Thursday, 30 April 2009

Film Ramble: The Whole Wide World

I recently finished reading Robert E. Howard's tales of Conan the Cimmerian, as part of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, which I'm steadily working my way through. I can't say I got to the end wanting more, or believing that Howard was a master writer, but they did convince me that he was a skilled and occasionally brilliant tale-teller who - had he lived longer - would have been truly great.

They also left me interested in Howard himself, a man of obvious flaws and much raw talent who died a terrible, premature and self-imposed death. He was an archetypal writer in many ways, a fiercely driven recluse who wrote with such speed and ferocity that he succeeded in making a living from short fiction whilst selling exclusively to the poor-paying pulp markets of the time.

The point of all this is that I just watched The Whole Wide World, a 1996 film adaptation of Novalyne Price Ellis's Howard biography One Who Walked Alone, starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Renée Zellweger, and was absolutely blown away by it. It's remarkably faithful to the facts of Howard's life, (as I understand them, anyway), but also a charming and thoughtful film in its own right. It gives a real insight into the pulp period too - Lovecraft gets mentioned a couple of times, and at least one copy of Weird Tales makes an appearance. Anyone with the faintest interest in Howard or the pulp hay day should take a look, I can't imagine them regretting it.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Murky Depths # 8

Issue # 8 of the UK's premier small-press horror magazine Murky Depths is out. It contains my story Peachy, a flash tale about a man and his cat caught up amidst wider horrors. As I mentioned when I first made the sale, this is the earliest of my stories to be accepted, the original draft dating from my pre-university days, when the idea of it ever seeing print would have probably seemed less plausible than the events it describes.

Anyway, I'm only going off the blurb on the website here, so I'll say no more until my contributor copy arrives.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Architect of Murder

I recently finished Rafe McGregor's first novel The Architect of Murder, and while the idea of reviewing something written by a friend and which I even had a small hand in editing is clearly ridiculous, I'm going to have a go anyway. I tried hard to read and enjoy it purely on its own merits, and as it turned out that was easy to do.

Because I'm lazy, here's the plot summary from the sleeve:

Major Alec Marshall VC, newly back in London, is enlisted to make inquiries into the will of the late Cecil John Rhodes, the wealthiest man in the British Empire. That same night one of the witnesses to the will, Eric Lowenstein, is found beaten to death in a seedy boarding house, where he was lodging under a false name. As London prepares for King Edward VII's coronation, Marshall discovers that Lowenstein harboured a deadly secret concerning not only the vast fortune Rhodes amassed, but the very future of the Empire. Marshall's investigation takes him into the dark heart of a flawed genius, and sets him on a personal journey that will change his life forever.

What's most striking about Architect, as first novels go, is its ambition. What starts as a straighforward-seeming murder mystery spirals off into a political thriller that takes in a huge cast of characters and grand and complex events, many of each culled from the history of the time. That complexity is there on just about every level. My absolute favourite thing about Architect is the way Rafe handles Marshall's post-war trauma; it's a sub-current so subtle it's easy to miss, and yet once you notice it, it colours every moment. Indeed, Marshall is a delightful character full-stop, all surface calm and damaged interior, a fish out of water grown sick of war but still more than capable of bloodshed.

Its complexity is both Architect's great triumph and - on occasions - it's one real weakness. There's a point around the half way mark where I suspect most readers will get a little lost amidst a barrage of character names, conspiracies and misdirection. For about a chapter it looks as if it all might spin out of control. Instead, Rafe shifts gears, and what was threatening to become a worthy tale of Victorian realpolitik turns into a cracking thriller, complete with a couple of tremendous action sequences. Perhaps the change of direction will befuddle some, but me, I loved it, and found it both natural and in keeping with its pent-up hero.

Although John Buchan is perhaps the obvious point of reference, Architect - with its genteel surface, abrupt and shocking violence, and conflicted gentleman hero - reminded me most of the work of Geoffrey Rogue Male Household. Coming from me, a huge Household fan, that's a heck of a compliment, but one that's well deserved. Architect exceeded all my expections, and I can't imagine anyone not taking something away from it.

The same can't be said for Rafe's recently podcast short story Blue Mail, here at CrimeWAV; it's a personal favourite - brutal, nasty and black as all hell - but I guess there are people who might not consider those things virtues. If you're over 18 and not afraid to hear about very bad people doing very bad things to each other then go give it a listen, you won't regret it.

One website, slightly less awful...

As noted a couple of posts ago, I've never been entirely happy with my website ... so it's with a glad heart that I announce the unveiling of version 2, which, as the title suggests, is substantially less of a mess than version 1 was. I've gone for a cleaner, less cluttered design, and I'm pretty happy with the results.

Of course, in a couple of days I'll probably hate it again.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Living Dead review

I've been totally remiss in not posting Living Dead reviews here - there have been absolutely loads, and more than one have picked out Stockholm Syndrome for (generally positive) mention.

This review, however, is more thorough than most - and also names SS as a favourite. Largely on the back of the amount of gore, in fairness, but that's as good a reason as any to dig a zombie story, right?

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Five Star Goodness

I just came back from a weekend in suprisingly sunny Cambridge to much news, both good and bad.

Let's get the bad out of the way first ... it came in the form of a couple of rejections (one, interestingly, accusing me of plagiarism) and the news that The Willows magazine is now officially defunct. I guess that in epitaph I can admit I had mixed feelings about The Willows; still, it was a unique home for Weird Tale pastiche, it published more of my work than any other market, and on the whole I was pretty fond of it. Perhaps more to the point, from a selfish angle, my turn-of-last-century ghost story The Burning Room is now without a home. One of my deep dreads since I started writing to publish was that a market would accept my work and then die a death; now it's happened.

Hey ho.

(If anyone wants to pay me money for a cracking little ghost story then, hey, leave a comment.)

Right! Good news!

Rafe McGregor saw fit to answer my answer my recent challenge to write a twitter [140 character] story; not only that, but I've read the results, and they're marvelous; not only that, but twitterzine Nanoism have accepted it for imminent publication.

Buoyed by this success, I'm extending my challenge to the entire population of the Earth - or at least those that stumble on this blog. I have an ulterior motive here, I have to admit; my groovy map thingie tells me people are passing by, but no-one's commenting. I know that by its very nature this blog is about writing in a vacuum*, but come on! So, to anyone who reads this, comment with a story of less than 140 characters - if you dare! Or, better still, write it and get it published. Brevity is the soul of wit, right? So, hey, maybe it's the soul of great fiction too.

Lastly and bestly ... a while back Jake Freivald published my story Strive to be Happy in his reliably wonderful webzine Flash Fiction Online. Before, during and since, Jake's been immensely supportive of what's unarguably a difficult little story, but this is something else.  It's a touch baffling and immensely touching to see something I wrote get praised to such a degree.  Thanks, not for the first time, to Jake, and to David Erlewine for such a thoughtful review.

Really lastly, I stumbled across this quote from Robert Holdstock, of Mythago Wood fame, in the British Fantasy Society's magazine Dark Horizons, a response to the question of whether the short fiction market is shrinking, and was touched by the sheer damn truth of it:

"Writers are not in free fall. They float above the clouds and hope, as always, to be a part of the rain where the rain is welcomed."

* Okay, technically speaking the moon has an atmosphere, albeit a pretty thin one. But none of us are going to be taking the wife and kids for a picnic there any time soon, so I'll let that one stand.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Space and Time in hand

My contributor copies of Space and Time # 107 arrived this morning, and my but it's a beautifully put-together magazine. One of my biggest gripes with the genre publishing industry is that art has become a poor second to story; many editors have given up on it altogether, and many of those that haven't pay it far less than the attention it deserves. Not so S & T. I've already commented on Steven Gilberts's gorgeously lurid cover; thankfully the interior art more than keeps up. My thanks and huge respect go out to Martin Hanford, whose superb illustration accompanies my In the Service of the Guns.

I'm sure I've said this before, but getting a story illustrated is just about my favourite part of being a writer. To see something you've imagined through someone else's eyes, in a different medium no less, is a weird and wonderful experience. Before I settled on writing I wanted to be an artist (and still have vague plans of taking up drawing again) and I have huge respect for anyone who can draw well. I've learned to appreciate that there's far more involved than mere technical skill - a good genre illustrator needs just as much story-telling ability as the writers he illustrates.

So thanks again to Martin, and to the Space and Time crew for putting together something I'll be proud to wave in the faces of frightened strangers.

Friday, 10 April 2009


First up, my first published twitter tale is the inaugural story at twitterzine nanoism.

I'm developing a strange fondness for supershort fiction that I can't quite explain. I was recently reminded of Hemingway's wonderful six-worder:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

If you like that there's more here - including miniature masterpieces from writers like Alan Moore, Bruce Sterling, Stephen Baxter and Neil Gaiman - at Wired. I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone could write well given enough time and enough words. Whatever the merits of my own word-limited efforts, I think it's good practise sometimes to put these (perhaps slightly absurd) constraints on yourself. I recently hacked a nearly 2000-word story down to under 1000 and found it a sobering but rewarding experience.

I have challenged Rafe McGregor to write a twitter story. He hasn't responded yet. Perhaps a more public challenge will draw him out...?

Finally, I've put a little time into sorting this blog out, and hopefully all the links are now working. It's still looking a little sparse, what with lack of visitors and such, but hopefully time will smooth out those rough edges. Either way, this post has taken me all of about five minutes, compared with the hour or so it would have the old way, so I think the experiment has been validated.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

From Frustrating Website to Frustrating Blog...

Today is the dawn of a new era - and like all dawns of new eras, it's been aggravating, distressing and generally disastrous.

On the advice of my pal Rafe McGregor, I've transferred the "news" part of my website here to Blogger. That's why all the previous posts have a timestamp of 12:00. I don't have a compulsion to post at noon or anything, it just seemed easier than trying to remember what time I added news articles a year and a half ago. Anyway, the whole decision was motivated partly by the fact that I've never been very happy with my website and because it's always been an absolute nightmare to post information there.

Thus, I've spent three hours today transferring information from website to blog. It's been mostly successful, except that for some reason Blogger has decided to randomly remove the hyperlinks I spent so long putting in. Rest assured, I'll fix this and all the other faults I've no doubt introduced into my carefully ordered web presence over the next month, and I'm sure in the long term it will all be for the best. Certainly I hope to comment a lot more, and perhaps do more than just pimp my sales and publications (although that will still be the main purpose!).