Genre Fiction

In search of the thing.

I don’t know if it’s the same for other writers, but for many years I’ve been in search of THE THING.

THE THING varies over time, a nebulous concept of interlinked thoughts, wishes, desires and an out of focus future where I’ve nailed everything I want to say, packaged it up tight in a lean, mean, novel, got it in the hands of publishers, and it’s so good that readers will fall on it in ravenous droves.

Every so often, I think I’ve cracked it.

The last time was these past few years with my SIGILS AND TOTEMS mythos works. The idea stuck with me for a long time, which is usually a good sign, I think I wrote some of my best stuff, in BROKEN SIGIL and SONGS OF DREAMING GODS in particular, and in a bevy of related work and stories, and I hoped that, this time, THE THING had been unleashed. I sent SONGS OF DREAMING GODS out with all the positive thinking I could muster.

And waited.

And waited.

Hope is, if not lost, at least fading. And I think I know where the problem lies. This particular incarnation of THE THING is my thing, not yours. The central conceit of the SIGILS AND TOTEMS mythos is my thing, not yours. They say writers should write for themselves. I did. And I’m proud of it.

But I can’t force anybody to read it.

Last year I had Joshi telling me I was a writer with nothing to say for myself, and one of his hangers-on calling me a hack. I let that get to me more than I should have, and that’s because THE THING wasn’t going as well as I hoped it would.

But that’s the thing with THE THING. It’s not static, but is a constantly mutating, changing organism.

And now it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.





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Chillers and Thrillers Spring Giveaway

After the small success of my own giveaway last month, I’ve expanded this month and invited some other authors on board. If this works out, it could become a regular feature.

Three lucky winners will each get all six of the ebooks listed below.

Use the form to sign up for participating authors’ newsletters and then tweet as many or as few times as you want (the more times, the more chance you have of winning), or follow them on their Amazon pages.

All activities get you points, and points mean prizes!

The draw will be made on 31st March.

  • I WAS JACK THE RIPPER by Michael Bray.A horror thriller
  • RED DEATH by D.L. Robinson. An apocalyptic plague thriller.
  • UNCONTACTED by Rick Chesler. A human origins thriller.
  • AWAKE by Edward J McFadden III. A post-apocalyptic chiller.
  • PARASITE by Ian Woodhead. A British horror chiller.
  • FUNGOID by William Meikle. An apocalyptic chiller.

Five favorite horror short stories

I’ve got a little list, of five of my favorite horror short stories. These ones have been chosen because they’ve stuck with me over the course of many years now. I’m sure there’s recent ones bubbling under that’ll be on this list in years to come.

But for now, here’s my best of the best.

Mackintosh Willy by Ramsey Campbell

My first reading of Mackintosh Willy was in the Dark Companions collection, sometime in the late ’80s. I wasn’t a writer then – I was newly divorced, living in London and mostly drunk. But there was something that crept in that story, something about the urban decay, hopelessness and the way we treat the other that rang a bell with me, and I found myself thinking about it more and more over the next few years. My personal circumstances improved, I got remarried, escaped London…but Ramsey’s story stuck with me, and when I started writing for myself in the early ’90s, some of Ramsey came along with me, for which I’ll always be grateful.

Sredni Vashtar by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro)

I first read this when I was a boy of similar age to the protagonist Conradin, which makes it round about 1968, and it must have been one of the first true horror stories I ever read.

It’s a slow burner, about a child in an unfriendly situation, and how he escapes into a fantasy world of his own making, creating a cult and a religion around his pet ferret, Sredni Vashtar, which is built up in his mind as an all powerful force of destruction. And then the pet is discovered by the unfriendly family.

If you’ve never read it, I won’t spoil it, but it is a delicious tale, the likes of which Roald Dahl would perfect later, but this one, my first of the kind, has always stuck with me and still does to this day, almost 50 years on.

Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.

Sticks is Karl Edward Wagner’s homage to the weird tradition, and has been collected several times since it first appeared in Whispers back in the early ’70s. It’s also, purportedly, based on a true story of illustrator Lee Brown Coye’s experiences in 1938 in a farmhouse in the Mann Brook region. I didn’t know that when I first read it, in the Arkham House reprint of the Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthology, and even if I had, it couldn’t have made the impact of the tale any stronger than it was already.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a country lad and spent a lot of my time rambling in woodland and playing with sticks myself, but something in this story crept into me and stayed there. I was reminded of it strongly in The Blair Witch Project, and that made the movie even more creepy for me, but the story itself, simple enough as it is in plot, has depth and heft and a capacity to make you look over your shoulder to make sure you’re not being watched. It still strikes a chord today, even after repeated readings. It’s the kind of story I aspire to write, and reminds me, in a way, of Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, or Machen’s The White People. It’s in good company, and deserves to be.

Smoke Ghost by Fritz Leiber

Another one that’s been with me for an awful long time. In the early ’70s, I was reading Leiber mainly for his science fiction, but stumbled upon a collection that contained this, and was immediately unnerved. Smoke Ghost, written in 1941, was an early attempt to bring ghosts into the modern age, and it works perfectly.

There is a thing here haunting city alleys, roofs and railway lines, a thing of tattered cloth, old newpapers, oil and smoke, a thing of the city’s dispossessed and lost, that is as effective a haunting as anything ever put down on paper, and all the more scary for its modernist trappings. If I’m ever pressed for my favorite short horror story, this is the one that usually first comes to mind, for that thing of scraps and oil haunts me yet, and I’ve met it in my dreams.

Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

It’s a masterful feat of storytelling, building from an almost comical, married Brits abroad start to quickly pile on subtle, then not-so-subtle hints that things are not all that they seem. Our protagonist’s journey from concerned husband and his pent up grief at the loss of a child builds into something dark and strange, as if the foreign city itself is conspiring against him.

The final scene, where he faces his grief, and finds the truth, is as shocking in print as it is in film, and that’s a testament to the descriptive and narrative powers of De Maurier.

It’s one of my favorite things, both in print and in film, and I wish I could see, and read, both for the first time all over again.





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My writing – a plan, of sorts.

Turning sixty hit me harder than I expected it to, as did starting to draw a pension from the works’ schemes. I’m a pensioner. It takes a bit of getting used to.

It’s led to some thinking on my part as to what I want to do with myself in the years to come.

I’ll still be writing. I don’t think I can stop now anyway, but I may slow down a bit from previous output levels. I’ve got this current work in progress, a contracted novel for SEVERED PRESS, to finish and then… the void.

It’s the first time in almost ten years that I won’t have any outstanding work contracted, not even any stories to do for any anthology invites, and as yet I don’t have a clear path ahead after the end of March, when I deliver the current book.

I’ve already turned a publisher down on a request for a set of Victorian ghost stories as I decided I’ve said what I wanted to say there in THE GHOST CLUB. I have ideas for a couple of Derek Adams novels I could probably place with publishers quite quickly if I was inclined, and I still have the big fantasy epic at the back of my mind.

And then there’s Carnacki. There’s always Carnacki. I know I get looked down on in certain quarters for my writing of these, but I keep coming back to them, because I just get so much fun and enjoyment out of writing them. There are a handful of stories published that have never been collected, so my thinking is that I’ll write half a dozen new ones and then ship a fourth Carnacki collection around. I’ll need to find a publisher for that too, and that might not be so simple.

So, OPERATION: SIBERIA, then a new Carnacki collection.

That’s a start anyway.




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Dark Regions Press – a statement

In the fallout from last night’s Brian Keene podcast I’ve been asked several times today about Dark Regions Press.

My dealings there are historical, in that the stand alone novels, novellas and collections I have published with them were all commissioned by Joe Morey before he handed over the company to Chris, and then again with Joe at Dark Renaissance before he folded that company back into Dark Regions when he retired.

So I have a whole heap of work there, mostly now only in ebooks as the small print runs are in the main sold, or not selling.

Apart from that, I have a handful of story sales to recent anthologies with Dark Regions.

So my dealings with them are, in the main, waiting for royalties to be paid.

Even back in Joe’s day, Dark Regions were never ones for paying strictly on time, and that has continued under Chris’ reign there.

Over the years there has been a degree of confusion over royalties, especially regarding the books that flitted in and out of Dark Renaissance’s catalog and back, then out, and in again, from Dark Regions. That was a logistical nightmare at times that caused headaches at both their end and mine.

But I’ve never not been paid — eventually.

This latest round was no different, and the gap between payments had been stretching.

After chasing Chris up, I got a royalty statement from them in December that covered Dec 2016 – Nov 2017. As far as I can tell it matches numbers I would have expected to see there. I got 1/2 of it paid just before Xmas, and the the 2nd half was paid this week.

So my experience is, he’s paid me, but needs to be chased, so I chase him.

I can’t speak for the other writers signed up with them. Those that haven’t been paid at all need to be paid, and that needs sorted fast. Similarly, there are books that people have paid for through Kickstarter campaigns and advance orders that are now years overdue, and that again speaks of a certain lack of organisation, or just plain overreaching, on Dark Regions’ part.

Dark Regions have been good for my career over the years, and I’d hate to see them crumble under disorganization, overreaching themselves and forgetting that their writers are their most important asset — I’ve seen it happen to too many presses now.

I hope Chris can sort this latest mess out. I wish him luck.




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Newfoundland and Me

Newfoundland is worming its way more and more into my soul, and out again in my writing.

We came over on holiday in 2005 and loved it. When my job in Edinburgh went tits-up in 2007, it was just when I was starting to get some serious pro-level story sales, and we knew we could get a nice house with a great view dirt cheap over here on The Rock. So we sold up in Scotland, whacked some money in the bank, bought a house on the shore here in a fishing village, and I tried writing full time. I’ve not starved us yet.

It’s not quite in the middle of nowhere. We have roads, a post office, a supermarket and some takeaway places. We even have running water and electricity. The people are very friendly, mostly of Irish descent around here, and it’s lovely and quiet, which suits me just fine.

It also seems to suit my writing. The third Derek Adams book, THE SKIN GAME was stalled in its opening act back in Scotland, but that first winter after we got here I realised that Derek could come here too, and after that the rest of that one fell quickly into place.

Since then I’ve been exploring various parts of the island and its culture in my novels. THE DUNFIELD TERROR takes place around Trinity, where I spent my first year here working on a whale tour boat (the reprint of that one is coming soon from Crossroad Press.), FUNGOID takes place in the island capital St. Johns, and also up this peninsula where I live while SONGS OF DREAMING GODS is set in a corner townhouse in St. John’s again.

I’ve got two more novels based here in the pipe at Crossroad Press, namely THE BOATHOUSE, set here in our home port of Catalina, and THE GREEN AND THE BLACK, set in a derelict Victorian mining colony in the island’s interior.

There will be more, as I haven’t covered the whole glorious gamut of this place yet.

And I need to get a moose in somewhere.




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Through a Mythos Darkly

Some stories fall through cracks. Some whole books do.

Getting a story in THROUGH A MYTHOS DARKLY was a big deal for me. It’s from PS Publishing, who were one of my white whale publishers, and my story in it is an alternative history Arthurian thing, influenced as much by Michael Moorcock as by H P Lovecraft. I had an awful lot of fun writing it, loose and racing, and it’s one of my favorites of all the stories I’ve written.

And yet… I’m not sure anybody’s read it. Sure, the book is out, and the hardcover in particular is a lovely, lovely thing. But I’ve yet to see a single review, not even on Amazon, and it’s as if the book’s invisible now that it’s out there in the wild.

So if this is your first time hearing about it, seek it out and give it a chance. There’s plenty in there to reward you.

Get the shiny hardcover here  ( ebook is also available)

Here’s the TOC

Cody Goodfellow . . . The Roadrunners
Jeffrey Thomas . . . Scrimshaw
John Langan . . . Sweet Angie Tailor in: Subterranean Showdown
Robert M. Price . . . An Old and Secret Cult
Pete Rawlik . . . Stewert Behr–Deanimator
Don Webb . . . To Kill a King
William Meikle . . . The Last Quest
Christine Morgan . . . Fate of the World
Konstantine Paradias . . . Red in the Water, Salt on the Earth
D.A. Madigan . . . The Night They Drove Cro Magnon Down
Sam Stone . . . Sacrifice
Edward Morris . . . Get Off Your Knees, I’m Not Your God
Stephen Mark Rainey . . . Excerpts from the Diaries of Henry P. Linklatter
Tim Waggoner . . . Plague Doctor
Lee Clark Zumpe . . . Amidst the Blighted Swathes of Grey Desolation
Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer . . . Cognac, Communism, and Cocaine
Damien Angelica Walters . . . Kai Monstrai Ateik (When the Monsters Come)




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The Seton family

Regular readers of mine know that I like to seed Seton family Easter eggs in my books. They’re generally wee red-haired Scotsmen and women who either dabble in alchemy, know more than they’re telling, might or might not be immortal, or have sold their souls for a shiny sword and a way with the ladies — they crop up all over the place.

Recently a young member of the family (and another cousin of his too) has turned up in the Rowan Casey / Veil Knights series, an elder statesman is in Ramskull, Occult Detective Quarterly #1, and Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man. Alexander, who was the first to make himself known to me, is in The Concordances of the Red Serpent, and his granddaughter turns up in a new Derek Adams story coming soon in Occult Detective Quarterly Presents.

Then there’s Augustus, still hacking his violent way through late 16th Century Scotland in a sequence of sword and sorcery stories — he’ll be back I’m sure.

They’re also tied to an ancient mystical book, THE TWELVE CONCORDANCES OF THE RED SERPENT, an alchemical tome written by an elder Seton at the time of Bannockburn. There’s a copy in Carnacki’s library in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, Sherlock Holmes has seen a copy too, as has Derek Adams, and one turned up in my recent novella, THE JOB.

The family, and the book are also in the process of being tied in to my Sigils and Totems mythos, so everything is all spinning around in one big happy dance of chaos.

It gives readers who read a lot of my books something to look out for, a wee wink and secret handshake between them and me as reward for their time spent in my worlds.

Plus, it’s fun.

Fun is good.



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Genre gear change. Maybe.

I’ve tried my hand at several works of fantasy over the years, and they almost always come out the same way — pulpy, with swords, sorcery, monsters and bloody battles to the fore. It’s the way I roll.

I may start with good intentions, of writing high fantasy with political intrigue and courtly goings on but, as in the Watchers series or Berserker, or some of the stories in the Samurai collection, my inner barbarian muscles to the fore, says Bugger this for a lark, and starts hacking.

The blame for my enthusiasm can be laid squarely at several doors.

There’s Conan, of course, and Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon and the whole pantheon of Eternal Champions; there’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Solomon Kane, Jon Shannow, Druss, the princes of Amber and the shades of a thousand more by the likes of Poul Anderson, A E Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H Rider Haggard and many others.

I’ve just come out of a months-long stint on another one, a historical trilogy set in 14th C Paris, with Templar mysteries, desert magic and more swashes than you can buckle, and it’s off to my co-writer Steve Savile for him to weave some more magic into it.

Up next for me is another creature feature for SEVERED PRESS, but I’m already thinking ahead — this might be the year for my own fantasy epic, which will likely be dark, and feature my SIGILS AND TOTEMS mythos in a Stone Age fantasy setting. I’ve got an outline that involves tattoos, flightless birds, thylacines, lost cities, pirates, whale cults, crocodile gods, the dreamtime, a big black bird, mad sorcerors, sea battles and love lost, found, and lost again. It’s been in my head for years. As I say, it might be time for it to come out.

It’s fermenting. The warmer weather this summer might see it develop.




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