27 October 2015

Fantasycon 2015: Aftermath

Ah, Fantasycon, how do I love thee.  Fantasycon was my first con, and thus the con that raised wee!Jen! in the genre.  It’s also the convention that introduced me to a wild and spendid bunch of utter nutters folks who have become my extended family and like this year’s GoH Jo Fletcher (and many others) are frequently heard to say, I wouldn’t be where I am now without Fantasycon and the BFS.  So Fantasycon has always been my home con.  There’s been ups and downs over the years, great venues, seriously crappy venues, shenanigans and hijinx aplenty, but after a rather excellent time in York last year, I was looking forward to more of the same. In that I was not disappointed as this year by far exceeded it.

So the hotel – from an accommodation standpoint, the De Vere Orchard is one of the better Fcon hotels.  Plentiful free parking, comfy chairs and actual stable free wifi y’all! (What? This is a vital part of any con!)  And yes, many hated the limited menu the hotel decided to shove in the restaurant especially for us, but hey, it was cheap and suited my (admittedly unsophisticated) palate perfectly so I had no problem with it.  Everything with cheese? So in!  (The epically slow service was a whole ‘nother thing though.)

The con itself had an excellent vibe to it – with tons of new people, a generally relaxed and friendly feel and plenty of light spacious rooms to hang about in between things.  And oh so many panels.  In an alternate universe, where hive mind clone systems have been invented, Jen #1 did alllll the panels, Jen #2 did allll the other panels, Jen #3 scooped up the random panels, launches and miscellanea missed by #1 and #2, Jen #4 lurked in the readings and hung around gossiping all day before storming the karaoke and disco, while Jen #5 got on the tram to Nottingham and hasn’t been seen since. At some point later the multi Jen collective merged brains and the full con experience was had by all.

Alas, no hive mind clone club in this universe, so while many panels were seen, many panels were not and conversations were fleeting things that happened as people passed on the way to other stuff.  But the people I did get to see, albeit briefly, were fantastic. (Cheers folks! Big hugs!)  Shout outs to Adrian, Ruth, Alasdair, Marguerite, Pete, Jan, Debs, Mike, Paul, Marie, Steve, Jo, Amanda, Simon, other Simon, other other Simon, Cate, Liz, Gary, Karen, Heidi, Adele, Mr Fox and all those peeps whose names are currently on the edge of m’wossname but who also increased the general loveliness of the con.

The editing panel I was on went well (despite the fact I was on it!).  James Barclay is a stunning moderator, and m’fellow panellists – Pete Crowther, Nicola Budd and Simon Marshall Jones – were both erudite and excellent! (I said not much, and possibly answered questions that hadn’t even been asked. Er. Whoops? Mooooving on.)  The other panels were a wonderfully varied selection including the fun and very educational writing in a franchise panel, the excellent present and future of horror panel, the equally excellent epic fantasy panel, the panel interupptus that was the marketing panel (cut short by fire alarm and ensuing congregation in the car park), and the fascinating future of publishing panel (phone fic, yo!).  The Jo Fletcher interview was also brilliant.  (Jo F. = actual goddess. No question.)

We had to leave early Sunday so missed the last day of fun, but awards can be found here – and are they not a fantastic bunch of winners?   Alchemy picked up Best Collection for Adrian Cole’s Nick Nightmare Investigates (co-published with Airgedlámh Publications), Fox Spirit picked up Best Independent Press, and with Holdfast and Women Destroy SF among the other winners, happy Jen is very happy.  :-)

Massive kudos to the redcoats who kept things running smoothly and huge thanks to Lee and the committee for organising such an amazing con. I had a blast!  (Now go get some sleep, peeps!)
And so onto next year… early news in says that next year Fantasycon will be in Scarborough (23rd – 25th September), organised by Alex Davis of Edge Lit fame, with the lovely Adam Nevill as first guest – so naturally I’ve already booked. (Well, it has to be done!)  Should be fun, so get yourselves signed up already!

20 October 2015

Fantasycon 2015: Where's Jen?

Wheee! Fantasycon approacheth, and I’m on a panel!  And a rather fabulously titled one at that.  Behold the glory of the Hack ‘n’ Slash panel!

On the Saturday, 11am, in Suite 2:
Hack ‘n’ Slash: Editing Dreams and Editor Nightmares
Editing is a form of surgery: we may not want to go through with it, but we are almost certainly better off for it. But how do you learn this vital skill, and work collaboratively with others in the editing process? A panel of editors, writers, agents & publishers share their experiences.
  • what to look for: how to polish a manuscript
  • working with editors
  • the editing process for self-publishing writers
  • the value of copy-editing
Moderator: James Barclay
Panellists: Jenny Barber, Nicola Budd, Peter Crowther, John Houlihan, Simon Marshall-Jones

Soooo, yes, I’m on a panel with professional type people then! Not at all nervous. Ohhhh no.

Elsewhen, I’ll be lurking at the Alchemy/Shadow Publishing joint launch thingy – 10am on the Saturday – Alchemy’s launching Marion Pitman’s collection Music in the Bone; Shadow’s launching Allen Ashley’s latest anthology Creeping CrawlersIt’ll be awesome, y’all should pop along.

Other than that, I’ll be fervently wishing I could manage some sort of hive mind clone thing as there’s So! Many! Things! I want to go see. All at the same time! Also, karaoke!

Oh, and, also, not forgetting that Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books are up for allll the awards this year.  Well, most of them.  Which they will win because my publishers are amazeballs.

16 October 2015

Interview with Steve Lockley

Today we talk to the multi-talented Steve Lockley – author and editor in a range of genres, ghostwriter and collaborator extraordinaire.  His debut solo collection Always a Dancer and Other Stories has recently been published by Fox Spirit Books.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

Hah start with the easy one!

Derbyshire born but have now been living for more than half my life in Swansea – from the furthest point from the sea to just a few miles from it. After spending far too long working in financial services in one form or another, I took the plunge 5 or 6 years ago to try my hand at writing full time.
I like to be able to write whatever comes into my head. Some of those ideas may clearly be ghost stories, some may be horror or a thriller but it may not be clear which. I’ve written a few SF stories but I’ll be honest and admit that you won’t find very much science in them.

I’m now as much an editor for other people as I am a writer myself but it’s still so much better than having a proper job.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’m one of those who started writing as a child and never really stopped. For a long time I had this yearning ambition to be a song writer, or more accurately a lyricist. I wanted to be Bernie Taupin, not Elton John. I had one very minor sniff of success after years of trying but then decided to try something else. I flirted with poetry for a while and even managed to get a few published in small press magazines but soon realised that I wasn’t really any good at it. There  are more than enough mediocre poets out there for me to add to the list.

Somewhere along the line I stumbled across Nik Morton’s excellent SF ‘zine Auguries and thought ‘I could do that’. I tried my hand at a writing a short story on a borrowed manual typewriter and sent it off without really having any idea of the right way to lay out a manuscript – this was long before the days of the internet remember – and waited. Eventually the manuscript came back in the stamped addressed envelope I had included with my submission, covered in red comments. I assumed that this was a rejection, shoved it back into the envelope, and forgot about it for the rest of the day. It was only when I read the covering letter that evening that I realised that Nik actually wanted to use the story if I was prepared to make the changes he was suggesting. Somehow I managed to feel the deflation of rejection and the elation of acceptance in the same day, from the same story. I learned a lot from Nik’s notes and I will remain forever grateful to him for taking the time to encourage a new writer.

Which authors have been an influence to you?

Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Ramsey Campbell, M R James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Dunsany, the list could go on forever. I suspect that I owe as much to libraries and librarians as I do to any individual author. My mum used to take me to the local library almost every week and by the time I was nine or ten I had read or at least tried most of the SF and Fantasy novels in the children’s section. Thankfully one of the librarians showed an interest and took me into the adult section. It was only then that I realised that the same authors; Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Wyndham and the like had books published for adults as well as for younger readers

It was also thanks to that librarian that I made a terrible discovery. I discovered that John Wyndham had died recently (this would have been 1969) and that once I had read all of his books on the shelves that would be it. No more. Until that moment I hadn’t made the connection between the name on a book jacket and a real person.

After thirty years of publishing short fiction, Always a Dancer is your debut solo short story collection – how did you choose which stories to include and are there are any stories you regret not being able to include?

This is the problem with being a Jack of all trades. It was always intended that this would be a collection of my solo stories rather than those I had written with Paul Lewis or Steve Savile (and there’s probably a collections worth of stories in each of those partnerships), it became clear that the majority of what I thought of as my best stories fell into the horror/supernatural genres. Selecting the pieces that sat together proved to be reasonably easy.

There are a number of other tales that would not have sat as comfortably with this selection though and while I’d love to see them aired again they would not have worked in this book. I probably have enough stories to put together a crime and mystery collection of a similar length to this one if my historical whodunits and Sherlock Holmes stories were included. Maybe I’ll get someone interested in that one day.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you?

Fear. When I started writing I thought about trying my hand at a novel but was afraid that I could spend a year working on something for it to never find a home. In the same time I could write 20 short stories and even if only one of those reached publication I would have achieved something. I don’t think I’ve ever really got out of that mentality but for the last couple of years I’ve pushed myself to trying longer stuff. Once I get past 50,000 words though I start to get a nosebleed.
There are also some ideas which are only big enough for a short story. It may be that if I held on to them long enough they might work their way into part of a novel but I always find that ideas come out best if you work with them while they are fresh and I’m excited about them.

You’ve written across multiple genres including horror, fantasy, crime, SF and media tie-ins.  Is there a genre that you feel particularly drawn to?  And if so, why?  

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer of supernatural fiction even though I’ve been drawn to different genres. Often it’s the case that an idea for a story drops into my head and I want to find a way of telling it.

The media tie-in stuff I’ve done has been for shows I’ve loved. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to write a novel based on the TV series The Ghost Whisperer. The novel is called The Empty Desk and is due out from Harper Collins later this month. If I had to make a call I’d say that I’m most at home with the supernatural stuff.

Having edited anthologies – did the experience change how you approached short fiction writing?

It’s amazing how much you can learn by reading stories that clearly don’t work. Sometimes you can see what the problem is and you can help put it right but at others you can see that it would be much better told in a completely different way. It certainly helped me see some of the problems in my own work.

Having edited things like the Cold Cuts series of anthologies I’ve been able to pick up editing work for a number of self published novelists. I never dreamt when I set off on this long strange trip that I’d end up editing Paranormal Romance!

You’ve accomplished a great deal in your writing career – with multiple novels, collaborative works and shorts – which of your previous works are you most proud of?

Thank you, though I have to admit that I don’t see it as accomplishing a great deal, it’s more a case of sticking around long enough to get the chance to do things. Asking me which I’m most proud of is like asking me which of my children is my favourite!

I have a soft spot for The Ragchild, largely because it was the first novel to have my name on it but I’m thrilled with the new collection. There are a number of stories in there that I think represent leaps forward in what I felt capable of doing but I don’t think I could even pick just one of them out for special mention. It wouldn’t be fair.

You’ve collaborated with Steven Savile, Paul Lewis and Mike O’Driscoll – what’s the appeal of a writing a collaborated work?  And how is the collaborative process different with each of your co-authors?  

I learned a lot working with Mike though all we have to show for it is the first draft of a YA novel that may never see the light of day. We have very different styles and the only way we could make it work was by one of us writing in the real world and the other in the ‘other world’. We also worked together in putting on a horror convention called ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ when Swansea hosted the Year of Literature.

Writing with Paul has been much easier in that our styles are closer. Paul likes to have much of the story mapped put before we write the first few words. Sometimes that can be a little constricting but we get there ion the end. Neither of us was confident about tackling a novel until we came up with the basic idea for our novel, The Ragchild, and getting that accepted by Razorblade Press gave us much more confidence in what we were doing. It also opened up the doors to quite a few things including contributions to a couple of Doctor Who anthologies.

Steve is a joy to work with. Most of the time all we need is a general idea of where we need to be going then he winds me up and lets me go. I usually run with the first draft then hand it on to him complete with typos. Eventually he turns my very rough stuff into something shiny. I’d like to think that we end up with something that is still different from anything either of us would do on our own

You’ve also been working on a collaborative novella with Tim Lebbon, how’s that going and do you have plans to collaborate with anyone else in the future?

Ah, you really have been doing your research! Tim and I have had this idea for a novella that every now and then we bat backwards and forwards. It keeps stalling as we get caught up with other stuff and find it hard to find the time. I’m sure that we’ll get back to it before too long.

There are the embryos of a few other collaborations with the likes of Sam Stone, Gary McMahon and Colin Parsons sitting in Dropbox which may also be completed at some point. As you can imagine, they are all very different.

Rumour has it you also do some ghost writing – how did you get into that and are there any differences in your writing process for ghost work?   

When I decided to take the plunge to become a full time writer I wanted to make sure that I gave myself the best chance of being able to earn a living. I was introduced to an agency in the US and they gave me a couple of projects to work on just when I needed it. It can be soul destroying but the money made sure that I could keep going.

The major difference, particularly on the jobs I’ve done through the agency is the amount of preparation needed up front. They ask for a very detailed outline which needs to be stuck to pretty rigidly. It takes away some of the element of surprise for me.

I‘d guess that I’ve ghosted 10 or 11 novels now and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. It’s certainly made me a faster writer. A lot of the lessons I learned I’ve also been able to apply to the editorial work.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Six friends go on a road trip and take a wrong turn/get lost/break down in the middle of nowhere…

What are you up to next?

As I’ve already said, The Empty Desk is due out later this month. I’m really happy with that and can’t wait to see what other people think about it. There are a couple of other short stories appearing in the next few months. One of them has been waiting for several years to see the light of day.

The Ragchild has been out of print for far too long so I’m working on revising that at the moment to get it back out there. At the moment I’m tempted to re-release it myself and see how it goes.

I’ve just signed a contract to write a Steampunk novel for Telos but I don’t want to give too much away about that until all the ideas have solidified in my mind. I’ll spill the beans on this in my newsletter once I’m confident enough to talk about it.  There are a couple of other things bubbling under which I’m hoping to finalise in the next few weeks

I’m also going to be editing a series of Paranormal Romance novellas to be released month by month next year. I’m still looking to fill a couple of slots and would be more than happy to hear from authors already writing this kind of material

I’ll be at Bristol Horror Con tomorrow and Fantasycon next weekend. I haven’t been to Fantasycon for a couple of years but I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends that I have neglected for far too long. With a little luck I should also make it to Sledge-Lit in Derby.  I love going to these kinds of events but living in Swansea means that I have to travel an hour just to get out of Wales let alone get to wherever the event is. If anyone tells me they’d like me to be somewhere though I’ll do my best to get there.

If people want to keep track of what I’m up to they can sign up for my newsletter http://eepurl.com/bwGayz

Steve Lockley, thank you for joining us!

Always a Dancer and Other Stories is “a collection of tall tales…that ranges from the whimsical to the horrifying, from wistful to chilling. There are dark tales of old rites and all manner of men and beasts to encounter. Featuring some established favourites and some never before released stories collected together for the first time”, available in paperback and ebook editions from your local Amazon.
You can find Steve Lockley on twitter as @Ragchild

18 September 2015

Interview with Joyce Chng

Today we’re joined by another fabulous Fox Spirit Books author –  Joyce Chng…

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

I am Joyce Chng and I was born (and now live) in Singapore. I write science fiction and fantasy, YA and things in between.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?  And what authors have influenced you?

Professionally and semi-professionally, I have been writing since 2006-2007. Had my first short story published in Crossed Genres’s Alternate History issue (2009?). But I first started creating worlds since I was a child – mostly fan fiction (and I didn’t even know that I was writing fan fiction. That was before the Internet came about!). I wrote a Pern fan fiction novella in my late teens!

Authors? Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, to name a few. (The list just kept on expanding).

Fox Spirit has just re-released your Jan Xu urban fantasy series – what can new readers expect to find in the trilogy?

Well, expect to find Chinese werewolves in Singapore, strong family/clan bonds and a MC who is a mother to three kids. Not only that you will get to read about the (usual) politics amongst the supernatural/non-human groups – and oh yes, there is sibling rivalry and the things you get in return when you were an ex-teen vigilante…

Just read the series!

Your space opera, Star Fang, is also due to be re-released soon from Fox Spirit – please tell us what it’s about.     

Oh yes, Starfang. It is a space opera with werewolves! Werewolf clans dominate space travel and war in the far flung future. Lesbian MC who is captain of the ship Starfang and daughter of powerful clan leaders. Expect to see war, intrigue, metaphorical carpets being pulled under the MC’s feet etc. How do you feel when you are sent to kill your rival?

With werewolves appearing in both your urban fantasy and space opera work, what’s the appeal of the werewolf for you?  And are there any other themes or story elements you find yourself returning to in your fiction?

I have loved the idea of lycanthropy since I was a kid.  Werewolves appeal to me because they literally straddle between human and wolf – a liminal (and limbo) state where the werewolf is neither or.  Transformation, transmutation – these are underlying themes and motifs that constantly fascinate. In my stories, the wolves are never the evil monsters portrayed in horror movies.

Besides these themes, I often look at the motif of flight. My YA MCs are often young women who want to break free of societal bonds, sometimes literally (they fly or they change into phoenixes).
Oh yes, I also talk a fair bit about food. Food to me is the glue that binds a family, society and the universe together. Then again, the Chinese are often food-mad. :-)

You’re currently releasing chapters of Ming Zhu and the Pearl That Shines on Wattpad, and have previously released other works in this way – what’s the appeal of Wattpad as a platform?  And do you have plans to release any future stories on it?

Wattpad is a free platform where readers can read for free. Authors can post instalments on Wattpad for that instant gratification fix, because readers can commend and vote on your story. Some stories, as you can see, garner large audiences. But you are also up against hundred more stories like yours.

So it’s a battle for eye-balls.

I do have plans to release future stories, but that’s the future.

What drew you to using Patreon and have you found it a useful tool?

I was – and still am – battling with chronic health issues and crowdfunding appeals to me as an alternative route to funding/pay for expensive medical fees.
 It is useful to an extent, because 1) I am doing what I like – posting stories and pictures and 2) I have my readers and supporters. But like Wattpad, it helps a lot if you have a big fan base.

You’ve also edited The SEA is Ours anthology with Jaymee Goh – what was the underlying idea behind it and what kind of stories can we find in it?  

Basically steampunk stories that do not center around white steampunk experiences. And you can find stories that reimagine the histories, peoples, and myths of Southeast Asia through a steampunk lens—or perhaps, stories that reimagine the fantastic technology and potential histories of steampunk through a Southeast Asian lens. These are tales of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam, written by writers all over the world.
And we wanted stories that were written by people of Southeast Asian descent or live in Southeast Asia. :-)

Has being an editor changed how you approach your own writing?  And do you have any plans to edit any future anthologies?

I think I have become more particular and direct. Definitely more focused and attentive when it comes to perennial issues like grammar (!) and info-dumping. I hasten to add that it’s all a matter of preferences too. Again, it is my POV.

No plans yet to edit any future anthologies…

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

The strong warrior woman.

Don’t gasp at me. Women do not need to be warriors or wield a weapon to be strong. Even I write about warrior women, I also write about women and girls who do not fit in the “warrior woman” stereotype. Do you need a sword to be strong?

What are you up to next?

My picturebook, Dragon Dancer, under Lantana Publishing, is out soon on the 12th of October.  Some stuff still in the works – but I can’t wait to share them with you all!

Thank you for joining us Joyce Chng!

Born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. She likes steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Her YA science fiction trilogy is published by Singapore publisher, Math Paper Press. She can be found at A Wolf’s Tale (awolfstale.wordpress.com);

15 September 2015

Interview with Paul Kane

Today we’re joined by Paul Kane – author of the recently published Monsters collection (Alchemy Press), the novella Flaming Arrow (Abaddon Books), and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Solaris Books)
 Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

My name’s Paul Kane and incredible as it might seem, especially to me, I’ve been writing professionally now for almost twenty years. In fact, SST publications are bringing out a ‘Best of’ collection next year to mark the event called Shadow Casting, which will feature stories that have won awards, been in ‘best of’ anthologies and made into film/TV. I’ve written everything from genre journalism, which is where I cut my teeth, to Comedy, Crime and Science Fiction – technically, my best known books are SF as they’re post-apocalyptic reworkings of the Robin Hood mythos. But at heart I’m a horror writer, I guess. In terms of the formats I like to write in, as well as shorts and novelettes, novellas and novels, I absolutely love scriptwriting – TV and movies, but also more recently graphic novels. I wrote a 100 page one of those over the summer and had a blast.

What was the first horror story you read and what kind of impact did it make on you?

I don’t know if you could call it horror, and it was read to me at an early age before I started reading it over and over myself, but the story was Enid Blyton’s ‘The House in the Fog’. It’s a weird little tale where this boy gets lost in – surprise, surprise – some fog and wanders into this mysterious house where strange things happen. I remember him growing a furry tail at one point, which I suppose was my first exposure at a tender age to Body Horror. I just couldn’t get enough of that story, and kept pestering my granddad to read it to me again and again. I’d say that was largely responsible for putting me on this path towards writing imaginative stories myself.

Which authors have influenced you?

Oh, all kinds – way too many to list here. I went through a period growing up of reading everything SF, Fantasy, Crime and Horror related – which I call my ‘real’ education. I absolutely adore the Dune books by Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury’s writing and Arthur C. Clarke. Colin Dexter was my go-to guy for crime growing up – the Morse mysteries were superb. And of course people like Tolkien for fantasy… In terms of horror, the authors who had the most impact on me during this period were James Herbert, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Graham Masterton – the usual suspects in other words. Then later, people like Neil Gaiman, Christopher Fowler, Poppy Z. Brite, Simon Clark, Michael Marshall Smith – I could go on all day.

But the author who has influenced more than any other and continues to do so is Clive Barker. Anyone who knows me and my work will understand the importance of him and his fiction, his plays, his films and artwork. Clive’s Books of Blood came along at just the right time for me, and were a revelation – if you’ll pardon the expression. They blew me away! Their range and scope, and just the beauty of the writing. Then I read ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and saw Hellraiser, and the die was pretty much cast. I’m very lucky in that over the years Clive has become a friend and I’ve worked with and for him on a number of projects – just last year I had the pleasure of adapting ‘In the Hills, The Cities’ into a motion comic script – and not many people get to say that about the people they read and loved during their formative years.

Monsters from Alchemy Press is your 10th print collection and contains stories that cover a career of almost twenty years of publishing.  What is it about the short fiction form that appeals to you?

I started off writing shorts when I first seriously started to think about sending out fiction to markets, because I think it was that old chestnut of not having enough confidence in a longer piece. The novels I had tried to write when I was about fifteen, sixteen were absolutely terrible; I still have some of them and they’re a source of constant amusement. So I suppose I was taking baby steps with the shorts, using them to find my feet and my voice, which I eventually did. It’s funny, because they’re a completely different beast to novels, and yet a lot of writers use them as a stepping stone to longer fiction…

But anyway, they’ll always have a special place in my heart because they’re what got me the attention initially, and I do still love to write them, especially in-between novels or novellas. I think one author once said – it might even have been Stephen King – it’s like the difference between a kiss and a full blown relationship, and that’s true for a reader and a writer. Shorts also allow you to experiment a little more without worrying too much if it doesn’t work out; you haven’t wasted too much of your time if they don’t. They also let you explore lots of different aspects of life in various ways, using an assortment of techniques, which you might not be able to do in a novel because you’re trying to keep this whole juggernaut going and on track.

Which of your short fiction are you most proud of?

That’s a tough one, because it’s like asking you to choose between your children. I suppose I’ll go with the ones that other people liked the most: the award-winning ‘A Chaos Demon is for Life’; ‘Rag and Bone’ which appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror; ‘The Weeping Woman’, which was turned into a short film… All three are in Monsters coincidentally, and the limited edition hardback comes with a free DVD of that movie, directed by award-winner Mark Steensland, starring Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys and with music from legendary Fulci-collaborator Fabio Frizzi.

And are there shorts by other writers that have stuck with you?

Definitely, but again too many to list. However, I will mention ones like: Chris Fowler’s ‘Hated’ from the collection Flesh Wounds, about a man who is on the receiving end of a hate curse; Simon Clark’s ‘The Burning Doorway’ in which a crematory attendant sees figures get up and create a door to paradise inside a furnace; Robert Shearman’s ‘Mortal Coil’ where everyone is told when and how they will die; Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Homecoming’ about monsters at Halloween, which influenced my recent short ‘Michael the Monster’ from A Darke Phantastique; Neil Gaiman’s retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff ‘Troll Bridge’; a bit of cheat as it was in the anthology we edited, Hellbound Hearts, but Sarah Pinborough’s ‘The Confessor’s Tale’; and then of course a Clive one – and I’ll go with ‘Human Remains’ here, as that’s always stayed with me since I first read it. The perfect meditation on what it means to be human and how we should be grateful to be alive in the first place. As I say, there are tons of others, but we’d be here all year.

You’ve also recently published Flaming Arrow, the fourth contribution to your Arrowhead series in Abaddon’s Afterblight world – what was it like returning to the series and what can we expect from this new instalment?

That came about after the omnibus edition of the three Arrowhead novels – Hooded Man – sold out of its first print run incredibly quickly. It coincided with me thinking about what might have happened to the characters I wrote about a few years down the line, and so when new Abaddon editor David Thomas Moore dropped me a line and said did I want to pen a new novella in that universe, I already had a story half-forming in my mind and jumped at the chance. It was actually a little like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers again, because I’d already written close to a third of a million words about these people and their lives. Anyone who’s seen Hooded Man knows it’s a doorstopper of a book!

Picking up the tale several years after Arrowland gave me the chance to examine things like the generation gap in a way I hadn’t before, with Robert now an older more grizzled Hood, thinking about handing over control of his Rangers to his adopted son, Mark. But, of course, things don’t go anywhere near according to plan and we see chaos erupting at home in Britain. At the same time, Robert is on a tour of Ranger stations abroad and finds himself facing a new kind of foe; genetically engineered monsters this time, which allowed me to do a tighter, siege-like story, in contrast to all the huge battles I’d tackled before. All in all I had a whale of a time writing it, and from the reviews so far people seem to be having just as much fun reading it.

Clive Barker calls you the resident expert on Hellraiser and Peter Atkins goes further and calls you the world’s leading expert on this iconic series – how did you discover Hellraiser and what’s the appeal of it for you?

As mentioned, I came across Clive’s fiction first, reading ‘The Hellbound Heart’ in the anthology Dark Visions, edited by George R.R. Martin. Then I remember seeing this video in local stores which had a picture of a guy with all these nails banged into his head on the cover, stupidly not connecting the two until I started to read the blurb. I wasn’t old enough to see Hellraiser at the cinema and couldn’t even buy the video myself – I think I borrowed it from a friend’s brother initially – but I recall being desperate to see it! When I did, it scared the crap out of me, naturally, but at the same time I could see that something else was going on. The story was layered, the effects were excellent – I mean just look at Bob Keen’s Frank; it’s amazing and still holds up today – and you had this new way of summoning demons through a kind of Pandora’s Box.

The Cenobites themselves were a particular highlight for me, they were just so unique. Nobody had ever done them as these ‘magnificent superbutchers’ – as Clive describes them – before. In the past they’d been all horns and scales, or demon babies. Basically, it just had the whole package and I fell in love with the film and the mythology instantly. It’s also one of those mythos that can just expand and expand, as the sequels and comics and our anthology have shown. There’s a reason it’s still as popular as ever almost thirty years after the original.

You’ve also edited anthologies – do you find the experience has sharpened or changed your approach to writing?   

Editing anthologies, like teaching creative writing classes – which I used to do up until a few years ago – definitely help with your own writing. They help you to spot mistakes and on the flip side see how good stories are constructed. You have a distance there with other people’s stories that you don’t have with your own, so it kind of trains you to do that when it comes to editing your own stuff. You end up approaching it objectively, especially if you put it to one side for a little while before coming back to it. Both help to sharpen your own writing, forcing you to look harder at stories, to spot what’s good and what’s bad – but also to help with your own judgement about such things.  I’ve loved editing anthologies, from the very first in the small press to mass market ones later on such as The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Beyond Rue Morgue. It’s a real treat for me and a change of pace from working on my own material, which keeps everything fresh.

Do you have a dream anthology you’d like to do but haven’t yet?

I do, and funnily enough I got very close to doing it last year. There were lots of phone calls backwards and forwards to the US, but in the end it didn’t happen. I never say never, though, so I don’t want to mention what it is in case it ever comes around again. For a little while back there, though, things were incredibly exciting.

And how have you found the process of co-editing with Marie?

Oh, I thoroughly enjoy it. Marie and I have very similar tastes in fiction, as in everything else. I can’t think of anything better than working with your best friend, apart from – of course – being married to her, so I count myself incredibly lucky in every respect there. I’ve edited anthologies on my own, but do prefer to have another set of eyes on the case, whether it’s Marie or someone else, as you can go a bit wordblind. Plus which, other people bring different things to the table. Charles Prepolec, for instance, was perfect for a project like Beyond Rue Morgue and I knew this because he’d edited my story ‘The Greatest Mystery’ for his Holmes anthology Gaslight Arcanum. Having said all that, I’ve just put an anthology to bed that I worked on by myself, but that’s a rather unusual case… and I can’t say too much about it at this time.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Blimey, I’m probably the wrong person to ask that as I love all the clichés, good and bad. Vampires that turn into bats, werewolves howling at the moon, cobweb-filled castles, mad scientists, shambling zombies. I’m a sucker for all of that stuff. Maybe cats jumping out at people who are going down dark corridors – that’s probably had its day. I’d like to see a badger jump out at someone or something, that would make it a bit different.

And finally, what are you up to next?

It’s been one of the busiest times I can remember actually. You catch me as I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a mass market novel (the only just announced Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell for Solaris . So it’s been writing that and the graphic novel over the summer, as well as going to various conventions, like Edge-Lit and Derby Literary Festival.

I was a guest at three events, the BSFA/BFS SSF Social with Jacey Bedford in June, HorrorCon in July and Liverpool HorrorFest in August. I had a great time at all three. I also attended the launch of the Leviathan documentary at the Cinema Museum in London, as I have a 30 minute featurette on the DVD talking about the Hellraiser sequels. I’ve been doing quite a bit of PR work to promote Flaming Arrow and Monsters, as well, including interviews like this one, blog posts, podcasts, TV appearances…

Other releases out or due out include: the latest Dalton Quayle from Pendragon, The Bric-a-brac Man, which contains two new comedy horror novellas; Hellraisers, which is an interview book from Avalard featuring brand new chats with all the major players in the franchise; the sequel to RED, Blood RED – also from SST – which contains both the original novella, the brand new short novel and a host of extras, such as an extract from the award-winning screenplay based on RED, character sketches and so on… that comes with a Dave McKean cover and an introduction by Alison Littlewood; the graphic novel of Lunar – which is also being turned into a feature film by The 7th Dimension director Brad Watson, based on my script; plus a new collection called Disexistence which gathers together a lot of my new shorts from the last few years, introduced by Nancy Holder… There’s more, but that’ll do for now!

As for upcoming appearances, I’ll be at FantasyCon in October doing stuff and plugging stuff, and one of the guest speakers in November on a course in Derby called ‘The World of Writing and Publishing’, where I’ll be talking about how to make your living as a writer.

Thank you for joining us Paul!

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over fifty 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 and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. 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, plus HorrorCon and HorrorFest in 2015, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film) and the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), with the sequel to REDBlood RED – forthcoming from SST Publications. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

You can buy Monsters from Amazon here and Flaming Arrow from Amazon here or direct from Rebellion here.

11 September 2015

Interview with Alec McQuay

Today we welcome the author of the kick-ass Emily Nation (Fox Spirit Books) to answer a few questions – Alec McQuay, take it away….

Who is Alec McQuay and what do you write?

Hi! Alec is a… Wait, I’m not famous enough to get away with 3rd person. I’m a genre fiction writer from West Cornwall and I like to write across different genres. Fun for me, a nightmare for those who have to allocate it a place on Amazon / a bookshelf. At the moment my work is centred around the western and steam / cyber-punk world of Emily Nation.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing odd bits of fan-fiction since I was about ten but I’ve been putting in serious time on it for probably the last six years or so, since I became a dad. I ended up writing my first novella because I was awake at all hours and needed something to occupy my time and when that got picked up by Fox Spirit, I just kept at it.

Which authors have been an influence to you?

I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett most of all – he was a phenomenal writer, world builder and character creator and also a wonderful human being. I had the privilege of meeting him at a book signing and he was so warm and friendly, in spite of my awkwardness. I also love Brian Jacques and his Redwall series, along with Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin (Tank girl creators) Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta etc) and Gerry Duggan, who was head writer on the most recent Marvel Now! Deadpool series. I love their humour and the darkness of their writing.

Let’s talk Emily Nation – what’s it all about and what led you to writing about post-apocalyptic assassins?

The book is about the titular character making a complete balls-up of a job and having to deal with the consequences. She was young, over confident and armed to the teeth and instead of nipping a problem in the bud, she created a power vacuum that lead to the destruction of the things she cared most about. Long afterwards she is sought out to return to the scene of her mistake and help deal with the chaos she helped to create.

I’m drawn to assassins because they’re quite frightening. They can be anything from an exceptional fighter who can outdo much larger, stronger opponents toe-to-toe, right up to a killer in the distance who you never even know are there. If you upset the wrong person, a woman with a rifle could be taking aim at you right now, from a rooftop a mile away. Nothing you could do to stop them and you’d never even be able to raise the alarm. Much scarier to me than a monster under the bed. The setting I love because you can do anything with it – you can take anywhere you like and warp it in the wake of a natural, man-made or even magical disaster. There’s just so much potential!

Who is your favourite character from Emily Nation and why?  And how about your least favourite character?  What makes them less appealing to you?

Naturally I love Emily, but Jemima is my favourite. She is absolutely lethal and you get the sense that she has been through a hell of a lot that she doesn’t talk about, but she doesn’t let it define her. She’s violent, she swears (a lot) and while she has a sexualised aspect, she has complete agency over how she presents herself. If you’re daft enough to ogle her and she breaks your nose for it, that would be your fault.

My least favourite character is Mr King. Everyone has to have some depth to them and a motivation for what they do, but beneath his hard exterior he’s just a callous, nasty little shit of a man. I’ve known quite a few people who go out of their way just to be unpleasant and he’s pretty much a patch-work quilt made from thirty years-worth of gits.

You also went post-apocalyptic in your novella Spares – what’s the appeal of the post-apocalyptic scenario and how does it influence the story in Spares?

I’ve grown up either surrounded by stories in those settings (Mad Max etc) or surrounded by people going on about this, that or the other being poised to bugger the world up beyond repair. Climate change, war with any one of so many other cultures, aliens, meteors, the Sun spontaneously turning into a huge ball of peanuts and sending us all into anaphylactic shock. If it’s not the environment then we’re all eating too much / little protein, too much / little carbs, everything is going to give you cancer, we’re going to create robots and those robots are going to call us names and beat us up… It just never ended. Mind you… ask a Native American or an Australian Aboriginal person about what it would be like to live in a post-apocalyptic setting and they might just laugh and tell you to take a look around.

The love of the post-apoc setting spun out of all that really, and Spares in particular with our obsession for living longer rather than better. The more time we have to do a thing, the less urgently we approach it. That’s natural to a degree so that we don’t exist in a constant state of panic, but if something happened and suddenly we’d never die, but everything still wore out? How would we cope? How would immortality change us? I had fun with it but one day I want to come back to that setting and give it a lot more time and a lot more thought. Some people barely have enough humanity to last them a lifetime. What the hell would they do with eternity?

What are your recommendations for other post-apocalyptic adventures?

In terms of movies, the four Mad Max movies to date with a particular love for Fury Road. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend is a wonderful book (albeit a sub-par movie) if you’re a fan of zombie-apocalypse settings and games wise, give Borderlands a go. It’s part post-apoc, part western, funny as hell and a really great ride. One of the downloadable content packs is called Island of Doctor Ned and is a zombie-outbreak type area that is at least seventeen different kinds of fun. Ticks multiple boxes.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

I’d be in deep trouble if I said post-apoc, right…?

One of my major gripes in genre fiction, movies, television and allsorts is the idea that violence is absolutely fine so long as no-one is swearing. I’ve played games where people are killed by having giant chainsaws rammed through their torsos, they’re held aloft and the chainsaw’s motor is revved hard until blood spills out everywhere and the victim is dead, but no-one said anything naughty. I’ve seen shows where people have bamboo rammed under their fingernails and their response sounded like AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH. I’ve seen movies where people are torn apart by horses tied to each of their limbs and they didn’t curse once. I’m not saying everything adult in nature has to be saturated with bad language but if you feel that the depiction of horrific violence is less offensive or “adult” than seeing a human being tortured, killed or eviscerated, well then I think you should jump into Room 101 along with the cliché.

If you could kill off any character from any other book, who would you choose and how would they die?

I want two but they’re from the same book(s)! I would take Vernon Dursley and Delores Umbridge (of Harry Potter infamy), have them grabbed by the lapels by a swarm of disgruntled Hogwarts owls, hoisted to about 20,000 feet and dropped into an industrial wood chipper. I have an absolutely pathological hatred of cruel people and bullies who abuse what little power they have to just be foul to other people. Reading those two made me very cross.

What are you up to next?

Currently I’ve got a lot on my plate – I’m writing Emily Nation 2, working my way through a novella series with a group of writers producing a superhero series by the name of Outliers, I have some short fiction in the works for Fox Spirit and I’m training for my first powerlifting competition in November. Never enough hours in the day, but I love it.

Thank you for joining us Alec!

Alec McQuay is a horror, fantasy and science fiction writer hailing from Cornwall in the south-west of England; an area renowned for natural outstanding beauty and the worst internet connections in the country. Capable of going off at odd tangents, bizarre flights of fantasy and generally being incapable of taking things like bio-writing seriously, Alec spends most of his time scribbling notes and ideas on his phone and talking the ears off his wife and friends about whatever mad-cap scheme he intends to write next.  You can find him at his website https://alecmcquay.wordpress.com or on twitter as @VampiricChicken

Emily Nation is published by Fox Spirit Books and is available from Amazon.

08 September 2015

Interview with Jan Edwards

Jan Edwards is a woman of many talents – writer, editor, publisher, bookseller, Reiki master, tarot reader, quilter, motorbike chick, Britain’s first female master locksmith, gardener, cook, potter and sculptor…

So, first let’s talk about Jan the writer. When did you first start writing and what genres draw you.
It always sounds like such a cliché to say I have always written, for as long as I can remember, but I suspect this is quite true with the majority of writers. I amused the family no end by talking in the third person for a week or more when I was around seven years old, because I wanted to see what I would sound like as a book and at secondary school I filled many school notebooks with fiction (mostly during lesson times). I wrote primarily for myself for years and only really started thinking about writing for publication in my late thirties when the family and business needed less of my time.

What draws me? I have always been fascinated by folklore, myths and legends, especially those that give rise to local customs, so fantasy was a natural path. A great deal of my short fiction has been dark fantasy, urban fantasy and horror and many of those stories have been drawn directly from those sources. Sussex Tales, my mainstream novel, also has a lean toward those local customs with the added bonus of country wine recipes and rural herb lore.  Currently I am writing a crime novel set in WW2 which is more historical than mythical –though I still find myself caught up in the same levels of research. As you can see there is no one genre that draws me; except for a recurring love of those old legends.

Which authors have inspired you in these genres?
This is the kind of question I always hate answering mainly because my influences and inspirations are so wide. Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier have always been huge influences, as have Arthur Conan Doyle, Joan Aitken, Michael Moorcock, Robert Holdstock and so many more. Ask me tomorrow and I will find a half dozen others.

When it comes to more recent authors it is even harder to choose because we all read so many new titles by so many people that to name one or two above the rest would be unfair to the dozens of other equally spiffing writers. I could list all of the recent and forthcoming Alchemy Press authors such as Pete Atkins, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Bryn Fortey, Mike Chinn, Anne Nichols, Adrian Cole, Pauline Dungate, James Brogden, Paul Kane, Marion Pitman, David Sutton,  John Grant et al – or the Penkhull Press writers; Misha Herwin, Jem Shaw and Malcolm Havard – but that would be unfair to all of the other writers that not yet published by either press!

Recently read books that I’ve enjoyed most especially (who are not Alchemy Press writers – all of whom are fab!) have been by (in no special order) Jo Walton, Joanne Harris, Jim Butcher, Lou Morgan and Paul Finch. There are others of course but these are the ones that have stuck with me, which is always a good sign.

Have you ever been tempted to retell Pride and Prejudice with a genre slant? ;-)
It has crossed my mind, though it has been done so many times already that I am not sure it would be a project people would want to see. A regency urban fantasy might be quite fun to do if I got my act together. Elizabeth Bennett is one of the greatest characters in literature. She could be parachuted into almost any setting and still work. I suspect she has been paid homage (and occasionally pastiched) by many, many, writers – albeit under different names.

You’ve just had your supernatural fiction collection Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties published with The Alchemy Press. Tell us a little more about that.
Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties  (to paraphrase) is exactly what it says on the cover. A collection of supernatural fiction (in paper and kindle formats). All but one of the stories included have been previously published, and some of the stories had a limited audience on first publication it seemed like a good idea to give them a second airing. The single original story in there is not strictly speaking new as it was accepted for Twisted Tongue magazine which folded before my story was published. They are all supernatural in origin, either traditional ghost stories or tales that revolve around a spirit of a kind. I am not a writer of visceral horror, but rather (I hope) the sort that raises an uneasy sensation in the back of the neck when you are walking home in the dark!

You’ve got another collection – Fables and Fabulations – coming out soon. When, with whom and is there a particular theme to it?
Fables and Fabulations is coming out very soon as a ‘Penkhull Slim’ volume with the Penkhull Press. Again these are all previously published stories gathered together in a single volume, but unlike Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties there is no particular theme beyond fantasy in its broadest sense. Fables and Fabulations opens with the vampire tale ‘A Taste of Culture, (first published in the Mammoth Book of Dracula and ends with ‘Winter Eve’, (from Ethereal Tales #9) which is an urban fantasy on Halloween and the water horses of legend galloping across Pontypridd common.  There is also are SF and horror tales in the mix so hopefully something for everyone.

Next, Jan the editor. You’ve edited multiple publications for the BFS, and co-edited for both The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books. What’s the appeal of this side of publishing for you?
I do love the process of putting an anthology together. Sifting through the submissions and coming across those gems of short fiction is hard work but infinitely rewarding. The downside is in having to reject some really good stuff, either because it doesn’t fit or there is a similar story that you like just that little bit better. It is also a great way to network with other writers!

Do you have a dream anthology project you’d like to do or authors you’d like to work with in the future?
There are so many projects that would be fun to do. Something with a pagan theme perhaps – ‘Quarters and Cross Quarters’ (a working title) or maybe as an retired locksmith something like ‘Picking Over Locks’. That said I prefer not to have my themes too narrowly set. By the time you have read the sixth story about one-legged zombie hunters or Unicorns at Halloween even the best of fiction can lack originality.

Who would I like to work with? Hmm. Well the Alchemy Press books of Urban Mythic 1 &2 and Alchemy Press book of Ancient Wonders as well as the Fox Spirit book of Wicked Women all have some stellar line-ups. Top notch established writers and talented new arrivals. And of course with Alchemy Press I have worked with some fabulous writers already mentioned. So who left? I would love to get stories from Charles de Lint or Jim Butcher, Joanne Harris or Sarah Pinborough. But there are dozens, maybe hundreds of writers I could name and would hate to make a list and forget to include folks I admire but who slipped my mind just for a moment.

Do you have any recommendations for short fiction or anthologies by others?
Other than Alchemy Press authors you mean? See above. There are a zillion great writers out there I could name! The Terror Tales series of anthologies from Gray Friar Press are always worth reading. Sadly the Mammoth imprint is being phased out – I was thrilled to get a story accepted for one of their last titles Mammoth book of The Adventures of Moriarty. PS publishing put out some cracking anthologies. As a writer I enjoy an anthology that has variety. As an editor, though I use my e-reader as everyone else does, I still feel that books should be a thing of beauty, and I place a lot of value on production values. Layouts should please the eye and typos be few and far between. Most of all, with both hats on, they should entertain. I suspect only the editors like every story in a given anthology, but the good thing about them for a reader is that if there is one story in a volume that doesn’t grab you there is a good chance the next one will.

What are you up to next?
I have Fables and Fabulations coming soon, there are short stories due out in three anthologies in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis, Tales From The Lake: vol 2 and Terror Tales of the Ocean, and one other yet to be announced. I have a main stream novel due out with Penkhull Press in the spring and a crime novel and urban fantasy series in edit.

On ‘fun stuff’,  you can catch me in a panel at Fantasycon 2015 in Nottingham, where Alchemy Press will be selling books and launching Music in the Bone, a collection by Marion Pitman.   We shall also be at Novacon in Nottingham selling books, I shall be on  panel about editing and  we will be launching Anne Nicholls’s collection Music From the Fifth Planet; and then there is Sledgelit In Derby where we are selling books and hopefully soft launching the collection The Complete Weird Epistles of Penelope Pettiweather, Ghost Collector  by US writer Jessica Amanda Salmonson .

On other stuff Alchemy Press have multiple short listings in the British Fantasy Awards. Best Anthology: The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2, edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber;  Best Collection: Nick Nightmare Investigates, by Adrian Cole (co-published with Airgedlámh Publications);  Best Non-Fiction: Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic, by John Howard and Best Independent Press: The Alchemy Press itself. (we won this award last year.
Fox Spirit are also in the running for multiple in the BFA shortlists with:  Best Anthology  with Tales of Eve; Best Fantasy Novel Breed by K.T. Davies; Best Short Story with ‘Change of Heart by Gaie Sebold which appears in our Wicked Women anthology (edited by Jenny Barber and Jan Edwards ) and finally for Best Independent Press

Penkhull Press and Renegade Writers have a story café at the Gladstone Museum in Stoke for Halloween.

I have no doubt other things will be slotted into the calendar before the new year. You can always catch up with what I am doing on my blog site.

Jan Edwards, thank you very much for joining us!

21 August 2015

Nineworlds Geekfest 2015

So, yes, this year’s Nineworlds then…  Last year was awesome, having all the things I like about Eastercon – the varied tracks, the cosplay, the fun workshops – but with an extra bit of buzz that made it my favourite con of the year.  This year, excepting the dodgy service in the hotel, exceeded that.

Nineworlds is a very friendly con, and one that actively welcomes as many people as it possibly can; catering to a wide range of needs through communication badges, priority seating and as many other accessibility options as the excellent committee bods can think of.  And if they haven’t already got it covered they’re very open to sorting things out once someone’s drawn their attention to it.  And it’s this attitude, I think, that helps makes the con feel like such a relaxed and cheerful place.

The Radisson hotel, however, was distinctly unfriendly towards con peeps.  This isn’t new – over previous conventions at the hotel there’s been a very noticeable shift in attitude towards con attendees over the weekend, most especially from restaurant and bar staff who will ignore anyone wearing a con badge, yet venture in unbadged and they couldn’t be more friendly and helpful. Which is a shame, because I’m quite fond of the hotel as a place generally. Fortunately Nineworlds has wisely chosen to shift venues next year, so here’s hoping the new hotel has nicer staff.

Another thing I really like about Nineworlds is the programme app. With so many tracks on offer, it can be a bit overwhelming sorting out what you’re doing when, but the app makes everything oodles easier. Especially when it comes to spotting triple bookings.  :-)  Now if they could just include a time-turner facility, I might get to see alllll the things as I missed a ton of things I wanted to do and a ton of people I wanted to see.   Och well.  On the plus side, I saw people I wasn’t expecting to and had all manner of interesting conversations which made up for it.

Panels, then.  Due to overwhelming demand, many of the panels got packed out early, so getting there twenty minutes in advance was essential in some cases.  The Friday myth panel was case in point with people getting booted out due to way too many people sardining in.  Also Joanne Harris talked briefly to me before the panel and I totally did not fangirl.  Honest. (She’s so cool!) Ahem, yes. Annnyhoo.

What was really fun, though, was the genre mashing panel (Dragatha Christie totally has to happen).  Not only fun and highly entertaining, it was one of those panels that managed the perfect combinations of panellists (Zen Cho! Gaie Sebold! Adrian Tchaikovsky! James Oswald! James Smythe!) and if you weren’t a fan of the authors before the panel, you definitely were by the end of it.  (There are now so many books on my kindle wishlist, I’m going to go broke, I swear…)

 And then there was the sword fighting! I booked in for the Water Dancing with Syrio Forel workshop thingy as it was one of the things I missed out on last year, and oy, was it fun.  (Not so much fun was having to demonstrate your skills in front of the class at the end. Argh! No.) Apparently I have fire but need to work on my technique… :-)  Definitely a recommended thing to have a go at if you’re around for next year’s con…

Which I’ve already booked in for, because, really, that much awesome, you have to, don’t you.  (Booking open here now!  Doooooo it! You know you want to!)  So huge thanks to the con volunteers for making it such a great weekend and here’s hoping that next year is even better!

21 July 2015

British Fantasy Awards 2015 shortlist (all the squee)

Don't mind me, I'll just be giggling madly in the corner here...  So, this morning the ever lovely Stephen Theaker posted the BF Awards shortlist for this year.... on the BFS website here, in full

This is such a fantastic list with some fab people on it (Lightspeed's Women Destroy SF! Jen Williams! Spectral's Book of Horror! Mark West! Holdfast! Lightspeed!) so huuuuuge congrats to all the nominees....

The absolute highlight though is in Best Anthology where Urban Mythic 2 scored a nomination!  To say Jan and I are insanely pleased would be an understatement of epic proportions.  We are INSANELY pleased!

And! Wicked Women copped a sorta mention too as the awesome Gaie Sebold got a Best Short Story nom for 'A Change of Heart' which appeared in it.  Babylon Steel stories for the win!

Did I mention Jan and I are insanely pleased? There is happy dancing.

And! Not only that!  But my beloved Team Alchemy and Team Skulk picked up all manner of noms, namely -

Best artist - 
Ben Baldwin - who did the gorgeous cover for Urban Mythic 1
Les Edwards - who did the equally gorgeous cover for Urban Mythic 2 as well as covers for other Alchemy titles
Sarah Anne Langton - who did the wonderfully gorgeous cover for Wicked Women as well as covers for other Fox Spirit titles
Daniele Serra - who has done lovely covers for both Alchemy and Fox Spirit

Best collection -
Nick Nightmare Investigates, Adrian Cole (The Alchemy Press and Airgedlámh Publications)

Best fantasy novel (the Robert Holdstock Award) -
Breed, KT Davies (Fox Spirit Books)

Best horror novel (the August Derleth Award) -
The Unquiet House, Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)  - Who also had a story in Urban Mythic 1.  :-)

Best independent press -
The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)
Fox Spirit Books (Adele Wearing)

Best non-fiction -
Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic, John Howard (The Alchemy Press)

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on Sunday, 25 October 2015, at FantasyCon 2015 in Nottingham, and, obvs, Alchemy and Fox Spirit will be winning alllll the awards.  And getting a joint win in Best Inde Press, just cos.  ;-)

03 July 2015

Fab Fic Friday: Littlewood, Tidhar, Bear, El-Mohtar

Goood morning my lovelies.  Here are some of the short fic I've been loving this week -

Wolves and Witches and Bears by Alison Littlewood - Nightmare #34/July 2015
In which Nick and Ella go on holiday to Croatia to try and reconnect, but when Nick's choice of a walking route ends in trouble, Ella must dig deep into herself to come to the rescue. But digging deep brings its own dangers and Ella will be forever transformed by the results.  This is an enthralling tale with as much satisfaction to be found in Nick's suggested fate as there is in Ella's.

Flash by Lavie Tidhar - Daily Science Fiction/June 2015
It's a fun and pointed flash piece, being something of a behind the scenes account of what really happened that time a certain planetary overlord was deposed.

Swell by Elizabeth Bear - Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, ed. Paula Guran (Prime Books)
Mermaids! Elizabeth Bear! Did you need more? Oh, well, ok then...this one tells of a musician's encounter with a mysterious blind girl and the aftermath of a night spent together.  It's a beautiful tale that weaves finding your own voice with not taking the easy option and is a bit reminiscent of some of de Lint's Newford stories. 

Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar - Lightspeed #61/June 2015
This is a wonderfully moving story and no description would truly do it justice.  It tells of grief and loneliness and altered mental realities; and there's also something mildly disturbing about the speed with which Madeleine's therapist can get her institutionalised when she speaks about the interactive memory flashes she's experiencing after participation in an Alzheimers drug trial.