Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Saturday 26 April 2014

Proofs approved for Dying Embers

Well, it's nearly here. Yesterday I looked over the final proofs for my first short story collection, Dying Embers. The publishers, Satalyte Publishing, have approved them and they've gone off to the printers. The ePub version is up at Smashwords, available for pre-order, and the other formats will be from Amazon on Monday April 28.

The cover has been tweaked, and the blurb added for the rear of the jacket. Here is a screenshot of the cover for the paperback;

Here are a couple of screenshots from the interior;

It's been a long time arriving, but the process has been fascinating. It really never occurred to me when I started to write a few short stories, adapted from my memoirs, that anyone other than family members would read them. Then, with the encouragement from some of those same family members, and also from one or two authors very generous with their time, I managed to get a few of them included in anthologies. From there, I planned to self-publish; but Stephen Ormsby from Satalyte Publishing thought my stories would fit well in his stable, so everything changed again. Last November, I started to work with Stephen to polish and finalise my tales, to great effect. I'm also very pleased with the layout and the way the book flows. I can't wait for people to be able to read the thing!

Thanks are due to James Everington both for his encouragement and for very generously writing a foreword for the book, and also to Paul Hodge for all his support. Also, thanks to Maria Savva for her friendship and advice, and Dionne Lister for our supportive chats! It's been great to get to know other authors, even if it has so far been mainly over the internet.

I will post links for purchase on Monday, and update my website too.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Review: The Master of the House, by John Gaskin

John Gaskin's latest collection of short stories, The Master of the House, carries on in the same rich vein as his last, The Long Retreating Day; that is, in the style of the classic English ghost story. Here crouch 12 superb tales of the unknown and the numinous, each one as finely crafted as could be wished, ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting reader's imagination.

The Memento Mori outlines the unlikeable Dr Joseph Borman's quest for both notoriety and profit. His acquisition (for a reduced price) of said object brings with it rather more than he had expected, including a somewhat unpleasant smell. Could it be a threat to him from a previous age? What connection is there to a seemingly innocuous traffic accident? In Wolvershiel, the reader is whisked off to a barren northern landscape, where the protagonist stumbles upon an impossible house, which seems to act as some kind of portal into the darkness of sins from the past. A foggy, freezing winter at an Oxford railway station is the setting for Addendum to a Confession, involving a murder, a subsequent unreliable confession, and ultimately, psychiatry... but is the narrator entirely trustworthy? In Wings, Craig Morgan finds out the hard way that long-undisturbed flying creatures should be left well alone, when felling an ancient tree. The warnings from Ch̩, the exotic au pair, go unheeded Рand Craig finds himself strangely usurped. Party Talk is the tale of an unsettling conversation at a lunchtime buffet between the protagonist, a writer of "tales of the uncanny", and a ghostly old woman. Part of Gaskin's talent as a writer is in knowing what to leave out; and this story expertly weaves its way into the reader's consciousness by the subtle use of those dark spaces between things.

The Double Crossing is perhaps the standout story for me, being a wonderfully dense tale of jealousy and duplicity in and around Oxford university life. It unfolds gradually, like a cross between two of Aickman's creations, Residents Only and The Waiting Room. Gaskin's work often features what could be termed an anti-hero, and in this case the reader is spoilt for choice. The Revd Dr Jonathan Blackstone fits the bill here; as does the Bursar, Stuart Budden, and so too the Chaplain. So when the matters of appointment and the details of the College pension are to be discussed, the machinations of the establishment, and disrupted train travel arrangements, come into play. The resulting misunderstandings, and an uncanny vision on a station platform, combine to showcase this writer's superb ability to both intrigue and chill.

Almost but not quite a conventional haunted house story, The Master of the House takes place in suburban London, and concerns itself with the purchase of a house, the remainder of a semi-detached pair (the adjoining semi missing as it was part of a bomb site). This tale's protagonist helps his sister, Amelia, with its purchase and renovation, and they both become alarmed at the strange sounds from certain parts of the building. The unconventional part of this tale involves its resolution, involving a letter from the time of the ancient Greeks and its connection with modern times. The New Inn Hall Inheritance is another tale from the dreaming spires of Oxford; Gaskin writes with assurance in these surroundings, creating an expert and enjoyable Jamesian feel. The collection concludes with Where Shadows Lead, which ventures out onto a wild moor at the twilight of a winter's day. David's Land Rover lets him down on his way home, and he badly misjudges his walk back across the boggy landscape to effect a short cut. Darkness soon falls, and with it comes mist and freezing temperatures. Becoming lost, he realises he is unlikely to last the night. Gaskin's descriptive writing here chills the soul, and provides the perfect climax to this evocative and satisfying book.

The Long Retreating Day was one of my reads of last year, and sure enough, The Master of the House has been one of my reads of 2014 so far. The prose is superb, the chills genuine, the occasional dry humour is perfectly judged, and the stories are complex and atmospheric. Another winner from Tartarus Press, not to be missed by everyone who loves the ghostly and the strange.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Review: Far Away in Time by Maria Savva

Maria Savva has released a new collection of short stories, Far Away in Time. I have enjoyed her previous collections, Love and Loyalty, and more recently, 3. Some of the tales in Far Away in Time are of a somewhat darker nature, which appeals to me; the opener, The Ghost of Christmas Past, paves the way. Roland recalls a tragedy which occurred at that special time of year, and of how the subsequent guilt has changed his life. This bleak but thought-provoking story is followed by Far Away in Time Parts 1 and 2, wherein the reader meets Mr Silverfrost, 'the old man with the very white hair and the strange squint'. Memories blur the present; is he really who Angie remembers? Why has Carrie got no recollection of him? What is the liquid in the phial that seems to have such magical properties? When she inadvertently prevents a crime, Angie finds herself a helpless passenger in a confusing cycle of events. I wonder if there might be a Part 3 in Maria's next collection... Echoes of her Dreams is the poignant tale of Charlene, a selfless mother who puts her own life on hold in order to help others. She dreams of experiencing more of the big wide world, but finds her true calling is closer to home. Can the dead contact the living from beyond the grave? In A Sign, this longstanding riddle is pondered in a sensitive way. Grace makes a discovery in her new house, which unlocks events from the past, setting a series of events in motion which lead ultimately to some kind of redemption. Following on, Tragedy of Love is powerfully concise. Philip delays making his move with Selene, with tragic consequences; this tale makes the reader feel there's no time like the present. The Beach is next, and would not be out of place in an anthology of strange tales. Mike and Toyah have enjoyed a holiday by the sea. Afterwards, Mike has a vivid nightmare which comes back to haunt him from from an unexpected source. Savva's description of panic in the surf is hard-hitting, conjuring a strong image which will stay with me for some time. Finally, Betrayal tells the story of a complex set of circumstances combining to make Desiree realise the truth behind her family's relationship. Does she know the real reason behind her father and stepmother's change of heart towards her? Or will it be too late for any kind of resolution? These are intelligent, well-written stories about real people confronting real issues, confronting the past and looking to the future; and, as ever, I look forward very much to Maria Savva's next collection.
Far Away in Time, Maria Savva's latest
collection of short stories

Thursday 10 April 2014

Dying Embers; full details

April 28 is the big day!

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I have reinstated the countdown timer on my website. This can only mean one thing; the publication date for my first collection of short stories, Dying Embers, is rapidly approaching. If this gives you a sense of deja-vu, well that's because I was about to self-publish the book back in October of last year, but then Satalyte Publishing stepped in at the last minute with an offer to do so themselves. Since then, I've been working with the great Stephen Ormsby to fine-tune the stories to a degree I could not have managed on my own. I'm very grateful for the time and trouble the good people at Satalyte have taken to get the very best result.

Dying Embers will consist of 10 strange adventures and an insightful foreword by James Everington (his first, I believe, so I'm greatly honoured). Here are some details of the stories;

The Next Terrace
The past collides with the present, and childhood bonds are stretched to the limit in a tale inspired by Dante's Inferno.

Playing Tag
An historic building holds the key to a terrible secret from Letherby's youth. Why is he drawn so powerfully to the mysterious Pavilion?

Unit 6
The alien landscape of a network of warehouses provides the background to a remarkable transformation. Or does it?

The Source of the Lea
Pocock witnesses something on the river bank which changes the course of his life... Did it really lead to him discovering the true source of the River Lea?

Necessary Procedure 
An ill-fated property search leads firstly to admission, then a strange form of retribution; and, ultimately, a terrifying reunion.

Abraham's Bosom
Australia's rugged coastline gives up its past, forcing Merewether to confront his own dark memories.

In Transit
A passenger on an international flight finds out that he is not master of his own destiny. Finding out who is, though, is quite another matter.

Building Bridges
Brentwood realises just how much he has neglected his family; will he live to regret it?

La Tarasque
A castle in the south of France reveals its history to Suzanne in the most unexpected of ways. How can she distinguish the past from the present?

Rural Australia proves less welcoming than Preston had hoped, forcing him to confront the guilt from his past.

I have written a brief afterword with some vague explanation of my influences to finish it all off.
It will be paperback and Kindle from the beginning.

I must ask you to excuse some self-promotion over the next few weeks; I've never had a collection of short stories published before, and I feel a certain urge to let people know about it!

Saturday 5 April 2014

Review: Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types by Johnny Mains

I admit it; I'm a product of the Pan Book of Horror Stories collections. I remember seeing Volume 7 on the window sill in our dining room when I was nine years old. No doubt my parents weren't banking on me reading it. However, once I had, I was hooked, and the tales have stayed with me ever since. Dulcie by Hugh Reid really caught my imagination, and Never Talk to Strangers  by the mysterious Alex White gave me nightmares. I don't still have the book, in fact I haven't seen a copy for 35 years, but it's still crystal-clear in my mind.


I was reminded of this golden age while reading this excellent collection of 12 stories, Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types, by Johnny Mains. There's an exuberance about the stories here, fresh ideas given a chance to shine through unfettered, easy prose. Aldeburgh kicks off proceedings, and gripped me right from the start. It can be described as a sequel to A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James; and a worthy one at that. The tale comes to life through expertly crafted atmosphere and characterisation, propelling it along almost breathlessly to a suitably dramatic conclusion. Cure shocked me with its simplicity, making me wonder why I had never thought of that particular idea before. The Tip Run suggests a shocking end to one of life's most innocent pleasures, and adds a new dimension to the term 'finders keepers'. The intriguing Head Soup introduces us to Peter Van Basel, famously elusive horror writer. Matthew Jolks manages to track him down, determined to interview him for his fanzine, Sliced. The outcome of their meeting is surely not what he would have expected, however, as the true source of his horror is revealed. Dead Forest Air tackles an historically horrific subject deftly and with a modern twist. In The Rookery, Roger, a gamekeeper with a broken marriage, teaches his son how to shoot, and desperately wants the boy to live with him. He gives Sean a promise that is kept only by way of appalling tragedy. Perhaps my favourite story here is I Wish, which is a modern-day version of The Monkey's Paw, another classic tale from the Pan books. It brings the tale bang up to date, with EastEnders, 'Modern Warfare on the PS3' and troops fighting in Afghanistan; and it translates well. Mains uses the vernacular very effectively here in setting the atmosphere.

There's a lightness of touch about these tales that is most appealing. They are absorbing and easy to read, carrying off their proud links to the past with a flourish, yet are very much part of the present day. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, reading it in two sittings, and I look forward to more by this author. If you enjoy traditional horror stories as much as I do, I'm sure Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types will strike a similarly favourable chord with you too!