Lies of Tenderness by Stephen Volk

BLOG & EXTRACT:

The Creatures That Make Us Human

My new, wide-ranging, collection of stories, Lies of Tenderness, was not written with an overarching theme in mind—though it might well have one; they were all written by the same author, after all (and I try to eke out a common thread in my Story Notes)—but the book is said to contain 17 tales that explore “hidden truths and secret wishes, the paths not taken, and the creatures that make us human”.

With that last, potent, phrase in mind. I’d like to talk about one story in particular, called “A Meeting at Knossos”. It was the very last to be written, in late 2021, and last to be added to the volume, jettisoning another that didn’t quite fit.

I have been fascinated by the Minotaur for as long as I can remember. It’s always struck me as the archetypal monster story and I could never understand why it hadn’t ever, to my knowledge, been exploited in cinema. I first pitched The Minotaur as a film idea to Milton Subotsky (the producer of the classic Amicus horror and fantasy films) way back in the

1970s when I first came to London. I thought you could update the Greek myth, much as Hammer had done with The Gorgon, by setting it in their beloved mitteleuropean world of 19th Century gothic. Subotsky was far from convinced, so that was that.

More recently, visual influences rather than literary ones brought it to the front of my mind. I think it’s exceptionally hard to draw or sculpt a human figure with a bull’s head and make it work, let alone have it embody the horror and pity imbued in the legend. The artist Beth Carter succeeds in this brilliantly, and her Sitting Minotaur and Minotaur Reading are direct catalysts for this story, even though I know that such artists as Michael Ayrton and, obviously, Picasso, have been obsessed by the character before.

The double idea that Daedalus not only created the labyrinth but fathered Icarus sparked me to put pen to paper. I had no idea where the meeting of the fallen Icarus and the freed Minotaur would lead, but it turned out to be about someone who has the chance of redemption—of change—but the question is, are they capable of making it?

I admit, I set out wanting wanted to save the poor creature and rehabilitate the monster. Like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, I thought, he was damaged not so much by an accident of birth but by the way he’d been treated. Some of this was, I’m sure, influenced by my reading of The DevilYou Know by Dr Gwen Adshead and Eileen Home. Adshead is a forensic psychiatrist who has worked on the rehabilitation of violent offenders at Broadmoor hospital. I was struck when she described such patients as having been “witness to a trauma; the trauma which is their own life”.

That could be said to be the autobiography of my Minotaur—a retelling that I hope releases the age-old monster to be interpreted in a new way. Even if the outcome of the story didn’t go the way I was expecting . . .

Extract from

“A Meeting at Knossos”

I followed the string, hand over hand, until I emerged from the belly of the earth. The scent of sea lavender and the tang of bergamot tickled my nostrils and made them widen. Blinded, I

felt the sun on my fat, flat toes. It tickled the coarse hairs on my shin as I extended my left leg from my prison. They were as little accustomed to the light as I was.

            “Theseus, my love.”

That last word caught like a nut in the throat of a lark, its beautiful song curtailed in a knot of sudden abhorrence. I lowered my hands from my eyes, allowing them in slats to

endure the blaze of Helios, my grandfather, in the sky. My bull eyelashes fluttered.

A vision as though through water took form. I remembered water, vaguely. Not seen it for an age, other than the cavernous trickle tasting of iron and moss that had been my wine for too many days to count.

I took her first to be my mother, but no. Princess Ariadne, my half-sister. A pip when I’d last seen her. Elaborate hair, long dress, breasts exposed. Always the fashion-conscious one. Standing there with the ball of twine in her trembling fingers. Chest rising and falling in horror at the monster she beheld.

Hand over hand, I reached her.

She would have planted a kiss on the cheek of her lover, I was sure. But her half-brother? No.

I was not Theseus.

I was something else.

The Prince of Athens lay dead at the centre of the labyrinth.

He’d come to dispatch me, but I’d dispatched him. His club had snapped in two across my forearm. I remembered feeling his Adam’s apple jiggle against my palm. His neck had grown hot and pulpy. His shiny helmet had fallen off. So much for shiny helmets. He’d

crept up on a sleeping creature to murder it. Not very sportsmanlike.

I dropped the ball of twine at my feet. I had need of it no longer.

“Sister,” I breathed, as if my first breath.

The dagger fell from her fingers before I realised she had cut her neck from ear to ear.

I backed away so that she didn’t splash me, but it was a bit late for that. I watched her girlish frame crumble and her limbs thrash in a scarlet, widening pool under her. Then, after a while, she was still. I had seen many a dead maid before. It was not new to me. But it was a disappointment. I would have liked to have caught up on old times, after all the years that had passed, but she’d put paid to that, well and truly. I wasn’t sure what to do. There wasn’t much

I could do. So I knelt and lapped up the blood before it dried. No sense wasting it.

The taste reminded me of the time I nipped my mother’s breast with my teeth and got a slap for it. I could still feel the sting on my cheek. That was long before being confined to the bellowing dark. Back when I was loved, or thought I was.

Stepping over my sister, and with no destination in mind, I walked north, avoiding the Royal Road with its traffic and people. Crunched olives underfoot, juniper berries, thorns. Nothing smelled as strong as the fiery rot of the sun. My skin was unused to such attention, and oozed, and shone.

Half-cooked and half-exhausted—half most things—I reached the coast and took myself unto the waves, washing away the stuff that stained me. My sister reddened the surf. Poseidon hissed his thanks for the offering by means of the waves combing the sand then retreating.

Just as I turned back to face the beach I saw a strange shape adorning the rocks, so jagged I first took its inelegance to be the buffeted sail and mast of a wrecked ship. Yet it also resembled as much an arm stretching to the firmament.

What creature, then, was this?

I trod carefully closer.

White petals fluttered in the air about me. I caught one. Opened my fist. It was a feather. I snorted and let it off into the wind like a butterfly.

The thing had vast wings but I could not in all honesty call it a bird. And it had a man’s head and body but I could not in all honesty call it a man.

Whatever it was, it was dead, I was sure of that.

I leaned closer to see if the meat was fresh. Old habits die hard. I sniffed its pale cheek. Touched the long bones covered in feathers, thinking I might break off a piece.

The beast flexed its muscles with a rattling groan. The wing flapped out of my grasp.

I fell over backwards, bruising myself, and squatted silently on a rock formation for a while to see if it awakened.

I don’t know why I sat there, looking at its shape. Why did it interest me? Perhaps I thought it might metamorphose into a man. Or metamorphose into a bird. Either would have satisfied.

Neither happened, so I dragged it to the beach to prevent it being swept away by the tide. Why that mattered to me, I cannot say.

Only when I laid it flat did I see the straps and buckles that held the wings to its back. I loosened them and they came away in my hands. Not part of the creature itself but an attachment. Not of bone and flesh at all, but of wooden fronds jointed and planed

by human hands.

I peeled away the broken wings and tossed them into a feathery pile of cracked beeswax and leather, revealing a man, a youth, blood-soaked from his wounds.

I revealed you.

*

“A Meeting at Knossos” is one of 17 stories by Stephen Volk collected in Lies of Tenderness, available now from PS Publishing.

In stock and available to order.

We have some exciting news from one of the busiest editors in the business, the inimitable Stephen Jones, about an exciting new collaboration between him and the gang here at PS Towers. So take it away Steve . . .

PS Publishing presentsTowards the end of 2021, during one of our semi-regular phone conversations, Peter Crowther generously offered me a new, ongoing editing project with PS Publishing in the wake of my wish to finally bring our successful BEST NEW HORROR series to an end.

Although I thanked him for his kind offer, I explained to Pete that the combination of my advanced years and desire to slow down a bit more these days meant that I would prefer, instead, to concentrate just on those books that I really wanted to do.

But then I started thinking . . .

I have been involved in a number of publishing schemes over the years—not least, my own mainstream genre imprint, Raven Books, in the early 1990s—and there was always something that attracted me to the “branding” concept. It was while I was taking a short break on the Portuguese island of Madeira, off the northwest coast of Africa, earlier this year that an idea finally coalesced in my mind one morning while I was taking a shower.

I finally understood that I had already been doing a series of books for PS Publishing over the past couple of decades—but we just hadn’t realised it! So, upon my return, I pitched the idea to Pete, Nicky and Mike and, after some brief discussions, they enthusiastically embraced it.

And so Stephen Jones’ Masters of Horror Series was born!

I’m delighted to announce that the first title to carry the new masthead (created in collaboration with my design partner Michael Marshall Smith) is NEW SUPERNATURAL STORIES by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, which we will be launching at ChillerCon UK next weekend, being held in the seaside resort of Scarborough on the wild North Yorkshire coast.

I have known Lionel Fanthorpe (described as “The world’s most prolific writer in the genre” by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) for more than thirty years, and it was while corresponding with him last year about something else that I suggested the idea that we do a book together along the same lines as DEAD TROUBLE & OTHER GHOST STORIES, which I had done with Aidan Chambers for PS back in 2020.

Lionel and his long-time collaborator and wife Patricia were very open to the idea of working on such a collection but, instead of the “Best of” selection that I had initially proposed, they wanted to do a book of original stories. How could I possibly turn down a book of new material by one of the last surviving British pulp paperback authors of the 1950s and ’60s? Obviously, I couldn’t, and so we began working on the idea of a collection of stories very much in the theme and style of those that Lionel and Patricia had churned out for the legendary Badger Books all those years ago.

Randy Broecker—who had also worked on Aidan’s volume with me—quickly signed-on to the project as illustrator, and over the next year we put together NEW SUPERNATURAL STORIES—a tribute to that classic Badger series of anthologies that ran for more than 100 volumes between 1954 and 1967, and contained some of the most outlandish horror fiction ever published in the UK.

Containing fifteen brand-new stories—with titles like ‘The Trail of the Werebeast’, ‘The Terror Below the Sea’, ‘The Poltergeist Peril’, ‘The Way of the Warlock’ and ‘Below the Coffin Lid’—all written by Lionel and Patricia in the inimitable Badger Books-style, NEW SUPERNATURAL STORIES also contains an extensive historical Foreword by me, an original Introduction by the authors, and an interview with Lionel by paperback expert Justin Marriott. Randy Brocker has also not only illustrated every story in the book with one of his incredibly detailed full-page artworks, but also contributed numerous heading and filler illustrations to create a fully-realised picture-book homage to those classic pulp-paperbacks of old!

Here’s just a teaser of what to expect:

            Tristan and Jennifer Carey had retired to a beautiful historic cottage on the outskirts of Brodinnick. Their nearest neighbours were two hundred metres away, and they loved the quiet life of the beautiful Cornish countryside.

            It was well after midnight when their door was forced off its hinges and the thing made its way inside. Despite being in his late seventies, Tristan fought with all his remaining strength to protect the wife he had loved for more than half a century. However, the thing that had proved too strong for a powerful martial arts expert like Lowen Gryffyn tore the gallant old man to pieces and began to devour him.

            Jennifer became hysterical as she tried to defend the man she had loved so much for so long. Again and again, she struck at the monstrous thing with the walking stick that always stood propped beside her bed, but it had no effect.

            Then the monster threw Tristan’s body aside and attacked Jennifer. She screamed in agony and collapsed to the floor, only half-conscious.

We had hoped that Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe would be joining us for the launch of the trade paperback edition of NEW SUPERNATURAL STORIES at ChillerCon UK next weekend—they certainly wanted to be there, but with the various changes in the event dates due to COVID restrictions, they are now unfortunately unable to attend. However, I will be at the convention all weekend and will be signing the book at the PS launch event on Friday evening. So do please come along, have a chat, and get your copy autographed. And for those who want copies additionally signed by Lionel, Patricia and Randy, then we will also be issuing a 100-copy slipcased hardcover edition with alternate cover artwork. As usual, see the PS website for pre-order information.

But wait—as they say in the infomercials—that’s not all! The next book to carry the Stephen Jones’ Masters of Horror Series banner will be the eagerly-awaited updated and revised trade paperback edition of R. Chetwynd-Hayes’ centenary celebration collection, GASLIGHT, GHOSTS & GHOULS, which should be with us any day now, along with forthcoming reprints of several volumes by and about Basil Copper, which will also feature the new appellation. Meanwhile, looking even further ahead into next year, we will not only be bringing out a new collection of horror stories by one of America’s most esteemed writers of science fiction, but also celebrating two landmark anniversaries in horror literature and movies with a couple of remarkable projects, about which we will be revealing more in future Newsletters.

What was that I said to Pete about slowing down a bit now . . .?

Anyway, while I still have strength in my fingers to sign, I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible in Scarborough next weekend. Don’t be shy—come over and say hello, ask me any questions you want, and buy as many books as your luggage will hold. Don’t worry—I don’t bite . . . Much.

Stephen R. Bissette discusses the framework and interstitials of Blythewood Studios

You may have seen the STUDIO OF SCREAMS mega-interview in last week’s newsletter. Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Mark Morris, Stephen Volk & Stephen R. Bissette (the “creative quintet”, as Paul Simpson rightly describes them) got together on Zoom to discuss their new book with Paul at SCI-FI BULLETIN. Well, here is more from Stephen R. Bissette. Find out how he brought Blythewood Studios to life . . .


All books spend conceptual time in their respective ovens, a baking process that can take months, more often years, depending upon the nature of the book, the nature of the author or authors, the nature of the planned publishing schedule (or lack of same), and so on. My steady work on my respective portion of the collaborative STUDIO OF SCREAMS began in earnest in the summer of 2018, and lasted for well over a year-and-a-half, much to the frustration of my co-authors-in-arms. After all, one cannot pull an entire manufactured imaginary motion picture non-studio out of one’s ass overnight.

The daisy-chain of creation and co-creation can be difficult to trace (just look at how many generations have been trying to sort out the complexities of the post-Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos, or the Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Silver Age comics creative conundrums), but in the case of STUDIO OF SCREAMS, there’s nothing to trip over, really. By all accounts, Stephen Volk was the fellow who had the notion of emulating the beloved 1966-1967 THE HAMMER HORROR FILM OMNIBUS pair of paperbacks by Sussex-born, Liverpool-raised John Burke (aka Russ Ames, J F Burke, Jonathan Burke, Harriet Esmond, Jonathan George, Robert Miall, Martin Sands). This was the twist: instead of Burke’s compact distillations of four real-world Hammer Films, Stephen thought it might be fun to invent a competitor-that-never-existed for Hammer Films, and “novelize” four of their imaginary feature films.

John Burke, by the way, was also the writer who novelized the Amicus portmanteau feature DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (for Pan Books back in 1965), which is of anecdotal interest since it’s that Amicus film (and their last anthology film, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, circa 1974) that inspired much concerning my respective contribution to STUDIO OF SCREAMS.

Stephen also cooked up the moniker for this imaginary British film studio, Blythewood Studios. Stephen suggested it to Mark Morris, who thought it a fine idea, and together they brought fellow novelists and horror movie lovers Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden into the fray to make of it a fearsome foursome, the magic number needed to match the John Burke HAMMER HORROR FILM OMNIBUS package.

It was Chris who suggesting bringing me into the game to write either a framing device or a frame-and-interstitials (which is what I ended up doing) to flesh out Stephen Volk’s Blythewood Studios into a proper studio, with an invented backstory, history, and context for the four imaginary movies each of the quartet were inventing and “novelizing” from scratch.

Perversely, when asked, I not only said yes, but I proceeded to make Blythewood Studios a studio-that-never-was-a-studio, and puzzled over how to believably fold a mysterious cargo of “lost and forgotten” British horror movies into the well-trod legacy of 1960s and 1970s UK cinema history. The problem was twofold, to my mind: how in the wake of the videocassette boom of the 1980s and in the thick of this era of definitive-edition DVD/Blu-ray sets restoring and reissuing every nook and cranny of British horror could one even imagine four vintage horror movies being “lost”—and why would any living producer or heir of the Blythewood products sanction and enforce their films being wilfully excluded from this ongoing home video revival?

But what if the entrepreneur behind Blythewood had buried his own feature films, removed them from the face of the Earth altogether? What if…

Backtracking through my own records, this is what I asked of Stephen, Mark, Tim, and Chris in July 2018 in an email tagged, “STUDIO OF SCREAMS: What Slumlord Stevie B needs to concoct his interstitial in time for deadline” (which is a laugh in hindsight, since it took me until March 2020 to wrap up my contribution):

“I’m writing to ask for some clear directives from you, per whatever stage you might be at in your stories. 

I just need enough to work from and with.

OK, to clarify:

My interstitial involves my (imaginary) indie studio ‘mogul’ being interviewed, his joking about and obsessing over the filming locations, each of which was a real estate purchase he’d use for one film, then sell—that was his money-saving/making concept. He was a studio that never had a studio, but every movie project made money because he’d bank on the sale of the property, which he’d roll over into the next production and property purchase.

But he was also leaving something behind at each location, with a greater intent…

I’ll just need certain key cues: primarily: 

  1. PLACE (setting, so I can construct a ‘studio’ fabrication of a story locale; i.e., the way Hammer at Bray would craft sets to be Tibet, Spain, etc.); IF you have a British ‘location’ you’d like me to use, please, send me all the details you can! I’ll do my best as a Colonial, and will be looking to you, Mark, Tim, and Stephen, to help fine-tune the final result so the references fit enough of reality to read with conviction.
  1. TIMEFRAME (period setting, contemporary, or whatever, of the fiction piece you’re writing: i.e., 18th century London; 19th century Paris; 1960s Swinging London; 1970s Northampton in the decline; etc.); 
  1. CHARACTERS and ‘types’ (so I can play with casting in the references; if you’ve a preferred actual actor/actress or ‘type’ I should work towards, just say so, as in “this character might have been played by Michael Ripper” or “Tod Slaughter on the skids” or “Martine Beswick” or “Veronica Carlson was cast, but since she was under contract to Hammer….”); 
  1. GORE or HORROR set pieces (so I can, if necessary, reference special effects or makeup issues: ask yourself, “how would Phil Leakey or Roy Ashton have done it?”); 
  1. and a clue as to CLIMAX (so I can thread the interstitials in context, without giving away anyone’s game)…”

In the end, in collaboration with longtime friend, fellow cartoonist, former student, and professional archeologist Al B. Wesolowsky (that middle initial is vital, because there’s apparently another Al Wesolowsky working in the same field), I imagined that Lawrence Blythewood’s career in filmmaking was a ruse, a guise, for something Lawrence and his brother were doing that would resonate (I hope) for the reader in the real world. After all, what I loved and still love most about the best of the portmanteau movies from DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is that the whole can be more than the sum of the parts; that the framing device can and should be a horror story in and of itself.

 With Al’s considerable knowledge, experience, and insights, brainstorming what lurked behind (and beneath) the Blythewood legacy added immeasurably to the fun, as did fact-checking every frame and interstitial with Kim Newman, who I knew would catch anything too inconsistent with real horror movie history, slap me up aside the head if I wandered too far afield in my fabrications, but would also share and/or remind me of trivia sure to illuminate the manuscript further. I couldn’t have done it without Al and Kim, and I wouldn’t have wanted to. Of course, I also checked each and every interstitial with the respective author of the imaginary film I was—excuse me, Lawrence Blythewood was talking about, and I hastily incorporated the suggestions or revisions suggested by (in order of their novella’s publication) Mark, Chris, Tim, and Stephen, and along with Kim’s emails, Stephen, Mark, and Tim kept me from mucking up with too many Colonial errors regarding UK locations, language, or terminology.

When SCI-FI BULLETIN’s Paul Simpson first reached out to us all with hopes of corralling the entire Studio of Screams creative team for a chat, my hope was that I’d finally get to meet everyone involved. Being an impoverished college instructor in his 60s earning a bit on the side from reprints of my old 1980s comics work that remains in print (i.e., SWAMP THING), even before we were all subsumed in this global pandemic it was never in the cards for me to join Stephen, Mark, Tim, Pete, Nicky, and Mike in the UK for this month’s planned roll-out. I have been fortunate enough to meet and get to know Mark and Tim during their visits to the US thanks to mutual friend Chris Golden, but I’ve never met Stephen Volk (or “Stephen 1” as I cheerfully call him and forever will), nor Pete, Nicky, or Mike. So Paul’s suggestion was a happy one, and I not only got to enjoy reuniting with Mark, Tim, and Chris via the internet real-time conversation, but to meet Stephen 1 and Paul for the first time, and see with my own eyes Stephen 1 trot out his Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee action figures and play with them on-camera. It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m smiling still at the memory. My heart swells with joy and pride to be part of this.

Alas, Paul’s written interview doesn’t preserve the “Playtime with Stephen 1” revelation, but all the rest of it is preserved and awaits you, disinterring the secret history of STUDIO OF SCREAMS 


As SCI-FI BULLETIN’s Paul Simpson says, “The result: an hour of real pleasure distilled into a 7,500 word transcript.” And, real pleasure, it is! You can read the full interview, here: https://scifibulletin.com/books/horror/feature-studio-of-screams-zooming-the-authors/


And, let’s not forget the legendary Graham Humphreys. Graham’s artwork is the cherry on the cake. Here’s what Graham had to say:

When I was approached with the possibility of painting a wraparound cover for STUDIO OF SCREAMS, I immediately thought about the Amicus anthology films. The brief synopsis that accompanied each of the author’s titles even depicted elements that might well have appeared within the Amicus and Hammer canon. The direct link was made in a couple of character descriptions, referencing Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. My artwork is an imaginary cinematic anthology poster. Taking my lead from the original art for DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, I made use of the colour palettes that defined the horror genre of the era and made generous use of a Peter Cushing portrait from THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, in direct reference to the tale which shares Central Asian elements.

With any job, the reference material is the essential foundation of any painting, particularly where specifics are observed. Although a basic description of the two depicted female characters had been supplied, precise age and hair colouring were not. This can cause visual confusion on any job where the text does not match the art. Many years ago, I worked on a series of illustrations for a corporate finance brochure, in which I was required to depict key management staff in various poses (e.g. ‘watering a very tall plant’ – depicting folio growth). I sourced the poses from various books and magazines (pre-google years!) of businessmen in suits (they were all men), approximating the required poses (folds in cloth are difficult to conjure up with any form of realism). All my portrait references (another point of difficulty, the body poses had to work with the angle of the supplied head shots) were in black and white. Inevitably, client comments on the final art included such questions as “why isn’t his hair red?” or ‘why aren’t his eyes hazel’. How could I know? No descriptions accompanied the photos! A lesson learned.

Some reference was supplied by one author, the vintage creepy clowns, whereas I made use of multiple references for individual characters… the seated female is a mixture of a head shot, hair from another head shot, a separate seated body and a separate scarf from another photo. Oliver Reed is a mix of a still from THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and Bela Lugosi’s DRACULA! The look of the demon bear was sourced from a benign zoo image and transformed by using my imagination inspired by the supplied text. The screaming head was sourced from a model agency shot, with subtle changes to disguise the original. The tower seen in the top right, is sourced from one of my own photographs of Whitby Abbey. Other elements were sourced and cut and pasted together to generate reference that would suit the look required. As with all such photographic composites, the quality of images varied according to the material, from tiny jpegs upwards. The basic composition is then traced onto watercolour paper. It is then down to my own skills to level the material or disguise the poor reference and skew the imagery to my purposes. It is never as simple as just tracing the reference – deciding on how much visual information is required from each image is key to the focus. Colour and light and contrast all need to work in order to create depth and interest.


Available for pre-order. 

Q&A with Paul Kane, author of THE STORM.

PS: You’ve written a lot about monsters including two collections with that name, Monsters and More Monsters. Where does your love of them come from?

PAUL: I’ll start this one by giving you a little exclusive, that there’s yet another collection in the works called Even More Monsters – so yes, it’s fair to say that I’m quite obsessed with the monstrous. Where does that come from? It’s probably down to my parents, or more specifically my dad who was a big fan of shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk. Those are shows packed full of monsters – the Daleks, Cybermen and Gorn spring instantly to mind – and I used to watch them with my dad when I was very small, so it was almost definitely that. I also used to watch all the old horror movies with my folks, from the black and white Universals to the Hammers and Amicus films, which boast their fair share of monsters. It was these that introduced me to the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, for starters, then I graduated to creature feature novels, beginning with Jim Herbert’s Rats trilogy, and video nasties. I was a bit obsessed with George A Romero and Lucio Fulci’s zombie movies back in the day. You can imagine my delight when I actually got to meet and chat with George, who was such a lovely guy; a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment. Then of course there were the Godzilla flicks I saw as a kid, King Kong… The list is endless. I guess you could say I was surrounded by monsters – the fictional kind – from a very early age and that love of them hasn’t really gone away.

PS: You actually won an award for one of your monster tales didn’t you?

PAUL: That’s right, ‘A Chaos Demon is for Life’ – which won the Editor’s Choice Dead of Night Award. That one was my homage to the giant monster movies I’ve enjoyed in the past, right up to films like Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. There was a black humour to that one, and an emotional edge as it’s about a boy’s relationship with a pet monster that just happens to start growing until it’s massive and begins stomping around London. I’ve had people tell me they’ve shed a tear or two over that one, which was an unexpected side-effect. The story was reprinted in the first Monsters collection, which itself was short-listed for a British Fantasy Award, so obviously it’s been quite a lucky one for me that.

PS: Where did the idea for The Storm come from?

PAUL: Apart from all the creature features I’ve seen in the past, the revenge of nature novels like The Rats, The Crabs, The Slugs… probably the biggest influence on this one was Stephen King’s The Mist. The book’s even dedicated to him, as there are other nods to his work in there as well. I first read The Mist when it came out and adored it, then I was even more impressed with the movie adaptation from Frank Darabont, who for my money has done some of the best King films. So I began to think about how I could do a story like that, but in a different way. I’ve always been interested in sea monsters, which again probably comes from my childhood and Jaws. And at the time I was thinking about writing The Storm I’d also been commissioned to do an Innsmouth tale, which involved my doing a lot of research into that particular mythos, plus coastal legends and the likes. I also used to go on holiday to the seaside every year when I was young – as we had a caravan at Flamborough – so that fed into things too. Not to mention the frequent trips to Scarborough when we were having StokerCon meetings… I’ve incorporated all that into my second HQ/Harper thriller as well, which is coming out this summer. So it was a mixture of all that stuff swirling round in my brain, plus military strategies which I’ve always been keen on; you can see a lot of that in my Hooded Man books. I also love siege stories, and was delighted when I was able to write one for the novella Flaming Arrow – which also includes modified human monsters, coincidentally. This just gave me the chance to do another one, at yet another old castle.

PS: How did the book itself come about?

PAUL: The road to publication? It doesn’t always happen this way, but The Storm was part of a two-fer with PS, the first book of which was already pretty much there: a collection of rare and unused film and TV scripts/treatments called Dark Mirages. That launched at FantasyCon 2018, a gorgeous hardback publication – if you’ve haven’t bought it yet, then drop everything and check it out here (https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/dark-mirages-hardcover-edited-by-paul-kane-4692-p.asp). The two-book deal also included an – at that time – unwritten novella, which I pitched to Pete and Nicky. Thankfully they liked the sound of it and so I started to write it. I had so much fun it actually morphed into a short novel by the time I was finished, I don’t think I wanted it to end. I then asked my good friend Rio Youers, he of The Forgotten Girl and Halcyon fame, if he’d have a read in the hopes he might contribute the introduction. Thankfully he liked it too, in fact he really got where I was coming from and wrote a terrific intro. Then it was down to artist Ben Baldwin who once again did me proud where the wraparound cover art was concerned. We were actually at Pete and Nicky’s in January when the sketches for the endpapers came in, which Nicky showed me on her computer – and I just thought ‘wow!’ It all came together nicely to make a pretty special book.

PS: As with a lot of your books the characters are just as important as the story or even the monsters in this case aren’t they?

PAUL: I’m a big one for character studies, in fact I have to rein it in sometimes. But I do believe that if you’re going to present the reader with a scenario that’s as outrageous as this one – where eel-monsters, giant crabs or whatever come through a crack in reality disguised as a storm to attack a castle – you have to make the characters who are being attacked as real as you possibly can. Otherwise you’re not invested in what happens to them. The central characters in this case are an American family who are visiting these shores, and the main duo of Keegan and Gemma – one a workman there, the other a tour guide – who are kind of star-crossed lovers. How Keegan feels about Gemma fuels a lot of his actions, as he’s always said he’ll never abandon her, will always be there for her. Then of course when they get separated by all the chaos, he does everything in his power to reach her. Someone asked me in an interview just recently what I thought made a horror story inherently British, and I gave the answer that we just kind of get on with things no matter what’s thrown at us. You can see it right now with what’s happening with the pandemic, we’re all just dealing with it however we can. In this instance, though, it’s a case of going ‘F**k it!’, monsters are falling from the sky so we’d better just get on with fighting them.

PS: Do you have a favourite monster of all time?

PAUL: If we’re taking the Cenobites and Nightbreed as read, then I think I’m going to have to give it to the Xenomorph from the Alien movies. I absolutely love those guys in all their forms, from the Facehugger to the Chestburster – or Dogburster, or whatever species the host happens to be – to the fully grown Alien itself. Giger’s one of my favourite artists anyway, and these just scream Giger…because he designed them! Everything about them is beautiful and terrifying and disgusting all at the same time, which is not an easy thing to pull off. So, yes, I’m going to have to give it to the Alien.

PS: What projects are you working on or do you have coming out soon?

PAUL: At the moment, like so much of the world, you catch me in lockdown mode because of the virus. That’s also necessitated a shift in our plans for StokerCon which was due to be happening – at time of writing – next week. It makes me incredibly sad that it’s not happening, as we’ve been prepping for it for two and a half years, and it would have been awesome. But with a bit of luck it’ll happen in some form down the line. So, I’m keeping myself sane by working on admin, parking my bum and getting on with fiction writing that I owe – a novelette to begin with and I need to get on with the third thriller for HQ/HarperCollins – and watching lots of films and boxed sets: we just started Doom Patrol, but are in the middle of Mr Mercedes, Ozark, The Witcher and various others; at the weekend we watched The Shining and Doctor Sleep back to back, which was fun. As for what’s out and coming soon, as well as The Storm obviously, my first thriller as PL Kane Her Last Secret just dropped as a paperback and audio in March, our latest anthology through Titan – Cursed, edited with my better half Marie O’Regan – is also out, plus a novella called Blood Red Sky from Silver Shamrock. Luna Press are releasing the official movie tie-in for The Colour of Madness, a film that’s based on my novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’, this month, then the second thriller comes out over the summer from Harper. I’ve also begun working with Mark Miller and Christian Francis at Enclopocalypse to bring out some of my back catalogue as audio books, including Signs of Life, Of Darkness and Light and Sleeper(s). The rest of the year is taken up with collections essentially, but more about them as and when.

PS: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us Paul!

PAUL: My pleasure.


Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.


THE STORM is in stock and available to order.

Paul Kane’s Top Ten Monster Books and Movies

So, here we go with my favourite Monster books and movies… And I should mention that I’m consciously not including vampire, zombie or werewolf offerings, as they’re categories in their own right; I could easily come up with ten books and films for each of those. Plus it allows room for me to include other entries.

 

1) The Thing (directed by John Carpenter, 1982).

This is a movie that had a massive effect on me in my formative years – when I crept down to watch it late at night on ITV one Saturday and totally freaked myself out (I used to do that a lot, as we all probably did). I remember not being able to face my Sunday dinner the next day after seeing that autopsy scene, but couldn’t tell my parents why. It was probably my first exposure to the sub-genre known as ‘Body Horror’ – which would become so important to my work. My better half Marie O’Regan and I even edited The Mammoth Book of Body Horror years later, and included ‘Who Goes There?’, the original John W. Campbell tale which The Thing is based on. It’s also a perfect example of how flexible horror and monster movies can be, in this instance an SF-Horror (other examples of this in my all-time favourites list would definitely have to include Alien and Event Horizon). Everything about this film is just perfect, from Bill Lancaster’s script to Carpenter’s direction, from the desolate setting to the inventive effects, not to mention the memorable characters – this is Kurt Russell’s finest hour as reluctant hero MacReady (“Those damned Swedes!”). I could watch it a million times and that still wouldn’t be enough.

82) The Hound of the Baskervilles (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902)

I’m a huge fan, as most people will have read when I did the publicity for Servants of Hell, of Sherlock Holmes in all his incarnations…though for me the definitive screen Holmes will always be Jeremy Brett. I came across the original Conan Doyle stories at around the same time as I did Clive’s work, which is probably why the two were forever linked in my mind, but my very favourite tale from the original canon is The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s the definitive ‘horror’ Holmes really, with a huge supernatural dog running around killing people… even if it did have a more earthly explanation at the end. I would still regard it as a monster, even in that form! It certainly fired my imagination and I was delighted to be able to bring the hound in question back to roam the corridors of Hell in my own Holmes novel. It was probably also in part responsible for RED (published with the sequel Blood RED by SST), as well as the obvious fairy tale influence. There would also be no Crimson Mystery without this one.

3) Jaws (directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975)

This movie is simply an exercise in cinematic suspense, executed perfectly. We can forgive the rubber shark, ‘Bruce’, that makes its grand entrance towards the end, because the way the tension is built up before that is a masterclass in how to have an audience on the edge of its seat; not least the use of the camera POV as the monster in question for most of the film. The shock of the fisherman’s head appearing in the bottom of the sunken boat still makes me jump all these years later, almost as much as it does Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper. And, of course, we wouldn’t care at all if it weren’t for the portrayal of the characters by him, Roy Scheider – as ‘fish out of water’ New Yorker Chief Brody, transplanted to Amity Island at the worst possible time – and Robert Shaw’s Quint, one of my favourite characters in anything ever. When he tells the story of the Indianapolis, a true monster tale, not only do all the hairs stand up on end on the back of your neck, you totally understand where this Ahab-esque man is coming from. Not many films deserve the classic status they’re given more than this one. Also, crucially, without Jaws, there would be no blockbuster.

4) The Rats (written by James Herbert, 1974)

Hhmm, I’ve just realised that the last couple of choices are all about revenge of nature or animals on the rampage, but that’s no bad thing in a list of monsters – and here’s another! I’ve long been an admirer of James Herbert and his work, and feel very privileged that I got to know him before his untimely death; my last abiding memory of him was the signing he did for us at FantasyCon in 2012, where he took time to chat to everybody and was telling tall tales – what else would you expect? What Jim did here with his first chiller (a term he coined himself) The Rats was take a tired horror genre and create something fresh within it that was copied again and again. The Rats was probably the first full-on horror book I ever read, certainly the first ‘monster’ one, and I loved it! The terrifying notion of these giant killer rats plaguing London sent shivers down my spine and had me checking under my bed and in the wardrobe. It still does, frankly. When it was reported a while ago that giant rats the size of dogs had actually been found, I said to myself: Jim was right all along! There was also the sense that when you were reading The Rats you were doing something forbidden. To be fair, I probably was – reading gore and sex scenes at such a tender age – but boy was it a ride! I can’t mention The Rats, though, without including Lair and Domain, which raised the bar even higher. I’ll never forget the clever and emotionally draining way Jim handled wiping out an entire population at the beginning of the latter.

5) Nightbreed (directed by Clive Barker, 1990)

You were wondering when Mr Barker would appear, weren’t you? And what better example of a monster movie than this one, which is all about them. However, while reading the short novel it’s based on, Cabal, is still a wholly satisfying experience, watching the second movie Clive directed (after Hellraiser) is always a bitter-sweet experience for me; even if I’m watching the director’s cut. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time – and definitely one of my Barker favourites – and I love the way the ’breed were brought to glorious life by Bob Keen and his crew at Image Animation. But there’s always going to be a bad taste in the mouth at the way this movie was mishandled by the studio system, and the way it was marketed. Trailers that pitched it as some kind of stalk ‘n’ slash with monsters totally missed the whole point that the monsters here are the good guys, showing up the bigoted and – especially in psychiatrist Decker’s case, played to perfection by an eerily calm David Cronenberg – psychotic humans for the true monsters they are. It’s since gained the classic status it deserves, with actors like Craig Sheffer (as Boone), Anne Bobby (as Lori), Hugh Ross (as Narcisse) and Oli Parker (as everyone’s favourite ’breed member, Peloquin), getting the recognition they so richly deserve. It was also nice to see the original male Cenobites back in roles: Doug Bradley, as the ’breed’s wiseman Lylesberg, Simon Bamford – with much less make-up than he needed for Butterball – as Ohnaka, and Nick Vince as the moon-faced Kinski.

6) Frankenstein (Written by Mary Shelley, 1818)

The granddaddy of all mad scientist monster books and films, I first read Frankenstein when I was going through my period of reading everything genre-related back in my teens…what I call my real education. Which included the classics, such as Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and, of course, Frankenstein. Actually, I first read all of them in one volume which had a lurid red and black cover and an introduction by none other than Stephen King – more on him later. Without this one, we wouldn’t have had so many of my favourite tales and movies, like The Fly, Re-Animator, Splice and too many more to mention. What I absolutely love about this is the way Dr Frankenstein is so sure what he’s doing is right and it comes from a place of wanting to make the world a better place, only for things to go spectacularly wrong. The road to Hell and all that. On the flip side we have the monster who didn’t ask to be created, is this kind of outsider figure who doesn’t fit in, and never will. They make up this tragic Yin and Yang which fuels the story and makes it so interesting. A truly ground-breaking tale, variations of which are still appearing today – you only have to look at the recent episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ to see that. It’s also a perfect example of the story behind the story being as fascinating as the book itself.

7) The Cabin in the Woods (directed by Drew Goddard, 2011)

A bit of a cheat, this one, as it contains pretty much every monster you could ever dream of all in one place, especially when they run riot at the end. I’ve been a fan of Drew Goddard’s work for a long time, from his Buffy days through to writing Cloverfield (the quintessential found footage monster romp), right up to the excellent Daredevil and Bad Times at the El Royale. His collaboration here with the creator of that show about a certain vampire slayer is nothing short of perfection, in my humble opinion. Simultaneously a satire and commentary on tired horror tropes, and a movie that elevates itself above them, it’s a surprise monster fest that manages to cram in everything from the Cenobites (good old ‘Sawhead’) to creepy ballerinas, snake creatures and, yes, even mermen! If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you correct that oversight immediately. There’s also an excellent novelisation from Titan, written by my good friend Tim Lebbon.

8) The Mist (written by Stephen King, 1980)

Told you we’d get back to this talented chap, the person who coincidentally The Storm is dedicated to (you’ll find out why when you read it). I’ve loved this book – technically a novella that first appeared in Dark Forces, then the collection Skeleton Crew – since I first read it, and my enjoyment hasn’t waned in all that time. I love the setting, which is by turns claustrophobic and also global in scale, the premise – that we’ve torn a hole in reality and let through all kinds of creatures from another dimension – and the characters. A father battling to keep his son safe in the midst of all this chaos? There’s no greater motivation than that. I was equally delighted when Frank Darabont (who did such an excellent job of adapting Shawshank and The Green Mile) turned this into a movie, and if anything made it even bleaker, especially at the end. I love a bit of bleakness, me, as anyone who’s read books like The Rot will testify.

9) King Kong (directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

As much as I adore his contemporary, Godzilla – and believe me, I do – he probably wouldn’t exist without Kong. I’ve chosen the original and the best here, although later movies like the Jackson adaptation and Skull Island do give it a run for its money. But it’s the introduction of the character of Kong himself that makes this movie so special. Created by stop motion surpremo Willis O’Brien, or Obie to his friends, when Kong appeared on screen for the first time nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before. I mean, sure, there had been dinosaurs – most notably in 1925’s The Lost World – but Kong, literally, wiped the floor with those. Who could ever forget his memorable scrap with the T-Rex while Fay Wray looks on and screams her lungs out? Stuff like that sticks with a little kid watching creature features on rainy Sundays and bank holidays (and Ray Harryhausen, I’m also looking at you when I say that). I’m so looking forward to seeing Kong and Godzilla in the same film knocking lumps out of each other, it’s going to be epic.

10) The Day of the Triffids (written by John Wyndham, 1951)

I came to this novel in a kind of roundabout way, via the BBC adaptation in the 80s starring John Duttine. That scared the living daylights out of me when I was a kid (the tender age of 8 to be precise), but it also made me want to hunt out and read the book. Like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Triffids is a great example of SF commenting on the present day and possible nightmare futures. In this instance it’s where we might end up if we continue to experiment with cross-breeding plants and genetically engineering them. Okay, so the triffids are useful and valuable when everyone can see – their oil in particular – but what about when a comet in the night sky takes away most of the population’s eyesight and the little buggers escape? Then you’re definitely in trouble. I love this one not only because of the unique monsters, seared into my mind as those walking rubber creations from 1981 with ‘tongues’ that lash out and sting you, but also because it’s a great example of a post-apocalyptic scenario where people soon forget how to be civilised and society crumbles into mayhem. While I’m on, I can wholeheartedly recommend the official sequel by my old friend Simon Clark, The Night of the Triffids, which takes both the action and the horror to yet another level.

 

Well, there you have it. Not a comprehensive list by any means – I doubt I’d have been able to fit all my favourites into a top million – but should give you some idea of where I’m coming from and the kinds of monsters that inspired The Storm especially.

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

 

Miskatonic Institute Of Horror Studies event with Gary Sherman, director of Death Line, hosted by Sean

The PS Imprint ELECTRIC DREAMHOUSE PRESS (series editor Neil Snowdon) continues to go from strength to strength. Neil has signed up some fine authors for already published titles and has others waiting in the wings that will be coming out in 2020. One of those authors is Sean Hogan and as a true devotee to his very own Movie Monograph DEATH LINE he was involved in a recent event organised by Josh Saco from London’s Miskatonic Institute of Horror studies. Here’s this report from the man himself:

I first spoke to Gary Sherman while I was writing my monograph on DEATH LINE initially over Skype, when he graciously granted me a three hour interview for inclusion in the book (because of connectivity issues, he ended up having to sit in the lobby of his building while he spoke to me), and then later in the flesh, when we both coincidentally ended up attending Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. On both occasions I found him to be kind, funny, candid, and remarkably humbled that I had chosen to write about his movie (a film I consider to be a landmark in British horror). Still, I was worried. What would happen when he eventually read the monograph (an admittedly odd mixture of fiction and non-fiction)? Would he literally throw the book at me?

When the time came to say our goodbyes in Montreal, he told me how much he was looking forward to reading it.

I needn’t have worried. Upon receiving his copy, Gary professed to be delighted with the book and asked to purchase extra copies to give away to his friends and family. He only hoped that we would meet again before long so as to be able to sign each other’s books. But who knew when that would be?

Cut to two years later: Gary was due to be visiting the UK, and Josh Saco from London’s Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies approached him about doing an onstage career interview, to be moderated by yours truly.

‘It might not be quite what you’re expecting,’ I warned him, and quickly fled before he could ask me why.

Everything fell into place

And so it was that earlier this week, I found myself waiting for Gary in a Russell Square pub (just around the corner from the tube station that serves as the primary setting for DEATH LINE).

When he arrived, he was as energised and enthusiastic as ever, even more so when we left for the evening’s venue and discovered the attendees queueing around the block to get in.

Onstage he was a delight, entertaining everyone with insights into his films and (occasionally scurrilous) anecdotes about the making of them, involving the likes of Donald Pleasence, Christopher Lee, Samuel Z. Arkoff and Wings Hauser. The audience responded in kind, breaking into spontaneous applause when I screened a clip of the seven-minute tracking shot from DEATH LINE.

At the break, Gary was swamped with fans wanting pieces of memorabilia signed, and we sold nearly all of the copies of the monograph that had been provided for the event. My only regret is that the signing time ate into our interview, and therefore I didn’t get the chance to cover everything I would have liked. By the time the evening ended, we all agreed we wished it could have gone on for longer.

(Still, although I remembered to bring my own personal copy of the book for Gary to inscribe, he neglected to do the same. So maybe there’ll be a next time . . . )

DEATH LINE is in stock and available to order.

The Best of Jeffrey Ford by Jeffrey Ford

Sneak Peek Story Extracts

From “Daltharee”

You’ve heard of bottled cities, no doubt; society writ miniscule and delicate beyond reason—toothpick spired towns, streets no thicker than thread, pin-prick faces of the citizenry peering from office windows smaller than sequins. Hustle, politics, fervor, struggle, capitulation, wrapped in a crystal firmament, stoppered at the top to keep reality both in and out. Those microscopic lives, striking glass at the edge of things, believed themselves gigantic, their dilemmas universal.

Our research suggested that Daltharee had many multi-storied buildings carved right into its hillsides. Surrounding the city there was a forest with lakes and streams. And all of it was contained within a dome, like a dinner beneath the lid of a serving dish. When the inhabitants of Daltharee looked up, they were prepared to not see the heavens. They knew that the light above, their Day, was generated by a machine, which they oiled and cared for. The stars that shone every sixteen hours when Day left darkness behind were simple bulbs regularly changed by a man in a hot air balloon.

They were convinced that the domed city floated upon an iceberg, which it actually did. There was one door in the wall of the dome at the end of a certain path through the forest. When opened, it led out onto the ice. The surface of the iceberg extended the margin of one of their miles all around the enclosure. Blinding snows fell, winds constantly roared in a perpetual blizzard. Their belief was that Daltharee drifted upon the oceans of an otherwise frozen world. They prayed for the end of eternal winter, so they might reclaim the continents.

And all of this: their delusions, the city, the dome, the iceberg, the two quarts of water it floated upon, were contained within an old gallon glass milk bottle, plugged at the top with a tattered handkerchief and painted dark blue. When I put my ear to the glass, I heard, like the ocean in a seashell, fierce gales blowing.

 

From “Daddy Long Legs of the Evening”

It was said that when he was a small child, asleep in his bed one end-of-summer night, a spider crawled into his ear, traversed a maze of canals, eating slowly through membrane and organ, to discover the cavern of the skull. Then that spider burrowed in a spiral pattern through the electric gray cake of the brain to the very center of it all, where it hollowed out a large nest for itself and reattached neural pathways with the thread of its web. It played the boy like a zither, plucking the silver strings of its own design, creating a music that directed both will and desire.

Before the invasion of his cranium, the child was said to have been quite a little cherub—big green eyes and a wave of golden hair, rosy cheeks, an infectious laugh. His parents couldn’t help showing him off at every opportunity and regaling passersby with a litany of his startling attributes, not the least of which was the ability to recite verbatim the bedtime stories read to him each night. Many a neighbor had been subjected to an oration of the entirety of “The Three Rum Runtkins.”

A change inside wrought a change outside, though, and over the course of a few months the boy’s eyes bulged and drained of all color to become million-faceted buds of gleaming onyx. His legs and arms grew long and willowy, but his body stayed short with a small but pronounced potbelly, like an Adam’s apple in the otherwise slender throat that was his form. Although a fine down of thistle grew in patches across his back, arms, and thighs, he went bald, losing even brows and lashes. His flesh turned a pale gray, hinting at violet; his incisors grew to curving points and needed to be clipped and filed back like fingernails.

 

From “Exo-Skeleton Town”

An hour ago, I came out of Spid’s Smoke House and saw Clark Gable scoring a couple balls of dung off an Aphid twice his size. It was broad moonlight, and Gable should have known better, but I could see by the state of his getup and the deflation of his hair wave that he was strung out on loneliness. I might have warned him, but what the hell, he’d end up taking me down with him. Instead I stepped back into the shadows of the alleyway and waited for the Beetle Squad to show up. I watched Gable flash his rakish smile, but frankly Scarlet, that Aphid didn’t give a damn. When he gave up on the ancient film charm and flashed the cash instead, the bug handed over two nice little globes, sweating the freasence in droplets of bright silver. Love was in the air.

Then they descended, iridescent in the dim light of the streetlamps, circling in like a flock of Earth geese landing on a pond. The Beetles were always hot for action and they had a directive that allowed them to kill first and ask questions later. The Aphid they just kicked the crap out of until it looked like a yellow pancake with green syrup, but Gable was another story. Because he was human, they shot him once with a stinger gun, and when the needle pierced his exo-flesh, the real him blew out the hole with an indelicate frrrappp and turned to juice on the street. The dung balls were retrieved, Gable’s outer skin was swiped, the bluebottles swooped in for a feeding, and twenty minutes later there was nothing left but half a mustache and a crystal coin good for three tokes at Spid’s. I crossed the street, picked up the crystal and went back into my home away from home away from home.

This is Exo-Skeleton Town, the dung-rolling capitol of the universe, where the sun never shines and bug folk barter their excremental wealth for Earth movies almost two centuries old. There’s a slogan in Exo-town concerning its commerce — “Sell it or smell it,” the locals say. The air pressure is intense, and everything moves in slow motion.

From “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General”

In his later years, when he spoke, a faint whirring came from his lower jaw. His mouth opened and closed rhythmically, accurately, displaying a full set of human teeth gleaned from fallen comrades and the stitched tube of plush leather that was his tongue. The metal mustache and eyebrows were ridiculously fake, but the eyes were the most beautiful glass facsimiles, creamy white with irises like dark blue flowers. Instead of hair, his scalp was sand paper.

He wore his uniform still, even the peaked cap with the old emblem of the Galaxy Corps embroidered in gold. He creaked when he walked, piston compressions and the click of a warped flywheel whispering within his trousers. Alternating current droned from a faulty fuse in his solar plexus, and occasionally, mostly on wet days, sparks wreathed his head like a halo of bright gnats. He smoked a pipe, and before turning each page of a newspaper, he’d bring his chrome index finger to his dry rubber slit of a mouth as if he were moistening its tip.

His countenance, made of an astounding, pliable, non-flammable, blast-beam resistant, self-healing, rubber alloy, was supposedly sculpted in homage to the dashing looks of Rendel Sassoon, star of the acclaimed film epic, For God and Country. Not everyone saw the likeness, and Sassoon, himself, a devout pacifist, who was well along in years when the general took his first steps out of the laboratory, sued for defamation of character. But once the video started coming back from the front, visions of slaughter more powerful than any celluloid fantasy, mutilated Harvang corpses stacked to the sky, the old actor donned a flag pin on his lapel and did a series of war bond television commercials of which the most prominent feature was his nervous smile.

From “The Dreaming Wind”

Each and every year, in that brief time when summer and autumn share the same bed—the former, sunburned and exhausted, drifting toward sleep, the latter, rousing to the crickets’ call and the gentle brush of the first falling leaves against its face—the Dreaming Wind swept down from somewhere in the distant north, heading somewhere to the distant south, leaving everywhere in its wake incontrovertible proof of the impossible.

Our town, like the others lying directly in the great gale’s path, was not exempt from the bizarre changes wrought by its passing. We prepared ourselves as best we could, namely in our hearts and minds, for there was no place to hide from it even though you might crawl into the crawl space beneath your house and pull a blanket over your head. No manner of boarding windows, stuffing towels beneath the doors, turning out the lights, or jumping into a lead lined coffin and pulling shut the lid, made a wit’s worth of difference. Somehow it always found you and had its crazy way.

So it was that each year, often on a deep blue afternoon in late August or early September, some of us noticed the leaves in the trees begin to rustle and heard amid their branches, just a whisper at first, the sound of running water. Then we knew to warn the others. “The Wind, the Wind,” was the cry throughout the streets of town, and Hank Garrett, our constable, climbed up to the platform on the roof of his house and turned the crank handle siren to alert farmers out in the fields of the valley that the blowing chaos was on its way. The citizens of Lipara scurried home, powerless to affect any protection, but determined to share the burden of strangeness with loved ones and bolster the faith of the young that it wouldn’t last forever.

In a heartbeat, in an eye-blink, the wind was upon us, bending saplings, rattling windows, lifting dust devils in the town square, as though it had always been there, howling throughout our lives. Even down in a root cellar, thick oaken door barred above, hiding in the dark, you heard it and once you heard it you felt it upon your face and the back of your neck, your arms, like some invisible substance gently embracing you in its cocoon. That’s when you knew the wind was beginning to dream you.

Its name, the Dreaming Wind, was more indicative than you might at first believe. What is a dream, but a state founded enough upon the everyday to be believable to the sleeping mind and yet also a place wherein anything at all might and often does happen. Tomes of wonders, testaments of melancholic horrors wrought by the gale had been recorded, but I’ll merely recount some of the things I, myself, had been privy to in the years I’d witnessed the phenomenon.

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Sneak Peek Extract: The Tainted Isle by Dan Weatherer

The Screaming Skull.

Burton Agnes, Yorkshire, February 1872

            My third investigation (to this day I do not count my time in Alverton as anything other than a failed exercise) came by way of an invite to Burton Agnes Hall. This particular manor house had occupied the same site since the days of the Norman Conquest, changing hands over the centuries not by means of sale but by family lineage. I was instructed to pack for a short stay and informed that I would be briefed as to my duties in person by the lord of the manor. There was little in the way of further information.

Located in Burton Agnes, Yorkshire, the manor house was an impressive example of Norman construction, though I must admit that its subsequent history was of far more interest to me. It seemed that my reputation as an investigator of note had spread further afield than I had dared imagine, having caught the attention of Lord Fawksby, and I was only too eager to begin my work anew.

Upon my arrival, my belongings were taken to my room and I was ushered into the study, whereupon I was introduced to Lord Fawksby. He was a fellow of similar age to myself, and as I listened, I judged him to be well read and of high intellect. We drank excellent port and discussed my previous investigations. Satisfied that there was nothing in his demeanour which would suggest an air of the fantastical, I accepted his invitation to remain as his guest and to investigate the claims of which he spoke at length. Indeed, a crucial part of my investigation focused on the credibility of key witnesses, and this was a skill that I would be able to hone further over the countless cases yet to come.

Presented here, in words told to me by Lord Fawksby himself, is the plight of Burton Agnes Hall.

“You may well know that the hall and its many treasures have passed through the ownership of many generations, yet not one single penny has ever changed hands to procure her ownership. It is blood that inherits the manor, not wealth nor influence, and it is said that many lengths have been taken to keep it so.

“In 1643, the manor and its land were owned by Lady Anna Farlish. History tells us that her husband, Lord Timothy Farlish, was a most unpleasant sort. A letch and a drunk, it is said, he indulged in many extramarital affairs, yet his wife stood resolutely by his side.

“One such affair involved Lady Farlish’s sister, Margaret Anstey. She was the younger of the two, and it is said that Lord Farlish had lusted after her for many a year. Margaret fell pregnant by Lord Farlish, who at this time had no immediate heir. With no plans to divorce Anna (for she held the rights to the estate), it is said, he attacked Margaret as she guested in the east wing, stabbing her with a pocket knife in a desperate attempt to rid her of child.

“Sadly, Margaret succumbed to her injuries and died that very night. With her dying breath she cursed Lord Farlish for his deeds, citing that she belonged in the manor house with her family, and should her head not remain perched atop the mantelpiece until the manor did crumble, then each who resided within would suffer terribly.

“The murder of Margaret Anstey was attributed to one of the servant boys and the claim put about that having been spurned in his efforts to woo her, he had attacked her out of fury. He was hanged from a tree in the grounds at the very same time that Margaret was interred in the Anstey family crypt, in Burton Agnes Cemetery, which lay on the opposite side of the village.

“That night, the house was beset by all manner of terrors, so much so that the body of Margaret was ordered exhumed the next morning and her head removed and brought back to the manor.”

It was at this point that my host stood and bid me follow him. I asked what specific terror had befallen the house that night, but he did not answer. We left the study and followed a narrow, oak-panelled corridor as it weaved its way through the bowels of the house. After passing several rooms, Lord Fawksby stopped before a set of grand double doors. He searched his pockets for a moment and produced a small key. He paused for breath after turning the key and spoke to me, his eye fixed upon the keyhole. “I shall warn you, no person has set foot in this room in almost a decade. I cannot prepare you for what you may experience in this place. Know that you look upon Margaret of your own will. Yes?”

I nodded and assured him that I wished to continue.

The door eased open with a groan, and we stepped inside. Lord Fawksby threw aside a pair of heavy drapes, thick with dust, and the mid-afternoon sun flooded into the room. I moved deeper inside as my host busied himself with the second set of drapes.

The vast chamber would have served as a dining room at one time; such was its size, shape and location. Though now devoid of all furniture, the air rang with the memories of countless engagements past.

Lord Fawksby began to speak. “There.” He pointed, covering his mouth with a handkerchief. “The mantelpiece.”

I turned in the direction Lord Fawksby had indicated and saw something sat in the centre of the mantelpiece. With a nod, Lord Fawksby gave permission for me to proceed, and I approached. The object was covered with a black, silken cloth, which despite the environment was utterly devoid of dust. My hand hovered tentatively above it. I knew that beneath this lay the head of Margaret Anstey, and I required a moment to compose myself before unveiling her.

With a quick motion, I removed the silken cloth and stared at the sight before me. The skull was tinged with patches of black and grey. The lower jawbone was cracked and several of her teeth were absent. Though long dead, the gaze of Margaret Anstey seemed to mock my repulsion. I staggered backward, dropping the cloth onto the floor, feeling nauseous and dizzy.

“You are not the first to react so poorly to our permanent guest,” remarked Lord Fawksby. “Tell me, do you feel unwell?”

I assured him that whatever sickness had taken upon me had quickly subsided, for several feet away from her, I felt immediately better. I concluded that now was not the time to show distaste, not in front of the man who tasked me with dispelling her myth. I stared at the skull, and the skull stared back.

Lord Fawksby replaced the cloth over the skull, breaking my concentration. “Come, friend,” he said. “Let us to your chambers. There shall be plenty of time for you two to become acquainted over the next couple of days.”

 

Much to my surprise, I slept soundly that first night. Any thoughts of the rotted skull of Margaret Anstey remained far from my mind. It was at breakfast I first encountered Lady Jasmine Fawksby. Boiled egg and freshly baked bread in hand, I had seated myself at the foot of the table. Lord Fawksby, having sent his apologies, was conspicuous by his absence, meaning that the table was shared by only Lady Fawksby and me. We engaged in pleasantries and light conversation while the servants busied themselves, and I remember feeling at ease in her company. I guessed her to be a shade younger than myself. She was of similar height and a slender build, and had long, dark hair that lay unnaturally straight. Her face held quite the softest features I had ever set eyes upon and she spoke with intelligence and enthusiasm. Her eyes sparkled with a mischievous nature, and she wielded with ease the sharpest of wit. It would be safe to say that I was enchanted by her presence, and I allowed myself to linger at the breakfast table a while longer than I had initially planned.

She took a keen interest in my ideas regarding the paranormal and revelled in hearing tales of my work. She had several keen theories of her own, though lamented that she had few around her with whom to share her interest. Even her husband forbade her from conducting an investigation into the skull of Margaret Anstey, a practice which I assured her was most unfair. Time slipped quickly by that morning. All too soon was she called away to carry out the duties required of the lady of the manor, and I was left with the lingering feeling that she and I had experienced a unique connection.

 

It was decided by Lord Fawksby that on the second evening of my stay I would remain alone in the great hall, with nought but the remains of Lady Margaret Anstey, the means to record any observations I might make and a solitary candle. Were it not for the kindness of Lady Fawksby, who in the dead of night sought my company and delivered a thick woollen blanket, I wager that I would have perished, it being so cold! The lady stayed but a few moments, curious as to my findings, before returning to her chambers. What little warmth the blanket afforded seemed to dissipate upon her departure.

Aside from a ferocious wind which seemed to pound the outer walls for the majority of the night, there was little out of the ordinary to note.

 

I spent a good part of the third day sleeping in the guest quarters, having being granted so little reprieve by the uncompromising weather the night before. I knew that tonight would be where the real crux of my investigative work would begin, for Lord Fawksby had ordered one of the kitchen staff to remove the skull from the mantle and to deposit it somewhere within the gardens. The exact location of Lady Anstey’s skull was known only to the lord and the poor wretch ordered to hide her.

 

It was not long after dusk when the disturbances began. Again I was settled in the great hall, my notes at my side and the thick woollen blanket gifted from Lady Fawksby laid across my lap. At first, the sounds consisted of a series of sharp raps that seemed to emanate from within the area occupied by the fireplace. They would cease whenever I ventured close, so it was impossible for me to identify the exact location of their origin. This game of back and forth continued until approximately one o’clock.

After a brief hiatus, the sound of slamming doors echoed throughout the manor house, followed hastily by heavy footfalls that seemed to walk in several parts of the house at once. Lord Fawksby had instructed that all serving staff remain in their chambers after dark and promised that he and Lady Fawksby would do likewise. Several times did I venture from that room, convinced that I would successfully identify the person whose footsteps at times shook the very fabric of the house. Not once did I observe anyone walking the halls, despite a thorough search. The footfalls continued, gaining in volume. On occasion, they seemed to occur in my immediate vicinity, and to my ears, appeared to be heading straight towards me. Again, I saw nothing of their origin, even when they sounded so close to my person.

It was the wailing which finally prompted me to knock upon the chambers of Lord and Lady Fawksby. The house was alive with the sounds of the damned and I was at a loss as to their source. What began as a resonant moan, which one could easily mistake as the sound of the wind billowing over the tops of the chimney pots, soon developed into a chorus of screams and lamentations the likes of which would unnerve even the hardiest soul. Lord Fawksby answered my furtive knocking, his face ashen with terror. “I have heard naught as harrowing as the wails that have shaken these walls this night!” he began. “Come, we must return Margaret to her resting place above the mantle.”

I agreed, for whatever manner of horror afflicted us showed no sign of waning. The two of us hurried through the darkened corridors of Burton Agnes Hall, beset on all sides by ferocious rappings, the crashing of doors and a cacophony of anguished cries. Leaving the hall, it was a relief to be outside, free from the sombre mood that had befallen the manor house with the advent of darkness, if only temporarily. The shrieks and crashes that gripped the house could still be heard as we made our way deep into the gardens, and my thoughts turned to those still in the house, those who must have been cowering in their beds, afraid to peek out from beneath their blankets.

Lord Fawksby led me first into a barn, then to an upturned bucket. “Here,” he said, lifting the tin pail, “take her back inside.” Only nothing lay beneath. Curses flowed from his lips as he searched the barn. “Dammit, boy, you said you had placed her beneath an upturned pail! Yet she is not here? Will this madness continue until it drives us from our home?”

I joined the search, remarking that it might be possible another bucket was the hiding place of Margaret’s skull. After a further ten minutes of searching, Lord Fawksby cried out. “Success! Come, let us return! Jasmine shall be at her wits end, no doubt!”

As we carried the skull of Margaret back inside, an instant hush settled upon the manor. Lord Fawksby and I stood a moment, unnerved by the sudden calm. Moments before, chaos had raged within these walls. Now all was still. Lord Fawksby made his way towards the great hall and I followed, eager to see Margaret returned to her rightful place, grateful that we might be able to savour a moment’s peace before dawn. With shaking limbs, Lord Fawksby placed her skull onto the centre of the mantelpiece, back in the position where she had long held court.

What followed was a curious feeling. The mood lightened the moment she touched the wood of the mantel. It was then that I noticed the first rays of sunlight piercing the ill-fitting drapes, and heard with a sense of welcome relief the opening notes of the dawn chorus.

 

The night’s events were discussed at length during breakfast (which was taken later than usual due to the disturbed night that all occupants of the house had suffered). Lord Fawksby appeared the more shaken of our number. I assumed he felt an air of blame in regard to our torment, as it was he who had arranged for this experiment to be carried out. Both Lady Fawksby (who seemed utterly fascinated with the night’s events) and I explained that he need not feel he ought to take any form of accountability.

I concluded that despite my best efforts, I could find no rational explanation for what we had endured during the night. Though at first I had been confident that I could at the very least attribute the heavy footfalls to a person or persons actively wandering the house, this was not the case. Throughout my searches at the height of the disturbances, I had failed to apprehend anybody.

Again, with regard to the wailing, which I had initially attributed to the wind, I concluded that this was not its origin, given the variety, volume, location and content of sounds heard. There had been a human element behind the majority of the sounds. Genuine emotion, that of anger and torment, had carried through the halls. Occasional words had been heard such as lamentlovereturn and family. These I could not satisfactorily explain away.

Nor the rapping and the slamming of doors. For frequently they had occurred in several locations at once. I was confident that should hoaxers have been at large within the manor, I would have caught sight of them at some point during the night.

I advised that for the time being, in order to keep an air of calm in the hall, the skull of Margaret Anstey remain on the mantelpiece.

 

That was not the last I saw of Lady Jasmine Fawksby. Little did I foresee the profound influence that she would have upon me. Alas, those are tales for another time.

In our first correspondence (of which there were many), she informed me that her husband had taken to excavating a nook behind the top of the mantelpiece, in which the skull was soon interred. The remains of Margaret reside there still. There have been no further reports of disturbances occurring in or around the manor house to date.

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Sneak Peek Extract: The Killing Moon by Allister Timms

A bandaged hand reached out and grabbed Max. He stifled a cry.

“Will you do something for me?” The thick bandages around the soldier’s head made his voice sound like a dry husk.

Max thought he wanted water. “I’ll get you some water.” He couldn’t bring himself to look at the dark stain on the slipshod dressing.

“No, no,” the voice rasped. “Something else. Please?”

“What?” asked Max, shaking in the soldier’s grip.

The soldier shoved a letter into Max’s hand. “Will you take this and pin it to the greatcoat hanging in the orchard?”

Max didn’t know what the soldier was talking about.

“Please, will you take it?” The soldier crumpled the letter into Max’s hand. The wounded man’s breath scratched behind the dressing. The dark stain grew bigger.

“Yes,” said Max, and he tore his hand away, the letter scrunched in his fingers.

“Thank you, thank you,” said the soldier, his breath nothing more than a shiver behind the crimson gauze.

Max gripped the letter and hurried away. He stumbled through the rest of the cots and dashed outside into a clean dusting of snow. He gulped down the cold air.

The night was cold. A raw wind blew from the north, and off in the distance artillery fire froze men’s hearts. It didn’t frighten Max. He slipped passed the dead on their stretchers, cupping the little flame of his candle like it was his own heart, which at any moment might blow out. Max ran around the side of the chateau where a few soldiers limped, using the stone of the house for support. At the back an archway choked with vines led into the orchard. There were piles of frozen earth everywhere, crude crosses. And a long line of stretchers with unmoving shapes under the blankets already covered in a light layer of snow.

Max’s breath smoked up the air. He had no idea where he was running. And then he saw it. He stopped. Grasped the letter in his hand.

The great overcoat hung by a rope from a plum tree. Max inched toward it. Carrion squabbled in the trees, twisting frozen fruit from stiff stems. The coat trembled slightly as a big raven landed on the branch where it hung. Behind Max, a gang of crows was hopping onto the stretchers, pecking at the material, a few squawking and yelling over some morsel. The raven in the plum tree yakked at Max and then plucked free a frozen plum.

Max reached out and touched the coat. The buttons were ice cold. He shifted the coat open and gasped. The letter fell out of his hand.

Inside the greatcoat were pinned hundreds of letters. Max stepped back. He went to reach down for the fallen letter but stopped.

Two eyes stared at him from the tree where the greatcoat hung.

“What do you have in your hand?” asked a voice.

“A candle,” replied Max.

“Silly boy, the other hand. But I already know. And you can’t pin it inside the coat.”

Max lifted the candle higher. Perched in the tree was a young girl. Her legs swung back and forth and there were two big holes in her stockings. Her oversized boots struck the fruit tree with a thud.

Max snatched the letter off the ground and stepped closer to the tree.

“Don’t even think about it,” the girl said. She swung down and landed right in front of the coat. Her eyes sparked like they were filled with oil. She unslung her storm rifle and pointed it at Max.

“Who are you?” asked Max.

“I’m a Valkyrie. And this is my coat.” A large raven landed on her shoulder and spread its wings behind her head. “I won’t let you pin the letter.” She smirked. “Not yet, anyway.”

Anger burst like a rotten fruit inside of Max. He stepped forward, his right hand balled into a fist.

A cane shot out of the dark. It rested firmly against Max’s trembling body.

Max hadn’t seen or heard anybody else in the orchard. He cried out and stumbled back, tripped, fell. He tried to run but the person with the cane grabbed a hold of him and at his touch Max froze.

“You will take the letter,” said Victor Quenet, having materialized out of the shadows.

The young girl sneered at Victor. “What are you doing here? You know I only listen to Mother.” She trod right up to Victor. “I won’t allow him to pin his letter.”

“Yes, you will,” said Victor again. He prodded the coat with his cane. “Go on,” he said to Max. “You’d better pin it inside.”

Max took the letter and did as he was told. He pricked his finger with the pin, a drop of blood oozed out.

The raven on the girl’s shoulder squawked. The girl glared. “So, you think I’ll deliver it now, do you silly boy?” She let her lip curl into a sneer.

“You will deliver it,” said Victor, “or else Mother will have something to say to you.”

The girl slung her storm rifle onto her back as if it was her wings. “Come on,” she said to the raven. “We have work to do.”

The raven flew off her shoulder, the letter in its beaks. The girl vanished up the tree.

“You’d better get that looked at,” said Victor, pointing to Max’s cut. “Men die around here over much less.”

Max frowned.

Victor Quenet frowned back. He was slight and fragile but had strong bones. He was tall but stooped, maybe on account of his large head.

Max stuck out his tongue.

Victor did too. “I’m much better at this game than you. I’ve had more years of practice.” He leaned on his cane. “There’s someone who’s been waiting to meet you.” Victor held out his hand for Max.

Max stepped back.

“Do you like wild sparrow in tarragon sauce?” asked Victor.

Max shook his head.

“Neither do I. But it’s Mother’s favorite. And we must always humor our mothers. And Mother sent me to find you. You see, we’ve been expecting you, Max.”

Victor held out his hand again. This time Max took it.

When Victor walked, he walked with a limp, so he carried the cane. Victor ran a hand through his ginger hair to make it look wild and rough. His left eye twitched, then his right. And now his left hand shook. “Do you ever wish you could fold your body up like a portmanteau and ship it to an exotic land with no return label?”

“I don’t know what a portmanteau is,” replied Max.

“Neither do I,” said Victor. “But that still shouldn’t stop us.”

 

The Killing Moon by Allister Timms

Want to know more about Allister Timms’ THE KILLING MOON? Here’s this from the man himself:

The American writer James Salter wrote: “There is no complete life. There are only fragments.” The inception of my novel, The Killing Moon, began in fragments, howls of anguish, synchronicities, transient moments of clarity and the roiling, boiling clouds of fog, cries, whispers, the pleasure of a metaphor that finally worked, joie de vivre and a Keatsian melancholy. To steal outright from the great Scottish writer George Mackay Brown: The novel stretched like a child and rubbed its eyes on light.

The first image that ascended from the dark underland of my unconscious was of a young boy trapped inside a chicken coop. As happens with most of my stories they are a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, and the frustration that exists between these two, at least this is how narrative “happens” for me. In truth, this image got into me because a friend of mine once told me about how his young son liked to go into their chicken coop and sit with the hens. And so the telling of his story became the seed of my own and entered the “realm of mythology,” while making my very own memories, myths, and metaphors.

When you arrive at the very bottom, you will hear knocking from below.

As Rilke so rightly knew: “We are the bees of the invisible. Frenziedly we gather the honey of the visible, to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible.” Once the story had me in its grip, or as Jonathan Carroll says, “write what bites you,” the secret of this particular beehive started making sense on the imaginative and literary level, which I’ve found is never a flat perspective. (My use of the bee metaphor is no coincidence: bees figure prominently in The Killing Moon.) Stories pass through us all like ghost particles, and some stay, others pass on. Well, this story stayed, I’m glad to say.

Il faut toujours travailler.

I remember listening to that unforgettable TED Talk with Elizabeth Gilbert and how she retold that wonderful story about the musician Tom Waits (a favourite of mine) who was driving along the freeway in LA and a song came to him and he was like, not now, damn it, I’m not ready for this now, can’t you just wait until I’m at home in front of my swordfish trombone! There’s nothing you can do when a story grabs you and won’t let you go….

Trust me, I’m telling you stories.

I could go on writing about the origins of this story and its process, but you know what, I think you’re likely to drop the thread and wander off, thinking at this point it would be more interesting to meet the minotaur.

I’m reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, which happens to be one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time, especially the way he writes about the beauty and the damage to nature, this profound awareness of both suffering balanced with generous life. A moment of true ataraxia. Maybe eudaimonia at the stunde null. I don’t know, but I love his work. In it he meets this young scientist named Merlin Sheldrake who is studying the life under our feet, in particular fungi and the hyphae that webs the earth below us. I love how Merlin wants to talk about “the frothy mad fuck-ups and happenstance and false starts” of science. What he wrote really go into my “underland.” I think writers can have a habit of being crown-shy (I know I can), of not wanting to discuss or share anything beside the book. But I wonder if that’s wrong. Not wrong morally, of course, but just plain manipulative to some false end. The writing of a book is so much more than just the writing, it’s really everything else that goes into the making of a story, about which writers barely say anything. Which is not to say that I’m going to tell you my entire life story here, but I want to give you “fragments” of my life that went into and out of this novel. But how to begin to talk about all those “mad fuck-ups and happenstances and false starts”?

A ghost of a world lay down on a world.

It all begins really with love, because everything begins with love, and it will outlive us, as the sometimes dour English poet wrote. Love for Nitasia, my daughters Gwen and Vienna, love and grief over the death of our baby son. Deaths and entrances. An abundance of life in loss. A love of words, language, stories, Wales, where I was born. Sometimes you’ve got to “dig for fire” as the Pixies sing. (And, yes, music is not a coincidence, either, as you will soon see.) What other “spots of time”? God, there are so many. Tart green apples, Dubliner cheese, and potatoes from the rich soil of another’s garden. Whiskey, sea, sun, snow drifts, sea smoke, the injured barred owl, coyotes raising hell in the night. Bees at the high-bush blueberries, so thick, you can’t pass through them. The rooster killed by the neighbour’s dog, the cockerel’s red coxcomb bright and menacing, his wattles battle-red, but the dog killed him anyway. It’s all there, every moment, every particle of time, meshed together, springing loose and then knitting back together again. Everything and nothing, like the abundance of life in a little plot of earth. It all enters the narrative in some form and gets transformed, as Ovid knew so well.

Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed into different bodies.

And music. This novel wouldn’t have made it without music. Some things are just meant for each other, like bread and cheese, Morrissey and Marr. My novel includes a soundtrack, the music I listened to while writing and editing, procrastinating and wildly imagining what was to come next in the story. They are its “sound and vision.” The music wasn’t predetermined, songs either found a way to get under the record player’s needle or else my fingers were guided to my CD collection. They are not in any particular sequence (except for the final Bauhaus track), because I wanted to leave that up to the reader to shape their own soundtrack when it comes to reading The Killing Moon, and what songs will help them to further “see” the novel.

What’s he building in there? What the hell is he building in there?

Robert Macfarlane writes “We are often more tender to the dead than to the living.” This troubled me when I read it because The Killing Moon is set in the past, in the twilight of the Third Reich, and while I was trying to equally say something about this historical moment, I was equally trying to transcend it with metaphors, myths, the fantastical, the surreal, the weird. I imagined something else. “Ruins, for me, are the beginning” the German artist Anselm Kiefer has said. And just as he works with ash and lead, shards of glass and battered books that evoke war-ravaged wastelands, he adds a lyricism into the violence of his creations. In my own way, I have tried to do the same thing in The Killing Moon, but with a young boy and his father who make a perilous odyssey across war-torn Europe to save the boy’s mother from the Erlking, a menacing spirit out of myth who has been given eternal life in death and destruction, and, yet, life opens up before these characters like a door into the dark….

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