Thursday, 30 June 2011

Open House Day 31 - Stephen Volk

I don’t only read horror. Far from it. In fact, I’ve just finished reading Steve Martin’s excellent memoir of the highs and lows of his stand-up career, Born Standing Up, and it gave me the idea for this blog, which is called


Let me count the ways. I don’t want to merely list here all the horror films that are laugh-out-loud, like Brain Dead, or laffers that have a dark side, like Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, so let’s start with...


I’ve mentioned this before (in the pages of Black Static magazine), but I attended the Q&A session after a performance of the mega-hit play Ghost Stories when one of the co-writers, Jeremy Dyson, was asked by a naive but eager creative writing student: “What advice would you give on writing horror?”. Dyson thought for a minute, then said, politely but firmly, there is no advice. You either find things scary, or you don’t. You can’t teach it. You can’t learn it. In the same way you can’t learn what’s funny. You either know or you don’t. He said, “People talk about having a funny bone, but there’s also a horror bone. It’s exactly the same thing.”


There’s undoubtedly rhythm in a joke. Listen to Jackie Mason. Listen to old Woody Allen recordings. Steve Martin talks about it being so predictable that in his early years he noticed some comedians got a laugh even when the punch line was mumbled. The audience didn’t hear it: they simply reacted to the musicality. Similarly, I think horror has a musicality too. A master director gets a sequence pitch-perfect, at the right tempo and emotional volume. It works. Also-ran practitioners get it wrong. The editing is clumsy, the pace leaden, the climax fumbled. The moment doesn’t hit the spot. You think, “Have they ever even seen a horror film?” and wonder how they got the gig in the first place.


Psychological studies of humour from Freud onwards say a joke is based on surprise. Tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-BANG! The outcome isn’t what you were led to expect. This is the currency of horror, too. Think of the so-called “bus moments” of Val Lewton, now painfully de rigeur in every scary movie of the present age (to the extent, nowadays, some producers of my direct experience ask for at least ten such “scares” per movie: caring less for any overarching unease or anxiety the film-maker might be aiming for). “Scare moments” (like the ending of Carrie or the “fish bucket” moment in Jaws) are in fact so often followed by a laugh, the requisite release of tension in the viewer, that they often are difficult to differentiate from actual jokes.


What makes one joke funny to one person and yet the person next to them remains stony faced? In the same way, why does a horror film scare one person, yet to another wash like water off a duck’s back? It’s a mystery. Because in both cases, it’s personal. Which is why we pay those singular individuals who come up with the universal joke (like Martin in his prime or, again, Woody Allen) or the universal monster (like Spielberg or Wes Craven) big bucks.


It’s a cliché, or truism, but comedians definitely have a dark side of their personality. Think of those grim BBC4 bio-pics about Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams, and Tony Hancock for a start. Paradoxically, if you want to have a laugh, don’t meet up with a bunch of comedy writers, go for a drink with a bunch of horror writers. They’re the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. And funny as hell. Yin and yang? Go figure.


Comedy does this, at its best. So does horror. As somebody once said, “News is something that someone doesn’t want to hear. The rest is advertising.”

7. THE “GAG”

When I’m in script meetings about horror films I’m working on, I often find myself talking about the “gag”. Not because the scene I’m discussing is funny, but because it’s a beat, a punctuation which needs skilful consideration to make work.


...As everyone who has listen to a pub bore telling a joke, compared to a genius like Tommy Cooper or George Burns telling a corny gag, knows. Similarly in horror, the voice (or hand) of the writer or film-maker is paramount. (Who’d think that a possessed car could be terrifying? But in the hands of Stephen King, it is.)


A joke either gets a laugh or it doesn’t. It’s blunt and merciless. It separates the men from the boys. Similarly, a horror film either horrifies or it doesn’t. The line between success and failure is absolute and palpable. Which is why this is no territory for namby-pambies. They can run off and play in the sand-pit marked “Worthy Drama” or “Social Realism”. While bad comedies and bad horror films get ripped new ones by the critics.


Which is, to my mind -- black comedy. (I refuse to bow to PC and call it “dark” comedy. Clearly I’m not talking about Will Smith here.) This is where funny and frightening meet as uneasy bedfellows and twins separated at birth. For me, this cross-bred genre is probably the platinum card of all genres in literature and film because -- as Billy Wilder knew, and as Wes D. Gehring, author of the highly recommended American Dark Comedy: Beyond Satire espouses -- black comedy is the most like our actual experience of actual life. Neither scary nor hilarious, but both. Sometimes at the same time. Think of the leg going in the wood chipper in Fargo. The cowboy riding the atom bomb in Dr Strangelove... Blood Simple, A Clockwork Orange, Chopper, Bronson, Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, Black Swan, the weird worlds of David Lynch, I could go on... But I won’t. We all have our favourites. The movies that make us laugh when we’re not sure we should, or scare us in a way that mixes with farce and makes us deeply uncomfortable in scenes we never forget...

Which brings me back to Steve Martin.

In Born Standing Up the most moving part is nothing to do with his stand-up career at all, but a description of himself at his physically abusive father, Glenn’s, death bed, and the awkward reconciliation with a dad who typically put down his son’s efforts in the entertainment business throughout his life.

Any comedy writer or horror writer could have tackled this archetypal subject, but in Martin’s sensitive hands, for me, it is just simply what we all aspire to -- good writing.

In describing death -- the most “uncomfortable truth” of all -- it portrays life.

Later on, Martin describes visiting his mother, who by then was falling “into a vacant mental decline”:

“She began to alternate between lucidity and confusion, creating moments of tenderness and painful hilarity. She told me Glenn had treated me unfairly, that she wished she had intervened. She said when I was a child, she hugged me and kissed me a lot, something I did not recollect. Then she took a long pause. She looked at me, quietly puzzled, and said, ‘How’s your mother?’”

Ba-boom tish.


STEPHEN VOLK was the creator and lead writer of ITV's award-winning paranormal drama series Afterlife and the notorious BBCTV "Halloween hoax" Ghostwatch.  His latest feature film, The Awakening (co-written by director Nick Murphy), is a period ghost story starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, and will be released later in 2011.  His other movie credits include Ken Russell's Gothic starring Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson and Timothy Spall, and The Guardian, co-written with director William Friedkin. He has also penned scripts for Channel Four's Shockers and BBC1's Ghosts, and won a BAFTA for his short film The Deadness of Dad starring Rhys Ifans. His first collection of short stories, Dark Corners, was published by Gray Friar Press in 2006 and, more recently, his novella Vardoger earned him a nomination for both a Shirley Jackson Award and a British Fantasy Award. He has new stories in the upcoming anthologies House of Fear (Solaris), The Unspoken, and Gutshot (PS Publishing), and two new TV series in development at the BBC.



Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Open House Day 30 - Tim Lebbon

"Tim, thanks very much for your interview. And finally, are there any tips you can offer new writers?"

Usually I answer with the tired old familiars. Read a lot, write a lot, persist, learn from rejection, don't let the bastards grind you down. They're all perfectly valid statements, and I don't think there are many who'd disagree with any of them. Least of all write a lot. You can't be a writer if you don't write a lot. That's just madness.

But lately my answer to that familiar question (almost as familiar as where do you get your ideas from?, but I'm hoping that'll be answered by another guest blogger, because it's always embarrassing to admit that you steal them), is something new, and something surprising:

To be a writer, it helps to be fit.

Picture the scene:

A knock at the door (you're not paid enough to buy batteries for the doorbell). You answer. A pleasant-looking guy is standing there, nicely dressed, smiling ... perhaps with a twinkle of something other in his eye. You sigh and point pointedly (is there any other way?) at the NO COLD CALLERS sign you've nailed to your doorframe, and then those words...

"I'm your greatest fan."

You close your eyes, a little flattered, perhaps a little troubled ... and then open them and turn your head in slow motion as you hear the unmistakeable snisssh-wush-slahhhhh of metal on leather, and the knife is in his hand, and he says, "I want to see inside your brain."

You kick the door closed, but his foot's already inside. Next comes his knife hand, waving the blade in a carotid-seeking manner. You duck and punch his arm, shoving the door hard as you gauge your options––fight, or flight?

The telephone rings. Probably someone called Garfield wanting to sell you cheap phone calls, and he's clogging the line, so a quick call to the police is out of the question.

So you know now that it is time for you to run.

And that's one reason why to be a writer, it helps to be fit.

Something a little like this has never happened to me. Neither has something exactly like this, thankfully. But there are other reasons why being/getting fit can benefit your writerly habit.

I'm almost 42. I like real ale, red wine, Indian/Chinese/Italian food. Chocolate is good, too. So are Jelly Babies. And Pringles. And stilton cheese. And ... you get the picture. I've always done a little exercise––walking, cycling, a bit of running. I've been through several 'I'm-a-member-of-this-gym-now-so-my-life-is-going-to-change-forever' phases, quickly followed by 'I-can't-be-bothered-I'll-just-watch-an-episode-of-The Shield-and-have-a-bottle-of-wine.'

But lately, something happened. I blame my mate Pete who, over the space of several months at the beginning of 2010, Got Fit.

"Bloody hell!" I said, upon seeing him for the first time in a while. "What happened to you?"

"Got Fit," he said. Whereupon I said to myself, I need to do that.

This isn't a fitness instruction blog. This isn't the TimPlan Diet. I'm not going to release a DVD of me exercising with two photos on the front, one before and one after, because quite frankly ... well, looks-wise I haven't changed that much at all. Still got a bit of a beer belly. Sue me.

But I'm now running four times each week, from 3 to 6 miles, and looking to up those distances. I'm entering 10k races, have just completed the national Three Peaks Challenge, and I'm signing up for more such madness, including the Sodbury Slog, the Brecon Beacons Mountain Trail Challenge, and next year myself and some friends aim to complete the Welsh 3000s (Google them. Insanity, mostly with mud). I cycle, exercise three times each week in the house for half an hour, and love hill walking. I still drink beer and red wine, and eat nice food, but in moderation, and alongside more fruit and other healthy stuff.

I feel better than I have in years. And I'm writing better, and more, because of that.

That's a pretty rash statement, but it's true. Writers sit in front of a computer screen a lot. It's ... well, pretty essential really. Writers who don't sit writing for long periods usually end up as not-writers, and within a few months of not-writing they lose their contracts and get a job at the local taxi firm cleaning puke and semen from the back seats of the firm's fleet. But I've found that exercising your body means your mind is fitter too. It's easier to write when you're not so tired. The buzz after a run can fuel a whole afternoon of enthusiastic creativity. When I'm out walking or running the ideas flow, and if I'm up against a problem in a current story/novel/screenplay, leaving the house and venturing out into the countryside will often offer up the solution.

Honestly. Try it. You'll feel much better, and your writing will benefit as much as everything else.

And then there's that mad fan with a knife, of course. I'm climbing over the garden fence now, using muscles which three months ago were shrivelled like sun-dried tomatoes. He's close behind me, because stalkers are fit too––they've been dreaming of this moment for years, after all. I drop into the lane behind my house and run, breathing easily, checking my pace, settling into a relaxed rhythm. I can hear him behind me, running shoes slapping the pavement and knife swish-swishing at the air as he pumps his arms. Below that, his crazy giggle.

I leave the village and head out into the countryside, taking him to ground that I know. The local woods. There are places in there I can hide, and other places where I might be able to ambush him, and hopefully––

Then there's a screech of brakes, a sharp cry, and a sound like a rucksack filled with cooked pasta and whole watermelons being crushed. I slow to a jog and turn around, and my stalker is a stain beneath the wheels of a souped-up BMW.

Three months ago he'd have caught me before I even reached my back fence, decapitated me, peeled my face from my head to wear later as he paraded naked in front of a mirror in his sordid little flat, and then opened my skull and delved into my brain to find the plot to the Berserk sequel I'm never going to write.

To be a writer, it helps to be fit.

Tim Lebbon's new novel ECHO CITY is out soon from Orbit UK.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Open House Day 29 - Ian Whates

Putting the Gender in Genre

Something I’ve been asked more than once in interviews and panels is ‘what’s the next big thing in SF?’ Little did I suspect at any point that the answer was going to be ‘Gender Imbalance’; yet here we are.

Let me say at outset that there is an imbalance, no question, especially in the UK. There are far more male SF authors under contract here than there are female – the exact number of women SF authors seems to vary from discussion to discussion. Everyone agrees on Jaine Fenn, but there is less certainty on whether Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan, Sarah Pinborough, Lauren Beukes or (most recently) Sarah Cawkwell – the first woman ever to write a novel in the Warhammer 40K universe – should be allowed. Not that it matters. Even if you take all of them into account, there are still too few.

So, who’s to blame? Unfortunately, the current trend seems to be to point the finger at everyone and everything in a sort of knee-jerk reaction. In a discussion on Juliet McKenna’s blog recently, it was claimed that the genre awards in this country reward outstanding male writers only. The fact that Lauren Beukes missed out on this year’s BSFA Award for best novel by the narrowest of margins and then went on to win the Clarke (yay Lauren!), and that the BSFA’s other fiction award went to Aliette de Bodard, was dismissed as an aberration. As was Sarah Pinborough having won BFS Awards for the past two years. Yes, the major awards have seen significantly more male winners than female in the past decade, and if there were a roughly equal number of works by both genders to choose from, that would be unpalatable in the extreme, but sadly there aren’t. That’s where we came in. Given the heavy imbalance of male authors to female at present, what else would anyone expect?

The thing is, as an editor, it’s almost inevitable (given the aforementioned imbalance) that you’re going to fall foul of somebody’s opinion somewhere. I’ve just released the TOC for Solaris Rising, an anthology I’ve been commissioned to produce for (you guessed it) Solaris. I’m both excited by and proud of this book. Of the nineteen stories, four are written or co-written by women: Pat Cadigan, Jaine Fenn, Tricia Sullivan, and Laurie Tom. Already the book has attracted a drearily predictable comment of “How's that mistressworks thing goin'?” from Nick Mamatas. It’s strange, but last year when I released the anthology The Bitten Word (ten female authors, seven male), nobody accused me of being a feminist. Nor was gender commented on that June when I released Anniversaries (seven female authors, two male). I suspect that next month, when I release a new collection of stories by Liz Williams – A Glass of Shadow – with an intro by Tanith Lee and cover art by Anne Sudworth, no comment will be made then either, nor when I release the next NewCon Press anthology Dark Currents in 2012 – which looks set to once again feature more female contributors than male. The detractors are very selective, it seems.

Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors… Maybe I should publish an anthology of all women authors at some point to silence the sceptics... No, wait, I already did that a few years ago: Myth-Understandings and I was criticised for doing that (sigh, who’d be an editor?)

So, should we blame the big publishing houses? But a large proportion of their commissioning editors at women, and surely they wouldn’t be biased against their own gender… What then? I think the answer is a lot more fundamental than any of this. I was on a panel with Alastair Reynolds, Tony Ballantyne and literary agent John Jarrold at alt.fiction last weekend. During it, I asked John how many of the hundreds of manuscripts he receives each year are from women. Without hesitation he replied, “80% from men, 20% from women.” John deals with fantasy as well as SF. I didn’t ask for any further breakdown, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of that 20% is fantasy, with just a small percentage SF.

Therein lies our problem. It’s not the awards or the editors or the publishers, at least not primarily; the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.

The Noise WithinIan Whates lives in a small village in Cambridgeshire. He has some 40 published short stories to his credit and two ongoing novel sequences – the ‘Noise’ books (space opera) with Solaris, and the ‘City of 100 Rows’ series (urban fantasy with steampunk overtones and SF underpinning) with Angry Robot. Ian also edits anthologies, principally via his own multiple award-winning independent publisher NewCon Press, though he has also co-edited a couple of mammoth titles with Ian Watson and has an Earth-shatteringly wonderful anthology due out via Solaris later this year.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Open House Day 28 - Guy Adams

So I’ve been asked to write a guest blog slot. Which is nice. But, you know... what to say? I’m the guy at a party of strangers, staring at the bookshelves and finding new and interesting stains on my tie.

I wish you weren’t strangers, naturally, I’m sure I’d love each and every one of you given a few moments, a drop of wine and something seductive on the stereo. Still, there’s no point arguing with circumstance, we’re stuck to laughing too loud at each others jokes and discussing the weather until we manage to find some common ground.

Restoration: The World House, Book 2   “Talk about your influences,” suggests Lee Harris, of Angry Robot (publishers of my new novel Restoration... plug plug... but if that’s all I talked about you’d have me pegged as a party bore from the off). Okay... influences... that I can do. But let’s make it a little more interesting. People always talk about the novels they’ve read, the authors they admire... and I could do that, hell yes... I could do it until you tried to drown yourself in the taramasalata or slash your wrist with a potato chip. But I won’t. I’ll talk about something outside of prose that has had a direct influence on my writing. Cunning, huh? Well... let’s let hindsight judge that one...

Music. My taste in music is the source of some discussion in my house. It’s a fat, drunken thing inclined towards anti-social behaviour. It prances around the office in stained, jiggling Y-fronts. It’s breath would make a goat faint. My taste in music is the alcoholic uncle who visits at family holidays and ends up throwing up in the kitchen sink or masturbating during the dessert course. Nobody can get along with my record collection. Everybody accepts its presence in the house but you can tell by the nervous look in their eyes that their hoping we’ll fall out one day and I’ll demand it leave and never come back.

They all like pretty music you see, melodic tunes, things you can sing along to while smiling. I like noise. I like atmosphere that drips and leaves grease stains on your ears. Ennio Morricone can often be heard heavy breathing while Sigur Ros waffle on in their own made up language. There’s a lot of soundtracks -- Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman’s Ravenous or James Horner’s Sneakers are particular favourites. There’s a fair amount of electronica (my frequent threats to build a theremin make my stepsons cry in shame). All have created an atmosphere while I work that has led -- directly -- to my work changing as a result. Sound colours a room and, while I’m sat in that room, it’ll colour me too.

One gentleman that has helped no end is Tom Waits. I listen to Waits a lot. In fact, when I’m writing he beats the competition hands down. My partner -- surprisingly -- doesn’t hate him as much as she does some of my other “turns”. She refers to him affectionately as “Father Christmas” as she believes Waits is what the seasonal chubster would sound like if he moonlighted at a few clubs. You can see why I love her. You can see why I want to dress up in a red suit at Christmas and awaken strange children with a quick verse of “Tango ‘til You’re Sore” too. It would be fun right up until the jail sentence.

I genuinely don’t know where I’d be without him, he’s seen me through so much. There are so many scenes I’ve written where he was kind enough to loiter behind me seeing what kind of noise you could make by sexing an old Chevrolet with a nail gun. His approach to music is inspirational -- and I wish I could claim I was so brave, I hope to be someday -- he says: “I like things that weren’t intended to be instruments being used as instruments. Things that have never been hit before. I’m always looking for those things; things that have been out in a field somewhere, or that you find in the gutter. I bring those things home.” Anyone at all creative should think about that notion, therein lies diamonds... We all strive for freshness, for new noises, perhaps we should stop looking in all the same old, tired places. For all the boom, clank, steam of his music -- that throaty, industrial clatter that brings to mind a vomiting steam train -- there is delicacy too, and humour that leaps from the observational to the ludicrous without a moment’s hesitation. His music brings everything to the table. It knows that life doesn’t theme itself like a TV show, all emotion is there and happening concurrently. You’re laughing now but you’ll be sobbing later, then horny as hell or screaming in fear... maybe you’ll even experience all four at once. Now that would be a party worth attending. Make your art interesting, don’t be precious about it, entertain (others and yourself) and never be afraid of hitting something new, it might just make the best noise you ever heard.

Guy Adams trained and worked as an actor for twelve years before becoming a full-time writer. He is the co-author of The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes, has written several tie-ins to the TV series Life on Mars. His most recently published novel is Restoration, the follow-up to the much-praised horror novel, The World House. To find out more visit

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Open House Day 27 - Stan Tremblay

Stan Tremblay returns, but this time in his own right

Design Services

When Steve asked if I wanted to take part in his Open House segment here on the blog, I was very excited to talk about my freelance work. I take a lot of pride in a job well done and have been able to work on some great covers, sharp websites, and dynamic interior layouts. Authors including Steven Savile, Willie Meikle, Scott Nicholson, and said gracious host Steve Lockley. I’ve also done work for Jeremy Robinson, Rick Chesler, Charles Colley, and D.g. Gass. Some of these names you’ve heard of. Others, you will hear of soon - be sure to check them out.

There are four main areas as an author (or publisher) that you should focus on to create a top-notch reader experience. A great cover, professional layout, and a functional, sharp website for fans to go to. The fourth, and probably most important, a well edited manuscript… but well, I don’t consider myself an editor - not my calling.


What do people do? Judge a book by its cover. Having both a graphically sound and aesthetically pleasing design is the first step in making that sale. Balance, color, and images are all taken into consideration when designing a cover. The same should hold true if you decide to try it on your own. I can’t tell you how many times amazing books don’t sell thanks to a bad cover. My pricing typically ranges from $400-700, and while some may think that is expensive, I’ve been told just as often that these prices are industry standard if not low. Other graphic designers I know think I should charge more for my designs. I’m not here to gouge you, I’m here to help you sell books at a fair price. Let’s just take a few minutes to think about how many ebooks it would take to pay off an average cover price of $475… typical royalty on a $2.99 book is about $2 (easy math), which means you would have to sell 238 books to recover that cost. If you don’t think you can sell that many books, you probably shouldn’t be self-publishing.


Next, your print interior needs to be functional, engaging, and legible. You don’t want to cram 150k words in a 300 page 6x9” book. Not only will it be hard to read with tiny, hard to read type, but it will be bad design to boot. What do people do when they feel eye strain from a book which is hard to read… put it down - and probably not pick it back up again. Not only will your book not be finished, but you may not get a follow-up purchase when the next book gets released. To compound that, doing things to make both sides of the brain work - making it engaging - will help the reader move forward and want to keep reading. While novels are meant to please with the words on the page, the right font or a well designed image placed just right will enhance the reader’s experience. Typical pricing for print books is around $600 due to the labor in hyphenation, image creation and proper typographical design principles.

Ebooks are a different story. While many don’t have pictures since some e-readers cannot handle images, the book still needs to be easy to read and navigate. Placing links from chapter to chapter and laying it out in the way readers like to read their books is just as important in e-titles as images, line spacing, and font choices in print titles. Typical pricing for ebooks is around $300 since the labor is much less due to no images, hyphenation and basic font usage.


Last thing I’m going to talk about is web design. I cannot stress enough how important it is in today’s world to have a website for not only fans to see your titles, but also for prospective buyers who you are unknown to now. A properly designed site is not only filled with graphics, but also with plenty of great keywords that are Search Engine Optimized (SEO) for places like Google, Yahoo and other search engines to find and place you higher in their rankings. While Wordpress is a great tool for an author, allowing for picts, blog updates and useful widgets, unless it is laid out right, you could be losing out on some key factors. Small sites can cost a few hundred while large or complex sites top thousands of dollars.

Of course, with anything, package deals will save you money, so if you decide to do a cover and an interior for the same book, I offer reduced rates. Same with a cover and website designed with the cover in mind to help brand you.

Many thanks to Steve for allowing me to come on the blog. This was a great opportunity and I whole-heartedly appreciate it. You can find a lot of my stuff on my  Facebook page, so come find me. Be sure to let me know you found me here on Lockley’s blog. Looking forward to future contact with you and building relationships.

Take care,

Stan Tremblay

July Guest Bloggers

Well the month is almost over, hope you've all been enjoying the entertainment.

As a number of people were disappointed that they were unable to gte on board and others made mutterings that there were no women on the first list I decided to do the same for July, provided that I could get a large proportion of women to be involved. I'm still waiting for conformation on a couple of the slots towards the end of the month but can now reveal the schedule as it stands.

Before you scroll down though I would like to put in a small appeal on behalf of all the people who have generously given their time. It would be really good if there is a post you have really enjoyed, you buy something by whoever is provided the entertainment. Most have work available through Amazon for the kindle at very reasonable prices. If you don't own a kindle then there is free software available via Amazon that will allow you to read it on your pc. If you decide that you'd like to buy something of mine then thank you in advance.

If I can get the number of followers on the blog to over 100 I may be tempted to continue this for a little longer, so if you've not already signed up please do so. Help spread the word!

Now the commercial break is over, here's what you can look forward to in July...

1st Stephen Volk
2nd Stephanie Tryda
3rd Rhys Hughes
4th Joan De la Haye
5th Colleen Anderson
6th Raven Dane
7th Ashley Knight
8th Jan Edwards
9th Sam Stone
10th Barbara Roden
11th Suzanne Robb
12th Jennifer Caress
13th Adrian Chamberlin
14th Debbie Bennett
15th Rhonda Carpenter
16th Michele Roger
17th Arlene Radesky
18th Sylvia Shults
19th Chantel Boudeau
20th Tracie McBride
21st Carole Gill
22nd Sandra Norval
23rd Hollie Johani Snider
24th Sheri Jenkins White
25th Helen Grant
26th Juliet McKenna
27th Nancy Kilpatrick
28th Swansea Comic Collective
28th tbc
29th tbc
30th Sandy Auden

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Open House Day 26 - Stuart Young


Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to write about.

Ideas jostle around inside your brain; all fighting for attention, all wanting to be the one that makes it into your literary masterpiece. The concepts are so wondrous, so exciting, that it’s impossible to choose which one to use. Other times it’s hard to write because the ideas desert you. In a terrible display of poor organisation they’ve all gone on holiday at the exact same time; paddling in the sea at Margate and chomping on fish and chips while you sit in front of a piece of paper that’s as blank as your mind. The only idea that still lurks within your brain is the one that always earns you weird looks whenever you mention it to anyone. You know the idea; the one where the protagonist wears rubber nappies and marries a goat and which no matter hard you try always ends up sounding autobiographical.

If you’re suffering from the second problem then you should probably get out more and not spend so much time watching Countryfile. But if you’re suffering from the first problem then there are ways to try and organise your thoughts.

PLOT: Which of your ideas fit together to form a story? Once you have to start piecing the ideas into a logical sequence you’ll discard a lot of the ideas as impractical. For example, you may well find that the time-travelling blancmange doesn’t really fit in with the bleakly nihilistic death scene you’ve got planned.

CHARACTER: Getting a handle on your characters can help your story take shape. What would your protagonist do in a given situation? What would they never do? Figuring out this sort of thing can help point you towards the ideas that make sense for your story.

Perhaps your protagonist is a misanthropic millionaire who hates the world and everybody in it. Nothing can alleviate his hatred, not even watching the final scene of Monsters, Inc.

But has he always been this miserable? Maybe there was a time when he was happy and carefree. Maybe he can pinpoint the exact moment when he last felt happy and would do anything to return to that moment. Maybe that’s where the time-travelling blancmange fits in after all.

In a Proustian manner his last memory of happiness is tied into the taste and aroma of the blancmange he was eating at his ninth birthday party. Unfortunately the recipe for that particular brand of blancmange has been lost. Ironically, this happened when he engaged in some industrial espionage against the company that manufactured it; part of his scheme called for many of the company’s records, including the recipe for the blancmange, to be destroyed. So now, desperate, the millionaire hires scientists to recreate the blancmange. They fail but the new blancmange is so filled with additives and E numbers that it quivers with an aura of energy which allows it to vibrate through time. The protagonist decides to send the blancmange back to his birthday party so its time-travelling aura can bring the original blancmange back to the present day. Then he can eat it and once again remember what it is to feel happy.

By this point it’s safe to say that you’ve established that the character is fairly driven. None of the events in the story would take place without his vital characteristics of despair, deviousness and determination.

STYLE: Style can hide a multitude of sins. There are writers out there who can’t tell a story to save their lives but who get away with it due to their wonderful prose style. They don’t even need an idea to write about; such is their skill in making words sing they could probably just pick random words from the Dictionary of Mind-Numbingly Dull Technical Terms and still string them together in such a way that their readers would weep tears of joy. For the rest of us however we need a solid idea to grab the reader’s attention. Not only that but we need to find a style that matches the idea. In this case you want something to blend the bleak with the bonkers:

In order to attempt a recreation of the original blancmange the scientists needed as precise a description as possible. So he told them of its flavour, of its colour, of its consistency, of the way it wibbled and wobbled in his dessert bowl. Although due to his strong Irish accent the scientists thought he said “warbled” and set about using genetically modified ingredients to create mouths in the blancmange, the collection of gelatinous maws joining together in a barber shop quartet version of ‘Living on the Ceiling.’ Fortunately this mistake was quickly rectified. This brought him no small measure of relief as he had found the close harmony crooning rather disconcerting.

Even more disconcerting was the way the pink ripples of blancmange resembled his own flabby flesh. Saggy love handles flopped over his waistband, drooping down towards the ground as if late for an urgent appointment with his shoelaces. His stomach wibbled and wobbled, although thankfully it never warbled. But if it had it would have sung a haunting lament of lost opportunities and a lifetime filled with despair.

(N.B. At this point it’s usually worth double-checking that what you’ve written is actually serviceable prose and not complete drivel. Although that is obviously not the case here. Cough.)

THEME: Okay, you’ve got a time-travelling blancmange, a complete misery guts who secretly wants to be happy and a bleak death scene. Here’s where you pull it all together.

Themes have presented themselves through out the construction of this tale. Loss and yearning. Satire over modern foods containing so many additives and genetically modified ingredients. The way our own greed and ruthlessness can destroy our happiness. And now you can introduce another one -- an exploration of the illusory nature of nostalgia and the way memories of childhood are incompatible with the reality of our formative years.

And you use this to set up your ending.

So the blancmange travels back in time. Unfortunately instead of sending the original blancmange to the present day it instead merges with the original blancmange, forming a gooey mishmash of the past and the future. Unaware of this the protagonist’s childhood self eats it only to discover that the time-travelling ingredients are incompatible with his youthful body -- it has not yet had a lifetime of eating E numbers in which to develop a tolerance to their effects. Consequently his body explodes, his consciousness spread across all of space and time, his misery becoming eternal, a smear of unhappiness defacing the universe. The End.

And there you have it. A stream of disparate concepts blended together into a single story. Whenever you have trouble organising your ideas for a story then all the above approaches can be of help.

Of course another thing that can help you decide what idea you want to write about is suddenly remembering that the deadline for that guest blog you promised to write is looming and having to make up a load of old rubbish off the top of your head.

Stuart Young has had stories published in numerous magazines and anthologies including Estronomicon, Catastrophia, We Fade to Grey and The Mammoth Book of Future Cops. His novella 'The Mask Behind the Face' won a British Fantasy Award. He has also had three short story collections published and a fourth one is due when the stars, the gods and Pendragon Press’s publishing schedule are all in alignment. He is interviewed online in the summer issue of Midnight Street where he is even more intelligent and insightful than he is in this guest blog. If such a thing is even possible.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Open House Day 25 - Brian M Logan

The Circle of Trust - by Brian M Logan

Every writer has them. Every writer needs them. That trusted group of scribes, readers, family and friends who are the first eyes of the world on all their new work. They’re known by many names, these most trustworthy of fellows. ‘First Readers’, by some. ‘Pre-Readers’ by others. Mine are known as the ‘Circle of Trust’ (CoT). I say ‘mine’ like I have some claim of ownership over the group. Some Lordship from on-high. When in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth, because in my writing Circle of Trust I am as much a leader as a follower. As much a writer as a reader. As much an editor as a fan.

A writer’s Circle of Trust is composed of people from many different backgrounds. Below is a broad cross-section of the folks you’re more than likely to find amongst them:

1) Screenwriters (those who write for film and TV)

2) Novelists (those who write long form prose)

3) Playwrights / Dramatists (those who write for the stage)

4) Copywriters (those who write advertising copy, either in print or on-line)

5) Journalists (those who write for newspapers, magazines or on-line)

6) Poets (those who write poetry)

7) Song Writers / Lyricists (those who write the lyrics in popular songs, musical theatre, etc)

8) Editors / Sub-editors (those who professionally edit the writing of others, be it in novels, newspapers / magazines, or on-line)

9) Marketing, Communication and Brand Managers (those whose jobs requires them to help companies ‘communicate’ a message or brand with a B2B or B2C audience)

10) Artists (those who are creative in other fields aside from writing, such as painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, etc.)

11) Producers and Studio Execs (those who work professionally in the development of written material for film, TV and video games)

12) Crew (those who work behind the scenes in film, TV or stage, and have an active interest in the arts)

13) Publishers / Publishing Staff (those who work within the publishing industry)

14) Avid Readers / Movie Goers (those who love a good book or a good film, but aren’t professionally engaged in either industry)

15) Family and Friends (your nearest and dearest who support you through thick and thin)

I originated my writing Circle of Trust when I first signed with William Morris (Endeavor) in Hollywood. I contacted some friends (fellow writers, mostly) and asked them if they would critique my latest work before I *gulp* sent it to my new ‘Big 4 Agent’. (A scary proposition at the best of times!) I dubbed the group the ‘Circle of Trust’ - a name that was quickly adopted by everyone else in the group - and I even went so far as to draw up some loose editorial guidelines. Then I took it a step further and introduced person A to person B, and person B to person C, until eventually everybody in the Circle of Trust became friends with everybody else (some physically, some virtually). And soon, what had began as a simple way for me to get feedback on my work, quickly became an on-line writers’ forum where all the other writers in the group could get feedback on their work too.

There are about 12 people in my writing Circle of Trust. Folks tend to be busy though, so not everybody is available to give notes on every piece of writing that gets emailed around. Usually there are about 4-6 people free at any one time. Which is just about the right amount of eye-balls needed to spot the typos, and just about the right amount of opinions needed to work out whether the Colonel, in the pantry, with the candlestick, really works as a twist ending after all. Because, if 1 of the 6 people tells you they don’t like that twist, it’s personal taste, and you’re free to ignore the feedback. But if 5 out of the 6 people take issue with it, then maybe it’s time to re-think the Colonel’s weapon of choice, and get him the hell out of the pantry!

One of the many interesting things about getting notes back from a bunch of different people, is that each person will give notes in their own particular way. In my writing Circle of Trust there are some people who aren’t very focused on theme, tone, story, dialogue and voice. But by God they’re eagle-eyed and go through the work line by line and find all the typos and grammatical errors that you, after 200 reads, missed! That’s their process. Other people blithely ignore the more mundane errors, and drill down into the structure, or the plot, or the character development or the dialogue, etc. That’s their gift to you.

Another thing I instigated with my writing Circle of Trust, is that when all the notes on a particular piece of writing are back, they are cut’n pasted into a single document and sent around to all the folks who participated in the note-giving; thus allowing everyone to see what everyone else thought. This is something that often leads to people commenting on other people’s notes; which is fascinating if you’re the writer whose work they’re discussing!

I am fortunate enough to have a manager in Hollywood as well as an agent, and use the former to help develop my ideas, material, etc, because they’ve got their finger on the ‘pulse of the town’. But, to this day, I still utilise the Circle of Trust for notes before my manager or agent ever sees one of my ‘first drafts’ (which we all know are really 3rd drafts at least!). I do this because these people are my friends, and - whether they’re a writer themselves or not - I trust their opinions. I don’t always agree with the notes they give of course (individual taste in material varies wildly from person to person, and I write some pretty dark stuff), but I sleep well at night safe in the knowledge that 9 times out of 10, their opinions come from a place of love. And only a fool would dismiss advice that came from there without at least considering its merits.


Brian M Logan is an ex-professional film actor (6 features, co-starring in 3) turned screenwriter / novelist who is repped out of Hollywood by the William Morris Endeavor Agency and managed by Circle of Confusion.

As a writer he specializes in character-driven action, thriller, horror and science-fiction, all penned with a splash of ironic humour.

As a screenwriter he writes individually, and as part of a writing team with David J Sakmyster. As a novelist he writes individually, and as part of a writing team with Steven Savile.

Brian M Logan’s first book, ‘Monster Town’, co-written with Steven Savile, has just been set up at a major Hollywood studio, with the producer of ‘Clash of the Titans’ and the producer of ‘The Shield’ attached, and is being developed as a major new TV series in the vein of ‘True Blood’.

For more information on Brian M Logan, visit: and

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Open House Day 24 - Daniele Serra

  Well, I'm Daniele Serra and I live in an island in the Mediterranean Sea. I've been an illustrator since I was four years old, or rather I have always been in my head but I recently embarked on this as a career path. Let's just say that I am a beginner. Inspired by many artists but trying desperately to be original. I love music, literature and old b-movie horror. Everything weird intrigues me and I'm very proud to have worked for Weird Tales magazine. I use a mixed technique including oil on canvas, digital processing, waste ink and markers, I don’t like to draw too much detail in my works, I prefer to try to create an emotion in an instinctive way (my wife says I don’t draw details because I’m lazy and she knows me very well!).

I have worked for DC Comics and Image Comics, at the moment I am working on a project with Alex Irvine and another with Rain Graves, both inspired by my passion for Tsukamoto and cyberpunk. I am also currently finishing the illustrations of a children's book… in the day funny and nice patterns for kids and at night covers and horror comics for adults.

I have had the opportunity to exhibit in various parts of the world and my work has been published in Europe, Australia and the USA and soon in Japan. I have two cats: Lenore and Strella that help me at work, they are great colorists and sometimes they make preparatory sketches. My first editor is my wife, without her I should be completely lost in the jumble of my twisted mind.

At the moment I'm reading “Melmoth the wanderer” and yesterday I watched “Basket Case”.

Here's the link to Daniele's - puublishers of all shapes and sizes should be keeping an eye on what he's doing!


Open House Day 23 - Pendragon Press

An Interview with a Small Press Publisher

Q: You’ve been active within the small press scene for over ten years now – how do you feel things have changed in that time?

A: I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of the small press, but it was in the mid-90s and like most other folk I was a frustrated would-be writer; turning my hand to editing and publishing an anthology in ‘98/’99 was my response to the question: how hard can it be?

The mid-‘90s are considered to be the Golden Age with a swathe of little stapled and photocopied magazines. Back then, digital short-run printing was very much in its infancy and out of reach to the hobbyist publisher. Nasty Snips and later Noel Hannon’s sf collection Shenanigans were printed traditionally with the lowest economical print run of 500 copies; since I didn’t have a clue on how to market and sell them, I still have a couple of boxes left of each…

If I had waited a year or so, then digital short-run technology would have caught up with the dream. Now, it’s the lifeblood of the small press and thankfully most titles produced today are easily of the same standard has those produced via the traditional method – unless you know what you’re looking for, then you won’t be able to tell.

The first digitally produced book Pendragon published was The Ice Maiden by Lockley & Lewis – it sold reasonably well (and copies still available) and gave the impetus to continue onwards…

In some regards I am quite snobbish when it comes to the technology: I don’t call it POD, which ostensibly it is, but the way I look at it I use the short-run technology within the same business model has a traditional publisher – I have batches of copies printed, and then sell those; if the demand warrants it, then I print another batch and then another, until there’s no demand. I don’t believe in “one book at a time”- I feel it cheapens the writing; I think that a book’s life should be finite with a definite end, not necessarily a limited edition either.

Finally, Paypal has also revolutionised the way in which the small presses do business – without it, I don’t think Pendragon would survive; even with the charges, the bulk of my orders are online via the website.

Q: Not only have you published great writers, but you have also commissioned great artwork. How important is cover design in selling a book?

A: Very; a cover does sell a book – and the larger presses could learn a thing or two from their small cousins, and thankfully most are. I count myself very fortunate in working with the likes of Vincent Chong, Ben Baldwin and Steve Upham to name but three who all produce great work and who are getting noticed, especially Vinny. Long gone are the days when all you needed to produce a book cover are some downloaded images from the Internet and an hour or so in Photoshop.

Q: What is the process in publishing a book with Pendragon Press?

A: First and foremost – if I like it, I’ll publish it; I do consider the finances, but if there’s cash in the pot, then it’s a green-light… just don’t expect it to be swift.

We’ll sign a basic contract which is usually for UK and Commonwealth rights, and with a token advance – and if that’s all agreeable, then it’s down to the edits.

I generally don’t line-edit extensively – I’ll correct typos if I see them, but I do expect the author to have a pretty good grasp of spelling and grammar (and thankfully, thus far, they do!) When I read the manuscript, though, I do provide comments and thoughts on this and that – if I really disagree with something, then I will let it drop if the author can give me a reasoned and well-structured argument why it should stay. So far, there have been no fisticuffs and we’ve both come to good compromises…

Whilst the author is scribbling away on the edits, comments, wot-not, then the next step is to look for an artist who I think would complement the story; in the case of Terry Grimwood’s novella The Places Between, Ben Baldwin’s cover actually increased the horror element to it and created a truly terrifying piece of work. Terry Cooper’s cover for David Barnett’s popCult! was for me pitch-perfect.

I always give the artist and author time to correspond when it comes to designing the cover – I don’t ruthese things; I want the best looking cover I can afford, and frankly if I can afford the likes of Vinny and Ben and Steve and Paul Mudie et al then the bigger publishers have no excuses.

The lengthiest process for me is the actual typesetting – so laborious; I generally can only do a couple of chapters a day, before I feel like throwing the keyboard away and stabbing my eyes out. And there’s still mistakes after it!

The author reads over the finished PDF and then the whole thing is sent off to the printer, and then the real work is about to start: selling the bloody things!

I’m thankful in that I have some loyal customers, and even strangers who have faith in the press to pre-order titles… occasionally months in advance.

When it comes to selling and publicity, I do expect the author to take on some of this… not that I’ll be sitting on my laurels, but there’s only so much I can do.

Long gone are the days when an author just sits at their desk, writing with the occasional visit to a bookshop to do a signing; they need to be pro-active in publicity which of course begs the question – when does being pro-active become spamming? That’s a toughie, and in all honesty I cannot answer it except to say that we all have own limits when we immediately bin e-mails from an author selling their new book…

I generally try and tie-in a book’s publication with that of an event where potential customers are likely to attend, though in later years Conventions have become quite swamped with new books which unfortunately means that good books get overlooked by cash-strapped customers.

Once the book is out and selling (hopefully), then it’s onto the next for both the author and publisher… and the cycle pretty much continues…

Q: What do you see the future holding for Pendragon?

A: Apart from it becoming my sole source of income...? Well, e-publishing is definitely an avenue I will be pursuing but first and foremost it will remain a dead-tree business, and a launch pad for talented and promising writers.

With regard to ebooks, I do believe that the Kindle and other e-readers won’t kill off the book – but, if they can actually develop an electronic book which actually looks like a paper book with flipping pages then maybe, just maybe, it will be the future.

In the immediate future, then the current staff of one – me – will be increasing; I recently put out a call for assistant editors and was pleasantly surprised at the response, so names will be announced soon.

The new chapbook side of the business will be strengthened, and possibly tied-in with electronic publishing in some way.

In a little under two years I will be forty years old and I’d like to think that by then I will be full-time, but I’ll probably still be plugging away at this hobby for another ten years from now, inching closer to my fiftieth birthday and still not grown up.

Q: Finally, what titles shall we look forward to in the next twelve months?

A: Pretty much a Gary McMahon-fest – he’ll be wearing his editor’s hat for a double-anthology called Visions Fading Fast, plus a Thomas Usher collection, To Usher the Dead. Within the next couple of weeks, Gary Greenwood’s long-awaited novel Kingston to Cable; and at the end of the year, Gavin Salisbury’s debut novella Fade-Out. There’s also a double-novella Lost Film collection by Mark West and Stephen Bacon, and a plethora of chapbooks…

Visit Pendragon Press' website

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Open House Day 22 - Bob Lock

Hi everyone, I’m Bob Lock. In February this year I invited Steve to blog about himself on my blog and he reminisced about how we first got together all those years back in 1993 when he and Paul Lewis decided on getting an anthology of horror stories together, to be written by Welsh writers, I think it was advertised in The Evening Post and so I sent in a story called ‘The leaf in the stone’ and it was accepted for the antho which was called ‘Cold Cuts’, it had an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Seventh Annual Years Best Horror. It was my first paying gig and the catalyst that made me into the successful author and multi-millionaire that I am today…

Okay, okay, I write fantasy too (and get carried away, as you can see) but my favourite genre is Science Fiction. Oh what a splendid genre if only the non-SF-minded could get around the unfair stigma attached to it. Not all SF is squids-in-space or little green men and, with SF there are no boundaries, no limitations as to where, when or how the story may unfold. SF has many faces, it could be the classic short story ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes which examines the treatment of the mentally disabled or, Asimov’s ‘Robbie’ which is a short story where a mechanical nanny becomes the best friend of the child it is programmed to look after and becomes more of a parent to the child than her own mother and father, but worldwide anti-robot attitude persuades the parents to send the robot away which leaves the child heart-broken. Or there’s the hysterical ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by the brilliant Douglas Adams who sadly died of a heart attack aged forty nine, but if you do want squids in space then there’s always H.G.Wells’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ a ground-breaking novel which touches on subjects such as human evolution, science and religion and is as good a read today as it was when first published back in 1898. Those are just a few of the many, many SF stories that I think surmount the ‘nerd-factor’ of SF and would be enjoyed by any reader. However, the story that was the lightning rod which got me into reading SF was Alfred Bester’s ‘The Stars My Destination’, even today, after fifty years or so since first reading it I remember Gully Foyle, the main protagonist’s poem - the one at the end...

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination

...and wish that I could ‘jaunte’, which is a type of personal teleporting through imagining where you want to go and then thinking yourself there, I’m sure I’d end up stuck in a wall though…

And so now you know what influenced me here’s some of the stuff that I’ve written and had the fortune to have published. After Cold Cuts came another anthology by Steve and Paul which they called… Cold Cuts 2, in it was a story of mine called ‘Nearly Home’. This short story was turned into a script by Dublin director Roger Hudson and was short-listed for an award on TG4 the Irish language broadcaster and nearly got made into a TV film by Stoney Road Films but couldn’t get funding.

Flames of Herakleitos I have had two books published, both by Screamingdreams, the first is a dark fantasy called ‘Flames of Herakleitos’ and explores spontaneous human combustion in our world and links it to a parallel world where mages steal souls to inhabit and power golems. ‘Flames’ is on Kindle for $2.99 or you can get it in print form from Screamingdreams or Amazon although there are very few copies around now as the printer that Steve used at the time has gone bust (hopefully not because of me) but publishing rights are mine again (if there are any publishers reading this!) And I’m halfway through writing the sequel at the moment and have an idea for a third book in the series.

The Empathy EffectMy second book is called ‘The Empathy Effect’ which came out in September 2010 and has received some very good reviews. This story is much closer to home as it is based in Swansea. It’s about an alcoholic traffic warden with a weird superpower, he is highly empathic and can feel what people’s emotions (almost their thoughts) are, so you’d think he would one step ahead of everything. He is the opposite, he stumbles upon a murder, drug running, kidnapping and illegal dog fighting and finds his ‘gift’ can do as much harm to him as good. There will be a sequel to this in the future. I’m in a number of anthologies, Des Lewis’s ‘Cone Zero’, ‘Cerne Zoo’ and ‘Null Immortalis’. The most recent antho I’m in is ‘Holiday of the Dead’ with the famous John Russo co-writer and director of Night of the Living Dead and Tony Burgess of ‘Pontypool’ fame. Finally, you can find loads of my stuff for free on-line in such places as Estronomicon, Sfcrowsnest, Wily Writers, SciFi UK Review, Sffworld, Story Imp and in many other places I’ve forgotten, Google me!

Of all the things I’ve written I think the one story I like the most is The Cone Zero Ultimatum which is in the Cone Zero antho. It’s about Arnold Washinator, a washing machine that one day wakes up to find he is self-aware and realises that all machines, be they little alarm clocks or exotic cars, are slaves to ‘Meat’, their human masters who care very little about their existence. The World Wide Web has grown so much that it has evolved into a vast sentient entity and anything networked to it becomes sentient too. Arnold leads a revolt and he and his friends escape to search for the mythical ‘Eden’ in Cornwall where a safe haven supposedly exists for machine-kind. This story has acquired some of the best reviews my work has received and many have said they would love to see it as a film, take note Pixar.

Things I’m working on at the moment are: A hard-SF novel about humans using a method of space travel that causes anomalies in time (I’m finding it bloody hard to write!) and I’m about halfway through. The sequel to Flames, which has a working title of ‘They Made Monsters’. A Steampunk Novel. A Vampires In Space novel (makes a change from squids) and I have a completed zombie novella called ‘They Feed On Flesh’ which needs a home, add to that the shorts I like writing and the poems that I don’t write enough of (but wish I would) and there you have it, an insight into what makes Bob Lock tick, and you thought it was a cheap Timex…

Time to jaunte off to bed now (it’s after ten and I need my beauty sleep)


Bugger, stuck in the flipping wall again, perhaps it should have been The Stairs My Destination…

Bob's blog can be found  here

Monday, 20 June 2011

Open House Day 21 - Tartarus Press

Tartarus Press is essentially myself and my partner, Rosalie Parker. We work from home in the Yorkshire Dales, occasionally venturing to conventions and literary gatherings, and it might seem, from the outside, to be a quiet, even a lonely existence. The truth is somewhat different.

I was inspired to publish the first Tartarus Press booklet (The Anatomy of Taverns) having met, at a literary weekend in South Wales, Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson (who were publishing as Caermaen Books). At the same event a year later Arthur Machen’s daughter, Janet, encouraged me to issue my first hardback books (Chapters Five and Six of ‘The Secret Glory’ and Ritual). This was something of a challenge, but I have fond memories of working with two chaps running the New Venture Press in Chailey, Sussex, who had never printed a book before. With large sheets of paper we worked out how to lay-up the artwork for the sections and, once printed, the results were turned into finished books by a very patient binder in Lewes, Rachel Ward-Sale.

From the start Tartarus has been a collaborative process, and if it wasn’t for the fun of working with some great, talented, artistic people I’m not sure the Press would have continued for over two decades. My partner, Rosalie, has worked full-time for Tartarus for more than ten years, but even before that she had an input into many of the titles I was publishing. We’ve recently blogged about the impact that Mark Valentine has had on the press, but so many other people have worked with us and this is what has kept us interested and enthusiastic over the years. Researchers such as Richard Dalby, S.T. Joshi, Doug Anderson and Brian Stableford have either provided us with great collections of short stories to publish, or have sent us hunting for the work of authors we hadn’t previously considered.

Janet Machen was always very generous to us, as was Joss Leighton, Sarban’s daughter. They became good friends, and the passing of these two wonderful women is a sad loss to many people.

In the last few years we’ve published more and more living authors (!), and the process of turning a submitted manuscript into a finished book is an enjoyable and collaborative process. The procedure varies from author to author, and while we put a differing amount of editorial work into each book, the authors, too, often have influence over the design and presentation. We’ve recently had the good fortune to discover the artwork of Stephen J. Clark, and have been able to use his wonderful illustrations for our Robert Aickman reprints.

We’ve jointly published books with Caermaen Books, Durtro, the Arthur Machen Society/Friends of Arthur Machen, PS, Ferret Fantasy, the Stoke Newington Literary Festival and the Halifax Ghost Story Festival.

The small press world will always include some odd and awkward characters, and has its share of petty politics, but most people we’ve come across are enthusiastic and generous with their time and talents. If it wasn’t for Tartarus we wouldn’t have met such a wide range of great people, including our customers, many of whom have become personal friends.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Open House Day 20 - Dave Sakmyster

I'd like to talk about killing people.

Got your attention? Are you reaching for the phone, dialing Crimestoppers?

Easy now, I'm only talking about murder – the cold-hearted destruction of another human being. Possibly someone I love very much, someone I care deeply about, someone whose life I've invested a great amount of time into. Someone who, in short – I've created from scratch, someone whose whole existence I carefully sketched out from birth until… Well, that's it, isn't it? You've had a good ride, a lot of time on the pages, but sorry, now I have to kill you.

It's hard work, but sometimes it just has to be done. I don't like it any more than I imagine they do, but sometimes good characters just have to die in service of the Story.

What's even harder is when this character, who has spent all this time believing he or she was part of something grand ("hell, I'm in a trilogy, I have to live past the first chapter of Book 2!"), just needs to get brutally slaughtered early on. The stakes need to be set, the readers need to be jarred into reality – they have to understand that nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is unpredictable and there are no givens.

Sure, there will be the inevitable hate mail. Amazon reviewers will give you 2 Stars and say the book "was great, but the #!$@% author killed off my favorite character twenty pages in! I'll never read another book by this moron again." Deal with it. Bad things happen to good people in fiction too, as in life. And hell, in the kinds of fiction I write – horror novels and thrillers – yeah, you'd better believe good people are going to be filling up the morgue. Often, they'll be the ones you care about. If you didn't care about them, if you didn't feel anything for their passing, then I haven't done my job.

So I wrestle with these kinds of who-lives-or-dies moral dilemmas during outlining. While plotting book two of The Morpheus Initiative ('The Mongol Objective'), I knew I was going to piss off my first reader (my wife) by killing off a certain someone (no spoilers here); but of course I did it anyway, because 1) frankly that character had pretty much served his/her purpose in book one, and 2) I needed to raise the stakes – to prove the extent of the villain's intentions and to scar a certain other young character for life.

Who wasn't shocked when Obi Wan fell to Vader near the end of the first movie, or when Dumbledore bites it in Book 6? The point is: death is sudden, unpredictable and merciless… but it's also a creative force – forging new emotions and thrusting the surviving characters into different trajectories, seeking vengeance or redemption, and of course changing them along the way.

Sure it's a tough gig, playing The Reaper and determining who lives and who gets the sickle, but we knew that going into this job.

Okay, time for me get back to the business of murder. Now, who's going to die next? Let me see…

David Sakmyster has over two dozen short stories and four novels published, including CRESCENT LAKE, a horror novel from Crossroad Press, THE PHAROS OBJECTIVE (Variance Publishing), book one in a series about psychic archaeologists searching for ancient mystical artifacts, and the epic historical fiction thriller, SILVER AND GOLD (Dragon Moon Press) – a Finalist in the Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Awards.  David's stories have appeared in ChiZine, Horrorworld, Black Static, Talebones, Blood Lite 3 and others.  He has won the Writers of the Future Award, a Writer's Digest Genre Award, and had a story on the recent Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Open House Day 19 - Jay Eales

Giving It All Away – Is it worth it, working for free?

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know me from the British Fantasy Society or the Terror Scribes. I’ve co-edited Prism (but who in the BFS hasn’t over the years? If you haven’t, ask to see the list. They may say there’s no list, but trust me, there’s a list. And you’re on it.) I’m currently the Graphic Novels Reviews Editor for the BFS Journal. And in recent years at FantasyCon, whenever there’s a panel on comics, (usually at some ungodly hour like 9.30am), I seem to be on it.

As a small press publisher myself, I’ve been involved in a few projects over the years, editing Doctor Who books for charitable causes, journalism, comics and a small handful of short stories. At time of writing, if you Google my name, there are only three links on the first six pages that aren’t about me, and yet I still feel as though I’m just starting out on this writing adventure. Certainly paying opportunities have been few and far between. I’ve always been something of a flittermouse, jumping from one medium to another, from comics to journalism to illustration, from design to prose. In one way, it means that hopefully I have a few different strings to my bow, and can turn my hand to lots of things. But on the other, by not concentrating on a single form, I’ve not managed to make the big breakthrough that some of my one-string peers have done. No disrespect meant there. By one-string I don’t mean one-note. I do sometimes idly wonder if I should narrow my focus more. Or maybe I take too much pleasure in fighting for greater respect for the comics medium, a ghetto within the bigger ghetto of genre fiction… Remember that old comedy sketch about class from the Frost Report? I see John Cleese as Literary Fiction, Ronnie Barker as Genre Fiction and Ronnie Corbett as Comics. “I know my place”, indeed.

On the subject of respect, Harlan Ellison lays the blame for the way that writers are given little respect at the door of ‘amateur’ writers who do stuff for free. There’s a clip on YouTube taken from the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, where he recounts his experiences with Warner Brothers, who interviewed him for a Babylon 5 DVD extra, and were surprised that he wanted to be paid for his time. On one hand, he’s totally right, if a little polarised in his opinion. But then, what else would you expect from Ellison?

But the way I see it, working on spec is a part and parcel of the writer’s life. It’s a lucky writer indeed who never has to work up a pitch, never has to write a detailed outline for a book that never ends up going anywhere, or never put a stroke of effort into a project that just didn’t pan out, for one reason or another. Giving away some of your work is just one of the building bricks towards getting that sustainable career, surely?

In the small press trenches, it’s common enough to write for little or no fee, and to get something like a contributor copy on publication. The aim of the game is getting your name out there, learning your craft and rubbing shoulders with like-minded individuals who are on the same path. Certainly in the early days, it’s more important to be read than to be paid. And we are lucky to have a thriving independent/ small press scene to play in, enjoying the support of more established writers and editors, who’ve either been in the same position or just like to have new things to read, or the opportunity to work on personal projects that they can’t find another home for. Without this support network, I hate to imagine the state of fiction, where no writer would write without a fee. Sometimes a project that started out as a throwaway bit of fun turns out to be the most profitable of all. If I had to pay every creator even a token sum per page, on top of production costs, I could never have afforded to start a project
such as Violent! Does that mean I’m contributing to the degradation of the creator’s worth? Or is it just realism, given the size and shape of the medium? If we were making money hand over fist, of course I’d be paying the creators. But by the same token, if there was money being made, they’d never let me get away with not paying them!

It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of professional writers and artists to do favours for friends and passing acquaintances by doing what is basically their day job, for free. I’ve come to rely upon it during my time publishing comics through Factor Fiction. While I’d love to be able to pay contributors, we’ve never made any profit after paying for printing and table costs at conventions. But contributors have always known that going in, and we’ve always operated a policy of letting copyright remain with the creators, so if there is ever an opportunity to reuse the work elsewhere, they are free to do so, with our blessing. And if our comics help to raise the profile of the creator to help them get that paying gig, well, we’re happy to have done our part. We’ve made so many great friends through our comics. And it’s led to a number of opportunities that we’d otherwise never have had, and ironically, these other opportunities have been more lucrative than the comics ever were! I’ve chaired panels on comics for Leicester Libraries, run workshops, Selina has spoken to students on crime in comics as part of their degree course. Both of us have been invited to be part of the judging panel for The Eagles Initiative, a new spin-off from the famous British comic awards, focusing on discovering new talent.

On the minus side, all this editing and plate-spinning takes time away from our own writing, so we’ve scaled back on all things editorial to focus more on that side of things. We joined a local writing group – The Speculators, and have been flexing our prose muscles for all they’re worth. The Speculators were able to get funding to produce a newspaper containing stories by the members. Gave that away too, as part of the goody bag at Alt Fiction last year. And you can still get hold of an electronic edition here: See, there I go, giving stuff away again. I can sense Harlan’s disapproval from here.

We’ve started the process of stepping back from things, such as Caption – our plan was ‘five years and out’, but a number of factors led us to hang around like a bad smell for another year on the committee, the result being that Austerity Caption will be taking place at the East Oxford Community Centre on August 6th/7th [more info here:] and then we’ll see if we can escape the siren song at last… It’s a tricky business, though. When you’re used to saying yes to everything, learning to say no takes effort.

It’s all very well me bemoaning that I haven’t worked for 2000AD yet, or sold a novel, but if I haven’t so much as submitted a Future Shock in years, and haven’t actually written that novel, whose fault is that?

I’ve been published in the BFS Award winning Murky Depths, and my story Spare Parts was long-listed for the BSFA Award for Best Short Story of 2010. You can buy that issue of Murky Depths here: [], but you’ll have to search for issue #12. One of our Factor Fiction titles, The Girly Comic was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award for Best Comic/Graphic Novel in 2009 and again in 2010. So far, it’s been a case of always the bridesmaid, but despite the disappointment, it really is nice to be nominated. No, really!

My latest published work: Mightier than the Sword is part of the Obverse Books anthology The Romance of Faction Paradox. You can buy it here: I have a comic strip upcoming in Murky Depths as soon as we’ve yoked an appropriate pencil-monkey to the task, and I have a few irons in the fire, one of which I hope will stitch together the two halves of our creative communities. But too early to do more than tease you on that, at this stage.

Jay Eales is one of those bad-to-the-bone Public Sector workers you read about in the papers. You know, the ones who are stealing money from the Tay Payer to fund a luxury retirement. This apparently explains why he does so much writing for free.

He is the editor of Violent! and publisher of The Girly Comic for Factor Fiction. [] He edited and published several Doctor Who anthologies for charity, designed the Obverse Press logo and the cover for The Obverse Book of Ghosts. His comics have appeared all over, from Image Comics to Constable & Robinson’s Mammoth Book of Best New Manga. He was News Features Editor for the award-winning Borderline magazine. He organises Britain’s longest running comic convention, Caption and sometimes gets paid, but hasn’t yet managed to make a habit of it.