Thursday, 25 September 2014

Witchcraft, woodland devils and a big loss

Quite a few bits and bobs to chat about this week.

I’m very happy to report that THE POPPET, a short story of mine, first published in 2012, has now been given the audio treatment by WHOLE STORY AUDIOBOOKS, as read by Jonathan Keeble, and can be purchased from Amazon, either as a freestanding CD (running time approx. one hour), or by download.

Anyway, here’s the official blurb from the back of it:

The story of the Cumbrian witches in the small village of Bleaberry Beck, is told in hushed tones and with a quiet reverence that speaks of superstition and fear. Richard Henderson, Medieval Studies student at Oxford University, couldn't be less intrigued. Picking up a 'poppet' from the village shop, he happily sets off home with this birthday present for his little sister. But the faceless wooden doll holds the secret to a chilling curse.

And here, for your delectation, is a quick snippet from the story itself:

Not a single doll in that shop-window – and I scanned it from top to bottom – had a face. And I don’t just mean that a face hadn’t been carved; I mean that it hadn’t even been drawn. Where their faces ought to be there were blank patches of shiny, varnished wood. Perhaps if I’d passed something like this in a city shop-window – maybe one or two such objects among a variety of other, friendlier-looking toys – it wouldn’t have struck me as strange. But on this occasion, because it was the whole story, I’d been quite taken aback – at least on first seeing it. But as I say, I’d had other things on my mind since then.
“Maybe I won’t bother,” I said. “To be frank, they look a bit weird, these things.”
“They’re supposed to be weird,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
“Surely you’ve heard of ‘Poppets’ before?”
“Funnily enough, I don’t buy dolls very often.”
Purlock didn’t laugh, just pursed his lips. I got the feeling he’d been about to tell me something a little out of the ordinary, but suddenly lacked the heart for it. “That’s all it is really. A doll shop.”
Doll shop or not, there was something unsettling about those flat, emotionless visages regarding me through the mullioned glass.
“How can something that doesn’t have a face make you feel like it’s watching you?” I wondered.
“It’s part of the superstition,” he said. “There’s a witchcraft angle, if you’re interested.”

WHOLE STORY are now perusing my back-catalogue of short stories and novellas, so hopefully other titles will follow in this range. This blog is most definitely the place to tune in if you want more info on that. I’ll upload it as and when.

In other news this week, I’ve recently been interviewed by Robert McNeil of THE GOTHIC IMAGINATION, which is part of the Stirling University website. It was a lengthy, wide-ranging chat, covering lots of subjects, from my film work to my HECK novels to my TERROR TALES anthology series. Those interested, please feel free to pop along and have a read.

On the subject of movies, I was excited to see that WAR WOLF, the historical horror movie I’ve written for AMBER ENTERTAINMENT, has now been moved onto their pre-production schedule. We’re still at the finance-raising stage as we speak, but the signs are all good, and some exceptional people are now involved. Check out the link for further info – WAR WOLF is the fifth title down on the slate – but for what it’s worth, it is set during the Hundred Years War, and concerns a band of semi-lawless English knights who arouse the ire of an unspeakable foe in the wild forested regions of central southern France.

I’ve also been a bit more active on the short story front of late. As you’re probably sick of hearing me say, I love writing short fiction, but there isn’t much time for it at present. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no time, and thankfully I’ve managed to crank out a couple of short stories recently.

KRAMPUS is a Christmas-themed horror story, which has appeared in issue #10 of the Kindle genre magazine, K ZINE. No spoilers on that one, but if you buy you won't be disappointed. There is some exceptional speculative fiction in there.

The second bit of short story news concerns my new Sherlock Holmes novella, THE MONSTER OF HELL-GATE, which will be included in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES ABROAD, due to be published by Robinson next year (just be warned - the cover art posted here may not be the finished version, or even the same one that ends up being used). I must admit I had great fun with that one. Grisly murder mysteries on the wild, sun-bleached fringes of the Empire. What more could you ask for?


And now, sadly, I must depress the mood at little by reporting the death of that very fine author, Graham Joyce, who though he was only 59, passed away earlier this month after battling a long illness.

Graham, pictured right, was a personal friend of mine and something of a mentor. The very first time I attended a British Fantasy Society event in 1996, Graham was the first big name author to actually speak to me, and even though we’d only just met, he continued to chat with me throughout that weekend on the friendliest and most informal terms, a relationship we enjoyed ever after. Graham was an exquisite wordsmith, who though described as a fantasy author, always defied easy classification. He certainly wrote fantasy, but his gently philosophical work delved through the realms of mystery, science-fiction, magical realism and so forth, and was always instructive as well as hugely entertaining.

Together with Joel Lane, another Midlands-based author (and another good friend of mine), who we lost last year, Graham elevated genre fiction into the literary zone. He also produced a massive body of work, which if any of you haven’t yet discovered, you’d be well advised to go and look for. In fact, two masterly pieces of work, very illustrative of the talents that produced them, and perfect memorials in both cases, are Graham’s 25 YEARS IN THE WORD MINES, and Joel’s WHERE FURNACES BURN. If you don’t know the writing of Joel Lane and Graham Joyce, I urge you to seek these titles out as a start-point.

Both Joel and Graham will be massively missed, but at least, their talents live on in their amazing work, and that has to be something.