A Triskaidekaphobic’s Nightmare Come True!

Image by Reiko Murakami

Ellen Datlow’s annual round-up of the year’s finest horror fiction, gleaned from sifting through countless anthologies, collections, magazines and other publications, both printed and online, is out tomorrow. My story from last year’s Nightscript 6 anthology, ‘Let Your Hinged Jaw Do the Talking’, is in it. The number of the volume won’t be lost on the superstitious, but never mind that — get it while it’s hot!

Here’s the table of contents, with some fine contributors. I’m greatly looking forward to reading it!

Summation 2020—Ellen Datlow

Exhalation #10 — A. C. Wise

A Hotel in Germany — Catriona Ward

A Deed Without a Name — Jack Lothian

Lords of the Matinee — Stephen Graham Jones

Cleaver, Meat, and Block — Maria Haskins

The Eight-Thousanders — Jason Sanford

Scold’s Bridle: A Cruelty–Richard Gavin

Come Closer — Gemma Files

It Doesn’t Feel Right — Michael Marshall Smith

Mine Seven — Elana Gomel

Sicko — Stephen Volk

Mouselode Maze — Christopher Harman

Heath Crawler — Sam Hicks

The Devil Will Be at the Door — David Surface

Let Your Hinged Jaw Do the Talking — Tom Johnstone

Scream Queen — Nathan Ballingrud

We Do Like to Be Beside — Peter W. Sutton

Contrition (1998)  — J.A.W. McCarthy

Tethered Dogs — Gary McMahon

Bloody Rhapsody —    Alessandro Manzetti

In the English Rain — Steve Duffy

A Treat For Your Last Day — Simon Bestwick

Trick of the Light — Andrew Humphrey

Two Truths and a Lie — Sarah Pinsker

The Whisper of Stars — Thana Niveau

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An Honourable Mention for the Unmentionable Horrors of ‘The Wakeman Recreation Ground’.

This story also references the Wakeman Recreation Ground, or at least its properties, in the version published in Last Stop Wellsbourne.

Exactly two years after I launched Last Stop Wellsbourne, the opening story in this collection, ‘The Wakeman Recreation Ground’, has received recognition from Ellen Datlow by its inclusion in her shortlist of Honourable Mentions, at least the one made public. The list already appeared in last year’s Best Horror of the Year Vol. 12. Since then of course, another story, ‘Let Your Hinged Jaw Do the Talking’, originally in Nightscript 6, will soon be appearing in Volume 13 of the series, so will be available to read there, but if you want to read ‘The Wakeman Recreation Ground’, you’ll have to buy a copy of Last Stop Wellsbourne here.

Honorable Mentions in the print edition of The Best Horror of the Year Volume Twelve

October 31, 2021

Addison, Linda D. & Manzetti, A.“The Place of Broken Things,” (poem) The Place

Armfield, Julia “Stop Your Women’s Ears With Wax,” Salt Slow.

Barron, Laird “We Used Swords in the ’70s,” Weird Fiction Review Fall.

Bartlett Matthew M. “A Strange Haze,” Wicked Weird.

Baxter, Alan “The Ocean Hushed the Stones,” Served Cold.

Begg, Charlotte “After I Devoured the Beast,” (poem) Vastarien Fall.

Benedict, R.S. “All of Me,” F&SF, March/April.

Bestwick, Simon “And Cannot Come Again,” (novella) And Cannot Come Again.

Bodard, Aliette de “A Burning Sword for Her Cradle,” Echoes.

Breukelaar, J. S. “Fixed,” Collision.

Bruce, Georgina “The Lady of Situations,” This House of Wounds.

Bryski, KT “The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles,” Lightspeed #115, December.

Cadigan, Pat “About the O’Dell’s,” Echoes.

Chronister, Kay “Thin Places,” The Dark #50, July.

Cisco, Michael “Their Silent Faces” Spirits Unwrapped.

Cluley, Ray “6/6,” Black Shuck Books.

Coffman, Frank “The Witches Rite at Beltane,” (poem) Spectral Realms 10.

Connell, Brendan “All the Wild Animals,” A Miscellany of Death and Folly.

Dean, David “The Squatter,” EQMM Sept/October.

Ford, Jeffrey “The Jeweled Wren,” Echoes.

Gardner, Cate “The Mute Swan,” Terror Tales of Northwest England.

Grant, John Linwood “Records of the Dead,” The Twisted Book of Shadows.

Hodge, Brian “One Last Year Without a Summer,” Skidding Into Oblivion.

Holmes, Carly “A Shadow Flits,” Pareidolia.

Jamneck, Lynne “Lies I Told Myself,” Nox Pareidolia.                 

Johnstone, Tom “The Wakeman Recreation Ground,” Last Stop Wellsbourne.

Kassel, Mel “The Coffin, The Ship,” Black Warrior Review fall/winter.

Kiste, Gwendolyn “The Eight People Who Murdered Me…” Nightmare#86November.

Langan, John “Natalya, Queen of the Hungry Dogs” (novella) Echoes.

Larson, Rich “Painless,” Tor.com April 10.

LaValle, Victor “Up From Slavery” Weird Tales #363.

Littlewood, Alison “The July Girls,” Echoes.

Lombardi, Nicola “Striges,” The World of SF, Fantasy and Horror vol. IV.

McCarthy, Cori “You Wake With Him Beside You,” (poem) Betty Bites Back.

McHugh, Maura “Suspension,” The Boughs Withered When I Told You My Dreams.

Meijer, Marys “Pool,” Rag.

Moore, Tegan “A Forest, or a Tree,” Tor.com July 10.

Oates, Joyce Carol “The Surviving Child,” Echoes.

Raye, J. C. “Eternal Roots of Lane County,” Nightscript V.

Read, Sarah “Into the Wood,” Pareidolia.

Rees, Matthew “The Lock,” Keyhole.

Lee, Seulmi “When I Stopped Eating Earth,” Black Warrior Review fall/winter.

Sharma, Priya “Ormeshadow,” (novella) Tor.com

Smith, Michael Marshall “The Burning Woods,”  I Am the Abyss.

Tantlinger, Sara “To be Devoured,”   (novella)

Tem, Steve Rasnic “When You’re Not Looking,” The Night Doctor and Other Tales.

Thomas, Lee “Flowers For Bitsy,” Spirits Unwrapped.

Volk, Stephen “Unchain the Beast,” Black Static #68, March-April.

Warren, Kaaron “Into Bones Like Oil,” (novella) Meerkat Press.

Wilkinson, Charles “The Festival of Conformity,” Dark Lane 8.

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Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 3 out now!

This excellent image is by Jenny Barber, one of my fellow authors in this anthology. Click on the image to take you to the Hive page for the book.

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Alchemy Horrors 3 TOC

Here’s the table of contents for The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 3, which is out next week but is now available to pre-order here.

Build Your Own Monster!!! Guaranteed to Scare the Whole Family — Bryn Fortey and Johnny Mains

The Head — Garry Kilworth

Inappetence — Steve Rasnic Tem

Songs in the Dark — Jenny Barber

The Beast of Bathwick — Sarah Ash

Cuckoo Flower — Tom Johnstone

A Song for Christmas — Ashe Woodward

Dream a Little Dream of Me and My Shadow — Adrian Cole

Memories of Clover — K T Wagner

Sun, Sand, Stone — Marion Pitman

Redwater — Simon Bestwick

Dreamcatcher — Pauline E Dungate

The Daughters — Tim Jeffreys

Black Spots — John Llewellyn Probert

Echoes of Days Passed — Mike Chinn

What the Snow Brings — Ralph Robert Moore

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My Alchemical Romance and More Love for Body Shocks

It’s that time of year again — when horror is in the air. If you’re looking for something creepy to read, which happens to include fiction by yours truly, there’s Body Shocks, which Sadie Hartmann has praised on Tor Nightfire, and another anthology about to come out in the next few days, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 3: A Miscellany of Monsters. Strictly speaking, there was a launch last month at the British Fantasy Convention in Birmingham, but the official publication date is next week.

Here’s a lovely promotional image made by Jenny Barber, showing the Alchemy Horrors 3 cover alongside those of the first two books in the series!

The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 3: A Miscellany of Monsters edited by Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards

Monsters are many things. They come in all forms, shapes and sizes: from to the tiny to the titanic; from amorphous blobs to many limbed (or tentacled) monstrosities; from supernatural demons to man-made terrors. They come from any place and time: from under the bed to the woodshed; from the icy wastes to the darkest jungles; from the depths of the ocean to outer space; from the past, the future, the now! Many things. Any things. In this anthology we present a range of creatures, from the oceans, from the ground, from the air. Contributors include Garry Kilworth, Steve Rasnic Tem, Sarah Ash, Adrian Cole, Marion Pitman, Ralph Robert Moore and others.

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Body Shocks Book Birthday

Birth is a subject ripe for body horror. Take The Brood or Demon Seed or Rosemary’s Baby. It has become customary in these times to refer to the publication date of one’s book as ‘book birthday’, and today is the publication day, or book birthday if you prefer, of Ellen Datlow’s anthology Body Shocks, just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, should you desire some suitable reading matter to mark this festival. Hopefully, despite its theme, it’s birth will not be as stickily unpleasant one as the ones in those various movies / stories, not least because one of my stories features in its pages, along with others by such acclaimed authors as Nathan Ballingrud, Cassandra Khaw, Priya Sharma, Simon Bestwick, Pat Cadigan, Carmen Maria Machado and Gemma Files.

For more information about this excellent volume, see my previous blog post and why not check out this feature in Ginger Nuts of Horror, asking various authors about their personal body horrors! There’s also a review up on GNOH, written by Ben Walker, who warns the reader to have dry toast and water in hand when reading the book. Definitely not for the faint of heart then…

Here’s another review by Adrienne Clarke in phantastiqa. I can’t wait to read the book in its entirety!

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Shock Your Body!

Edited by the award-winning Ellen Datlow, with a cover to die for by John Coulthard and a list of authors on the TOC that reads like a Who’s Who of horror, Body Shocks: Extreme Tales of Body Horror, looks set to be top of everyone’s Hallowe’en shopping list when it comes out in October this year.

Oh, and one of my stories is in it: ‘What I Found in the Shed’, which originally appeared in Supernatural Tales #31, then reappeared with some body-modification of its own in my Omnium Gatherum collection, Last Stop Wellsbourne. Here’s me reading the original version for those who can’t wait until October:

Table of Contents

The Travellers Stay by Ray Cluley                           

Toother by Terry Dowling                                      

Painlessness by Kirstyn McDermott                         

You Go Where It Takes You by Nathan Ballingrud

A Positive  by Kaaron Warren                                  

La Beauté sans verte by Genevieve Valentine          

Subsumption by Lucy Taylor                                                

Spar by Kij Johnson                                      

It Was the Heat by Pat Cadigan                    

Atwater   by Cody Goodfellow                                 

The Transfer by Edward Bryant                    

Welcome to Mengele’s by Simon Bestwick             

Black Neurology: A Love Story by Richard Kadrey  

Cuckoo by Angela Slatter                                         

Cinereous     by Livia Llewellyn                               

The Truth That Lies Under Skin and Meat by Cassandra Khaw

Natural Skin by Alyssa Wong                                               

The Lake by Tananarive Due                                  

I’m Always Here by Richard Christian Matheson   

The Look by Christopher Fowler                              

The Old Women Who Were Skinned by Carmen Maria Machado

Spores by Seanan McGuire                                       

Sweet Subtleties by Lisa L. Hannett                         

Elegy For a Suicide by Caitlín R. Kiernan                

Skin City by Gemma Files                                        

A True Friend by Brian Evenson                             

What I Found in the Shed by Tom Johnstone          

Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma                             

Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report by Michael Blumlein

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Home is Where the Horror Is

Cover art © Neil Williams

I’m not in the habit of reviewing anthologies that feature my own fiction. It can be somewhat embarrassing to compare the quality of one’s own contribution to that of the others in a multi-author volume, but I couldn’t help noticing certain similarities between the themes and preoccupations of certain stories in Terror Tales of the Home Counties and my own tale, ‘The Topsy Turvy Ones’.

With its popular image as the stock-broker belt, many of the stories use this apparently placid and leafy setting to tackle head-on the spectre of sharpening class inequalities that haunts this Covid-ridden land. Speaking of which, the only one written and set recently enough to mention the C-word is Stephen J. Dines’s ‘The Gravedigger of Witchfield’. Don’t be deceived by the traditional-sounding title: This is a highly contemporary, provocative and shocking riposte to those who think they are above the public health restrictions they expect the common herd to observe (I’m thinking of a certain now-former special advisor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dines has him in his sights too…)

But Dines’s critique of society and its injustices goes deeper than that, and echoes two of the other stories, ‘Monkeys’ by Reggie Oliver and Steve Duffy’s ‘In the English Rain’, in skillfully using the device of the bildungsroman to show a very English youthful rite of passage: the revelation of the dirty, brutal little secrets at the heart of a ruthlessly misogynistic and class-divided society.

Book vs. Film: The Most Dangerous Game – The Motion Pictures

To misquote L.P. Hartley, ‘The ruling class is a different country, they do things differently.’ There is a certain kind of horror story that depicts the rich as profoundly different from most of us in its outlook and pastimes, or even literally a race apart. The Brian Yuzna film Society is an obvious example of the latter. Richard Connell’s story ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ is a classic expression of the former. As well as the 1932 adaptation, a recent cinematic variant of this particular trope is Ready or Not.

My own story also plays on this idea too, but also suggests that when it comes to seeing our betters as alien, other, the feeling is mutual. Other stories in the book, such as ‘Monkeys’ and Sam Dawson’s ‘Between’, comment in different ways on how the upper and middle classes define the lower orders as a kind of bestial sub-species. In Dawson’s story, David and Shelley Smith, a middle class couple in the Nineteen Sixties find an almost derelict fixer-upper cottage in a secluded part of Surrey, but the local pub sign disturbs Shelley:

” ‘All those awful dark painted little faces covered in hair and hiding among branches. But I can just about bear that. What I can’t bear is going inside and finding their real-life cousins muttering and playing shove ha’penny and skittles.’ “

This isn’t to suggest that the author shares Mrs Smith’s snobbery. Mr Smith’s attitude to what he discovers when he uses his army training to track the subterranean creatures sharing the woodland around the place is in marked contrast with that of the later inhabitants who breeze into the cottage with twenty first century yuppy arrogance. It could almost serve as a metaphor for the transition from the social democracy of the post-war settlement to the more brutal, confrontational (and the story suggests ultimately self-destructive) class politics of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism. This reading isn’t too much of a stretch, as Dawson’s horror fiction has previously examined class conflict. A good example is ‘Life Expectancy’, which appeared in The Ninth Black Book of Horror.

Another Home Counties terror tale, ‘Love Leaves Last’ by Mick Sims, asks what terrible sacrifices must the rich make to preserve inherited wealth, a question also touched upon in my own contribution to this anthology. In Sims’ case the answer is to be found in the title of a certain bedroom farce. To say which one might be a spoiler, so I’ll let you guess, but it’s an apt metaphor for the demands made upon the owners of a large stately home. On the other hand, the anti-hero of John Llewellyn Probert’s ‘Summer Holiday’ is mainly interested in sacrificing his relatives to get the prize of an inherited fortune. The story uses one of Probert’s favourite devices: elaborate murders recreating grisly deaths from old horror movies, in this case ones filmed in Oakley Court, Berkshire. The result is an entertaining blend of his own Dr Valentine books with Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Oakley Court, nr. Windsor, Berkshire.

For Paul Finch’s own story, he has raided his back catalogue for a reprint from The Sixth Black Book of Horror, ‘The Doom’ a memorably nasty morality tale about the vision of Hell depicted on the wall of a church in a sleepy Surrey village. The terrifying punishments displayed in it is at odds with the vicar’s easy-going morality, but so is the sinister stranger who pulls up in his expensive car one day. Gail-Nina Anderson’s ‘In the Cold, Cold Clay’ is another notably horrid tale suggesting a gruesome side to the cosy world of Home Counties churches, this one in Buckinghamshire. After meditating upon the ‘liminal’ nature of a lych-gate, it goes on to describe a child’s horrifying death in a literal such space, falling into and becoming trapped in the narrow gap between a tree and an old wall, before the narrative uncovers an even more terrible secret concealed in the parish.

But the Home Counties isn’t all country houses and leafy villages built around Norman churches. Other stories have more urban settings. Helen Grant takes us to ‘Chesham’ for her skilful and devastating story, using the device of a rediscovered photograph that turns the finder’s world upside down. (another theme of ‘The Topsy Turvy Ones’ of course — the world not the photo!) There is also terror in tower blocks in Kingston (‘Moses’ by David J. Howe) and Stevenage (Jason Gould’s ‘The Old Man in Apartment Ninety’), while Allen Ashley’s ‘Taking Tusk Mountain’ uses Luton as the setting for its comic-fantasy of a heist gone wrong, part mummy’s curse tale, part caper movie, part The Lion King!

So as you can see, there is something for everyone in this anthology — that’s without even mentioning Paul Finch’s grisly and meticulously-researched snippets of local folklore, history and legend between the literary ones — and I’m proud to have played a part in it.

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Between a Castle Rock and a Hard Place

Supernatural horror is a speculative genre that tends to side-step the need for extensive world-building by situating its other-worldly elements in the real one. There is however a strong tradition in weird fiction of fictional towns and regions with murky reputations, from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic Valley and Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station in the USA, to Ramsey Campbell’s Brichester and Joel Lane’s Clayheath in the UK. Stephen King invented the fictional Maine towns of Derry and Castle Rock, which Garry P Flanagan references in this Amazon review of my collection Last Stop Wellsbourne, my own attempt to invoke this tradition and create my own town of terror, linking it to the lore around Brighton’s lost river of the same name. I even included a fictionalised ‘introduction’ by local history expert and Wellsbourne Society founder Dr David Bramwell in which I featured as an apparently doomed figure in my own fiction!

Below is a video of me reading of one of the stories from the collection (though to be fair I believe it’s the version from Supernatural Tales issue 31, before I edited it to shoehorn it into the Wellsbourne ‘concept’, but this version was long-listed for Best Horror of the Year!). If you like it enough to want to buy it, why not buy a copy — preferably direct from the publisher rather than supporting Amazon’s questionable business model!

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Blogvent Calendar Day 25: It’s Christmas!!! Also known as the Eve of St. Stephen’s Day…

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

The final blood-chilling episode of my folk horror tale ‘The Cutty Wren’, about a peculiar ritual of Saint Stephen’s Day. Just to recap, in Part One, Professor Jenny Underwood had a weird post-ceilidh experience that put her on the trail of the eponymous bird. In Part Two, she and her associate, the narrator Ian, decipher the clues in a series of riddles, leading them to the place where the ceremony takes place in Part Three. Follow the links on the numbers if you haven’t already seen these episodes. If you have, go straight to the video below!

That’s the last of my Blogvent Calendar posts. Now I’m going to rest and eat too much. Have a lovely Christmas and enjoy the Feast of Stephen tomorrow. Speaking of which…

A Merry Christmas to all of you at home!

Or to put it another way…

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