Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Favourite short stories read in 2017

Here, for no reason other than a personal overview of a year's reading I suppose, are the short stories I most enjoyed reading in 2017.

1. Bread and Bombs by Mary Rickert
At the end of 2016 I had just started to discover Mary Rickert's writing, and read this story online rather than in the Wastelands anthology.

Rickert paints a picture of a war-torn future in which nothing can be trusted, not even snow or offered candy, and where the children of one particular town decide to take matters into their own hands.  Rickert cleverly plays with the readers expectations throughout the story.  I did not see the end coming and found it to be genuinely stunning.

This story can be read online here.

2. Three Miles Up by Elizabeth Jane Howard
An extraordinary story with just the right amount of weirdness and ambiguity to leave the reader haunted and having to come up with their own conclusions.

Three Miles Up concerns two friends, John and Clifford, as they embark on a barging holiday.  Following a furious row they pick up a mysterious but friendly young woman called Sharon.  After they encounter a turning on the canal not shown on their map, which Sharon gently encourages them to take, they soon come to discover that they've made a terrible mistake.

3. Stranger by Peter Rock
I have the writer M.R. Cosby to thank for introducing me to this author - (his blog Stranger Designs is always worth keeping an eye on for book recommendations).

From the short story collection The Unsettling, Stranger tells of a couple holidaying in a remote cottage who come under threat from two people who seem to have murder on their mind, but whose true intentions are never made clear.  Part of the reason this story worked so well for me was that some of what happens is never fully explained and the reader is left to make up their own mind about what was taking place.  Hmmm...I sense a theme emerging here.

4. We Can Walk It Off In The Morning by Malcolm Devlin
One of the stand-outs for me from Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, this is a story of two people waking off their hangovers on a New Year's Day morning. I enjoyed the way Delvin introduced a number of possibly explanations for what was occurring without giving precedence to any one of them and leaving the ending ambiguous.

5. A Mean Utility by Craig Davidson
From the short story collection Rust and Bone, on which the film of the same name was based, this is a horrifying (in the truest sense of the word) tale of illegal dog-fighting and pending fatherhood.  All told in Davidson's sparkling prose.  I was spoilt for choice picking a favourite from this collection as it contains many excellent stories.  I probably would've plumped for the title story over this had I not read it before in the excellent anthology The New Black edited by Richard Thomas.

6. Where's the Harm? by Rebecca Lloyd
The final story, and for me the standout in Rebecca Lloyd's second collection for Tartarus Press.  Where's the Harm? tells of two brothers preparing their family home for sale after the death of their parents.  One day the brothers encounter some mysterious women in a nearby wood - the charms of whom one brother is unable to resist.  This story builds slowly to a chilling finale.

7. The Consort by Julia Elliott
Elliott tells the tale of  Carlo, a young  Italian man plucked from obscurity to impregnate a pop star: 'the most oft googled woman on Earth'.  Using florid language to brilliantly eviscerate celebrity culture (Madonna and Beyonce seem to be in the firing line here),  Elliott still manages to wring pathos from the tale, particularly (for me at least) when Carlo sees his grandmother's eyes in the daughter he's not allowed to see without a heavy security presence and who has become little more than a commodity. Published in The Georgia Review, Summer 2017.

8. The Bridge by Malcolm Devlin
I enjoyed Malcolm Devin's collection so much that I could have picked any number of stories from it for this list, but I felt that this - one of the shorter tales in the book - really stood out.  It tells of a couple who have bought their first home and find a more or less accurate model of their new town in the attic.  Built by the previous owner, the model lacks a few key buildings. Delvin cleverly allows just enough information to slip through for the reader to give an insight not only into the life of the young couple and what might become of them, but also the tragedy that befell the house's previous owner.

9. Das Stiengeschopf by G.V. Anderson
Published on Strange Horizons and winner of a World Fantasy Award, G.V. Anderton's exceptional tale of a young German man's first assignment fixing a living statue is well worth taking the time to read (or listen to on the podcast, as I did, which makes it hard for me to describe it now). It can be found here.

10. The Summerhouse by Mike O'Driscoll
A middle-aged man visits a summerhouse where he spent many days during his youth with a girlfriend, only to find he hasn't escaped the crime he committed there long ago and for which he must now pay.

Anything Undertow Books publish is always an interesting proposition and this book confirms that they are still leading the charge in the weird fiction market.

11. To Us May Grace Be Given by L.S. Johnson
This tightly written novelette from L.S. Johnson concerns a mother and daughter who capture a vampire-like 'devil' to help them fight off a man who intends to steal their land.  Beautifully written and gripping throughout.  Published online on Gianotosaurus, this can be read here.

12. The Rediscovery of Death by Mike O'Driscoll
Another gem from The Dream Operator.  The editor of a small publishing house is approached by a man who claims to have an anthologies worth of unpublished stories by some of the greatest writers of horror fiction, all of whom happen to be deceased.  A clever story that rewards multiple readings.

13. Slimikins by Charles Wilkinson
Wilkinson tells a wintery tale of a retired schoolteacher haunted by a past mistake with a bullied boy.  Another standout from Shadows and Tall Tress 7.

15. Waxy by Camilla Grudover
Grudover creates our own world in this story, which seemed to me to be a warped send-up of our own.  Imagine David Lynch's Eraserhead written by Angela Carter and you've got Waxy - a story of a woman trying to hang onto her man in a society where it's deemed shameful to be without one.  For all their strangeness, Grudover's stories wouldn't work if there wasn't some vein of truth running through them, as there is here, however intangible.

16. Young Bride by Julia Rust
One of the standouts from C.M. Muller's Nightscript Vol.III, Rust's story concerns an expectant mother who moves into a house that 'needs some love', who quickly finds herself at the centre of a bizarre love triangle.

17. Meet Me At The Frost Fair by Alison Littlewood
Littlewood's affecting story within a story kicks things of in this beautiful book from Egaeus Press: A Midwinter's Entertainment.  Seated next to a crackling fire, a man tells of a tragedy that befell an acquaintance of his who fell in love with a young woman at a frost fair on the frozen River Thames, and the bizarre events that followed.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A spooky short story recommended for Halloween.

Ideal reading for Halloween...

Northwest Passage by Barbara Roden
An old woman named Peggy lives alone in a remote cabin surrounded by wilderness.  One day she encounters two young men, Jack and Robert, who are living and getting up to who-knows-what in an abandoned prospector's cabin some miles away.  As she begins a friendship with Jack, a sinister force emerges from the wilds.

This is a subtle and chilling story that works through small touches rather than big scares, such as some affecting use of wind-chimes, and by building atmosphere.  After reading it, you'll be wondering quite how Roden managed to terrify you so much whilst appearing to reveal so little.

Find it in Roden's collection North West Passages.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

On Fire

The On Fire anthology from Transmundane Press is ready to drop on 1st December.  Included in the lineup is my own 'Combustible', a story about Gene, a man with an unusual gift/curse.  To complicate matters Gene also has a stormy relationship with his rock star brother, an encounter with a groupie, an infant child and a wife who considers him a danger to her life.


Capable of creation and destruction, fire burns within us.
Behind the thick, black smoke of our lives, we blaze with our own unique flame.
While love compels some, others feed greed and lust into their hearths.
A tool for the deft hand, used with magic or as a weapon, but irresponsibility leaves deep burns and promises dreadful consequences.

ON FIRE brings to light twenty-six tales that explore this unpredictable yet beautiful element.

Handle with care."

Thursday, 28 September 2017

New novella: A Chance of Snow

Summer's over, the nights are drawing in, leaves are falling, there's a slight chill in the air, winter's around the corner, Christmas is only three months away (where did the year go, right?), so what better time to officially launch my new novella A Chance of Snow?*

Here's the blurb:

"Struggling for survival in an abandoned city after a deadly outbreak, Jay one day chances upon something that will allow him access to the one remaining refuge, Station Island. To get there, though, he must cross the city of Horburg. No easy task, since Horburg’s streets are ruled by ruthless gangs. And there are worst dangers lurking in the alleyways and railway tunnels. Accompanied by his friend, Diamond, Jay will set out to face the city’s many pitfalls; a quest that will test their courage and allegiance to breaking point."

If this sounds like something you might enjoy reading one of these cold, dark nights you can pick it up here:  Amazon UK.  Amazon US.

*There will be absolutely no chance of snow in the South West of England where I live, but every year I keep on hoping.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


I love this poster for the film IT.

I'd been eagerly awaiting the release of this film even since it was announced some years ago. I enjoyed the book, which I read when I was about 20 or so, early in my Stephen King obsession which turned me on to horror.  Even then, I was infuriated by the ending (and one particular scene in particular which the two film versions have wisely discarded).

I enjoyed the film, but would have preferred a less is more approach with the horror as I didn't find it particularly scary.

Great poster though.

Monday, 21 August 2017

August Update

Astonishingly, it's August already and the weather here in the UK is not too dissimilar to India during monsoon season.  So far, so reassuringly familiar.  It's been a busy year for me on the writing and publishing front.

July saw the publication of the fifth Dark Lane Anthology, which I edited, put together, and contributed a story to - in this case my tale of an English town afflicted by a mysterious whiff called 'The Stench'.  One of the joys of putting these books together is approaching writers I admire and asking them to 'headline' (as I've said before, in my head I'm staging Glastonbury), and occasionally having them agree!  Past 'headliners' have included James Everington, Rebecca Lloyd, K.J. Bishop, and Charles Wilkinson.  For Volume Five, I approached L.S. Johnson, a wonderful writer who I believe deserves more attention.  L.S. kicks things off in this volume with her story 'Ada, Awake' which in the paperback version is accompanied by a fantastic illustration from Sally Barnett.

Aswell as keeping busy writing more stories, including trying my hand at historical supernatural fiction, I've managed to place some stories with publishers.  My story about a washed-up rock star visited by a mysterious muse, 'Unwritten Songs', was accepted by Not One Of Us.  Another story, 'Raking Light' - which has been described as a cross between The Picture of Dorian Gray and Stephen King's Pet Semetary will be published in the Midnight Morsels horror anthology from Rice Paper Press.  'Combusible', a story about brotherly relationships and unnatural gifts, one of my favourite stories I've written, has been accepted for the On Fire anthology from Transmundane Press.  I was also lucky enough to have had my story 'Besta Branco' accepted for the Strange Beasties anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing, the second story this publisher has accepted from me this year - something for which I'm very grateful.
More stories are out there under consideration, so maybe there'll be a few more added to the acceptance list before the year is out.

Lastly, here's a quick plug for some short story collections I've been enjoying recently.  Malcolm Devlin's 'You Will Grow Into Them' is an excellent collection of strange tales.  I first discovered this writer through a story published in Undertow Books' 'Shadows and Tall Trees Vol.7'.  Undertow also recently published Mike O'Driscoll's 'The Dream Operator' which I've been enjoying dipping into just lately.

On the music front, a recent BBC Prom reminded me of my love for Scott Walker's music.  So, to give this blog post a nicely circular feel, I'll end with 'It's Raining Today'.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Man on the Moon

The latest story of mine to be published is The Man on the Moon - a short tale about the lies people tell to protect their children and the potential consequences of those lies - which appears online in Summer 2017 edition of The Menacing Hedge.  Anyone who's interested can read it here.

Like alot of people, I've had a long time fascination with the moon - it being the most observable rock out in space beyond our own, and I'm sure this won't be the last time it appears in my fiction.

My thanks to the team at Menacing Hedge for accepting this story.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Hear published in Cat's Breakfast anthology

My sci-fi short story, Hear, has been published in the Third Flatiron anthology 'Cat's Breakfast'.  The story concerns a pop song that causes people to feel inexplicably sad and restless, and a teenage girl who attempts to understand why.

The lineup for the anthology also features, among others, Edward Ahern, an excellent writer who I've previously published in the Dark Lane Anthologies.

Thanks to editor Juliana Rew for purchasing my story for the anthology.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A Thousand Hours

My short story, 'A Thousand Hours', appears in a new anthology from UK-based publisher Mantle Lane Press called Mrs Rochester's Attic: Tales of Madness, Strange Love, and Deep, Dark Secrets.  Check out that awesome cover!

The title of the book says it all really, so there isn't anything more for me to add except to say that my own story is a near-future tale of a lonely sales rep named Ryker and the new love of his life, Gen.  To say more would give the story away.  Except below:

“I didn’t used to believe in it,” Ryker would tell people whenever he got the opportunity.  “But now I do because I’ve found it.  I’ve found it with her.  With Gen.  Sure I’ve had feelings before, right?  But not like this.  Never like this.  There’s not the smallest doubt in my mind that what Gen and I have is true love.  The kind of love you hear about in all the songs.  The kind of love you never really understand until you’ve felt it.  Something real.”

Many thanks to editor Matthew Pegg for including my story in this great-looking book.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Real Rachel Winterbourne

My short story The Real Rachel Winterbourne has been published on Perihelion Science Fiction online magazine.  The story concerns a man named Jim, whose supermodel wife Rachel agrees to make clones of herself so that the clones can be sold to the highest bidder.  When his marriage breaks down Jim begins to wonder if Rachel has in fact left him, switching herself with one of the clones, and eventually sets out on a quest to discover the truth.

In my mind, this story was set in the same near-future world as Voids, the novella I co-authored with Martin Greaves

The Real Rachel Winterbourne is free to read online here.

I'm proud of this story, so I'm happy it found a good home at Perihelion.  My thanks to Editor-in-Chief Sam Bellotto Jr for purchasing it.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Life Among The Insects

March will see the publication of a couple of the sci-fi short stories I wrote last year. First up will be my story of human cloning, The Real Rachel Winterbourne, which will appear online in Perihelion Magazine on March 12th.

Then on 28th March, Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science will be released by Shadow Work Publishing.  The book will open with my story Life Among the Insects.  This is the story of Catherine, a scientist working at a government facility studying various types of chameleonic creatures, including some top secret life-forms that are kept below ground.  

Profits from the sale of Dark Designs will go to a great cause: Doctors Without Borders.

You can see the cover art and Table of Contents for Dark Designs above.  My thanks to the good people at Shadow Work Publishing for including my story.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Five of my favourite short stories read in 2016

In lieu of some kind of year end list (and coming a bit late anyway) I thought I'd just list here five great speculative short stories that I read last year.

1. For Two Songs by Rebecca Lloyd
The final story in Rebecca Lloyd's 'Ragman and other Family Curses' from Egaeus Press, this is a creepy and original story revolving around sibling rivalry and the Victorian practice of taking portraits of the dead.  One of the best subtle creepy shorts I've read for awhile.

2. Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson
A poignant tale of yearning and loss, beautifully told by L.S. Johnson in the style of an instruction manual, here a witch endeavours to give her fading mother the grandchild she always wished for by some rather unconventional means.

This haunting tale is also the title story from Johnson's excellent debut collection of stories.

3. Honey Moon by D.P.Watt
From the collection 'Almost Insentient, Almost Divine' from Undertow Books, and for me the standout and the most conventional story in the book. This is the tale of a young couple honeymooning in a borrowed cottage where their initial reticence towards each other is eventually overtaken by pagan forces. I have to be honest and say that I found this book a bit of a trial, perhaps because Watt's tales are better read and mulled over one at a time rather than as a collection, but this story certainly leaps off the page.

4. Roadkill by Robert Shearman
After a disastrous attempt at conducting an affair, a woman on the way home with her lover runs over a kind of bat-rabbit thing which may or may not represent love.  A story everyone can relate to (?).

5. Magritte's Secret Agent by Tanith Lee
A peculiar slant on the mermaid tale by the late, great Tanith Lee.  This takes it's inspiration from Magritte's painting of a stranded merman with the head of a fish and legs of a man (rather than the other way around).  The story tells of a shop worker who becomes enamoured of a beautiful but unresponsive young man in a wheelchair, and the efforts she eventually makes to set him free.