Monday, 20 June 2011

Summer nights, but the winter still chills

Many folk of an artistic persuasion have a personal rule that they never read critiques of their work – or at least that's what they say.

I'm not totally convinced. Critiques of anything artistic are only ever going to be of limited value; appreciation of art - whether we’re discussing literature, painting, sculpture, music, whatever – is obviously subjective. However, all artists want to be appreciated, and the only way they can truly test this water is by listening to honest appraisals of their work. Now, in my personal experience, the very few people who are likely to approach me and talk about anything I’ve written, are those who are close to me – family and friends. And obviously they’re biased.

So if I genuinely want to know if my writing is hitting the spot, I have no option but to read the critics. And critics in the UK, especially where horror is concerned, don’t come any tougher than Peter Tennant, who writes for what in my opinion is Britain’s leading horror magazine, BLACK STATIC.

Tennant, a writer of no small repute himself is nothing if not 100% honest. He has no axe to grind, and no particular preferences as far as I’m aware – he simply says it as he sees it. I don’t agree with every view he expresses, as I’m sure he wouldn’t expect me to, but you always know with Tennant that he’s speaking from the heart. For which reason I’m quite pleased that he’s been so positive about my Christmas horror opus, SPARROWHAWK, which was published by Pendragon Press at the end of last year.

SPARROWHAWK is a festive-themed novella (currently under recommendation for a British Fantasy Award in that capacity), and it tells the tale of a former British soldier and veteran of the First Afghan War, John Sparrowhawk, who in the winter of 1843 is released from the Debtor’s Prison where he was serving time for running up a relatively modest bill at Soho’s gaming tables. Bitter, cynical, at war with everyone – especially himself – Sparrowhawk now faces a bleak future, until he is offered employment by the beautiful and enigmatic Miss Evangeline. All he needs to do is stand guard over a mysterious house in Bloomsbury for the duration of the Christmas celebrations. Because he has no other option, he agrees to undertake the mission. But now the coldest winter in living memory descends on London (this story was written during the coldest winter in my living memory – the Christmas of 2009), and from out of the ice, snow and frozen, curling mist emerges a supernatural foe who begins to torment Sparrowhawk with a very personal and intrusive kind of haunting.

I won’t quote Tennant’s entire review. It can be found in #23 of BLACK STATIC magazine, but here are a few choice paragraphs:

Finch excels, both in his creation of the Victorian milieu, with compelling portrayals of the snowbound streets and the lives of the poor, so that you can feel the ache of the cold as it gets into your bones and the hunger in your belly, and also in the way in which the attacking entities use Sparrowhawk’s psychology against him, so that his emotional well-being is more under threat than his physical person.

Finch also uses the novel to criticise the politics of the day, and by inference those of our own time seem firmly in his sights also, with plenty of correspondence to be drawn – British soldiers involves in a hopeless Afghan conflict, civil unrest at home over social conditions, etc. Scenes such as the victory feast at which Sparrowhawk’s vanity is massaged by a famous general of the conflict, and his memories of the Peterloo massacre, ground the book in our present day as much as they do the Victorian age …

Meanwhile, sincere apologies yet again for anyone who tuned in last Friday hoping to read the latest installment of POWER OF THREE. Unfortunately, due to my being literally up to the eyebrows in work at present, I can’t take the time off to continue this series on anything like a weekly basis. From time to time, however, there will be new installments, and I shall endeavour to post them in time for Friday morning coffee break, as, judging from the hits I get, that seems to be the feature’s most popular time of week.

For those interested, I wrote a short essay last week on the subject of “Why I’m not giving up on horror” – and it was posted on Steve Lockley’s lively and excellent blog, CONFESSIONS OF A TECHNOPHOBE.

If you haven’t seen it yet by all means check in. There are plenty of other dissertations on there as well - by my fellow genre writers and artists, who all have plenty to say on a variety of subjects.

My use of the above picture is a bit naughty, as it comes from the wonderful cover art provided by Zach McCaine for my 2007 book, STAINS. It referred to the novella, THE STAIN (currently under movie option for those interested), but there is a moment in SPARROWHAWK, which, while not exactly the same, this image quite neatly illustrates.

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