Genre Fiction

Book Review: The Talisman by Jonathan Aycliffe

The TalismanThe Talisman by Jonathan Aycliffe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some writers who can consistently give me the creeps. Ramsey Campbell is one. And Jonathan Aycliffe is another, in NIAOMI’S ROOM, THE MATRIX and his other great ghost stories of the ’80s and ’90s.

THE TALISMAN proved to be no exception, although it’s not a ghost story as such. This is more along the lines of THE OMEN or THE EXORCIST, and has echoes of both amid its depiction of an ancient evil brought out of the Middle East. Where this surpasses genre conventions is in the background; Aycliffe is an expert on the history of the region, and it shows in the accumuation of small but significant details that are slowly built up, layer upon layer, until the full extent of the evil is revealed.

It’s a strangely old-fashioned book though. It’s twenty years old now, but feels even older, and reads like a throwback to those aforementioned classics of the ’70s. That’s no bad thing though, and I had a great time with it.

It’s taken me a long time to get round to it; I have the Ash Tree Press limited edition hardcover, and it’s been on my shelves all these years unread. I’m glad I finally got to it, and it’s given me an urge to revisit his other works again, which is no bad thing.

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Book Review: THE ANUBIS GATES by Tim Powers

Anubis GatesAnubis Gates by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Time travel, body swapping, Ancient Egyptian blood magic, lycanthropy, mutant beings in the sewers of early 19th C London, and a meeting with Coleridge. Yep, it was Tim Powers time again, and a reread of his classic THE ANUBIS GATES.

The Powers imagination is on full throttle in this one right from the start, and it’s a wild ride through the aforementioned tropes, with Powers juggling a variety of characters, plots, sub-plots and timelines in a riotously entertaining romp.

He keeps everything just on the cusp of falling apart into incoherence, driving set piece after set piece at you until you give in, go with the flow and get carried along by the sheer manic exuberance of the thing.

It’s a wonderful feat of imagination, a wonderful bit of writing and, in the Zeisling Press hardcover I’ve got, a wonderfully presented package all round, with an intro by Ramsey Campbell for good measure.

It’s a favorite thing of mine, and one I recommend to everyone who asks what I think they should read. So, go and read it if you haven’t. It’s truly magical.

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Book Review: The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

The Drawing of the DarkThe Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE DRAWING OF THE DARK is Tim Powers at his most playful.

Sure, he drags a whole bevvy of archetypes on stage as is his wont, with Fisher Kings and wise men to the fore. But we also get drunk Vikings, enchanted swords, wild journeys with high magic through the mountains, more beer, and large-scale battle scenes.

The plot revolves around the secret history of Europe, and a brewery that conjures up the stuff that champions are made of. It’s fantasy, Jim, but not as we know it.

It’s early Powers, so it’s not as intricate or tight as his later work, and not as densely lyrical. But it’s an awful lot of fun, especially after the Vikings turn up and the mayhem proper gets under way.

And did I mention that Merlin is in there too? And that he has a fondness for smoking dried snakes?

Powers invention is fully to the fore in this one, and also his way with a set piece, with the aforementioned trip through the mountains being a highlight, along with a descent deep into the bowels under the brewery with Merlin, where much that is hidden is revealed and the plot, and the beer, thickens.

A fantasy novel about beer, and Arthurian archetypes by one of the greatest novelists of our time? That’ll do for me.

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Book Review: CAST A COLD EYE by Alan Ryan

Cast A Cold EyeCast A Cold Eye by Alan Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CAST A COLD EYE preys on my mind. I first read it from our local library when it came out and it gave me nightmares. Then I found a 1st Edition hardcover of it in a book shop in Inverness, where it was stacked by accident in a shelf of Scottish hardcover crime books. I bought it, read it again, and got more nightmares.

There’s something going on in these pages that keys directly into my psyche. I think it’s a Celtic thing, and small towns where old men mutter secrets to each other in smoky bars while someone in the background sings the old songs. I know a bit about that kind of place. And so did Alan Ryan, a wonderful writer taken from us too soon.

He spoke in interviews of how he didn’t spend much time on research, but went for feel and gut instinct in writing it, and in doing so, I think he too tapped into something primal about blood, and kin, and community.

It’s a book with heart and soul, wearing both on its sleeve. Sure, it gets melodramatic in places, but in others there’s a deft handling of creeping dread, and of how the supernatural might creep into a world view otherwise inimical to it.

I’ve found that not many of my supernatural fiction writing buddies have read this one — it seems to have gone under the radar back in the day, and been largely ignored. Which is a great shame, as it’s a great ghost story, a fine piece of writing, and a lovely examination of a way of life that’s disappearing fast. Hopefully the recent Valancourt edition means more people are finding it.

I love it…even if it still gives me nightmares.

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April Giveaway – Win 3 Meikle Scottish Supernatural novellas

Book Review: THE CEREMONIES by T.E.D. Klein

The CeremoniesThe Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dread is a word you don’t see used much in association with horror fiction any more. And it’s a shame, because used properly, slow building dread can be more horrific than any gore or bloodletting.

Fortunately, there are writers who understand this, and one of the best examples can be found in THE CEREMONIES, which starts slow, gets slower, but accumulates dread along the way like a wool suit collecting cat hairs. And it’s a marvel of timing, precision and skill, with its cast of great characters all circling around the central motifs, each of them catching glimpses of the whole but none completely understanding what they are being shown, or why.

It’s also a remarkably timeless book. It was written before laptops, before cellphones and email, but by setting it mostly in a remote rural farmscape, it feels older still, and its throwbacks to genre giants like Lovecraft and Machen in particular seem to root it even farther back in time again.

The slow build, taking care and attention to let us get to know, if not like, the main characters, gives their respective fates at the climax emotional resonance, and a depth thats often lacking in fiction in the field.

The writing itself is rich and lyrical, the handling of viewpoint and control of pacing is expertly done, and the book is one of the wonders of modern weird fiction.

It’s a shame Klein hasn’t produced more over the years, but kudos to PS Publishing for the fine new paperback edition I read this in, which is a lovely piece of packaging for a book that deserves to be showcased.

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April Newsletter

A new reissue of Tormentor, some short story sales news and a new giveaway for April, all in the newsletter this month.

The last of my DarkFuse novellas to be reissued, TORMENTOR is now available from Crossroad Press.

In this one there’s a lot of fish, some drums, some beer, a lot of whisky, dancing, some good weather, some bad weather, weird noises in the night and some Spaniards – among other things.

I’ve had a love affair with the Isle of Skye for many years. If we hadn’t come to Newfoundland, we might well have ended up on the same stretch of coastline described in this novella, a windswept shore near Dunvegan Castle.

This novella was a long time in the making. The basic idea came to me way back in 1991, but it took me a long, long time before I felt that my writing was up to the needs of the story. Then, a couple of years back, it all finally came together.

No limbs, no limbs, no head, no head, left arm gone, left leg gone, no legs, no head.

A door is open, and something is coming through. It’s just a matter of when — and what.

With Tormentor William Meikle has crafted a genuine classic Haunted House story that excels in so many different ways.The Ginger Nuts of Horror

Next up from Crossroad Press will be a new short novel, THE BOATHOUSE which is another in my Sigils and Totems series, so watch out for that in May.

I have several nice short story sales to report this month. I’ll have a story, LACUNAE AND NOCTURNES in a forthcoming Dark Regions Press anthology set in Jeffery Thomas’ PUNKTOWN setting, I have an Arthurian fantasy short, THE ROOT OF ALL THINGS coming in By The Light of Camelot from Edge Publishing, there’s a new Carnacki coming with BATS IN THE BELFRY in an Ulthar Press anthology. Also from Ulthar Press, I have a story SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND coming in a new antho, VOICES FROM THE DARKNESS, and there’s a reprint of my CARNACKI: THE KEYS TO THE DOOR coming in Japanese from the magnificent, but undecipherable by me, Nightland Quarterly.


April Giveaway – Win 3 Meikle Scottish Supernatural novellas


April Giveaway

After the success of last month’s giveaway, I’m running another. Just me this time, and three of my Scottish supernatural novellas that were previously published by DarkFuse and are now available again from Crossroad Press. Three lucky winners will get all three in either epub or mobi formats.

  • Clockwork Dolls
  • The Job
  • Pentacle

These three say a lot of what I’m all about as a writer, so for a chance to win them, head on over and chance your luck at my site




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Regrets, I have a few. But then again…

It’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t start writing until I was in my mid-thirties. Since then it’s felt like I’ve continually been trying to catch up to where I want to be with it, and now that I’m 60 I can feel the pressure build as time gets ever shorter and age starts to wither both my attention span and my eyesight.

Hopefully both will hold out as I’ve got an ideas list as long as your arm to work my way through that includes more Carnacki stories, a handful of creature feature novels, and some themed supernatural story collections, including more Derek Adams.

In the longer term, before I pop off, I keep thinking about another sprawling fantasy epic. I had a go with one of those in the WATCHERS trilogy back almost twenty years ago now, and I’m working with Steve Savile on another historical trilogy with fantasy elements.

But it’s the big epic that I keep meaning to do and every few months, like now, it whispers for attention again. Something else always seems to come up and makes me put it on the back burner, but it’ll still be there, whispering away.

It’s been there for years now. I hope, in twenty five more years, I’ll have got round to it. GRRM stole my thunder a bit in that what I had in mind was very like GAME OF THRONES in concept if not in execution, but there’ll be more magic in mine, more barbarians hacking about with big axes, and fewer dwarves in brothels. I have a basic plot worked out – mirror magic, seafaring pirate whale worshippers, cursed weaponry and children abducted to grow up strangers in a strange land as slave workers in vast mines. I can see it all laid out in my head, and the plot covers years of this place’s history. It’s just a matter of writing the bugger.

If you ever see me at a con or in a bar, ask me about it – talking about it might be just the kick in the arse it needs to get going properly.




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Slave to the rhythm

In TORMENTOR , my latest release from Crossroad Press, there’s a lot of fish, some drums, some beer, a lot of whisky, dancing, some good weather, some bad weather, weird noises in the night and some Spaniards – among other things. Things like rhythm, and booze.

The novella was a long time in the making. The basic idea came to me way back in 1991, but it took me a long, long time before I felt that my writing was up to the needs of the story. Then it all finally came together.

You see, I have a theory about how the world works – no, bear with me, this isn’t a pseudo-science rant. Well, maybe it is – but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and it has turned up in a lot of my stories of recent years.

We are creatures of rhythm and vibration. Not just us either, and not just the animal and plant kingdoms, but the whole of the universe.

An earlier paragraph from another book of mine sort of sums up the first part of my philosophy nicely.

“Life is an opportunity to create meaning by our actions and how we manage our way through the short part of infinity we’re given to operate in. And once our life is finished, our atoms go back to forming other interesting configurations with those of other people, animals, plants and anything else that happens to be around, as we all roll along in one big, happy, ever dancing, universe.”

It’s the dance that’s the thing, and our attempts to learn the steps and keep time with our partners is how we fumble through life.

Everything has a natural rhythm. The Earth spins once a day, goes around the sun once a year. The moon goes round the earth every 28 days. Your heart beats in a rhythm particular only to you. Everything has its drumbeat and everything contributes to the dance. You’ve just got to know when to lead and when to follow.

And sometimes, if you let go and let the rhythm do its thing, magic happens, and the rhythm gets into you and through you and off you go, careering along with no other thought than the dance, and the sheer overwhelming joy of it.

And, to return to my point, in TORMENTOR, the rhythms are dormant, waiting to be wakened, and when they do make themselves known, they are not recognized for what they are.

The dancers take their time, finding the steps slowly, tentatively.

But in the end, we all dance together.




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