s Dracula and you get the feeling his heart wasn’t in it.

Watching a box set like this makes one wonder what would have happened if a similar code had been brought in for literature. In the UK the main fiction to suffer would probably have been Christine Campbell Thompson’s Not at Night series, Charles Birkin’s ‘Creeps’ and of course the dear old Pan Book of Horror. Some would argue that this might not have been such a bad thing, but on the other hand without those stories I wouldn’t have become the horror fan that I am and consequently you wouldn’t be reading this now. But all of that is quite another story…

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John Llewellyn Probert is a writer and a larger-than-life character. If ever you get the chance to witness him performing (not just reading) one of his stories, then I strongly suggest you do so… excellent entertainment! You can find his website here.

Thanks to John for writing this!

Guest-blog: GARY McMAHON

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

Today’s special guest-blogger is Mr. Prolific himself, Gary McMahon, author of such works as How to Make Monsters (Morrigan), The Harm (TTA Press), Rain Dogs (Humdrumming), and also ahort stories collected in Different Skins (Screaming Dreams) and Pieces of Midnight (Ash-Tree). Forthcoming from him are two Angry Robot books, Pretty Little Dead Things (2010) and Dead Bad Things (2011), and a little project due to be launched at FCon 2011 (about which I am saying little at present). He is currently working on the Concrete Grove series of books for Solaris.

Recently, I’ve written a couple of posts on my dislike of e-readers (for purely nostalgic and romantic reasons, admittedly). Here, Gary looks at things from the opposite viewpoint and makes the case for such devices.

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Loving the Onion

When I was a small child I hated the taste of onions – and I mean fucking loathed them. Nothing made me feel more nauseous than the thought of onions on my plate. Whenever a meal containing the wee stinkers was served up in the McMahon household, I’d carefully, methodically (and probably a bit obsessive-disorderly) pick out every single piece with my fingers and put them on a small plate next to me before I could even think about eating my dinner.

As time moved on I began to realise that this hating of the onions was a difficult (and rather unfair; I mean what had they ever done to deserve that level of prejudice?) way in which to live my life. Every single recipe I enjoyed contained onions. Onions were, in fact, the bedrock of culinary creativity. You struggle to make a decent meal without them. By this time I was about twelve years old and despite what anyone tells you about that squashy-faced boy with the thin arms who lives in our cellar, my mother didn’t raise no fools.

So I embarked upon an ambitious project focused around the notion of forcing myself to like onions. Not just to live with them, or to tolerate them, but to enjoy them. Perhaps, I thought wistfully, even some day I might even learn to love them.

At first I would continue to pick out something like 90% of the onion in my meal, and ate the remaining 10%. As I got used to this the ratio altered and I was soon eating 50%, 60%, 70%, and then – oh, day of days! – 80% of the onion from my plate.

After what seemed like a year but was in all probability about a week-and-a-half, I was no longer removing any of the onion from my dinner.

Now, aged forty-one, if someone tried to take my onion from me I’d probably kill them. I like the onion. Onions rock. I heart the onion. Often, I pretend that I am the onion.

All of which, of course, brings me to the subject of e-books.

No, it does. Really.

Stay with me on this; there’s logic here somewhere. There’s a point to all this random onion-based blathering, which will eventually show itself like the creamy-white flesh beneath the papery husk of a good shallot.

A year ago I despised the very idea of e-books. I raged passionately, to anyone who’d listen (and even some of those who stuck their fingers in their ears and went “Tra-la-la. I’m not listening”) that e-books were: B.A.D. (that spells ‘bad’, by the way), and that they were in fact the tools of the devil. I waxed lyrical about the feel and heft and, yes, even the smell of real books as opposed to the empty plastic non-feel, non-heft and, well, non-smell of e-books. I was a zealot, a man on a mission. I fucking hated e-books!

No way was I reading an e-book.

Not for me, buddy. Uh-uh. You can stick that thing in your cyberspace.

And I certainly wasn’t ever going to buy an e-book reader. Not on your nelly. I laugh at your poxy little e-reader. I fart in its general direction. Twice.

Then, about a month ago, I began to realise that in the very near future e-books are most probably going to dominate mid-list publishing, pushing physical books further towards the margins, the niche markets, and making them specialty items. Economics dictate that in far fewer years than we might all like to imagine, we’re going to be downloading and reading stories on our little hand-held devices instead of from between the (wonderful, glorious, rather nice-smelling) covers of paperback books.

That was the point, the “nuclear moment”, when I decided that rather than fight the future I’d prefer to tentatively embrace it. Technology wins, you see; it always does. Haven’t you seen The Terminator? He never really dies; he always comes back for the sequel. In T5 it’s rumoured that he’ll be carrying an e-reader.

As a writer, you need to be open to new ways of getting your work out there, especially if the market is slowly beginning to shape the nature of those new outlets. And if you start early enough, you might be in with a chance of staying the course.

I’ve already made my choice in this invisible war.

I’m getting a Kindle for Christmas.

I already have the Kindle for PC downloaded onto my laptop and I’m willing to use it.

It’s all about changing, adapting, making it work for you the best way you can. It’s about surviving those changes.

It’s about forcing yourself to love onions.

—()—

Some very good points cogently made there, especially from the writer’s point of view. I am not entirely convinced, but neither am I dismissive of the whole enterprise. I guess I will always be one of those hopeless (and hapless) romantics who will desperately cling to a portion of the past when it comes to books – I guess it’s been bred into my very genetic structure.

Many thanks to Gary for writing this – and for shining a light on the other side of the coin, and for providing some balance in the debate!