Every year when Halloween comes around, I wish I’d written a Halloween story. Obviously, it’s too late by then, so last year I surpassed even my own pre-planning capabilities and wrote one in January. Kaboom. That also gave me a few months to sell the fucker.
The story I came up with is called Misshapes & Rejects, and in a nutshell it’s about pumpkins. Not pumpkins in nutshells, that would just be weird. I’ve always thought there was something creepy about the treatment pumpkins get around Halloween. All the cutting and carving and stuff. I also wanted to make a bit of a point about isolation and anti-social behaviour, and like a perfect storm all these elements came together. It happened quickly, too. Once I had the germ of the idea, the story followed quickly and was finished in a single sitting. That feat isn’t as impressive as it might sound, in its entirety Misshapes & Rejects is less than 1000 words.
When I finish a story, I routinely go through it three, four, even five or six times, endlessly tweaking, polishing and modifying until there is nothing left to tweak, polish or modify. However, Misshapes & Rejects didn’t need much heavy lifting. Sometimes, you just know you’ve nailed it. It was accepted by the first place I submitted it too, a Halloween-themed anthology due to be released on [name redacted, like in the movies].
Then things got messy.
The would-be publisher refused to pay any contributors then eventually pulled the book from sale, but not before they pocketed funds they’d raised through crowd funding and pre-orders. Big scene. Long story short, the publishing rights on Missahpes & Rejects quickly reverted back to me and the dance began again.
Luckily, it soon found a new home, in the book Handmade Horror Stories put together by Frost Zone Press, the lovely people who just last year published my story Alone, Or… , and edited by the supremely talented MM MacLeod..
As the marketing material says, “Handmade Horror Stories is an anthology of art and craft-themed short horror fiction. From quiet horrors to chilling nightmares, these tales give new meaning to being creative.”
I’m pleased to announce that my short story Harberry Close is included in the anthology Railroad Tales on Midnight Street Press.
Table of Contents:
THE TRACKS THROUGH THE FOREST John Kiste
AWAYDAYS Allen Ashley
THE HOOSAC TUNNEL LEGACY Norm Vigeant
RAILWAY MUTTON CURRY Nidheesh Samant
THE NUMBER NINE James E. Coplin
GHOST-WALKER Andrew Darlington
SPARROW’S FLIGHT Nancy Brewka-Clark
HARBERRY CLOSE C. M. Saunders
GEISTERBAHNHOF Saoirse Ni Chiaragáin
THE ANNIVERSARY David Penn
ACROSS THE VALE Catherine Pugh
WHERE THE TRAIN STOPS Susan York
THE NIBBLER Gayle Fidler
SHORT PLATFORM Gary Couzens
WILSHIRE STATION Caitlin Marceau
AND YOU HEARD THE RATTLING DEATH TRAIN Simon Bestwick
NOT ALL TRAINS CRASH Steven Pirie
BALLYSHANNON JUNCTION Jim Mountfield
CABOOSE Andrew Hook
THE TRACKS Michael Gore
THE DEVIL RIDES THE NIGHT TRAIN Curtis James McConnell
THE PIER STATION George Jacobs
THE SAMOVAR A. J. Lewis
Between 2013 and 2017 I lived in London. I was working long hours and commuting for up to four or five hours a day, so I didn’t have much time to write fiction. I think of Harberry Close as a good representation of my ‘London period,’ along with Vicar on the Underground and maybe Subject #270374. I don’t think its much of a surprise that two of those stories feature public transport prominently and the other is about an overworked and under-appreciated journalist who goes mental and decapitates his boss.
I wrote about the origins of Harberry Close, which was first published in Dark Harvest, in more detail here. Thanks to Trevor Denyer for giving it a new lease of life!
Roach, my ‘creature feature’ short story, is included in the new anthology, Night Terrors Volume 12 on Scare Street Publishing.
Here’s the ToC:
1. Cross Words by Peter Cronsberry 2. Hybrid by Justin Boote 3. Pipe Dreams by William Sterling 4. “For My Next Trick…” by Bryan Clark 5. Blood Debt by Susan E. Rogers 6. Smudge the Head by Kyle Winkler 7. See Me by Charles Welch 8. Half Larva, Will Travel by Andrey Pissantchev 9. Just We Two by Shell St. James 10. Caustic Whispers by Zach Friday 11. Roach by C. M. Saunders 12. Unarmed by Warren Benedetto 13. Gwen Speaks by Ron Ripley
I wrote the first draft of Roach in the autumn of 2019 when I was teaching at a college in Guangzhou, southern China. There are a lot of cockroaches in Guangzhou. The nucleus of the idea came from a news item I read about Chinese cockroach farms.
I ended up doing a ton of research and writing an article for Fortean Times magazine about it. fascinating stuff. These farms breed millions and millions of the little critters, the official line being that they are used in Chinese medicine. As a bi-product, they can also be used in waste disposal and even as a food source. Who knows? The whole thing, like most things in China, is shrouded in secrecy. This has led to speculation that these genetically modified insect armies could be weaponised, though probably not in the way described in the story.
I’m happy to announce that my piece of flash fiction Alone, Or, is included in Issue Three of Frost Zone zine, a Canadian quarterly zine of horror, speculative, and literary fiction, and poetry.
Writers often draw from real-life experiences and incorporate them into their fiction, such is the case with Alone, Or. When I was a student, I worked a bar at Southampton Football Club. Like any pub, we had regulars who would come in before or after games. One day, a guy I knew well came in. I’d been serving him for a couple of years. He looked upset. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his best friend had died, “You know, my drinking partner, the guy I always come in here with?”
The thing was, I could’ve sworn that whenever I saw this guy, he’d been by himself. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the guy he was referring to. I’ve thought about that episode a lot over the years. It always makes me feel a bit weird. Was the regular confusing me with someone else? If not, why can’t I remember the guy who died? Was it all some kind of perverse practical joke? So many questions. Eventually, this story came out of the experience. Writing can be cathartic sometimes.
I’m excited to announce my story Faces on the Walls has been included in the first anthology released by Ghost Orchid Press, entitled Home. It features one hundred stories and poems of exactly one hundred words each, all riffing on the theme of “Home.”
As the blurb says, “These tiny terrors run the full gamut of horror, from body horror and blood-curdling fear to atmospheric, lyrical Gothic tales. You’ll find haunted houses, burrowing parasites and suburban nightmares aplenty to delight, amuse and shock—all in an easy bitesize format.”
Faces on the Walls is based on a real-life paranormal incident I first read about when I was a kid. In 1971, strange stains began to appear on the kitchen floor and walls of a house in Belmez de la Moraleda, a small village in Spain. Soon, the stains began taking on the likeness of faces, sparking a decades-long interest in the ‘Belmez Faces.’ This story is a homage to one of the most terrifying things I have ever read about.
In that gloriously decadent pre-covid world, when I was working in Guangzhou, southern China, I met a girl through a dating app called Tantan. It’s a bit like a Chinese Tinder. The girl’s name was Siki, and she was fucking mental. That’s not an insult. She knows she’s mental. She takes medication for it, which doesn’t work. One way this mentalness manifests itself is through an addiction to extreme sex. It’s not quite as extreme as the sex I describe in the story which grew from that experience. At least, there were no beer bottles involved. But it was extreme enough for me. I had no idea I was so vanilla until I met Siki. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.
YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT??
An addiction to extreme sex combined with mental illness AND being the first and only Chinese satanist I’ve ever met was always going to make lively fiction fodder. Throw in a ghost that didn’t exist (thankfully) and an unsolved murder that didn’t happen, and you have the makings of what I hope is a pretty good, though definitely X-rated short story. The Splatterclub kindly agreed, and put their wholesome reputation at risk by using it on their website. It’s free to read, so you have nothing to lose except your respect for me and possibly your lunch.
In case you’re wondering, Siki’s cool with me using our brief fling as the basis for a horror story. She gave me her blessing, and didn’t even want me to change her name. It’s not her real name, anyway. It’s an ‘English’ name, which a lot of Chinese people take because most Westerners can’t pronounce their Chinese names. It’s typical Siki to take an English name that isn’t an English name.
This isn’t the first time I’ve drawn on my relationships for material. Last year I wrote about one of my exes who kept seeing massive animals dressed in ‘people clothes.’ So be warned that if you ever have a relationship with me, the odds are you’ll be immortalized in a story some day. Especially if you’re weird. If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die, as they say.
Here’s the real Siki, just to prove that she’s alive and well and the tattoo I talk about in the story is real. Picture shared with permission.
A lot of my fiction isn’t suitable for people who are easily offended. This time I really mean it.
Siki’s Story is live now at the Splatterclub. Try not to worry about her. She’s going to love it there.
Well, that was a weird year, wasn’t it? It started with a worldwide pandemic and flooding on an almost biblical-scale, and then just got progressively worse. These are scary, worrying times. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not in my lifetime, anyway. At least it’s not boring. I always tell my students that only boring people get bored. You just have to make things happen, instead of sitting around waiting. Me, I spent a lot of time watching Starsky & Hutch and TJ Hooker repeats on the Sony Channel and listening to Dangerous Summer. Whatever keeps you sane, right? I also read a lot of books, which you can find a list of here.
At the beginning of the year I wrote a couple of new short stories, including Down the Plughole which I based on my student days in a grimy houseshare in Southampton, and an x-rated shocker called Painted Nails about a junkie who wakes up with a foreign body embedded in his cock. I also bashed out a rare sci-fi tale called Down to Earth and a couple of new drabbles (100-word stories). I’ll hopefully find homes for them later this year. On the subject of drabbles, Louie’s Room was included in 100 Word Horrors 4 at the turn of the year. That meant I was lucky enough to have stories in each of the first four volumes of the series.
Being locked down so much, I did a ton of promo. My Twitter audience grew by about 20% to around 8,600, and the ‘likes’ on my Facebook author page swelled. That stuff is important to prospective employers, agents and publishers. I also scheduled a year’s worth of blog posts. My RetView series is continuing to grow in popularity. Check out the most recent entry, Megan is Missing (2011).
In ‘fiction world’ my fourth collection of short fiction, X4, was released on February 20th just because I thought the release date 20/02/20 was kinda cool. It hit the ground running and picked up some great reviews. My story Demon Tree appeared on Haunted MTL, and in April Blood Bound Books put out a furry-based anthology entitled Burnt Fur, which included my story The Others. It is probably one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, not least because it was based on a story an old girlfriend told me. Later in the year, my story Holiday of a Lifetime appeared in another anthology by the same publisher called Welcome to the Splatterclub – Seasoned Meat. If The Others is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever written, Holiday of a Lifetime is probably one of the most balls-out disgusting things I’ve ever written. I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit whilst doing the edits.
In other news, K Trap Jones started his own publishing company (go Trap!) and accepted my short story Grower into his very first anthology, Brewtality, which had a beer theme. Right up my dark alley. Elsewhere, Surzhai, about sex trafficking, immortal ancient Chinese warriors and revenge, appeared in ParABnormal magazine and my tragic love story Loose Ends was included in the lit mag 34 Orchard. The fun didn’t stop there. Later in the year, I contributed to the charity anthology It Came From the Darkness, Scary Mary appeared in Jester of Hearts and Finders Keepers in the Christmas charity anthology on Terror Tract publishing.
After that I focused my attention on finishing my novel Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery (working title), the first in a planned series about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) who travels the country in a VW camper with a cat called Mr. Trimble. I started it in the summer of 2019, then got sidetracked by other stuff. The first draft was an absolute mess, but four drafts later, into September 2020, it was in much better shape. Before the metaphorical ink was wet, I launched straight into the next book in the series, Cuts, which currentky stands at about 40k words. Amidst all this I revised, remixed, revamped and reissued Sker House, my attempt at the great Welsh haunted house story and explained my reasoning for doing such a thing here.
To sum up, 2020 was a weird, yet productive year. Personally, I’m hoping for the same level of productivity in 2021 but with slightly less weirdness.
A couple of months ago, I was about 700 words into this cool little Christmas horror story I was writing about a dude that finds an old Santa suit, puts it on, and then finds he can’t take it off. It starts to grow on him, fusing with his skin. Not only that, but his behaviour starts to change. He’s not the man he used to be. For starters (sorry) he’s hungry all the time. No matter how much he eats, he’s still hungry. He eats, and he eats, and he eats.
The story was going well. Right up until the point where I realized I’d subconsciously nicked the plot straight from the Eli Roth film Clown (2014) and just replaced the clown suit with a Santa suit.
I posted in a horror writing group on Facebook complaining about my wasted efforts, prompting Michael McCarty to PM me suggesting what he called a ‘quick fix,’ which between us we adapted into a killer (sic) twist. The resulting story, Finders Keepers, can be found in the new charity release from Terror Tract publishing, who put out my novella Tethered recently. Here’s the cover and ToC:
Jonathan Lambert Thomas M. Malafarina Aaron Lebold Terry Miller L.C. Valentine R.C. Mulhare Edmund Stone Derek Austin Johnson Craig Gerald Ferguson David Owain Hughes Eric Kapitan Josh Davis Andrew Lennon Rob Shepherd Dusty Davis Mawr Gorshin C.M. Saunders & Michael McCarty
Finders Keepers is a Christmas story, but there isn’t much festive cheer on display. In fact, it’s pretty damn sick and twisted, and might change your perception of what constitutes a family meal forever. Trust me, you wouldn’t want this Santa coming down your chimney. And what was that quick fix suggested by Michael McCarty? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
TT, who use the slogan HORROR WITH ATTITUDE to great effect, are the same beautiful people who recently published my novella Tethered. As the title suggests, this particular anthology is a collection of dark stories which all have a spiky thread of humour running through them. I don’t know why, but to me, horror and humour are often interlinked. It’s the absurdity of it all; the way your mind becomes unhinged from reality when faced with the horrible, horrific or horrifying.
My contribution, Scary Mary, is a flash fiction piece I wrote in early 2020. It’s based on a popular urban legend called the phantom hitch-hiker, whereby a driver picks up a passenger one night on a deserted stretch of road only to discover that it’s a ghost. The set-up is a bunch of guys chatting in a pub, and the whole story builds to what I hope is a worthy mic-drop stinger at the end. It probably won’t win me many literary prizes, not that my writing ever has, but it might send a chill down your spine and then make you crack a smile, which is the whole point of this anthology.
I generally try to avoid literary fiction. In my experience, it is a path lined with pretentious smugness and people all trying to sound more clever than the next. On rare occasions, though, I stumble across a literary magazine which is filled with quality writing but less elitist and altogether more accessible. 34 Orchard, edited by the incredible Kristi Petersen Schoonover, is one of these. Its tag line, “The most frightening ghosts are the ones within,” sums up 34 Orchard’s ethos nicely, in that it deals more with uncomfortable and no-less terrifying topics like grief and abandonment, rather than the usual horror tropes. Also, it doesn’t cost the earth. You can get the e-version for free, or you can pay a voluntary donation. Trust me, it’s worth it.
34 Orchard is published biannually, and you can find mycontribution, a short story called Loose Ends, in issue two. Loose Ends is about a young couple who fall in love, and are forced to confront the hopelessness and sheer futility of it all. They are isolated in a small village, their parents don’t agree with the relationship, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs. They can see no way out, no route to happiness, and come to a horrific final decision.
The title, and the general concept of the story, comes from a Bruce Springsteen track of the same name from his Tracks compilation. It carries many of the same themes as my interpretation, and is just the kind of dark, self-destructive love song The Boss is famous for. Check out the lyrics:
“It’s like we had a noose and baby without check We pulled ’til it grew tighter around our necks Each one waiting for the other, darling to say when Well baby you can meet me tonight on the loose end.”
The rope in the song is clearly intended as being metaphorical, perhaps not so much in my story.