23 December 2015

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Adrian Tchaikovsky

And today, my lovelies, we’re rolling into the holidays with the author of Wicked Women story ‘This Blessed Union’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky, take it away!

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

I’m that guy who writes about spiders taking over, while rooting for the spiders. There’s more to it as well – my interests include biological sciences, historical combat and gaming of all kinds, but they’re going to put the spider thing on my tombstone. Or you can substitute various things for spiders – insects, aliens, robots, the next wave of human evolution, but I am consistently the champion of the other.

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

I first started writing (terribly) around age 18 after reading the Dragonlance books and realising that here someone had taken a RPG campaign and turned it into a set of novels. If they could do it, I could do it. And of course I couldn’t, but I kept on going and improved with practice.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Probably the most important writers of my early life were Diane Wynne Jones, Michael Moorcock and Peter S Beagle. Going forward, there are those like Mary Gentle, China Mieville and Gene Wolfe, who I’d love to be able to approach more in my own writing (I actually wrote this to Wolfe once. He replied “You should be trying to write the best like Adrian Tchaikovsky that you can.”)

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

I’m going to go way back in time to Inanna, goddess of the Sumerian pantheon. Inanna wasn’t the god in charge, but she seemed to have been by far the deity the people were fondest of. She was a rule-breaker, a trickster, constantly getting into trouble, feuding with her family, having tons of sex and generally living her own life and to hell with the consequences – a genuine kickass fantasy heroine right back from the dawn of recorded storytelling, doing all the things that later on became the province of male deities and heroes.

Your standalone ‘Regency-ish military fantasy romance’ Guns of Dawn has a dynamic and passionate heroine in Emily Marshwic – what influences were behind her creation as a character and what drew you to an echo-Regency setting?
Guns of the Dawn (out now in paperback!) has a huge debt to Austen. It’s not really Pride and Extreme Prejudice but my Emily would probably have got on well with Lisa Bennett before her call up papers came, and equally well with Sharpe after her time in the service. The not-quite-Regency setting seemed the perfect point in not-quite-history to set it – not just because that’s the period where peoples’ everyday lives become so much more fleshed out, with a boom in people reading (mostly female-written) novels of manners, but also because of the sort of warfare involved. Like the sergeant at Gravenfields says, a gun can make a killer out of anyone.
You’ve said that your SF novel – Children of Time – is your most ambitious work to date, what kind of challenges did you find in writing it and are there any plans to revisit that universe in any form?

I’d love to revisit the Portiids at some point. Children of Time was a profoundly personal piece for me, born of nothing more than a knowledge of the Portia labiata and an interest in exploring what she might evolve into given a free rein. Despite a certain amount of magicianly hand-waving behind the scenes I was determined to make the science as real as I could (which may or may not be very real), and so I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of scientists to try and make it all plausible.

Next year sees the release of a collection of Lovecraftian stories from Alchemy Press – what can you tell us about The Private Life of Elder Things – how did it come about, who’s involved and what can readers expect?

I have always been fascinated by Lovecraft’s creatures. Whether by intent or not they’re often more relatable than his human characters. He was very good at walking that fine line to give something that is alien, and yet just comprehensible enough to remain interesting. The idea of Private Life is to take a few Lovecraftian staples and explore how their worlds touch human experience in new ways.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

I tend to go back and forth in my reading tastes – I’ll read a couple of long works, then I’ll go back to anthologies. Short fiction is always fresh, gets to the point quickly and then wraps up. It’s a very economical writing form, and it can deliver enormous emotional or intellectual payout. Some of the best short fiction I’ve read comes from Ted Chiang, Chris Beckett, Gene Wolfe (again) and Ursula le Guin.

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

The sort of plot where the hero is chosen by destiny beforehand. Only He can save mankind. Not you, not any of you rabble, but him. Feh.

What are you up to next?
My new book from Tor UK is The Tiger and the Wolf, which is set in a bronze-age tribal society where everyone is a shapeshifter. Also, later next year, I’ve got Spiderlight coming from Tor in the US, which is best described as deconstructionist heroic fantasy. A band of D&D-style adventurers are on a quest to defeat a dark lord, guided by a prophesy. The problem is that the prophesy requires them to recruit a Mirkwood-style giant spider into the party. Hilarity ensures…
Thank you for joining us Adrian!

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist.  Guns of the Dawn, his new fantasy novel, is out now.
You can find him on at his website here, on Facebook, Goodreads, or as @aptshadow on Twitter.

21 December 2015

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: A.R. Aston

Today we welcome the author of Wicked Women story ‘No Place of Honour’ – A.R Aston, take it away!

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

I am 24 years old English and History graduate from the long vanquished kingdom of Mercia (or the East Midlands of England if we must insist on being modern). I have been writing in the speculative fiction and fantasy genres for years, though I have yet to earn a crust with the work I have sold; more like delicious crumbs.

When not writing you can find me voraciously reading anything and everything I can get my hands on, like some tea and bacon sandwich-fuelled Johnny Five.

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

I have been writing casually for as long as I have been able to.   I began getting serious with my work when I started writing fiction on writing forums, where I finally got an audience for my work, and even more vitally, harsh critiquing. Those years online, having my work dissected and flayed bare by people who had no interest in sparing my feelings or coddling me was invaluable to me, and I think helped me when in 2011 I first got published professionally for a small press. Luckily enough for me, my first piece was accepted within a few months of submission. This I later learned was spectacularly speedy in publishing terms, and I was unwittingly fortuitous. The real work of writing is as much learning from the many, many rejections and learning patience as it is from actually having works go to print. Writing is not an industry one goes in for an easy life.

Over the years I have had numerous fantasy, sci-fi and horror short stories published with various indie publishing, and have co-edited three anthologies with old veterans of my writing forum days.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Oh too many to count. In the world of science fiction, I find the world-building of Alastair Reynolds poetic and sublime in the traditional sense of the word. His depiction of the Lighthuggers of Revelation space made me think of relativistic space travel in an entirely different manner. Stephen Baxter’s joyous excitement over his created worlds is infectious, and the way he and Pratchett logically and explosively extrapolate the uses and effects of the universe in the Long Earth sequence is a particular inspiration to me.

More recently, Ann Leckie’s work with gender and consciousness in the Ancillary trilogy has given me numerous ideas to explore in one of the novels I am currently writing

JRR Tolkien is in many ways the foundation stone upon which modern fantasy is built, so it would feel churlish of me not to also cite him as a massive influence.

I also love Joe Abercrombie, the self-proclaimed lord of grimdark. His dialogue is witty and sharp as a rapier, and he has created some of the most likeable assholes I have read in a long while.

Both history and fiction is replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

I love the story of Julie d’Aubigny, the legendary bisexual, cross-dressing female duellist and opera singer who roamed 17th century France fighting in illegal duels, singing opera for kings and having numerous torrid love affairs with men and women alike. She is a figure who defies any category imposed upon her by the society of the time. Hers is a wild story made all the more impressive for being predominantly non-fictional.

As for fictional wicked women; I am rather partial to Thorn Bathu, the snarling, scarred heroine of Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World.

You recently had your story ‘For a Fistful of Diamonds’ published in Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight – how did you approach your take on the genre for it and what makes a good superhero story for you?

The idea of the superhero is incredibly broad and diffuse as a genre, incorporating everything from detective noir to interstellar space opera, political thriller to comedic heist. Thus, I felt it important to not stray too far from the core aspect of the genre, exploring the extraordinary powers of my protagonist, and their effect upon his psyche and his place in society.

I wanted my character to be a pyrokine, but explored in an inventive way no one else has done before. Hopefully I have succeeded, and laid the foundations for a far larger and more expansive world.

What can you tell us about the Outliers Project?

The Outliers Project is a collaborative effort between me and four other authors to produce a ten book series of linked novella anthologies. It is a global tale of a world in which a minority of entities have been endowed with powers of ancient pedigree. We wanted to create a superhero mythology which felt plausible and allowed us to delve into the details of how a world like ours would cope with the revelation of gifted individuals, and how empowered people would fit into our world. You may have already read the first forays into the Outliers universe if you have read the final four short stories of Emby PressThe Good Fight: Superhero Monster Hunter, which hints at the tone of the coming event.

What excites me most about this project, and what I feel differentiates it from other superhero settings, is its focus. It is a series without a reset button, where the world is changed and stays changed, and no one is safe. There is a destination; a full story in ten parts, building relentlessly to a startling and thrilling conclusion. I really hope readers will enjoy our stories once we release them out into the wild world.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

As a reader, good short fiction is a delight that allows me to dip into rich settings as and when I please, without the immersion and time a good novel demands. Short stories are the tapas bar to the novel’s four course meal with all the trimmings.

Short fiction is a challenge for an author, as it demands you create and populate a world readers can relate to and adore over the course of but a few dozen pages. It forces you to be a prose impressionist in a way; painting just enough to hint at a deeper premise and a world for your readers to complete. I like the discipline of the format, as it forces you to think about every sentence you use and to be ruthless in self-editing; if it doesn’t serve the central premise, it is extraneous.

Horror definitely suits short fiction, as good horror needs but a few words to plant terrible seeds that allow a reader to populate with nightmares more terrible than the author alone could conjure. I was once involved with an anthology that collated together one hundred 100 word pieces of micro-horror that demonstrated how few words were required to incept some properly creepy images into the mind of a reader.

My favourite piece of short fiction of all time is probably Ray Bradbury’s ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’. It is such a beautiful and nightmarish vision of a post-nuclear world, which is all the most impressive for lacking any characters that are not poignantly posthumous.

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

I would do away with a cliché which often occurs when a writer wants to show a clash between an industrial human culture and a less advanced one, where the human/white male protagonist begins as an enemy of the noble savage race, but eventually becomes one of them, and learns their mystical ways, eventually leading them in a battle against his own kind.

Done. To. Death.

Basically, these stories always end up devolving into some variation of Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas. I find the plot boring and predictable, and I think it is often a waste of a fascinating premise or setting. My ur-example of this would be Cameron’s Avatar. The setting he created was full of interesting technologies, fascinating creatures and stunning imagery, but it was all in service of a plot which seemed to have no ambition.

So yeah, that can be banished to room 101.

… That and zombie apocalypses. A zombie story without at least a necromancer in there somewhere is just lame.

What are you up to next?

Outliers is currently looming on my horizons like the swaying surface fins of a submerged leviathan; I shall soon enough be up to my ears writing and plotting ten novella anthologies, culminating in a staggering multi-author finale which I hope will blow our readers’ proverbial socks off! Fun times ahead. Look out for the first

Whilst writing these novellas, I am in talks with publishers into having my debut fantasy novel, The Hobgoblin’s Herald, published in the next twelve months. In addition, I am writing its sequel and have the scaffolding up on several other novels under construction. Saying I like to keep myself busy would at this stage feel like an understatement…

Thank you for joining us A.R. Aston!

A. R. Aston is a speculative fiction writer from the former industrial town of Swadlincote, located deep in the Heart of England (in the left ventricle if you must know…). An avid student of history and english literature, he has always had a passion for the written word. When not writing, he can be found reading voraciously, creating a functional time machine, and composing spurious facts about himself.

18 December 2015

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Tom Johnstone

Today we welcome the author of Wicked Women story ‘Kravolitz’ – Tom Johnstone, take it away!

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

I like to write short fiction. I’ve never written anything over the 8-10k word range, partly through choice, partly due to time constraints, as I have a family and a full-time job. Also the ideas I have seem to lend themselves to the short form, though they sometimes end up being longer than I intended. Basically, I write what I like to read, something writers are often advised to do; and generally what I like to read is short horror, though I do enjoy novels / novellas too, as well as fiction of other genres (crime, SF) and none. Having said that, I’ve also written comedy sketches and the script for part of a mosaic graphic novel.

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

I can’t claim to be one of these prodigies who started writing at the age of two, and made their first professional fiction sale a year later. I’m exaggerating somewhat of course, but in this as in many things I am a late developer. I didn’t really get going on my writing career (if you can call it that) until my mid-to-late thirties, about ten years ago. I responded to Telos’s open call for Doctor Who spin-off novella submissions, and one of the editors responded favourably to the sample chapter I sent them, though I wasn’t experienced enough to follow this up adequately, and there was too much going on my life to do the project justice. I sent a few short stories off to various publications after that with little success, as well as comedy scripts to satirical cabaret shows like Brighton’s The Treason Show and London’s Newsrevue. The sketches could be quite lucrative on those occasions when they used my material, and I even got a paid credit on a BBC Scotland radio show called Watson’s Wind Up, though I don’t think they actually used my one-liner and they’ve since cancelled the show…

After a while, I gave up on the sketches. I began to find the hit-and-miss nature of writing sketches that rarely got used a little trying, and what I really wanted to do was write horror stories, mainly of the weird and supernatural sort. I still put both humour and politics into these, and I began to hone my craft, securing publication in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Tales, Supernatural Tales, Strange Tales (Vol. 5, Tartarus Press), The Black Book of Horror (9-11, Mortbury Press) and your own Wicked Women.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

There are the obvious ones like M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft, and their bastard literary offspring Ramsey Campbell. Once he’d outgrown his earlier reliance on Lovecraft (as the kind of wunderkind I mentioned before with such envy!), Campbell’s also an example of the importance of a distinctive voice in the successful author of fiction of any kind, something I feel I’m struggling to find.
Joel Lane, John Llewellyn Probert, Simon Bestwick and Anna Taborska have all written fiction that has suggested to me different ways in which horror could be hard-hitting and political without being didactic, (against the assumption that its dark view of human nature is inevitably conservative) something that has had a strong influence on my approach to writing. Though I’d encountered Joel’s work before, I was reintroduced to his spare and enigmatic short tales through the Black Book of Horror series, which was where I also encountered John’s wonderfully sardonic and vicious contes cruelles, as well as Anna’s powerful, harrowing ‘Little Pig’. I enjoyed the unpretentious vitality of the Black Books, which also introduced me to horror writers, then new to me, who are now familiar names in the horror world: Thana Niveau, Reggie Oliver, Gary Fry and others, who have all influenced my writing in different ways.

Going back to more famous, classic and best-selling writers, I’ve also studied the work of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, two more excellent examples of writers in the horror field each with a strong and unique voice. I’ve observed with interest the success of British horror novelists like Adam Nevill, who has brought the themes of classic weird fiction authors like Machen and Blackwood (also two major influences on and forerunners of Lovecraft) into the modern mainstream idiom, as well as Alison Littlewood and Sarah Pinborough, with their ingenuity in synthesising crime fiction with supernatural horror.

Then there are authors whose work is not categorised as ‘horror’ as such, but have a ‘mainstream’ or ‘literary’ appeal as well as a strong weird or supernatural flavour: Sarah Waters, Susan Hill, Peter Ackroyd in novels like Hawksmoor, The House of Doctor Dee and Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. Another good example of horror fiction crossing over into the mainstream is Jeremy Dyson’s The Haunted Book, a creepy faux ‘true-life’ ghost story book whose clever production design gimmickry reinforces its conceit and reasserts the value of the physical book.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Often women misbehave simply by doing the things that are defined as heroism or leadership in men. The science fiction writer who shows this most strikingly is Joanna Russ. The Female Man asks: why do men always get to do the fun stuff in SF? We Who Are About To… challenges the imperialism of the ‘conquest of space’ narrative, via its homicidal, one-woman awkward squad of a narrator. It says a lot about Russ’s insubordinate stance that one of her novels is called On Strike Against God.
Since Russ is sadly no longer with us, I’d also like to plug a few contemporary female horror writers, either because their work explores aspects of female transgression, or because their work is itself transgressive, or both. Or maybe because they’re just awesome! Priya Sharma’s protagonists are often flawed or damaged women, who sometimes pay a terrible price for their mistakes. This is certainly true of ‘The Ballad of Boomtown’ and ‘The Rising Tide’, but in neither case do you get the impression that the author is inviting you to cast judgment on the women for their actions even if some of the other characters in the story might be doing so. Anna Taborska at her best writes gutsy, no-holds-barred tales of human cruelty, but with a fierce sense of compassion grounding them. Read her collection For Those Who Dream Monsters (Mortbury Press)! V.H. Leslie’s acclaimed stories, recently collected in Skein and Bone (Undertow Books), are dark fairy tales of women who fall foul of patriarchy in various unpleasant ways, yet told in beautiful prose and with an arch sense of humour.

To answer this question properly, maybe my favourite fictional wicked woman, the ultimate female miscreant, must be Yamasaki Asami from Ryu Murakami’s novel Audition, the basis for the notorious Takashi Miike J-horror movie. The book’s by a man of course, which may be part of the reason why she’s such an effective creation, a male fantasy of desirability and sexual availability, who turns out to be the distillation of our worst nightmares.

On second thoughts, perhaps an even better wicked woman is Stevie in Kaaron Warren’s brilliant horror novel Slights. As an Australian study of suburban scandal and misbehaviour, it makes the much-feted mainstream hit The Slap seem very coy and safe, and though Warren’s book and her heroine are both hilariously and raucously bitchy, it has a terrifying idea of the after-life at its heart. As an ostracised woman, Stevie’s a twenty first century literary descendant of Merricat Blackwood from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s kind of the flipside of Audition too, because we see the world through the wicked woman’s eyes rather than seeing her through male eyes, and Stevie is brazen in her refusal of social norms, rather than wearing a mask of fragile docility as Asami does!

You co-edited Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease with Joel Lane – tell us how that came about and what readers can expect from the stories within.

I met him at a Convention and got into conversation with him about his stories ‘A Cry for Help’ and ‘For Their Own Ends’, two stories that use horror and weird fiction to explore the implications of the threat of privatisation in the NHS. We discussed the possibility of an anthology of horror stories centred around the cuts and austerity measures the government was bringing in, as I kind of follow up to the anti-racist / anti-fascist one he co-edited with Allyson Bird: Never Again.

We started work on it, but it was a little stop-go, as he had long-term health problems, and these sadly contributed to his untimely death. However, we’d already found a publisher, Gray Friar Press (who’d published Never Again), and its owner Gary Fry was very enthusiastic about the project. He said he still wanted to go ahead with it, almost as a kind of tribute to Joel. I also wanted to see it through for the same reasons. Writers had already sent in stories, and I chased up some of the people Joel had approached, many of whom thought the book had been put on hold because of his death. I also decided to reprint Joel’s ‘A Cry for Help’, again as a tribute, but also as a clear statement of intent, to open the volume.

Readers will find stories showing the spectral implications of the ‘Bedroom Tax’, food banks where you have to queue to join the queues, a privatised hospital that expects extreme ‘donations’ from patients who can’t pay, a government loyalty card that rewards snoopers, a tale of upper class, Bullingdon-type thugs that makes The Riot Club look tame. Other stories take a more psychological approach, such as stories by John Howard, Priya Sharma and Stephen Hampton, which suggest that the credit crunch and the slump in the property market can literally drive people mad. As I suggest in my non-fiction addendum to the book, quoting Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, economic unease is an abiding theme in horror and supernatural fiction: the fear of losing everything is a powerful undercurrent in the genre even when it’s hidden. Acclaimed authors showcased include Anna Taborska, Alison Littlewood, Stephen Bacon, Thana Niveau and Gary McMahon.

Has editing the anthology changed how you approach your own fiction?

I found myself writing quite a bit of ‘austerity horror’ myself! Before he died, Joel and I agreed we weren’t going to publish our own stories, to avoid accusations of favouring our own work over other, possibly more deserving talents. In his own case, I think he was being a little over-modest, and when he died I worried about over-ruling him by re-printing ‘A Cry for Help’ posthumously, but a writer who knew him better suggested I should go ahead and publish it!

As for my own efforts, I still took the view that it was better not to use my position as now sole editor to make a portion of the anthology into my own vanity press, which sounds a little pompous, but I knew some might see it that way. So I decided I should test my own attempts at writing stories in this vein in the open market as it were. Well, they can’t have been that bad, because most of them have found publishers! ‘Masque’, tackling NHS privatisation, appeared in Shroud Magazine (#15), in the States, where they already know the full implications of private healthcare; ‘Under Occupation’ and ‘Mum and Dad and the Girl from the Flats Over the Road and the Man in the Black Suit’, both which feature the ‘Bedroom Tax’, the former in the anthology Darkest Minds (Dark Minds Press), the latter awaiting publication in Supernatural Tales

Is there any particular genre you’re drawn to and if so what’s the appeal of it?

I tend to be drawn to horror, because of its flexibility. At its best, it’s barely a genre at all, more a state of mind. It encompasses everything from the elusive chills of the ghost story to extreme zombie spatterpunk, science fiction body horror, etc. It can be both intensely physical and metaphysical, often simultaneously. Having said that, the side of it that appeals to me more as a reader and writer is the more supernaturally-orientated one. I also enjoy science fiction and crime, both of which share common ground with horror, but I’ve very little experience of writing them, or aptitude, I think, because of the discouraging technical aspects I think necessary to achieve credible results in both, e.g., research into, say, quantum mechanics for SF, or forensic police procedure for crime. For this reason, I tend to stick to my comfort zone of supernatural horror, though I have been working on a longish short story in the spy thriller genre!

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

The space opera cliché of inter-galactic free trade: to me, it’s infinitely depressing and rather anthropocentric to think that neo-liberal capitalism will conquer the universe as well as Planet Earth!

What are you up to next?

Well, my hit rate for getting stuff published seems to be improving, with quite a few stories in the can and a substantial backlog of stories awaiting publication in various anthologies and other publications. My stories are starting to attract a bit of positive attention, with the Best Horror of Year editor Ellen Datlow including two out of the three I had published last year on her list of Recommended Reads (A.K.A., Honourable Mentions), one of which was my Wicked Women contribution ‘Kravolitz’, so thanks for facilitating that by publishing it! She’s also plugged a couple of my more recent published stories (‘Under Occupation’ from Darkest Minds and ‘What I Found in the Shed’ from Supernatural Tales, #31) on the SFEditorsPicks list, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I feel like now’s the time to build on this, and bring out a single author collection. I know it would mean more work, because I don’t just want to throw something together that would rely on reprints; I’m thinking more on the lines of a sequence of conjoined short stories, kind of a literary concept album, at least for a major section of the volume. But it’s early days. I haven’t really planned it, or approached any publishers yet… (Hint! Hint!)

In the meantime, I’ve got two stories awaiting publication in Supernatural Tales, and others elsewhere, including ‘Holywood’, my sequel to M.R. James’s ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’, which is to appear next year in the Third Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows (Sarob Press). I’m presently working on a very interesting project with Alchemy Press, somewhere between a tribute anthology and a posthumous collection, involving the unpublished and incomplete stories of the late Joel Lane. A group of writers are going to take his handwritten story notes and unfinished tales, and each one has to take his or her assigned piece and complete it basically. It will be interesting to see what will happen, as some of them are extremely detailed, while others are bafflingly cryptic. As I was in the middle of collaborating with him on Horror Uncut when he died, and was like many extremely shocked when I heard of his death, it seemed like a lovely idea and I’m proud to be part of it.

I also had my second taste of Fantasy Con this year, the first being 2012 in my home town of Brighton. This time I did a reading there for the first time, to an audience of four, but two of them were Carole Johnstone and Priya Sharma, so quality if not quantity… Luckily I have done public readings before, so it wasn’t too daunting! Horror Uncut was also nominated in the anthology category, which was very exciting, as well as Laura Mauro, another emerging wicked woman of horror, in two categories for the story she wrote for it, ‘Ptichka’. Unfortunately H.U. didn’t win, and neither did Laura, but plaudits for those that did, and good to see that one of them was Fox Spirit in the small publisher category!

That also covers the random fun stuff aspect of the question, as my experience of Fantasy Con this year was both random and fun. I met a hell of a lot of really lovely people there too!

Thank you for joining us Tom!

Tom Johnstone’s fiction has appeared in various publications, including the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Black Books of Horror (Mortbury Press), Brighton – The Graphic Novel (Queenspark Books), Supernatural Tales, #27 & #31, Wicked Women (Fox Spirit Books), Shroud Magazine, #15 and Strange Tales V (Tartarus Press). As well as these writing credits, he co-edited the British Fantasy Award-nominated austerity-themed anthology Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease with the late Joel Lane, published September 2014, by Gray Friar Press. Find out more about Tom’s fiction at: tomjohnstone.wordpress.com.

16 December 2015

Wicked Women (Saving Ourselves)

It started with a song.  Later we’d flesh out the concept to examine the wider range of definitions that make up Wicked Women* but first, there was a song.  Specifically, ‘Wicked Girls’ by Seanan McGuire.  Now I’ve never actually heard it sung, but the lyrics have always struck me.  They tell of the girls who returned home at the end of the stories, those brave adventurers who had to settle back into a life less colourful, and be good and conform to their expected roles. Except… maybe not.

‘Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane,
 Susan and Lucy, we’re calling your names,
 All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain
 And chose to go back on the shelf.
 Tinker Bell says, and I find I agree
 You have to break rules if you want to break free.
 So do as you like — we’re determined to be
 Wicked girls saving ourselves.’

It’s the stories after the stories that have always interested me – how exposure to those wild lands of magic and danger could change the plucky hero, and how those changes alter their experiences with the world they’re returned to.  And I’m far from alone in this.

Much has been written on Susan Pevensie: the good queen who ruled wisely and well, then had to return to be a child in England;  Susan who had to live on once the rest of her family were brutally snatched back to Narnia.  A punishment for not towing the party line, or so it was once said.  But Susan was never forgotten and the stories of how this wicked girl saved herself are many – Neil Gaiman has written on ‘The Problem of Susan’ in Fragile Things, and many others have taken up the baton of Susan’s fate, showing how a queen bereft of her queendom can make a new one.  Susan lived and went on to inspire, she had new adventures, surviving wars and a society that she wasn’t quite the right fit for. Taking everything she’d learnt in Narnia and building something magnificent.

But that’s Susan.  There are other wicked girls saving themselves.  Girls who became women who refused to be bound by constricting social conventions, women who rebelled, women who forged the life they wanted in defiance of the life that others wanted to force on them.   Women who aim to misbehave.  And that’s the core of Wicked Women.   Some of our stories have women who are unapologetically evil, some have those who are simply perceived as such due to the society they’re living in, but all our women are most definitely saving themselves.

‘For we will be wicked and we will be fair
And they’ll call us such names, and we really won’t care,
So go, tell your Wendys, your Susans, your Janes,
There’s a place they can go if they’re tired of chains,
And our roads may be golden, or broken, or lost,
But we’ll walk on them willingly, knowing the cost —
We won’t take our place on the shelves.
It’s better to fly and it’s better to die
Say the wicked girls saving ourselves.’

*on which, more will be said on the Fox Spirit blog in January…

‘Wicked Girls’ lyrics © Seanan McGuire

14 December 2015

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Christine Morgan

Today we welcome the multi-talented Christine Morgan – author of the Wicked Women story ‘The Shabti-Maker.’

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

I like to write fun stuff, where fun can be anything from outrageously over the top purple prose to humor to extreme horror to silliness to smut. I like to play with language, to experiment with it and goof around. I enjoy the challenges of doing mash-ups, crossovers, and pastiches, particularly if I can meld things that might not normally, in a sane world, go together.

I also have a lifelong love of mythology, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology and folklore. A lot of my stories involve historical settings, mythological elements. Ancient cultures fascinate me, as does the idea of writing from perspectives greatly different from my own. Whether that means child POV characters, animals, aliens, elves, inanimate objects … each is its own interesting puzzle.

On a personal level, I’m in the middle of the whole classic life-upheaval just now, having recently divorced, moved to a new state, started over in a new job, only child’s all grown up and off to college, etc. In one sense, it’s terrifying. In another, liberating; this is the first time since my sister and I started sharing a room that I’ve had a space entirely of my own. Well, my own and the four cats; I’m training to become a crazy cat lady in later years.

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

Even as a kid, I was a big reader, a big maker-upper of intricate stories for my toys (my Barbies had some soap-opera stuff going on, let me tell you), and the one among my circle of friends who’d more often than not be the idea person for what we should play next. I remember writing assignments in grade school, and doing one piece about a brave daddy fox trying to lead the hunters away from his family.

I got into roleplaying games as a teen, and drama club in high school. There may have been some painfully Mary Sue bits of Lord of the Rings fanfic way back when; I’m glad I haven’t found any of those in the archives. Writing down the gaming adventures was the next logical step, which eventually became a series of fantasy novels.

Always sort of figured I’d do the classic career path of becoming a teacher while writing on the side. A change of major later, I went into residential psych, but the writing on the side part has stayed much the same.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Every single one I’ve read and some I haven’t … one way or the other.
Though I got officially ‘started’ writing fantasy, I knew even then my true calling tended more toward the horrific. I’d been reading Stephen King since age 10, and would go to fantasy conventions only to find myself the odd duck out when people were listing their favorite authors.

But then, a few years ago, it all came back around full-circle again … I’d been tinkering with historical fic, with the pirate era, tall ships, and so on … but then I discovered Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, and the lectures of Professor Michael D.C. Drout, and everything clicked … it was Viking time. Vikings hit everything I liked best.

I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to catch up on some of the literary classics I missed with that change of major, and experiencing the variety of genres, voices, and styles. Wodehouse is a kick; I’ve done a few stories aiming for that kind of tone. I’ve mashed up Austen and Lovecraft. I hugely enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, and Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachian series, Robert McCammon’s everything but especially his Matthew Corbett books … variety, whatever, bring it, I will give about anything a chance.

These days, I’m reading and loving a lot of extreme horror and bizarro. I’m phobic about nearly everything, I’m a total wuss, I can’t even put in eyedrops or pull out a giblet packet without squicking, but I cannot get enough gross, weird, sick, twisted fiction.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Well, I’m not sure for misbehaving, but Aud the Deep-Minded is one of my favorite ladies of history; she was an early Icelandic settler, commander of her own ships and men, politically savvy, powerful, scored good influential marriages for her children and grandchildren. To earn a moniker like that – Deep-Minded – proves that she was known and respected for her wits and her wisdom.
There’s also Freydis Eriksdottir, sister of Leif Eriksson … now, SHE was wicked … in the sagas, she manipulates men into feuds, kills a bunch of people with an axe, and may be most famous for the anecdote of how she, while pregnant, charges out of her hut during an attack by skraelings (Native Americans), rips open her top, smacks herself in the breast with a sword, scares the attackers away, and shames all the men for their cowardice.

You’ve recently had Murder Girls published by Evil Girlfriend Media – how did that come about and what can readers expect?
Murder Girls had originally been released in ebook by KHP Publishers, but Katie at Evil Girlfriend just loved the premise and approached me about doing a revised print edition. It’s the story of five college housemates – brainy Rachel, sporty Jessie, angry Darlene, shy Gwen, and mysterious Annamaria – who are just each doing their own things one evening when Rachel, watching a program about profiling serial killers, remarks, “I bet we could get away with it.”
And why not? They’re sure not the profile. Add in a pervy peeping tom with the world’s worst timing … next thing you know, the girls are standing around a body, with a mess to clean up … and a new hobby that quickly becomes an obsession.

With this one, I wanted to examine some gender-role issues, to put the shoe on the other foot as it were. You see those studies or classroom questionnaires about safety, about rape-prevention, about all the million-and-one ways women are conditioned to be on their guard or else, and how rarely men have to think about any of that instead of living it every single moment of every single day.
So, there’s some social commentary, and some looks at the ways we’ve become desensitized to violence and screwed up about sex … but hey, let’s be honest: it was also a chance to have a bunch of college girls carving up dudebros. Some of the scenes were disturbing and uncomfortable to write; I hope they’re that way to read as well.

You’ve written across many genres ranging from traditional fantasy to historical horror – do you have a current favourite genre to work in and if so, why?

Think I already covered this, but, to say again, gimme those Vikings! Historical horror and dark fantasy, with over-the-top descriptions, purple prose, adjectives, blood and gore and slaughter! Or those weird combinations. Myth-meets-Mythos; I’ve done Lovecraftian stuff mixed with ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient cultures; I’ve written Egyptian themed stories, and Aztec/Maya, and even all the way back to caveman days.

But yeah, the Vikings is what I keep coming back to. The cadence and rhythm of it, the language, alliteration, kennings. Besides, no other stories are quite as much pure fun to read aloud. I get to use my Viking voice. I write with that original oral tradition in mind; they have to sound right in my head, they have to read right, it’s awesome. Listeners seem to really respond to it, too. The Viking readings always go over well.

You’ve also edited several anthologies – has this changed how you approach your own fiction?   

It certainly has made me all the more conscious of proofreading and polishing and following the guidelines … as an editor, I admit, I’m looking for good stories, yes … but I’m also looking to not take on too much extra work for myself. Maybe that’s lazy of me; I don’t know.
It also makes me appreciate everything editors do even more. That’s hard work. The selection, the balance, the dealing with however-many individuals, the juggling. And the rejections! Augh! Rejection letters are no fun from either end.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

I used to think I couldn’t write it. I used to think – being wordy by nature, as this interview no doubt demonstrates – that I was just geared toward writing longer works. Novels, but not only novels; each novel wanted to be a trilogy. When I was doing fan-fiction, it was the same way, except as installments in an ongoing series.

I suspect my roleplaying game background had something to do with that; I’d trained myself  to be in campaign mode, so there always had to be more adventures lined up, more plot hooks to explore, new characters to introduce and follow up on. There was always a NEXT waiting in the wings.

I won’t say I’ve unlearned that, or trained myself back out of it, because  I haven’t. I’ve just also worked on narrowing my focus, condensing and containing ideas which might otherwise sprawl. It’s most important in horror fiction, since horror is more emotion than setting, and horror seems somehow to be more effective in shorter doses. Easier to sustain.

As for recommendations, I love anthologies because you can sample, you can try a little bit of one story and then another, see what suits you, try things out from a variety of authors. Themed anthologies are always a favorite of mine, to write for as well as to read. I like seeing how different people approach similar subjects or challenges, and how creative they can get.

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

The epic prophecy. Any time something opens with the whole voice-over info dump about how, long ago, the wise foretold blah-de-blah and then it’s some doofus destined to save the world no matter how reluctant, foot-draggy, or inept … and they DO.

What are you up to next?

I’m currently working on final edits and layout for the third Fossil Lake anthology, UNICORNADO! The contributors really hit it out of the park on this one; I wanted weird unicorn and/or natural disaster tales, preferably both, and they delivered bigtime. Looking at a February 2016 release date, after which it’ll be time to decide on a theme for the fourth Fossil Lake!

I also have about four unpublished novels to revise, two novels and a novella to finish, a few short stories I promised to submit to anthologies, and I recently had an idea for a sort of bizarro not-quite-kids-book kids book.

And my first Viking collection will be coming out in 2017 from Word Horde! Reprinting many of my earlier Viking stories, plus some original … it’ll be called The Raven’s Table, and I am very thrilled and excited to see this happen.

Thank you for joining us Christine Morgan!

Christine Morgan spent many years working the overnight shift in a psychiatric facility, which played havoc with her sleep schedule but allowed her a lot of writing time. A lifelong reader, she also reviews, beta-reads, occasionally edits and dabbles in self-publishing. Her other interests include gaming, history, superheroes, crafts, cheesy disaster movies and training to be a crazy cat lady. She can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/christinemorganauthor and https://christinemariemorgan.wordpress.com/

11 December 2015

Zen And The Art Of Rebellion: Blake’s 7 and the Awesomeness that was Avon

Today we take a break from the Wicked Women Blogfest to welcome the fabulous Simon Bestwick and celebrate the launch of Hell’s Ditch.  (Buy it! Buy it now!)
When I was a boy, science fiction and horror on TV were pretty much the same thing to me. Star Trek was fun, but the British stuff was the best. There was Dr Who – then in the classic Tom Baker era and heavily tinged with dark, scary Gothic horror – and another of the shows that shaped my childhood and imbued me with a love of SF, fantasy and horror. Blake’s 7.
Blake’s 7 was set thousands of years in the future, with a galaxy ruled by the evil, fascistic Federation. The hero, Blake (Gareth Thomas), a former freedom fighter framed for molesting children, is sentenced to exile on a prison planet. En route he and several other prisoners break out and gain control of an alien spaceship, the Liberator. Controlled by its sentient computer, Zen, it can outfly and outgun any Federation ship. With this, Blake wages war against the Federation.

Although often derided for low-budget special effects and supernaturally camp costume design, Blake’s 7 was also notable for its darkness and pessimism. That, and its premise of a group of gutsy rebels pitted against a despotic authority, influenced a lot of things I’ve written since – including my current novel, Hell’s Ditch.

Black and white goodies and baddies stuff tends to get old pretty quickly – especially on TV, where the story stretches out across hours of drama. Blake’s 7 avoided that pitfall by giving the characters’ mixed and sometimes conflicting motivations: Cally (Jan Chappell) was a telepathic alien with her own personal vendetta against the Federation. The gentle giant Gan followed out of loyalty to Blake. Ex-space pirate Jenna’s motives were more complex, a blend of fascination with Blake’s idealism and (implicitly) attraction to him. Timid thief Vila (Michael Keating), didn’t really have anywhere else to go. And then, of course, there was the coolest, most complicated character of the lot.

Kerr Avon (played brilliantly by Paul Darrow) is, ironically, the character people tend to remember most from the show. When Gareth Thomas left after the second series, Avon assumed control of the Liberator – although without the complex rivalry-cum-friendship between him and Blake, the series was never quite the same.

Avon was Blake’s apparent antithesis: a cold, brilliant computer expert who’d nearly stolen a fortune from the Federation’s Central Bank. He had no time for idealistic politics, and still less for idealists.
Cynical, ruthless and above all a realist, Avon’s principal goal in life was to acquire plenty of wealth and evade capture. Blake’s crusade was diametrically opposed to that aim, and Avon showed every sign, at times, of actively hating Blake and wanting him dead. Except…

Avon had multiple opportunities to get rid of Blake, but never did. In fact, in one episode, every other crew member has been captured; Avon can operate the ship alone and stands an excellent chance of getting exactly what he’s always wanted. The only thing the Liberator can’t fight off is three Federation ships attacking together. When Zen informs him that three such ships are en route to their position, Avon roars with laughter… and sets off to rescue Blake.

In their last scene together of the second series, Avon snaps at an injured Blake: “Why didn’t you stay in the medical section? Couldn’t you have trusted me just this once?” Blake’s response? “Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you – from the very beginning.”

He’d die before admitting it, but Blake is his friend – the one person he’d ever put himself in danger for. One of the beautiful things about the show is that it’s never stated – there are no big declamatory speeches – but it’s always there. There’s something very British about that.

None of which stopped Avon being ruthless: as Darrow later pointed out, the man in the white hat can’t shoot people in the back, slap women around or perform other morally grimy actions, but the man who walks behind him can. He also had all the best lines:

Avon was a key element in making the Liberator’s crew a hive of conflicting aims and agendas, the polar opposite of Star Trek’s moral certainty and unity of purpose. And he was always there to undercut Blake and ensure he was never an infallible hero in the Captain Kirk mould.

Avon was the best thing about Blake’s 7 for me; there’s a dash of him in the dry, sardonic character of Gevaudan Shoal in Hell’s Ditch. And yes, Helen’s grey-haired, cynical mentor is called Darrow, in a nod to an actor I hugely admire – and the character he created.

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out now.

09 December 2015

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Juliet E. McKenna

Kicking off the Wicked Women Anniversary Blogfest, we’re very pleased to welcome Juliet E. McKenna – one of the legends of British fantasy and author of the Wicked Women story ‘Win Some, Lose Some.’ 

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

I’m a middle-aged British woman whose hobbies range from knitting and embroidery to wargaming and the martial art of aikido. I’ve been reading history, fantasy and myth for as long as I can remember, which is well over four decades now. I read all sorts of other things as well but speculative fiction is what I like to write, primarily epic fantasy. But not necessarily dealing with the affairs of kings and wizards. I like to look at the ways these stories can involve more ordinary people. People more like me. As well as mages and dragons.

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

I always enjoyed writing fiction at school and wrote a few horribly derivative stories in my teens and twenties in a vague, unfocused way. What really got me started on the road to publication was working part time in our local bookshop and learning how the book trade actually works, at the same time as getting back some mercilessly caustic assessments when I submitted my first attempt at a novel, aka The Definitive Fantasy Blockbuster Masterwork, to various agents and editors. I’m so grateful they took the time to tell me why they were rejecting it. Once I understood what I was doing wrong, I could work out what I needed to do right and go looking for advice on how to do it. That was in 1995/1996  and I sold The Thief’s Gamble at the end of 1997.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

I always find this an impossible question to answer, in that I’m regularly surprised when I realise something I may have read decades ago has turned up to help shape what I’m working on at the moment. Not to mention films, TV, plays and any other ways I’ve engaged with narrative over the years. In terms of epic fantasy? I’d say Elizabeth Moon, David Gemmell, Katherine Kerr, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb … and as soon as I hit send on this piece, I just know I’ll think of more.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Oh, so many to choose from! And who says they’re wicked, anyway? Just the men they run rings round… Glancing at the bookcase for inspiration, I’d say it’s a toss up between Bess of Hardwick and Grainne O’Malley. They were near-contemporaries with each other and with Elizabeth I. Both took control of their family’s lands and businesses in England and in Ireland respectively, becoming wealthy and successful. By all accounts, they were firmly in charge of their various husbands and sons too. So naturally they were both accused of all sorts of disgraceful behaviour. Some of which they may actually have got up to.

Wizard’s Tower Press have published your collection of Victorian monster hunter stories – Challoner, Murray & Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law, what can readers expect from the collection and are there any plans for more such stories.
Those stories grew out of my teenage love of classic Victorian popular fiction written by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, blended with my later enjoyment of the TV shows, Buffy and Supernatural. Because if those Victorian monsters were real, surely there’d be the equivalent of the Winchesters or the Sunnydale Scooby Gang hunting them? Writing these adventures with the benefit of hindsight enabled me to look at those original stories and the unthinking social attitudes of the day with an informed, contemporary eye – not least by referencing the ways the patriarchy was actually being challenged at the time when they were written. I’d certainly like to return to those characters when the right idea coincides with me having the time to write it up.
You’ve contributed to many anthologies, and are due to be published in the upcoming Fight Like a Girl and Eve of War (among others) – what’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

Like every other writer I know, I have far more ideas for stories than I can possibly use for novels, and in any case, not every idea is a novel-length inspiration. Short fiction gives me a way to explore the one-shot notions, to challenge myself with something new creatively, whether that’s in terms of structure, style or genre. I invariably learn something new and useful about the art and craft of writing as I do so, which sees me return to novel writing both enlightened and refreshed.
Recommendations? As well as Fox Spirit’s output, short story lovers should go and browse the fabulous range of anthologies published by Newcon Press as well as those edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray; After Hours, The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity and Clockwork Universe; Steampunk vs Aliens.

You’re also one of the leading voices in the VATMOSS campaign – can you explain what it’s about and how people can help?

In brief, EU governments decided to make Amazon, Google, Apple (and others) pay their fair share of taxes by insisting that digital downloads were taxed at the rate charged where the customer lives, rather than in whatever tax haven their corporate HQ was now based. Since these governments had no clue how much small-scale, direct creator-to-customer ecommerce goes on now, or really, any idea how the Internet works, they said these new rules would apply to everyone, no exceptions. Unfortunately, no one bothered to check the practicalities, like for example, confirming that PayPal actually tells the sellers using its Buy Now Button where their customers are. Since they don’t, it’s now either outright impossible or ludicrously expensive for small scale etraders to comply with the new rules.

After a year’s dedicated campaigning, the EU VAT Action Team have convinced the authorities in Westminster, Whitehall and in Brussels, that this legislation needs rewriting, most crucially to include a turnover threshold exempting the smallest businesses. That’s now in hand but it’ll take at least two years, maybe longer, to enact. So meantime, the most useful thing everyone can do is write to their MP, their MEP and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (or local equivalent Finance Ministry) demanding interim emergency relief by means of as a temporary threshold, until the fine detail has been sorted out.

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

Grimdark. By which I mean stories that are only about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to other nasty folk, where nothing ever goes right and everyone ends up miserable. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but not by much. I’m not calling for twee consolation fantasy full of rainbows and kittens, but a good story needs light and shade, not just unrelieved gloom. There’s enough nihilism in the world around us. Let’s see some visions of better possibilities.

What are you up to next?

Honestly, it’s hard to say. The VATMOSS campaigning has eaten my time and energy through 2015 in a way I never imagined. This is the first year since 1997 that I haven’t written a full length work of fiction. So that’s another reason for me to love anthologies. Short fiction has been a vital escape for me this past year, getting back to being a writer if only for a short while.

I’ve now got a quite a collection of short stories in a new fantasy setting, the River Kingdom, as well as a novella set in the same world, so I’d like to get those out as ebooks. Once we’ve got the Aldabreshin Compass ebooks out, obviously; that’s been 2015’s other major project. I have a couple of ideas I’d like to pitch to agents and editors; a novel or novels set in the River Kingdom as well as some other things. Hopefully 2016 will see me able to focus on life as a writer again rather than political lobbying.

Diary plans for 2016 are currently fluid – apart from November 11th-13th when I’ll be Guest of Honour at Novacon in Nottingham, and December 5th-10th when I’ll be tutoring a week long, residential SF&F creative writing course up in Scotland at Moniack Mhor, alongside Pippa Goldschmidt, with Ken MacLeod as Guest Reader. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to all of that. Unless something intervenes, I hope to make the trip to Bristolcon on October 29th, so that’s the end of next year fairly well sorted. I wonder what’ll crop up between now and then for the other nine months!

Thank you for joining us Juliet!

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issuing her backlist as well as bringing out original fiction. She also writes diverse shorter fiction, reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions, teaching creative writing and commenting on book trade issues online. Most recently she’s been campaigning for the reform of EU taxation on digital sales causing serious problems for small press and independent publishing. Learn more about all of this at http://www.julietemckenna.com

07 December 2015

Wicked Women Blogfest incoming

With the one year book birthday of Wicked Women upon us, we thought we’d take this opportunity to have a whole month (or so) of wicked women.  From now until end of January hang tight for interviews with the authors, artist and publisher; a look at wicked women we have a fondness for; and to finish off there’ll be a fabulous Fox Spirit Wicked Women giveaway!  (Swag, darlings, swag!)

Up until Xmas you can expect to see:

9th December – Interview with Juliet E. McKenna

14th December – Interview with Christine Morgan

16th December – Name of the Beast

18th December – Interview with Tom Johnstone

21st December – Interview with A. R. Aston

23rd December – Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky

With much more to follow, so keep tuned and stay wicked!

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);