My young adult SF novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY, was first published in November 2018. It’s about young offenders trapped in a virtual-reality prison modelled after a sleepy English village. It’s creepy and fun!
It was originally published by ChiZine. In late 2019 various revelations came to light about ChiZine’s business practices, which turned out to be… well, all sorts of awful. I won’t summarise them here – you can find various accounts by googling, or start with the Writer Beware overview. While I wasn’t affected as profoundly as many other writers – just a series of very long delays between acceptance and publication – I’ve yet to receive a single royalty statement, and who knows whether that’ll happen now. It goes without saying: please don’t buy copies of this edition.
But – good news! First off, I’ve now regained rights to publication of the book. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve signed a contract with the wonderful Luna Press, and a new edition of the novel will be published in Autumn 2020. I’ve worked with Luna Press before on my first story collection, and they’re friendly, professional and just all-round excellent.
I’ve updated the MACHINERIES OF MERCY page on this site – where you’ll also find a Spotify soundtrack to the book to act as a teaser for the new edition – and you can read my introduction to the many influences on the novel on the Luna Press blog. More info soon, including a new cover!
It’s been a good start to 2020. I’ve read a lot, watched good films, Hope Island is done and dusted and ready for May 2020 publication, and I’ve finished the first draft of my Victorian novel and now I’m into the second pass. A few random nice writer things have cropped up recently, so I thought I’d gather them all here, mainly so I don’t forget any of them myself:
I wrote a short Victorian-era coda to ‘The Princess and the Pea’ for Fudoki Magazine, which specialises in myth, folklore and fairytales. You can read it here.
- Snakeskins has been longlisted in the Best Novel category of the BSFA Awards, and also my short story ‘A Crest of a Wave’ (published in Shoreline of Infinity #15) in Best Shorter Fiction. Julia Lloyd is longlisted in Best Artwork for her wonderful Snakeskins cover, too.
- On the Ginger Nuts of Horror site, Jim McLeod picked And the House Lights Dim as one of his favourite collections of 2019.
- Des Lewis reviewed the Pareidolia anthology on his Gestalt Real-Time Reviews site. Among other things, he said of my story, ‘What Can You Do About a Man Like That?’ that ‘Reading this story was like experiencing a classic Ingmar Bergman film.’
- There’s a lovely teaser write-up of Hope Island in the Titan Books ‘Looking ahead to 2020’ article.
I’m happy to say that this year I’ve written more words than in any previous year – 182,000 words, which is a great deal more than my previous record of 133k last year. However, I only spent 30-odd more hours writing this year (282 hours in total), so in fact the high word count is probably more reflective of the fact that I’ve done a lot of drafting and little editing in 2019.
- Universal Language – Martian mystery novella (45,000 words), currently out with publishers for consideration
- Four short stories, one of which was commissioned for an as-yet unannounced anthology
- 85,000 words of my work-in-progress novel, a Victorian fantasy
- 16,000 words and synopsis as a sample of a meta SF novel
Other achievements this year included:
- delivering my first academic paper: ‘Aspects of the Gothic and the Uncanny in Les Vampires (1915–16)’ at the Tales of Terror conference on Gothic, horror and weird short fiction at the University of Warwick
- running workshop sessions at Edge-Lit, FantasyCon and at York Library
- not freaking out during a joint event with Claire North at Cymera Festival in Edinburgh
And some of my work was published:
- Snakeskins – my SF thriller novel about clones and identity was published by Titan in May, and had a lovely reception among the UK genre writing community, plus it was positively reviewed in e.g. Interzone and SciFiNow and was picked by the Financial Times as one of their books of the summer
- And the House Lights Dim – my first collection of weird short stories, themed around homes and families, which received positive reviews e.g. in Storgy and Black Static
- The collection featured three previously unpublished stories:
- ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ – weird horror short story about the fears of a sentient house for its occupants
- ‘The Forge’ – weird short story about a man who overlays his rival’s brain patterns onto his own, with unwanted results
- ‘Honey spurge’ – SF short story about the devastation caused by household plants
- ‘The Bath House’ – weird horror short story about a peculiar cleansing ritual with a shady purpose, in Twice-Told anthology (ed. C.M. Muller) themed around doppelgängers
- ‘What Are We Going To Do With You?’ – YA horror short story about Capgras syndrome, in Subliminal Reality anthology
- ‘Hangers-on’ – weird horror short story about fears of parenthood and plastic limbs in a holdall, in The Shadow Booth Vol 3 (ed. Dan Coxon)
- ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ – SF short story about the purchase of sleep credits on the black market, in Synth #2 (ed. C.M. Muller)
- ‘A Crest of a Wave’ – SF short story about a married couple celebrating their anniversary on the Martian coast, in Shoreline of Infinity, Issue 15
- ‘What Can You Do About A Man Like That?’ – weird horror short story about toxic masculinity and aural hauntings, Pareidolia anthology (ed. James Everington & Dan Howarth)
- Also, five of my older stories were reprinted (as well as 12 reprints in my collection), including one, ‘Throw Caution’, selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2018 (NewCon Press)
One other milestone this year – I finally passed the 1 million words mark. It was always an arbitrary target, but when I started out in 2012 it seemed unimaginable that I’d stick at writing fiction for this long and this consistently, and I’m proud that I have. Right now, there seems no danger of me slowing down, so I don’t feel the need for a second million words-ometer.
This year it’s been a little unnerving writing a novel that doesn’t yet have a home and therefore may never be published, after the pleasant experience of writing Hope Island in 2018 as part of a two-book deal. Added to this, my current work-in-progress is knottier than any of my previous novels, mainly because it’s required a lot of historical research in several different areas. But I think it’s good, and I hope it’ll find a home next year.
Looking ahead to more certain aspects of 2020, I have three new short stories already lined up for publication, plus a reprint. Three of these are important publications to me for different reasons – more about those in the new year…
…and my second Titan Books novel, Hope Island, will be published in May 2020, which is something for me to look forward to and dread at the same time. It’s about parenthood, creepy island kids and strange aural phenomena, and it gets quite weird.
Hope you all had productive and happy years too, and here’s to the next year and decade!
*Thanks to the Titan marketing team for the photo of the Snakeskins-inspired bauble.
Goodness, what a lot of good drone albums there were this year! The Sacrificial Code by Kali Malone is a towering achievement – almost two hours of austere, subtly shifting pipe organ drones that slip me into a liminal space the moment they begin. I’ve listened to Genera – Live at AB Salon, Brussels by Bana Haffar more than any other album this year and still I understand it very little, but find it totally absorbing, strange and inspiring. The Gaelic smallpipe drones of The Reeling by Brighde Chaimbeul are utterly stunning – it’s an album that I’ve returned to far more than I’d expected on first listen. Bioluminescence by Shorelights is a far more manufactured confection, but there’s an organic element to the pulses, bird calls and wind beneath the surface. I can’t get enough of it. The field recordings of Vegetal Negatives by Marja Ahti are far more comprehensible, but conjure a soundscape that’s no less weird and no less hypnotic. Kimberlin (Original Soundtrack) by Abul Mogard continues Mogard’s incredible run of form, no less crucial and enveloping than any of his non-soundtrack work. Futuro (Music for the Waldorf Project) by Not Waving is an arresting soundtrack for literally anything you might be doing, and which sounds utterly different on each listen, as if the recording might respond to one’s mood. The title track of Epistasis by Maria w Horn, with its live string quartet and brooding – is it a harmonium? – is the standout track of a standout album. Traveller on the Road by Skin Crime recalls the most dread-filled moments of David Lynch movies, and sits well alongside other Hospital Productions artists such as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. Industry / Water by Michael Gordon / Jonny Greenwood is the best release so far from Greenwood’s Octatonic label, as much a drone record as modern classical, and bodes well for future releases. Pyroclasts by Sunn O))) is awesome in the most awe-filled sense of the word. Pale Bloom by Sarah Davachi is another wonderful album from the Californian artist – particularly the 21-minute final track, which brings us all the way back to the organ dirge of Kali Malone.
Propulsive weird jazz and minimal techno
That’s a valid category, isn’t it? Atto IV by Vladimir Tarasov is an astounding album of jazz riffs and pulses that recall one of my favourite Oren Ambarchi albums, Quixotism. The man himself is present on Oglon Day by Oren Ambarchi, Mark Fell, Will Guthrie, Sam Shalabi, which delivers dizzying overlapping rhythms and a sense of huge regret at not seeing the performance live. Pink Nothing by Tom Richards, performed on an emulation of Daphne Oram’s unfinished ‘Mini Oramics’ machine, is maddeningly hypnotic. Triumvirate by Carter Tutti Void isn’t quite up to the level of majesty as their Transverse release, but it’s still ace. I by Föllakzoid is an unremitting forward march into the alien unknown.
All My People by Maria Somerville is comfortably my favourite vocal album of the year, neatly stepping in for the lack of new Grouper. 2020 by Richard Dawson retains Dawson’s lyrical precision and his wonderful voice, but lacks the lunacy of his previous releases. Arrival by Fire! Orchestra is more accessible than the band’s recent releases and features a surprising amount of vocals. ANIMA by Thom Yorke is assured and full of earworms. The Age of Immunology by Vanishing Twin is joyous and undemanding despite its complexity. Look Up Sharp by Carla dal Forno is strikingly familiar hauntology, an album half-remembered from childhood. The Envoy by Gavilán Rayna Russom is majestic and deeply weird, and features Cosey Fanni Tutti on vocals and arrangements by Peter Zummo.
Compilations and reissues
Three Highlife albums provided me with lots of happiness – the first being Hitsville Re-Visited by Ebo Taylor, Pat Thomas, Uhuru Yenzu, also from 1982, the most joyous recording I’ve heard all year. However, the more overly funky Control by Gyedu-Blay Ambolley & Zantoda Mark III, from 1980, and Grupo Pilon: Leite Quente Funaná de Cabo Verde by Grupo Pilon, a collection of 1980s recordings of Electro-Funaná from West Africa’s Cabo Verde Islands, give Ebo a run for his money. Oren Ambarchi rears his head again, curating a vast selection of experimental, drone and unclassifiable recordings from his own record label for the compilation Black Truffle At 10. The rerelease of Michael O’Shea by Michael O’Shea from 1982 is a revelation – Indo-European voodoo played on, according to Boomkat: a hybrid of a zelochord and a sitar, made on a wooden door salvaged in Munich, and with the crucial addition of electric pick-ups and the ‘Black Hole Space Box’. Hissing Theatricals by Tapes, a rerelease of the 2009 dub album, is wonderful, as are the 1980s synth post-punk experiments contained on Beside Herself by Michele Mercure.
Two guest blog posts popped up online during the last week:
First off, Book Stewards put together a really nice Q&A, covering reasons I began writing, happy accidents that resulted in publications, upcoming projects and the elusive ‘Tim Major thing’. I also got to recommend a load of my favourite recent reads. You can read the full article here.
Secondly, Speculative Chic were nice enough to ask me to write an article for their ‘My Favourite Things’ series – I chose the SF, horror and classic films that are floating my boat at the moment. Here it is.
The current issue of Black Static features a terrific review of my short story collection, AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM. It’s insightful and detailed (a page and a half long!), and enthusiastic and kind. It made me cry a little. It includes careful analysis of each story in the collection, and ends with the following summation:
“And the House Lights Dim is an immensely worthwhile read. A liquorice allsorts of genre and theme which nonetheless coheres thanks to the enduring prose style and strong sense of voice… If you like your stories strange, eerie and thought-provoking, this one is for you.”