A simple update

Posted in General Musings with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

So, what have I been up to lately that has meant that I have seemingly neglected to post something on here nearly every day, as I used to? Well, there have been a few things that have kept me busy work-wise, plus there have been some health issues affecting both my wife and I. On top of that, January is never a particularly brilliant time for me (along with what appears to be at least half the population of Britain…) for one reason or another. Some of those issues I’ll discuss below.

As some of you may know, I suffered a stroke some years back, whose legacy is a very close acquaintance with the Black Dog. The dark days of this time of year appear to exacerbate it, and so I often find myself fighting to tame that particular beast around this time. It’s a right pain in the arse, as I have too much other stuff to be getting on with to be spending the amounts of energy I do combating depression. I am not one to complain mostly, nevertheless there are moments when I just want to go out there and hit a few things out of sheer frustration. Mostly, though, the dour Welsh side of my character comes out then, where I find myself just gritting my teeth and working my own way through it rather than beating a path to the doctor’s surgery and seeking the aid of medication – they may indeed be the answer but I’m just stubborn like that.

We did, however, visit our GP in relation to Liz’s osteo-arthritis, which is affecting her left knee. There were times earlier this year when she could hardly move, the pain was so great. This necessarily meant that I was concentrating on making things a great deal easier for her around the house and taking on a greater role in the running of the household. Indeed, there was talk some weeks ago of a knee replacement operation, but thankfully she’s been put on medication that seems to be easing everything enough so that at least she is able to carry on doing the daily stuff without anything like the discomfort she was experiencing previously. What the long-term prognosis is on the condition of that knee we don’t know right now, but for the present at least life has returned to something resembling normality – which has to be a good thing. And so, very slowly, as thoughts turn to the return of spring, the pair of us are coming out of turpitude and starting to gear up for the rest of the year in a much more positive frame of mind.

We have also been experiencing a few financial woes, but we have now taken positive steps to redress the situation and already it’s easing up. Whilst we are most certainly not out of the woods completely, we can at least see a bright sliver of light, meaning that we are almost out of it.

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom – I have also been busy with a project or two, one of which I finally completed yesterday. Some of you may be aware that Johnny Mains, of Pan Books of Horror and Noose & Gibbet Publishing fame, has been busy compiling a volume of the stories of Mary Danby, a stalwart of the Armada and Fontana ghost and horror compilations for many years. Well, yours truly has been responsible for scanning and inputting all those stories in preparation for the production of said book. Nearly 30 stories all told – and working with an extremely temperamental OCR program, that sometimes recognised the images I uploaded as text and sometimes saying there was nothing there. So… there were times when I simply had to type everything in by hand (fingers?) – but, at least one great thing came out of it… my typing speed and accuracy has increased immeasurably as a result. (And, of course, I got to read a sizeable chunk of Mary’s ouevre at the same time….)

I also released the very first Spectral Press chapbook (Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) at the very beginning of January and its success has genuinely caught me by surprise. As of this writing, there are just 27 copies left out of the 100 and it’s only been out less than two months. The reviews of the book have been universally positive and I have received some great feedback from customers – plus I now have 60 subscriptions, which is very near my initial target of 70 (which I actually thought was overly-optimistic at the beginning of this year but is now more than within reach). I am already working on the second volume which is due out in three months’ time – for more details visit spectralpress.wordpress.com.

The future for the imprint appears to be more than healthy – the bar for the first one has been set very high, a fact that will encourage me to strive to maintain the high standards I’ve set myself. I also look forward to working with each and every writer who has been asked to contribute, and also to work with those who I have yet to ask onboard.

Now, I can look forward to the rest of this year with gusto, getting back into doing some drawing, painting and reviewing, as well as the editing and publishing, plus some convention appearances. It also means that I will be endeavouring to blog a bit more often with original material as well as posting reviews of the chapbooks. 2011 promises to be a good year for me on so many levels, and it’s to be hoped that you out there will join me for the duration.

Total Sci-Fi review…

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

I’ve lost count of the reviews of What They Hear in the Dark I’ve received, but here’s the latest – posted on the Total Sci-Fi website, and written by James Skipp (says some nice things about Spectral Press, too):

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Book review 
Written by
Gary McMahon
Spectral Press
Spectralpress.wordpress.com
Release date
Out now

Rob and Becky are haunted by the death of their child in more ways than one. Is there really something sinister about their ‘quiet room’?

This short, sharp horror tale from Pretty Little Dead Things author Gary McMahon is the first of Spectral Press’s “chapbooks” – pocket-sized, signed A5 stories with card covers that are limited to 100 copies. Judging by this impressive inaugural entry, it’s going to be a horror series worth keeping an eye on.

Like many of the best chillers, What They Hear in the Dark draws from the dark side of real life – here, the trauma of losing a child. Even more disturbingly the child, Eddie, has met a violent death, and McMahon draws on horrific memories of the James Bulger case.

Elsewhere, the writing recalls Stephen King’s fast-paced, lurid prose and Clive Barker’s obsession with a terrifying other world lurking just beyond our own. McMahon skilfully weaves in flashbacks to fill in the background and help craft psychologically convincing characters, and though it may not be an entirely original horror, it’s a very readable one. James Skipp

VERDICT: 7/10
Disturbing and effective little horror that bodes well for Spectral’s subsequent entries.

New review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Here’s another new review of What They Hear in the Dark, this time posted on Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review… enjoy!

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Who says that horror is a dead genre? Leisure Fiction may have done their best to kill it off in the US, and the current deluge of Urban Fantasy doesn’t leave it what’s left a lot of room on the bookshelves, but it’s still there for those of us who know where to look. Spectral Press is the latest small publisher to give the genre a shot in the arm with its release of limited edition chapbooks dedicated to the ghostly and supernatural. ‘What they hear in the dark’ is actually Spectral Press’ first publication and definitely bodes well for the future…

After their young son’s murder, Rob and Becky bought the old house as a way of trying to save their marriage by building something new. It was never going to be as easy as that though, some cracks were never meant to be papered over and the couple’s relationship is at a breaking point.
Then Rob and Becky find a room in the house that was never in the plans, a room that swallows all sound and leaves you with only your own thoughts for company. A room where demons can either be exorcised or given free rein…

I’ve never read a chapbook before so was interested to see that ‘What they hear in the dark’ is only twenty-one pages long. The shortest books I normally read are around the three to four hundred page mark so it was a real change to read something that would literally take as long to read as it would take to have a cup of coffee (I drink coffee that I make very quickly!)

What they hear in the dark’ initially came across as very rushed with the ending arrived at before you’ve had a chance to get acquainted with the beginning. I’m writing that off as my unfamiliarity with the chapbook format though, it is only twenty-one pages long after all! A second read through really paid dividends though.

You may not have much of a chance to get to find out much about Rob and Becky but what McMahon does do is build up an oppressing ‘haunted house’ atmosphere in a very short space of time, working this around Rob and Becky’s very differing feelings over their son’s death. Things are sign posted very clearly but this somehow adds to the overall tension that arises as things progress. You know what’s happening, Rob and Becky don’t, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The ending is particularly chilling as one of the couple finds out the worst possible consequences of bringing your own ghosts to the Quiet Room. It was at this point that I was literally holding my breath and McMahon cruelly ends the story in such a way that I had to release that breath just after finishing.

Gary McMahon is fast becoming a horror writer to look out for and ‘What they hear in the dark’ is a fine example of his natural skill in this field; a tale that creeps up on you and has it’s claws in you before you know it. Grab it if you can.

Nine out of Ten

P.S. I wouldn’t normally post links to buy books but these chapbooks are very limited edition (only a hundred at a time being printed I think) and you will miss out if you’re not careful. Click Here for more information – I think I might have to take out a subscription.

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.

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?