Monday 23 January 2012

Pestilence of the past, plague of the future

I’m very chuffed to announce that KING DEATH – my story published in stand-alone chapbook form by SPECTRAL PRESS at the end of last year – has been selected for the next edition of Paula Guran’s annual YEAR’S BEST DARK FANTASY AND HORROR anthology, to be published later in 2012 (pictured left is the 2011 volume).

There’s no point my going into any more detail about KING DEATH here as I’ve blogged about it frequently in the past, except to say that it’s a tale of real-world horror – in the form of the medieval Black Death, meeting fantastical horror – in the form of … well, if you haven’t already read the chapbook, I guess you’ll just have to read Paula’s anthology and find out for yourself, won’t you?

But I’m very pleased for various reasons over this, not least because it’s something of a feather in the cap for Simon Marshall-Jones’s SPECTRAL PRESS , the relatively new and self-styled publishing outfit, who had sufficient faith in KING DEATH to release it last December.

In fact, the YEAR’S BEST DARK FANTASY AND HORROR will be something of a double-whammy for Simon and his team this year, as another of the authors who’ll be appearing in its line-up, Angela Slatter, will also soon be writing for SPECTRAL PRESS .

It’s always nice to see people’s efforts get deserved recognition, and the efforts of guys like Simon Marshall-Jones are still the lifeblood of the horror/dark fantasy genre in my opinion. Anyway, here’s the full table of contents, from which it’s pretty plain to see that we’re in good company:

Hair by Joan Aiken
Rakshashi by Kelley Armstrong
Walls of Paper, Soft as Skin by Adam Callaway
The Lake by Tananarive Due
Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison
King Death by Paul Finch
The Last Triangle by Jeffrey Ford
Near Zennor by Elizabeth Hand
Crossroads by Laura Anne Gilman
After-Words by Glen Hirshberg
Rocket Man by Stephen Graham Jones
The Maltese Unicorn by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Catastrophic Disruption of the Head by Margo Lanagan
The Bleeding Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
Why Light? by Tanith Lee
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee
A Tangle of Green Men by Charles de Lint
After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
Lord Dunsany’s Teapot by Naomi Novik
Mysteries of the Old Quarter by Paul Park
Vampire Lake by Norman Partridge
A Journey of Only Two Paces by Tim Powers
Four Legs in the Morning by Norman Prentiss
The Fox Maiden by Priya Sharma
Time and Tide by Alan Peter Ryan
Sun Falls by Angela Slatter
Still by Tia V. Travis
Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear by Lisa Tuttle
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente
All You Can Do Is Breathe by Kaaron Warren
Josh by Gene Wolfe

And now for something completely different … from the plague-ravaged rural wastelands of 14th century England, to the rationing-ravaged urban wastelands of 1950/1960s London.

It gives me great pleasure to finally reveal that I’ve written one of the pilot-episodes for a new DR WHO spin-off series, COUNTER-MEASURES, the first four episodes of which will be released in a CD box-set from BIG FINISH this coming July.

This series is set just after the classic 7th Doctor serial REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS, and concerns the formation of a special counter-intelligence group, whose job it will be to tackle strange phenomena and dangerous technology.

The elite scientific/military unit (who will actually be a forerunner of the official UNIT of a decade later) is comprised of several characters whom Who fans will instantly recognise from REMEMBRANCE, including Doctor Rachel Jensen, Group Captain Ian Gilmore and Doctor Allison Williams, all played by the same actors who portrayed them on television back in 1988: Pamela Salem, Simon Williams and Karen Gledhill.

My episode is the opening one, and is entitled THRESHOLD. It concerns ghostly activity in a Bermondsey warehouse, which leads to the disappearance of a leading scientist and the discovery of a science which should not exist.

Following this comes Matt Fitton’s ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, an investigation into a mysterious suicide and the uncovering of a devastating new weapon; Ian Potter’s THE PELAGE PROJECT, which tells the tale of a pollution crisis, at the heart of which lies something even more sinister; and Justin Richards’s STATE OF EMERGENCY, which features intruders from another dimension and treachery in the halls of Westminster

For those who think there might be a kind of Quatermass vibe going on here, you’re essentially right. This is definitely Britain of the Cold War, a black-and-white, bombsite-strewn landscape, with fear and paranoia abounding at every level of society: reds under the bed, flying discs, nuclear power, science out of control, etc.

But above all, it’s reminiscent of early DR WHO. Think of those evocative names – Totter’s Lane, Coal Hill School – and I surely need say no more.

How will you be able to resist it?

Thursday 19 January 2012

War, death, damnation and hanging guts!

I don’t get much opportunity to write short stories these days – time just doesn’t seem to allow it – so it’s always nice to be able to bring readers of this column a little bit of short story news. I was more than happy to be told this week that my festive horror story, THE CHRISTMAS TOYS, will gain its debut publication in the first SCREAMING BOOK OF HORROR (pictured left), due out next autumn from SCREAMING DREAMS PRESS.

This anthology will be the work of tireless editor Johnny Mains, who also happens to be an enthusiastic and skilled researcher in the dusty annals of this genre. I'm even prouder to be appearing in this book as, thanks to Johnny’s enviable ability to root out lost classics, I’ll be appearing alongside a previously unpublished tale by sci-fi legend John Brunner (1934 To 1995).

Here is the TOC for SCREAMING BOOK OF HORROR as it currently stands, though Johnny has advised me that it isn’t complete just yet.

One Of The Family – Bernard Taylor
Larva – John Brunner
Glory And Splendour – Alex Miles
What Shall We Do About Barker? – Reggie Oliver
Cut! – Anna Taborska
Old Grudge Ender – David A. Riley
The Christmas Toys – Paul Finch
The Quixote Candidate – Rhys Hughes
Helping Mummy – Kate Farrell
The Iron Cross – Craig Herby
The Baby Trap – Janine Wood
The Club – Sarah Brunsdon
Sometimes You Think You Are Alone – Alison Moore
The Tip Run – Johnny Mains

Back to the movie world now, and my fascination to learn that THE DEVIL’S ROCK, which will be the subject of a special feature in FANGORIA next month, was named by the TOP10LISTMOVIES website as being in the top ten war films of 2011.

I’m gratified of course, but I’m also surprised. Though set during World War Two, THE DEVIL’S ROCK is first and foremost an occult horror movie, with a strong emphasis on demonic fantasy. Possibly its realistic setting did it for the voters: the Channel Islands on the eve of D-Day, the grim bunker tunnels, the well documented Nazi quest to find and utilise unearthly weapons. Alternatively, perhaps it’s just a case that we don’t make too many straightforward war movies these days. Which is an even bigger mystery, if you ask me – because we make an awful lot of war.

On the subject of THE DEVIL’S ROCK, some rather nice new pix have come my way. The first one (right) ought to have you laughing, and maybe puking at the same time. It was taken on set during the actual shoot, and depicts make-up artist Dara Wakeley assessing Karlos Drinkwater on screen, oblivious to the dangling intestines all around her. But then it's a tough industry. You get hardened to that kind of thing.

This second shot has been inserted for more gratuitous reasons. I get an awful lot of hits on this blog from folk who are simply looking for images of Gina Varela, the ever-alluring star of the film. So here's another one, our lovely demoness accepting the accolades at the San Sebaastian International Film Festival in Spain.

Thursday 12 January 2012

The 'Black Wolf of the North' is unleashed

Here at last is the finished cover art for DARK NORTH, my next novel, which is due out from Abaddon Books in March this year.

As part of the Knights Of Albion series, DARK NORTH tells the tale of Sir Lucan, the infamous ‘Black Wolf of the North’, who held King Arthur’s northern frontier against the Celtic armies of Rheged and the Pictish hordes of Alba.

Forged in battle from his earliest days, Lucan was one of the most difficult characters for Arthur to manage at his Round Table, combining knightly beliefs and skills with a vengeful nature and innate ferocity, which made him almost unstoppable on the battlefield and a dominant warlord in the wintry wilds of northern Britain. Only the constant presence of good people – his older brother, Sir Bedivere, his idealistic squire, Alaric, King Arthur himself, and more important than any of these, his beautiful wife, Trelawna – kept Lucan on the chivalrous straight and narrow. In times of peace, he became as good a lord to his tenants and as loyal a subject to his king as anyone could ask for. But in times of war, a more sinister personality would emerge.

What then could Arthur’s court expect when a war to end all wars was suddenly declared on Camelot and its allies? When an army more colossal than any previously seen in Dark Age Europe was massed across the Channel, its intent to invade Britain and wipe out every last vestige of the Arthurian renaissance?

In Le Morte d’Arthur, Thomas Malory (1405-1471) writes tantalisingly about an attempt to reconquer Britain by the newly reinvigorated Roman Empire. Few real details are given, but he hints at prolonged and torturous campaigns, epic battles and astonishing death-tolls – he describes a war comparable with modern wars in terms of the numbers involved and the destruction wreaked. He talks of Albion (pre-Saxon England) as a nation-state suddenly battling for its very existence.

This is the backdrop to DARK NORTH. This is the theatre in which the Black Wolf of the North must finally come of age as a warrior and a man – because for Lucan there will be a war within this war.

Not long before Rome’s intentions are made clear, his beloved wife, finally seeking a better life than that she has known in Lucan’s rugged castle at Penharrow, absconds with a young Roman officer. Lucan thus answers his monarch’s call to arms with angry delight. For him, the coming battle, with all its resulting slaughter and devastation, will be very, very personal … but there are other forces at work here, not least the fearsome Malconi clan, to whom Trelawna has unwittingly attached herself: a ancient Roman dynasty with the power to raise demons!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Lake District terror duo honoured in 2012

Happy New Year to everyone. It seems a little while since I last posted a blog, but the usual festive frolics are always more time and energy consuming than we expect.

Anyway, what better way to start 2012 than with a bit of exciting news concerning two of our contributors to TERROR TALES OF THE LAKE DISTRICT, both of whom have had stories chosen for inclusion in Ellen Datlow’s BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR #4.

First up is Simon Bestwick (pictured left), whose actual Lake District tale, THE MORAINE, will make Ellen’s final cut, along with another story of his from last year, DERMOT, which appeared in BLACK STATIC #24.

Second up is Anna Taborska (pictured below), who wrote our grisly Lake District parable, NIGHT OF THE CRONE, though in her case the chosen story is actually the extremely savage and gruesome LITTLE PIG, which appeared in Charles Black’s excellent BLACK BOOK OF HORROR #8 last summer.

For those who haven’t read either of these collections of new and original horror fiction (and if not, why not, may I ask?), I’ll elaborate a little…

THE MORAINE tells the cautionary tale of a young couple whose relationship is failing, and yet who take an outward-bound holiday together on the Lake District fells. Inevitably, the fog comes down, but instead of trying to find a quick and sensible route to lower ground, our two hapless heroes are just too busy bickering. It isn’t long before they realise that they are lost, but then start to suspect that they aren’t as alone up there as they thought …

Despite the traditional feel, this is high concept horror from Simon, and well worthy of inclusion in any Year’s Best collection.

LITTLE PIG is far more visceral, because, let’s face it, it was written by Anna Taborska. For such a sweet girl, Anna is nothing if not a cruel blade when it comes to scary and horrible fiction. This story concerns a Polish family’s flight through a snow-bound forest as the Soviet armies sweep across their country, committing all kinds of atrocities en route. Naturally, murderous soldiers are not the only peril they face. This is Eastern Europe in the depths of winter, and all kind of unimaginable and voracious horrors lurk amid the mist and the icicles.

I’d already commissioned Anna to write for TERROR TALES OF THE LAKE DISTRICT before I’d read LITTLE PIG, but I read LITTLE PIG before she delivered her Lake District story, and I knew straight away that I’d made the right choice. Great to see that others – Ellen Datlow no less – agree.

So well done, you two … let’s hope these are the first of many successes in 2012.