Favourite albums of 2018

My favourite album of 2018 is Double Negative by Low. Low are a fine band with a discography built up over 25 years that, while unshowy, must surely make any other band weep. Like the songs of, for example, Leonard Cohen, beneath what may appear like superficial gloominess has always been a beating heart of optimism and beauty. Double Negative is a departure, and my favourite Low album since Secret Name. Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s ordinarily ice-clear harmonies are buried within fuzz and distortion, often squeezed out as a Sparky’s Magic Piano-esque squelch. I’m a fan of deteriorated sound, that’s for sure, but amidst all this degradation the occasional surfacing of untampered-with vocals feel like glimpses of something divine. It’s the most wonderful album, and ‘Tempest’ is my favourite song of the year.

Modern soul isn’t usually my thing, but Childqueen by Kadhja Bonet absolutely is, filled as it is with gorgeous melodies and lush orchestration. For the most part, the best aural (as opposed to vocal) comparison I can think of is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, though there are shades of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, and the slick production of ‘Mother Maybe’ reminds me strongly of one of my 80s guilty pleasures, Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’. I can’t think of another 2018 album that feels so pleasurable throughout its running time. In addition, Kadhja Bonet was responsible for the entirety of the album; everything written, sung and played, and she produced and mixed it too, which I find incredible.

The drone album I’ve enjoyed most this year is Rausch by GAS. It’s difficult to describe why one lengthy drone is preferable to another, but there’s a depth to these seven tracks that just, I don’t know, takes me away… It’s only now, listening carefully and attempting to analyse it, that I’m able to identify particular elements: tapping hi-hats, bass thrums, reversed cymbals. Previously, I wouldn’t have been able to describe what produced the effect, only that’s the whole is absorbing and hypnotic. For me, this album is up there with Biokinetics by Porter Ricks and What?? by Folke Rabe.

Click ‘Continue reading’ for lots more picks and a playlist.

Continue reading Favourite albums of 2018

Les Vampires (Midnight Movie Monographs)

Yesterday I returned from FantasyCon. From about the halfway point of the convention I started feeling quite overwhelmed – but not in the what-am-I-even-doing-here? sense that I used to feel at such events. This time I was overwhelmed because I felt comfortable, and because the people I was speaking to are no longer intimidating but are my friends, and because those same people are so very, very talented. Each time I looked around at the faces in a reading room, or a panel session, or at the bar, I felt awed at the thought of all the wonderful fiction these people were producing, and even more awed at all the potential still to be tapped.

Also, it was fun.

In the midst of all this, I failed to take stock of the fact that a book I wrote was released at FantasyCon. My non-fiction book about the 1915 French crime serial, Les Vampires, was launched at the PS Publishing event on Friday. I held a copy – briefly – when somebody asked me to sign it. I picked up a copy for myself the next morning, and jammed it in my rucksack along with books I was far more excited about, including novels by Aliya Whiteley and Stephen Volk and collections edited by Dan Coxon and Mark Morris. When I rolled into my hotel room at 2am I picked up the Les Vampires book, smiled, fell asleep.

I was tired on the train home on Sunday. I decided I wouldn’t begin reading any of the books written by my friends; in my addled state I wouldn’t have paid close enough attention. So, with the guilt of vanity, I started flicking through my own book. Then I ended up reading the whole thing. I felt very emotional.

I realised that I’m proud of my book. In published form, I found it easier to enjoy and appreciate than other books I’ve written, perhaps because it’s primarily factual, but also because it’s a response to a film I adore, and because I think my enthusiasm is clear and real and honest.

I still don’t know whether the book would be comprehensible to somebody who hasn’t watched Les Vampires, and the film is over 100 years old, 7 hours long, and is frustratingly difficult to buy on DVD in the UK right now, all of which makes my book hilariously niche. But I think it’s a good book, and I really do like the 10 pieces of weird fiction I wrote and slotted in between the analyses of each episode of the film. I hope the book is noticed and read.

Anyway, to tie in with my overwhelmed and glowy feelings about FantasyCon in general, I feel very grateful that I was allowed to write Les Vampires. Neil Snowdon, founder and editor of the Electric Dreamhouse Press imprint (he even designed the excellent cover of my book!), was indulgent in letting let me spend legitimate time exploring a film I love. He’s been supportive of my work in general and he was responsible for introducing me to many of the writers who are now my friends. I spent several hours with Neil on Saturday, after having met in person only once before, two years previously, and then for only 15 minutes, and we felt like old friends. I hope we’ll continue to collaborate in the future. I hope the Electric Dreamhouse monograph series will continue to grow, and that the books will find readers and recognition.

So. I had a great weekend, and things are great. I have a new book out, and I’m proud of that.

You can find out more about the book here, and you can buy it direct from PS Publishing or from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

And if you haven’t already – and regardless of whether you buy my book – you should watch the film. Les Vampires is utterly wonderful and deserves to be seen.

 

My FantasyCon 2018 schedule

I’m finally getting around to thinking about my FantasyCon plans. Mostly, those plans involve chatting, but I will have some fixed points in amongst the socialising:

Friday 5pm – PS Publishing launch – My hybrid non-fiction/fiction book about the 1915 film LES VAMPIRES will be available for the first time, alongside other Electric Dreamhouse Press titles by Tim Lucas and John Connolly, AND new PS Publishing books by Ramsey Campbell, Tim Lebbon, Paul Kane, Stephen Volk, Ian Whates and Thana Niveau. Wow!

Saturday 9pm – reading slot – alongside the very excellent Gary Budden and Priya Sharma. I’m so looking forward to this session! (I have no idea what I’ll be reading, yet – maybe an oldie as I’ve been dusting off stories for next year’s story collection, ‘And the House Lights Dim’.)

Sunday 11am ‘Reprinting short fiction’ panel – with Ian Whates, Peter Mark May, Marguerite Kenner and Nina Allan.

But more than anything, I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone. I’ll be around all weekend – a rarity for me – so there should be lots of opportunities to hang out. See you all there!

Taking stock

Now feels like as good a time as any to take stock.

I’ve been writing stories and novels since 2011. Before that point, I liked the idea of writing but put down barely any words – the classic error of waiting for ‘inspiration’. I was an idiot back then.

So now it’s seven years later. I guess that’s quite a long time – my wife and I had two kids during that time. We moved house twice and moved town once. I got a promotion, then quit my editorial day job to go freelance. But on the other hand, it’s not that long. I’m trying to focus on achievements here, so let’s say it isn’t that long at all.

I’ve stuck with writing. I didn’t know I was a sticker, but it turns out I am. Happily, it turns out that writing is what I love doing. (And editing too; it would be tough to get very far with all this if editing was entirely a chore.) Another thing in my favour is that I’ve never seen rejection particularly as a critique. My first aim when I started writing was to submit a story to Interzone—not to get published, you understand, only to have put in enough work to allow me to send the story without feeling ashamed of myself. Receiving that first rejection slip was a triumphant moment: here I am, doing this whole writer thing!

Anyway. Seven years. In that time I have written:

  • six novels
  • two novellas
  • thirty-seven short stories
  • one non-fiction book

This all adds up to around 840,000 words—i.e. around 120,000 words per year (plus editing).

Of the novels, one has been published and two are due to be published within the next year. The two first novels were honestly never intended for publication (they were NaNoWriMo-style exercises when I was learning how to go about the whole business) and the last-but-one novel has been shelved, perhaps never to be published. Both novellas have been published. Twenty-nine of the short stories have been published or have been bought, and three of the remaining eight stories will appear in my first short story collection next year. The non-fiction book will be published within the next few weeks.

That’s good, I think. I’m very bad at telling myself that. It’s good.

But 2018 has been really good. Like most people, I tend to move goalposts, so that any ambition fulfilled becomes just the first step to the next thing. I’m writing this blog post so that I can appreciate that things are happening that I should stop and maybe marvel at.

So, 2018.

  • My story, ‘The Walls of Tithonium Chasma’, was selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2017. The story was first published in Shoreline of Infinity in March 2017, but I wrote a first version of the story four years before then. It was the first thing I wrote that I really loved – but magazine editors didn’t agree. I tinkered, resubmitted, tinkered, resubmitted. I’m delighted that it’s ended up doing well.
  • Ellen Datlow selected my story, ‘Eqalussuaq’, for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. I was stunned when I received the email (pretty much literally: dizzy and bumping into things). This was another story that had had a rough ride. I wrote a version in late 2014, then reworked it entirely for a themed anthology, but then the Kickstarter didn’t work out… It was published in Not One of Us in October 2017, which is where Ellen Datlow spotted it. I look at the contents page of Best Horror Volume Ten and I see my name there, and it still doesn’t seem real.
  • I got an agent: Alexander Cochran at C+W. More than anything, getting representation was my big hope for this year. But it was my big hope for last year and the year before that. And now I have an agent, and d’you know what? He’s a really decent guy, and we went for lunch and it was terrific. I’m really excited that my future projects will be planned and plotted with Alexander. I think we’re going to be a good team.
  • Titan Books offered to publish my SF novel, SNAKESKINS. I’m thrilled. I honestly can’t imagine a better home for the book, and already it’s a pleasure working with editor Gary Budden and publicist Lydia Gittins.
  • Other things, too. My second Interzone acceptance. Three new stories published, with five others lined up. My first invitation to write a story for an anthology. Invitations to write articles for three non-fiction books.

Then there’s that warm feeling of having book publications lined up. Over the last month I’ve been checking onscreen proofs of three books: a monograph about the silent crime film LES VAMPIRES for Electric Dreamhouse Press; my first YA novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY, for ChiZine; my first short story collection, AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM, for Luna Press. And edits on SNAKESKINS, steady work on the next novel, and plans for the thing after that.

I’ve been working hard. I haven’t finished what I think of as my writing apprenticeship and I hope I never do, but I’m busier than ever. More importantly, I’m busy doing what I love doing.

I’m very bad at recognising where I’m at. I announce stuff when it needs announcing, but beyond that I struggle to know how to talk about it all. I don’t think I’m likely to get better at that any time soon…  but this blog post—self-indulgent as it is—is an attempt to face up to the fact that I’m very happy with everything that’s happening. A lot has gone on, and yet it still feels like the start of something.

[Oh, that image at the top of this post? That’s a chart generated by my writing tracker spreadsheet. It shows the accumulating number of words of all my long projects since around March 2013. The steeper the slope, the more concentrated the work. The gaps represent phases of writing short stories or having children.]

Tim Major – writer & editor

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