Friday, 8 July 2011

Open House Day 39 - Simon Kurt Unsworth

There’s a great Spike Milligan sketch, available on the double album A Collection of Spikes, that I listened to again recently. It’s not Spike’s best sketch (that’s possibly the Tower Bridge song, the Hitting sketch or any one of a massive number of Goon Show scenes), but it’s a good example of something wonderful: in it, Spike tells the listener that there’s no point in hanging around listening because he’s only in the studio and recording because he’s booked the space and has no choice but to be there. Over the course of the next four minutes, Spike describes the studio, bangs a tin and effortlessly makes stuff up as he goes along, before finally coming up with a song, ‘Besides a garden Wall’. The sketch finally finishes when he’s interrupted by a cleaner coming in who tells him to clear off and then begins to hoover the studio. After Spike leaves, the cleaner starts to hum ‘Besides a Garden Wall’ to herself. It’s a great example of someone revelling in imagination and randomness and using it for their own ends, and this blog will be, I suspect, much like that sketch – only less funny and without the Milligan brilliance.

The problem is one of enthusiasm over content: I agreed to write this blog before really thinking about what I was going to write about, and now I’ve come to write it, I have no idea what to talk about. I could, of course, tell you about my forthcoming work (Quiet Houses, a collection from Dark Continents Publishing:


A chambermaid’s seemingly innocent request is granted, an act of kindness that has dire consequences for a guest… An unearthly light in an abandoned bungalow resolves the mystery of a missing child… An invitation to a clifftop graveyard leads to a harrowing chase by things that remain unseen… In an abandoned hotel, work is underway to upgrade the building but something is stalking the workers...

There is a hidden agenda to paranormal researcher Richard Nakata’s investigations into these houses. A commission that witnesses cattle lowing in the cowsheds of Stack’s Farm long after they’ve been slaughtered, and a reckoning in the showhouse of 24 Glasshouse, as he and his colleagues pay the price for creating their own ghost...

Simon Kurt Unsworth reinvents the classic English ghost story with a portmanteau collection that takes the haunted house genre and makes it scream...quietly.

Because the most terrifying screams are the silent ones…)

If that doesn’t appeal, I could, instead, tell you about my past glories (Lost Places was my first collection, it came out in March 2010 from Ash tree Press, and contains my World Fantasy Award-nominated story ‘The Church on the Island’) or my future collections (due out from PS Publishing and Spectral Press), or even go on about my next appearance at Lancaster’s excellent Spoken Word and Music evenings, Spotlight (July 15th, but I have no idea what I’m going to be reading yet) or maybe my forthcoming chapbook from Spectral Press or the stories that I have due out in the anthologies Haunts, Gaslight Arcanum or The Unspoken?

I’m writing this on a MacBook, by the way, bought six months ago to replace a dying, sadly missed Philips Notebook that had, by that point, holes in its case and which had been to every region of the UK. The MacBook’s a lovely, gleaming white (not a good colour for a messy sod like me, according to my gorgeous wife) and I’ve just downloaded Scrivener to it. Scrivener seems great, and I suspect it’s going to be a useful tool.

Maybe I should tell you that I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently, partly because I’ve just completed the edits on Quiet Houses and it’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how an editor responds to the words you’ve written and which ones they change, but partly because that’s the kind of thing I tend to think about. Which word to use? When to use this word, as opposed to that one? Even if that word is technically correct, why does it sound so wrong when I place it there in the text? Walking my dogs is always a good time to think about this kind of stuff because, apart from stopping to pick up the odd excremental deposit or two, I have time to tease through these kind of issues. Similarly, plotline problems tend to fall to the floor stunned and beaten when I use my dogwalking time to have at them. Language, I might well tell you, in all its minutiae and glory, is one of the overriding joys of my life.

As I write this, around 200 people have just lost their jobs because the Rupert the Autocrat has decided to cut his losses and close the News of the World, a perfect example of how people don’t matter but money does. I keep hoping that the fact that this decision has been forced on the Australian’s empire means a change in the kind of media we’ll have in this country, but you know what? It won’t.

Hell, I could tell you about the way in which I write (with music on, always a shuffling iPod so that Nick Cave is followed by Take That is followed by Bellowhead is followed by BabyBird is followed by something of a compilation CD that I don’t recognise is followed by the KLF is followed by The Disposable Heroes of HipHocrisy is followed by and on and on and on and on), often on trains and always muttering to myself. I probably won’t tell you about my influences, as I’ve gone on record about those before (TED Klein, Stephen King, James Herbert, James (MR not Henry), the films of John Carpenter). I could take a sideways slant and let you know that there’s a fun thing I’ve been doing, catching up with my old favourites on audiobook, and that I’m currently listening to Herbert’s the Fog and loving it (not least because I wonder how embarrassed the narrator was when reading out some of Herbert’s slightly clunky, though always realistic, sex scenes), and could encourage you to do the same. I won’t though.

Outside of horror (yes, there is such a place) I have a fondness for the books of Christopher Fowler, Henning Mankell, David Hunt, Robert Rankin, Alan Moore and others, the Big Lebowski, Last Exit to Nowhere T Shirt, heavily flowery shirts (especially those made by Joe Browns), the cakes my wife makes, pizza, beer, wine, whiskey and the time I have with my wife and son.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the problem is, writing a blog kind of implies that I think people are going to want to read it, which strikes me as really rather arrogant. I mean, I’m happy to admit that my fiction may well have its fans and that I have enough of a reputation to think that people might make an effort to read my new work, but blogs? I really don’t know. Does my opinion mean anything? Have I got anything interesting to say, or to tell you? Anything informative or illuminating? Again, I dunno. When, several glasses into a bottle of wine, I agreed to write this, I think (I think) I had several subjects on which I thought I could scintillate , but in the cold light of morning, I can’t remember them. Or rather, I can, but they’re personal – their scintillation levels are more personal than public, as it were.

I’m 39 years old and overweight, although I’m tall so my belly’s not too noticeable if I wear baggy shirts. I’m not particularly good looking, but I’ve got used to that, and I’m generally happy with the face I see in the mirror in the mornings. I own possibly the coolest pair of boots ever.

So, if I’m not going to tell you about my forthcoming stuff or my old stuff, and if I don’t want to tell you about the mechanics of my writing methods or influences, what’s left? What exciting things can I tell you? Well, I could titillate you with some short story ideas that I intend to write (‘The Penny Tree’ and ‘The Poor Weather Crossings Company’ are two I’m particularly excited about) or the fact that I’m attempting to write a novel (The Sorrowful, a very, very bleak horror that’s about 30,000 words in and seems to be going well so far) but even that feels a bit ‘look at me look at me!’.

I’ve just read the newly released edition of the Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, which is a marvellous book, and am awaiting Garry McMahon’s Concrete Grove. Gary’s a mate, but I’ve never met Kim Newman. The first time I met Stephen Volk, I was too awestruck to speak to him, although now he’s a mate as well. My friends in the writing world are hugely important to me, although my two best mates are a barrister and a teacher (and both drink single malts…). I fell asleep through drunken over-indulgence at the launch of the reissue of the first Pan Book of Horror Stories at FantasyCon 2010. I’m not proud of it, but that’s life.

Is there anything left we’ve not covered? Perhaps I should keep rambling around, just writing anything that comes into my head?

Hold on, there’s a cleaner here, and she’s singing.

Besides a Garden Wall……

Simon Kurt Unsworth lives on a hill in the north of England awaiting the coming flood with his wife and child and writes essentially grumpy fiction, for which pursuit he was nominated for a 2008 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. His work has been published in a number of critically acclaimed anthologies, including the critically acclaimed At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Exotic Gothic 3, Gaslight Grotesque and Lovecraft Unbound. He has also appeared in three of Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies (19, 21 and the forthcoming 22), and also The Very Best of Best New Horror. His first collection of short stories, Lost Places, was released by the Ash Tree Press in 2010, and he has collections due out from Dark Continents in 2011 and PS Publishing in 2012 (Quiet Houses and Strange Gateways respectively). His as-yet-unnamed collection will launch the Spectral Press Spectral Signature Editions imprint in 2013, so at some point he needs to write those stories. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter and he might eventually get his website up and running, but don’t hold your breath.

His blog is at:

Lost Places can be purchased here:

Quiet Houses will be available from:

Spectral Press lives here:

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