An update…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, so I haven’t managed to get back on here like I promised I would, but there have been good reasons. Not only did I find the first six weeks of this year difficult, which I have already talked about on here in a recent(ish) post, but I discovered that I was suffering from exhaustion, which led to me developing a bad case of the ‘flu (despite being inoculated), which was promptly followed by a cold (which, thankfully, was very mild and exceedingly brief) and a hacking cough. The last two weeks have been spent recuperating and reassessing certain things.

First, the exhaustion issue – this was caused by overwork, pure and simple. In other words, working 10 – 12 hour days, seven days a week, doesn’t really make for a tiredness-free life. I was waking up every morning like I’d been hit by a truck during the night. Naturally, this also disturbed the equilibrium of my diabetes, and my bloodsugar levels were all over the shop. Elevated levels of ‘inflammatory markers’ in the results of one of my recent blood tests didn’t help the situation, either, to be quite frank – it could indicate anything from a mild (hitherto undiagnosed) allergy to something far more serious. Unfortunately, the test (and results) were annoyingly vague, so my GP couldn’t specify what it could be. I went back last week for more tests, results expected this week.

Anyway, since the recent bout of illness, I’ve been feeling brighter, a great deal less tired and a lot fresher every morning. Conclusion: everything that’s happened in the last two months was related, and the subsequent illness the consequence of not paying attention to what my body was saying. Solution: don’t work so damn hard. It’s all very well wanting Spectral Press to be a success, but it’ll all mean absolutely zilch if I end up making myself ill in the process. So now, I work during the hours of 9am – 5pm during the week and for a few hours in the evenings at weekends, and at other times I indulge in a relaxing hobby.

A hobby? Yes, a hobby. Specifically, making scale models of things. Even more specifically, models of classic cars and WWII military vehicles. This was something I used to love doing when I was younger; I took it up again a couple of years ago, then gave it up when I started the record label. Now, I have realised I need some me-time, time when I can just forget the world and all its many troubles and lose myself in something I find interesting, engaging and relaxing. And I make no apologies for it, either.

But, Spectral is still going strong and growing. Part of my agenda this week is to look at a story Mark West has sent me for critical appraisal, and editing Gary Fry’s wonderful story Abolisher of Roses, due out at the beginning of May or thereabouts, as Spectral Volume II. I will also be doing a spot of reading and reviewing, planning the cover painting for Willie Meikle’s cancer-themed anthology The Unspoken, and getting on with building a Sherman tank with Calliope rocket launcher (as you do) in those moments of relaxation. Photos of the fnished tank are likely to appear on here, so you can follow my progress into utter geekiness.

Anyway, expect more blogs to follow on a much more regular basis, and many apologies for being silent over the last couple of months. I can be my own worst enemy at times, and I should have known better.

From Russia with Love…

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

This review was written by Russian journalist Ray Garraty (not his real name obviously – it appears to be a homage to Stephen King, as Garraty is the main protagonist in that author’s The Long Walk novel, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1979) and appears on Ray’s Endless Falls Up blog.

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Gary McMahon
What They Hear in the Dark

Spectral Press, 2011

I already wrote about the books released by Nightjar Press (damn, I reviewed all their books!), launched a series of dual release of so-called chapbooks – one book /one story. All six currently published books contained the outstanding story, picking up a very high standard for writers working in the area of dark literature. Now we have yet another British publisher, who is also engaged in production of chapbooks. The first their book came out very strong.

Gary McMahon is far from the debutant, he is the author of numerous novels, as well as several collections of short stories. What They Hear in the Dark is a wonderful example of how not using the straight-line methods, you can whip up the atmosphere, reducing the fantastic element in essence to a minimum.

After the violent death of their son, husband and wife moved into a new house, hoping to start anew. House, as well as their family life, is not at its best: want to repair. A place where spouses can escape from the oppressive emptiness becomes Quiet Room. In this room there is completely darkness, and most importantly – it has absolutely no sound. In this room, the sounds do not penetrate outside and extinguished all the sounds inside. The room becomes something like a drug for Rob and Becky.

This story is not a one-time reading, although I still will not reveal further the plot. McMahon feels what often overlooked by many authors of horror fiction: the worst lives always inside the person, not outside. The author describes the reliability of the person who lost the most precious thing in my life and does not know how to live.

A promising debut of a new publishing house. We will follow what Spectral Press will present us next time.

Latest review…

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

The review below, this one another positive one, was posted on the Innsmouth Free Press website and written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – also, be sure to look out for an interview with your erstwhile publisher in the virtual pages of the very same Free Press, to be published very soon!

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It’s funny how life works out. I was thinking of requesting a review copy of this title and the publisher e-mailed to see if I wanted it. Are my nascent telepathic abilities increasing?

What They Hear in the Dark is a limited-edition, signed chapbook published by Spectral Press. This strikes me as smart. With people complaining that e-books are going to eat print books alive, creating collectible chapbooks seems like an effective strategy for continuing to offer print products. Add to that the fact that it is a chapbook – which means us modern, hard-pressed-for-time folks can sample it without giving up days of our lives – and you’ve got a very good concept.

Anyway, the chapbook in question is a modern Gothic story, with a grieving couple busy remodeling a house and discovering a mysterious room that seems to muffle all sounds. And the husband feels there is something terrible living inside The Quiet Room.

I was incredibly excited to read this tale after looking at the blurb, but I think my excitement might have damped the final enjoyment. I thought it could have been a tad longer. I also kept thinking about “Don’t Look Now” and its parents trying to survive after the death of a child, and encountering the supernatural, basically the same central concept as this chapbook. This may not be the writer’s fault as much as my own, as I read the Du Maurier story not so long ago.

This minor nitpicking aside, it’s a good story. I enjoyed the sympathetic protagonists. What? A horror tale with people you like? Nooooo. This, after reading an anthology with a bunch of awful, irritating characters, came as a blessing. The prose is nice and the house, with its very special room, is creepy, so overall, it gets a thumbs-up. I’ll leave it at that, as I don’t want to give away the ending, or any more details.

I read a lot of short fiction and anthologies because I don’t want to spend much time or effort on novels (especially series, ugh). Chapbooks like this are perfect for me and I hope Spectral Press will continue its line with similar offerings.

What They Hear in the Dark is available from the publisher.


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.