Mark Lumby chats about his new charity book, DARK PLACES EVIL FACES.

Dark Places Evil Places was originally going to be a collection of my own stories. It was a project to make money for myself. But around the time the idea came into my head, my wives friend got the big ‘C’. My wife had taken 6 months out of our lives from myself and our children to care for her and help her through chemo. She was doing so much and I was doing nothing. So I decided to make DPEF into a charity book, and Macmillian was close to my heart as they had cared for others who had lived and died within my family. True, it could have been any cancer charity; they’re all worthy; they all do great things. But, to me, Macmillian was the obvious choice.

But it would be tough to do it all myself in the time scales I had wanted to achieve. So, I put an open call out for submissions on social media and through my own blog site. The response I received was overwhelming. I also knew specifically the authors that I wanted in the book, the big names. ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ is my philosophy. So, I asked and they contributed.

I also had author friends on social media whom I had heard great things about, so I approached them also. The result was, to me, a fantastic, yet strange combination of writers. At that time, the book was only going to be digital, although I did have my sights on something more. It was all about raising as much money as I possibly could and I felt that the profits from an ebook wouldn’t be enough. That was until I asked PS Publishing, and they helped me to put all this together, to create both a book and ebook. They have been extremely generous and I couldn’t have wished for anything better.

How I chose the authors? My choices were not based on collecting the same type of storytelling; I wanted to mix things up and show totally different styles. I didn’t want a theme—personally I don’t like theme based collections. I didn’t want to read one ghost story and then another. That’s why, when reading this anthology, you will find that not one story is relevant to another.

I had the authors; I had a publisher. I didn’t have great artwork. This is when I contacted Tomilav Tikulin. He had been involved in creating many amazing Stephen King covers. This was the type of imagery I wanted for Dark Places. I asked him if he could come up with something for me. He agreed to be involved and gave free range of a selection of artwork I could choose from. It didn’t take long to realise which one!

The title choice was an instant one. Because this was a collection of horror stories, Dark Places, Evil Faces seemed fitting, although some might argue that the title is a bit cliche.

Then, in January 2017, my determination to compile this anthology took on an extra lease of life. My mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was stage 4 and had reached her liver and bowel. Now, this book was all about her. It had become extremely personal and I wanted to strike cancer where it hurt.

As much as this anthology is about my mum, it’s about everyone else, too. It’s for their brothers and sisters, mum and dad’s, and friends. It’s about my sister who also got Cancer this year. And I’m sure that the authors involved in this anthology have been hit by the trauma it causes, whether it being themselves or watching someone else go through the pain and grief.

Now available for pre-order.

SHE SLEEPS by R.B. Russell

Sneak Peek Extract:

As I ran headlong into the wood there was another gunshot and a blow to my shoulder that spun me around. It was as though a bolt of lightning had hit me and the pain was unbelievable. Splinters of wood flew all about my head. I should have been thrown to the ground but the brunt of the discharge had been taken by a tree. The blast had forced the breath out of me, disorientated me, but somehow I stayed on my feet. My legs were insisting that I continue to run.

When the next shot came, twigs and leaves rushed past along with stray pellets, but this time my pursuer had missed his target. The gun­man would have to stop and reload, and I had the advantage of my momentum-even if I didn’t know in which direction I was now head­ing. As long as I was running away, nothing else mattered.

I tore madly between the trees, over fallen trunks and through brambles. I dashed down the bank of a stream that had cut a deep path through the sandy soil. When I reached the bottom I splashed along the course of the water for several yards before running up the opposite bank.

At that moment my heart was singing with my love for the trees. They had given me cover and had allowed me to escape. The sun was slanting through the branches like one of the blurred photographs on the sleeve of the album that had given me so much trouble.

And then I tripped and hit the ground hard, landing on my wounded shoulder.

Again the lightning…

I knew that I had been out cold for only a few seconds, during which time my unconscious mind had been going through my old archive, looking at the photographs and letters, leaflets and diaries. I could still smell the dust and the mustiness of old paper…. But then I realised that my face was in the dirt and decomposing leaves of the woodland floor. I knew exactly where I was, and the danger I was still in.

‘Please don’t let these be my last thoughts!’ I pleaded, and forced myself up on to my feet. My shoulder gave me more pain than I imagined I could ever stand. My right arm was heavy and would not move. Blood was running down the inside of my sleeve, over my useless hand, and was pouring from my fingers.

I didn’t know if I could hear my pursuer or not, but I started to run again….

Now available for pre-order.

BORN TO THE DARK by Ramsey Campbell

Sneak Peek Extract:

Stop Press, 11 April 1955

Eric Wharton, the popular newspaper columnist, was today drowned in a fall from New Brighton ferry.

From an editorial, 13 April 1955

So Eric Wharton has gone on his way; on the way we must all one day follow. He will leave a gap in many lives. Popular alike with his colleagues and his many readers, he was a true man of the people who told the truth as he saw it without fear or favour. Liverpool- born, he travelled the world but always stayed true to his roots. He was admired by most, and even those he criticised in his column respected him. He once famously wrote that if he were a stick of seaside rock, the word he would want to be printed all the way through him would be Honesty. He need not have feared, and surely now that quality has earned him his place in Heaven.

NEWSPAPERMAN’S LAST WORDS DISPUTED.
JOURNALIST “DISTRACTED” BEFORE DEATH.

The Liverpool coroner today recorded a verdict of accidental death in the case of newspaper columnist Eric Wharton.

On the afternoon of the 11th of April, Mr. Wharton fell overboard from the Royal Iris ferry. Crewmen were alerted by members of the public, but were unable to rescue Mr. Wharton. His body was subsequently recovered by the Liverpool coastguard.

In court, colleagues of the journalist described how he had seemed “preoccupied” or “distracted” in the weeks preceding the accident, to the extent that he became unable to write his popular newspaper column. An unfinished draft was found in his typewriter, complaining of his inability to think and ending with the apparently random words “looking over my shoulder.”

Passengers on the ferry, on which Mr. Wharton regularly used to travel to his home in New Brighton, observed that he gave the impression of “looking or listening” for someone on board. Several passengers reported that he appeared to be trying to brush ash or some other substance from his clothes, though he had apparently not been smoking. His preoccupation may have left him unaware that he was dangerously close to the rail, where his actions caused him to lose his balance. While a number of witnesses agreed that he uttered a cry as he fell, there was dispute as to whether the word was “leave” or “believe.”

Mr. Wharton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Kitty Malone, was overcome by emotion several times while giving an account of her employer’s mental condition. She described how Mr. Wharton became critical of her tidiness, which he had previously praised in his column, and would straighten the bed she had made “as if he thought I’d left some nasty thing in it.” She further testified that Mr. Wharton seemed to grow determined to embrace his faith in his final days, frequently repeating the word “Christian” to himself.

The coroner concluded that while the balance of Mr. Wharton’s mind may have been to some extent disturbed, there was no evidence of intent for suicide, and insufficient reason for a verdict of death by misadventure.

Eric Wharton was born in Liverpool in 1904. He attended St. Edward’s College and subsequently went up to Oxford. In the Second World War he was awarded the DSO…

Available for pre-order

Darker Companions by edited by Scott David Aniolowski & Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Welcome to DARKER COMPANIONS, a celebration of Ramsey Campbell.

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ramsey Campbell’s first fiction collection, THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE AND LESS WELCOME TENANTS. The Arkham House book, published in 1964 when he was just 18, was actually his second appearance at Arkham House, the first being in 1962’s August Derleth-edited anthology DARK MIND, DARK HEART, his first professional sale as an author. To commemorate the impressive event, I thought it only fitting to assemble an anthology of stories in tribute to Ramsey, written by some of his many fans and friends currently working in the field of the weird.

Here’s the line-up in all of of its perverse pleasure:

  • Introduction: Hymns from the Church in High Street by Scott David Aniolowski 
  • Holoow by Michael Wehunt 
  • The Long Fade into Evening by Steve Rasnic Tem 
  • Asking Price by S.P. Miskowski 
  • Author! Author?  by John Llewellyn Probert 
  • Meriwether by Michael Griffin 
  • The Entertainment Arrives by Alison Littlewood 
  • Premeditation by Marc Laidlaw 
  • A Perfect Replica by Damien Angelica Walters 
  • There, There by Gary McMahon 
  • We Pass from View by Matthew M. Bartlett 
  • Meeting the Master by Gary Fry 
  • Saints in Gold by Kristi DeMeester 
  • This Last Night in Sodom by Cody Goodfellow 
  • The Whither by Kaaron Warren 
  • Uncanny Valley by Jeffrey Thomas 
  • The Dublin Horror by Lynda E. Rucker 
  • The Sixth Floor by Thana Niveau 
  • The Carcass of the Lion by Christopher Slatsky 
  • The Granfalloon by Orrin Grey 
  • Little Black Lamb by Adam L G Nevill

Available for pre-order.

Treasure Trove of Tales: EXTRASOLAR Line-Up

And then there are the Earth-type planets circling red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri, much discussed recently.

With such extraordinary new astronomical knowledge in mind, I asked contributors toExtrasolar to write stories exploring super-Earths and superjovians and hot Neptunes. I also suggested that they could look at how SF itself is being altered by the tantalising filling in of so many gaps in the cosmic map. This is the treasure trove of tales that resulted:

  • Holdfast – Alastair Reynolds
  • Shadows of Eternity – Gregory Benford
  • A Game of Three Generals – Aliette de Bodard
  • The Bartered Planet – Paul Di Filippo
  • Come Home – Terry Dowling
  • The Residue of Fire – Robert Reed
  • Thunderstone – Matthew Hughes
  • Journey to the Anomaly – Ian Watson
  • Canoe — Nancy Kress
  • The Planet Woman By M.V. Crawford – Lavie Tidhar
  • Arcturean Nocturne – Jack McDevitt
  • Life Signs – Paul McAuley
  • The Fall of the House of Kepler – Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse – Kathleen Ann Goonan

Available for pre-order.

Chapter 1 MONSTER TOWN

Sneak Peek Extract:

MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden

 

THE BLOOD OF HIS BLOOD

It was a hard wet rain that beat an ominously staccato rhythm on the roof of my Packard as I drove to the outskirts of the city.  Thunder rumbled overhead like a bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof, and the ferocious whipcracks of lightning sounded as if they were tearing great rents in time and space.

The rain didn’t bother me. Neither did the thunder.  I was sober . . . more or less.  What nagged me was the unknown. Not the unknown that I knew about.  I could deal with that.  It was the obscure unknown, the one that always popped its ugly mug out of a dark shadow with a cackling laugh, that worried me.  Call it a personality quirk, but I could never be completely relaxed if there was a mystery to be solved–even if I knew the answer would presently reveal itself.

What puzzled me this particular evening was what the wealthiest man in town wanted with me. Usually I just took pictures of cheating spouses, or an occasional insurance scammer pretending to be laid-up, but actually water skiing off Catalina. But three hours ago I’d gotten a call from some secretary saying her boss, one Vladimir Prince, would like to speak with me about contracting my services. What the job was she wouldn’t say, asking only that I arrive precisely at seven. I almost said no thanks, as I’d planned on being deep inside a bottle by seven.  Normally I never let my work interfere with my drinking, but the rent was due.

You may or may not know that Vladimir Prince was the owner of several wineries and a couple breweries, along with enough other businesses and real estate holdings to choke a platoon of accountants. However, unless you keep up with the trades, you probably don’t know that Prince feathered his initial nest egg working in the movie business. He was known back then as “Dracula” or “Count Dracula” or “the Dark Prince,” depending on the script. Unlike most horror movie stars, he’d invested wisely.  Which is why he lived out on the very edge of Monster Town, away from the urban blight and general riff raff that infested the main streets.

Of course Monster Town isn’t the way most people picture it. Yes, it had its roots in a time when movie monsters were ostracized by their Hollywood brethren. Instead of fighting to fit in, they let themselves be ghettoized just south of Beverly Hills, into a post-war industrialized area whose industries had gone belly-up.  And it wasn’t just famous freaks of the silver screen that lived there. It was also home to hundreds, hell, thousands of wannabes.  It wasn’t unlike Hollywood in that sense–where every waitress is a star-in-waiting, and every valet has a screenplay he wants you to read.

Yes, Monster Town, for the most part, is populated with the hopeful, the star-struck, the dregs of the Earth who weren’t quite monstrous enough.  Its avenues are peppered with the gimps, the geeks, the freaks who never got their shot at fame and fortune.  Of course some of the more well-known monsters reside there too, though few of them were as smart or successful as Prince.  What they have are their memories, their posters, their faded fame . . . but little fortune.

Casting directors still, on occasion, trolled the streets for a small part here or there, but Tinseltown just wasn’t making monster flicks like they used to.  So, when the celluloid gravy train dried up, monsters had to make a living like anyone.  Now they were fry cooks and teachers and dog catchers and shopkeepers.  Some were hoodlums, others thieves, and a few were even killers.  In other words, Monster Town was really like any other city.

Before I could get to the suburb I was headed for, I had to pass through the ghost town that had been the old factory district.  Most of the companies there had gone out of business years ago, but I saw a few that still showed signs of life.  Whether they were actually making things, or just tearing them down, I had no idea.  I passed the old pump station, and was surprised to see it still pumping away, despite its rusty exterior, diverting water from the L.A. County Waterworks’ main line to Monster Town.  I guess something had to keep the toilets flushing.

Even though I lived in Monster Town, I wasn’t in show business–never had been.  I ended up there by happenstance.  Not really an interesting story.  Now I was just looking for a job to pay my bills and keep me in hooch.  Though I never imagined a job would take me this far from the grime and crime.

Even when I was flush with cash I didn’t get out of town much.  I certainly was never invited to any parties in the ritzy suburban neighborhood I was driving through now.  I belonged here like broccoli belongs on a chocolate sundae.  But the trees and green grass were a nice change from the littered asphalt and cracked and peeling paint I could see from my own digs.

The truth is, it was almost a dreamscape.  Each house I drove past seemed bigger and more ostentatious than the last.  When I finally reached Prince’s place, it was, without a doubt, the biggest one yet.  You couldn’t even call it a house.  It was a full-blown mansion . . . a pearly white summer palace standing iridescent in the rain.

I gave my name at the gate and was granted entry.  The rain slowed to a damp drizzle and the sky cleared just enough to reveal the setting sun.  I didn’t know if it was the still-lingering clouds or the fact I needed another drink, but it felt like an uncertain gloom had settled over the lush countryside.  The only thing I was certain of at that moment, was that I needed new windshield wiper blades.

I pulled into the estate, saw its grounds manicured as carefully as a duchess in waiting.  Guards patrolled the extended property with sentry dogs.  I shuddered just a little.  I didn’t like dogs–not guard dogs, not poodles, not friendly little mutts. I wasn’t afraid of them. I just didn’t like them.  Fortunately there were none close to the house where I was told to park.

I pulled up and got out of the Packard.  I put on my hat and adjusted my trench coat.  Maybe it was just the extravagance of the setting, or the idea I’d be sitting down with the richest man in town, but I noticed the old fedora was getting a bit threadbare.  That made me think about my coat, and the stain on it from that night I couldn’t remember.  Well, he wasn’t hiring me for fashion advice . . . if he really was hiring me.

Prince’s stately manor reeked of intrigue and danger, with its stately columns and interlacing arches rising up like some old southern slave plantation.  I stared up at it and could almost hear a mysterious, forlorn trumpet wailing in the background, backed by a handful of inscrutable violins.

Out front here was actually an open tent designed just for car.  It wasn’t just any vehicle, but a Rolls Royce.  A manservant was busy polishing it, and I noticed the usual female “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament had been replaced with a sterling bat, it’s wings outstretched in an imitation of flight.  It was weird, but definitely appropriate.

Four guys in expensive suits came walking out of the huge double doors before I reached the stairs leading up to the manor’s entrance.  They weren’t monsters and I’d never seen them before. They got into a limo that was waiting for them and drove off.  I trudged up the stairs, breathing harder with each step and thinking a little exercise now and then wouldn’t kill me.  It didn’t help that the rain always made my old wound ache.

Catching my breath I rang the bell.  Faintly I heard something from inside sounding like the summoning of the monks.  It was only seconds before the doors opened.  Standing there was this guy dressed like a cross between an opera singer and a 17th Century general. I recognized him right away from his movie days, when he played Renfield, Dracula’s servant in all those old films.  Apparently some actors couldn’t shake their erstwhile roles.

He stood there for a moment, staring at me with disdain, before saying, “Mr. Slade, I presume.”

“That’s right.  I’m here to see Mr. Prince.”

His bug eyes reminded me of Peter Lorre.  Using them to full advantage, he gave me another look like he might have to disinfect place if he let me in.  Resigned to it, he stepped aside so I could enter.  I caught of whiff of gun oil as I passed him.  He had it hidden well under that costume of his, but I figured he was packing.

“May I take your hat and coat?” he asked in a manner that told me he didn’t really want to touch them.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll keep them.”

It was a grand entryway, wide open and almost high enough for King Kong to stand without slouching. A huge staircase dominated the space, its lacquered railings leading up and around to where they finally vanished from view. The decor was all ivory and chrome–not at all what I expected from the Prince of Darkness.

Renfield directed me to the library, which, with its hundreds of books, looked like any other millionaire’s library–I presumed, having never really been in one. I wondered how many of the books Prince had actually read. My first thought was, probably not many–though if the rumors about his age were true, he just might have had the time to read them all.

“Wait here,” instructed Renfield. “The master will be with you shortly.”

I looked the place over. It was cluttered with wood carvings, little stone statues, and other eccentric doodads. There was a large fireplace with an ebony gargoyle perched on either end of the mantel, a finely crafted antique work desk, and some overstuffed chairs. But what dominated the room was above the mantel. It was a life-sized portrait of Prince himself. From what I remembered, it was a perfect likeness. It featured his aristocratic nose, his close-set black eyes, and that famous stare of his that would have frozen a hot cup of joe.

Nosey sleuth that I was, I wandered over to the desk and looked at the papers scattered there. I was surprised to see a brochure from that new amusement park they’d recently built down in Anaheim–the one I figured was mostly for kids. It didn’t seem like a place Dracula would visit for fun. Yet there was a map of the place and some design schematics I couldn’t quite make out.

I didn’t want to touch anything, so I twisted my head around to get a better look. I was only half-twisted when a voice surprised me.

“I thought I’d come down and get a look at you myself.”

Standing in the doorway was a sleek dame decked out in a simple white satin dress that likely cost more than my Packard did new. She was a looker and, by the way she stood posed there, she knew it. She had dark hair, sophisticated eyes, and pouty lips, but her face was pale . . . almost sickly looking.

Out of reflex, I took off my hat. I don’t think she cared.

“So you’re the private detective.” It wasn’t a question so I didn’t answer. “I thought gumshoes only existed in movies.”

“I’m real enough . . . but it usually takes me a couple of belts to get warmed up.”
She flashed a quick smile and sauntered towards me with sufficient sex appeal to stir a eunuch. When she was close enough for me to smell her perfume, she stopped. She reached out to touch my chest with her finger, as if to be certain I wasn’t an illusion.

I wasn’t sure what she’d try to touch next, but I thought it best to remain professional and not find out. I took hold of the hand she’d stroked me with and gave it a little shake.

“Dirk Slade. Pleased to meet you. Are you Mr. Prince’s daughter?”

She giggled at some private amusement as I released her hand.

“Mr. Prince doesn’t have any daughters . . . that I know of,” she said, staring up at me with a wantonness that was hard to miss.

“I see you’ve greeted our guest, Mina.”

I looked up from her beckoning eyes and saw him. I’d expected him, I knew I’d be meeting with him, but to actually see him in the flesh was a shade unsettling. I mean, how often do you find yourself in the presence of Count Dracula? Even if he was just an old actor, he was still the grand monarch of monsters.

“Now, please,” he said to her with only a slight accent, “I need to speak with Mr. Slade alone.”

She pouted but it was a little girl act that faded quickly to an alluring smile. She waved her fingers at me and walked out.

He waited until she was gone and said, “My son doesn’t approve of my paramour. He thinks she’s too young.”

It’s true she didn’t look half his age–and that’s if he was only as old as he looked.

“However, like many people, I’m a creature of my desires. And I’ve always had an indescribable thing for girls named Mina. She’s not particularly bright, but she pleases me in the ways that matter most.”

I briefly speculated on what those ways were, but realized I probably didn’t have the imagination to do it justice.

He moved towards me then. I say “moved” because he seemed to glide more than walk. He was as smooth as milk on marble and right next me with his hand out before he should have been.

“Vladimir Prince,” he said, taking hold of my hand but not shaking it. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He’d let go of my hand and was making his way around his desk before I knew it. “You come highly recommended, Mr. Slade.” His voice was gently commanding, yet reassuring.

“Please, have a seat.” He gestured at the chairs in front of his desk.

“Who recommended me?” I was curious who would vouch for me with a high-roller like Prince.

“Oh, I know many people, Mr. Slade. I have many sources.”

“I’m a fan of yours, as well,” I said. “I’ve seen all your–”

“Please,” he said a bit too loudly, “let’s let the past stay in the past. I’d rather speak about the matter at hand.”

Apparently he didn’t want to talk about his old movies. Maybe the association was bad for business. That was jake with me, so I took a seat.

“What is the matter at hand? I was told you were in need of my services.”

He hesitated and I took the moment to study him more carefully.

He was slender, with short, slicked-back dark hair, and a pasty complexion, not unlike his young squeeze. He wasn’t wearing the cape I half expected, but looked refined in a very expensive, stylishly embroidered smoking jacket. The only thing out-of-place about him were his long fingernails. Whether he sharpened them to a point or they just grew that way, I had no idea.

He still hadn’t answered me, so I reached into my coat pocket. Before I even touched my pack he said, “Please don’t smoke.”

Renfield appeared then, carrying a tray filled with an elaborate bone china tea set and some little biscuits.

“Would you join me in tea?”

The tea really threw me. I found his choice of beverage surprising for a guy whose empire was built on booze. If anything, I expected him to offer me a mug of Impale Ale, or maybe a glass of Vlad’s Sangria.

To be polite, and because I really needed this job–whatever it was–I picked up one of the dainty cups of tea Renfield had poured and took a sip. I was almost afraid my big mitt would crush the little thing.

“Before I tell you why I’ve asked you here today, Mr. Slade, I must be certain I can count on your discretion.”

“I’m as discreet as they come, Mr. Prince. I wouldn’t last long in this business if I wasn’t.”

He sipped his own tea and I watched the shadowed corners of his mouth, hoping for a glimpse of those famous canines of his. I didn’t see them. I did notice his face held this cool, controlled expression that never seemed to change. Not even when he began to tell me why I was there.

“My son has gone missing, Mr. Slade. I want you to find him.”

“How old is he?”

“John is 17.”

“How long’s he been missing?”

“Three weeks now.”

“If you don’t mind my saying, it seems like a long time to wait before trying to find him.”

He got this faraway look in his eyes. “My son has been known to make himself unavailable for days at a time. You might say I was unconcerned I hadn’t heard from him, at least until recently.”

“Why not call the police?”

“I don’t want the police involved. I’m sure you understand.”

I nodded. There could be a dozen reasons why he didn’t want the police in on this. Half of them legitimate.

“Alright, I’ll take the job. I get $100 a day,” I said, doubling my normal fee, “plus expenses.”

He waved his hand as if it were an insignificant detail.

“Any idea where I should start looking for your son?”

“I know he has a school friend at James Whale High named Harold Talbot. I believe young Talbot is on the football team. He might know what happened to John.”

“Is that where your son goes to school?”

“Yes. But he hasn’t attended for at least a month, according to their records.”

“Then he dropped out even before he disappeared.”

“It would seem so.”

“Alright, I’ll start there.”

It had all been very formal. Almost like he’d hired me to pick up his dry cleaning. For a guy whose son was missing, he seemed rather cold . . . stiff. Not that I would have expected a gush of emotion from an old bird like him, but he’d handled the entire transaction like he had a wooden stake up his ass.

“You’ll keep me apprised of your progress?”

“Sure.”

“That’s a recent photo of him,” said Prince, pointing one of his overly long fingernails at a framed photo on his desk.

He was a good-looking kid, slender like his father, with the same dark hair and eyes.

“You can take it with you if you like.”

“Not necessary,” I said. “I’m good with faces. I’ll remember him.”

More likely than not, the kid was playing back seat bingo with some dolly deep in Monster Town, with or without a needle in his arm. I’d roust some bums, ask a few questions, kick in the odd door or two, and probably find the little Prince in a few days . . . though, at a C-note a day, I might not be in any hurry.

Like I said, it wasn’t show business, it was just a job . . . and that was jake with me.

 

 

Interview: MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden

A QUICK INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE GOLDEN

AUTHOR OF MONSTER TOWN

Now available for pre-order.

PS: How did you come up with the idea for Monster Town?

GOLDEN: Years ago I wrote a short story titled “I Was a Teenage Hideous Sun Demon.” It was a bit of dark satire based on the title character from a little known 1958 B-movie called The Hideous Sun Demon. For that story I created what you might call an alternate universe where movie monsters actually existed and played themselves in the movies. More famous monsters like Dracula and the Wolfman did well for themselves. The Hideous Sun Demon not so much.

PS: How did that lead to the book?

GOLDEN: I always felt the idea of such a world was fairly unique, and would provide a great setting for a book-length tale. The more I thought about it, the more I pictured it in my mind as a kind of film noir–a murder mystery set in a place called Monster Town.

PS: But movie monsters weren’t the only thing you satirized.

GOLDEN: No. The idea of a film noir murder mystery led me to think of the old hard-boiled detective stories. I decided to combine the movie monster genre with that of the forties and fifties detectives. Being a lifelong film buff and former movie reviewer, I knew movie monsters and film noir fairly well, but I wasn’t as familiar with the hard-boiled detective stories. So I read as many books as I could get my hands on by authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane. I also watched plenty of old horror movies and films like Out of the Past, The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, and The Maltese Falcon.

PS: That sounds like a lot of research.

GOLDEN: You can’t do a good job of satirizing something unless you know it inside and out. But satire is a tricky thing. I prefer a subtle brand of parody that sneaks up on you as opposed to slapping you in the face. There are certainly plenty of quirky characters in Monster Town, but the plot is told straight-forward. The satire is in the “hard-boiled” language of P.I. Dirk Slade’s narration. But, like all humor, it’s subjective. Some people get what you’re trying to do and others . . . well, you just hope they enjoy it on another level.

PS: Is there a chance we’ll be seeing more of private investigator Dirk Slade?

GOLDEN: You never know. It would certainly be jake with me.

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Chapter 4 KNUCKLEBONES

Sneak Peek Extract:

KNUCKLEBONES by Marni Scofidio 

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At first Clary didn’t recognise her surroundings, half-painted by moonlight, half by sodium. She had fallen asleep by the lounge window; the sun had kipped up hours ago.

Felix! She checked her mobile. No messages. Had something gone wrong? Note to self: must stop watching all those true crime programmes on Quest.

She had started to dial when the mobile pinged, an incoming text message she could read by the light of the sodium outside. don’t worry cariad taid thought you needed a rest so we’ll keep felix tonight unless we hear from you. love you more than all the stars in the sky. xxx

Clary smiled, licked her dry lips. Mum—typical English teacher— must be the one person left in the world who didn’t text phonetically. She hit lock and shoved the mobile into her pocket. She shivered, her skin painful with goosebumps.

She needed a change of clothes, something warm. But of course, it was all packed, and her body felt stuffed with concrete. Clary staggered to her feet, jerking like a marionette, her head pounding. A big glass of cold water and three paracetamols, that’ll sort me out. But she had no idea where the paracetamol was. She managed to drag herself all the way into the kitchen before she remembered the water was off. Had she missed the Tai Ffrynt plumber? They might think her a timewaster and not send anyone out now until Monday.

Bottles. Bottles of water in my handbag. And paracetamol. She ruffled through the bag. Damn thing was so big, the black leather interior made finding things impossible. A plastic bag containing bottles of water should be locatable by feel. The supermarket bag she’d packed was not in her handbag.

Clary didn’t even like water, but knowing she couldn’t have any made her want it more. She lay on the couch, sweaty yet barbed with chill, teeth on edge, burning up.

Outside and inside, nothing. No hum of traffic, no bass lines, no insects; not even seagulls. The building’s location a few yards away from a roundabout meant there should at least be the occasional car. But there was no sound at all.

I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet in my life. This must be what it’s like to be dead.

She shifted on the couch and pulled her knees up to her aching belly. Somewhere, above or below her, she couldn’t tell, a clock chimed the hour. One, two, three, four . . . seven, eight, nine . . . eleven o’clock. 11.00 p.m. They’d all be asleep at her mum’s. She couldn’t wake them up just because she felt a bit flu-y.

A full moon, fat and sanguine, looked about to roll off the black slope of Tan-y-Gopa. The harsh rasp of her breath caught in her throat, rattled in her chest. She hated noise, but it was preferable to this kind of quiet, the quiet of cemeteries and crems.

And as if in answer to her thought, the first footstep fell. From below, ascending. Slow and dragging. No ring or aggressive staccato tap of high-heels. She heard the footsteps turn the corner of a downstairs landing, rise towards her flat.

Had she given her mother the spare key? She couldn’t remember.

Her cracked lips parted but no sound came out. Up another staircase feet plodded, relentless. The banister groaned as a hand clutched it; the footsteps rounded another landing.

Mum?

But there was only one landing that led to her flat. The new flat.

Mum, is that you?

More steps, more stairs, two more landings. A floorboard creaked.

Someone inside the flat. Someone who hesitated on the threshold.

She shut her eyes. Maybe she could imagine it away. Breathing in the room, ragged, wet, said no.

She opened her eyes, and gasped. She was not in her new flat; it was the old one. She could just make out a dark shape, hulked in the lounge doorway. Moonlight fell on a dress pattern, dark and viscous, as two square hands kneaded the sodden material. Then a deep voice groaned, creaky, as if not often in use.

Help me.

Clary tried to shout. Her throat rasped with the effort. Stay back. You just stay back.

Help me. Don’t want to hurt you. Need help.

How did you get in?

The white hands twisted and turned. Please, it’s my mother. She won’t wake up. I’ve shook her and shook her and she just won’t wake up.

The figure shambled into the patch of moonlight. It dripped on the carpet. Its hands and dress disappeared into gloom. Lank grey hair framed a candle-yellow face that hung as if disembodied, open idiot mouth filled with blood. The left eye so pale it seemed all white, no iris. The head caved into a red sodden mess where the right eye should be.

Him. Him. Why was he in a dress? Why did he babble about his mother when he’d once said that his mother had been dead for years?

She was back in the old flat in the Kinmel Estate. On the couch, the window behind her open, blown by wind and rain.

As he shambled towards her she shouted at him but her voice had gone. Then he reached the patch of moonlight, and brought up his hands again, and she saw that he held Felix in his arms, and her voice returned, scream after scream that rasped her throat and woke her up.

The doorbell shrieked. Clary jerked up on the couch; a flailing limb knocked over the picture frame on the coffee table. The room was still dark, though afternoon sunshine laced through the soaped window and the open light. No one stood in the lounge doorway.

Clary’s handbag lay fallen open by the couch. Two bottles of water and a bag of microwave rice poked out of the supermarket bag inside. Beside it was her mobile. She checked the messages: nothing. No text from her mother.

She picked up the picture frame. A large crack in the glass split her and Felix; a long shard of glass fell out of the frame. Best wrap it in some newspaper before she cut herself. Clary wrapped all of it, glass and frame, in a sports page from the Ffrynt Voice and put it back in the box she’d brought it in. She’d get the glass replaced before her mum saw she’d broken it.

The doorbell shrilled again, over and over, insistent. Not like Anita. Her mum knew with Felix it sometimes took Clary a few moments to get to the door.

But Clary didn’t have Felix.

Maybe something had happened to them. Maybe it was the police.

‘Can’t be the police, stupid,’ she told the panic voice. ‘How would they get in the front door?’ Fuck off, panic voice. You gave your mum the spare key and forgot.

Clary ran to the front door and threw it open. She expected to see Anita, cradling Felix like the best present in the world.

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KNUCKLEBONES: The Musical

Marni Scofidio discusses her debut novel, KNUCKLEBONES. Now available for pre-order.

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Everything I write is sparked by rage. On my last visit to America, someone I love confided in me that they’d been abused as a child but never told anyone because they didn’t want the family broken up.

That was the most outrageous thing anyone’s ever said to me. But those words brought me Daere and Clary and Felix, inside whom I’ve tried to live, uncomfortable as it’s been.

I wanted to write characters who’ve been through hell—one is treading water, one isn’t—but also to entertain (if nearly gifting a heart attack to one beta-reader is entertainment), to bring the reader through the catharsis of a story with characters s/he might come to care about. I wrote what I love to read.

~~~

I tried to make one of the villains of Knucklebones sympathetic, in that to their (damaged) way of thinking, nothing they do, up to and including murder, hurts others. They simply pursue happiness like the rest of us. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even do what they do were it not for what others have done to them. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, that some people who commit evil are just plain twats. But that sort of badness doesn’t interest me.

~~~

I’m so squeamish, at times I wonder why I write in this genre: I must be the only writer in the world trying to research decomposition in dead bodies without actually looking at any of the graphic pictures on my search engine. I have to understand the structure of an image, then describe that image in words that might lodge in a reader’s mind like a poem: a trick three of my favourite writers, Ruth Rendell, Ramsey Campbell, and Chet Williamson, are geniuses at.

~~~

Being an incurable pantser, I used to envy writers who could outline. I can’t even visualise, not a full picture of anything: in my rather flaky mind I can just see parts or corners of things. But now I enjoy the not-knowing. I get excited as I work—my subconscious rarely lets me down—and plot twists reveal themselves to me. If I can surprise myself, maybe I can surprise the reader, too.

~~~

It’s a funny old thing, being a multi-national. At times I’ve felt I have no voice, that to be a proper writer you need one country—Joel Lane’s England or Charles Bukowski’s America or John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans (a country, trust me)—to infuse your work with identity, with a cultural voice.

~~~

The name ‘Daere’ is supposed to derive from a Welsh word that means ‘fiend’. I can’t find any factual basis for this, but maybe someone else will.

~~~

When I was younger I had a stalker, luckily for me, one who was quite easily discouraged. Stalkers are horrendous in real life but I love nothing better in fiction than that sort of incredibly uncomfortable encounter between two people, one deluded, the other unaware.

~~~

To avoid self-pity that can arise with a chronic medical condition such as ME/CFS, a failing of the immune system which has gifted me with a premature old age and which I’ve had since 1997, I watch programmes about people who rise to challenges far more debilitating than my own.

Clary and Felix were born from watching documentaries, in particular a series (the name of which completely escapes me) about single parents with special needs children. If ever the word ‘hero’ can be applied, it’s to these courageous people. Also to carers, who toil in lonely and difficult circumstances, saving the UK millions of pounds in wages every year.

~~~

All of my characters are cobbled together from parts of me, or are me, distorted, or me in an alternate universe, the alternate universe where I’m a 5’9” thirty-year-old leggy redhead who knocks men dead. The ugliest aspects of human nature, or what a writer can imagine about them, are most useful in fiction. Some of these aspects can even be made beautiful. Though trolls who write one-star reviews to bring down a book’s rating on Amazon are not beautiful. Still, any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell my name right.

~~~

The flashpoint of Knucklebones was sparked by an unexpected conversation, but the entire thing began with a 2010 note in my commonplace book. I followed Patricia Highsmith’s advice to keep asking, What if? even when the story seemed too far-fetched― postman as love interest―or ludicrous. I’m not comparing myself to her genius, but Highsmith made a cross-dressing schizophrenic art thief/con artist/ serial murderer not only believable but sympathetic over a series of five novels.

Altogether, my story’s genesis encompassed seven years. Originally it was meant not for publication but as a self-printed Christmas gift for a few close friends.

~~~

I wanted to be a stage actress, and for a time in my youth, was, playing a range of roles, from St Joan to Madame Wee Wee Dupres, a Bourbon Street hooker in a hit Buffalo dinner theatre show, to all the girly bit parts in Play It Again, Sam and, in San Francisco in 1978, Dr Frank N Furter in a multi-media production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; our production was filmed and shown on Argentinian children’s television!

I considered myself to have failed at my dream until I found I could use my acting skills in creating characters. Every single character in Knucklebones, I’ve put myself inside their skin. I don’t understand all of them, but some I don’t want to understand.

~~~

The sad thing is so many people like my loved one suffered, or suffer, in fear or silence, which shouldn’t be: every abuse survivor should be able to be heard, believed, and make themselves whole. For me the process would involve castration with a potato dibber.

In writing about a woman who does her best to not just survive her violent past but flourish, I’d say living well is the better revenge after all. At least I can hope so.

~~~

Ffrynt is an amalgamation of all the towns I’ve lived in on what my husband calls The Welsh Riviera, or Valhalla, according to one South Walian wag: the coast between Rhyl and Llandudno in North Wales. Because of my ME/CFS, I’ve been unable to physically walk these towns. To avoid criticism for sending characters the wrong way down a one-way street, or to eat in a retaurant that no longer exists, I made up my own town, and have a giant wall map to prove it. Making maps is a lot easier than writing fiction. Also I can have my own weather.

~~~

A Welsh, indeed British, custom is to twin towns with other towns, usually European, so as to provide beanos for local politicians. Ffrynt is twinned with R’yleh. Which might explain why the Conservatives got in.

~~~

Knucklebones’ working title was Number 9, as it was my ninth attempt at a novel and the first I was happy enough with to send into the outside world. When I realised that part of a character’s psychopathy was that they played with children a child’s game called jacks, my husband told me about knucklebones, gifting me with the title.

~~~

Readers rock. Beta-readers gave me the confidence to submit my novel. After many, many rejections, I was extremely lucky to be accepted by the best publisher in the world for me: the experience has been all that I dreamed of. If there are any readers I missed in the acknowledgments, I’d like to thank them here. I write for myself, so anyone who reads and likes my work is a gift, and I’m eternally grateful. Thank you. And cheers for reading this, too.

~~~

The friend I’ve known longest in Britain asked if reading Knucklebones will change her opinion of me. ‘Darling,’ I said, ‘only if you can’t differentiate between fact and fiction.’

~~~

WE ARE THE MARTIANS: THE LEGACY OF NIGEL KNEALE

we-are-the-martians-the-legacy-of-nigel-kneale-hardcover-edited-by-neil-snowdon-4286-p[ekm]298x420[ekm]Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction by Neil Snowdon

IN MANY WAYS, WHAT YOU HOLD IN YOUR HANDS IS A DREAM, coalesced out of passion and goodwill.

Passion for a writer not given his due is perhaps the fiercest passion in fandom, and the greatest motivator for critics. Certainly it was mine when I conceived this book and pitched it to the contributors. Passion for the work, and a sense of injustice, of incredulity, that a man who created so much, who changed lives and opened minds, should have so little written about him; should seem so little known.

Quite apart from his achievements as a storyteller and a dramatist, he is ground zero for the development of the televisual drama as a powerful medium in its own right. Not an approximation of theatre or the poor cousin of cinema, but a medium that could take the best of it’s narrative forebears—the intimacy of theatre, the visual drive of cinematic storytelling, the length, breadth and depth of the novel—to create something new. Not the ‘lean in and listen’ safety of Radio (which no matter its content will always approximate the tale around the fireside of old) but something that projected its light into your living room. That broke into your home and embraced or assaulted you, something that was—in a way—the fire itself. Lean in close and look into the flames…but not too close, or you might get burned. That was what Nigel Kneale offered. There is nothing passive about his writing. Nothing ‘cosy’. He wants to make you think and feel.

And he does just that. In spades…

It says an awful lot, I think, about how much Kneale’s work means to the contributors herein (how deeply he made them think and feel) that they stepped up to write for this collection so willingly. That each of these immensely talented writers would throw their lot in with a newbie editor without a second word. Indeed, in some cases, they came knocking at my virtual door, asking to come in.

I was overwhelmed by the response of the writers you will find between these pages. Humbled and thrilled in equal measure. And the work that they’ve put in is staggering.
If you’re new to Nigel Kneale, I hope this sends you straight to his work (run, don’t walk, to your viewing device of choice). I hope it helps contextualise the work too. Not that it needs it: the ideas, the characters and the situations are as potent and as urgent as ever they were. But methods of production change. In some cases they have dated, and I know that can be an obstacle. For those who find such elements an issue, I hope the passion of the writers will help you past it. That the context the writers provide— anecdotally, historically, critically—will help unlock the modes of making, scrape away the tarnish of accreted years to expose the thrumming primal core within: Kneale’s writing. His ideas.

For those of you who know Kneale’s work, and come to this as fans, I hope you feel we’ve done him justice. Gone some way to correct the imbalance. However you come to this book, know this: it’s just the beginning. We are not done with Nigel Kneale. We have not covered all his work. In an effort to properly embrace the passion and fervour of my contributors, I did not force them into a scheme to cover every title or every topic. I let their passion guide them. That was always foremost in my mind. With luck, there’ll be a Volume 2 to follow, because there’s more to tell. And besides, the amount of people who—having gotten wind of the project—came forward and asked if the could be involved, has been thrilling to me. And not a little touching. Nigel’s work means so much, to so many people, to practitioners within his field and beyond. He has inspired writers, film-makers, musicians, doctors, scientists…there’s a great deal more to come. I hope that you’ll come with us too.

This book is about the Work. The Legacy of an incredible talent and a unique mind. But I’d like to say a word or two about Kneale ‘The Man’.

There’s a common misconception that he was ‘Difficult’. ‘Curmudgeonly’, ‘Cantankerous’, ‘Misanthropic’ even.

I don’t buy it.

This is a man who was at the peak of his field. In television, he created his field. And he knew it.

I don’t think he was arrogant, and he wasn’t a show off (he was too British for that). But he knew how good he was, and his standards were high. And he didn’t mince words about anything he saw as failing to meet those standards. He set the bar high, for himself and for others.

Interference from people (film and television executives) who were less experienced and less talented, must have frustrated him. Indeed, at times, I’m sure infuriated him. Certainly, I think that was the case with HALLOWEEN III, with which he was forever associated despite removing his name (at cost to himself) from the film. Because the changes that were made fell below the standards he held to his work and his name.

Unfortunately, for contemporary readers, because John Carpenter remains (rightly) a popular figure among film fans today, I think that particular bad experience overshadows everything else. Kneale’s name and work is so little known in pop culture circles, that this is the example that comes up again and again…‘he wasn’t happy with what they did to his script’, ‘he wasn’t nice about the final film’, ‘he didn’t get along with Carpenter’. All of which is true. He did not like what was done to his original script. And as a result he removed himself from the production and his name from the credits (losing any residual payments he might have received for his involvement with the film in the process). It’s also true that he disliked the final film…and let’s face it he was not alone. But having removed himself from what he saw as inferior work, his name stuck. I can’t think of a review or an article that doesn’t mention him. And I think the more that went on, the more annoyed he got and the less kind he became about the film. Because this fly in his ear just wouldn’t go away.

This image of Nigel Kneale pervades internet culture, and that’s a shame. Because as a man and as a writer, Kneale was SO much more…

I’ve read people talk about Kneale as a misanthropic writer, but I don’t read the work that way at all. He is a deeply humane writer. Concerned with human drama as well as big ideas. Indeed, all his big ideas are profoundly linked to what it means to be human.

If, as they say, drama is conflict, then Kneale’s dramas deal with the conflict of what most afflicts us not only as people, but as a society, and as a species. They may seem pessimistic, and there is often an ambiguity to them, a queasy uncertainty…but there is always hope. The potential to overcome our worst aspects is always present. Literally, as in the Quatermass stories, or implicitly, as if by showing our worst, by confronting us with our fears and foibles and failures, Kneale is offering a warning. A plea…must we be like this!?

Kneale is a profoundly emotive writer, his ideas are never divorced from emotion. He makes us feel the idea (its implication, its meaning for us as people), not just think about it.

It seems to me that, in his combination of the emotive and the intellectual, Kneale not only demonstrates what great drama can do at its best, but what we as thinking, feeling beings can be…

Humane, emotive and intellectual in equal measure. These are the things that typify Nigel Kneale and his writing. These are the things that cracked my head wide open when I first saw QUATERMASS AND THE PIT at roughly 9 years old.

I’m not usually an advocate for violence, but I hope he does it to you too.


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