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Respectable Horror: Matthew Pegg

MR James Ghost StoriesHaunted Objects.

Sometimes it can be quite hard to put your finger on exactly where a story came from or what inspired it, because so much of writing happens in the subconscious. I usually start out with a snippet of a plot, or a character or an idea, but once I start writing other things accrue and attach themselves to it; events occur that I wasn’t expecting, characters pop up and demand to take part, the story takes on a life of its own.

But I can put my finger on some of the influences on The Well Wisher.

I’ve always liked classic horror and ghost stories, ever since reading my grandparent’s copy of A Century of Thrillers: From Poe to Arlen, which sat on their small and only bookshelf, along with The Passionate Witch by Thorne Smith. (I’ve still got the book and the bookshelf.) A Century of Thrillers is a chunky volume, published by The Daily Express newspaper in the 1930s. Its a great collection of classic tales and well worth tracking down.

I wanted to write a story in that vein and thought it would be interesting to write about a haunted object. M.R. James’s The Mezzotint, A Candle in Her Room, (a terrifying children’s book by Ruth M. Arthur,) and Stephen King’s Christine all tackle this concept in quite different ways.

James’s haunted engraving replays a horrific incident from the past but doesn’t offer any real threat to its observers. You could argue that the true horror of the tale lies in the fact that the protagonist is powerless to influence the events he sees slowly unfolding in the picture.

In A Candle in Her Room the wooden doll Dido exerts a malign influence over three generations of the same family. It is the way that possession of the doll changes its owner that is frightening.

The Witch DollChristine, the 1950s Plymouth Fury, is the most concrete haunted object of the three, quite capable of killing you on its own. But like Dido, possession of Christine changes its owner. I like the way King turns the classic 1950s car, a symbol of the American Dream, into something evil. I also like the detail, missing from the film, that Christine’s milometer runs backwards: the more you drive it the newer the car gets. When thugs trash the car, owner Arnie pushes it round the block all night, putting his back out in the process, until the car repairs itself. There’s something satisfying about the physicality of that action.

I had a feeling that if you’re going to write about a haunted object then it should be a functional object, and if its normal function can become threatening in some way then that seemed to me to be satisfyingly neat. Of the three examples of haunted objects above, I think only in Christine do you get a sense of what has caused an inanimate object to turn nasty: Christine has been created by the human hatred of its previous owner, rather than any supernatural force. So its progenitors are Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde rather than Dracula: we create the monster and we become the monster, rather than the monster being a threat from elsewhere.

I like structure in stories. I find it satisfying when things have some kind of internal logic. So I wanted to know why my haunted object behaved the way it did. And that ‘why’ had to also be something to do with it’s function. That was what I was trying to achieve and I hope it works.

I’m being a bit coy about revealing too much about The Well Wisher because I hope you’ll read it and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Miss Andrews, the central character, evolved all on her own to become a troubled, clever, kind, brave, flawed person. And I can’t claim to have planned any of that, it just happened. I do know that one influence on her was Jane Eyre. I’d recently seen a theatre version of the story and it was rattling round in my brain, especially Jane’s orphan status and poverty, which define the choices she can make in life.

For an unmarried Victorian woman, educated but not wealthy, being a governess was one of the few options available. Charlotte and Anne Bronte did this in real life and that experience is reflected in both Jane Eyre and Anne’s first novel Agnes Grey.

I felt that the Victorian governess was in a rather uneasy position, not quite one of the servants, but not truly a member of the family either. I liked that sense of isolation, unease and insecurity.

So Miss Andrews became a governess, sometimes too forthright for her own good but worried about her future, and much braver than me. I would like to know what happens to her next.

But as I said at the start, a lot of any story emerges from the subconscious. So when I was reading the proof copy of Respectable Horror, I was struck by how much of The Well Wisher seemed quite unfamiliar. “Where did that come from,” I wondered, “And that?”

I can’t even claim credit for the double meaning in the title….
 
Matthew Pegg is a writer based in Leicestershire in the UK. Most of his writing has been for theatre and includes work for puppet companies, youth theatres, community plays and a script designed to be performed during a medieval banquet. His most recent theatre work was Escaping Alice, a love story with chains and handcuffs, for York Theatre Royal. He’s also completed a community radio play based on the life of Wordsworth and has been commissioned to create a puppet play to tour to care homes for people suffering from dementia. In 2012 he completed an MA in Creative Writing, and since then he has been working on a novel, and placing short fiction with a variety of publishers. Website: http://www.mpegg.co.uk 

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Skulk / Grimbold Tee

Good morning Fox fans. We have been talking to our good friends over at Grimbold, and we all feel that sometimes what you really need in life is a fox and a cat riding a dragon.

art by Vincent Holland Keen

art by Vincent Holland Keen

See, isn’t that just improving your day already?

Well as a one off run for 2016 we are going to offer these as T shirts. It will be pre order and prepay but a total one off. We are currently getting prices, but if you are interested email me at adele@foxspirit.co.uk and title you email ‘grimfox’ with the number you would want and sizes so we can get a more accurate quote. This is for anyone who wants to show their support for #TeamGrimbold or #TeamFoxSpirit or indeed #TeamGrimFox out in the world and we will only be printing this design once.

Epic giveaway time!

Want to win every Fox Spirit* title we release in 2016 in paperback?

You can and it’s easy! Retweet this on twitter with the #foxyfriday hashtag or share this post on Facebook and make sure you are signed up for our newsletter to be in with a chance. We will announce the winner through the newsletter, if you aren’t signed up you can’t claim your prize!

Once the winner is announced we will send them Winter Tales and In an Unknown Country, after that they will get each book sent out at the same time as the author copies go, all year.

This is our biggest giveaway ever and who doesn’t love surprise book post!

The giveaway is open worldwide and closes at 5pm on Monday 28th March, so you have all weekend to retweet or share and sign up to the newsletter. The winner will be selected at random.

You can register for our newsletter in the sidebar or by clicking here

fox spirit - logo - small

Titles in 2016 include the remaining Fox Pockets, ‘Piercing the Vale’, ‘The Evil Genius Guide’ and ‘Reflections’, along with the re release of Vincent Holland-Keen’s ‘The Office of Lost and Found’, anthologies ‘Respectable Horror’, ‘You left your Biscuit Behind’ and ‘Asian Monsters’ and more.

*Main line only, imprint titles are excluded from the giveaway.

Waxing Lyrical : Should we censor children’s books? by G. Clark Hellery

Waxing Lyrical: Should we censor children’s books?

It started as it always does these days with a comment on Facebook. I’d taken my daughter into the children’s section of Waterstones to choose her ‘All Hallow’s Read’ for Halloween. A mother was looking at the Christmas book display with her young son (I’d guess his age to be about 3-4years) when he happened to wander towards the Halloween books.

‘Come away from them! They’re too scary!’ the mother snapped, dragging her child the three feet back towards the glittering Christmas display.

This irked me to say the least. I’m not sure how Peter Rabbit getting lost in the pumpkin patch, or Meg & Mog could possibly be scary and I rather loudly asked my little one to choose her book (she loved the pop up haunted house but we agreed on @@@), cooing over the witches, frogs, pumpkins and ghosts. As we left I *might* have waved our book at the mother while my daughter let out a dragon roar.

peter rabbit

apparently terrifying

I ranted to my Facebook friends that I felt the mother had been too judgemental about the books, without even looking at their content. Certainly if her son had been looking in the real crime or horror sections, then yes, those books would probably have been too scary, but I really don’t believe The Worst Witch or Room on a Broom are going to give him nightmares. However, it would seem I opened a can of Halloween gummy worms as there were friends who agreed with me while others said they censor their children’s reading and suggested that perhaps I should wait until my little one was more capable of choosing her own books before passing comment because then I’d be very likely to change my cackle (I’m going to warn you now, there’s going to be a LOT of Halloween puns!).

This got me thinking about my own reading as a child. I was lucky and my parents didn’t really restrict what I read and I was a voracious reader to say the least (books bought on a Saturday morning trip to the bookshop would be finished by lunchtime). The ‘Point Horror’ series was going strong and I still remember staying up to the decadently late hour of 11pm reading who the psychotic lifeguard was going to kill next, I read a lot of King and even got my hands on ‘real life’ hauntings and True Crime books. I don’t remember any of these books ever giving me nightmares but am sure some would argue they’ve warped me. However they have shaped my own writing.

So why would parents ban books? Robin Beery wrote an excellent piece looking at 10 Reasons Books Are Banned, and 5 Reasons Not To which I’d recommend all parents, librarians & teachers read. Some don’t feel comfortable with their children reading about issues they feel they are not mature enough for: puberty, relationships, death, religion. In a 2014 interview, Judy Blume stated that, in her opinion, children read over what they don’t understand and I’d have to say on this I’d agree with her, certainly I didn’t understand a lot of what was happening in the King novels I read (although I know adults who don’t either) and rereading them years later brings a new depth of understanding with more than on ‘aha’ moment when I finally understood a phrase or action.

Blume was a staple on the playground, with books borrowed and shared from older sisters. She was far more explanatory about menstruation, kissing and even the ‘first time’ than our teachers or parents and because of her honesty, has frequently been censored over her 30 year career so much so she’s described as an ‘anticensorship activist’ and discusses it on her website.

banned books

Even books we now consider ‘classics’ have been censored and banned. Mark Twain’s ‘Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn’ has been banned due to it’s portrayal of the poor, John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice & Men’ due to it’s profanity (honesty moment, I studied this book for my GCSE’s and I can’t remember that much profanity. I have also taught it to an advanced English class and it provoked really interesting discussion) and most bizarrely ‘The Wizard of Oz’ by L Frank Baum due to its depiction of women in strong leadership roles – I’m not sure how Dorothy Gale would feel about that but I like to think she would click her red heels together and say ‘I want (censors) to go home?’

The Harry Potter series has been banned in some schools in the US (and one in the UK) on the grounds it promotes witchcraft and is inherently ‘evil’. I’m paraphrasing JK Rowling when I say that banning children from discussing issues is far more damaging to children than reading about something the parents might feel they’re not ready for. I will say that I, and a lot of friends, were more traumatised by not getting our ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ charm to cause biscuits to drift across the table than any ‘satanic’ undertones. I respect a parents right to censor their children’s reading but at the same time feel you may be doing them a disservice. Alex Sanchez said in an interview that ‘Books can have an astounding effect on people’ and I agree with him, especially with groups who already feel marginalised or misunderstood such as LGBT. Children find characters they relate to and this can offer a coping mechanism for situations they may otherwise struggle with.

So where does that leave me? As a mother, I’m keeping my ‘Hellraiser’ firmly out of reach, but my Blume books will be waiting for my daughter when she’s ready. As Commissioning Editor for Fennec Books I feel a sense of responsibility towards our readers: both children and adult. Fox Spirit has positioned itself as a fearless publisher of genre fiction and I’d expect its younger sibling to do no less. I’m passionate about children’s books and encouraging both children and adults to read. I hope that our selection will offer children and adults something fun, diverting and different, and if it generates conversation with their parents and friends, then we’ve done good work. Now, I’m off up to the attic to chat to the house ghosts.

Happy Reading!

Sources:

All Hallow’s Read: http://www.allhallowsread.com

Point Horror: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Horror

Stephen King Official Web Page: http://stephenking.com

Judy Blume: http://judyblume.com/censorship.php\

Judy Blume interview: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/11/judy-blume-interview-forever-writer-children-young-adults

JK Rowling quote: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/886905-i-have-a-real-issue-with-anyone-trying-to-protect

25 of the most banned children’s books of the last 25 years: http://www.bustle.com/articles/88633-25-of-the-most-banned-childrens-books-of-the-past-25-years-because-all-those-picture

10 Reasons for Banning Books and 5 Reasons Not To: http://www.punchnels.com/2014/09/18/10-reasons-for-banning-books-and-5-much-better-reasons-not-to/

Alex Sanchez: http://www.alexsanchez.com/Banned_Books/banned_book_1.html

22 Authors on Censorship and Banned Books: https://www.bookish.com/articles/22-authors-on-censorship-and-banned-books/

In an Unknown Country release day!

It’s time! No 7 of the Fox Pockets ‘In an Unknown Country’ is finally here!

They are coming thick and fast ow folks and this summer we will be celebrating all 10 volumes being out in our home town of Leicester. Watch out for more details on Volumes 8-10 and that party!

In the mean time journey in to the unknown!

Other Worlds, unfamiliar territory, places we should not be! Wanderers in strange lands and those who have strayed just a little off the path face their fates in an unknown country. A selection of short and flash fiction exploring the unfamiliar. Exploring new worlds and new perspectives.

And Eve Called Her Husband’s Name by Paul Currion
Overwatch by Alasdair Stuart
Walker Of Worlds by C.D. Leyenaar
Cape of Storms by K. Bannerman
The City is of Night, But Not of Sleep by Chloë Yates
An Unexpected Storm by Cindy Dunham
Hiatus by Jonathan Ward
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Tracy Fahey
A long lost land by Ed Fortune
Tombstone by Emma Teichmann
Finding Home by Rahne Sinclair
Arnhild by Margret Helgadóttir
The Strongest Conjuration by Jenny Barber
Somebody Else by Ashley Fox
Stroppendragers by James Fadeley
Lianus Invaded by Christian D’Amico
Are You Listening? by Sarah Anne Langton
Reversal by Philip Thorogood

pockets

Monday Methods – Noir by Graham Wynd

Cover by S. L. Johnson

Cover by S. L. Johnson

by Graham Wynd

If you write noir then you know the murky streets where darkness and rain seem nigh on constant. When Monday rolls around it’s just another day and you face it with a hangover more often than not. The slug of whisky in your coffee is just enough to stop the shakes and the dame that rolls into your office looking too slinky for the daylight reminds you how you got into this state in the first place.

But she’s got that one thing you need: a story. That’s the real drug. You can sit at your battered Underwood—issued to all would-be noir writers at the inception of their careers—and open a vein as Red Smith suggests, but blood only gets you so far. You need a narrative to lasso your reader and drag them along behind you.

If you’re writing noir, you need atmosphere too. It helps if you have the kind of heart that’s heard “too many lies” because after all “one more tear won’t make no difference to the rain”. Your heart has to yearn for something it’s not likely to get, yet that goal has to be close enough to your grasp to make reaching for it irresistible. That’s what keeps the shadowy streets, rainy nights, cool dames and dangerous guys from slipping into cliché.

It helps if you have an ear for dialogue. You can go plain and hard, like the Continental Op, but once the bodies pile up you find yourself spitting out phrases like, “This damned burg’s getting to me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” You have to feel isolated, like you can’t trust anybody really, even if you need to relax once in a while. Every description reminds you that death lurks behind every transaction. The Op hears things like, “Polly De Voto is a good scout and anything she sells you is good, except maybe the bourbon. That always tastes a little bit like it had been drained off a corpse.”

If there isn’t the risk of death, the stakes aren’t high enough. Sit down and list your characters: figure out what they want and how they suffer and see where the lines cross. Make them doubt every step of the way—make them also think they’re the one who’ll get away with it, that they’re ahead of the game.

And make them suffer. Make them all suffer. Take another shot of whisky. You’re bleeding now.

Graham Wynd

A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Wynd’s novella of murder and obsessive love, EXTRICATE is out now from Fox Spirit Books; the print edition also includes the novella THROW THE BONES and a dozen short stories. See more stories (including free reads!) here.

FS4 Missing Monarchs ebook 72ppi

Drag Noir: Tracy Fahey

Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke

Fairy Drag: Or, How I Wrote The Changeling by Tracy Fahey

You don’t mess with the fairies in Ireland. They are malignant force, older than humanity, who live by their own laws. Unlike their elegant Victorian English counterparts, the Irish fairies are Other, different in every way; both in looks and in character. They’re tall and pale, with a warlike approach to life and an immense propensity for revenge. Country life, until well into the 20th century was ruled by a series of invisible boundaries –folk who lived there didn’t cut down the whitethorn, didn’t build a house on a fairy path, didn’t meddle with the forts. These sites, demarcated by fairy behaviour became forbidden zones

Alan Lee’s Changlings

As with all stories, the writing of this started as a result of several unaligned thoughts coming together – the persistence of supernatural rituals in rural Ireland, a gruesome murder in Northern Ireland, and the old belief that you needed to disguise the sex of a baby to save it from been ‘swept’ or ‘fetched’ by the fairies. The fairies, it was said, would steal away an unprotected baby and replace it with a sickly fairy child who would dwindle and wither away, despite all human efforts. I became fascinated with the idea of ‘infant drag’, where clothing, hair and adornment function as a protective, gender-masking disguise. The idea of drag in this story is a double-edged sword. It is a catalyst for concealment, transformation, but also for revenge. I began wondering how this experience might translate into later life…and so this story came to life.

The story has an unhappy ending, but then, all fairy stories do. They end in tears, in partings, in kidnappings, desolation and death. Our poor changeling fares no differently.

DRAG NOIR is out now.

Drag Noir: Jack Bates

Cover by S. L. Johnson

Cover by S. L. Johnson

Jack Bates: How I Came to Write LUCKY AT CARDS

Two things happened at once. I saw the call for submissions for Drag Noir in a Short Mystery Fiction Society newsletter and a young lady announced to me that she was transgender. Pretty soon her long, curly blonde locks were gone. She swore off wearing dresses. All she wore was men’s clothing. Sports jerseys, mostly. She asked to be called Paul. It gave her a sense of control. She openly pursued a couple of young women at work. She showed up at a wedding with a very cute young woman. Paul wore a vintage three piece, pin stripe suit. Paul had a black eye. I didn’t ask her about it but I knew I had the start of a story. I have no idea if Paul ever played blackjack in her life or if she even went to any of the Detroit or Windsor casinos.

ThuglitWhat Drag Means to Me

I have a very good friend who operates a very successful stage theater here in Detroit. When we were kids, we did a Saturday Night Live type of variety show at our high school. I wrote sketches that put Joe in drag quite often. He seemed very comfortable in a dress. Now, thirty years later, he’s graced his stage several times in shows like Die, Mommie, Die and Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy where he out Close-s Glenn Close. When I think of drag I think of my good friend Joe and his campy, hilarious performances. He’s so comfortable in that skin you forget he’s Joe and not actually Joan- as in Crawford. I put on a dress and just look ridiculous. Joe comes alive.

DRAG NOIR out now in ebook or paperback!

Drag Noir: Chloë Yates

The lovely Paulina Succotash

Kiki and Me
Chloë Yates
One night in the dim and distant long ago, I was working the graveyard shift at that notorious punk drag dive, Axolotl Snot, on the grimy lower east bank of The City. The night outside was cold and inside the clientele wasn’t much warmer. One moment I was wiping down the ever-sticky bar for the hundredth time, the next I was slack jawed with awe as the infamous drag queen Kiki Le Shade sashayed into my world. She was a dame and she had balls. One look into those hypnotically glacial peepers and I was spellbound. She bent me to her will and I thanked her for every displaced vertebrae… At least that’s how I wish it had gone, but I’ve never worked in a bar and I’ve only ever admired drag queens from afar. I have, however, been in love with them since I was a kid.

 

Ideas of gender have always fascinated and appalled me. The way we step into the construct of gender identity at birth and then stick to it as though it’s all perfectly natural and right when it’s clearly absolute bollocks has plagued me my entire life. Arbitrary rules of behaviour and “deportment” (ugh) that depend upon whether or not you have a tallywackle or a witch’s cackle have never made the least bit of sense to me. I never understood why I was supposed to do this or that because I was a “girl” or why my friend couldn’t wear this or act like that because he was a “boy”. I just wanted to do the things I wanted to do because I wanted to do them. I believe that’s how everybody feels, deep down at least, but all too often life teaches us that stepping out from the baaing masses is fraught with castigation and derision – those wicked sharp whip licks of social control. Well, fuck, as they say, that shit.

 

The long and the short of it is I’m a fan of chutzpah, if you’ll allow me the indulgence. Bold, in-your-face, no apologies types are my number one poison, my idols and my role models, and who’s better at in-your-face than drag queens? Undoubtedly I have a romanticised view of them, but it certainly seems to me that drag queens make no apologies. More often than not it is their opportunity to act out, play up and throw their besequinned shit in the face of folks with wild abandon – and they seize it. Drag has never seemed like a mask to me. It is, rather, a medium for liberation. An excuse to be fearlessly bold, a ticket to kick the world in the tits while sticking your tongue out and wiggling your glitter-encrusted arse at it. That beautiful bright light of subversion being thrown so boldly in the face of a generally conservative world that pouts and frowns at “otherness” like we don’t all have secrets, fears, desires and frustrations that torment and thrill us, tickles me in all the best places.

 

Needless to say, I really wanted to write a story for Drag Noir but, after whacking my brain into inanimate object after inanimate object, I was stumped. Not because I couldn’t think of a million and one scenarios, but because I couldn’t think of the right one (some might argue I didn’t do that anyway but they can kiss my big fat bellend). Then I came across the song ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’ by Scissor Sisters. I can’t remember if it was on the telly or if someone posted it on Facebook, but it stuck in my head like only the most vicious of earworms are wont to do. It did the job though, one of those mental switch thingummies. I listened to that fucking song about eight million times while sitting in front of my screen and not once did my fingers stop typing. Kiki was pretty much born in one go, but she felt like she’d always been with me. First came the image of the faded drag queen, a shadow of her former self that long ago night at the Axolotl, sitting in a parking lot on one of those awful white plastic chairs, inches long ash clinging to a still blazing cigarette, lipstick smudged, wig askew. And I wondered what she was waiting for, because she was definitely waiting for something. Turns out, it wasn’t what I expected… which is just how I like it.


Click to buy!

Drag Noir: Paul D. Brazill

Paul DeLiberace Brazill relaxing at home (thanks to S. L. Johnson for the photo)

Paul DeLiberace Brazill relaxing at home (thanks to S. L. Johnson for the photo)

How I Wrote A Bit Of A Pickle for Drag Noir

Paul D. Brazill
It goes like this: A rainy  night in Soho, thrown out of The French House and off to Ronnie Scott’s til dawn. Then a gypsy cab driven by an Islamic fundamentalist over to the East End and a dodgy pub near a meat market.  Go for a slash on in an alleyway near Crucifix Lane and get lost just off Druid Street. Follow a group of old women into a pockmarked terraced house and realise that they’re having a séance. A tall Polish woman with a turban gives me a message from beyond. And that message becomes A Bit Of A Pickle.

Pick up Drag Noir today by clicking on the picture below and get your glad rags on.

Cover by S. L. Johnson

Cover by S. L. Johnson